Less Thinking, More Drinking: Top Tips for Holiday Gifts

Buying the perfect gift is truly an art form. From the planning, to the searching, to that "ah hah" moment you have when you find something that perfectly suits the person you have in mind, shopping for gifts is truly a joy.

But sometimes, when perfectionism and lack of time get in the way, finding that perfect gift can be a real challenge. It's especially hard when you're a student who has looming essay deadlines preventing you from brainstorming gift ideas or heading to the shops.

I have a fairly large family, with three brothers who all have different interests, a dad who doesn't seem to want anything, and a mom who would love to have anything from the Williams Sonoma catalogue. Add in two grandparents who really appreciate anything, a boyfriend with a distinct taste in fashion, and friends who expect some classically British treats from abroad and you've got one stressed out girl who just wants to please everyone. But I've handled it all in years past, and I'll be able to handle it this year. And today I'm prepared to share with you my top tips for buying the best gifts for your loved ones.

If they drop a hint, write it down // Around the holidays, everyone seems to be weaving their wishlist into everyday conversations. Maybe your mom keeps complaining that her baking pans are rusty, or your boyfriend is going on about how his nicest sweater has a hole in it. Even if you're keen to surprise someone with something totally unexpected, you should still take note of what they really want as a backup plan.

Make a list (check it twice) // This ensures that you don't miss out on anyone! It doesn't have to be a definitive list of exactly what you're going to buy everyone. Instead, try brainstorming what type of things each person may like, what new interests they've acquired over the past year, or even what you might buy if money were no object. If anything, it helps to keep ideas flowing and makes you feel a bit productive.

Scour the stores; order online // I find that most people are always loyal to one camp or the other when it comes to shopping. Some people are Black Friday fanatics while others are Cyber Monday masters. Whatever method you choose for your shopping, I'll let you in on my personal favorite way to get the most out your shopping. It may seem time consuming, but I always head to the stores for inspiration first, and then check online to see if I can get a better price somewhere else. Having a visual for what stores have to offer is the best way to figure out what you might want to keep your eye on. You can't do that online! But if the price seems steep? Check out the deals online- they're usually much better.

Keep returns in mind, and don't take it personally // We all jokingly call my dad "the returner." Not because he's ungrateful, but because he always says that he doesn't need anything. For that reason, I've always been extra careful about making sure everything I buy has a sound return policy (and I attach the gift receipt to the gift!). And don't get too upset if someone doesn't like your gift (or already has it). It's the thought that counts!

Personal gifts are always the best gifts // Whether that means it's that pair of sunglasses they've wanted for ages, a monogrammed item that it truly theirs, or a photo album which brings back memories of your adventures together, the best gifts always come from the heart. A box of chocolates or fuzzy socks might do the trick, but if you really want to make someones heart sing, always go into shopping with them in mind.

Happy gift hunting, and start checking off that list!


The Raj, Blackhall: A hidden gem outside of central Edinburgh

We really are spoiled for choice here in Edinburgh when it comes to Indian restaurants. But beyond the usual BYOB curry houses which host sports socials by the hundreds, there are a handful of Indian eateries which stand out from the crowd. The Raj is one of those places. 

Newly relocated to Blackhall from its original home in Leith for 30 years, the Raj might seem a bit far away to travel for a student who's based in Marchmont. But if there's ever a reason to escape the central Edinburgh bubble, it would be for this top-notch Indian food.

The Raj is conveniently located next to a bus stop, making the long journey stress-free. Hop off the bus and walk straight into the restaurant where you'll be warmly welcomed by the friendly staff. Decked-out for the holidays with fairy lights of all colors, the interior of the restaurant was as cheerful as our waiter who quickly stopped by to take our drink orders. It truly is a rarity to find an Indian restaurant in Edinburgh which serves alcohol, so it was quite a treat to order a glass of house white to pair with the spicy curry to come. 

With a wide-ranging menu combining the influences of both Indian and Bangladeshi cuisine, the Raj encourages you to stray away from your usual order and try their more unique dishes. While vegetable pakora and chicken tikka masala can be found on the menu, they might pale in comparison to the more uncommon options. 

It wouldn't be a proper Indian meal without some poppadoms to start. Crisp, light,  and addictively salty, these massive golden discs were served with various chutneys, raitas, and other sauces.

Enticed by the thought of fluffy dumplings for a starter, I ordered the mysore bonda- a dish I had never heard of before. These doughy balls were bursting with aromatic spices, and served with a coconut chutney that satisfied my craving for a sweet and savory pairing. 

The lamb lal mirchi was Ben's starter of choice. Stewed pieces of lamb served on a bed of crispy onion bhaji, the lal mirchi was a perfect winter warmer. 

After mulling over the list of mains for quite some time (the staff here don't make you feel rushed), Ben and I both settled on lamb curries- a type of meat which doesn't often fit into a student budget. As we awaited our mains, our waiter presented us with silver tea light trays to keep our food warm, and add to the romantic ambiance.  

In my mind, a curry that perfectly balances creaminess with spice is the ideal candidate for a winter dinner. And my lamb pasanda certainly fit the bill. Morsels of tender lamb immersed in a spiced yoghurt and almond sauce, I was in heaven after the first bite. 

Always keen for something fiery, Ben ordered the laal maas, which put my mild curry to shame. I should also let you know that the Raj really goes above and beyond when it comes to portion sizes- there's plenty of meat in each dish, and there's enough curry sauce to soak up with your naan (in our case, that of the peshwari kind). 

The real winner in both of our books, however, was the saag aloo. While you might overlook this simple combination of potatoes and spinach, it is not to be missed. Fluffy potatoes tossed in a velvety spinach and paneer sauce, you'll have to stop yourself from eating it all in one go. 

Much to our surprise, the waiter immediately brought out a plate of sweets after we had scraped the last morsels of food from our plates (the Raj offers free sweets to all customers!). Without explanation of what we were presented with, we tucked into the mysterious selection of desserts. Now, I can't fully describe what each nibble exactly was, but one stood out above the rest. Owing to my upbringing in a half Iranian family, I was able to identify one of the sweets as similar to the Persian dessert, zoolbia- crispy, fried dough drenched in honey.

As we were picking at the last crumbs of dessert, our waiter appeared once again wheeling out a cart filled with after-dinner drinks. Not one to usually indulge in a post-meal swig, I was suggested by Ben to try a Baileys on ice (a favorite of my Nana's). While I sipped on my creamy concoction, Ben finished off a shot of Drambuie. 

With a menu that highlights the best of both Indian and Bangladeshi cuisine, the Raj hits that sweet spot between familiar and exotic. Owing to it's friendly staff and comforting food, your experience here will surely be one of warmth from start to finish.

Buy your bus tickets now, because the Raj is certainly worth the journey out of the city centre.

Thank you to the Raj and Laura at Crimson Edge for the lovely meal! You can view the Raj's full menu online here (don't miss their Sunday buffet!).    

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