Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Spring face lift .... for my workroom!

Because of the way that Twice has grown, I have taken over spaces in our basement in a very piecemeal way. The room I now work in used to be the au pair's bedroom - which I then took over a couple of years ago. Since then I've spread to the next door bedroom (packing room), to the kitchen next door (warehouse) and into the bathroom (storage). I suppose because there wasn't a particular moment when Twice changed from a hobby into a business I carried on working in this room just as it had been as a bedroom. Infact, I seem to remember that for quite a while it still had the beds in it. It was pretty scruffy and certainly didn't look very businesslike - and I have found myself using any excuse in the book as to why people can't visit me at work.

Sometimes you just need a shove to get on with things and mine came in the form of a feature that has been commissioned by a big magazine on me and Twice. That focused my mind! I couldn't bear the thought that photos of me working in my room as it was might find their way into print. A couple of weeks ago I opened up the fireplace and started to use it - it's really gorgeous working with a log fire crackling away nearby. Then, last week, we took down the very old and shabby curtains and pelmets - and what a difference! Suddenly the room seemed so much lighter with it's big shuttered sash windows. Then at the beginning of this week we did something I've been longing to do for ages - ripped up the carpet. I can't tell you how boring it is having carpet on the floor if you work with fabrics to the extent that I do. I was slightly nervous about what we'd find underneath - but I needn't have been - it's a wonderful wooden floor in really good condition - and best of all, there are no gaps between the boards, so the room shouldn't be any colder. The floors have been sanded and then waxed and polished (thank you Paul!) and I'm thrilled with them. Couldn't be better.

The final thing is new paint - and that's what I've been doing today. Out with the primrose yellow (just too bedroomy) and in with an old white. The place already feels much more 'me'. It's funny just how much of an effect easy changes like this can have on a place and the people in them - it already feels much more work-like and I'm sure I will be more organised and productive in it.

I'll post some photos when it's finished and I've moved back in - hopefully sometime later this week.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The mother of all vinegars!

There are several reasons that we stock vinaigriers at Twice. They are very traditional, having been made in France, by the same potteries, for centuries, particularly the lovely salt-glazed ones that we have. I first came across them at my mother in law's house. She has had one for years sitting in the larder and any leftover red wine is popped in the top and then from time to time we would all be given jars of vinegar to take home. A few years ago, she very kindly gave us the one pictured above one for Christmas. A few weeks later a jar arrived here filled with something horribly gloopy - this turned out to be the vinegar 'mother'. This is the starter that is one way of making your vinegar - you can look it all up on Google, but essentially it is a form of acetic acid bacteria that causes alcohol to turn into acid. So, we plopped it into our vinagrier and then started to add bits of red wine from time to time - if there was any left in the bottle! It takes several weeks to start to smell anything like proper vinager and we would often forget about ours entirely for weeks at a time. But then, after a while, whenever I needed any red wine vinager I would just take it directly from the tap.

About this time, I started trying to source the vinaigriers for Twice. It's quite a thing because French companies don't really seem to want to do business with anyone! I searched and searched and found companies but no contact details. Then I finally did find contact details and sent emails. Many just didn't reply and those that did weren't very helpful. Finally, I discovered the Renault pottery that makes our lovely rustic jars have an agent in the UK - at last, someone who actually wanted to sell something to me! Once I'd got them in stock I started to research the actual vinegar making in more detail because someone was bound to ask me how to do it.

We provide instructions for making vinegar with each vinaigrier that we sell and there are several ways of starting off - 1) get some vinegar mother from a friend, 2) make your own mother or 3) start with a mixture of bought vinegar and wine. The bottom line is that is boils down to trial and error and working out what works best in your vinegar's environment. Web research has thrown up a great blog in the States where a lady called Kim Adams gives the most down to earth advice on making vinegar that I've come across. Click here for the link. She will tell you how to make vinegar from whole bottles of wine or from bits and pieces.

The way we've made our vinegar has been very hit or miss but this week we finally got to the stage where we had a full vinaigrier and it was time for bottling. I turned on the tap and emptied the whole thing slowly into jugs, waiting all the time to find the globulous mother sitting somewhere in the jar. But .... none! I don't know where it's gone but we have perfectly good vinegar and no mother. I think that what might have happened is that because we kept tipping bits of wine into the top, this can cut off the air supply to the mother and kill it and it then sinks to the bottom - not sure what happens when it gets there, but ours disappeared. So now I am embarking on making my own mother from scratch and we'll see what happens then. In the meantime, as you can see we have several litres of really good red wine vinegar and no wasted wine!

To see the vinaigrier on our website click here.