Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Teaching an old dog

Well, not that old, but I have learnt some new culinary and craft tricks this month and it's only the 6th December!

Over the last week I've attended not one, but two courses in my ongoing bid to become a green domestic goddess. The first was part of the Carluccio's event programme and focused on edible Italian gifts for Christmas - I did 'traditional' hampers last year and am doing another edible-themed gift for friends and family this year (no hints yet, it's a surprise which is still in testing, eek, did I say it was the 6th of December...!) However, I've always got my eye on ideas for future years and this seemed like the perfect course (and the perfect excuse to leave WH on babysitting duty for the evening and drink some early festive prosecco).

The course was held in the main restaurant at the Reading branch of Carluccio's - they clear a large area of the floor and set up individual stations (ah MasterChef, Celebrity MasterChef and MasterChef Professionals, you have taught me well!) in a broken square so that the tutor has a place to stand and demonstrate when necessary. The course focused on making three traditional Italian recipes: baci di dama (those little sweet biscuits with a chocolate filling), tartufi di cioccolato (chocolate truffles) and mostarda di frutta (fruit preserved with mustard and vinegar). We were all supplied with our weighed and measured ingredients, a one-ring burner to boil water, pans, chopping board, knives, etc and quickly got stuck in making the dough for our baci di dama. The instructions were easy to follow and our tutor interspersed the practical information with some anecdotes about how they'd chosen which recipes to include (along with some failed variations - apparently chocolate truffles covered in salt flakes did look just like snowballs but tasted revolting!) or the history of the food itself. The evening was finished off with a session on nicely packaging our gifts and then munching through a mountain of bread, san daniele ham, parmesan cheese and some mostarda di frutta that had been made the previous week, in true Blue Peter style. And, of course, forcing down some prosecco...

My second course was something I'd requested as a birthday gift and was titled 'Make me a Domestic Sewing Goddess'. The course title might lead you to think you'd be covering how to mend clothes, but the emphasis was much more on how to embellish second-hand clothes or worn-out favourites to give them a new lease of life. I do think that the skills covered (hemming, invisible stitches, using a sewing machine, bias binding, and creating ruffles, buttons, corsages and bows) were all things that you could easily transfer to making more 'normal' alterations and repairs (moving hemlines, taking in skirts, altering necklines, etc). The course was offered by The Papered Parlour, who are based in Clapham, and are an interesting outfit in their own right (excuse the pun!) - two visual artists who set up a studio to encourage artists working in a range of media to work collaboratively, along with a workshop space offering a range of art and craft events and courses. It was a very enjoyable and productive 4.5 hours and I came away with a t-shirt which I had re-hemmed, altered the neckline and added a ruffle and bias binding, and made some covered buttons to add as a further decorative detail. The t-shirt is meant to act as a 'living record' for when I want to repeat any of these skills, which is pretty handy. We've also been promised a range of hand-outs to follow by email covering step-by-step guides to alterations and making decorative features. Still not sure I'm ready to take the plunge and buy a sewing machine yet, so isn't it lucky that a new shop has just opened in Caversham where you can hire machines by the hour? Oh, and they run more courses... watch this space!