Category Archives: Sources and suppliers

Welsh business, Halen Mon salt and taking the plunge into self-employment

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There’s no doubt that Wales is a nation of self-employed and small business owners. My partner, when he first moved here from Leeds and started to get to know people, would ask what they did for a living and was constantly met with a series of unexpected responses.  “I’m a…poet, yoga teacher, Reiki practitioner, vegan cake maker, photographer, musician, mushroom grower, actress, chakra dance teacher, gong therapist, outdoor instructor, silversmith, the voice of the Welsh Peppa Pig!…. finally he asked me if I knew anyone with a ‘normal’ job?

Err, the answer to that is probably no. But I do know an extraordinarily large number of self-employed people.

Figures from a House of Commons Briefing paper 2016  report 5.5 million businesses listed in the UK with 99% of them being small to medium-sized, although 96% are considered micro businesses (employing less than 10 people) while the number of sole traders has increased by more than the number of all businesses 77% compared to 59%.

Considering the comparative size of the Welsh population to the whole of the UK, we have one of the highest rates of self-employment, and this is positively encouraged throughout schools and colleges in several ways. The Welsh Baccalaureate  qualification is a compulsory subject taught in all Welsh schools and has a strong emphasis on employment skills and entrepreneurship. This is further supported by local entrepreneurs who are booked to speak, share their stories and conduct skills workshops with Big Ideas Wales  . I’m one of those entrepreneurs. So why has self-employment become such a thing in Wales, and why is it a significant part of the curriculum?

With high unemployment and little remaining traditional industry there is little in the way of viable job opportunities for young people in Wales. Aside from public services (which employs the largest proportion of the local population), much of the work is based in the hospitality, retail or tourist industry.  Youngsters face the prospect of working on predominantly zero hours contracts or in seasonal jobs. Inevitably this leads to what is referred to as the ‘brain drain,’ where the best of Welsh talent leaves the country looking for employment, training or the chance to shine elsewhere.

Consequently, the people of Wales who stay or return, migrants and natives alike, are very good at being inventive, thinking outside the box and doing it for themselves. Wales is a proud, talented nation of artistic, musical, sightly eccentric and community minded individuals and certainly, the part of Wales in which I live, has a very high percentage of said creatives.

Many of the most successful business owners I know have started small, grown steadily, without over stretching themselves too soon. In 2016 there were 383,000 business births and 252,000 business deaths. Many businesses that fail, do so because they have misjudged the market, overstretched themselves, invested too much, taken too much of a risk or failed to adapt. A striking feature is that across the UK only 20% of SMEs are female led, however, many of the business owners that I know are extremely dynamic, intelligent and sightly formidable women (probably myself included). Indeed it seems like most of the sole traders and self-employed people I know are also women.

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When I think about those successful female or family led businesses, many actually began life in the kitchen at home. Sometimes with a simple creative or sometimes crazy idea. A few people spring to mind; Paola and Danny at Dr Zigs Extraordinary Bubbles , Margaret Carter and Patchwork Pate and Alison and David Lea-Wilson at Halen Mon salt 

David and Alison set up their first business while still students at Bangor University, supplementing their student grant by growing oysters. After graduation this evolved into a wholesale fish and game business which they ran for twelve years. Noticing that people were just as interested in the live fish as they were in eating them, they set up The Sea Zoo. This was established in 1983 and became the largest aquarium in Wales, but both this and the fresh fish business were seasonal which caused income problems over the winter months. The couple set to work on income generating ideas; after brainstorming and rejecting many, they settled on a plan to make sea salt.

In 1997 they put a pan of seawater to boil on the Aga in the family kitchen. Soon salt crystals began to form and that is where history was made. In 1999 they started selling the salt to the local butchers in Menai Bridge and from there they haven’t looked back. Perhaps they didn’t anticipate just how successful their simple creative idea would be, but now that their salt is being sold at over 100 of the best delicatessen’s in the UK plus supermarkets, Marks and Spencer, Waitrose and Harvey Nichols and successful export to more than 22 countries, there’s no denying, it worked!

Halen Mon are potentially Anglesey, if not North Wales’s, top small business success story.

I have used Halen Mon salt since 2010, for me it knocks the socks off other sea salt brands. Initially I bought it at the local produce market, then began to buy in bulk from their original base on Anglesey ( a series of portacabins) until today; now I visit Tŷ Halen, their award-winning Saltcote and Visitor Centre. A truly unique £1.25m bespoke building; a first for Anglesey, Wales and the UK.  It is their centre of production, shop, headquarters and tourist attraction in its own right. It lies on the banks of the Menai Strait in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, next door to Anglesey Sea Zoo in Brynsiencyn and is well worth a visit.

So, to go back to the beginning. When I started my supper club people laughed. “Who’s going to come and eat dinner in your living room?” people said. A year later I launched a business and a blog, both of which are still thriving. So, the moral to this story and the point I wanted to get to, is…go take a risk. Do something you love. Have passion and belief in your ideas. Don’t let anyone tell you that your plans are crazy. You never know, you could be the next Halen Mon, Patchwork Pate, Dr Zigs… you could write that book, be that musician; but you’ll never know if you don’t try!

