Monday, 19 October 2009

It's National Baking Week - so I had a go

I was amazed at the lip-smacking descriptions of the cakes baked by members of our Facebook page and so was inspired to have a go at baking myself.

I haven't creamed any butter or beaten any eggs since I was a girl - being single it always seemed to much of an indulgence and then if I have people to tea it's easy to nip out and buy a cake, so it's never seemed worthwhile going to the trouble to make one.

Remembering that I'd had a Damascene conversion on the jam-making front after a lot of scepticism, I decided to see if baking could work it's magic too. I got the food mixer out of the cupboard and set to work, while listening to the X Factor on Saturday night. A couple of people in the Facebook thread mentioned lemon drizzle cake - and I happened to have plenty of lemons. There's something so sensual about the word drizzle that had me licking my lips before I'd even broken the eggs!

Readers I loved it! It was so easy. It was so satisfying. The kitchen smelled heavenly. The sponge rose beautifully. The lemon drizzled oozily. And it tasted absolutely scrumptious.

The only problems - I forgot to take a photograph - the one here is not mine (thanks to pudontour on Flickr - I picked it as it looks the most like mine). And I scoffed the lot - so I don't think I dare risk doing this again until I have people round to share it or I'll be turning into a sweet-toothed Tellytubby. So... if anyone fancies coming for tea next Sunday afternoon?

Clare Flynn

>> I used this recipe from Woman's Hour
>> Confessions of a reluctant jam-maker
>> Our Facebook Page
>> National Baking Week

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Blog action day - hang your washing out!

It's Blog Action Day for climate change and we're getting behind it at Make it and Mend it. Check out the main website for our piece on Climate Change and your Kitchen.

We've also been lending a bit of support to our US friends at Project Laundry List, who are campaigning to encourage Americans to hang their clothes on the lines instead of always using the dryer.

Our highlighting of their efforts has piqued a lot of interest from our UK readers and Facebook fans, many of whom have expressed amazement about the fact that 50 million US homes are actually banned from using dryers and line-drying is seen as a potential dampener on property values (yes - didn't you know - all those sub-prime mortgages and greedy bankers had nothing to do with it - it was the few brave citizens who dared to hang their sheets outside!).

To stop all us Brits from feeling too smug, I thought we'd share a few facts about tumble-drying over here in these fair isles. It may not be banned by law and the practice of hanging your smalls out is not generally viewed as scandalous, but an awful lot of us are still very attached to our dryers.
  • We spend £1.1million a day on electricity for tumble drying. That's equivalent to the amount of electricity needed to run 2650 (dryer-free!) homes for a whole year.
  • Dryers use about 60% more electricity than washing machines.
  • The average tumble drying family could save themselves £70 a year if they switched to line drying.
  • The average dryer is responsible for emissions of 310kgs of CO2: avoiding this is roughly equivalent to draught-proofing the average UK house.
If you're feeling coy about hanging your undies on the line, then hang these on a rack or airer indoors and save the washing line for sheets, towels and pillow cases.

And don't use the lousy British weather as an excuse. We got by perfectly well before dryers were around! You can always dry indoors on bad days, or don't do a wash if you know it's going to rain - or you can even buy covered washing lines to protect the clothes from the elements.

Even if you can't give the dryer up completely, please do give line drying a try on a dry day (it doesn't have to be sunny!). You'll love the smell of air dried clothes - there's nothing like it.

I've never owned a dryer myself - apart from a brief flirtation with a combi washer-dryer that was so useless I never bothered to use the dryer function. I do have a confession to make though! 25 years ago I worked on the UK launch of dryer fabric conditioning sheets. I spent my days beavering away trying to come up with ways to swell the tiny numbers of dryer owners here in Britain. It sometimes seemed an impossible task - if only it had proved to be!

Clare F

>> Read our original post in support of Project Laundry List
>> Check out the debate on our Facebook Page
>> Project Laundry List

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Eco friendly washing lines for inside and out. save money and help reduce CO2

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Tell us about your tins! - well, how you cook with them

It doesn’t matter what sort of culinary whizz you may be in the kitchen you still need a few cans in the back of the cupboard for emergencies and mid-week dinner staples. However, my confidence did fail me when I was confronted with this picture in a recent copy of the UK Times.

