THE MARVELLOUS MS MARMITE-TEE-EE
Tuesday March 30th 2010, 4:29 pm
For me, running a business has at times felt disappointing. Obstacles seem designed to get in the way of creative thinking, and it takes training and experience to restore your enthusiasm and energy at times. Creative ideas are what fuel and excite me. The days of setting up a stall of your wares down the Kings Road, just because you could, are long gone. Spitalfields used to have that excitement for me too, but once the potential is spotted, big business takes over and the cost of shop leases goes through the roof. The many shows where individual makers can sell their wares, end up costing an arm and a leg to take part and you really have to know what you are doing to turn them to your advantage and make them pay. Unless you’re dead smart, most of ones business life can be coined by the phrase ‘putting it down to experience’. But what joy, the spirit of entrepreneurial adventure lives and this weekend I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
This Sunday the first underground farmers and craft market was held in secret in Kilburn, north west London. I say secret, because as an underground event it was operating outside the conventional ways of doing these things. Thirty-odd businesses, artisan makers, keen amateurs and a couple of friends who thought it might just be fun to do some baking, put our their wares in any space available in an ‘ordinary’ one bedroom flat with garden, summerhouse and balcony, the abode of the marvellous ms marmite lover. MsMarmitelover, has for some time now been causing a stir with her underground restaurant, holding special suppers in her home, attendance by ticket only. She is most definitely a trail blazer with a streak of anarchy. I have been following her on Twitter for some time now and when she tweeted to say she was hoping to hold a farmers and craft market in her sitting room, might anyone be interested to take part, I was there like a shot.
As a person who needs a deadline, it was a good reason to make me sort out some packaging for my jams, marmalades and fruit curds, at the same time without it being too big a deal. I made raspberry and blackberry curds using some frozen fruits grown organically here at Taurus Crafts and using eggs from my neighbour Jane Hale’s hens, that were as fresh as fresh can be. If I say so myself, they are pretty damn fab. I served up tasters in tiny pastry cases, tweeny weeny curd tarts stacked on my homemade wacky cake stand. I also made 2 marmalades; bitter seville marmalade and my special pink grapefruit, rhubarb and cardamon marmalade as well as a jam that went down a treat; rhubarb, blueberry and lime jam.
Back to the market, in the house, every inch of space was utilised to its best. Someone created a cocktail bar on the ironing board, the mantel shelf was used to display cupcakes, my jam jars were lined up along the top of the upright piano and the bed was strewn with wonderful baked goods and crocheted flowers. Occasional tables became shop fronts for chutneys, cup cakes, more cup cakes, sauerkraut, chocolate brownies, all the foodstuffs you could ever dream of, and a steady stream of enthusiastic customers wandered through, tasting and sampling as they went. There were wacky tourettes biscuits embossed with rude words, cupcakes in handmade flowery boxes and bundles of napkins made of 50’s inspired fabrics. It was utterly totally lovely.
There were cookery demonstrations taking part in the kitchen; how to make your own hollumi cheese, Ms Marmite made her very own focaccio shots, that were delicious, Porridge lady made porridge the proper way using organic oatmeal and a lot of stirring. The atmosphere was buzzing and others taking part were a friendly bunch. I only wish I had had more time to enjoy the event as a customer. This will no doubt be the start of a new craze. Whether or not such energy can be recreated remains to be seen, but I’m up for it.
To be kept up to date on MsMarmite Lovers events you can find her blog here.
To see more of my pictures from the day look here and even more here. Feature in the London Evening Standard here.
Apologies for not naming all the participants photographed or taking pictures of everyone who took part, I had too much on my plate to record all that information.
ONIONS WITHOUT TEARS
Thursday March 18th 2010, 12:11 am
Month three Tigress’s can jam canning challenge and the chosen ingredient covers a multitude of choices, as anything classed as an allium fits the bill. I intended to post about pickled wild garlic but with the deadline looming and this post ready to roll, I’m running with pickled onions instead. The wild garlic, almost completed, will follow after.