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Masterclasses with Aroma coffee at Ludlow Food Festival

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September 29th was apparently international coffee day, a day for people to celebrate their love for the dark liquid. I totally missed it as I do most of these ‘international’ days. There are so many of them we’d be celebrating something every week if we remembered them all. A couple of weeks ago the teen and I had our own coffee celebration at this years Ludlow Food Festival (there will be more on this in a future post) where we joined a coffee masterclass run by Andrew from Aroma tea and coffee merchants in Shrewsbury.

Both the teen and I love coffee, not the cheap instant stuff; proper, rich, creamy coffee.  But its something of a love/hate relationship. The teen has ADHD (caffeine + hyperactivity  = bad combination) and can’t tolerate too much, while I am somewhat sensitive to too much caffeine as well. If I drink it after three in the afternoon I can’t sleep at night. Generally speaking I am more of a tea addict, being raised in a typically British family where hot sweet tea was the solution to everything, it could cure any angst, shock, upset and always, in my granddad’s house, came in half pint mugs (his was often laced with whisky, which I have never succumbed too). Even with tea if I drink too much I find myself suffering a caffeine crash when it wears off. We anticipated that the effects of all this coffee tasting could be interesting!

Although I know the taste of good coffee and know what I like, I am no coffee expert. I was the perfect attentive student, wanting to understand and know more. The class was expertly run, fun and very informative and I soon learned the difference between Arabica and Robusta varieties; Arabica beans are longer in shape and a generally more desirable bean, while Robusta beans are wider and fatter and often considered the poor relation. I also learned that beans come from the pod or cherry, either ‘pea’ shaped or as two separate beans. I now know that beans from different countries and environments differ considerably; Columbian (high consistency of flavour), Kenyan (peaberry coffee, almost sweet, with lemony, citrus hints) and Indian beans  (high humidity, slow dry, lighter, smoother, richer coffee) and have their own distinct personality. We travelled through the process from bean to perfect roast in the search for the best cup of coffee, and imbibing plenty along the way.

We examined beans, discussed oil content, texture, shape and flavour. Andrew then tipped the beans (sourced from Cafe Feminino, an organisation which supports women working in the coffee trade) into the small roaster he’d set up in the marquee, heated to 200 degrees. The smell of roasting coffee, the caffeine hit we’d already had, made us feel slightly euphoric. I tried hard to concentrate but was beginning to feel the effects!

coffee beans, pure and unroasted

coffee beans, pure and unroasted

a 'peaberry' coffee bean

a ‘peaberry’ coffee bean

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Andrew showing us the Cafe Feminino beans

Andrew showing us the Cafe Feminino beans

More tasting next, we sampled different roasts of coffee and could easily distinguish the difference,  then we looked at different grinds and the best method to prepare them for drinking. Fine ground for Turkish style, coarser ground for Italian stove top pots and cafetierres. By now I had to cut my tasting to a sip for fear of bouncing around the tent like a drug crazed loon.

 

pouring the beans into the roaster

pouring the beans into the roaster

small roaster with drum for turning and cooling the beans once roasted

small roaster with drum for turning and cooling the beans once roasted

another small variety of roaster...this copper one is for using on the stove top

another small variety of roaster…this copper one is for using on the stove top

removing a sample to check the roast

removing a sample to check the roast

once the beans reach the desired level of roast they are released from the drum into the bottom container to cool

the beans are released into the bottom drum to cool once they reach the desired level of roast

demonstrating the different ways coffee can be prepared and how it affects the flavour...caffetiere coffee is very different to Italian style, Turkish, or filter

demonstrating the different ways coffee can be prepared and how it affects the flavour…caffetiere coffee is very different to Italian style, Turkish, or filter

I tried to keep writing notes but my eager concentration from earlier in the session had left me. As finished up and awaited our complimentary bag of coffee (mine coarse ground for my favoured preparation method and the teens roasted beans), we admitted we were caffeine-d out; dilated pupils, muddled brain, barely able to string a sentence together, all of it.

When I finally returned to some level of normality I realised I had taken it all in, I now had a greater understanding of the coffee-making process and the science behind it. So hopefully when I speak to the one or two coffee roasters I know locally I can sound vaguely knowledgable. I’m never going to make a high-class barista, but I’m content that I know a bit more about what I’m drinking.

the cool coffee beans being packaged for us to take home

the cool coffee beans being packaged for us to take home

teen looking very pleased with her special coffee beans

teen looking very pleased with her special coffee beans, if slightly dazed after the amount of caffeine consumed

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MSN food: twice in one month!

