Friday, October 31, 2008

Will I ever get off a learning curve?

Running Twice I have had to grasp so many new skills - photographer, graphic designer, web operator, manufacturer, designer ... and on and on. Everything that can be done in house is done in house. Of course, in order to be able to do these things there is a steep learning curve - and I always come out better off somehow but sometimes things get thrown at me that really have me wondering what I am doing. Yesterday just such a thing happened when the much anticipated first run of 5000 Twice catalogues arrived ..... all absolutely unusable.

I have been very successfully using on-line printers for a while to produce leaflets and postcards and invitations and have worked hard to improve my abilities in desktop publishing. So, when I made the big decision to do a catalogue I looked for the most cost effective way of doing it which was for me to do the design and then get it printed by the same printer. However, I could see I might struggle with formatting of the artwork and I wasn't comfortable that I would be talking to someone in Germany to finalise the proofs, so I changed to a UK company, who cost more but assured me that that bought me first class customer service and hand-holding. I thought it was a price worth paying and went for them. I was sent about four samples of different paper finishes and plumped for one that looked wonderfully matt which I thought was very fitting for Twice. What I now know is that this particular finish (called offset) leaches colour out of photographs - the result for my catalogue is that all the wonderfully vibrant colours have just disappeared. When you are asking people to choose a product on colour, that's really not a runner. Anyway, there was a sad little puddle of me sitting in the office last night at midnight having just got back from a two day sale in Yorkshire, wondering what on earth I was going to do with 5000 unusable brochures. I wrote the printer a very sad email and got one back this morning basically saying that it is like that because I chose that finish. As the experts, do you think that they could maybe have advised me that that would happen? I do.

So, where are we today? Well I'm feeling a little more chirpy and have called my local printer for help (who I didn't use in the first place because I thought they'd be much more expensive) and they are going to match the price and we are going to go again.

In the meantime, there are an awful lot of boxes in the hall that the online printers don't seem to want either!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Feeling really autumnal and scrumpish ....

We have just spent a really fascinating day up the road from here at Glendoick Garden Centre on a cider making course. It was run by Michael Pooley who has written a book called "Real Cider Making on a Small Scale" and was really worth the effort. It was part of an Orchard Weekend that was put together for the Carse of Gowrie, which is the area surrounding the River Tay just before it hits the sea - and is also where we live. We have masses of apples and a couple of years ago embarked on making apple juice - it worked to an extent but we weren't any good at getting it to store, so ended up freezing it. This works well as a preserving method but I can never remember to get it out of the freezer at the right times. So, last year we thought we'd have a crack at making cider. This was done by following instructions in books and, as we discovered today, really only got us so far. The cider (gallons of the stuff!) ended up sitting in the fermenting barrels for far too long and the results were really pretty disgusting. So the idea of a day spent finding out what we should have been doing was too good to pass up.

The first photos shows the apples being washed prior to being mushed up in the musher - electric one seems a much better idea than doing it by hand, and infact we had already discovered at home that a garden shredder is pretty effective.

Then the mush (proper name pomace) is put into nylon bags which are then put in the press. A quick twist and delicious fresh apple juice starts pouring out of the pipe at the bottom, straight into the demijohn ready to become cider.

After about an hour of processing we had filled 11 gallon demijohns with applejuice - it really wasn't too bad, although there were 10 of us, so I'm sure it will take us longer at home. It's a really good thing to get the children involved in - so that's half term sorted!

The other thing happening as part of the Orchard Weekend was that two fantastic old chaps were on hand to identify apples - the photo below shows Willy who instantly named three apples from our orchard. However, he was temporarily stumped by one delicious eater and we had to produce four apples from the same tree before he got it - and it was finally pronounced to be a Red Melba. Willy grows an unbelievable variety in his own orchard and he is shown standing beside just a few of them.

All in all a really great day - I feel inspired and love the idea that we can now turn all our wonderful apples into something delicious without getting it wrong. There was talk about putting together a co-operative apple day in the Carse - that would be good!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I've just added the Follow This Blog option, so feel free to join up!

Lots to catch up on as it is a ridiculously long time since I posted - apologies for that - but I am sure you will understand. It has really been so busy I can't believe it. Not only am I getting ready for Christmas, which gets bigger every year for Twice in terms of fairs and stock levels, but I had also rather bravely organised the second series of workshops to kick off in September and run through October. It's great fun but, of course, does mean having the house presentable and the little matter of cooking lunch for up to 14 people twice a week! Anyway, it all went off really well and everyone who came gave me such lovely feedback that it makes it more than worthwhile. We had people from all over the place - and as far away as Cumbria - this time. The first workshop was the return of the Foragers which you can see above - it was amazing how many edible goodies everyone found on a fairly nasty, rainy day. And the cookery demo in the afternoon was really inspirational .
The photo above is the second workshop which was Nicolas Arcedeckne-Butler (pronounced Archdeacon), Master of Wines, giving us (I joined in!) a wonderfully informative and fun day on wines. We tasted 10 different wines over the course of the day and I came away knowing so much more than I had - I feel I really know something about the different grapes and which go with which foods and so on. It was a fantastic day and I can't recommend it highly enough if we do it again. Nicola is a great teacher - so knowledgeable.

Next up was Craig McAlpine doing a day on 'Easy & Impressive Dinner Parties' - he cooked rack of lamb, roasted butternut squash puree and boulangere potatoes for our main course for lunch and followed it up with Chocolate Fondants with Blackberry Syrup - that is the impressive chocolate put which should explode with runny chocolate when your spoon goes in - which it did! In the afternoon he ran up some delicious starter ideas - warm quail salad with caramelised beetroot -yummy!

These two photos show our final days - 'Preparing for a Hand Crafted Christmas' with Jane Lindsey. As always Jane gave everyone a really inspiring day - bulb planting, how to get your bulbs flowering when you want them, how to make a mossed wreath (see above) and, in the afternoon, these wonderful table centres and candle holders. She even had time to fit in some ideas on present wrapping.

I can't thank all my demonstrators and teachers enough - we had some great days and some really positive feedback - which is all I can ask. There are already enquiries about the next workshops, so I will have to get myself going for a Spring series.