I’m really more of a jam and chutney person but the Tigresscanjam challenge is giving me reasons to explore things I want to know more about. Pickles aren’t something I’ve developed much of a taste for and I hadn’t thought that they figured much in my upbringing. Then I remembered an onion and vinegar condiment, served at my grandparents house when I was little, as an accompaniment to Lancashire hotpot. It was made very simply of chopped raw onions marinated in malt vinegar, simple as. Never a great meat eater, I recall especially looking forward to this onion relish, eaten with the delicious sliced potatoes that were part of the hotpot.
My cousin Jackie, an ex-Blackpool landlady who can rustle up a mean Lancashire hotpot, told me that this onion relish is the traditional companion to this regional speciality along with pickled red cabbage. Though I have no recollection of ever being served pickled cabbage as a kid, knowing this makes me pleased that pickling is part of my own heritage too, something I’d managed to forget about until the canjam challenge got me thinking. Then last week I found this onion-shaped Weck preserving jar in a charity shop, so filling it with pickled onions seemed perfectly appropriate.
Pickling has to be one of the easiest things ever. I’ve chosen to make a sweet pickling vinegar using traditional malt vinegar with added brown sugar, honey plus a few spices. Pickling vinegars are really delicious and give plenty of scope for experimentation. Any leftover vinegar can be turned into salad dressings or be drizzled on your chips. The shallots need to be salted at the beginning to draw out excess liquid, which will help the onions to retain their crunch. I have hot water processed my jar of pickles to meet the criteria of the challenge, give myself more practice at canning and to use the jar in the way it was intended, but pickled onions are a pretty safe bet without that palaver. The processing makes them extra safe.
SWEET PICKLED ONIONS
Fills a litre (quart) sized jar
750g (1 1/2lbs) shallots
50g (2oz) salt
.5ltr (1pint) malt vinegar
100g (4oz) soft brown sugar
100g (4oz) honey
1 tsp peppercorns
1 dried red chilli
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
5cm (2in) piece of cinnamon stick
2cm (1in) cube of fresh ginger sliced
Pour boiling water over the shallots, leave them for a few minutes, then drain and rinse with cold water. Remove the skins and place in a glass bowl, sprinkling the salt in layers over them. Leave overnight, then rinse and drain them before packing into the hot sterilised jar.
Place the vinegar and the remaining ingredients in a pan, stir over a medium heat to dissolve the sugar and honey, then bring to the boil. Pour over the onions to cover, pushing the chilli and cinnamon stick between the shallots on the outside of the jar, leaving 1 - 2cm (1/2 - 3/4in) headspace. Seal with the lid and process for 15 minutes in a hot water bath. For more info about how to hot water process, refer to the guide here. You could use 2 500ml (1 pint) sized jars instead, in which case you only need to process them for 10 minutes. Once cooled store the pickled onions for 4-8 weeks before eating.
A (LAUNDRY RELATED) PHOTO OPPORTUNITY
Thursday March 11th 2010, 9:04 am
I am always on the look out for the perfect washing line to photograph and have a list of locations lined up. A bit like a bus tour of celebrities homes in Hollywood, I could take you on a tour of the Forest of Dean to show you my favourite washing lines. There’s the one that is tied directly onto the front of a Georgian house, that in spring is completely covered with wisteria. There is another strung across a well tended small holding; as the year progresses the laundry blows in the breeze above a carpet of cabbages and kale. Another favourite, is in the dip of a valley, so I’m sure that I will one day be able to aim and focus my camera and capture the washing line surrounded by the rising valley beyond. For that location I am looking for a Walton’s style (as in John Boy Walton) pick up truck to be parked in a particular spot and the yellow climbing rose that grows against a little greenhouse at one end of the washing line needs to be in flower.
