Flowers for Springtime

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Today is a beautiful spring day here in Urmston. Walking through the streets this morning I saw so many pretty bluebells, budding trees and leafy shrubs, all bathed in golden sunlight.

Walking past Rose and Bumble on Flixton Road, I spied these lovely blooms. They are grown locally and cost just £4.50. You may not know this, but the flowers you find in most big supermarkets are flown in from Africa and sprayed with horrific amounts of noxious chemicals.   The flowers I bought in Rose and Bumble were grown by Patch to Posy on their farm in Urmston.  You can find them on Facebook, tweet @clairjee or email them at getintouch@patchtoposy.com.

Record Store Day 2016

Record Store Day is designed to get people into their local shops to buy vinyl or CDs rather than downloading. Far from the landfill-suitable relics they were briefly considered to be, vinyl recordings are now in high demand. I much prefer to have something tangible and  I enjoy the act of sliding the shiny platter out of its sleeve and onto a waiting turntable before carefully positioning the needle onto the required track. I like to think that slightly scratched vinyl that jumps or sticks occasionally adds something unique to the listening experience. A damaged vinyl record is like a book with the pages turned down here and there, a shopping list on the flyleaf or little notes scribbled in the margin. For this reason alone, I feel like I own my vinyl in a much more real way than I own my downloads, most of which are scattered on different devices and cannot be claimed to be a ‘collection’ of any kind.

Record Store Day is tomorrow (April 16th) and you may be surprised to learn that Urmston now has its very own record shop. Housed in the back room of the aptly-named ‘This and That’ on Flixton Road (next to JW Hairdressing), the record shop offers a selection of vinyl. It’s nice to see vinyl making a resurgence in our little suburb, so please support it if you can.

The Hop House

The Hop House is at 10 Higher Road, Urmston

The Hop House is at 10 Higher Road, Urmston – photo courtesy of the Hop House.

The Hop House is a new bar at 10 Higher Road, Urmston, which offers continental beers, wine, champagne, artisan foods, tea and coffee to Urmston’s thirsty carousers.

In spite of its name, and the prevalence of beers on the menu, the place has the feel of an old-fashioned gin parlour, with an eclectically designed interior (leopard-print walls, mismatching chairs – the kind of thing we’ve been missing in Urmston for far too long …) and a cordial atmosphere of gregarious cheer.  It’s the kind of bar where you could easily strike up a conversation with the people on the next table.

Unsurprisingly, there is plenty of beer at the Hop House - photo courtesy of the Hop House.

Unsurprisingly, there is plenty of beer at the Hop House – photo courtesy of the Hop House.

If you’re a beer enthusiast, there’s plenty to choose from at the Hop House, but it was the jam jar cocktails that caught my eye.  Now, everybody knows that drinking from a jam jar is probably one of the ten most fun things to do ever; it’s right up there with tree-climbing, star-gazing or reading in bed with the electric blanket on.  The Hop House have taken this a step further and added actual jam to their jam jar cocktails.  As I may have said before, I am more or less teetotal, but I couldn’t resist a Jamble – a blend of gin and blackcurrant jam and … well, it matters little what else was in it.  I enjoyed it: it tasted good and it felt super-efficient, a drink for a busy wo/man who doesn’t have time to consume jam and gin separately.

Jam jar cocktails from the Hop House - photo courtesy of the Hop House.

Jam jar cocktails from the Hop House – photo courtesy of the Hop House.

The Hop House has been open for less than a month but when I called in the other night it was very busy, though not in a terrible, help-me-I-can’t-move kind of way.  It’s just a stone’s throw from Urmston train station and the main bus stops so it’s easy to get to.  If you have visited the Hop House and enjoyed the experience, click through to their Facebook page and let them know.

Facebook pages of independent Urmston businesses

You can boost independent businesses by liking their Facebook pages.

You can boost independent businesses by liking their Facebook pages.

You can show your support for Urmston’s independent businesses by connecting with them via social networking sites such as Facebook.  I’ve put together a list of about thirty Urmston businesses, directly linking to their Facebook pages.  It will take you about five minutes to click through and like all the listed businesses – and if you particularly love them (and have used their services), you can leave a review for them.  Positive reviews are very encouraging for independent businesses – many of us operate a one-person set-up and it can get a bit lonely at times, so kind words from customers mean a lot.

