28 March 2014

Nature + Nurture = One Mad Old Bat

My post yesterday, about the joys of sniffing home grown tomatoes got me thinking. Mainly about how I got to be the way I am today....... a nutty old bat more comfortable in wellies than in heels, with not a dress or a skirt to her name but with cupboards full of practical, boil-washable clothes and snuggly warm fleeces and a drawer full of thermal undies! Odd really because this hasn't always been the case. I have, in the past, attended more balls, cocktail parties, parades and garden parties than I can even remember and for many, many years my wardrobe consisted entirely of smart clothes, ball gowns and cocktail dresses with not a pair of wellies in sight, just dozens of pairs of fabulous shoes that would have been ruined by the merest sniff of a puddle. In the past, I would never have dreamed of leaving the house looking anything other than well-dressed and well-groomed. Today, the only things well-dressed are my salads and the grooming is reserved for the dogs although, if it's a special occasion, I will, very reluctantly, brush my hair. It's very liberating and I wouldn't change it for anything.

When I was a child, my Grandparents had an allotment. It was a fabulous place. It had a fabulous greenhouse filled with tomato plants and cucumbers, it had apple trees and rhubarb plants, rows and rows of beans and peas, cabbages, cauliflowers, turnips, and potatoes, in fact it was full to the brim with rows and rows of fabulous fruit and veg. It also had the cutest little shed in the world. It had a little camping stove for making tea, a table and chairs and a little built-in bench along one wall. It even had little curtains at the windows. I always wanted to live in that shed, it was my idea of bliss. Still is. I spent many hours at the allotment grubbing around in the soil, helping with the planting and harvesting and loving every minute of it. 

My Granddad was an amazing gardener who could pretty much grow anything and all our fruit and veg came either from the allotment or from his back garden. My nan baked delicious bread. She baked amazing cakes and perfect pies (although my dad always used to tease her by telling her that the filling didn't go right to the very edge of the crust), she pickled cucumbers and onions and red cabbage and like my nan, my mum is also a lean, mean, baking and pickling machine. She is also now the gardening-guru of the family and her veg production, from a few raised beds, grow-bags and planters puts mine entirely to shame. So, it's not too hard to see where I get my love of gardening and baking from. Sadly though, at the moment, my green-fingered enthusiasm completely outweighs my actual gardening know-how but, I'm ever-hopeful that in the not too distant future, my gardening skills will magically improve and I too will become a gardening goddess. 

So there you have it! I totally blame my family for the way I am today ..... Thank god for family! They stand you in good stead when things get tough and luckily, that's what mine did for me and it's apparently very true what they say, we eventually turn into our parents! As I get older, almost certainly because of them, I'm finding myself, more and more, drawn to that simpler life. I don't care if I have the latest gadgets, the biggest, flattest tv or the newest model of mobile phone in fact, as long as it works I don't care how old it is or what it looks like and more and more, I seem to be reverting back to the fabulous spirit of thriftiness of my parents and grandparents and quite frankly, I am so much happier for it. 

 Having said that, I wouldn't give up my perfectly formed, beautifully shiny, ridiculously gorgeous new mixer for all the nature and nurture in the world :-)

27 March 2014

Ready .... Get Set ..... Grow

Well it's almost that time of year again. It's almost planting time. Today, while I was at the garden centre looking for some garden vouchers for my Mum for Mother's day, I came across some tomato plants and I began to get excited. I love growing tomatoes. Nothing tastes like a home-grown tomato. Shop bought tomatoes never seem to taste the same and there is nothing like the luscious smell of tomatoes on the vine, a sort of rich, earthy smell that for me, is everything summer should be. In fact I love growing veg full stop. Any kind of veg. It never fails to amaze me that you stick these tiny seeds in some soil, water them and give them some sunshine and up pops teeny tiny plants that turn into food. Amazing!

