Friday, 10 August 2012

We have now moved!!

Much as I have loved working on Blogger, I've now moved to self hosting and so all updated posts can be found at:

I hope to see you there!


Monday, 23 July 2012

Not Caked Out Yet: Vegan Cake Baking with Manchester Cake Club

When Abigail Saffer started Manchester Cake Club, I immediately signed up. Given my previous post on the Heatons Cakes bake off, it's not really that surprising. I really do love cake.
Unfortunately, due to generally being a bit of a busy bee, I couldn't make the first meeting. But the second, oh yes, I would be there with bells on.
This second meeting was to be a more specialised talk, on vegan baking. Given by the Cottage Cupcake Company's very own Jenny Gradwell, it was to be a look into why, what and how. Given I have vegan friends and have always felt a bit worried about what I'm feeding them at any point,  I was looking forward to an informative evening.
On arrival at the Slug and Lettuce in Didsbury, I was greeted by a group of other cake loving individuals,tucking into some of Jenny' s creations. Not one to be left out, I soon picked up one of the beautifully crafted cherry bakewell cupcakes.
Light cake, creamy frosting, sweet fresh cherry. And yes, completely vegan. Eyeing up the other treasures on the table, including a huge Victoria sponge, destined for a raffle winner, I selected a small piece of rocky road brownie before settling down for the talk itself.
Jenny, proved to be an enthusiastic speaker and quickly put us all at ease. She has been a vegan for 5 years, and until doing so, hadn't cooked or baked on a regular basis. She now runs a successful cake business, creating celebration cakes, cupcakes and cookies.
Beginning with such a mixed audience, she wanted to see how much we really knew. I confess I am somewhat of an innocent when it comes to vegan matters. I understand the concept, feel the frustration some of my friends have when we go out, or eat together, but despite cooking and baking often, it's something I'd worry about rather than enjoy.
So, Jenny went on to describe what a vegan is:
Placing in front of us several items, including a plate of Co-operative jam doughnuts and a plate of custard ones, not to mention chocolate Jammy Dodgers, we were asked how much of these were vegan. The non-vegans amongst us drawing a blank, it was up to those more knowledgeable at the event to educate us.
The answer, all of it.
All of these are vegan
Suitably surprised, Jenny went on to the more scientific elements of baking - the bit, I have to confess, I love.  If you bake, you'll understand the basic concept of a cake: dry ingredient (usually flour), fat (butter/margarine), sweetener (usually sugar) and a binder/leavener (usually eggs).  There are different ways to manage this in vegan cooking, but generally the method Jenny uses involves a 'buttermilk' created from a milk (rice milk, soy milk, almond milk etc etc) and a small amount of a white vinegar. This is blended with self-raising flour, vegetable oil and an alternative to eggs - whether this is fruit puree, an egg substitute, or something like silken tofu (not just for your miso soup or deep frying). The self-raising flour then provides the raising agent, baking powder reacting with the acidity in the vinegar and bicarbonate of soda reacting with the moisture in the batter and you have yourself a vegan cake.
There was also a useful insight into sugar - not all sugar is vegan. Some is sifted through charcoal made by burning animal bones. If that's not enough to put you off your cup of tea...
Finally, the bit we were all most curious about. Frosting. How do you create buttercream without butter? Ganache without cream? There's no denying that the cherry bakewell cupcake I'd just scoffed was gorgeous - but what was in the frosting?
The answer is very simple - fat again such as a vegan margarine or Trex etc, blended with icing sugar, a touch of soy milk and a flavouring (vanilla extract, melted chocolate etc). Peanut butter frosting is also an option and coconut butter frosting (leave your can of coconut milk in the fridge overnight, for the fat to rise to the top) both of which I have to try for myself very soon.
With us all suitably educated, it was time for us to mill around, meet each other and, as every Manchester Cake Club member knows, eat more cake.
And the winner of the fabulous Victoria sponge? No, not me - that would be Susan of Susan Styles you. Lucky lady.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Guest Post: Manchester WI - First of the Summer Wine

Jenny Cole, fellow Manchester WI member, twitterphile, blogger and all round lovely person, offered to write about the wine tasting event held this week at Sam's Chop House.
Having only lived in Manchester for a year, I had never heard of Sam’s Chop House (and almost ended up at Mr. Thomas’ instead!). I had formed lots of assumptions about it from the name,which were pretty blown out of the water when I arrived for the Manchester WI Gourmet Group’s ‘First of the Summer Wine’ on Tuesday. Sam’s Chop House is a lovely little place, tucked away underground on Chapel Walk with a cosy interior and wine list which is anything but.

