October 30, 2016

Autumn Preserves with Vivien Lloyd at Denman College

Having been a member of our local country market for just over a year I was delighted to find out recently that I was the lucky winner of a bursary at Denman college in Oxfordshire. I could choose a relevant course that would help me in the future of our market, as the only member who bakes without butter, the pastry course wasn’t suitable- that left preserving. I’ve already gone through locally sourced strawberries, damsons, gooseberries, red & black currants, rhubarb, chillis, marrows, apples, blackberries and sloes as they come into season, so I make jams, jellies & chutney.
So they day dawned for the train journey, problems at Brighton delayed the train to Gatwick, that made me miss the connection to Reading but I’d left in plenty of time to get to Oxford so I could have a wander before the taxi was due to collect us. It was obvious who else was waiting for the mini bus and we were soon introducing ourselves and chatting about what courses we were doing.
Some ladies had been before so I just followed everyone else and was shown where my room was (right opposite where the beautiful kitchen was) time to wash up before the welcome and then dinner. Each room is sponsored by a WI association and mine was Northumberland. Lots of hand crafted items filled the room and every room was en suite.
Dinner was a 3 course affair with waitress service and ran like clockwork. I was advised that it was more economical to buy a bottle of wine rather than by the glass but I still had to share mine on the 2nd evening, as I’m not a seasoned wine drinker!
After dinner we were shepherded into the kitchen for our first introduction to the tutor Vivien Lloyd and the course.
The next 2 days went in a blur, we chopped, minced, diced, boiled, stirred, washed up, wiped down, as jar after jar was filled. I did wonder what was going to happen to all those preserves but it didn’t occur to me that we were taking it all home!
Lesson learned, if you book a cookery course or preserving one, take plenty of tins, containers or an empty suitcase! With much pushing & shoving I managed 17jars and 3 bottles, I could barely lift it but they all made it home in one piece with no leakages.
Damson jelly, blackberry, Apple & cardamom jam, preserved peppers, chilli jam
Pumpkin chutney and plum sauce. We were shown how to make raspberry vinegar too.
Vivien was a very competent tutor and helped us all throughout the course, all the ladies were lovely and many like me were on their own but it mattered not.
I hope our local country market appreciate all the lovely jams, jellies and preserves that are going to be available week after week.
Thank you Denman College for the beautiful setting and buildings and to all the staff that keep it running. If it weren’t for the Country Market I wouldn’t have been able to go! A big thank you to you!

May 17, 2016

The Big 1000

Thanks to British sheep breeders around the country, dye suppliers, friends and family I will be able to celebrate my 1000th etsy sale before the year is out. I would say 95% of those sales are dyed and natural Rare Breed wool locks, that’s a LOT of wool! (If I combined the 2 shops I would be over the 1000 but I want to concentrate on the woolly one)

I love my job, love the natural products I work with and love the customers who never fail to amaze me with how they use the wool locks I produce.

Am hoping to become a featured artist!

<a href=”http://www.worldofwool.co.uk&#8221; target=”_blank”><img src=”http://www.worldofwool.co.uk/images/featured_artist/120x240_wow_featured_artist_banner.jpg&#8221; border=”0″ alt=”World of Wool – The planet’s best felting and spinning supplies” title=”World of Wool – The planet’s best felting and spinning supplies” /></a>