If I’ve not listed your business, please comment below or email me with a link to your Facebook page and I’ll add your business to this post.

Belle Amour Home

Better Tuition

Budget Baby Boutique

Candy Stripes Sweets

Darbys Coffee and Arts Lounge

Deccan Indian Restaurant

Empire Restaurant and Takeaway

Foutté Dancewear and Ballet Boutique

Gloucester Road Emporium

Helen O’Donohue School of Speech and Drama

Home Estate Agents

Hop House, the

Kobella Beauty

Lily’s Coffee Lounge at Eden Square

Lockette’s Fashion

Lucy Loves

Mrs M Vintage

Paul’s Floors

Prairie Schooner Taphouse

Purple Buttercup

Richard’s Cakes – over 136,000 likes!

Salon Pierre on Moorside Road

Sarah de la Hoyde photography

The Blue Raj Indian Restaurant

TD Plumbing and Heating

The Hideaway on Church Road

Urmston Bookshop

Urmston Market

Vital Space Estate Agents

The Prairie Schooner: New Bar on Flixton Rd, Urmston

Delicious mulled cider from the Prairie Schooner, Urmston.

Delicious mulled cider from the Prairie Schooner, Urmston.

Newly opened on Flixton Road, Urmston, the Prairie Schooner is an independent micropub (what a very fine word that is!) and bottle shop.  And what is a “prairie schooner”?  It’s the name given to a covered wagon used by 19th century migrants settlers across America.  Yes, the kind you’d see on Little House on the Prairie.  The name is purely metaphorical, and relates to the pioneering spirit behind the venture; it’s not a theme bar.

Situated opposite Darby’s Coffee and Arts Lounge, the bar is warmly lit and cosy, yet far bigger than it looks from outside.  It has a three-sided bar and plenty of seating, with has a relaxed, comfortable ambience.  This is a space that can equally accommodate genial gatherings of friends, intimate rendez-vous for two or solo cogitations at one of the window seats, where you can watch the comings and goings of Flixton Road.

I’m more or less teetotal but the mulled cider smelled so festive I couldn’t resist giving it a try.  It was deliciously spiced and wonderfully warming on a winter’s day.  My husband and I reflected that we could easily spend hours in there and we shall certainly return.

Watch the comings and goings on Flixton Road from the window of the Prairie Schooner Taphouse.

Watch the comings and goings on Flixton Road from the window of the Prairie Schooner Taphouse.

I shy away from listing pubs and bars on here because it’s often unclear whether they are independent or not (many are linked to breweries in a kind of franchise-like agreement), but the Prairie Schooner Taphouse is clearly an indie operation.  The Prairie Schooner Taphouse specialises in real ale from local microbreweries poured by the pint straight from the cask. They also stock a selection of traditional cider and perry, fine wine, prosecco, single malt whisky, small-batch gin and old-fashioned soft drinks all made by independent producers.

The Prairie Schooner Taphouse is at 33 Flixton Road, Urmston.  Children are allowed on the premises till 6pm and dogs are allowed at quiet times.  Visit Prairie Schooner Taphouse’s website for details of their opening hours.

How to Make a Dried Fruit Christmas Wreath – Belle Amour Boutique

Make your own Christmas wreath like this one from Belle Amour Home.

Make your own Christmas wreath, like this one from Belle Amour Home.

This is a guest post from Caroline at Belle Amour Boutique; you can find Caroline and her treasure trove of beautifully crafted giftware and home decor at Urmston Market every Saturday (and on Eden Square’s Christmas market on Saturday, 13th December), as well as at many craft fairs and artisan markets.  Please pop over and admire Belle Amour Home’s Facebook page.  Over to you, Caroline …

How to Make a Dried Fruit Christmas Wreath

Dried fruit garlands and wreaths not only look beautiful but they add fragrance and color to your Christmas decor.   I love mine so much I think it will stay in the kitchen year round.   Dried orange slices especially will fill your room with fresh citrus scents while providing a natural, country look to your home. Complementary scented items, like cinnamon sticks or bay leaves, add texture and ambiance to your wreath.

Green oranges add a twist to this festive wreath from Belle Amour Home.

Green oranges add a twist to this festive wreath from Belle Amour Home.

Our handmade dried fruit wreaths have been really popular this year. It struck me as I was making them that, as it was such a lovely activity, people would enjoy and gain great satisfaction from crafting their own wreaths. Next year I am going to supply wreath making kits in addition to taking orders for our ready made wreaths. But … if you can’t wait until then here’s how to make your own Christmas wreath.