I’m really not very good at taking compliments. I have this irritating tendency to get flustered when people greet me with praise. I look for the nearest thing to hide behind, embarrassed, not quite knowing what to do with myself and turning a lovely shade of scarlet (not the most becoming colour). Despite this I am unbelievably proud of my supper club and how well its done. Despite my squirming-at-praise tendencies, like most people I like being recognised for my hard work and achievements (as long as its not too public!!). This is probably why I prefer being safely hidden behind the camera and not standing in front of it. It’s a case of thank you for recognising my work and talents, but please don’t make a big deal of it (as well as being horribly unphotogenic and terribly vain!)

I’m quite at home with my strange, psychological insecurities (in which I’m sure I’m not alone). I always doubt myself, find fault, waiting to fuck up. My second chef Mark summed it up when he announced to his students (that I was mentoring and giving a talk to) that I was a highly strung perfectionist. I wasn’t sure whether to take issue with the highly strung bit, but I guess he is correct in some ways, but then aren’t all chefs?

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This month I have received not one, but two nice little accolades from MSN. The first  was a MSN food review of Britain’s Best Home pop-ups.  I am now not only listed among the pioneers of the supper club scene (I started in 2009) but one of the stalwarts since I’m one of few that are still running since the early days. My formula has changed little; I have a laid back and intimate style with sometimes quite simple grub, while at other times it can be wildly experimental. With the former style in mind, it was with pleasure that I contributed to MSN again, this time as an ‘expert’ in my new role as a freelance tutor at Bodnant Cookery School. Contributing simple ideas for cooking, guidance on what to choose and recipes for Welsh lamb. Check out the article here.

Roast lamb (© Sainsbury's)

Image from Sainsbury’s courtesy of MSN

And now i’m off to cook for tonight’s Earth Hour Supper Club…see you on the other side!

 

 

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Conwy Rural Producers dinner at Coleg Llandrillo

Back in October last year, before life became a tad fraught, I attended the Conwy Rural producers dinner, a showcase for some of the best produce in the area. Hosted by the catering department at Coleg Llandrillo in Colwyn Bay in their training restaurant The Orme View, the evening brought together selected producers, local businesses, restauranteurs and chefs to try out a variety of dishes made from wonderful local produce and it gave Llandrillo catering students the opportunity to show off their talents. Supervised by the wonderful team of Mark, Glenn and Mike (they pay me to say that you know!) they put together a creative and interesting menu.

I spend most of my time too-ing and fro-ing around Anglesey and Gwynedd so it made a change to head off down the coast in the other direction.  Even though it’s just 20 mins drive away I rarely get up to places like the Bodnant Welsh Food Centre or get the opportunity to meet up with other Conwy Food producers and businesses, so it was a pleasure to venture out of my usual domain.

I’m also lucky that I know the college lecturers well. I’ve worked closely with a couple (Mark being one who regularly joins me on jobs and keeps me in order) and that gave me access to the frantically busy kitchen. I enjoy taking pictures of people when they are busy. The rest of the evening was hilariously surreal. In between speaking to producers and annoying the chef’s and waitresses with my camera, I sat chatting to the other occupants of my table. These included the quiet but friendly owners of a local farm, the pretty blond owner of a local B&B who it transpired was vegetarian so couldn’t eat most of the food, myself, the host of the event John Rooney from Conwy council, and the manager and chef from a local restaurant. The latter of the last two proceeded to order copious amounts of wine, which he tried to ply both myself and the blond woman with. We were both driving so not drinking. We then spent the rest of the evening watching him get drunker and more outrageous. As we got ready to leave he asked me if I was sure he couldn’t give me a lift somewhere….I declined, stating that I was driving. He turned to the blond and asked her the same thing…she too declined. A jokey comment about ‘independent women’ floated around the table, and his passing remark, before his colleague ushered him from restaurant towards the waiting cab...’yes, you independent women…I bet you’ve got toys as well’.…an awkward silence descended over the table, broken only by me dissolving into peels of laughter. Chefs, I know them well. Crude to the last!

The menu

**Pant Ysgawen goats cheese in a ginger crumb with beetroot cake and chutney (produce supplied by Tan Lan Bakery, Cae Melwr Farm and Cegin Croesonen

**Courgette veloute with brioche flavoured with truffle oil (Produce supplied by Cae Melwr Farm)

**Welsh black beef steak tartar (Produce from AL & RO Jones)

**Elderflower sorbet

**Seared loin of pork with slow cooked belly served with braised potato, squash and apples (Produce supplied by Pigging good Pork, Cae Melwr Farm and Bryn Cocyn Farm)

**Carrots cooked in duck fat (Produce from Belmont Farm)

**Lamb Scottadito (Produce from O E Metcalfe)

**Ice cream served with soft fruits (Produce supplied by Bodnant Welsh Food Centre and Bryn Dowsi Farm)

**A selection of Bodnant cheese

**Coffee (supplied by Chris Martindale at Caffi Cristobal/Cilydd)

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The Orme View Restaurant is open to the public. Attending a training restaurant is a great way to try out new food, prepared by the trainess, at a fraction of the price of a restaurant. You never know you might be tasting the early creations of the next Bryn Williams, Angela Hartnett, Jamie Oliver or Tom Kerridge. Opening times and contact details are below.

