Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Stand up for your independent shops

Until they became conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.”
George Orwell, 1984

From Phones to pushchairs, pet insurance, mortgages to funeral services it seems that the large corporate supermarkets want to every penny you have to give from your life, from cradle to grave and everything in between.

It's our independent shops that offer us the very best of seasonal local produce.

I’m very careful where I spend my money.  Money after all is power and we seem to have handed over power to some very dubious corporations.  I did think about apologising to the people who I might offend in this post.. but I’m not going to because it’s about choice.  Most people have been completely seduced by the supermarkets and we have, as a nation been sucked in to a vacuum that has changed an entire nations eating, purchasing and even social behaviour over the past thirty years.

I resent being controlled, and so I make every effort to buy my food at my small independent shops.  My butcher, my fishmonger, my grocer and my local farmers market get as much of my custom as possible.  When I do have to shop in a supermarket I choose the most ethical, after all I still need loo roll.

Last week, I found myself outside my local Tesco.  The car park was full.  "Helping you spend less every day" in large letters above the entrance.  

In my opinion nothing could be further from the truth.  I wonder if the irony of the slogan amuses the board of Directors because it seems to me that Tesco have absolutely no intention of helping you spend less.  To begin with the store lay out has been designed over the years using behavioural experts to maximise the amount spent.  The shelves themselves are stacked in such a way to increase the likelihood that you will pop the most profitable products in your basket.  Bargain buy one get one free scream to purchase food you don’t even need.  The entire store is aggressively designed to make you spend more.  Even the choice of yellow and red colours of the stickers are psychologically aggressive and designed to increase stress levels.  The result is an increase in cortisol symptoms which results in an increased appetite for high fat foods and cravings for sugar and sweet foods. 

A report this week published in this BBC news article says that Britain's biggest supermarkets have been defending their practices after a report suggested that up to half of the world's food is thrown away.  Believe me this is not helping people to spend less everyday.

The lady I buy my beef from at the Melton Mowbray Farmers Market
Just last week as I was walking about a large supermarket I've not been to in years and years  I noticed that that layout and complete saturation of sales messages had raised my anxiety levels. All around me there were deals and offers and supposed bargains not to be missed, but every purchase seemed to come with a bamboozle of information, mostly about the price. In the end I suppose people are so bombarded with the “it’s cheaper’” message that they simply accept this and for their own sanity turn off the scream of information.

As my husband and I got to the back of the store by the bakery there were several security guards and extra staff and about thirty people all kind of milling about. There was considerable tension in the air and my husband asked what was going on.  Stand well clear if you want my advice said the security guard.  What followed could only be described as three simultaneous scrums. As the reduced trolleys were wheeled out the crowd that had gathered literally swarmed over them with a frenzy of people pushing, shoving and  even standing on each other throwing food into their baskets as though they were post apocalypse movie extras.  I found myself staring in disbelief.

“ It’s the same ones every night.” Said that security guards.  “They’re total scum.”

I felt myself prickling, but decided to breath through my response. After all I was not the one there night in night out having to police this.  As we were at the till the cashier mentioned this nightly routine “ They are vultures,” she said scornfully.  “ They hang about in here waiting for the reductions with nothing better to do.” 

“Has it occurred to you that perhaps these cannot afford to eat if they don’t get the reduced food?”  I asked.  She shrugged. “ They should get a job.”

I drove home feeling that I had witnessed a whisper of what is going on all over my country.  The giant corporate supermarkets sending out messages that they care about us, whilst simultaneously
manipulating every aspect of our food decisions.  Who exactly does Tescos help spend less everyday? From the time poor wealthy to the really desperately poor they seem to me to just want as much of everyone’s money as they can get.  They want all of it - every penny.  Well Tesco’s, Asda, Sainsbury, Morrisons and any other overbearing corporate supermarket  ....  I do not believe that it is your divine right to make money no matter what the cost. 

It is the last time I will ever step foot in any of your stores, and so despite the inconvenience of finding a parking space and the extra time that it takes, I will consistently and continuously campaign for people to make the effort and support real people running independent shops who offer an alternative to the consumer. 

So I was wondering then, how to turn such a negative experience into a positive one and I thought I'd celebrate all that is good about independent shops. Do you have an outstanding butcher?  A wonderful fishmonger?  A fabulous grocer?  