You see the essence of this is that you really do have to be ready to capture the moment. Great landscape photographs are sometimes taken at a lucky moment, the photographer just happened to be there, see the picture and shoot. But more often than not, the image was the result of a well planned operation. The photographer saw the location and over time planned how to get the perfect shot, studied the way the light moves across the terrain, worked out the exact place to set up the tripod, what time in the morning they would need to set off to get there before the sun comes up etc. Sometimes the opportunity will be a one and only.
I’ve had a few that have got away through my own inability to get up and go. Like the wisteria clad house that year after year gave us locals a spectacular display. It was always in my mind to knock on their door and get myself ready to take the definitive washing line shot, but other events were more pressing so it would be left for another year. Then they flippin-well repointed and renovated the house which meant the wisteria was torn down. I feel sick just thinking about it, even now.
I often point out these locations to friends as we drive around. For some reason they are never as excited as me and sometimes completely ignore me, so perhaps the bus trip for tourists idea wont have many takers. The jist of this story, told in a laundry themed way, is carpe diem; sieze the pleasures of the moment without concern for the future. If you don’t get of your fat arse now they’ll rip down the wisteria and you’ll be left with regrets.
WHAT DOES A SHAPE TASTE LIKE ?
Tuesday March 09th 2010, 11:43 am
Yesterday was my day off, which just means that I have a list of jobs need doing that call for being away from the shop. With a list as long as my arm it is business almost as usual, but somehow calling it ‘my day off’ creates a whole different vibe, so long as I tackle the list, I can do what I like and pretend I’m on holiday. Even better, the sun was shining, as if spring was really here.
With no bread in for making toast I decided to rustle up some muffins or perhaps blueberry griddle scones to have with my a.m cappuccino. I opened the cupboard where the tins live and didn’t relish pulling everything out to locate the muffin tin at the back and then the friand tin fell out all of its own accord. So friands it was to be.
I have written about friands before here, and I know from the daily stats how many readers find my blog by googling friand related keywords. And no, I don’t know where you can buy a friand tin in the UK! Someone was selling them for a while, but sadly no longer and I regularly trawl the web trying to find them to sell at The Laundry as I’m sure that I could sell perhaps one a month (shopkeepers irony).
Friands are supposed to be oval shaped. Why the shape of a cake should be so important, I don’t know and I am sure that they will taste just as good baked in regular round shaped muffin moulds. Feel free to make them any shape you like. So for my day off I looked at the ingredients to hand; some whole blanched almonds left over from Christmas baking (which I ground to a rough meal in my old Magimix for this recipe), 1 bramley apple and a little bag of fresh bantam eggs, my neighbour leaves me each week, and decided to rustle up some tart bramley friands. The ground almonds make a lovely moist precious cake and this recipe is tangy, fruity but not overly sweet. Don’t forget, a friand is not just for breakfast, it isn’t really for breakfast at all, but hey, it’s my day off.
TART BRAMLEY FRIANDS
Makes about 10
1 medium sized Bramley apple or other tart variety
1 1/2 Tbsp soft brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
5 egg whites
125g ( 4oz) butter, melted
100g (1 cup) ground almonds
100g (3/4 cup) icing sugar or caster will do
60g 1/2 cup plain flour
Preheat the oven to Mk5, 190C, 375F and prepare a muffin tin by buttering the moulds.
Peel and core the apple and chop into small evenly sized pieces, then place in a small pan, sprinkling 2-3 teaspoons of water over it. Bring to a simmer and cook until it is soft and mushy, which only takes 3-5 minutes. Add the brown sugar, maple syrup and 1 tsp vanilla extact, stir and cook for another minute or 2. Add more sugar if you want it sweeter but a tart hit is what you are aiming for. Leave to cool.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites till just frothy. Add all the remaining ingredients and combine quickly to make a batter. Pour the mixture into the moulds, half filling them. Drop a heaped teaspoonful of the stewed apple into the centre of each friand. Bake for 20-25 minutes till risen and set and just starting to turn golden. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes before turning them out onto a rack to cool.