Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The shop opens for business!

On Thursday night I finally got round to making the green tomato chutney, following the recipe my Dad always used from the Sarsons pickles and chutney recipe book.  I didn't have any white onions (I left the onion planting up to Chris this year and he thought it was a good idea to plant all the red ones and just a few white ones, not realising red onions are meant for salads, and we don't eat many salads in winter).  Next year I'll make sure we plant plenty of white onions.  The chutney should have taken 1 hour and 30 minutes to make, but it took far longer to boil it down to what I thought was the correct consistency.  Considering it took ages to make, I only got 3 medium jars and 3 small jars, of very dark, but tasty, chutney.  I don't know where I went wrong.  Perhaps a less thick consistency would have been OK and I overcooked it.  Or it could have been the red onions.  I was hoping to make about 10 jars for Christmas presents.  It was 12.30am by the time it was all bottled up (I started at 8pm).

Some good news - the shop opened its doors to the public on Thursday.  It took £180 on its first day of trading, which is pretty good.  I was working as a volunteer on Friday afternoon and the shop took £190.  I also volunteered all day on Saturday but we only took £90.  Which isn't bad considering we've only opened as a 'soft launch' in order to iron out any teething issues, before the official opening in the next week or so.  The shop's not even been publicised yet.  Our sales target is £150 per day.  I enjoyed volunteering in the shop.  I took two of my pumpkins for the window display, which looks ace.  I added a few extra things to the window display, I repriced some items, and served on the till.  It's a shame I can't afford to apply for the other shop manager's role, but the pay isn't enough for me to cover my outgoings.

Down at the flea market on Sunday I got two cool books about handicrafts and soft toys.  Just look at some of the amazing soft toys in the book.  I wish I knew how to use a sewing machine so that I could try and make them.  None of the local colleges offer dressmaking courses any more, I don't know why (possibly because shops like Primark sell clothes so cheaply that it doesn't seem worth making them at home anymore?)

After this I went down to the allotment.  I picked two huge parsnips.  Chris tried for ages to pull them out but failed.  So we watered them and tried again in 30 minutes and they eventually popped out.  They're very big!  I'm going to roast them in maple syrup until they go soft chewy and slightly charred round the edges - delicious!

The runner beans have gone an amazing lilac colour.

I pulled out the remaining courgette plant and dug over and weeded the squash bed.  Chris made a new bird table for the allotment so we put this in the middle of the old squash patch.  Hopefully the freshly dug soil combined with the bird table wiill be a big hit with our feathered friends.

Before the dig.

And after.

I watered and picked the last of the chillies and peppers.  Next year, I'll sow the chillies and peppers first as they seem to take the longest out of all of the plants I've grown.  They definitely need a long growing season in order to turn red.

The fig has lots of little fruits on it.

The brassicas are growing well.

The leaves have turned red on the blueberry plants.

The beans look very sad now.

You can see from the photos that the sun is much lower in the sky and is casting lots more shadows.  When I get up for work it's dark.  The clocks are due to go back this weekend, so it'll be even darker still, but lighter in the evenings.

When I got home from the allotment I picked the last of the flowers in the garden.  There's been two frosts this week, so I don't think some of the tender flowers will be around much longer, because the wind and rain has picked up too.  I ended up with a punnet full of really pretty flowers. I pressed the flowers inside a book and I need to leave them under a heavy weight for 4-6 weeks to press.  I would like to use the flowers on cards if they turn out OK, as I've got a bit of a thing for buying people cards at the minute and I always like receiving nice cards.  I might also make a little collage titled 'Our garden 2010', which I could frame for the wall.

Here's what the back garden looks like now (excuse the blur - the light levels were quite low).

One of the nasturtiums is like a triffid.

And a close up of one of the pumpkins that rotted.

I picked some raspberries from the garden.

The paperwhite narcissus bulbs that I planted have sprouted.  I read in Alys Fowler's gardening column in the Guardian that you should give the bulbs a shot of vodka when they are about 10cm high, as this slows down the growth.

I ordered a fantastic looking selection of garlic bulbs for planting off Thompson and Morgan's website.  It only cost £17 for a selection of 10 different varieties including softneck and hardneck varieties and elephant garlic.

It was -1.5 degrees centigrade on Monday morning.  Pretty cold (for October anyway).

