Bearwood Handmade, St Mary The Virgin Church Hall, Cnr of St Mary's and Bearwood Road, B66 4BX 10 til 4pm, Saturday 8th December.
My daughter has a wobbly tooth and so do all her school friends. So, once again, I find myself making little Tooth Fairy friends - felt molars, with faces and accessories, and a little pocket on the back for those tiny little milk teeth. And of course, there's room for a shiny coin from that generous fairy.
I was a bit poorly last week and so I've been lazing around a lot, keeping out of the heat and generally doing nothing too straining. But on Tuesday I had a date to keep and it ended up being the perfect tonic. My friend Mel had booked me and my crafty mutha mucker Erin onto a foraging course. In Northfield. If you know Birmingham you probably have an idea of Northfield. If you don't know Birmingham, think derelict housing estates, track suits and pound shops. I'm not being a snob here. I'm from Quinton - think track suits and not even pound shops! What I'm getting at is that Northfield, a relatively down at heel brick jungle on the edge of Birmingham, where the ghosts of Kalamazoo and the Longbridge car plant loom large, is not the first place you'd expect to go foraging for wild foods. It's not the first place you'd expect to find an ecocentre either. But we did.
Owned by the Quakers, The Northfield Ecocentre first opened its (presumably well draft proofed) doors in March 2009 and has 'developed a wide variety of activities designed to help individuals and organisations live and work in a more environmentally sustainable way.' They have an event on today: the Brazilian themed Big Lunch & Jubilee Weekend (11am-3pm) and also an Eco Fun Day on World Environment Day (Tuesday 5th June). They run courses throughout the year, including patchwork and quilting, preserving and pickling and some more eco driven sessions around renewable technologies and energy proofing your home. But it was the wild food foraging that we were here for.
The lovely Tom Baker from Loaf was in charge of this foraging foray. At some point around my 40th birthday I was on a waiting list for one of Tom's legendary bread making courses, but the list is big, and I'm not very patient. Do have a look at the Loaf website though, because they are expanding the organisation and moving to new premises soon so there will me much to tempt you I'm sure. Mel has promised to teach me the art of sourdough baking in the meantime, but we definitely needed Tom's advice when it came to foraging. I barely know a bluebell from a buttercup. I exaggerate for alliteration purposes, but I'd be hard pressed to come up with another plant beginning with 'b'. I do though, love food, and discovering new ingredients and flavours, and I'm also partial to a nice walk in the fresh air. And what a lovely, informative walk. Just a few minutes from the Ecocentre and we were alongside the River Rea, in pretty meadows filled with blossom and birdsong and Tom was uncovering horseradish roots, pignuts, meadowsweet and wood avens. We lingered and chatted, picked and tasted, before walking back to the centre for a delicious snack of cheese and crackers, provided by Tom and wild garlic leaves and common sorrel, provided by the wilds of Northfield. Food for free just has to be a good thing. And this was a very good thing.
When I got home, all rested and loved up with nature, I discovered my fridge freezer was on the blink. So began a mammoth cook off. I rescued the meat and fish by handing them over to a kind neighbour for safe keeping and started using up my vegetables and dairy produce. Starting with mango smoothies for breakfast, I then made a banana, mango and yogurt loaf (turned out a bit wet but still tasted lovely), Leek, broad bean and goat's cheese frittata, cherry pie and cauliflower and paneer curry. Finally, I used a spoonful of the wood avens, dug up by Tom at the start of our foraging adventure, chopped finely, in some shortbread. Tom's recipe uses the wood avens to add a faint clove like, mixed spiced sort of flavour to the beautifully crumbly, buttery shortbread. Yum.
And with my lungs full of fresh air, my belly full of good food and my strength restored I even managed to finish up a few hoops yesterday.
Regular readers will know that I'm keen on nature and that my love for trees in particular and other wildlife filters through to my work. I've also been following the exploits of guerilla gardeners for a couple of years. (It is funny to me how guerillas, once associated with warfare and fighting, have been reworked into just slightly edgy but totally nice artists, knitters or gardeners) Even though I have absolutely no gardening skills whatsoever, or maybe because of it, the idea of growing plants, especially food crops in random areas in the urban environment, on unused grass verges or patches of wasteland really appeals to me. And then, I discovered this book, by accident, as I was looking for a gift for a friend. It sort of said everything.