Lunch: Tuesday – Friday 12:00 for 12:15
Dinner: Wednesday Evening 19:00 for 19:30
Contact: Joan Hammond 01492 542 341

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Smoke me a kipper!…..(and some cheese, butter, salt, and even WATER…) plus a recipe for smoky Udon noodle soup

Smoking has slowly taken over from traditional barbecuing is now something of a trend. This is back to basics barbecuing but brought thoroughly up to date. Forget the charcoal briquettes; were talking oak, maple, or cedar chippings, hickory, tea, rice or anything really that will produce an interesting taste and aroma. Things have clearly moved on from a good old-fashioned camp fire although that too has seen a recent resurgence; probably dictated by our modern desire to get back to basics ( its no surprise that foraging and wild cooking are very popular now..food for free that evokes childhood memories of camping in the woods is always good).

It seems that nothing is immune from the smoke treatment; and really, I mean nothing.

There are two ways to smoke food; hot and cold. Hot is by far the quickest and simplest. Cold smoking is a complicated process and generally requires time and proper equipment. I say this but my other half attempted to build a cold smoker out of an old metal ballot box once. It kind of worked, but the fish ended up a little too smoky. I guess it just takes a bit of practise and experimentation and if you don’t mind some wastage (in my other half’s case he’d been out fishing and caught 70 mackerel…this is before they were OFF the sustainable list you understand…and they wouldn’t all fit in the freezer, so he had a go at smoking them).

I’ve hot smoked a fair bit using a small Cameron’s stove top smoker, mostly chicken, wild salmon, mackerel, trout, a variety of vegetables, garlic and mussels. They are also incredibly easy to rig up using a wok with a rack in it. Basically you line a wok with foil, put in your smoking ingredients (chippings, tea or other flavourings), then use a wire rack or tray that fits neatly inside the wok but doesn’t touch the base. Cover with a tight lid or foil to cover the top. Fish usually takes about 20 mins to cook through, chicken longer. Basically its an experiment.

Anyway, these days smoking has moved way beyond bacon, mackerel and haddock (although these are good). I’ve also tried smoked salt, cheese, butter, paprika, mushrooms and duck. Now I hear smoked beer and smoked vodka are on the market, while cookery programme contestants are coming up with smoked yogurt and chocolate! What next I hear you say?….well what next is SMOKED WATER.

The product, hailed as THE culinary sensation of the year since Heston jumped on the smoked water bandwagon, but I’ve been aware of it since its launched last year at the Abergavenny food festival. This unlikely product, made by none other than our very own Halen Mon salt who are just a few miles up the road from me, has taken off and orders are pouring in, but its taken me this long to get round to trying it..

This week I nipped over to visit them and picked up a few sachets while I was there.  I was a wee bit nervous and sceptical at first. Some smoked products are quite overpowering and at first sniff the smoky aroma seemed quite intense. The instructions on the packet suggest that it is best used in stocks, for marinading, in risotto and Heston uses it to give seafood and potatoes a smoky taste, but it doesn’t suggest the amount to use so I proceeded cautiously. I first tried it out by adding it to a pan of hot water to blanch asparagus. I only used a third of a sachet, just to see how intense the flavour would be, but the outcome was pleasing. The very mild smoky hint  didn’t overwhelm the flavour of the young fresh asparagus and turned out just right.

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I got a bit braver so I decided to try it in a traditional udon noodle dish, using Schichimi Togarashi ( or Japanese seven spice), lemongrass, ginger, garlic, fish sauce, chilli and coriander. Again I used about a third of a sachet to see if it tasted stronger in a soup base. It did, but still not overpowering. The combination of spice, smoke and fish was delicious and proclaimed a winner…although not by the teen who said it was too fishy.

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Udon noodles with a smoky spicy broth (enough for 3 to 4):

1 stick lemon grass finely chopped

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

a thumb of ginger peeled and grated

half to one teaspoon schichimi spice

a quarter of a sachet of Halen Mon smoked water

1 dessertspoonful of vegetable oil

a quarter of a teaspoon shrimp paste (optional…it has a very intensely fishy taste and aroma)

1 teaspoon fish sauce (the pale coloured Blue Dragon brand is best)

1 litre and a half of good vegetable stock

2 to 3 small packs of Udon noodles

1 medium or 2 small pak choy finely shredded

2 handfuls of bean sprouts

half a small tin of bamboo shoots (optional)

half a small leek finely shredded

4 medium spring onions finely chopped

1 red chilli finely chopped

a good handful of chopped coriander

a squeeze of lime juice to finish

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Heat the oil in a wok and add the ginger, garlic, lemongrass and stir fry for no more than 30 seconds. Add the schichimi spice, smoked water and stock and bring slowly to the boil. Reduce the heat and leave to simmer.

Dd the noodles to the broth and cook according the instructions on the packet (probably 3 to 4 minutes if they are fresh noodles).

