Sunday, December 30, 2007

The pie maker

Fresh Pies by Paulo Viveiros
Fresh Pies

Occasionally I manage to have a conversation over the phone with a supplier who not only sounds authentic but who enthuses about his products and tells me exactly what is happening, what is going wrong and what their plans are for the next year. Today I talked to a man who is passionate about his pies. I know why, they are fantastic, made with real, local ingredients and we had a fantastic conversation about food miles and cardboard boxes.

I basically asked him whether he wanted to have his boxes back and was told that he would love to, but that unfortunately they cannot be brought back into the food preparation area because of problems with contamination of bacteria. I understand that, and I applaud his efforts to make his boxes from recycled cardboard. The only option we have is to either recycle them or offer them to customers who want to send an item in the post. Its a useful box, it packs flat and is very sturdy. When the pies arrive, they are priced immediately and put in the display cabinet and the box is quickly disposed of.

We also talked about the costs of transporting the pies and he was trying to see if he could share transport with another of our food suppliers that was close to him, but there was no match.

I loved this conversation; discussing genuine difficulties and possible solutions to a company that due to its own success is ready to expand into a larger production area and with it, is trying to tell me that in the future, I might not be viable to deliver to as it stands. What a dilemma? I guess the company owes its success in parts to small village shops who enjoy local pies made with local ingredients while at the same time, expanding his business might just mean losing the shops that have sustained him while he was a small business.

I hope not, I hope they find a middle way through this. In the meantime, we shared a passion for the environment and the dilemmas caused when making decisions.

I look forward to seeing him in the future when he comes on a visit as he will do in Spring. Guess the climate for food producers who make a genuine authentic not run of the mill pie are as difficult as remaining a sustainable village shop. I also know that I would not have had such a productive and honest discussion with a supermarket supplier.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Crashing the party

Christmas Tree by Albert Chevallier Tayler
Christmas Tree

The whole holiday period has been a test of endurance in a good sort of way. Not only did we move at the end of November and took over a village shop but at the same time, our usual houseguests arrived, expecting the same comforts they have been getting over the last years. The house did not disappoint; the last of our guests left today and with it some nice memories.

On Christmas Day, my friend Maggie invited us all over for Christmas lunch so this was the first year I managed to open my presents without dashing into the kitchen to check on a turkey. That was an extreme luxury and I am very grateful to my friend for that present. It was a lovely afternoon and the boys behaved really well.

My boys and their Grandad were glued to the computers and had quite a competition going as to who could get in the hotseat; no leaving your place for a minute for a cup of could guarantee that a child or even Grandad would be on the screen watching something. I am extremely proud of my Dad that he communicates with his grandchildren over MSN although he does not always understand their speak.

My DD helped me with the accounts and stem my little panic over a butter and cheese mountain as well as an ever increasing wine lake in the storeroom; we have had a great laugh about that ( just as well) and if at the end of January it has not drastically reduced we will just have to have a fabulous housewarming cheese and wine party.

On Boxing Day, DD and I left the house for a bit of girl quality time and drove for ages to find a place open to have a cup of tea and a piece of cake. After a round tour of the coast and usual haunts we decided on the pub next door as a last resort but came upon a Manor House we had visited in the summer. It looked hopeful; cars and lights. We had been there before for refreshments and music and were greeted by a lovely man, holding a cup of tea and helping himself to a piece of cake. I enquired politely if we could have a cup of tea and was told that yes, I could, we could but we had just entered a private Christmas music weekend. We could have a cup of tea and cake if we could put up with him telling us about the wailing ghost, the priest hole, the facade and the open fire, the hidden doors in the panelling etc. You get the picture. We were enthralled to have partaken in some intelligent conversation with musical people; we basically had a lot of fun while at home, the folks would be waiting for their next meal to be cooked. Having established that a teaplace on Boxing Day in this area could make a fortune, we did find some fun in the most unexpected place and agreed that there is still some hospitality to be found too. Having told the volunteer where the shop is, I guess it is not inconceivable that one day, I will be entertaining thirsty morris men with a cuppa and some cake. It adds to the merriment and diversity in this area.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Parsnips and roots soup

Hot Soup
Hot Soup

If you find yourself with a glut of parsnips after the Christmas break you can either compost them or you could make parsnip soup....yummy and lovely warming soup with a chunk of home made bread.