We were to try 4 European white wines over the evening which interested me greatly as although I love white wine, I usually stick to New World wines, preferring a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand above all else. Our sommelier was Nick Fildes, apparently quite new to the world of wines but he must be learning fast as his knowledge of not only the regions but the grapes and the tasting process was quite staggering! Nick was really happy to answer questions (even daft ones from me!) and was not in any way unapproachable or stuck up about the experience; he held fast to the idea that all wines will taste different to different people and was very inclusive, regardless of your level of wine knowledge.

So how were the wines? Well, amazing of course! The first one was a French sauvignon which I was not expecting to like. For some unknown reason I have an unreasonable bias against French wine, but it was lovely, even for a Kiwi-Wine fan such as me. After this was a wine I was less keen on (but still didn’t turn down a top up of!) -  an Italian trebbiano with a distinctly Chardonnay-ey flavour – but this proved very popular with others. The third wine was probably my favourite. I’ve been mostly grumpy about all of the national pride caused by the Jubilee and Olympics so my patriotism had to find a home somewhere and it did – in a large glass of yummy English wine! I’ve visited the vineyard responsible for the third wine, Three Choirs, and had some fantastic wine there, so I was a bit biased. People have such a negative view of English wine and it really is worth a try. Three Choirs do some lovely wine (and the vineyard itself is worth a visit too). Finally we tried a verdejho (nope I’d never heard of it either), which was Nick’s favourite and was also extremely tasty.

It was great that Sam’s Chop House weren’t stingy with their wine – for only £20 we got to try more than enough of each one to make our minds up. There is something special for me about the sight of condensation running down the side of a glass of crisp white wine (especially as Sam’s Chop House was the temperature of a rain forest) but what really made the evening was the fabulous company. The ladies at the Manchester WI really are so lovely, and it was great to spend an evening getting to know some of them better. Can’t wait until we tackle the reds!

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Quick Post: Purls and Wisdom with Manchester WI

Wednesday evening saw the first meeting of the Manchester WI craft group, Purls and Wisdom.

As you'll see from the pictures, we had a fantastic turnout and our hosts, Teacup looked after us brilliantly.

Beginners and experienced crafters joined in - we welcome any crafter at any level. Complete beginners who've never picked up a needle or hook, to those who've knitted, sewn or embroidered for years.

We've several projects members can be involved in - the Yarnbomb Consortium are arranging a big yarnbombing project in Manchester and members can crochet, or knit a square (any size, any stitch, any yarn) and contribute.

The second project, as shown in this picture, is part of the 2012 Canal Festival in Piccadilly Basin, involves yarnbombing of a different kind - with tassels.

There's also the Big Knit on again this year for Innocent Smoothies - more little hats to knit.

I'm working so we can collaborate with local craft venues, artists, makers, designers - Manchester Craft and Design Centre, Regina De Giovanni, Ellie Magpie and more.

I'm so pleased that this finally went ahead and was as successful as it turned out to be. We've so much more to come - machine sewing, dressmaking, embroidery. I'm looking forward to taking the group forward with the WI and being all we can be.

The next meeting will be 6:00 pm, 15 August in Teacup, Northern Quarter.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

sampler-cultureclash at Manchester Craft and Design Centre

Sometimes something pops up in your inbox that makes you stop and think. The thing that caught my eye wasn't the celebration of the Manchester Craft and Design Centre's 30th birthday, impressive though it is. It wasn't that it was holding an afternoon of sampling and workshops by MMU Embroidery BA students - fun though that sounded.

