Make it a lovely local Christmas!

As crafters, I think we can all understand how much skill is involved in turning a hobby into a successful business. At Christmas, I do like to try and find unusual gifts, rather than rushing to a high street chain or relying on Amazon to do my shopping. I also feel it is important to support local producers wherever I can. If we don’t, they won’t survive and the world will be a poorer, less interesting place.

I have already spotted several super local producers in my neck of the woods and will be getting quite a few local gifts for family and friends. I have included links (where I can) if you are interested in buying from my local producers, but I hope it will inspire you to have a look around your own area and see what is on offer. I bet you’ll be very pleasantly surprised!

Twool sounds lovely – and it is lovely! Super sustainable twool products are made in Devon from the ‘lustre’ long wool of the rare breed Whiteface Dartmoor sheep. Versatile twool yarn is the eco-friendly British alternative to jute. Their online shop is full of lovely gift ideas from garden twine to posh woolly bags to dog leads. They also have some special Christmas gifts including a ‘Chelsheepensioner Dumpling’ hand knitted from twool – you’ll have to go and look at their website now just to see what that is!

I confess I have mentioned The Dartmoor Soap Company before, but I truly believe it is worth another mention! Their soaps are fab and make great stocking fillers. Their artisan soaps are handmade using natural ingredients which, wherever possible, are sustainably sourced and harvested on Dartmoor. How good is that? They produce a wonderful range of soaps including aromatherapy soaps, soaps for men and even soap for pets! There is definitely a soap for every member of your family!

Clare’s Preserves is a true artisan producer of multi award winning marmalades, jams, jellies, chutneys and relishes. Based in the foothills of Dartmoor, all products are handmade by Clare in small batches, using traditional open pot methods. Clare’s preserves include some wonderful flavour combinations – Beetroot & Orange Chutney, Blackcurrant & Lime Jam, Lemon, Dartmoor Honey and Ginger Marmalade and many more! You’ll be spoilt for choice.

Not wishing to be accused of being sexist, but… here’s one for the boys well, definitely for Richard anyway! Dartmoor Brewery is the only brewery on the moor producing Dartmoor branded beer, the brewery is passionate about preserving and promoting Dartmoor and its traditions. The Brewery’s own shop at its HQ in Princetown sells everything from its popular beers — including Jail Ale, Dartmoor IPA, Dartmoor Best and Legend — to Dartmoor Brewery branded goods such as T-shirts, rugby shirts, hoodies and beer gift packs.

And finally… how about a bit of light Christmas reading material? I know, absolutely shameful self-promotion but the fourth book in the Swaddlecombe Series is entitled The Proof is in the Pudding and has a Christmassy theme, so I feel I am allowed to include it! You can buy this one (and the previous three!) in paperback from my website, or on Kindle.

 

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Seeds like a good idea…

Apart from seeds on breads and biscuits, or a few mixed in with muesli, I can’t say I was ever that interested in eating seeds. Somehow, they always sounded a bit too healthy and virtuous! As times change, ingredients go in and out of fashion and, today, seeds are very definitely ‘in’!

Seeds are full of protein, fats and other nutrients and, as people try to limit their intake of meat and eat more healthily, seeds are definitely worth a look. Modern research has revealed that most seeds are packed with B vitamins, essential for metabolic function and energy production.

If seeds strike you as rather bland, try toasting them – ­they can take on a whole different personality! For example, I have always found pumpkin seeds rather ‘green’ in taste and dull in texture. I was cooking a recipe that called for toasted pumpkin seeds, so I dutifully toasted some and discovered one of the tastiest healthy snacks ever! I now quite often toast a mix of seeds including pumpkin and sunflower and use it as a delicious crunchy, nutty addition to salads or veggie bakes.

Toasting seeds

Bake or roast seeds to enhance their flavour and give them a crunch. Dry bake seeds on baking parchment in a cooling oven or dry fry them over a medium heat in a heavy bottomed frying pan. You need to be careful not to burn them! I will often bake a whole batch, let them cool and then store them in Kilner jars (or anything airtight) for use later – they stay nice and crunchy and look lovely too!