April 28, 2016

Biggest baking challenge to date

So far my baking journey has taken me from trying to make gluten free cheese muffins to orange polenta cake to French Macarons. I’ve perfected gluten and dairy free pastry, made many jars of dairy free lemon curd and eaten far too many leftover biscuits.
I’ve made things I never thought I would and not always been successful but have enjoyed the journey and enjoyed sharing my successes with my customers and my failures with the food recycling bin.
The Countrymarket is a unique market place, with an average of 40 customers a week most of which are over 70, I was concerned that there would be no takers for my creations. Gradually more & more people bought my bakes regardless whether they needed it to be dairy or gluten free. Dairy free doesn’t make it taste bad, for some of us dairy free is not a choice but a necessity. I recently watched a programme about shoppers choosing to buy gluten free foods because they believed it be healthier, tosh, manufacturers brain wash us and charge the earth for products that have no health benefits. I don’t understand how ‘gluten free’ oats can cost so much when the cheapest oats are gluten free anyway, if only others would take the time to read labels and realise the harsh power of advertising. I have been reading labels for over 30 years as I’m sure other sufferers do, I won’t eat food at a buffet unless the person who has prepared it is there to ask what went into it. I know what it’s like to be denied puddings, or offered a banana as dessert when everyone else is tucking into a hot pudding with lashings of custard. I’m trying to make life happier for those who have gone without the joys of puddings and biscuits.
I love being part of the market community and have made some great new friends which when you are self employed and work from home is really important.
Our village hall has been undergoing much needed improvements to cater for our ever growing community and the country market was asked to provide canapés for the opening of our new library extension. Between 6 of us bakers we will be baking an assortment of savoury and sweet nibbles. No sausages on sticks for us! My choice was French Macarons and mini cupcakes. Then I realised no one was making anything savoury that was dairy or gluten free so I offered up 2 savoury options too. With a fridge full of butter substitutes, a mountain of eggs on the counter, packages of almonds at the ready, tomorrow I will make a start on the cup cakes & Macarons. The devilled eggs will be done Saturday morning as will the decorations on the cup cakes. When catering for 80 people this is certainly a different kettle of fish to what I’m used too.
Wish me luck!

January 25, 2016

For the love of Roger

One of the reasons I moved to this quirky abode was the fact there were two sheep in the paddock. Roger & Dave the elderly & overweight Romneys grazed happily year in, year out. Every year they were shorn and initially the fleeces were usable, in later years not so good. I had 2 of the good fleeces spun up into a nice yarn.
Every autumn I’d pick up all the windfalls in the village and in our orchard and give them a couple every day, this meant that every time they saw me they’d Baaa.
As with every life there is an end and Rogers came yesterday. He had struggled with arthritis for a while and the regular injections were not helping. The vet came and with blackbirds singing in the twilight he took his last breath. Dave is now a batchelor, he too struggles under his immense weight but we will make a fuss of him and hopefully her will be happy for a while longer.

January 9, 2016

Lewes Women in Business

I recently joined Lewes Women in Business to make new friends and learn from others about running a successful business. I decided to give up the WI in favour of LWB.

On Tuesday we had a short seminar on Social Media and how it can help in getting our businesses ‘out there’. I already use facebook, twitter and instagram on a daily basis but I’d never created a video before. This morning I did! So easy too!

Here it is….

I think the link works but it all looks odd!

December 30, 2015

Baking for Christmas, GF or otherwise

I recently joined the Lewes Women in Business group, a fantastic group of very talented women with skills that I lack. Our leader a wonderful cook was hosting a Christmas baking day at the community prep kitchen in Lewes so I thought it would be a good idea to join her. Being the awkward one I requested GF flour and Stork margarine for my cakes.  With just 4 willing students Chloe introduced us to the joys of mixing by hand with ingredients that had so much brandy in them the fumes almost put us over the legal limit.

After a day of baking we had produced Christmas Biscotti, chocolate hazelnut biscotti, gingerbread dough and some delicious smelling cakes. I could barely carry my stash to the bus stop-blinding wind & rain didn’t help. I duly ‘fed’ my cakes with more brandy over the following weeks then waited for the orders to come in. Seems people in the village didn’t need gluten free cakes. Plan B. Luckily I have several friends who appreciated the opportunity to eat cake that wouldn’t make them ill so I was just left with one small loaf shaped cake-perfect for MOI.

A couple of weeks later I was asked to make regular cakes complete with marzipan & icing. I love a challenge! 2 x Yule logs & Mince pies too…..

