Monday, June 30, 2008

Oooooh! I booked the final person for our autumn workshops this morning and I am SO pleased with the line-up for September and October. We have got:

~ 'Autumn Foraging' with the Forage Rangers

~ 'Appreciating Antiques' with Jeremy Gow, a restorer well known across Scotland as one of our foremost authorities on antiques.

~ 'Understanding Wine - an introduction' with Nicola Arcedeckne-Butler (pronounced Archdeacon) - one of the most respected female Masters of Wine in the country.

~ 'Preparing for a Hand Crafted Christmas' which sees the return of the wonderful Jane Lindsey.

and finally, booked today, 'Dinner Parties Made Easy' with Craig McAlpine, winner of Channel 4's Come Dine With Me, who runs a company called Bespoke Caterers which teaches dinner party cooking across Scotland.

I don't know about you, but I feel that we have a really good range here and some fascinating speakers. The flyer goes to the printer in a couple of days and then we're off again! I have to say, I find the whole thing so much fun - it really doesn't feel like work. And, actually, that was the whole point - to bring Twice home a bit rather than running around all over the country doing those blessed fairs. I have managed to contain my Christmas selling to three big fairs - Living North in Newcastle and Country Living in London and Glasgow. That means only three moves, which is heaven.

Once the flyer is out, I can slightly put my feet up and enjoy the children and the summer holidays. Big sigh of relief.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Here at Twice Towers the produce is really starting to stream in and yesterday I came home to find that happy husband had been busy bottling. The result looked so wonderful that I thought I'd share it with you. The line up on our kitchen table is Damson Gin, Damson Vodka and Elderflower Cordial (not sure in which order). There's also some Blackberry Whisky cooking away somewhere which should be interesting. Today he has added 12 2 litre bottles of Elderflower Champagne, a la Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, that promise to be quite delicious once the bubbles have come in and will be ready for drinking in about three weeks.

The gin and vodka have been brewing for quite a while. Just a sip of either of them makes me feel completely autumnal - and then, I expect quite quickly if I had much more, rather happy!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

At the end of yesterday's workshop I suddenly realised that I hadn't taken any photos - and had to quickly take these two on my little camera - so apologies for the quality (particularly to those who are actually in the photos!) but it gives an idea of the day. It was the last workshop of the series - and seemed to be a real hit much like the other days. Joa Studholme, who kindly came up from London to teach us all about using colour in the home, is an unbelievable font of knowledge on the subject. I can't even start to explain what she told us all - but suffice to say that I don't think anybody who attended the workshop will think of 'white' in the same way ever again!

The photo below shows the board that Joa worked with as it was by the end of the talk - she really opened up so many possibilities to people in terms of colour. It is extraordinary how light makes a difference to colours - and even whether you are seeing them horizontally or vertically.

The one thing that I have really learnt from listening to all our speakers over the past few weeks is that you can think that you know about something but when you listen to someone who REALLY knows, it is extraordinary what you can learn.

I would like to thank all our speakers - Xa Milne, Fiona Houston, Jane Lindsey and Joa Studholme - for coming to Inchyra and giving everyone who attended workshops a really memorable, useful and inspirational time. The feedback has been great - we seem to have got it mostly right - and I am now busy organising the next series of workshops in September and October. I hope that Joa will be back later next year - so there will be an opportunity for those who missed this one to see her talk again.

Thanks also to all those who came to the workshops - we were probably a bit of an unknown quantity as we had no track record on them so was a slight leap of faith for people signing up.

If you are reading this and are near enough to come to Perth for the next workshops - please do email me at and I'll put you on the list to get the info.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Just a quick one. Yesterday's workshop with Jane Lindsey was smaller than the previous one and then even smaller because a couple of people couldn't make it in the end - so I thought I'd make up the numbers and join in. I am SO glad that I did. I can't tell you how much I learnt and how much I discovered that I was doing wrong. No wonder my flowers didn't last long indoors! There were some incredibly basic things that I was doing wrong from the moment I picked flowers. I would love to tell you what they were, but then there would be no point coming to the workshops!

