Happy New Year

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Happy New Year to everyone, may it bring you happiness and good things!

January is traditionally a time for kick starting things in your life and looking towards the future. I don’t personally make New Year resolutions, I make March resolutions. Too many times you can get really excited about something in January but then settle back in your hibernation waiting for winter to end. I find it much easier to make and both keep goals set at the beginning of spring. However the new year is a great time to give goals a boost, and especially the ones which were left to lapse as the nights drew in and the temperatures dropped. So here are my new year goal boosts for the next two months:

  • Remember to moisturise both morning and night. In the summer I’m better at this, especially with the need for spf creams, however the skin needs looking after too in the winter chill
  • Actually go to yoga
  • Make 3 new types of bread, including a sourdough starter
  • Learn a new crochet square pattern
  • Write on this blog at least once a week and catch up on my book reviews
  • Prepare the garden for spring
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Christmas Charity

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Christmas is a time when people’s minds turn to giving to charity, however with such a wealth of organisations how do you decide where to give. Some people have personal experience of a loved one in need through either illness or circumstance, whereas others would just like to help the world in what way they can. At this time of year, despite all the bustle and commercialism it is also a time to think about peace and goodwill. Above Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant Beaker play the charity collectors in The Muppet Christmas Carol (image source). Here are just a few ideas for helping others this Christmas. Please click on the organisation links to read more about how these charities help people.

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The RNLI is an organisation I have great respect for. These volunteers provide a 24h on call search and rescue service, saving lives of those at sea and also during flooding. Each year they sell a range of christmas cards. Of course the ones of them rescuing Santa I like the best. They even do a personalised children’s book of the big Santa rescue

There may be something local you can take part in. This year I have been donating sweets to the local foodbank. The food bank collects donations of non perishable food, which is used to supply emergency supplies to people in crisis. They have a shopping list (so that people don’t end up with just baked beans) and at this time of year they are looking for a few special items such as sweets for the children… oh and toothpaste too. The internet is a good place to search for your local branch, however many supermarkets, churches, organisations such as the WI and businesses have collection points.

Although Christmas is supposed to be a happy festive time of year, there are some people for whom life can be very difficult through sadness, loneliness or depression. Charities such as MIND and the Samaritans are there for people in need

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Rather than just buy someone that random bath stuff gift, have a think about what they like and have a look in your local charity shop. A gift doesn’t have to be new. You may find the book they have been wanting to read, or a particular china figurine that you know they collect, or nice crockery or just something completely random that you know they will like.

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And if you want to help those in crisis abroad, give a thought to Map Action who provide humanitarian aid to disaster areas through information mapping. Map Action deploys rapid response unit of trained GIS (Geographic Information Systems) volunteers to areas which have suffered from disasters such as typhoons, cyclones, disease outbreak, flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes and provide aid work in conflict torn countries. When disaster occurs the first thing people need to know is What and Where. Which transport routes are open or blocked, where is the outbreak, where the power is still in operation, location of health facilities, population densities, the list goes on. Their most recent deployments have been to Liberia and Sierra Leone assisting in the Ebola outbreak. Please take a look at their website and see how the collection and dissemination of information can help save lives.

There are many many other ways to help, not only by donating money but purchasing merchandise or getting actively involved yourself.

Bath Hacked: Hacking for newbies

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Playing with open data isn’t just for developers, theres lots you can do even if you aren’t a programmer. Yesterday we had an introduction to the Bath Hacked Data Store. Hosted on Socrata its not just a place to dump data, you can interrogate, analyse and visualise it too (even on a map)

After a quick overview of the capabilities we started having a play, between us we generated a map where the places with the worst hygiene rating,  looked at the trends of different car park usage throughout the day, crime and publishing. Apparently there was a boom in publishing books in Bath in 2006 (and also a peak in books published about Bath then too… coincidence?)

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Personally I’m interested in Libraries and books so i started to see what the lending patterns were in the county. The important revaluation is that YES PEOPLE DO USE THE MOBILE LIBRARIES. A LOT. So don’t cut their funding. When I was little and visited my Granny, the mobile library used to visit her and what a magical vehicle it was. If i was unable to travel I would hate to be cut off from a library. According to the data: Library Lending Transactions (Apr 2012-Jan 2014) – a summary of library loans in B&NES libraries from the period April 2012 to Januar 2014, people used the mobile libraries almost as much as they used Keynsham or Midsomer Norton (if you can’t see the label mobile libraries is the bottom middle lilac box)

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And finally its IDEAS which are important, even if like me you can’t code there are plenty of ways which you can interact with open data and always join together with friendly developers if you do want to build an app 🙂

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Bath Hacked: Liberate data and make cool things for your city

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Open data is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone, however what is the good of data just sitting there not doing anything.