It wasn't even the free beer (thank you Marble Brewery).

What caught my eye was the sampler-cultureclash collective's performance - textile meets technology. This promised embroidery meeting music, sampler meeting, well, sampler.

Intrigued, puzzled and of course, for a crafter like me, interested in spending the afternoon with other crafters, I headed out to the MCDC for an afternoon of crafting and an evening of entertainment.

The Design Centre itself is situated in a old fish market - it's history hasn't been lost on the artists housed there, nor on those taking part in the history celebrations - and is based in the Northern Quarter. It's now home to some of Manchester's most creative designer-makers, who not only offer lessons, workshops and bespoke items, but handmade gifts and treats for yourself.  If you haven't been, I can highly recommend it, the unusual pieces of jewellery, textiles, fabric work, papercraft, leatherwork... oh the list goes on. I was relieved I didn't take my credit card (and I think my bank manager was too). For unusual pieces of beautiful art, it's worth a visit.

As part of the celebrations for its 30th birthday, the Centre held a Collecting History launch in April and since then artist Lucie Elsie Harvey has been collecting memories, pictures, notes and the history of the site. In addition, the resident artist-makers and the MMU BA students have created their own pieces and projects, which were available to view at the Centre, and in the case of the students, take part in on Saturday. Finally, there is a large piece of art work, created by ceramicist Carys Davies - she has sourced stories about the Centre and used selected phrases and words to create a large number of pieces to encourage viewers to take a closer look, both at the Centre itself and its history.

After a walk round the Centre (who can resist, really), I stopped by one of the tables in the main foyer and spoke to Chloe Hamill. Chloe had looked at the history of the venue and decided to invite people attending to work on a fish that she had screen printed - we were invited to embroider and stuff the fish, putting inside it our own name (printed on a piece of card, spelled backwards) so that the creator would remain anonymous. The 27 fish were representative of the 27 fishermen lost on the boat The Mexican on a rough sea after hitting a sandbank. The loss of their lives resulted in the first Lifeboat Saturday (since called Flag Day) in Manchester.

Chloe herself has now graduated from MMU and is about to embark on a trip to Uganda, to see how she can further the work being done to help women in the country, find a way out of poverty and abuse through textile production.

Jordan Hargreaves was holding a workshop at the adjacent table, using squares of cross stitched letters to recreate slang words, used both in the Centre's past as a fish market and since as a Design Centre.

Laura-Jane Atkinson was outside, working on the adjacent pavement, using tape to recreate embroidery stitches on the concrete. She is fascinated by stitchwork and being able to use the patterns with harder substances such as wood, using them on a large.

I also stopped to see the work of Joy Morris who was drawing outlines of people moving around the Centre on acetate fixed to a window. It was fascinating to watch those who'd realised they were being drawn and didn't know whether to stand still or move on....

My friend Lisa joined me for the evening at the Centre, for the sampler - cultureclash live performance. Glass of wine in hand, we circled the fishcrate sculpture (part of the event) wondering how beatbox, musicians, computer hackers and performance poets were going to interpret embroidery in this meeting of media.

What we were treated to was an amazing array of sound. Using a range of technology (some existing, some adapted and some created, we were taken from the sounds of the fishmarket and the era it began in - horses on cobbles, steam, contemporary music, the sound of a sewing machine - through the sound of ice cracking an fizzing, the sounds of the building, voices to the sound of decay and desperation. An iPad was used to translate embroidery and visual into sound, creating waves of electronic sound. Ice boxes were slowly removed around the musical artists, showing them at work. The sound of designers talking about their work was laid over the sound of icecubes moving together, with the well known 'tap-tap' of a metrolink tram moving over the rails.

The final embroidery interaction came from a piece being wound through a mechanism to create the sound of a music box, not unlike a teanola organ.

As the finale, we were all invited to sing happy birthday to the building and blow out the candles on a birthday cake. A fitting end to the first half of a year of celebrations at the Centre. I can't wait to pop back and see what else is in store...