A couple of years ago, in true nerdy scientist fashion, I did a few experiments by planting some of my veg using Biodynamic methods, with some interesting results. (You can read about it here and here). I Definitely had a better crop by planting biodynamically but, last year, because I had much less time on my hands, due to my market commitments, I went back to my tried and tested "bung 'em in the ground and cross your fingers" method which, quite frankly, works almost as well and is a lot less faffing. This year, I think it will probably be a bit of a combination of the two but on a much, much bigger scale. I'm going to be planting much more this year, in the hope of filling my freezer and cupboards with things from the garden.

Well, to cut a long story short ...... I just couldn't quite stop myself from buying some tomato plants. They were lovely, strong, vigorous plants and at 99p each .... well .... how could I resist.

I had £8.00 in my purse so obviously, I bought 8. 

19 March 2014

Hexie Madness

At the market, when things are quiet, I get the almost uncontrollable urge to make something. Sadly, because the things that I do involve a sewing machine and a sizeable fabric stash or a box full of card stock, cutting machines and embellishments if I'm making greetings cards it is logistically quite difficult to make anything while hiding behind the things on my stall because it all takes up too much space. I was beginning to despair of ever finding something crafty that I could realistically do at the market when I discovered the wonderful world of "English Paper Piecing" or, to the rest of world ......... hexagons!

It's not something I have ever attempted before but recently, I have stumbled across a number of fabulous blogs featuring trays and boxes full of cute little hexagons made from beautiful fabrics and as soon as I saw them, I just knew that I had to have a go. I managed to find a template on the good old internet which I simply printed out onto cardboard and chopped into individual hexies and then I set to with my fabric stash. Oh was I in heaven. In no time at all I had covered enough templates to make 2 of the cutest little flower thingies and I just knew that I had finally found the craft that I will be taking to the market with me when I go.

There has been a bit of adjusting my technique in the way I baste them and in the way I sew them together but I think I'm almost there. The only problem I now have is that it's very hard to stop making them now I have started and I have absolutely NO IDEA what I am going to do with them once I have done them.

I have also discovered some fabulous Riley Blake fabrics which I really, really, REALLY would like to buy to make hexies with but I am trying to stop myself from succumbing because I am still in greenhouse saving mode. I really don't want to spend any of my hard earned greenhouse fund on fabric, which, if I am totally honest, I don't actually need so, I am trying to steer clear of fabric shops, online auction sites and basically anything that will distract me from my greenhouse goal.

It's very hard though because the fabrics are just too cute for words. 

So, here is the million dollar question. What shall I do with my hexie flowers? If any of you have made things with them in the past I would love to know what you made. 

17 March 2014

Another Lovely Local Market

Yesterday, about 10 miles away from our little local produce market, there was another, bigger producers market taking place and as I am a very curious sort of person, some might even say nosey, I was interested to see what it was like. So, after I had set up my stall and provided a breakfast of fresh-from-the-oven cheese and sausage puffs for the rest of the stall holders, I set off to go and have snoop. At Crocadon Farm, near St Mellion in Cornwall, in addition to the monthly producers market, it holds a variety of different markets such as a pig and poultry market, a garden market and brocante market. It's in a beautiful setting with rustic barns arranged around a very lovely courtyard with a whole host of fabulous looking stalls selling a whole array of different things from jams, cakes, fish, scrumpy-style cider and beers with weird and wonderful names to decoupaged furniture and large framed photographs of arty things. 

It's actually very similar to our market, just on a much bigger scale but, unlike our market, where we are open three days each week, the markets at Crocadon are only held once each month which would make it difficult to use it as a regular food source the way the locals use our market, as part of their weekly food shopping. Quite frankly though, as far as I'm concerned, anything where food is more local, has less food miles, is less processed and is more natural has to be a good thing. I feel very strongly that buying local is the right thing to do and for me, it's certainly been the best thing in so far as it has encouraged me to go back to cooking "proper" meals rather than opting for the type that you just bung into a microwave, something that I was finding myself doing more and more often. Now I know where my food is coming from. I know that it's as fresh as it can possibly be and I know that it hasn't spent 2 weeks sitting in a warehouse somewhere or travelling hundreds of miles in a refrigerated lorry before I buy it and for me that's important. 

