Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Rent a Christmas Tree

A glossy flyer came through my door this week from Christmas Tree Angels: London's first sustainable Christmas tree rental service. The trees are grown from seed in pots and are delivered into your home - upstairs if required - and then collected at a convenient time after the festivities. You can even arrange to rent the same tree the following year. Once the trees get too big for use they get planted out to live out their retirement in a plantation.

I applaud the idea - there's nothing more depressing than seeing the wanton waste of trees that happens each January when they are dumped in skips or sent to the shredder - so I rushed to the website to find out what it costs. Unfortunately that's where my enthusiasm waned - it's a whopping £75 minimum to rent the smallest tree (a 4 foot Fraser Fir). They also offer additional options +£15 to choose your own tree, +£12.50 to insure it! and +£30 to pre-agree the delivery time (the free delivery option does not allow time-slot selection). Now I can understand that the operating costs are likely to be much higher than those for bought trees - but this is so high in the absolute as to put all but the most wealthy sustainability advocates off. 

I decided to do a bit of research and have discovered that while the concept may be new to us Londoners, there are a few similar firms operating elsewhere. I found a company in Dorset that will rent a 5 to 6 footer for £45 if you collect and return it yourself - or £59 for the full delivered option.
 Trees for Rent

Meanwhile if you want to make and mend your Christmas decorations we  have tons of great ideas on the website - from how to make salt dough tree decorations, to making stars and gift boxes from old Christmas cards.  Start your own Make it and Mend it Christmas now

Clare F

Monday, 29 November 2010

The Slow Cooker Challenge

So there we go…a week of slow cooker meals complete. 
How did I fare?  Am I a convert?  Scarily enough I have to admit that I am and I have had some definite successes that I would definitely repeat.  Some recipes were better than others, but that was probably more the fault of the chef rather than the cooker!

My favourite meals had to be the lamb shanks, the BBQ spare ribs and the rice pudding.  These dishes were amazing.  The rice pudding was rich, creamy and delicious.  The meat dishes were incredible. The slow cooking meant that the meat literally fell off the bone and they were so easy to make.  It was fabulous coming home to these incredible dishes that looked like I'd spent all day slaving over a hot oven.

If I had one criticism I'd have to say that this is an appliance for organised souls.  Those of you who know me, know that this isn't a word that's usually used to describe me.  I'm not somebody who's good at getting up and being organised enough to know what I'm going to eat that evening. Frankly I'm lucky if I know what I'm going to have for breakfast let alone prepare a meal for the evening. But having said that, I'd definitely use a slow cooker for cooking cuts of meat like ribs and shanks again.  My kids thought they were amazing and even thought I was a good cook!

So thoughts overall?  It's a brilliant appliance that makes deliciously easy home cooked meals and is well worth having in your kitchen!

 >> Click here for your chance to win a 
        Morphy Richards Slow Cooker

Try these delicious recipes

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Day Three of the Slow Cooker Challenge - Rice Pudding

Today I woke up to a thick frost and an even thicker fog, so what better way to ward of all those chills than a delicious slow cooked rice pudding…and this one was delicious. 

All I did was measure the ingredients out and throw them in the cooker.  I have to admit that it did take a bit longer than the recipe said, but it was well worth the wait.   The extra slow cooking made it really rich and creamy – a definite hit.

Downside you don’t get that lovely brown skin, upside you don’t get that horrible brown skin.
One man’s meat is another man’s poison, but if you do like a bit of skin, you can take the lid off and get an anaemic version.  Not terribly aesthetically pleasing, but still tastes great.

Roll on the spare ribs tomorrow!


>> Click here for your chance to win a Morphy Richards slow Cooker
>>  How to make slow cooked rice pudding

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Day Two of the Slow Cooker Challenge – Vegetable Soup

Ok day two and I have decided to go for some cheap and cheerful vegetable soup. 
This was simplicity personified.  I only had to assemble the veg, cut them up, add a bit of stock and throw them in the cooker.  By the time I came home this evening my kitchen was filled with delicious aroma of Vegetable soup. 

So how did I rate it?  With regard to the recipe, if I made it again I probably wouldn’t bother with adding any flour as I think it made a little thick for my liking and possibly unnecessarily added a bit of fuss, also as I had already included potatoes it did seem a little bit of overkill, but having said that it did taste delicious.
As for the slow cooker, it worked brilliantly.  As an AGA user I am also sticking food in the slow oven to cook and this matched up really well.