I've finished the first of the armwarmers I started.  I got stuck with how to make the thumb slit using DPNs.  But a quick post on Ravelry's forum and I was up and running again.  It was as simple as just turning the work and working back and forth in knit and purl rows. I love Ravelry - it rocks.

My Mum went on holiday to see some relatives in Ireland, and I asked her to bring me back some 'Fifteens' cakes.  You can only get them in Ireland and they're yummy - they're really easy to make too from (15) digestive biscuits.   Mmmmmm...

I went to the shop update meeting last night.  I felt a bit bad afterwards as I ended up sounding off about something (in a nice way of course).  I couldn't help myself because it's something I feel strongly about.  Someone suggested getting a fridge for the shop to sell cheese and milk etc.  This is a fine idea, you might think, but my concern is, aren't we just becoming another form of supermarket if we try and become a one stop shop for people?  Shouldn't we be encouraging people to use the cheese stall on the market?  There's also plans to link with a veg box scheme in another borough, OK fine, some people may want this, but shouldn't we also have links with the fruit and veg stalls on the market?  Then people can choose exactly what they want rather than buy a large box of veg, some of which may be surplus to requirements and thrown away.  I am worried that if people don't use the market it will disappear.  Then all we're left with is whatever the supermarkets choose to sell.  If we're thinking about transition towns and working towards a sustainable future for our town, we can't put all our eggs in one basket (excuse the pun), by getting all our things from one shop.  For example, if everyone started getting their fruit and veg and cheese from us.  Over time, this might mean the market stalls go out of business and shut down.  Then what would happen if the shop were to shut down too (God forbid)?  There wouldn't be an alternative other than shopping at the supermarket for cheese and fruit and veg.  Throughout the process of setting up this shop it's been important for me that the shop only sells things currently unavailable to buy in town.  It shouldn't be taking trade away from local traders who are already struggling.  I would love to sell eco wool at the shop, but I would prefer the local wool shop to stock it instead.  The co-operative should be helping to encourage people to use local shops.  We should be signposting people to a stall that sells local organic cheese or fruit and veg. Then, come peak oil, we will have a local supplier network in place, rather than being reliant on supermarkets.  I always feel bad after I've spoken my mind.  Obviously, my face went red, as it always does if I speak my mind (thanks face).  But I made it clear it was only my opinion, and they should consider how other people feel too.  I've been tasked with visiting the market stalls to see if they sell local or organic produce, and if not, whether they would be willing to stock these types of products as we know there is a demand for them.

Well it's Halloween at weekend and I've bought some white face paint and fake blood in anticipation of going out dressed like a zombie.  But I might not bother as my friends are going on a pub crawl.  Why is no one having a house party?  I'm not a big fan of pubs - too much drinking and the music is too loud to hold a conversation, and I'm not much of a dancer.  Give me a coffee bar, a comfy sofa and some background jazz anyday.  Crikey, how old do I sound?  I was a party animal once, honestly.

I feel like Jerry Springer, with my 'final thought of the post', but sometimes you've got to stop worrying about how other people are and just be yourself and do what seems right to you.  Other people might like dancing and drinking, but I'm not a big fan, but I need to remember that's OK.  I don't need to be like everyone else.  It's OK to be me.  And it's not OK not to be me.  Being me is what I am best at.  I need to stop trying to be like other people, and feeling bad when I'm not.  We should celebrate our differences.  Yes I blush when I'm on the spot.  Yes I don't like dancing around and being the centre of attention.  But there are lots of things I do that other people don't, that are just as valid as extrovert behaviours.  I just wish I could be me, without thinking twice about how others perceive me.  I'm getting there, slowly...

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Save Rob McElwee! And my blistering heart.

On Friday afternoon I dropped off 2 large boxes full of nest boxes, insect hibernators and bird feeders at the shop. The external shop sign is up now and it looks ace.  The Shared Earth order had arrived too, and I had fun looking at all the fair trade gifts.  I chose my friend Nina a wood framed mirror and keyring as part of her birthday present.  The Faith in Nature order had arrived, and I bought a bar of chocolate soap which Chris thinks smells like chocolate cake.  The Bio-D cleaning products were there too.  Unfortunately the products are unscented which is a bit disappointing.  I presume it's more eco friendly not to use a scent, but I like my laundry and washing up to smell fresh.  I'll give it a try and see what I think.