The Man Who Planted Trees, Jean Giono (The Harvill Press)
The blurb on the back cover explains, "Jean Giono's beautiful allegorical tale is legendary. Written in the 1950's, its message was ahead of its time, inspiring readers to rediscover the harmonies of the countryside and prevent its wilful destruction." It is the story of a solitary shepherd who spends his life planting acorns, and grows a forest. It is thirty pages of loveliness. The shepherd changes his whole environment and that of the surrounding communities. "The ruins had been tidied up, crumbling walls knocked down, and five old houses rebuilt. The hamlet now had twenty-eight inhabitants, including four young couples. The new houses were freshly roughcast and surrounded by kitchen gardens where rows of both vegetables and flowers grew: cabbages mingled with rose bushes, leeks with snapdragons, celery with anemones. It had become a place where one would wish to live." I would live there in a second. And I really want some of that celery. And the the leeks. I'm actually longing for them.
Still on the campaign trail for a BetterBearwood. The supporting YouTube video is up on, er, YouTube, and you can watch it and 'like' our Facebook page by clicking this link which will take you to a very fancy 'app'? Way too technical for me, but just click and all will become clear. If you are not a Facebooker you can just watch our sweet film here. Many thanks for your anticipated support good people of Bearwood and beyond. We have so many lovely hopes and dreams for the High Street and this could help us start to realise them.
The doodle is from a few months ago. Been trying to come up with a little 'Bearwood logo' of my own and started this off on the 'brushes' app. Would like to finish it but just ran out of steam. Must do better.
Wow, today I feel like I'm getting old.....and losing my cool. Not that I've ever had much. Very late night, last night. Planning meeting with the Crafty Muthas that went on longer than planned (you'd have thought we could have addressed at least one agenda item seriously!) and then home to the husband who was waiting to watch Masterchef with me. Til one o'clock in the morning! On a school night! That and the two shots of marmalade vodka that Rachel plied me with means I'm feeling stupidly tired and incapable of most things. But, somehow, sewing tiny stitches is just about the perfect thing to do. Not mentally taxing at all but hard enough to keep me awake. Just. These little owls are destined for twigs. They'll perch in pairs and make sweet little mobiles.
In other news, I've been pounding the streets delivering flyers for the Bearwood Handmade fair this month. And I've also been taking part in a fun, local exercise.
Photographer Melanie Martin lives on my road and came up with '4 weeks shopping local in Bearwood' with a view to exploring her perceptions of our beleaguered high street and also to encourage people to shop locally and support independent traders in these tough times. I've joined her and it has proved to be great fun. I'm in the lucky position of 'working' from home so I can make time for shopping trips and I enjoy walking a bit every day. The only thing I don't like about sewing is the fact that you have to do it sitting down. Too much sitting. Anyway, Mel set up a Facebook page and there are a few of us posting about our experiences. To be honest, there aren't many reasons I'd actually choose to visit our high street. Apart from supporting local business and wanting to get out there and mix with people in my community, which is something I've always felt strongly about anyway, there isn't the quality or breadth of choice to satisfy me I'm afraid. I've used it in the past, regularly enough, for top up shops. But now I've found a butcher that I didn't even know existed. And he's a bloody good butcher. So he has at least one new regular.
The thing I'm really enjoying though, the thing that sort of suits my personality I suppose, is reading and writing the Facebook posts. Duh! I love the mundane. And especially the detail in the mundane. The minutiae of everyday life. It's all a bit Nicholson Baker. You can't talk to people in this sort of detail. You'd have no friends. But because this project needs information to make it worthwhile, I'm able to admit that I can quite happily spend ten minutes reading every label on the low-cal squash bottles, before moving on to a discussion about queueing behaviour in one particular store. I'm making it sound really sad aren't I? It's not. It's the most fun I've ever had on Facebook. Oh, okay, that sounds sad too. Just add it to the list. Old, uncool, sad....
I can't end on sad. So here's one more thing that has totally cheered me this week. A lovely blog post on Folksy's online magazine, Frankly. All about the Birmingham art and craft scene...and featuring me. Love it. Thanks guys.
Okay, I'm out of my comfort zone so stay with me. I've been inspired by the great David Hockney and decided to embrace this IPad. The New Year has not brought a solution to my computer problems but I've got myself the Brushes app and decided to use this sleek little tablet to it's strengths. I've been wanting to do some work around collective animal nouns for ages, to the point where I was risking becoming bored with the idea. So, with kids chilling with the TV and sticker books this morning I've completed my first little sketch. Ladybirds are indeed lovely, but they do have a tendency to pee all over your hand! I'm thinking I'll make an embroidery out of it and also a few prints or cards. What do you think?