A few of my favourite things

One of my favourite events of the year is the Cambridge Open Studios in July, where local artists of every genre open up their studios for the public to visit and see their work. Open Studios members also host other events throughout the year and the website contains details of several local artists – so you can contact them directly all year round.

I have visited a number of the artists’ studios over the years and there are plenty of others I am yet to see. But with Christmas (sorry!) not too far away and people thinking about gifts for their loved ones, I thought I would share some of my favourites…

 

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Selection of contemporary bangles, by Birgitte Bruun.

 

Birgitte Bruun is a Danish born jeweller who makes some beautiful pieces using a range of stones, metals and techniques. Her jewellery has a really contemporary feel and I particularly like her bangles, including the beautiful opal cuff in the picture below – the perfect gift for someone with an October birthday (though I’m probably better suited to an Aquamarine gemstone myself…) . I visited her studio a couple of months ago when buying a birthday present for a friend and all her pieces were so lovely it took a long time to decide what to buy. If you’d like to see some of Birgitte’s jewellery you can arrange a visit to her studio via her website, or you can catch her on 2nd December at Mill Road Winter Fair – where she will be hosting a pop-up stall at the Makers Gallery in Hope Street Yard.

 

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Opal cuff, by Birgitte Bruun.

 

Agnes Asselin uses textiles to create pictures as well as jewellery and other accessories. These are colourful pieces and mostly African inspired, with designs including people and a range of animals. Last year I visited her studio and bought the giraffe in the photo below – I think he’s going to need a friend at some point so will no doubt be paying another visit to the studio soon. Agnes will be opening her studio (just a three-minute walk from Mill Road) on 2nd December for Mill Road Winter Fair.

 

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Giraffe by Agnes Asselin.

 

Sarah Went makes beautiful ceramics. I’m yet to visit her studio myself, but her designs look like they are just what I want in my kitchen. I bought a handmade ceramic butter dish – which I adore – at an independent craft fair a couple of years ago, but having seen pictures of Sarah’s I have now decided that you can never have too many butter dishes… If you too would like to see some of Sarah’s ceramics, she will be opening her studio as part of Mill Road Winter Fair.

There are Christmas Open Studios events on throughout December, with Birgitte, Agnes and Sarah all displaying their work on 2nd December (at the Mill Road Winter Fair and nearby studios) as well as many other local artists and creators whose designs are well worth a look during the month; and if you can’t quite find what you’re looking for, it’s worth noting that most artists will take commissions. If Mr Mill Road happens upon this blog post then he could well save himself a lot of time and stress when it comes to choosing Christmas presents. ūüėČ

 

Mill Road Winter Fair

shoplocalsmallbusiness satToday is Small Business Saturday, Shop Local Saturday and also of course the busiest and best day in the Mill Road calendar – Mill Road Winter Fair! The event, which began in 2005 and is now held on the first Saturday of each December, has been in the planning for many months and will see residents, shops and the local community coming together to celebrate the area and all that it has to offer.

The Fair is well known for its musical delights and this year looks set to be no exception. If you were on the bridge at last years Fair you may well have felt the earth move whilst watching The Brass Funkeys – there were reports that the bridge was, quite literally, shaking as people danced and enjoyed themselves! This year you can find the band hosting ‘The Brass Funkeys presents…’ outside Code Hairdressers on Mill Road, as part of Code’s Christmas Cracker. The band will be playing at around 3pm and during the day you can also catch Wil Buchanon, Thudbox, Live and Let Funk and Balkanoes on the stage. Code will also be serving mulled wine and cider and there’ll be lots of other activities including vintage hairdos and facepainting.

MRWFJC 3All along Mill Road there will be lots of other performers and musicians throughout the day, including the Jackson Creek Band at 2pm by the Avenue of Limes whilst at the same time The Scissors are playing at Ditchburn Gardens and The Centimes will be at Gwydir Street Car park. Argyle Street Housing Co-operative will also be hosting their much loved Winter Fair stage, with music from 11am – including the Arco Iris Samba Band at 13:40, Dave Crow Barr at 15:00, Jam Band Caravan at 16:00 and Fara Fiddle at 17:00. This will culmiate in an ASH Co-op Jam on the stage around 18:30. As well as music, ASH Co-op car park will of course also be playing host to a range of stalls selling festive gifts and goodies, second hand goods and plenty of books.