Please leave a comment and go out of your way to keep them in business.  Your local shops care, they will be pleased to see you, respect your custom, give you good advice, fabulous food and support the local farmers and the community. In fact they are everything that Tesco’s are not. 

My last word to my own food blogging community is that collectively have serious influence  - so if you are a blogger & would you would like to make a difference then please add this logo to your site and tell the world about your local baker, butcher, cheesemonger or greengrocer. 

Everyday decisions add up to a lifetime of difference.  Be the change you want to see.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

What Makes a Really Good Cookery Course?

For me a course has to be hands on. 

I love going on cookery courses.  I get excited about each and every one, and yes you might ask why a qualified chef might say this, but in my experience you can always learn more.  I also really enjoy the social aspect of getting out of the house and meeting really interesting people and feeling that I have something new to try out on my family when I get home.

Working for BBC The Kitchen Garden show has meant that I’ve had the opportunity over the past few years to go to many cookery schools and have done many courses some of them good, some of them truly awful and several that were outstanding.

So as I’ve set up the Juniper and Rose Cookery School in Northampton I've been thinking about what makes a really good cookery course?

The starting point for me has to be price.  If it is too expense I just can’t afford it.  It’s that simple.

Then there is the question of numbers. All too often cookery courses are over oversubscribed.  I understand why, More people is more profit, but too many and it at the expense of the other students.  I remember one particular course in London that had 22 people there.  It was a nightmare.  I couldn’t see the demonstration and when I needed clarification on an instruction I had to wait twenty minutes before the tutor got to me.

I like to really learn stuff.  One particular course I recall being hugely frustrated that all the good bits I wanted to do and needed to learn were simply demonstrated.  I can look at a video on you tube if I want to simply watch someone doing it.  When I want to do a cookery course I want to be up to my elbows in whatever I am cooking, so I get to touch, feel, measure and learn.

I don’t want to sound like I am being fussy about things, but when I am on a cookery course I want to put things in a wider context.  Whilst I am learning with my hands I like to learn the way in which my food choices affects the world.  I like to know, for example, which fish as sustainable when I am doing a fish course, or where  I can buy flour milled from the nearest flour mill.  I loved that when I attended a course run by Dan Lepard at that were given artisan flour to take home and try.  It was generous and thoughtful.

For the sake of timing or cost of ingredients, or even perhaps as an attempt at getting more in I’ve been on courses where there is a communal theme.  Making different shapes with Danish pastry was one such course.  I got to make twenty of one particular shape and we all shared out the other five shapes.  Now I am truly really great at one Danish pastry shape only.

Cleanliness is rally important.  I know you are probably wide eyed that I have even mentioned this, however I have been to one cookery school where things were not quite as they should be.  Common areas must be clean for me.

Finally I like to be inspired to go home and start cooking.  I  want a course to influence the way I do things and even to motivate me.  It’s a tall order I know, but when I’ve spent a whole day and my hard earned money I want it to have an effect.  If you’ve been on a bread-making course and you don’t go home and make you own bread then what, if I may ask, was the point of that?

Every cookery school I've been to has had a different feel to it.  Some are intimate, some are friendly, others are intense.  Hopefully I've taken the very best aspects from all of them and added my own style. 

I’d love to know what else you think makes a really good course… .

Friday, 18 January 2013

Share your Baking Blog Post

Sometimes I get really fed up with writing about what I have done.  Me myself and I syndrome!  So today as the snow falls I find myself sitting thinking about all the interesting things other people have been up to.

So it occurred to me to have a blog sharing day .. ok I might extend it for a couple of days!

I've added this picture and tweeted it and thought that we'd all be able to enjy other peoples baking and fortunately  there are no calories looking at the screen.

So if you do have a cake, pie, bread, pastry or even a baked potato ...  share your post .. or even someone else's post on my Juniper and Rose Facebook page here. 

Monday, 14 January 2013

Random Bakes of Kindness

My Random Bake of Kindness .. is a Lemon Drizzle Cake

It's snowing outside and I've had enough.  It's been cold and wet and miserable for weeks and we were all ill over Christmas.   I caught myself on the phone moaning about this that and the other and then in a second after I caught myself remembered just how lucky I am.  It's so easy to get caught up in yourself at this time of year.  With a bank account at an all time low after Christmas and the bills keep on coming in and this weather and all the other things going on all I want is to be out in the garden picking flowers.