In a bowl put a smile pile of bean sprouts, pak choy, leek and bamboo shoots (as in he picture below)

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Once cooked and piping hot, pile the noodles on top of the vegetables and then pour over the stock. Finish with a good sprinkle of spring onion, chilli and coriander and serve with some crispy sesame fish (recipe to follow) although it works just as well with some cooked chicken, or as a healthy fresh tasting bowl of noodles.

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Recipe: asparagus and parmesan souffle gratin

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Better late than never, the asparagus season is finally upon us. That late cold snap left me hanging around, waiting with bated breath for the first few stalks to arrive. I love it when asparagus season arrives. To me its a sign that summer is just round the corner; the weather has warmed up nicely and an increase in daylight hours brings everything to life again. I’ve never had much luck or patience when it comes to growing my own asparagus so I look forward to the time when Hooton’s crops are ready. But then to my horror I heard a dreadful rumour. The whole crop had failed because of the cold wind last week.

Nooohhh!! I rushed to the farm shop (it wasn’t just to check out the authenticity of this claim, I did have to do some other shopping as well….really, I’m not THAT obsessed) and asked in a hushed and slightly worried voice..‘is it true? the asparagus has failed’

The woman in the shop looked at me reassuringly. No, she said. Don’t worry, it’s just running a bit late. Huh! Like everything in my life!

But now it has appeared. The sunny weekend weather sped up the process and so they cut first stalks this week. And typically I missed them, although I did send manage to get some put by for me via a desperate twitter plea.

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When asparagus stems are young and tender they need little accompaniment and no peeling. Naturally sweet, they need only brief cooking (a quick blanch in boiling water is more than enough) and are perfect in a salad, with hollandaise sauce or in the classic dish asparagus mimosa.

Mind you, the day I collected my swag the rain lashed down, the wind blew and I even turned the heat on in the house for an hour! I wanted something warm and comforting and so returned to my old favourite, asparagus and parmesan souffle gratin. It’s a recipe I came up with a couple of years ago. Combining the lightness of a souffle, with the simplicity of a gratin this recipe stops the worry of whether it will rise or not. Topped with briefly blanched stalks of asparagus it is simple, yet sophisticated enough to serve at a dinner party. I’ve made it for supper club guests a couple of times and it’s always been a hit.

Asparagus and parmesan souffle-gratin:

500ml milk

50g flour

50g butter

4 egg yolks and 2 egg whites

1 sprig of thyme, 1 bay leaf, 1 small onion studded with 6 cloves and a pinch og nutmeg

75g parmesan finely grated

24 thickish spears of asparagus, peeled

half a lemon

Butter a large gratin dish and sprinkle in about a third of the parmesan cheese. Place milk in a pan with the onion, herbs, nutmeg and a good seasoning of salt and pepper. Bring gently to the boil then turn off the heat and leave to infuse for about half an hour (or as long as possible).

Make a roux with the butter and flour then gradually stir in the strained milk. Return to a low heat and cook for about 10 minutes stirring constantly until you have a smooth white sauce. Add two-thirds of the parmesan and remove from the heat. Allow to cool whisking occasionally to prevent a crust from forming. When it is lukewarm whisk in the egg yolks then cover with buttered paper until it has cooled completely.

Blanch the asparagus in plenty of boiling water for a minute or two (they should be tender, but still green), drain,  then refresh in plenty of cold water to halt the cooking process.

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Beat the egg whites with the juice of half a lemon and a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Put the souffle mixture into a large bowl and whisk in one tablespoon of the egg white to lighten the mixture, then gently fold in the rest of the egg white with a spatula. Pour the mixture into the greased dish then lay the asparagus in a row on the top (as in the picture above). Bake in a hot oven (230 degrees C, gas mark 8, 450 degrees F) for about 18 to 20 minutes. The gratin should puff up and not wobble when shaken.

 

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Crug farm nursery: proper plants for proper gardeners

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Crug Farm is about six miles from Bangor, set high in the Welsh hills overlooking the Menai Straits. Originally established as a beef farm by the owners Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones it gradually transformed into a plant nursery and has traded as such since 1991.  My perception of Crug is that they come from the same mould as any local producer; just because they produce plants and not cattle, lamb or vegetables they are no different in my eyes and their battle against the ‘giants’ (in this case B&Q rather than Tesco) to keep a foothold in the market is just the same.

In the case of Crûg things are going pretty well. It has a bit of reputation for being THE place to go for extraordinary plants and is a plant hunters Mecca. They specialise in the unusual; in fact if you are hunting for anything weird and wonderful they are likely to have it and if they haven’t their extremely knowledgeable staff can probably tell you all about it, find something similar, or get hold of it for you.

Once you have visited a dedicated plant nursery you will see how different an experience it is to nipping in your local B&Q. The sterile, impersonal ‘one shop fits all’ approach is nowhere to be seen and unlike superstore staff that can only offer basic advice,  adopting a pale blank expression if you happen to ask for a Schisandra rubriflora, at Crug you will get a helpful, informative service.

