Firstly, let me wish you a happy and healthy 2012. Talking of health, we are taking it easy on the wine front this month. We are not entirely on the wagon, but avoiding it as much as we can to give our systems a bit of a break. If we have a drop of wine at the weekend, so be it, but weekdays are remaining dry, although I've been out and about tasting some glorious wines (and spitting, of course). Come February we'd like to maintain a level of restraint during the week, but we'll see how things unfold. I've only got the one liver and I'm prepared to give it a bit more respect.
Helping me along with this is my new favourite (alcohol-free) tipple. I have a bottle of orange bitters originally bought for marmalade cocktails. I was working on the Hawksmoor At Home cookery book and couldn't wait to try this 'eye opener' (and it was a good excuse to test the recipe). I don't want to admit how many we've enjoyed over the past year. It just so happens, though, that orange bitters make a great addition to tonic water. I do love a g & t and have always found tonic water with ice and lemon makes a decent grown-up tasting alcohol-free drink, but loose the lemon and shake in some orange bitters and you have something that tastes altogether more special. It suits this time of year perfectly: uplifting, refreshing, with a slightly exotic complexity. It's become a regular treat and I really look forward to sipping it while preparing dinner. What's more, it looks completely ambiguous.
At the end of the evening I turn to a particular favourite that I first discovered more than 20 years ago during my year in France as an English language assistant. The French may not be good with British style (black) tea with milk, but their tisanes are quite special. This blend of liquorice and mint is ideal late in the evening (as the name suggests). We often don't bother with desert or pudding and the comforting sweet flavours of this tea round off a meal perfectly. A bit healthier (and cheaper) than sipping some malt whisky – my other favourite post-prandial. Here's to your good health!