Now my kitchen is tiny, in real life it isn’t a kitchen, it’s a space you walk through at the top of the stairs. My workspace is 4′ long, needless to say it took military precision to organise the baking, storage and decorating of these cakes. I pulled it off. whew. Even made a chocolate snowman cake for a special GF customer.white cake12317341_1072790349408291_1312000709_n


GF snowman cake


Falling bauble cake


square cake


October 2, 2015

WI competitions or how not to make chocolate truffles.

Being chief organiser of the competition entries for our local WI it fell to me to make a Christmas stocking (not knitted or crocheted) and some truffles as well as the tea cosy I actually wanted to make.

Now most people know I don’t like chocolate so whatever I make I will not try, luckily I know people who do,like the stuff so volunteers are easy to find. Determined to find a dairy free recipe I trawled the trusty Internet and found several vegan recipes. Good old Jamie Oliver has come up with a dairy free one, about time some famous chef didn’t actually produce a recipe that didn’t have piles of cream and butter in. Don’t get me started…..

so the mixture was made and I put it outdoors in the shade to ‘set’. Looked ready, the toasted coconut and nuts were waiting, how on earth are you supposed to roll a ball of soft chocolate mixture in your hands without it melting?    Needless to say I have odd shaped balls……

The other recipe I found included canned pumpkin and since it’s coming up to Halloween I thought it would be a nice touch to make Pumpkin truffles, except I’d forgotten to buy the almond butter and I wasn’t going to pay over £6.00 for some almond flour either. It seemed odd to be putting flour in a truffle mix that wasn’t going to be cooked so I used ground almonds instead and made my own almond butter. Well why not when you have almonds in the cupboard?

This mixture needed chilling before dipping in chocolate so it wasn’t quite as messy as Jamie’s recipe except I had a pumpkin mess all over my hands rather than a chocolate one. I’m hoping the judge will like my pumpkin truffles, and I hope I can find someone to eat half a dozen of the J.O. ones and all the leftover pumpkin ones. I’m thinking up ways to use the leftover truffle mix now…… Maybe mix with some icing sugar to decorate a cake?

There’s also almost a whole can of puréed pumpkin to think about too……

Truffle anyone?


September 20, 2015

Baking experiments Part two. Or Having a Portfolio career.

Pastry made with gluten free flour was very ‘short’, delicious but short. Half of what I created sold but I had to eat the other half, life as a baker is really tough! However, muffins made with GF flour using a ‘normal’ recipe were an epic FAIL. I could have built an outhouse with them. Dry, tasteless,claggy. Just a few words that my official tasters came up with. I didn’t think the birds would enjoy them either so in the food recycling bin they went.

It makes a change to talk to people about something other than wool, to say my life revolved around wool is an understatement, get me started and you’ll be asleep before I’m finished taking about my favourite breeds and their uses. My Mastermind subject- wool, favourite holiday destinations- anywhere there are sheep. Favourite meal- Roast Lamb.  But, now I can hold a conversation about gluten free recipes too. Who’d have thought it?

I can even start a conversation about the highs & lows of running a monthly market, I feel a bit like a juggler with 3 balls on the go at the same time, apparently there is a NAME for this, not multi tasking, oh no, that is So last season. I now have a Portfolio career. Yes really, it is a known THING according to my self employed Copywriter son. Many people choose this style of life rather than having a boring old 9-5 job until they retire, juggling charity work alongside paid jobs, I saw an article in the Times about it. (so it must be true)

I am rather enjoying my Portfolio career and so glad I wasn’t pensioned off at 60 as I might never have achieved this milestone in my life. My pensioning age is now 65 1/2 so I will enjoy the next 3 1/2 years in this line of work and see how many other balls I can collect along the way.

Recipe books sit alongside my collection of knitting and felting books now but there may have to be a shuffle soon as the bookcase is hanging off the wall! I have had to make room for all the extra ingredients I have to buy and am already stocking up with dried fruit ready for the GF Christmas cakes I plan on baking. New cake tins have already arrived.

Next time I order business cards I wont have to add, baker or market organiser to the other titles I have , I just write Portfolio Careerist.