And even garden centres can’t top a really good plant nursery. OK, so they are a better bet than B&Q, but they are still in the garden ‘super store’ mould, often stocking everything from wellies to patio sets, snacks to perfumed candles. Nurseries are a different breed altogether and Crug is in a league of its own.

Listed by The Telegraph as one of the top twenty mail order plant nurseries (yep, they have an online mail order service), they are even better to visit.  Not only can you browse and buy beautiful plants, you can totally immerse yourself in horticultural heaven as you wander through lush native woodland, brush past dense foliage and find yourself at a small secret entrance into their walled garden. Here rich with colour (even at this time of year) and texture, hundreds of examples from their plant collection jostle for space. I admit my knowledge of plant names is woefully inadequate and I don’t visit Crug nearly as often as I would like (when I do I’m sharply reminded why I should), but I never come away empty-handed bringing home something beautiful for my garden.

The day I  visited was a special open day, well a plant fair actually, where lots of others join the nursery with their own stalls. Think of it as being a bit like a farmers market but for gardeners.

Plant sales are a great time to visit a nursery because you will find lots of different growers selling a variety of plants often for bargain prices. One of my reasons for attending was to see Moelyci, but also to have a browse and see what I could pick up. This sale was particularly nice and quite unexpected as it threw together gardeners, plant sellers and artisan crafters plus several stalls with vintage house and garden paraphernalia.

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Hand turned kitchen ware

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Vintage Hungarian grain stores (I bought one I loved them so much) from Shop Cwtch

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I also fell in love with their garden chairs

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Vintage trunks and garden paraphernalia

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Along with my Hungarian pot I bought a chocolate mint plant, but sadly had little cash on me after an earlier trip to another market. I will just have to go back another day to seek out more lovely thing for my garden.

The nursery opens between March 28th – September 14th 2013, Thursday til Sunday (9.30am – 4.30pm) but also encourages customers to arrange appointments at mutually convenient times throughout the year, especially if they are planning a sizeable order.

To contact Crug use the contact form on the website. They can also be found on twitter @crugfarmplants

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Quick guide to finding and buying locally grown veg…(and what is in my 30 mile radius)

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This week I wrote a piece for the New Bangor Plus website about where to buy locally grown vegetables and it got me thinking about how we find out where to shop. I often hear people say that they would buy local seasonal veg but it just isn’t possible because it’s not in the supermarket, or isn’t convenient to go hunting elsewhere, or just that they don’t know where to go to get it. So how do we find out about local supermarket alternatives?

I guess the place to start is your local produce or farmers market. Most places now have one fairly close by and its a great way to get to know what is grown locally. Although they don’t always run on a weekly basis and you can’t necessarily base your weekly shop around them, they are great places to get chatting to sellers and to find out what farm shops or box schemes are in operation in your area. For me word of mouth was all important when it came to sourcing local veg!

If you are lucky enough to live in a place abundant with markets and shops it’s not so much of an issue (in London you can find pretty much anything!) but what if you live out-of-town, or in a small suburb that isn’t near a market or farm? But how can you be sure the produce you are buying from your ‘farm’ shop is genuinely local? Out of interest I paid a visit to my mother’s ‘farm’ shop with her over Easter. She lives on the border between London and Kent…so you’d think she would be close enough to the countryside to pick up plenty of local produce…Kent is the ‘Garden of England, right?’ Not so. The owner of the farm shop did in fact also run a wholesalers and this is where most of the fresh produce came from. It wasn’t British let alone Kentish. I questioned her about this and she explained that they struggled to get small amounts of veg from local farmers as they preferred to sell their stock in bulk to the London markets (better price etc.). So, the farmers are more concerned about getting the highest price. Well, I can understand this to a point, business is business. She also said that local custom was poor with not enough people buying it to make it worth their while. This farm shop competes with three large supermarkets in one town centre so I can see why. The old breed of greengrocer has been slowly edged out.

Ok, in some places its hard to find local produce, or get to a farm shop or produce market. What if you are busy and don’t have much free time? Well if you want to avoid the supermarket the next best thing is to search online. There are websites that will help you find markets and contacts like Local Foods or Local Farmers markets nationally, plus lots of local markets also have their own website like the Bethesda market I sell at.

If you are still stumped try one of the well established suppliers that sell veg boxes online, the two most popular companies being Abel & Cole who also stock and deliver a variety of other British products and Riverford Organic. Both companies sell a variety of boxes in different sizes, prices and with different content. Most contain staples (potatoes, carrots, onions) plus a variety of seasonal vegetables. I find that in most cases prices are less than you would pay in the supermarket and the produce of a higher quality.

Even with this information I admit it’s not always easy at this time of year.  As a parent sticking to my principles often causes all out warfare as the kids rebel over my seasonal choices. The leafy greens and root vegetable diet can also become a little tedious leaving a yearning for something light and summery…what harm in the odd mango or citrus fruit? My other constant worry that drives me to non-seasonal buying is that my daughter will end up with scurvy if I stubbornly avoid buying the things she ‘likes’ (mostly only available in the supermarket).

