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Friday, 20 December 2013

Don't Buy It - Make It

I came across a page on facebook the other day called "Don't Buy It - Make it" and it appealed to me. The page is all about sharing ideas and, as the name suggests, making things rather than buying them and that is exactly what I like to do, especially if it means I can share the process with my girls. Although it is possible to get a buzz from shopping, there is a more satisfying feeling to be had from creating something yourself. I often find that when I'm out on the High Street or at craft fayres, I'm shopping just as much for ideas I can take home as for physical products.

Although I would encourage you too to keep your eyes open and look for ideas when out and about I would say that it is important not to vocalise your intentions when at a craft fayre as this may cause offence. I have been on the other side of this so know how insulting it can seem, even if it is not intended. Having someone glance at your products, toss their nose in their air and say, "No, we don't need jam, I make that myself," quite frankly makes me feel like I was some kind of idiot even to think I should offer my jams for sale. Or, having inspected some crafty wares, if a person were to say, "We could make that ourselves for half the price," it can easily be misinterpreted by the stallholder.

I am sure, on the other hand, that the same stallholders would be pleased to know that their products have inspired someone to try and make something similar at home. I, for example, share my experiences and recipes in books, blogs and talks and am really pleased when someone is inspired by my words, tips and advice to have a go. Similarly when my girls saw Allymadethis at a craft fayre, they were inspired to go home that same afternoon and dig out their Fimo to re-create things they had seen on her stall. I'm pleased to say that Ally liked the photo I sent her of my girls' creations that she had inspired.

You could as a stallholder feel threatened by "inspiration". After all, what is the difference between someone being inspired by your ideas and downright stealing them?! And surely that person who, rather than buying your products has gone home and made their own, is a sale lost. Well, yes, you could see it like that and you could spend your life behind closed doors, protecting your ideas and keeping secrets. But what is to be gained from that? You cannot both promote and market yourself and keep secrets and in trying to do so you lose more than you gain. Not least a loss of sales from not getting your ideas out there, but also the pleasure of sharing and being part of group of like-minded people.

And, you know what, if I didn't share my jam recipes people would still make jam. There will always be other people out there doing similar things to you whether on a commercial basis or as a hobby. And I, on occasions, will dabble now and then into the realms of other people's businesses. I sometimes make fudge, cakes and bread, for example. But just because I can make these things doesn't mean that I don't ever buy them. Sometimes making something makes you really appreciate the products that other people sell. Honestly I can't stand the tension of making fudge, wondering whether it will burn or not set so I'd much rather buy a perfect batch. Similarly, having just dabbled in the world of sourdough bread I now know it takes a week to nurture the starter and then a whole day of proving etc. before one loaf is created. Knowing that means I'm more likely to appreciate why the price of a sourdough loaf is more than a loaf of sliced white supermarket bread. Spend a whole week making a loaf of bread then mess it up at the cooking stage or hand over £2.50 for a perfect loaf? No brainer!

Sometimes creating something as a one off project makes you realise that that particular craft is not for you. As much as I love baking cakes, for example, the thought of endlessly putting in that much effort and energy into a product that I'm not going to eat is too much of a put-off for me to consider cake making as my career. Other people, I know, will occasionally turn their fruit tree glut into a batch of jam and proudly give jars away to friends and family but then feel that their jam making is over for another year. And never mind all the rules and regulations that come with selling food to the public! Back to the day job and leave that to the dedicated crafters and appreciate their efforts all the more for it.

So, I say to you, feel free to browse for ideas and to give it a go. Enjoy the making process and stand back and proudly admire your creations. Then, the next time you're at a craft fayre don't forget to appreciate what these people have managed to achieve and when you are pushed for time or short of energy you'll happily hand over your cash to buy something amazing and really appreciate all that has gone into it.

Here's a Christmas idea I saw on the Don't Buy it - Make it site. It was just a photo so I had to work out a recipe for myself but here's my recipe should you wish to give it a go too.

Reindeer Cupcakes (makes 12)

The snout of the reindeer are made of biscuit. You could buy biscuits for this to save time but they would have to be small biscuits so I'm not sure what brand that might be. Instead, I decided to make gingerbread using the recipe below. It makes considerably more than you need for the reindeer cakes so you could halve or even quarter the quantities. However, gingerbread is a great Christmas recipe anyway and the dough keeps well, wrapped in Clingfilm in the fridge for a few days and the cooked biscuits keep for several weeks so can be turned into gingerbread men, tree decorations, a gingerbread house etc.

For the gingerbread
4 oz (110g) dark brown sugar
4 oz (110g) golden syrup
2 oz (55g) butter
8 oz (225g) plain flour
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1 heaped teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Heat the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan until just melted. Set aside to cool. Sift the flour, spices, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl.  Add the melted mix to the dry mix and stir until combined into soft dough. Wrap the dough in Clingfilm and refrigerate for half an hour. Preheat an oven to 190 °C, 375 °F, gas mark 5 and grease a baking tray. Taking small pieces of dough at a time, roll it out. To make suitably small biscuits I used a screw-top wine bottle lid as a pastry cutter. Transfer the biscuits onto the baking tray and cook in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes until the biscuits have browned. Cool on a wire rack then decorate if desired. You will need to make 12 biscuits for one batch of cupcakes but you could make more for future batches whilst you're at it. It is fine to do this step the day before or several days in advance.