Here in the shop we were left with about 2 lbs of parsnips and as yesterday we had some chicken I made a chicken stock on the Rayburn and used it in the parsnip soup.

a quantity of parsnip
1/2 its weight in potatoes
1 onion
1 tablespoon of currypowder, and some coriander, just a pinch
salt and pepper
1 litre or 2 pints of chicken stock or vegetable stock
1 or 2 stray apples that are getting wrinkly
a know of butter

Take a pan and put knob of butter with diced onion, on low heat until onion is slightly transparent, add diced potatoes and parsnips, curry powder and cook on low heat for about 5 mins, then add stock and other ingredients, bring to a simmer and cook for about 1 hour until the parsnips and potatoes are soft. Liquidise, put in a bowl, add a dash of leftover single cream, take your bowl and chunk of bread and enjoy.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Christmas Eve by John Barker
Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve was a very strange experience. Sooty, one of our black cats had been missing for a few days and the shop was heaving. People collected the ordered goods including capons and turkeys. There was a capon missing and I argued with the butcher who told me that a chicken would do fine and I argued back that if the customer had ordered a capon I wanted a capon. ( I felt like a toddler having a tantrum). At lunchtime we descended on the pub for a well deserved beverage and then made a simple lunch for the extended family and guests.

After a small nap I decided to listen to the phone message we had not been able to deal with in the morning:

First a panic by the vicar asking whether we knew where Baby Jesus was. ( How many drinks had I had I wondered?)To explain this a little, the village children have Mary and Joseph figures to stay in their homes until Christmas Eve and as we now live directly opposite the church it made sense for us to have them to stay. In reality we gave them very little attention as we were busy but room was found in the store room for them. Indeed we had noticed that Mary was accompanied by a baby which by rights should not make its entrance into the world until after midnight that night. I was asked to bring the figures in and ' discreetly' place the baby somewhere where it could be found later.
The only sensible solution seemed to put the baby back into the figure and we took the figures back before the Carol Service and left a message with one of the choir members:

Please tell the vicar that the baby is exactly where you would expect it to be at this particular period in time.

All went well.....all was well and the usual festivities went ahead without a hitch.

Second phonecall related to Sooty who had been lost...he had wandered back to our previous home but had been greeted by 5 dogs and lived happily in the fields. He had been sighted many times. We eventually collected him in a basket and brought him home on Christmas Eve where his brother sighed........Sooty got all the attention and Magic made a lot of small sounds as if to say:
What about me, I have been good, I have been here all along and you give him all the attention.

Happy endings all around : the lost baby has been found and returned as the black cat. Time for a bit of cider and a mince pie to round the day off and early to bed. A good night's sleep was had by all apart from our guests who were awoken to the sound of churchbells ringing in the village announcing the happy birth of baby jesus. Disaster has been avoided and all is well in the village.

Shopkeepers after all can still create a bit of Magic.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Feet not touching the ground

This a time of busyness...moving 3 weeks ago, starting a business and having family around for Christmas is just madness. My feet are not touching the ground but all in all we are buzzing.
The customers are in a happy mood albeit very cold as the frost descended on the village today and many are staying in to keep warm. The church is being decorated for the festive season and there is a lot of activity around.

Personally I have been working in the background at my health and hygiene schedule. ( Oh yes you need one). Every day there are a variety of jobs and chores to be done to keep the place looking clean and tidy and we need a record of it so that if in the future we employ staff to clean the shop they need to know exactly what needs doing and how to do it. It seems common sense but when you get an inspection from the authorities you want to be able to show that at least there is a plan. You need to sign and date every activity to ensure that it is carried out.
It is really no different than running a home, apart from the fact that noone has the authority to check on your cleaning schedule. I therefore have adapted the flylady system to the shop and I am happy with it.

