Archive for October, 2013

October 28, 2013

Witshop

Many of you know of my current fascination for all things letterpress, and so when I was approached by Freya of Witshop about some of their products with the words “we’ve done some work with Nick, your letterpress tutor” I was definitely interested in finding out more.

Witshop is a Brighton based design duo, who formed in Leeds in 2011. They work with a range of UK based specialist craftspeople to produce their beautiful products and I was really impressed to see such specific information about who they work with and where the products are made, over on their website. Sustainability is really important to me, rather than products with a short ‘fashionable’ lifespan and so I really like this ethos.

And, it’s fair to say that I love the products I was sent too. The tea towel, which has been screen-printed and stitched in Yorkshire, comes in recyclable paper packaging, which creates a very positive first impression. It’d make a lovely gift.  The print reminds me of the old French educational posters that I’m always lusting after on Etsy and I love the colour combination. In a bold green (which I’m told is Pantone Green 578) black and white, it’s made on 100% unbleached cotton and has the all-important loop for hanging. I’m really looking forward to taking it to my new home. (As, an aside, yes – I’m moving house, more on that in another post) I’m currently using mine to do the drying up, rather obviously, and it’s doing a grand job, but this photo suggests that it’d look great hanging on a wall too.

Fishy Tea Towel (image from Witshop)

Fishy Tea Towel (image from Witshop)

The notecards come in a set of five, each with a different fish printed on the front. They’re lithograph printed in Yorkshire, and have a perforated fold so you can tear off and keep the fish-based recipe that’s printed on the inside of each one. The card they’re printed on feels thick and good quality, and it’s also recycled, which I like.  I’m sure that lots of my friends would love them too, but I’m currently torn between posting them and putting them in a frame to display, because I think they’d look great in a kitchen. Although perhaps if I posted them to friends, I’d be invited over for dinner using one one of the lovely recipes written inside…

Fishy Notecards (image from Witshop)

Fishy Notecards (image from Witshop)

Overwhelmingly, these Witshop products are a stylish blend of design and sustainability, with lots of thought clearly being put into each element of the product.  I really love them and would recommend them for yourself or as gifts, if you can bear to part with them!

If you’re lucky enough to live in Leeds, you can buy Witshop products at Colours May Vary. For the rest of the world, these and other great products can be found in the Witshop online store (see the link above). As you can tell, I was sent these products to review, but I love them so much I shall buy more for myself. 

October 25, 2013

A month without supermarkets.

Last month, I had a bit of a meltdown in the local supermarket. I’ve written before on the paradox of choice and how, sometimes, when faced with too many options, I go into some kind of paralysis. When forced into a supermarket, I often find myself wandering aimlessly round  as though drugged, then like the proverbial deer in the headlights, standing in front of an entire aisle of soup, unable to drag myself away, nor make a decision about which to buy.

And that’s precisely the reason that I’m quitting them. That, and the knowledge that half the world doesn’t have enough to eat and the other half, well, me at least, is deliberating over what seems like an endless variety of food.The balance is quite clearly off and it makes me uncomfortable. I want to have a better feeling about my food than I do now.

So. What to do? Well, I’m about to move to a new area of Leeds which has an array of small independent shops. I’ve just started getting a weekly veg box delivery again. And I’m determined to make the most of my allotment produce. All of these things add up to one answer. Stop going to the supermarket. See what other suppliers are out there; the Leeds Bread Co-op that delivers locally, the farmers’ market, Leeds City Markets, Handpicked Food Hall, and a myriad of other folk. I want to know where my meat comes from, try raw milk, eat seasonally, cook more, meet the people who produce the food that I’m buying and eating. I don’t want to be that person that I become when I’m in the supermarket, making choices like a zombie. This isn’t about me being a ‘foodie’. I don’t really understand that term anyway; surely everyone who eats is a foodie? This is about making more sustainable choices, being comfortable with what I’m eating and enjoying myself. Fewer, better options feel better for me than the vast warehouse-style supermarkets that just make me uncomfortable.

It’s also not an exercise in deprivation. I’m no Jamie Oliver with his unthinking ‘ buy ten mangetout from the market’ type comments. I appreciate that this is going to take more time and is likely to cost more money. I also know how completely fortunate I am. Believe me, if I worked awkward shifts or had a very tight budget, I would stay in the supermarket, without question. I am grateful that I can make this decision.  I’m also hopeful that perhaps I’ll waste less food, use less packaging and appreciate what I’m buying, cooking and eating a bit more.