I have to say though that the market I am most looking forward to at Crocadon is the Brocante market. I'm much more of a flea market kind of person and I love things old and vintage so I have put the date in my diary and will be baking something delicious to take to the market in the hope of persuading the other stall holders to let me sneak off and have a good old look around. 

11 March 2014

Pushing the Boundaries of Gastronomy

As many of you know, I bake a lot of focaccia for the market. In fact I now bake so much of the stuff that I could probably do it on my sleep, which is great on the one hand because I don't have to do stuff like find the recipe for the list of ingredients because they are now committed to memory but on the other hand, it can be a little dull making the same flavours over and over again. So last week, I decided to experiment with some new flavours. I have been muttering to various people at the market that I wanted to try making some sweet focaccia. Usually, the response is either to laugh uncontrollably or to look at me as if I have finally lost the plot ...... actually, more often than not they do both but, not letting this get in the way of my pioneering spirit, I got out my new favourite toy, my trusty mixer, and made up a batch of focaccia dough. 

Once the dough had been through both the rising and proving stages, I added my flavours.

Number 1 ......... Chopped up Snickers Bars 
Number 2 ......... Chopped up Mars Bars
Number 3 ......... Choped up Cream Eggs

I then added a drizzle of olive oil and a light sprinkling of sea salt and popped them in the oven.

Oh my GOODNESS!!!!! they were delicious. The chocolate bars melted and went slightly chewy in the oven, the olive oil kept everything moist and the sprinkling of sea salt gave them a salted caramel flavour and stopped everything becoming too sickly sweet.

On Friday morning, I set off to the market and after everyone had set up their tables, I nervously got out my sweet focaccia samples for the girls to try. I was a bit apprehensive. Just because I liked them didn't mean that anyone else would but I needn't have worried, everyone loved them ....... all except one old lady who spat it into the bin and hurried out of the market as if I had tried to poison her. 

Well, I guess you can't please everyone.

I remembered to take a photo of the focaccia but by the time I grabbed my camera, there wasn't much left. 

10 March 2014

Cooking The Book .......

No .... not cooking the books, cooking the book :-)

Yesterday, after a day of weeding, clearing and general garden tidying, I was rummaging through the drawers in my dresser to find some garden twine when I came across a DVD that I haven't watched for ages. It's actually one of my favourites. It's called Julie and Julia. 

For those who haven't seen it, the following is a plot summary from the IMDB website .......

In 1949, Julia Child is in Paris, the wife of a diplomat, wondering how to spend her days. She tries hat making, bridge, and then cooking lessons at Cordon Bleu. There she discovers her passion. In 2002, Julie Powell, about to turn 30 and underemployed with an unpublished novel, decides to cook her way through "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in a year and to blog about it. We go back and forth between these stories of two women learning to cook and finding success. Sympathetic, loving husbands support them both, and blossoming friendships add zest to the film.

After I first watched the film, I actually went out and bought the books ...... Mastering the Art of French Cooking ...... just so I could make the Boeuf Bourguignon and, as in the film, it is truly, absolutely amazing. It was while I was sat watching the film again last night, resting my aching gardening muscles, that I had an idea. It would be great to do the same thing. I could pick one of my many cookery books which, until now, have just been sitting on the shelves gathering dust and I could cook my way through it. 

Now, in the French Cooking Cookbooks, there are things that my limited budget wouldn't allow for and as there are two books, the constraints on my time really wouldn't make it feasible for me to cook a different recipe each day until I had finished so, I found a book that I might realistically be able to manage. Plus ..... I really like the look of some of the recipes. There are 51 recipes so I figured that I could cook 1 recipe each week for the next 51 weeks and that would leave 1 week spare for Christmas :-). I realise that doesn't sound like much of a challenge and who knows, I might enjoy it so much that I cook two or three recipes each week but initially I thought I would give myself a target that I feel I can commit to rather than give myself too much to do and give up half way. It also means that I can try and break out of the recipe rut that I seem top be in. I always seem to stick to a small number of tried and tested recipes and I think it's time to get creative. 

So .... Here is the book ...... Ta Da .......... 

Of course I shall be blogging about my progress and I am really looking forward to the challenge. 