I have way too much cheese. I obviously have a bit of a weakness there and got carried away, but it keeps. The other thing I got wrong was that DH wanted 12 bottles of a particular wine and I ordered 12 cases. We need to work a bit on the communication in our team but the two go well together and there will be no lack of cheese and wine.
Tomorrow we offer mulled wine ( ha.....I can use some of that wine) and mince pies to the customers and we will don our christmas hats with flashing lights. Hopefully I will manage to capture that festive moment for you on camera.

So far so good....feet up tonight with a glass of wine. Well deserved!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Backyard pictures

Found the camera at last and had a few spare moments to go out there and provide you with a tour of the wilderness. As is the case with the house, the garden will need some major attention but that will be soon when there is more daylight to play with and when we have a better routine in the shop.
The above is the only southf acing area and on the right is a shed that will become the greenhouse in time to come.

The above is designated as the salad patch.....use your imagination.

There is little space but with a little planning and magic we hope to achieve a miracle and grow a variety of edible plants, herbs and flowers. Thought you might like to see the pictures before and then follow what happens after.

This week we are taking orders for produce for the holiday season and will be closed on the 25th and 26th December 2007 to play with the children and maybe...just maybe wake up a little later than 6 am ( that depends on the kids but I am not banking on that!)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Green energy

As a business we use an awful lot more energy than merely domestic. We have already started cutting down by using the off peak tariff for doing the washing etc, but nonetheless we are forecast to use some 19000 units in a twelve month period.
With the help of costgard, we have negotiated a contract with EDF on the green tariff because I do believe that where we have a choice we can choose green energy. I had no idea that businesses paid a global warming levy but if you choose green energy you become exempt of that.
We should be getting a certificate we can display in the shop showing what we are doing. Commercial energy rates are different to domestic rates and contracts are negotiated for periods of between 1 and 3 years. We have opted for a fixed rate which will enable us to plan and budget for our energy usage.
The same principles apply than for domestic energy :

  • check that renewable green energy is available from your supplier
  • choose a rate that appeals
  • commit to a contract for a period of time and switch.

Next is measuring the actual amount of energy we use. We have a lot of fridges and freezers which are a must in a food business, as well as electric machinery such as measuring scales and slicers. Over the next few months I will be measuring how much each unit uses and how we can reduce the electricity used in the house.

Mildred in the meantime, keeps us warm and cosy in the kitchen ( that’s the name of our Rayburn, 60 and going strong).

Friday, December 14, 2007

the hearth of the home

Cozy Cabin by Judy Gibson
Cozy Cabin

I am certain that houses have a soul and a spirit that reflects their history. When we arrived at the shop, it felt like entering a morgue, so cold, so dark and so soulless. It was depressing and when you looked in every corner, there were cobwebs, broken light bulbs, dripping taps and a feeling of neglect and disrepair. There were reasons for this, we know this from the previous occupants, but it made feeling warm within far from a reality.

Every room felt cold, and walking in my nightgown at 6 am to the bathroom as appealing as when you stay in a campsite and you need the bathroom. More light bulbs broken, doors creaked and in general I began to wonder whether it had all been a mistake and had a severe pang of homesickness to Berry Cottage. When on Saturday the water came through the walls, I seriously wondered what would stop this house falling apart and gently put my hands on the walls upstairs and willed it to please be patient, we would get there and give it some attention.

The house is made up of 3 houses, in an odd non linear arrangement and upstairs there is a very long corridor which spans all three upstairs of 3 cottages, with rafters and beams, small doors, different levels and all in all, it resembles a Hobbit home. The houses were built of stone and cob in late 1700 and have plenty of character.