You can create your own ‘sprinkles’ and add them to cereals, yogurt, porridge, cakes, breads, fish or veggie dishes or pretty much anything! The best seeds for toasting, in my view, are:

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Linseed
  • Sesame seeds

Once baked, you can add seasoning, such as salt and black pepper to create a delicious savoury sprinkle.

The maximum nutritional value of seeds can be released by soaking and sprouting them, triggering enzymes and making them easier to digest. You’ll need to buy edible seeds suitable for sprouting – not the type of seeds you sow in your veg beds! You should be able to find these in health food shops, or online. The sprouting process is probably something you did at school, it’s pretty easy and, after 4 or 5 days, you’ll have some lovely edible shoots to liven up your salads and your metabolism!

Sprouting seeds

Try these, they are nice and easy to grow, and delicious!

  • Mustard
  • Pumpkin
  • Alfalfa
  • Sunflower

 

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A ‘Quick’ drink inspiration!

There is such an amazing renaissance going on in the gin world, it is quite extraordinary. When I was young, it was a Gordon’s and tonic, and that was it! Over time, the spirit seemed to dwindle in the face of more trendy offerings… now it is the ‘in’ thing and go into most pubs and there’s a selection of 10 and sometimes 20 gins to choose from. There are gin producers popping up all over the place, and while I am not suggesting we all need to start guzzling G&Ts, I think it’s a very positive development and is creating local jobs and generally promoting a ‘local’ product which has to be a good thing.

Copyright: Quick Gin

I featured Tarquin’s Cornish gin a while ago and have recently spotted a new gin on the block that is made in Exeter – given its bright orange bottle, it’s hard not to spot! Called Quick Gin, the producers use a wide range of botanicals (the herbs and spices used to give each gin its distinct flavour) – juniper berries, coriander seeds, orange peel, angelica root, cassia bark, orris root powder, lemon peel, liquorice root powder, nutmeg and cinnamon. They then infuse orange and a hint of almond to round off the gin. Hence the orange bottle!

Looking at Quick’s website, I see that they have all sorts of fun cocktail suggestions including one for Autumn, designed to enliven these long Autumn nights… well, it’s a good excuse, anyway!

Quick Gin’s Autumn Cocktail:

  • 25ml Quick Gin
  • 25ml Pimms
  • 25ml rhubarb syrup
  • 50ml apple juice
  • 25ml sugar syrup
  • 12.5ml lemon juice
  • Pinch of cinnamon

Add all of the ingredients to a shaker, add ice and shake. Strain over ice and garnish with an apple and orange twist.

Copyright: Seedlip.

For those of you that don’t drink alcohol or, like me, often look for non-alcoholic options, I also spotted this on a recent trip to Jersey to visit my sister Kate. Called Seedlip Spice 94, it is a non-alcoholic spirit, it’s made like a gin with botanicals, but is definitely not a gin. The predominant flavour is clove rather than juniper, and, most importantly, it has no alcohol! Perfect if you’re a designated driver or you’re just not drinking at the moment. Seedlip contains allspice, grapefruit, lemon peel, cardamom, American oak and cascarilla bark. Together, they make a fresh, warming drink that is full of flavour but is alcohol free.

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Squeezing through the Corinth Canal

Here’s a final holiday blog for you… some pictures from the island of Sifros and our journey through the Corinth Canal. I hope you have enjoyed some of the highlights of the trip.

One of the main reasons we wanted to do this journey was to see what it was like for a medium sized boat to squeeze through the Corinth Canal. The really big boats can’t make it but we did last night and wow it was spectacular. With only a foot or two to spare each side we took about 45 minutes to cross through this gap carved through solid rock. If you can’t take this shortcut then it’s a 180-mile trip round!

We were guided by a pilot boat and sailed through at a constant 5 knots, excuse me if I don’t regurgitate the mass of techy information the captain gave me about pressures and constant speeds… I just smiled and nodded!