So, my statement of intent: For the whole of November I  will make sure I don’t step foot in a supermarket. I’m very hopeful that my lovely boyfriend will join me in this challenge. I think he will. As long as we find a decent beer shop! Who am I kidding, I shall need that too. At this moment in time I can only think of one problem. I need fishfingers. So, I need a non-supermarket place to buy or a great recipe to make fish-fingers. Otherwise my lovely, incredibly fussy, four year old boy will starve. Any ideas on that?

During the month, I’m going to blog about the places I find along the way. I’m also doing the Blog Every Day in November Challenge with Rosalilium, so November is going to be a busy old month on Margot & Barbara. If this month works out well, then the plan is to keep going to the end of 2013. And then, who knows. Can we get through the whole of 2014 without Tesco? Sounds good to me…

 

Bloggers: Fancy joining in? Let me know, and we can link up. 

Readers in Leeds, are there any places I should try? I’m thinking of independent food growers, producers, shops, markets etc. Let me know! 

October 18, 2013

Apple Day and Countryside Live.

Apple Day is one of my favourite annual events, first launched by Common Ground back in 1990. Celebrating the rich variety of apples we have in this country, ‘local distinctiveness’, landscape, ecology and the importance of provenance and traceability in food, this is a day that I absolutely love. Apple Day itself is on 21st October, but you’re likely to find events over most of October up and down the country, including cookery demonstrations, apple identification for those of you with unknown varieties in your garden, games for children to have fun with, growing tips and orchard tours. Common Ground no longer manage an Apple Day calendar, because their original intent was always that it took on a life of its own and became part of the seasonal calendar as much as any Harvest Festival might; a naturally occuring part of every October.  I, for one, will always celebrate Apple Day in some way or another.

I quite often go to RHS Harlow Carr on Apple Day. They don’t seem to have an Apple Day event this year, but they’re doing  a week of ‘Sensational Autumn’ activities for half term which look great fun. Other Apple Day events across the country include those run at several National Trust properties, such as apple pressing and other activities at Beningbrough Hall in Yorkshire.

This weekend is also Countryside Live, at the Harrogate Show Ground on Sunday. As well as  a display of apples and apple variety identification, there will be lots of other seasonal goodness, show-jumping and other equine classes for me to reminisce over, a myriad of other activities from sheepdog trials to chainsaw carving and the addition of tractors and animals will ensure that my kids have a great day out, so we’re going to spend Sunday there. Do come and say hello if you’re visiting too!

Many apple varieties remain unfamiliar to most of us because we’re presented with a pitiful selection in the supermarkets. Apple Day is a chance for us to redress that balance, find a bit about our local area, and the amazing heritage of fruit growing that we have. Do have a look to see if there’s an event near you!

Apple Varieties

October 14, 2013

The Bear and Ragged Staff, Oxfordshire.

On Sunday night, I had the great fortune to stay at The Bear and Ragged Staff, in Oxfordshire.

Last weekend was another ‘Micra Adventure‘. We’d had a great weekend and on Sunday night, at about 6pm, we found ourselves with nowhere to stay. We’d planned to camp, but the weather forecast for the start of our time away was awful, so we’d abandoned that idea and stayed with relatives on the journey out. But the journey home was by a completely different route and so we decided to book somewhere to stay at the very last minute  (using Booking.com) and take the risk that we’d find somewhere nice that we could afford.

And, oh, how that risk paid off. We managed to find an amazing late deal on the one remaining room at The Bear and Ragged Staff, a country inn in Cumnor, Oxfordshire. Our room was the family room, in the Landlord’s Wing, which apparently dates back hundreds of years. Judging by the ancient beams in our room, I can well believe that! The room was actually a suite, designed to accommodate two adults and three children so we had a huge amount of space, as well as no less than three flat screen TVs at our disposal. On entering the first room, ducking to avoid the low door frames, we came to a sitting room, with a sofa bed and little nook off to one side that would have been a perfect child’s bed, had we needed it. Tea and coffee making things were in this room too, with some lovely flapjacks and a tub of mixed nuts, seeds and dried fruit for snacking on.