Other activities include a Craft Market at the drama studio on Covent Garden, where you can find The Map Project team and lots of art and craft stalls. There will also be a Winter Wardrobe Fashion Show at the Salisbury Club on Mill Road, the Cambridge Lindy Hoppers dancing in the streets of Romsey and the Carnival Parade – which will be setting off from the town end of Mill Road around 12:15 before making its way down to Coleridge Road.

MRWF JC 2One of the great things about Mill Road Winter Fair is being able to wander between all the different shops, many of whom are offering homemade food and drink on stalls outside. There will also be a number of food stalls at Gwydir Street Car Park, including Mr Cake – he’s the chap that made the papers last year when he left his job by icing his resignation letter onto a cake!

With so much going on, there’s bound to be something to suit just about everyone. Hope everyone has a great Fair! :o)

Cambridge’s favourite indie!

Kingston ArmsMill Road is well known for its independent shops and businesses, so it’s no surprise that the area has done so well in the Discovering Cambridge competition. Discovering Cambridge was set up by local MP Julian Huppert in January of this year to celebrate the City’s independent traders and encourage people to visit their local shops, businesses, cafes, restaurants and pubs. People have been able to vote for their favourite in a different category each month and the winners from the Mill Road area have included the following:

LimoncelloAn overall winner will be announced at the Mill Road Winter Fair on Saturday 7th December, and now’s your chance to vote for your favourite – just make sure you fill in a voting form while there’s still time. It great to see the traders and businesses around Mill Road doing so well, the best way to show your support for them is to use them – and of course vote!

Your favourite High Street

The Telegraph newspaper are running a campaign called Reinventing the High Street, aiming to put the heart back into the country’s traditional high streets. People are asked to nominate their favourite simply¬†by emailing highstreet@telegraph.co.uk.

Mill Road BridgeI don’t know about you, but I think there’s something pretty special about Mill Road and I think it deserves a place among the best that the UK has to offer. Not only is¬†the Mill Road area¬†home to Cambridge’s best independent pub, coffee house, home & garden shop, specialist food shop and record shop (all awarded this year in the Discovering Cambridge awards) and home to the Independent Drinks Retailer of The Year (as voted at the UK Drinks Retailing Awards 2013) but it’s also the location of CAMRA‘s Cambridge¬†City Locale Pub Of The Year 2013. There’s a range of events on throughout the year – including the Romsey Art Festival,¬†several street parties, various beer festivals¬†and of course the forthcoming Mill Road Winter Fair – as well as regular music nights at lots of different venues; and next week sees the first ever Romsey Calling music festival on Mill Road.

Mill Road has even been used as a location for music videos (like Mikill Pane’s ‘Good Feeling‘),¬†films (Neil Morrissey was here last month filming a new movie, Caffiend), TV programmes (including Antiques Road Trip)¬†and has had residents such as¬†Douglas Adams,¬†Dave Gilmour, Syd Barrett, Angela Hartnett¬†and Amy Williams over the years. It¬†even has its own blog and its own radio show – ‘Our Mill Road‘! There’s lots more I could say about Mill Road, but too much for one blog post (hence the whole blog!) but suffice to say it’s full of community-spirited¬†individuals and groups¬†and has lots of people¬†living, working and socialising in the area and keeping Mill Road the coolest street in Cambridge.

All you need to do to nominate Mill Road is to email highstreet@telegraph.co.uk and let them know! You know what they say – there’s something about Mill Road… .

‘Five a day’ cake

Not that I need an excuse to bake, but yesterday was World Baking Day and I decided that it was about time I got more adventurous with my cakes. With my staples already purchased, I went to Hilary’s on Mill Road to get some fruit – a lemon, some large oranges, blueberries, strawberries and cherries (my bargain tip is the strawberries – just ¬£1.25 a punnet!). I wasn’t sure yet quite what I was going to create, but all the fruit looked colourful and I was determined to use all of it in some way or another.

After looking at various sponge cake recipes I decided to base mine on this one, as it was for moist sponge cake – my last cake turned out a little drier than I had hoped. Instead of the vanilla extract I used fresh lemon juice.

Ingredients for '5-a-day' cakeIngredients
225g butter
400g fairtrade granulated sugar
4 eggs
310g self-raising flour
250ml semi-skimmed milk
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
Oranges & a lemon
Strawberries
Blueberries
Cherries

I preheated the oven to gas mark 4 and although the recipe says it’s for making three layers, I decided to hold off on greasing and lining my cake tins until I had made the mixture. I mixed the butter and sugar together thoroughly before¬†beating in¬†my eggs (one at a time). I then mixed the milk with some juice from the lemon (about a tablespoon), and added this liquid to my mixture – alternating between adding a little liquid then a little flour. Although I have an electric whisk, I didn’t use it and instead just beat thoroughly with a wooden spoon – there were a few tiny lumps of flour in the mixture, but I vaguely remembered that Mary Berry had said (during the Great British Bake Off) something about this being fine and in fact making the recipe better.