The island I wandered round today was called Sifnos. The guides are all lovely and each one insists their island is the best. I have been trying to be friendly and learn a little Greek and smiled at everyone saying “Calamari!” (Good morning) till the guide politely pointed out that I was yelling “Squid” at everyone and I should have been saying kalimera not calamari. I thought they were looking strangely at me!

The island is so pretty and some of the walls were from 1500BC… so something like 3,500 years old… amazing and the flowers were beautiful, mainly bougainvillea and, as always, tons of olive trees. Lots of locally made bits and pieces, honey, olive soap, amazing ceramics and the ever present wine.

I bought some honey yesterday when I visited the site of the Oracle of Delphi. Apparently, the honey is made from local bees who all use pollen from the calm, positive atmosphere of Delphi and so the honey will bring positive vibes every time it is used. Ok, so I was persuaded…. but it tastes nice so what the heck!

Sadly home again soon, but it has been a very educational but fun trip, will it influence my work, no probably not but it has given us a wonderful rest!

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Tasting olive oil and rocket fuel!

Continuing my holiday adventures…

Yesterday, we docked at a town called Kotor in Montenegro. It was quaintly medieval in many places and very beautiful. I will admit to complete ignorance about Montenegro, the only time I have heard of it was as part of the Eurovision Song Contest but that’s faintly embarrassing! The tour we chose took us around the town and on to a small family olive oil producer.

Left to right: Here I am taking a wander around the old town of Kotor. Ruschka and Mischka the weed control management team. The olive grove.

Our first stop, once we arrived on the farm, was to meet Ruschka and Mischka the weed control management team. Mischka is 18 (on the right) and expecting a baby donkey soon and we shared some of the little welcome doughnuts we had been handed. We didn’t share the welcome drink we were given, I took one sip and immediately passed the rest of the glass to Richard… 50 per cent proof home made brandy… made variously from grapes, apples, plums or, I suspected, any fruit they had handy. It wasn’t unpleasant but wow it blew your head off! They didn’t call it rocket fuel for nothing!

We then moved on to the 300-year-old olive press and machinery, so beautiful, and lovely that it has been preserved. There was a careful explanation of how the oil is extracted. The rubbish/paste left over they reuse as compost material and animal feed. They had goats and sheep for cheese and rabbits for… OK, I will gloss over that one but I kind of assume they may not have kept 20 or so rabbits as pets. They showed us their brand new modern machinery, much less work for the donkeys than the old version, hence their transfer to weed management!

Then we had a lesson on how to taste olive oil and a serious lecture on how the stuff we are all buying is very unlikely to be proper olive oil as most of the supermarkets sell oils that are hugely blended and taste nothing like proper olive oil. Well having tasted some I suspect he was right, it was far fruitier and a little more peppery than the big bottles I buy in Tesco… and a 100cl bottle cost 3 euros direct from the farm, so that is about £25 a litre. Hmm, now what do I pay, about £4.99 at most for a litre. So I may change my ways, I’ll look more carefully when I get home.

Left to right: The old and the new olive presses… and the finished product.

They then gave us a gorgeous lunch, with cheese from their sheep, prosciutto ham made at home by the mother, eggs from their chickens and some lightly battered courgettes. Followed by apple cake (yup made by Mum) and Turkish coffee (fab if you like strong coffee). The cheese was interesting. One was a pale soft cheese which tasted like a mild Lancashire or something along those lines. Then they take some of those cheeses and place them in wire mesh cages and hang them over the patio (!) for three weeks. This dries them out and they then immerse them in olive oil. The resulting cheese was quite firm and almost had the strength of a Parmesan.

Then back to the ship where we found an invitation to eat with the captain tonight, aha … maybe I can persuade him to try card making, he already does various crafts like wood carving etc. in his spare time… so who knows!

The photo at the top is of the beautiful fish filled river and ponds in the town of Kotor.

 

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