“Bath: Hacked is a joint council/community initiative that aims to put open data and smart thinking at the heart of the city. Our primary mission is to bring bright people and quality data together to do useful things for the community”

What Bath is saying is “what do you want to know?” “what problems do you want to solve?”. The next question is “is there the data out there that can help?” “are there people who have ideas?” and “what skills can you bring together to make something cool for your city?”

Bath:Hacked 2.1 is the second big 2 day hack event for people who are inspired by open data to create something for their city. It all kicked off yesterday and there are projects using planning data, council spending, heritage plaques, library use stats, literary identity and more!

Check out the website, meet up and twitter @bathhacked #hacked21

First meeting of the people in Bath who are interested in home brewing but we don’t yet have a cool name

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The gentleman of the house is a home brewer, and I like to put fruit in gins. My friend Chris (a purveyor of fine spirits and beers in Bath) realised that through his work he has met a lot of local home brewers but we haven’t yet met each other   And so the first meeting was devised, all we need to think of now is a good name.

The idea is meet similar minded people, share knowledge and of course try beers.

The first meeting was held in Independent Spirit (on Terrace Walk, otherwise known as Bog Island) and there was really quite a good turn out. I don’t know a lot about brewing (that being the gentleman of the house’s department) but I did get to have a nice chat with a lady about my plan to make parsnip wine.

We had a beer tasting session. This was mostly some Canadian beers but there was also some home brew to comment on. I tried to write down some tasting notes, so here they are (i really no expert so I hope you get the gist of what i’m trying to convey). I have added some comments from other people in quotes.

1) Highlander Brew co. Twisted Spruce (6%)

Tangy refreshing summer taste on the roof of the mouth followed by a warm winter aftertaste on the back of the tongue. Some people thought it was odd but I thought it was really yum (oh such technical language ha)

2) Nickel Brook. Maple Porter (6%)

A bit too carbonated for the style and smelled rather antiseptic. It was definitely a winter beer. Some of us left it to go flat to taste later and it was much much nicer sort of like drinking pudding.

3) Bush Pilot Brewing Company. Stormy Monday, Barley Wine aged in Calvados barrels (11%)

Smelled of mince pies, spiced baked apple and vinegary. This is definitely a winter drink to sip slowly on a winter evening, and more like a sherry than a beer. “Somewhere between Christmas and cough mixture”

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4) Paul’s Unnamed Belgian Triple (Homebrew!)

Brewed at 8degC, Fruity smell and refreshing – apologies I didn’t write much down of the discussion but people were enjoying this and the next one.

5) Paul’s Belgian Dubbel (Homebrew!)

Very fizzy caramely and malty

6) Johnny’s Use Up Experimental Leftover Brew (8%) (Homebrew!)

Fruity, Tasted like beer. “Tastes like its fermented in it’s own juices”

7) Johnny’s Green Beer (Homebrew!)

This beer was not ready but we tried a bit anyway. It left a dry aftertaste and someone suggested “socks”

8) Nickel Brook. Old Kentucky Bastard (10%) Aged in Kentucky Bourbon barrels

This smelled like a very dark sticky and vinegary apple chutney i once made. It was sour and smelled like a musty old cupboard. It was certainly interesting but personally I didn’t want more than a few sips.

Everyone had a really good time and got very excited about possible future plans. You can find out more on the Independent Spirit’s Facebook page and i quote…

“Not so much a tasting as a get together for like minded people. Want to brew at home but don’t know how, perhaps you want to take the next step and move from kits to full mash brews.
(this is starting to sound like an ad for match.com)

We still use the event as an opportunity to introduce a few of our customers with similar hobbies to each other so that we can all benefit from experience and perhaps get the tips we need to move on with our brewing and create a little homebrew community here in bath.

We shall use these events to settle into our little community as we work out a plan for upcoming events whether we specialize in particular methods or indeed organize full brewdays as a community to learn skills and swop beer.”

Wild Beer Tasting

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A while ago I did a tasting at Independent Spirit of the  the Wild Beer Co range of beers. (sorry im a bit late with posts at the moment) They are a relatively new company based in Shepton Mallet. As with coffee, what i really enjoy is discovering new flavours in a drink and the Wild Beer Co have some really exciting ones. According to their website “Our beers are brewed with a combination of ancient and new techniques, with the aim of producing a beer for people who want to discover and understand new tastes and flavours.”