At this time of year people like you and I .. only older, die of cold. I don't want to rant about it .. but it is beyond belief that in a civilised society people freeze to death.

I also read in the Guardian about a family who are having to choose between heating and food. So truth is that little things I am having a moan about are, in realty, insignificant and I really need to keep things in perspective.  I find the best way is by doing something for somebody else, so I am doing a January Random Bakes of Kindness Challenge.

It's open to everyone. There are no particular rules other than
1) You need to bake something &
2) You have to give your baked something to someone as a surprise.

It's the perfect excuse to check up on an elderly neighbour, or to cheer someone up who is feeling the January blues.

I am going to bake a lemon drizzle cake and take it to my greengrocer.  I might make a banana cake too as it will use some of the old bananas up that are being ignored by the children. Mr Troop gets up at 2am and fetches back the fruit and vegetables from the wholesalers for his shop in Brixworth.  I've known him since I was eleven years old and he is one of the kindest and loveliest people I know, as well as being a local food hero. There isn't much Mr Troop doesn't know about fruit or veg.

I'm also going to make another loaf and check in on my neighbour. She's often wrapped up in a blanket to keep herself warm so she doesn't have to turn the heating up. I'll be subtle, but I will make sure she is ok.

There now.  I feel much better already.

If you'd like to take part please add the badge to your site and mention the idea.  Like all good turns I believe they come back to you when you need them.

Email your Random Bakes of Kindness to and I will do a round up of them at the end of January.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Get your Kids to Set up & Run a Bakery from Home

Kids can run a bakery  .. with a bit of help. 

The 2013 Kitchen Garden School calendar of cookery and gardening courses is up.  It took me until 2am this morning to get most of the course dates booked in.  It's hard not clashing with my children's holidays, and although I am able to offer extra dates and be flexible I will keep the main holidays free.  That is my time with my children .. and as I have learned ..  you don't get that time back.  They are growing up fast  .. really fast.

Listening to the news it is really scary to be young and facing your future right now  The jobs that are out their and opportunities are few and far between.  With so many redundancies and cut backs the young people in our country have dropped to the bottom of the pile.  It's a catch 22.  They can't get a job, so they don't get experience,  they don't have experience so they don't get a job.

As a mother I do worry about what my children do when they grow up, but moreover I worry about what they will do whilst they are growing up.  Where are they?  Who are they hanging out with? Who is influencing them?  How are they going to achieve their dreams?   That is where a home bakery can really come in to it's own.

With a really low start up cost and a simple sourdough loaf formula we set up a pop up bakery from home really easily.  People out there want good bread, and many of my customers really love engaging with my children. We've got know our local community, neighbours have become friends, and the children love it.  It is really their bakery and the money they earn from it is a seriously good amount of pocket money.  In fact it's kind of a beautiful circle that takes place as as use Fairtrade Ndali Vanilla in the scones and biscuits and the extra they earn we send a little girl, called Collins, to school with in Uganda (Who's Dad Kato works on the Ndali estate) , so my children feel pride in their job and realise the importance of an education.  We keep friends and neighbours updated with  her letters and pictures.

The money the children earn gives they a sense of responsibility and independence, but more than that they make something that they can see, they interact with all sorts of people and their confidence in themselves has really grown.  From my little one now counting our peoples change to my son emailing everyone about their orders and my eldest working out the profit for the day and sharing the takings out, the skills and discipline they are gaining is invaluable.

We operate as a team, and yes there are days I think  .. oh I can't be bothered to get up so early.. but the truth is that aside from the my children not always mithering me for pocket money every five minutes .. it's actually really fun.  We laugh chat, bake and eat our delicious bread.  My eldest is not yet a teenager, but I am told that their demand from pocket money increases and their desire to spend time with you decreases so we will keep on running our home bakery whilst they are growing up as my teenage cure all strategy.

In the meantime I am going to give away a voucher for the course on How to Set up and Run your Own Pop Up Bakery -  based at the Juniper and Rose Kitchen Garden School in Northamptonshire.