I was flicking through Saturday's Guardian newspaper when I spotted a lovely photo of Rob McElwee doing his first weather forecast back in 1991.  Imagine my upset when I read that they're planning to get rid of my favourite TV weather forecaster!  I've emailed the Met Office to say that I am unhappy with their decision, and they got back to me straight away, which suggests I'm not the only person to get in touch.  There's a 'Save Rob McElwee' Facebook group, but I can't join as I'm not on Facebook.  It would be such a shame if he went.  He's made the weather much more exciting for me.  It's not that I fancy him or anything, it's just his love for snow and dramatic weather and the cheeky one liners he says at the end of the forecast.  Plus he explains how the weather works.  I hope they don't get rid of him.  Please save Rob McElwee!

On Saturday lunch time we went into town to see the video premiere of our friend's new video.  It's a project they've been working on for a few months, and it identifies people's favourite places in our town.

On Saturday afternoon I went to the allotment and picked all the green tomatoes (there wasn't as many as I'd hoped).  I also cut down the tomato plants ready for composting.  The bottom greenhouse looks really empty now, but the top greenhouse is still full of chillies and peppers.

We found a dead goldfinch at the allotment.  I don't know how it died.  We'll need to closely monitor the situation to ensure the birds aren't being harmed by the seeds or feeders.

After this I went home and picked the green tomatoes in the greenhouse at home (there was more tomatoes than I'd hoped - so I've got plenty to make chutney with).  I cleared out all the plants in the greenhouse and took them to the green compost bin.  This greenhouse also looks very empty now.

I keep spotting what I think is a dunnock in our back garden.  It's there quite a lot, hopping around beneath the terracotta pots looking for food.  I left it some bird seed on the plinth and the bird table.  I hope Steve French doesn't hurt it.  Chris has seen a robin in the back garden, so I told him robins love to eat mature cheddar cheese, so he's going to leave some cheese out for them.

On Sunday night we went to a local Italian restaurant called Checco's for my friend Nina's birthday.  I ordered a Mexican garlic bread (tomato, onion, chilli and garlic - delicious).  For my main course I had spaghetti al tonno, which was good, but a bit salty.  For dessert I ordered hot chocolate fudge cake and ice cream.  All washed down with a large glass of expensive but not very good red wine.  It was too thin and tasteless for my liking and it cost £4.70 per glass.  What a rip off!

On Monday night after work I went to the shop to set up the gardening section.  I'm really pleased with how it looks.  It's mainly wildlife products, but I'm waiting until spring 2011 before we order in veg seeds and organic gardening products.

Here's a photo I took of the shop tonight.  We're using real leaves in the window display!

The weather has been very dry recently.  This morning it was -0.5 degrees centigrade outside, and the car had a medium layer of frost on the windscreen.  It's certainly starting to feel colder.  The cold always inspires me to knit, and I started a new pair of fingerless gloves last night, using Patons eco wool chunky seagull coloured wool.  I'm using double pointed needles (DPNs) as I hate having to sew things together afterwards, and using DPNs means I can knit a tube rather than a flat shape.  I've gone freehand with the pattern, just a basic 2x2 rib around the cuffs and the rest is in stockinette stitch.  Another benefit of using DPNs is that you don't have to do alternate knit and purl rows to create stockinette stitch, you just knit all the stitches which makes things easier, because you don't have to think about what you're doing - you just knit!  Patons eco wool chunky is so lovely to knit with and I'm using 6mm bamboo DPNs that I bought off eBay, because no-one stocked that size of DPNs locally.  The gloves were meant to be a Christmas gift for someone, but they already look so lovely I might have to keep them for myself!

I burnt my finger on my hair straighteners.  I only touched them for a second but it burnt like hell.  But I did end up with a cool heart shaped blister.

Finally I wanted to pay homage to one of my favourite TV shows when I was a child.  It was called Cockleshell Bay and I think it's why I have a fondness for the seaside and sand dunes.  This is a rather appropriate episode called 'A frosty day'.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

An Indian summer but autumn approaches

It's been a busy week and I've got lots done, even though I had a cold and sore throat over the weekend.  The weather has been very sunny for the past few days, so I've tried to make the most of our last bit of summer.

On Saturday we went for a walk in the park and I took some photos of the autumn trees - the leaves haven't gone that orange yet.  Last year my Dad pointed out a tree in the park that always went orange first.  He said he really liked it.  So I wanted to take a branch off the tree down to his memorial garden.  But the tree hasn't turned orange just yet, so I need to wait a little longer.