September 15, 2015

Baking experiments. Part 1. Using gluten free Flour.

I gave up volunteering at Oxfam after over ten years of service. I miss the camaraderie and the rummaging but it did mean I could now attend the Country market held every Tuesday morning in the village hall. I thought it would be a great place to sell some of my cards & felt items. I wasn’t expecting to be asked if I could bake?

I used to bake for the children & husband, loved making special celebrations cakes for them and the family but now I rarely bake as there’s only me.

Trawling through recipes I found some simple ones to start me off, everything would be dairy free as any leftovers have to be EATEN. First week I sold a few things but the jam tarts were ignored. I became bolder and after talking to other bakers & customers it was obvious they needed a gluten free supplier too. That was all new to me so I trawled more websites and found delicious looking recipes, headed to town for the ingredients and gave them a go. Successes and disasters ensued.

My daughter ( a dietician) told me I had to be careful about cross contamination with regular flour into the gluten free bakes as this could cause serious problems for coeliacs. So I decided I would only bake GF & DF things in my kitchen on a Monday and make sure all pans & cake tins were thoroughly scoured.

My coconut & almond macaroons were an instant hit and my flapjacks are a weekly staple. I’ve had varied success with gluten free cakes though and the chocolate one last week looked like cardboard and didn’t rise. I thought I’d try making pastry-by hand- dairy & gluten free, now there’s a challenge. It formed ok and after it warmed up a bit after resting in the fridge for a few days I was set to roll it. Kept breaking… more kneading, more rolling, I was going to make old fashioned apple turnovers ( I ran out in the pouring rain to pick the apples earlier). I cut 3 circles, placed on non stick reuseable sheet and added a little of the cooked & cooled apple, added the egg wash to stick it together but then as I tried to fold the other half over it just broke. I couldn’t turn back now so carried on with all 3, gave it a good egg wash sprinkled with golden caster sugar & shoved in oven. They turned out ok, well 2 of the 3 looked presentable, I had to ‘try’ the third. Very short pastry as I suppose it would be. Plan B, the remaining pastry was turned into 6 mini apple pies. 2 of which got stuck in the tins so 4 are going to market & 2 are for dessert….

I’m going to get fat……

I will pesevere with this. Lessons learnt- always line baking tins, greasing & dusting with gf flour doesn’t make the tin non stick and pastry will be very short.

September 11, 2015

Brighton Mini Maker Faire 2015

What an amazing day! arriving early meant I had the opportunity to meet a few of the makers before the public arrived en masse. My stand didn’t need much setting up, just needed more chairs & another table, 4 in all and I think 16 chairs. I met folk with 3D printers,a mosaic creator, a couple with huge structures made of crazy coloured ‘straws’. The dalek was waiting in the foyer. PCB’s, LCD’s and other things I had no idea about, slime that you make at home, tiny creations made from fimo, sewing machines, a knitting robot, a spinning wheel and a host of gadgets that you could play with.

Volunteers made sure I had all I needed, even a packed lunch appeared mid morning. These guys work their socks off.

After last years faire I came up with the idea of felting selfies, or felfies as I like to call them. Due to surgery interrupting my creative year I had to think of an alternative to making a hundred or so balls which I’ve done previously. I tried felting onto a piece of upcycled wool jumper and it worked a treat. Much less work cutting up the fabric (old jumpers) and took up much less room in my suitcase too.

So I was organised, 2 helpers were confirmed and the flood gate opened at ten, it was a slow trickle at first but then it was all hands on deck as the seats were filled and the activities began. Everyone was given the health & safety talk then they were able to create an image of themselves with wool.

Of course many went off piste, we had landscapes, seascapes, aliens, animals and anything else they felt like felting.

IMG_1399 (1)IMG_1398IMG_1402 IMG_1403IMG_1408IMG_1409IMG_1412So, just a few images of the imaginative needle felt selfies and non selfies created with a little wool & big imaginations!