Bear and Ragged Staff

Then, after this room, there was a little lobby area, with the bathroom in front of us, and our bedroom to the right. The bathroom, with underfloor heating, a deep double-ended bath and giant rainfall shower, felt incredibly luxurious (especially for us, who’d originally planned on camping!) and had pleasant, full sized toiletries, bright white and fluffy towels and a dressing gown. Our bedroom had a king sized bed (one of the comfiest beds I’ve ever slept on) with crisp white bed linen and giant pillows. We were also blessed with a large flat screen tv, but we never felt the need to turn it on!  Looking up into the old rafters was a total treat and peering out of the mullioned windows into the misty morning after our night’s stay, I felt very, very fortunate indeed.

Bear and Ragged Staff

As the hotel is in a rural area, and we’d arrived quite late, we decided to eat on the premises and thoroughly enjoyed everything we had. We’d been told that a couple of items had sold out due to a really busy lunch period, but that didn’t really affect our choices, and I thought it was a good sign that the place was so popular!  I opted for an old favourite, crab and leek risotto, and Stephen had a steak burger which was cooked to medium-rare pink perfection. Having gone for a slightly lighter meal, I felt like I could just about make space for dessert – honey and lavender cheesecake with honeycomb – and I’m so glad I did! The flavour combination was heavenly. I enjoyed a glass of prosecco to celebrate our good fortune and I also rather liked Noble, a lager from Greene King, that was being served on tap. I’ll definitely look for that again. Breakfast was included in the price of our room, and again, it was lovely, with plenty of local produce. I had a full cooked breakfast – I couldn’t not! – and Stephen had Eggs Benedict. It was the perfect way to start the day, setting us up well for the journey home.

We had such a wonderful stay at the Bear and Ragged Staff. Our entire time there was pretty much faultless, and as well as great facilities, the customer service was friendly and helpful throughout, which I always finds makes such a difference, no matter where I’m staying.  I’d love to make a return visit one day…

October 11, 2013

Doing One Thing Well.

As someone who has a myriad of interests, I’m usually in the middle of several projects at once. At the moment, having just counted them out, there are at least a dozen things I’m in the middle of and that’s pretty typical. Sometimes, it works well and I feel in control and sometimes it doesn’t. Today is one of the ‘it doesn’t’ days, and I feel a bit like I’m in the eye of a storm of my own making.

For the past couple of days I’ve had a sentence running through my head, and it’s one that is anathema to a scanner, really.

“Do one thing well”.

It’s from the brilliant David Hieatt, founder of Huit Denim and the Do Lectures. Attending the Do Lectures is high on my life’s wish list. But for me, the idea of doing just one thing is a bit terrifying. I hate the thought of missing something, the chance to try something new, have a great experience or learn. Yet the self-made storm of projects that are littering both my mind and my home means that I really need to move towards doing one thing, rather than trying to do everything simultaneously.

Perhaps I can translate ‘do one thing well’ to ‘do one thing well at once‘? So, instead of trying to write, research, check Twitter, plan my allotment crop rotation, take a photo for Instagram and set up a mailing list all at once, I could commit to one thing at a time. I’m thinking of using something like the Pomodoro technique;  even I could manage 25 minutes of concentrating on one thing instead of trying to do it all together and ultimately achieving very little! As I wrote on my friend Dave’s brilliant blog the other day, although I’d really like to be accomplished at something, I have accepted that I’m not a specialist, and this is just who I am. But I still need to check myself every so often to make sure that I’m not sabotaging myself.

Although multi-tasking is often spoken of as a way in which to achieve lots, I’m not really convinced of it as a tool for me to get more done. There is a Japanese saying that springs to mind; one who chases after two hares won’t even catch one. Doing two things at once means you’ll fail at both. Sometimes, that’s a small failing. I often leave the tea-bag in my tea because I’ve been distracted by Twitter in the middle of making it. That’s bad enough. But sometimes it can be much bigger – not making progress on projects because I’m too busy ‘researching’ (looking at pretty things on Pinterest) or ‘planning’ (doodling random words in a notebook) and I am driving myself to distraction with this self-sabotage. I know that time spent enjoying yourself isn’t time wasted. But actually, getting a spike of envy by looking at the perfect home/holiday/lifestyle on Pinterest sometimes isn’t terribly enjoyable anyway!

Alongside thinking about the Pomodoro technique, I’m  re-reading the ultimate guidebook for scanners and having a look through some life-hacking and time management blogs.

But I’d also really like your tips for getting things done. What do you do to make things happen? How to do you manage your time effectively? And how on earth do I decide what to concentrate my time on?