I had three cake tins but none were the same size and even though I borrowed a couple from neighbours¬†I still couldn’t find¬†two to match, so I used two similar ones – there was quite a bit of mixture, but not enough to comfortably fill three cake tins. I lined and greased the tins adding half of the mixture to each before putting in the oven. The recipe had said that they would take about 20 minutes to bake, though it was about 40 minutes before they looked ready (I guess it may have baked quicker if I’d used three tins). I did the skewer test (inserting a skewer into the¬†cake, it comes out clean if the cake is ready) and although a little sticky¬†I decided that it was fine as the cake was a lovely golden brown and in any case I wanted a moist cake. I removed the sides of the cake tins, though not the bases and then set aside to cool for about twenty minutes.

Homemade orange marmaladeThis gave me time to make some orange marmalade. I grated the zest of the orange into a separate bowl first (as I would need this later for the buttercream icing) and then cut the orange in half and scooped out the fruit from inside (turning each orange half inside out seemed a good way to do this). I then cut the fruit finely and discarded any large white bits. I¬†heated my finely cut fruit in a small saucepan, adding a couple of tablespoons of water and after about ten minutes of simmering I added about 200g of sugar¬†– I didn’t measure the fruit or sugar, but the general rule for jams seems to be using equal amounts of suagr and fruit. I simmered this on a high heat for¬†another ten minutes – stirring regularly – and then¬†put a teaspoonful on a plate in the fridge. After a couple of minutes it wrinkled when prodded, so I knew the marmalade was ready.

I carefully removed the cakes from their¬†bases using a fish slice and spread a layer of marmalade over each. I mixed up some buttercream icing¬†by combining¬†250g of butter¬†with¬†550g of icing sugar¬†before adding the orange zest I’d set aside earlier. I smeared some over the marmaladed bottom layer of my cake before placing the other layer of cake on top. I then spent a good twenty minutes smearing the rest of the buttercream icing all over the cake, making sure the sides and top were covered. This looked delicious, but not particularly healthy! So I added the remaining fruit – strawberries, blueberries and cherries – as decoration.

Five a day cakeI had never made anything as visually pleasing before and have to admit I was rather proud of my creation. I had planned to take some round to my neighbours, however all but¬†three slices didn’t even make it out of my kitchen as word began to spread that a cake was being made. A friend said I should call it a ‘Five a day’ cake as it contains five different fruits – though you’d probably need to eat more than a whole cake to actually get your official five a day, so I’d advise against relying on it for dietary RDA’s (!).¬†It tasted delicious and the sponge was lovely and lemony as well as perfectly moist. I will probably use the same sponge cake recipe next time, perhaps with about 40-50g more flour, though I’m definitely a few steps closer to creating my own signature sponge base – and once I’ve got that perfected, I can really have fun with the decoration!

Billy’s

Giant avocadosIf you’ve been following me on Twitter you may have seen me tweeting about the giant avocados at my local shop¬†and¬†if you live in the¬†Mill Road area then¬†you may¬†well already be¬†a customer at Billy’s Mini Market. I met up with Billy for a coffee at Otto’s,¬†to find out more about the man behind the Mini Market…

BillyGiven Billy’s¬†interest in¬†food, it was no surprise that the¬† conversation¬†quickly¬†got on¬†to cooking. Most of the¬†dishes he makes at home¬†are a fusion of¬†Turkish, Spanish and Indian influences and it’s clear he is passionate about his food as he excitedly tells me about¬†the fresh dough he made for his pizzas¬†every day – he ran a successful pizza restaurant in Littleport for four and a half years. He says it’s hard to¬†choose a favourite pizza himself, but that it would probably be a combination of feta, onion, mushrooms, black olives and cherry tomatoes, with a little spinach and of course herbs and spices… I asked Billy if he¬†would consider¬†setting up another pizza restaurant in Cambridge, but he told me it’s not part of his plans at the moment.