>> Click here for your chance to win a Morphy Richards Slow Cooker

>> Click here for Slow Cooker Vegetable Soup recipe

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Day one of the Slow Cooker Challenge - Apple Sauce cake

Day one of the slow cooker challenge - Apple Sauce cake

Day one and here I am alone with an alien kitchen utensil – what to do first?  A quick cursory glance at the instructions and I am off and running in my bid to make an apple sauce cake

Make a cake in a kitchen utensil? You must be joking I said.  But that is exactly what I have done today.  Using this great recipe we found in an old cookbook, I have made a really delicious cake.  The lovely thing about making this cake in the slow cooker was that not only was it really moist, but when I got home from work, the kitchen was filled with the most amazing smell of cinnamon and apples. This was my first attempt at cooking with the slow cooker and aesthetically my cake did leave a bit to be desired, but it still tasted amazing.

I have to admit I wasn’t completely sure what I was meant to be doing, but this machine is so easy to use. I am sure there are things I could do differently and there must be little tricks that would make it even easier to use, but on the whole this was a doddle. I had a look at various recipes to see how you should cook a cake and some said to put the mixture into a cake tin and then into the slow cooker and others said to just put the mixture straight into ceramic container.  Not being one for washing up I went with the latter option.  The cake was great, but I am not sure what the difference would be if I had used the other cake tin, but I was delighted with the result….Do tell me if you know what the difference is.

 So all in all a great result for day one!

>> Click here for Apple Sauce Cake recipe

>> Your chance to win a Morphy Richards Slow Cooker

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Slow Cooker Challenge

As a long time AGA user I'm always sceptical of buying any seemingly ‘unnecessary’ kitchen appliances, especially ones that involve cooking. I've always been a a bit of a purist and a firm believer in cooking the old fashioned way. 

So when the lovely people at Morphy Richards gave us Slow Cookers for you guys to win in our competition,  the team at MIAMI Towers insisted that I have a go.  They've challenged me to see what I can do with a Slow Cooker and whether I'll change my mind about it. 

So over the coming week I'll be trying various recipes - please feel free to post your own favourites.

>> Click here for your chance to win a Morphy Richards Slow Cooker 

Monday, 15 November 2010

Paper sculpture

Thanks to Lis Long for telling us about these amazing paper sculptures made by husband and wife team, Allen and Patty Eckman.

The couple employ a unique method which involves placing paper pulp in clay moulds and then pressurising it to remove the water. The hard, lightweight pieces are then removed from the moulds and they painstakingly add detailed finishings with a wide range of tools. A sculpture can take them almost a year to complete.

The sculptures take their inspiration from traditional Native American Indian life. The Eckmans have been making these since 1987 at their home studio in South Dakota, USA and have earned over £3 million selling them, the record being a creation called Prairie Edge Powwow which sold for £47,000.

Allen said: 
"We create Indians partly because my great, great grandmother was a Cherokee and my family on both sides admire the native Americans...I work on the men and animals and Patty does the women and children"

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Have a go at upholstery

Lots of people tell me they're too scared to try upholstery - so I thought I'd share my own experience. In fact this was what got me started down the Make it and Mend it road in the first place.

I had a very old scruffy red velvet nursing chair and a sprung Edwardian dining chair that I was given by my mother and was thinking of throwing out. Instead my friend Joan suggested I have a go at upholstering them, by coming along to the class she goes to weekly in Somerset. I was doubtful but signed on for a week long course and was immediately hooked. Unfortunately I can't show you the step by step photos as they were on a phone that was lost - but here's the finished product

This chair had springs that were still quite reasonable and didn't need replacing - but they did need re-fixing and all the webbing and stuffing had to be replaced. I re-stuffed it with new horsehair - and put the old horsehair in a pillow case and washed it so it was ready to use for my next project.

I found the sewing very relaxing and also got great satisfaction from stripping the chair down to its base essentials, cleaning and polishing the wood and taking out all the old nails and webbing.

I finished the nursing chair in four days and then started on the dining chair. There was no way I could get that done in a day - as it needed new springs and webbing, so I booked myself in for another couple of days in a few weeks time and carried on at home in the interim. When I went back to Somerset I finished it off and also re- covered a cheap footstool at the same time, using matching fabric.

Joan was an inspiration to me - and a perfectionist - she persuaded me to take all the piping off the nursing chair after I'd finished sewing it on - and do it all over again - as I hadn't positioned it quite correctly. I was really glad afterwards.

This was my first attempt at doing any form of sewing or craft work in almost 30 years. Since then I have been unstoppable and rediscovered my youthful interest. I find it deeply satisfying and very relaxing. So have a go - you won't know what you're capable of until you try.

My upholstery course was at  Lilac barn where the very capable Cherry taught me all the basics. She runs regular courses in upholstery and other crafts -  in a lovely location in the Somerset Levels >> Lilac Barn Craft Courses
or check out your local adult education centre.