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The tasting consisted of 6 beers and one rather exciting combination in a champagne bottle. Below are the tasting notes which I took at the time:

Epic Saison. (Belgian style) = Hoppy. Apricots. Tropical fruit. Very nice summer drink

Scarlet fever  with toffee caramel and citrus hops = fruity orangey black coffee

Bliss secret spices roasted apricots and wild yeast = light fragrance of curry. Moroccan curry flavour. Spices subdue and fruitiness comes more out when warmed

Fresh. Fresh hops = very very hoppy

Wildebeest (500 vanilla pods in every batch) and chocolate and crushed espresso and  = smells of coffee. Fizz on your tongue then aroma of coffee. Perfect for after dinner you’d drink it like port. Aged in a 12 yo highland park barrel

Madness ipa = Very fruity hops sweet fruity floral toffee. Small bit of bitter on the tongue but hardly noticeable (not my thing)

Ninkasi. Bubbles apples wild yeast. New Zealand hops Somerset apples and wild yeast. Champagne bottle = apple aroma lots of fizz. Not so apply taste

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The Bliss and Wildebeest were my favourites

Bath Artisan Market

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On Sunday some friends and I went to the Bath Artisan Market in Green Park Station. There was a variety of crafty made things and some rather nice cheese. One thing I loved but didn’t take a photo of was the carved wood jammy dodger brooches. Other highlights were these teacup bird feeders and this rather quirky teacup set sporting classic cars. There were knitted children’s clothes, hand made lampshades and i really liked the ceramic herb labels.

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The best part of the market was the tote bag screen printing run by Happy Inkers which 2 of my friends did. They cut out templates which were placed over the bag then the frame was placed over this and the paint is pushed down and dragged across and hey presto you have a print!

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Welsh Cakes for St David’s Day

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This post was supposed to appear on 1st March but I had a headache (will this cold ever go away!) so I hope you will be lenient.

Celebrations and food have gone together throughout all of history, with certain recipes associating themselves with different calendar events. Think Christmas Cake, Cinder Toffee and Hot Cross Buns (or my Not Cross Buns I made last year). Although you can make recipes all year round there is something extra special about making something for a special occasion, even if its just celebrating seasonal food as I always make my rhubarb spice cake when the first rhubarb comes into season. I lived in Wales for a long time and I remember every March 1st the local newspaper would give out Welsh Cakes and Daffodils. Indeed the day before i went out and bought a Marie Curie daffodil pin badge to wear.

I have never made Welsh Cakes before and I thought that this year would be a good time to try. After some discussion with the Gentleman of the House it was decided that the most authentic recipe would be one which used lard and I selected this recipe from the BBC Good Food website. I’ve not baked with lard before and its quite strange thinking you can smell sausages when you are making cake.

  • 225g plain flour
  • 85g caster sugar
  • ½ tsp mixed spice
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 50g butter , cut into small pieces
  • 50g lard , cut into small pieces, plus extra for frying
  • 50g currants
  • egg , beaten
  • splash milk
  1. Tip the flour, sugar, mixed spice, baking powder and a pinch of salt into a bowl. Then, with your fingers, rub in the butter and lard until crumbly. Mix in the currants. Work the egg into the mixture until you have soft dough, adding a splash of milk if it seems a little dry – it should be the same consistency as shortcrust pastry.
  2. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface to the thickness of your little finger. Cut out rounds using a 6cm cutter, re-rolling any trimmings. Grease a flat griddle pan or heavy frying pan with lard, and place over a medium heat. Cook the Welsh cakes in batches, for about 3 mins each side, until golden brown, crisp and cooked through.

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I used my magimix with the blade attachment to mix the first ingredients then switched to the plastic blade when adding the fruit so as not to mash it to a pulp. Adding the splash of milk meant that the mixture really came together and wasn’t crumbly. I didn’t have a biscuit cutter of the correct size but it turned out that the wine glasses were perfect (you just have to be very delicate)

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Although Welsh Cakes aren’t one of my favourites, they were very nice and others really enjoyed them too. I am glad this is a challenge which I tried and I was very pleased to find how easy they are to make.

I find food is a wonderful way to learn more about the world around us, and when it comes to festival food, I love to read about the history of why these recipes came to be made and loved. One of my recipe books; Warm Bread and Honey Cake, gives you so much history for a dish and has inspired me to explore other cultural traditions. I think the next cultural baking adventure appearing on the calendar will be the Yom Tov Tik Passover cake.

Happy Baking

The Modern Gentleman’s Guide to Valentine Flowers

(or indeed anyone wishing to buy anyone flowers at any time)

Last year I wrote a guide to buying valentine chocolates. To make sure you get it just right, its useful to know what the recipient might like This year its all about the flowers.