5 March 2014

Trying Out My New Toy

Yesterday morning was a very exciting morning. My new bread machine arrived on Monday evening and yesterday morning I decided to give it a test run making a loaf of bread. 

It's fabulously easy to use and although I feel slightly as if I'm cheating by not making it completely by hand, it's a huge time saver and although my upper arms are no longer going to benefit from a daily workout, I'm sure all the lugging of bales of hay and 25kg bags of animal feed will keep the bingo wings at bay.

The resulting loaf of bread was absolutely delicious although it didn't taste any better or worse than the ones that I have pounded by hand. Today, however, is the critical test. I will be making focaccia. Both normal focaccia and gluten free and also, dairy free, gluten free focaccia. Heaven knows how that will turn out but I have been asked to make some by someone who comes to the market so I'm more than happy to give it a try. In fact the recipe actually says that if you use rice milk, it makes it dairy free so fingers crossed it turns out ok.

Finally, a taste of spring. Daffodils always cheer me up and on Saturday, a friend at the market gave me some to bring home. 

3 March 2014

Finally Feeling Better

Well, it's been a while since my last post. I have had the dreaded flu and have really not felt well enough to post anything. I have had an ear infection which made me dizzy and deaf and extremely prone to falling over when getting up too quickly or bending down, or pretty much just walking around, I have had a sinus infection which was just too gruesome to mention and I have been battling high temperatures, aching muscles and a horrible cough but I am happy to say, 6 weeks later I am finally feeling much better ...... and let me tell you I am so happy to be feeling almost human again. I missed 3 weeks at the market and watched so much daytime TV that I found myself actually starting to like some of it .......eeeek! But happily, I'm now back. I'm back at the market, I'm back sewing and baking focaccia and have even added gluten free focaccia to my repertoire and I am finally back blogging again. 

Gluten Free Focaccia with Feta and Sundried Tomatoes

While I was ill I also had time to think a few things through. Until now, the market, although fabulous fun and great place to be, is not really financially viable enough to provide me with enough money to live on and although at the moment that's fine, in a few years time this is not going to be the case. So, I am in the process of coming up with a 4 year plan to make sure that I can grow my business enough to provide me with a modest living when the time comes. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not expecting to become a millionaire, nor am I even expecting to be particularly well off but I am hoping to at least be able to support myself. I don't live a particularly lavish lifestyle and I try to make the most of what I have by making do, upcycling things like furniture and fabrics and making my own soft furnishings so, add to that growing my own veg, keeping chickens for eggs and being thrifty in the kitchen and I am hopeful that I will see my 4 year plan pay off. 

It was with this plan in mind that this week, I made a massive decision. My handmade focaccia is really taking off at the market and last week, I was asked if I could make some gluten free focaccia as well. After much testing of different recipes and sourcing of all the ingredients, my 3rd batch turned out extremely well. The only problem is, whereas normal focaccia dough is like wrestling with an uncooperative jelly fish, gluten free focaccia dough doesn't need kneading at all, just whisking. In my case, this meant whisking with a hand-held electric whisk. No problem you might think, easier than kneading a jellyfish, you might think but honestly ...... when is life ever that simple! Gluten free focaccia dough is like very gloopy, thick, sticky cake batter.  It sticks to the beaters and climbs it's way up them, trying to climb inside the mixer and jam up the motor and when you lift the beaters out of the dough to scrape them off, it sprays it all over the kitchen walls! Not good. 

So ....

To my mammoth decision .....

I bought a food mixer!

A very expensive food mixer!!

A £300 food mixer!!!!!!!

I felt faint after I had ordered it and had to sit down and have a cup of tea. 

I then had to stop myself ringing and cancelling the order after I got cold feet and freaked out about how much it cost.

And it's being delivered TODAY

And, despite the fact that I was freaked out about how much it cost I think it will be a great investment and I really can't wait to use it. 

This is the one. 

So I am now sitting on the sofa waiting for the knock on the door like a kid waiting for Santa Clause.

And if anyone has any advice on how to make my fledgling business more profitable, with marketing, promotion, how to grow the business, things like that, I would be immensely grateful.