For the cupcakes
3½ oz (90g) soft margarine
3½ oz (90g) light brown sugar
2 eggs
3½ oz (90g) self-raising flour
½ tsp ground mixed spice

Preheat the oven to 190°C, gas mark 5 and put paper cases into each hole in a cupcake tin. Cream together the margarine and the sugar then add the eggs one at a time and mix in well. Sift in the flour and spice and stir until well combined. Spoon the mixture into the paper cases then bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the tray and cool on a wire rack

For the decoration
6 oz (175g) icing sugar
1 oz (25g) cocoa powder
Smarties or half glace cherries (for the noses)
Raisins (for the eyes)
Pretzels (for the antlers)

Mix together the icing sugar and cocoa powder in a small bowl with just enough water to form a smooth, spreadable paste. Once the cakes are completely cool, top each cake with a layer of icing. Press a gingerbread biscuit into the icing to form a snout. Stick a Smartie onto each biscuit using a little more icing to form a nose. Add raisins as eyes. Break the pretzels in half (quite tricky!), and press this into the icing to form antlers.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Sort out your kitchen for Christmas

There is a lot to do in preparation for Christmas but one thing that should not be overlooked is getting your kitchen ready for the festive season. This is particularly important if you are to host a Christmas meal of some description. You really want to be sure that you have all the food that you need, that you know which bits of equipment you will be using and that you have space to put stuff down. Some of this organisation can be done closer to the time but it worth thinking about this now as, firstly, Christmas supermarket delivery slots need to be booked now if you haven’t already done so, and chances are sometime in the next day or so you will have your last rubbish collection before Christmas so make sure you have thrown out what needs throwing out before that happens.

So, first job, if you usually get your shopping delivered and you haven’t already booked your Christmas delivery slot then do so now. Just bung any old thing into your trolley and check out then come back later and have a proper think about what you need. Before that last shop load of food arrives, make sure that you have somewhere to put it. It is time to sort out your fridge and your food cupboard.

Not only is this a good thing in terms of hygiene, but cleaning your fridge and cupboards will allow you to get everything organised. You can throw out some stuff, rearrange what's left into neat rows and know for sure what you have in there. This will stop you buying stuff that you actually had lurking at the back of the cupboard and make sure you buy stuff that you were sure you still had some left of but actually don't.

I clean the fridge about once a month so I never get too ghastly a surprise but I usually stumble across something like the soggy end of a piece of cucumber or similar that I have missed in the meantime. It is important to keep your fridge clean and I think in many kitchens it probably contains the least wiped down surfaces. When I tackle the fridge cleaning I start at the top and work my way down, placing the contents of each shelf in turn on the worktop, removing the shelf, cleaning it, drying it and returning it before replacing all the food that is still edible. Cleaning the fridge now before it is stacked up with turkey, sausages, ham, sprouts, cheese, trifle etc. will be a lot easier.

I tackle the food cupboard about twice a year and Christmas is one of those times. Again I work from shelf to shelf, top to bottom. Out of date food is thrown away, the shelves are wiped down and things are returned in a lovely ordered arrangement. Oh how I wish my cupboard always looked like this! It also gives me chance to review the odds and ends of jam and chutney that I seem to accumulate throughout the year as I make batches for sale. Although full jars of jam and chutney will keep for about two years unopened, my odds and ends come from scrapping down the pan at the end of a batch and don't fill a jar so are more prone to losing colour or flavour or even going mouldy. Having discarded these I'm left with a lovely selection of chutneys to go with the cheese board, and jams for breakfast. Something to be proud to offer with no embarrassing surprises lurking amongst them.

When deciding what food to throw away and what to keep, bear in mind that if it is past its "use by" date it could potentially cause food poisoning. However, a best before day just means it was probably better before that date. It is "stale" rather than "off" and you can use your own judgement as to whether it should be thrown away or if you can still use it up. Having nearly broken a tooth testing to see if a Liquorice Allsort was still edible, I soon realised what "best before" meant in that case! If you are throwing food away, think about the container it is in and whether it can be re-used or recycled. It does add a bit of time to the process, but spooning the contents into the food bin then washing and re-using or recycling the packaging is better for you and the environment. Saving these containers might be useful for putting leftovers in over the next few days. As you go, don't forget to put things on your shopping list as you think of them.

My final job is to go round to the allotment. Firstly, I can empty my past-their-best vegetables into the compost bin and secondly I can check to see what veg I might have available for the Christmas meal. This year I seem to have a glut of swede and beetroot which might need some creative thought but I'll need to put sprouts on the shopping list. By the end of this process I know exactly what I need to buy at the supermarket and can go back to the random basket full of shopping I'd hurried booked online and adjust it to suit. And when it is delivered it will almost be a joy to put away in my newly organised spaces. For a day or two I shall bask in the organised glory of my kitchen knowing that come Boxing Day it will look like a bomb has dropped.