Thinking of you

Flowers don’t have to be expensive, you can get small bunches of daffodils this time of year for around 80p, and a small token of ones affection can often mean just as much as extravagance. The gentleman of the house used to buy me ‘rescue plants’ you know the ones that are a bit past their use by date in the supermarket but sometimes just fine. This is an example of knowing your loved one. Once a friend teased him for buying me garage flowers but he knows that I wouldn’t take offence (however if you do want to make garage/supermarket flowers a bit more special you could swap the wrapping for some pretty coloured paper and tie with some ribbons). Buying a £2.99 bunch of flowers  and leaving the label on may be ok in some situations, but in others it may just like it was an ‘oh heck i forgot the flowers’ on the way over. (image source)

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A lasting arrangement

Cut flowers are all very well but they don’t last. Why not buy a longer lasting potted plant, all it needs is watering and you don’t need a vase. You can always make a bulb pot: shops are selling daffodil and hyacinth  bulbs in pots at the moment and with a bit of compost and a new pot you can make a beautiful gift.

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Culinary garden

Why not try an edible bouquet if your sweetheart is a fan of cooking. You can buy herbs in pots in supermarkets and garden centres, and to make them a bit fancier why not buy get/make a windowsill herb planter. The one below is from Sparrow and Finch You may find that supermarket herbs are tightly packed together and it can be good to split the plants over 2 or more pots. Alternatively you could buy a set of pots and seeds like this one from Greenfingers.com

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Make an entrance

With spring on its way why not make up some floral entrance pots to flank your loved ones front door. (image source)

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Hey big spender!

If you do want to splash out then bob to your local florist and get a special bouquet made up, or go online and order a delivery (do make sure you know the recipient well enough that they wont be embarrassed if flowers arrive at work for them – or that your ex-girlfriend doesn’t work on reception in the same firm – oh yes this really happened). There is always the classic red roses and sprays however when I was looking at wedding flowers I came across these amazing arrangements by Nikki Tibbles Wild at Heart in London, they really are quite fantastic. Left The Romantic Vintage bouquet and Right The Seasonal Eclectic bouquet

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The gardening guru

Is your sweetheart a keen gardener? Why not buy some bulbs or seeds for them to enjoy. Chose something unusual, or maybe heritage vegetables (varieties which are being marginalised by mass farming – we don’t want them going extinct). This however will not see immediate results and do check the planting times (you dont want to get something which should have been planted in October). Alternatively you can adopt a veg or get involved with the Heritage Seed Library

There are of course edible bouquets made of sweets or fruit, i saw a chap in town selling ones made from flying saucers but didn’t catch the name of the company

Valentines day is however about more than the gifts, think of it as a day to celebrate love and caring however you spend it, even if youre on your own take some time to have a really nice relaxing or pampering evening doing what you enjoy best. Personally I love it, lots of red and pink, and excuse for baking, and probably buying myself random heart shaped pink and red tat.

South West Bloggers Christmas Party

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Yes, I know, I meant to get round to posting this ages ago but it slipped through the net whoops. Back in November I found out about the South West Bloggers Christmas Party (via Hayley) and immediately booked a ticket. I’ve never been to a blogging event before and was really excited to meet new people with similar interests. Joining the South West Bloggers Network (facebook) is a great way to meet new people and discover new blogs.

The Party was held in The Birdcage in Bristol, a lovely cafe in Bristol which is also part vintage shop and part stage for musicians. I was rather tempted by some rather fun Christmas jumpers, and there was a lovely square scarf with blue elephants on it (whoever took the photo of me holding it and pulling a silly face, id love to see).  The event was also in aid on Macmillan, a very worthy cause supporting people, friends and families affected by cancer.

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I arrived only knowing one person but settling down with a cup of tea and some cake i started chatting with various lovely ladies. Im afraid that I was having such a lovely time that i hardly took any photos. There was a wide selection of teas in pretty china and I had some nice coffee cake. Later on there was even a teacup full of bubbly with mini strawberries. When we arrived we were given a little piece of coloured felt which organised us into teams for the quiz, this was great because it got you meeting even more people. This was where i totally failed, I really know nothing about high fashion and such things but it was very fun having a giggle and trying to guess the answers. The team I was in did come last BUT we won the best team name, Lets Get Quizzy With It, and won more cake! Wooo Cake!

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There were even surprise gifts under the Christmas Tree (I waited till Christmas Day to open mine). I got a lovely little goodie bag from Macadamia, I haven’t used the hair products yet but the hair brush is brilliant and i’ve switched to using it every day (thanks!). There was also a little party bag at the end with sweets and this gorgeous butterfly scarf which matched my outfit for the day. The evening ended with some live bands and much more chatting and I had such a lovely time.

I know its a bit late but thank you to all the organisers, to the Birdcage, the bands and the companies who gave us the christmas presents.