Here are some of the photos I took.

I took a few photos with my macro lens.

I spotted some fungi at the side of the road.

The rudbeckias in the front garden look very autumnal.

I took a nice photo of Steve French whilst I had my macro lens on.

I did the household cleaning order (entirely Bio-D products because Ecover have a sketchy animal testing policy and Bio-D is produced locally) and I did the Faith in Nature beauty/body care order for the shop.  I've also been working on the labels for the shelves in the shop.  And I've been to collect the bird box/insect hibernator order from Prosperity.  One of the new shop managers gave backword on their role so this has delayed the opening.

On Sunday morning we went to the flea market and this week I got 2 River Cafe cookbooks for 50p each.  We also bought lots more bird seed including niger seed (to attract goldfinches) at the allotment.   The birds devoured all the fat balls and emptied the feeders in a week!  We can sit and watch the birds from the shed window, I don't think they realise we're there, it's a bit like a bird hide.

I picked some beetroot at the allotment.  My Mum cooked and peeled them and then I sliced and pickled them in vinegar.  We tried them last night and they were very soft and magenta coloured but the vinegar still tasted strong, I think we need to leave them in the jar for a month to settle down.

I picked the last few red tomatoes.  I'm going to make chutney with the green ones at weekend, following the recipe my Dad used.   I might try a chilli variation too.

I also picked some fire tongue beans.  They don't taste that great once cooked (like hard mushy peas), but they look very pretty when picked, although the pink speckling goes once they're cooked.  I'm going to leave a lot on the plant to dry out to use in winter casseroles and broths.

The large sweet peppers are coming along nicely - I hope they turn red.

I cleared out the sweetcorn and peas/broad beans and Chris made a fire and got things burning.

Here's the bottom greenhouse before and after I cleared out the sweetcorn.

We had our first proper brew (cup of tea) at the allotment in the new shed, using the camping stove and whistling kettle.  It's like having our own little house on the plot.

I planted the spring bulbs off my Aunty Amy in my Dad's memorial garden.  I left the cyclamen and viola in situ.

It was a lovely sunny and slightly hazy October day.

The pampas grass is looking good at the minute.

I brought all the pumpkins and marrows home in the boot of the car.  Some of them weighed a tonne!

Then I went to my Mum's for tea and had 2 glasses of red wine.  After this I came home and made 3 deadly margueritas!  They're far too strong for something that tastes soooooo nice.  Needless to say I was a bit rough the day after.  Oddly, it hasn't put me off them.

My book purchases this week include a book called 'Garden bird songs and calls' by Geoff Sample.  I would like to learn how to tell what birds are nearby even if I can't see them.

I also got 'Philips guide to weather forecasting'.

And a brilliant book called 'How to make a wildlife garden' by Chris Baines.

We had our first frost of the autumn on 13th October - there was a thin layer of ice on the windscreen when we set off for work in the morning. I'm glad all the squashes were safely at home as they might have suffered in the frost.

Last night I planted up the paperwhite narcissus bulbs in glasses with white decorative gravel.  I also tried a bulb in marbles.  There are ten glasses in total and I'll tie a pretty white ribbon around them and give them to people as Christmas presents.  Hopefully they'll flower just in time to go on the Christmas dining table.  I got the idea from Laetitia Maklouf's Virgin Gardener book (which I still love).

I finally got round to sorting through my wardrobe and replacing all the summer clothes with winter ones.  I feel so much more organised now, and I found lots of clothes and accessories that I'd forgotten about.

I sent everyone cards to thank people for my birthday presents.

Everyone at the allotment wanted a copy of the radio show.  None of them have computers so I had to put the show onto an audio CD for them.  I ended up burning 26 discs in total.  I'll also give them a group and individual photo each.

It's my friend Nina's 35th birthday on 17th October.  She had her laptop stolen and her entire photo collection was lost.  So for her birthday we've collected together lots of photos for her.  I've put them onto a disc and we've had the best ones printed out and my friend Caroline is putting them into a photo album for her.

Last week I bought a bargain tray of violas from B and Q for £1.50.  I planted these up into 2 terracotta pots and a hanging basket.  I'm going to give one of the pots to Caroline as a flat warming present.

Finally, I took a photo of the crescent moon on its way to setting.  In hindsight I should have used a tripod, but I still like the photo.