Last week the chimney was swept and the chimney sweep came and removed 3 bags of twigs that the jackdaws have thrown down; today the Rayburn man came. I thought he would condemn the Rayburn,( a type of range) it looked sad, not at all giving me confidence but he looked at it, scratched his head, put on an apron and uttered the words : Well, lets see whether this here beauty can give some soul back to this dim place. She is not at all cosmetic but then if you had not been looked after for about 4 years you would be looking a bit rusty. Any chance of a cuppa? He got his tools out, a mirror to look up the chimney, asked for some paper, kindling wood, and some coal that was lying about and got a flicker of light. A heartbeat he called it, then he tapped it, cleaned it and said, for about 60 years old its doing OK. With instructions, I am going to be busy keeping the Rayburn topped up with logs, and the last remaining coal until we can get some more logs together. The last words he uttered were a bit strange : she is missing some major bits but she will give off heat and I will be back in the spring to put her together if by then you have not given up on her like the last people.

Do I have the time to stoke her up before I go to bed, at 6 am when I get down before we do start the day, prepare the papers, get the vegetables and fruit delivered? You bet. When after hours I walked upstairs through the rooms they did really feel a bit warmer or could that be my imagination?

Hestia, the heart of the home has been restored and when the frost comes up tonight, I will sleep a bit sounder in the knowledge that the soul of this house is awake and well.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cheesy business

Taking over a shop a few weeks before the holiday season is just like diving into the deep end of the pool, or a steep learning curve. So far we have had and advisory visit from the Health and Hygiene officer to see what we do and with that came a whole book and checks to be made. The shop is a listed building so changes are going to be limited.
We are having a rush on cheese and I am discovering all the other cheeses that are on offer in the UK, together with their lovely names. Roll on Christmas, crackers and cheese will be a must in our shop.
The daily vegetable and bread orders are going well and we are introducing some new varieties there as well. I am keeping a check on what is available locally, fresh and seasonal and there are many new ideas on that front in the pipeline.
Produce prices are up, and I am not certain whether this is part of the growing trend or whether it is just for the holiday season.
Our days starts at 6 am and finishes at 6 pm when we manage usually to sit down as a family and find out whether we are all fine. The difficulties we have dealt with last week were a leaky roof, leaking taps, water running from the walls as guttering was missing in between the two houses that make up the house and shop, cold very cold weather.
The waste collection system is beginning to get clearer. Lots of plastic and cardboard gets folded and recycled although as a business we pay for our collections of waste. We have invited the local people to continue bringing in their plastic bags so they can be reused and are offering the smaller cardboard boxes to people who want to send presents abroad, pack presents or local businesses who send small items in the post.

On a negative, still no internet collection but the camera has surfaced and will post a picture next time. Hang on in there with us please, its about to get interesting.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

new start

Still no internet connection......
Running a business as well as running a home make life interesting. Whenever I step out from my kitchen door, I find myself in the shop and as such in public domain. Not that different from when you step onto the street you may say, but when I am in the process of trying to make a casserole for dinner in the slow cooker, I get a knock on the door and a question asked....The children too are not used to being put second to customers and burst through the door at the end of their day with news, only to receive a frown from me, and then being ushered in the kitchen where they can tell at hearts content what has happened.
We are running...not as smoothly as we would hope but then that would be normal. The house is still in need of a lot of care; leaking taps, pipes, hanging drainpipes, no light bulbs in some rooms etc etc. The downstairs does not appear to have any heat at all, which is an added discomfort. Interestingly, the first night in the house felt a bit like going to sleep in a fridge. This was highlighted the next morning at 6 am when I stepped outside the shop only to find that it was warmer there than in the house. It appears that out house has stone walls that are not able to breathe and will need some remedial work. That will be fun.....

The priority items have been unpacked: bokashi bin in place, compost bin in place and pathway to both cleared. Its a long way off from feeling like a home, but at least I can deal with waste in a way that is comfortable.

No iron though.. I wonder how long that will stay hidden in a box.