Please see competition Rules before entering. This giveaway is open to all readers over 18 with a UK mainland address.  The winner will be chosen at random by  You need to leave your e-mail address in order to comment, I am the only person that can see it. Please do not include your email in the actual comment as well.

This competition on behalf of Juniper and Rose Kitchen Garden School and they will be responsible for organizing the prize with the winner. Their decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

There is one main way to enter and there are 4 more chances to win .. . and you must leave a separate comment for each bonus entry otherwise they will not be counted. 

For a chance to win please TWEET this article and tell me why you think your children would love running a Bakery from home

For a 2nd chance to win  please follow @JuniperandRose on Twitter and comment below to tell me you have done so.

For a 3rd chance to win please like Juniper and Rose on Facebook and comment to tell me you have done so

For a 4th chance to win please comment below and tell me why you think your children would love running a Bakery from home.

For a 5th chance to enter comment on one of the blog posts on  

For more chances of winning Tweet this article and comment below to tell me you have done so. Each comment counts and an entrance and you can have a maximum of 1 entry per day to win this break  - but you MUST comment with your twitter ID telling me you have done so!

Automated Entries are not allowed.  There is no cash or product alternative.  The invitation must be used by June 2013

Closing date of this competition is 4pm Friday 18th 2013

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Everything has been diluted.

My eldest daughter in September. I love that life is so simple for her still.  I will keep it that way for her as long as possible. 

Everything has been diluted.

Growing up in the 1980’s meant that people and things had their place.  I remember well my mother would tell me children were to be seen and not heard.  On a Sunday morning my father would make a large pot of coffee and take the Sunday Times up to their bedroom and emerge 3 hours later after they had both read the paper cover to cover. They would lock their bedroom door on some Sundays and we would know to stay downstairs and keep ourselves busy.

In the 1990’s as I started work you knew exactly where to advertise what.  There was no real Internet as such and the newspapers ruled. I knew, for example that the best place to advertise that I was giving one to one French tuition at £10 per hour was in my local Chronicle and Echo. I am smiling now as I recollect that this was interpreted as anything but French tuition and my poor mother had quite a time fending off some of the calls.

When I worked in catering the local jobs were all advertised on the Thursday night.  You know when you picked up the paper that every possible job in the county was advertised in one place.  It was reassuring.  It seemed that everyone had his or her place in life.

Nowadays there is no limit as to where you might advertise. If you want local people to find out about you then my local paper might seem the logical place, until you look closely at the demographics of the readers.  These are not the people who have the kind of profile that buy Cookery courses.  It’s the same with my local BBC.  In the two years I have done my weekly cookery spot on the Kitchen Garden show I’ve had over a hundred people tell me they listen to me.  Not one of them was under the age of 65, bar my aunty who is not far off.  It is a media that is terminal decline. 

Young people.. or at least those brought up in the age of the internet use online as their medium of choice.  So this leaves me with the digital market place.  What a minefield.  I am fast learning that page impressions and click through rates and so on can me targeted to you exact audience, but it is also incredible that they will take your money but with absolutely with no guarantees of any results.  Most of the mediums I spoke to would not give a click through rate. It's a real risk and it's all mine to take. 

I’ve spoken to day to the Telegraph, the Guardian and my local newspaper today and I’ve been astonished at the wild difference in rates. It seems that the National newspapers offer far better value for money, which having worked for my local paper for almost two years galls me.  I actually want to spend my money with my local paper.  It employs friends of mine and after a massive downsize and major redundancies recently, it is now more than ever we need to protect our ever declining local media.  I am afraid, however, that the wider our choices and the more diverse the media becomes then the more our traditional local mediums decline.  I fear they will disappear altogether, and sooner than we think. 

It’s not just the local papers and radio that are under threat.  The media as a whole has been diluted. The once dominant BBC is crumbling ever inward, with managers taking ever more self preserving disastrous short term decisions that erode the fabric of what the BBC stands for.  Watching the decline is painful. 

It is this dilution that makes it even harder to know where to spend money advertising.  The choice is far greater than ever.  There are internet sites, on line newspapers, classified adverts in magazines, above the line and below the line have swapped their positions, and with the small budget that I have I am now practically paralyzed with indecision.  So I am sitting here instead of reading the stats and deciding what advert to put where for my cookery courses .. I am remembering with fondness the simplicity of my youth.. before things were diluted, when you knew you would get a response because everyone had to read the one printed paper.  