It was also really nice to meet the lovely people who came yesterday - we had a very jolly lunch and it felt absolutely like having lunch with a group of friends. I have just posted a couple of photos from yesterday showing some very pretty little table centres that we made and also the wonderful hand-tied bouquets that everyone created. Mine actually looked good enough to give to someone - and that is a breakthrough!

So, once again huge thanks to Jane and thank you to everyone who came. We are already organising days for the autumn - at the moment it looks like we will cover planting spring bulbs, planting indoor bulbs for the winter and also some autumn/Christmas arranging and wreaths. Be very interesting to hear if there is anything else that people are interested in learning about (workshops will be on 7th and 9th October).

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

We've had the most wonderful day here today with the first of two workshops on Cutting Flowers with Jane Lindsey. These photos give a bit of the flavour of the day - but we really were lucky as the sun shone all day - unlike the rest of the UK which was apparently in heavy rain.

I'm going to sit in on tomorrow's talks so I will have a better idea of the brilliant tricks of the trade that Jane imparted to everyone but all I can tell you is that every time I popped in to see how things were going there were lots of "that's fascinating!" type comments. As you can see, there was a trip down to our walled garden where Jane talked about which flowers to plant and also how to cut them so that you get the best flowers and look after the plant.

Then it was back to the demonstration room where everyone was shown how to condition the flowers before arranging. Jane had brought along lots of flowers from her own cutting garden and everyone picked the ones that they wanted to arrange. The flowers were all then conditioned - I will know more about this tomorrow but apparently it extends the life of the flowers once indoors from a couple of days to a week or 10 days, so it's well worth knowing. Once all the flowers were sorted out we all had lunch and a bit of shopping at Twice.

After lunch it was on to the arranging and Jane showed everyone how to make a pretty hand-tied bunch and then how to wrap it in cellophane so that the flowers can sit in water - I've always wondered how they do that. Then some pretty tissue paper and, Bob's your uncle, we had ten fantastic hand-tied bunches that would have done many a florist proud.

The day wrapped up with questions and answers and Jane demonstrated a clever way to make a really original flower or candle container with rosemary and a jar - so pretty.

I am so looking forward to joining in with tomorrow's course - everyone seemed to leave today's workshop full of renewed enthusiasm for their gardens. I love it when you learn bits of information that you will use again and again - and I think that's exactly what people did today.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

This weekend I think it finally, finally started to be summer - I don't really mean the weather as much as our mentality. The first thing that made me realise it was that I cut the first really good bunch of flowers for the kitchen table. You can see them here - rather thrown together but I'm hoping that once I've listened to Jane Lindsey doing the cutting flowers workshops on Wednesday and Thursday my 'thrown together' will be rather more professional! Roses are out, peonies are out - it's all gorgeous. And then we put our big tent up in the garden - it's a big canvas one from the Middle East that stays up now until about October - and that really means summer to me. We have a huge table in it that seats about 20 and it means we can go out for the day in the garden without worrying too much about rain ruining lunch or whatever. So today we had lunch there with friends who were staying and we barbecued a butterflied leg of lamb and had delicious beetroot and salads and a wonderful fruit salad.

Last night we had more friends over for supper in the kitchen and we ate artichokes from the garden. As relatively new veggie gardeners, this was a significant moment. I took this photo of them yesterday - they really are striking plants and we have them in the flowers beds because they are wonderful to look at as well as to eat. And the photo at the bottom is something I couldn't resist putting in because it is quite special and particular (I believe) to this part of the UK. It is a Himalayan Poppy or Meconopsis. It is native, as if you couldn't guess, to the Himalayas but grows really well in this part of Scotland so I had to give it a go and it seems to like us. The blue is quite different from any of the others in the garden .