SquashWhen Billy¬†moved to England from Turkey in the 1990’s his first job was running a food and drink shop¬†at Shoreditch’s popular Hoxton Market. He has fond memories of the bustling marketplace and his first experiences of living and working in London. Eventually he moved away from the area¬†before going¬†on to¬†open his pizza restaurant. Many of the restaurant’s customers came from Littleport’s surrounding towns and villages and the nearby RAF Lakenheath and Mildenhall bases; and although a successful¬†business¬†Billy had been thinking of opening a shop in the Cambridge area for some time, so when the Mill Road premises (which had previously been home to Balv’s Superette) became available last year it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Billy's Mini MarketBilly stocks a range of fresh fruit and vegetables, herbs & spices, rices, pulses and¬†chilled foods at his shop, not to mention household essentials. But what the shop may be less well known¬†for is¬†its selection of fish – including Tilapia, Red Mullet, Red Snapper, Kingfish, Saltfish¬†and Broom Headlesses – which are kept in a frozen section.¬†As Mill Road doesn’t have a fishmongers as such, I think this is a very welcome addition to the area. Billy’s also stocks a huge range of drinks – both soft drinks and alcoholic – and¬†has saved the day when I’ve needed a good bottle of wine or¬†some¬†Havana Club Anejo Blanco¬†for my daiquiri cocktails!

Billy'sI’ve been a regular visitor to Billy’s Mini Market since¬†it opened in April 2012. The shop is very much part of the community and I usually end up coming away with much more than the usual pint of milk I went in for –¬†just in the last few weeks I’ve debated the current care system, local politics and Mill Road art, all with other customers I didn’t know before; as well as found out about local events. I also usually bump into a couple of my neighbours¬†when I’m in there, so it’s a good place to catch up with people and put the world to rights. Customers from as far away as London regularly visit the shop and one of Billy’s products even got a mention by T’Pau‘s Carol Decker – she had made a Twitter request asking¬†shoppers to post pictures of unusually named products, so she was quick to respond when she received a copy of¬†the above photo.

PotatoesBilly seems to have settled in very well to life on Mill Road, he likes the local community spirit and enjoys being on first name terms with most of his customers.¬†This week Billy is celebrating his first year of trading on Mill Road – which as he himself admits, has flown by very quickly indeed – so if you haven’t visited the shop before now’s a good a time as any to pop in and say hello.

Billy’s Mini Market – 158 Mill Road, Cambridge CB1 3LP
Open seven days a week: Monday to Saturday 9am-11pm, Sunday 11am-10:30pm

To veg or not to veg…

Following on from my recent post mentioning the UN’s¬†revelation that we all need to move towards meat free and dairy free diets if we¬†are to save¬†the planet (gulp!), I‚Äôve been thinking about how easy¬†it¬†would be¬†to¬†become vegetarian or vegan…

PaellaIt can certainly seem like a big challenge¬†– for a start you‚Äôre giving up something that probably appears in most if not all of your meals, and of course there’s¬†the task¬†of making your food taste delicious too. I’m not vegetarian at the moment, but I was a ‘veggie’ for a good few years. I had wondered at first¬†if I would miss the meat element of my diet, but I was surprised by¬†just how quickly I began to feel healthier by cutting it out. I started creating my own sauces (rather than opting for shop bought ones) such as pesto and I found that¬†a lot of¬†other sauces were pretty easy to make once I’d perfected the art of¬†the roux. I also re-discovered some ingredients that I had previously dismissed – such as olives, capers¬†and sundried tomatoes – and also began to season/flavour my food more¬†with herbs and spices (paprika became a firm favourite around this time). My friend Mike, who lives in the Mill Road area, recently took on the challenge of becoming vegetarian for a month (or Veguary as it was known)¬†and the photo above is¬†of one of his delicious creations,¬†vegetarian paella.

Butternut SquashIf you’re thinking of¬†going vegetarian and considering using meat substitutes to help¬†you ease into it, I would highly recommend paying a visit to Al Amin. They have an extensive frozen section at the back of the shop with all manner of pies, sausages, chicken and beef substitutes. If you’d prefer not¬†to use meat substitutes then I’d suggest making friends with the butternut squash (and indeed other squashes), they are delicious and great for adding texture to curries, stews and casseroles.

There are¬†a number of¬†shops and eateries¬†on Mill Road that are good to know if you’re planning on¬†becoming vegetarian (or vegan), and with National Vegetarian Week coming up in a few¬†weeks time¬†(20th – 26th May)¬†I’ll be returning to this subject soon¬†with some more of my tips for making it that little bit easier.