How I miss those days. 

We will never see them again. 

2013 New Years Resolutions - I can do more.

Looking back on 2012.

Will this rain ever stop?  It’s driving me mad.  The chickens’ look pathetic.  All bedraggled and wet, the children are driving me crazy with being indoors for what seems like days on end and I’ve still so much to do in the garden.  There are at least another 600 tulip bulbs to go in as well as a whole load of David Austin roses that are currently sitting on buckets in the outhouse.

Of course I am now analysing what I achieved in 2012. I think the highlight of the year was being able to bring the story of the Ndali Fairtrade Vanilla story to BBC Radio Four Food Programme.  I felt that I managed to communicate the importance of what fair-trade actually means to real people.  The trip opened my eyes to the world around me and I came back changed. We've also converted the potting sheds this year and my husband is now working from home.  It's something we'd been dreaming about for years and he loves it.  He sees more of the children and is far more relaxed that he used to be. We  set up a regular pop up bakery  early in the year and now I teach a course on it. So I guess it has been a good year in all.

I’m now wondering what to do with the rest of the holiday?  If anyone follows me on twitter then they may remember that we were all really poorly over Christmas and I know it sounds churlish .. but I really resent that we were so poorly.  I recovered enough to cook Christmas lunch and to be fair the whole of my family in law came. 21 of us in all.   It was so good to get everyone together, but it was an endurance test for me.  Now we are into the New Year and I have finally got the chance to enjoy a bit of time with my husband and children and it’s bloody raining. .. still.  Perhaps a trip to Borough  Market will cheer me up. 

These next few weeks are the darkest for me.  I struggle to keep things in perspective when there is no daylight and getting outside when I can seems the only thing to help.  We've had so many members of the family really ill this past year that it's been really hard, especially when you face things that are beyond your control. So more than ever I am resolved to live life.  I really don't want to end up in a nursing home one day wishing I had done more. We get one shot at life, so my take is to grab it.  My Dad once said you can give in, give up or give it a go, so the first of my resolutions is to get the cookery school off the ground and get the courses booked up. I also have big plans for the front garden, including a dedicated cut flower garden, and as ever I’d like to loose some weight.  

In fact so determined am I to shift the pounds I actually joined a gym.  Really.  I loathe and detest gyms, however this one has a swimming pool and the changing rooms don’t look as though a yeti has been attacked in them.  I abhor dirty changing facilities in swimming pools and gyms.  I won’t share the disgusting experience I had with you when I went swimming in the local pool.  It’s enough to say that I took photos and ended up on the front page of the local rag. I think that the headline was Mothers Fury and Filthy Facilities - try not to laugh out loud as I tell you that in the photo I was asked to hold a mop angrily and the photographer actually asked me to say Grrrrr!

Well I hope the gym I just joined keeps itself clean, or I may actually take them by surprise and turn up with that mop if standards slip and I am so not joking.

I’m stopping my local BBC Radio Kitchen Garden show this month.  It’s taken up about a day and a half a week for almost two years, and although I now share it with the fabulous Carmella it has taken up so many hours I am relived to be getting the time back.  I shall spend this time now on me.  Yes yes I know that sounds so selfish as I write it. How unlike me to think about me.. ..well actually its’ never been heard of before, but I must now consider my health and well being.  It’s as though turning forty has hit my joints and my weight in a head on collision of time and neglect and I feel that I am deteriorating at an expediential rate.  It’s time to do some yoga.. yawn .. and swim .. double yawn.  However the real truth is that I always come out of the pool or session feeling fabulous.  I have to remember that as I trudge unwillingly to ( uuurgh )  exercise.

The last of my resolutions is to up my actions on my food convictions.  I do support my local food scene by shopping at the local butchers, my local greengrocers and fishmongers.  I also grow much of my own vegetables and keep chickens.  However I can do better. I can buy more and support my farmers markets more.  It takes effort and despite ordering my basic groceries on line and making my own bread I do slip when things get pressurized.  I can do better.  I can plan further ahead.  I can do more.

Yes I think that is my actual resolution.  I can do more.

Happy healthy and peaceful New Year to you all, my blog friends.