The other reason that I'm posting these is that I'm quite proud of the photography! Because of all the photography we have to do for Twice, I have a quite snazzy camera but I could never make it perform very well. On Friday I had a meeting with Shaun Ward who is a photographer who is going to be working with us on our first catalogue and while we were talking I said that I was really struggling with my camera. Anyway, he gave me a couple of pointers (ie. explained what two major buttons that I didn't know how to use did!) and suddenly I seem to be taking half decent photos which I couldn't resist posting! At this rate I may even be able to stop using the 'Point & Shoot' that I always end up resorting to in frustration at not being able to use the good camera. I am also going to enroll on a photography course because I really ought to know what I'm doing a bit more. Watch this space to see if I improve at all!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Our Discover Foraging workshop kicked off in beautiful sunshine (while the rest of the UK was in a deluge) on Wednesday morning at 10.30. The day went unbelievably smoothly, starting with a slide show from Xa and Fiona, authors of "Seaweed & Eat It", showing all the different plants and food that they have foraged from around Scotland over the past couple of years. They then moved off in two groups to forage around Inchyra. Battle was joined as they competed to see which group could find the most edible things. Just outside the house, Fiona's group managed to find pignuts - which was as amazing to me as it was to the foragers. It's the tuber on the bottom of a pretty white flower that looks like cow parsley (a bit) and it really is just like a nut - a bit brazil nutty. Here are Fiona and two of our foragers finding them. There was a huge haul of edibles including sorrel, ground elder, wood sorrel, wild garlic, sweet woodruff, chickweed, nettles and much more.

Just as the heavens opened it was time to head back to the house for a "Show & Tell". Everyone put all their foraged goodies on the table and Xa and Fiona identified everything and then explained what could be done with them - from fritters to fruit cordials. Then we all had a delicious (though I say it myself!) lunch of asparagus and goats cheese tart, curried chicken with mango, green salad (with sorrel and wood sorrel) and new potatoes, followed by a vanilla terrine with blackcurrant coulis and raspberries. After a couple of glasses of wine and a bit of shopping at Twice, the day continued with the cookery demonstration.

Fiona amazed everyone immediately by creating the most delicious elderflower fritters - a revelation! Then we went on to find out about nettle pesto, chickweed puree and soup and then nettle cordial. This is extraordinarily good and I now have some brewing away in the larder. The final part of the day was a tasting of various fabulous cordials that Xa and Fiona have concocted. We tried Sweet Woodruff, Nettle & Blackcurrant Leaf, Dead Nettle and more. The recipes for everything are in their wonderful book (which is available here on our website). The photo shows Fiona in mid fritter.

The day seemed to fly by to me and it was soon 3 o'clock and home time - everyone left looking very happy and clutching a goodie bag containing a signed copy of the book and a tub of nettle pesto. I have to say I was thrilled with the way it all went - and not a little bit relieved, after all these months of planning. I think that now the first course is done and dusted I will relax a bit - and I'm really looking forward to our two days of cutting flowers with Jane Lindsey next week.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Countdown to the first workshop

Well, after all the planning and organising over the past few months, the first of our workshops is tomorrow. Xa Milne and Fiona Houston, our foragers, will be here to run what promises to be a really great day. We had a preliminary meeting here on Sunday and there is masses of free food all around the house so people will definitely be finding edible plants and finding out all sorts of delicious ways to cook them. I'm just off out to find nettles and sorrel for the lunch, having been given intructions on nettle preparation by Xa. The projector and screen arrived today and it's all just been assembled by James (sorry, IT Director!). This is the sort of expense that I hadn't really budgetted for properly - I reckoned it would cost about £40 to hire a projector for the day, but it's more like £100 plus delivery, so we took a deep breath and worked out that we would be better off buying it - especially since it means we can now have full cinema in the house! Even better, we've decided that instead of a trip to the horrid bowling alley, Silvie's 9th birthday party is going to be a Cinema Party here with popcorn, icecream and ushers!

I will report back on how the workshop goes - I really hope that everyone has a fantastic time. I think they will.