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New seasons seedlings @Tyddyn Teg

Still, buying local makes sense. I don’t want my food to have travelled a million miles before it  arrives in my local supermarket. I want my veg fresh. Its tastier, better for you (as it hasn’t been force grown, picked when unripe, refrigerated and only ripening once it hits the shelves) and better for the local economy, because yes, however much we try to ignore it, money spent in supermarkets is not re-invested in the local economy. So I hear you say, how can we change things? How is it possible to eat locally grown fruit and veg? Well, with a bit of flexibility and the creation of new shopping habits it is possible. Just think how many people have returned to buying meat from the high street butchers after the horse meat scandal. What if we were to find out exactly what supermarket veg is sprayed with? Would it take a scandal to start buying local again?

There are several farms around the Bangor area that do grow and sell local produce on a largish scale and sell weekly veg boxes to a growing list of customers. Here is a list of the best farm shops that are open in addition to the local farmers market ….(sorry, this is the local bit, especially to keep my home readers happy. Just look at it as the niche post bit, i.e. only for those that live within a 30 mile radius of Bangor, North Wales).

Moelyci even now has a polytunnel full of spinach, winter leaf lettuce, kale, chard and the more unusual kohl rabi (use grated in salads or coleslaw; looks like a Sputnik and tastes a bit like a radish with a white cabbage hint) despite the late cold snap. Slowly the last of the winter produce is fading out (celeriac, leeks, purple sprouting broccoli) and as May creeps in so does the brief but delicious asparagus season. Hootons grow their own and I buy as much as I can before it disappears just as quickly as it arrived.  I’m also addicted to wild garlic (which is very late growing in my garden) and rhubarb, which will be in abundance at Moelyci soon. All of these signal the beginning of the summer growing period and hope of bright new things to come.

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Kale and Chard @Moelyci

Moelyci market garden

Moelyci is a community owned farm that has grown in stature over the past few years and is now firmly established as a great place to buy fresh local vegetables. Paul, the market garden manager is a talented gardener and grows the kind of produce you won’t find in a supermarket (heritage tomatoes, purple beans) and produces a weekly vegetable box during the summer months. This year it is due to restart in June (due to the late growing season).

As a community farm Moelyci also provides volunteers with the opportunity to get hands on with volunteer days, courses and be part of creating their own food. They also have a pick your-own fruit field which sells a variety of berries throughout the summer (and frozen during the autumn/winter months).

Although the farm, like many co-operatives is ailing in the current financial crisis, it is still up, running and preparing for the summer season. The market garden shop is normally open for business from Thursday until Saturday. Drop in and pick your own veg.

Moelyci Farm, Lon Felin Hen,
Tregarth, Bangor Gwynedd LL57 4BB UK

Phone: 01248 602793  

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/111101588937283

Twitter: @Moelyci1

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planting seeds for the new season @Moelyci

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plant nursery @Moelyci

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Young tomato plants enjoying the warm weather in one of the polytunnels

Hooton’s Homegrown

Hooton’s are a very well established farm shop and local produce supplier. They opened their farm shop in 1998 having outgrown their roadside farm stall and later opened a second shop in Fron Goch Garden Centre in Caernarfon.

The farm shop is a haven of local produce, but their locally grown veg is for me the main attraction.

Gwydryn Hîr, Brynsiencyn, Anglesey, LL61 6HQ

Phone: 01248 430644

Farm Shops opening hours
9.30am to 5.30pm (Sunday 10am – 5.30pm)

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hootons-Homegrown-Farm-Shop-Cafe/407744002633289?fref=ts

Twitter: @HootonsFarmShop

Village veg

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picture courtesy of village veg facebook page

Based in Waunfawr near Caernarfon, they run a vegetable box and bag delivery scheme which aims to offer the quirkier seasonal vegetable, such as purple carrots, blue potatoes and flower sprouts.

To order your veg box and find out where they deliver check their website here. They definitely deliver in Bangor so there’s no excuse! To order and discuss contact Emma Duffy, Tyn Cae Newydd, Waunfawr, Caernarfon, LL55 4BX

Phone: 01286 650369 / 07962214314
E-mail address villageveg@sky.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/villageveg/

Tatws Bryn

Chris sells his own locally grown produce mixed with other seasonal produce and delivers in and around the villages surrounding Bangor.

Check his website for details and to contact call Chris on 01248 605027 or

email: tatwsbryn@yahoo.com

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Baravelli’s…the Welsh chocolatiers

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During half term Rosie the teen and I took a drive along the blustery Welsh coast to visit Street Food vendor Jon from Providero coffee.

We bought coffee, cake and a minted hot chocolate for the teen and stood chatting about the wonderful local produce we get to source from. We discovered that his chocolate sticks are from somewhere not that far up the road, so decided to drop in and see the suppliers, Welsh chocolatiers Baravelli’s,on our drive back home along the coast.