What you’re looking at is a ‘Mock crown roast’ from a 1949 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. It was sent in by a Times reader as their contribution to the World’s Worst Recipe Competition.

The central ingredient is four tins of luncheon meat, smeared with marmalade and then roasted in the oven; served here with tinned potatoes, tinned asparagus and tinned pineapple decorated with strawberries.

>> Read the full article here

Even this concoction couldn’t put me off tins for good. So to rectify the canned goods good / bad balance I want your recipes that include something in a can as part of the ingredients.

'Chilli con carne made with tinned kidney beans' you say – ‘Who has time to soak and boil them these days?’ But I think that’s a bit too obvious. The more inventive the better and, unlike the Mock crown roast, it has to be something totally delicious.

Send your recipes to

We’ll publish the best of them and may even offer a prize for the winner. Would a tin of luncheon meat do?

Anne Caborne. Make it and Mend it

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Have you entered our knitting photo comp yet?

We're giving away 5 copies of Debbie Bliss' fab new knitting book Tips for Knitters - plus an exclusive free download of a section of the book and 25% discount off the price of the book. Check it out here

Here are some of the entries we've had so far - first of the 5 winners will be announced this weekend. So get those photos in - the competition ends on 31st October 2009.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Stain-busting guide to the rescue in the ‘nick’ of time

OurMake it and Mend it Stain Guide (a free e-book, written by the Guardian's Stephanie Zia, for everyone who joins our main website) was the source of a solution to what could have been a very tricky problem... in a young offenders’ prison.

One of our subscribers was working at the prison, running a workshop with a number of the young inmates, all expected to maintain best behaviour in order to keep the privilege of attending these workshops.

Part of the session involved using pastel crayons. All was calm and fine until ‘the problem’ was noticed. One young man had used his bright red pastel crayon in a less constructive fashion and inscribed an unrepeatable piece of graffiti onto the face of one of the blue hessian-covered chairs in the meeting room.

In prison terms, this is a punishable offence. Keen not see the boy’s previous good behaviour go to waste our subscriber quickly ran a mental checklist through the Stephanie Zia Easy No-nonsense Stain Guide she’d just downloaded and read.

With nothing to hand (prisons only allow you minimal belongings when you work on the inside), our heroine knew the only way to keep this young teenager out of more trouble was to find a way of getting him to solve the problem himself. She had it! She needed washing-up liquid to remove the offending words and in the absence of that, hand-wash from the ladies' toilets.

Back with a plastic cup full of the stuff, the lad set to work, literally with his bare hands, scrubbing offence off the surface of the chair until, after 15 minutes, it was completely gone! Apparently our boy was brimming with pride at his achievement and relieved he would not be going on report.

And one of the most satisfying things, apart from us all learning how to clean pastel crayon off hessian, was that the Stain Guide let someone learn what are the consequences of thoughtless graffiti : someone has to find a way of cleaning it off.
>> Get our Free Stain Guide now

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Autumnal blues?

A couple of days ago I walked along a sunlit River Thames, light dappling through the trees and onto the water, geese and herons paddling on the edges and rowers cutting through the still clear water. Now the sky is grey, the wind is howling, it's forecast to rain and I'm shivering my socks off indoors and switching on the heating.

Yes folks, after our Indian Summer, Autumn is well and truly here! Meanwhile our friends Downunder are hitting the beaches - and the trouble with Facebook is you get to hear all about it and see the photographs.

Looking out of the window into the gloom of the garden, the plants are also looking rather down in the dumps, with frazzled leaves and dying flowerheads. Apart from the dash of colour from the pink sedum, it's all starting to look a bit depressing and rather sorry for itself.

Rather than start indulging my SAD syndrome (Seasonal Affective Disorder) - or as the Italians call it "cambio della stagione" I'm going to console myself by planning the garden for next year. Now is a good time for taking stock of what worked and what didn't. For thinking about next year's display and for ringing the changes by introducing some plants for the winter.

If you're going to be growing vegetables - and if you haven't tried then give it a go - it's so rewarding - there's a fantastic offer from the lovely people at GrowVeg - a 30 day free trial of their really useful software for planning your vegetable planting. It enables you to make a scale drawing of your vegetable plot or allotment and populate it with the vegetables you want to grow. It even shows you how much space each plant needs, which plants go together and how to rotate crops.
>> Take a free trial

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