Our first mistake was going to visit a chocolatiers on Valentines Day…what was I thinking!!? As Rosie and I opened the door of their workshop in Conwy Industrial Park (not the most glamorous place) the smell of sweet cocoa filled our senses.  Our eyes lit up as we spied the array of chocolate hearts, truffles, chocolate sticks and cakes laid out around us. Suddenly the teen wrenched the camera from my hand stating firmly that she HAD to take some pictures of their amazing cakes. I let her get on with it as I chatted to Mark, the owner.

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I have to admit I was slightly embarrassed. Mark and Emma remembered me from a brief meeting we had a couple of years before at Conwy Honey Fair….my only excuse for not recalling the earlier encounter is that I have a memory like a sieve. When Jon had mentioned Baravelli’s I didn’t make the connection as back then they ran a small delicatessen.

Since that first meeting the deli has closed but the chocolate business which they started in 2010 has grown into the ‘bean to bar’ operation (the first in Wales) and in 2012 they moved into their new premises. Now they are firmly focused on full-time chocolatiering.

Trademarking their Chocstix product (extra-large chocolate shots for stirring into hot milk) is their first priority and rightly so. Although there are other people doing similar products, theirs are larger shots and come in a range of flavours from the straight up milk, white and dark chocolate to all kinds of strange and wonderful combinations…mint, strawberry, caramel, mocha, spiced orange, hazelnut and white rice pudding.

Hhhmmm…well, it did get me thinking about my market stall and whether people might buy proper hot chocolate and I’d prefer to sell the locally made stuff! My customers are a discerning bunch and love to try new local products, so to help me decide what to go for Mark gave me some samples to take home.

The following afternoon my avid team of taste testers had a great time trying our six samples which included, a spiced orange, hazelnut, dark chocolate, white rice pudding, milk chocolate and strawberry.

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We all loved the milk chocolate, hazelnut and orange. They were rich and creamy, the flavours were not too intense and they had just the right level of sweetness. Rosie the teen snuck off with the strawberry later that day so I didn’t get a taste…but she declared it delicious. Only two failed to hit the spot. The dark chocolate was rather bitter and not sweet enough for our tastes, but then none of us are big dark chocolate fans and we really weren’t keen on the white rice pudding which had an overpowering nutmeg flavour and was quite sickly. It turned out this view was unanimous, none of my taste test team were very keen.

As for the rest of their products, well I didn’t get to test their truffles or preserves while we were there but if they are half as good as the Chocstix i’d highly recommend them…also, you can call me a silly romantic but a girl could just fall in love with someone who presented her with one of those Valentines creations (instead I spent two days making heart-shaped cupcakes and biscuits with my ten-year old son…at least he’s in tune with his romantic side!)

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Baravelli’s website is still under construction but they do have an online shop up and running. You can also call to discuss their products (especially if you want something special for Easter).

They are also planning chocolate making courses…so keep an eye on the website for details (as I will be!)

T: 01492338121

M: 07854905485

E: sweetstuff@baravellis.com

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Easy apple brioche

Yep, here it is, that diet destroying recipe from Alex Gooch that I promised in my last post. What can I say? It is simply addictive. There’s not much else I can add. Just try it for yourself.

500g Shipton Mill strong white flour

6 large eggs

250g butter at room temperature

130g sugar

10g salt

8g dried yeast (Doves Farm is good)

4 large apples chopped into chunks (no need to peel)

20g cinnamon

20g cardamom

icing sugar

For the glaze:

200g runny honey

50ml hot water

juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large bowl mix the flour, salt and yeast and 50g sugar. Add the eggs and mix thoroughly. It will be quite sticky.

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Turn onto a table or board. Chop the butter and dot over the dough….yep you use the whole pack!

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Massage the butter into the dough until combined. On another part of the table, or another board sprinkle plenty of flour. Scrape up the sticky brioche dough and place on top of the flour. It doesn’t require kneading just bring it together into a neat ball with a dusting of flour.

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Put into an oiled bowl and cover the bowl with clingfilm. Leave it somewhere warm for about two and a half hours.

When ready turn the dough on to a well floured board and shape into an oblong (as in the picture below)

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sprinkle over the cinnamon, cardamom and remaining sugar then top with chopped apple. Starting from the top roll the dough into a swiss roll shape. With a sharp knife cut into about eight to ten slices putting them top up on baking tray covered with baking paper. You want to fit them close together so that they batch while proving.

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Cover with oiled cling film and leave for another 2 hours.

Bake in a medium oven 180 degrees, gas mark 4 for 20 to 25 minutes.

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Allow to cool on the tray and do not separate the buns. Combine all the ingredients for the glaze and use to coat the buns about 20 minutes after they come out of the oven. After glazing sprinkle well with icing sugar.

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WARNING!! DO NOT MAKE IF ON A DIET!!! Ours lasted 3 days!!

If you live close to Hay on Wye, I’m sure you can pick some up from the man himself or from one of the many local stockists, check here to find out where to buy.

 

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Filed under baking, cakes & Baking, home cooking, local produce, Recipes, Sources and suppliers, Uncategorized