What you will need:

Fruit
Ground cinnamon
Garden wire
Wire cutters
Pliers
Ribbon
Grease proof paper

Method

Fill your home with heavenly scent as your fruit dries.

Fill your home with heavenly scent as your fruit dries.

The first thing is to decide if you are going to buy in or dry your own fruit.  Drying your own is very satisfying and makes your house smell divine. I used a combination of both home dried fruit and, due to demand and time, also bought fruit ready dried.  Citrus fruit ‘slices’ are by far the easiest to dry, (whole fruit are a little trickier ).

To dry your oranges:

– Cut your orange into slices about 1 cm thick and remove pips.
– Try to dry as much of the juice from your fruit as possible by gently pressing it using kitchen towel or a clean tea towel.
– For that extra delicious scent, sprinkle your prepared fruit with cinnamon powder or similar spice.
– If you want to be really fancy you can press cloves into the skin of the orange at this point.
– Place your prepared fruit on a sheet of greaseproof paper on a baking tray.
– Next you need to put your oven on the lowest heat setting possible and place the fruit in the centre of the oven, with the oven door propped open if possible; this allows moisture to escape and prevents the fruit from burning.
– The process can take up to 6 hours, filling your home with the most heavenly scent!   You should check your fruit and rotate regularly ( I burned many batches).
– When its ready it should feel dry but still slightly pliable and not look burned. You may need to leave them somewhere warm to fully harden for a day or so.
– You can spray your oranges with acrylic craft spray for a glossy look but i chose not too as it reduces the scent.

To dry other fruit:

– To dry apples, use the same method as above but you must soak your apples in lemon juice first to prevent them from going brown as they dry, and as before pat dry with kitchen towel.
– Whole fruit is dried by scoring the skin downwards about 3cm apart then gently pressing out the juice and drying on low heat for about 10 hours
– You can also use limes, lemons, grapefruit, cinnamon sticks & chilles.
– I also used a lot of bay leaves fresh from the garden; they need to be fresh as dried will split and crumble.

If time is short and lets face it we are all pretty busy at Christmas time, dried fruit is readily available from craft stores or online.

Assembling your wreath

Too busy to make your own?  Buy a wreath from Belle Amour Home.

Too busy to make your own? Buy a wreath from Belle Amour Home.

When you have all of your fruit ready it’s time for the fun part: putting your wreath together!  You will need to use strong, plastic coated garden wire. The wire needs to be strong enough to hold a circle shape when full of fruit but pliable enough for you to work with (wire cutters and pliers are needed here).

Start by cutting approx 1 m length of wire, then twist a loop as small as you can into the middle of the wire.  This is going to make the top of your wreath and you can loop your ribbon or string in at this point if you wish. Next, bend the two ends to form a circle shape. You are now ready to start threading your fruit onto the wire. A craft needle (I used an upholsterer’s needle) can come in handy for fruit that’s difficult to pierce. I found it worked best to fill both sides with fruit working alternately, with the loop (which will be the top of the wreath) resting on your knee. You can follow a pattern on each side so they match or be completely random!

Stop threading fruit leaving approximately 1.5″ (3.5cm) of wire on each end. Twist together the wire a few times until it’s secure (it’s tricky but pliers help) and snip off the excess wire with your wire cutters. You will then need to cover the join with pretty ribbon.

Visit Belle Amour's Saturday stall at Urmston Market.

Visit Belle Amour’s Saturday stall at Urmston Market.

Lastly turn your wreath the right way around and add a bow as big or petite as you like, and voilà, your wreath is ready to hang on your door or maybe in the kitchen or hallway.

We added a hand cut and painted wooden heart to the centre of our wreaths for that extra special ‘Belle Amour Boutique’ touch! Your unique, handmade wreath will last you for years if kept dry.  We also have available single fruit hearts and fruit garlands.  Our products are available to buy from our Saturday stall on Urmston Market and you can see out full product range by popping over to our Facebook page.

 

Darby’s Mulled Christmas Punch – Recipe

Merry Christmas from Darby's Coffee and Arts Lounge.

Merry Christmas from Darby’s Coffee and Arts Lounge.

It’s cold.  Darby’s Coffee and Art Lounge on Flixton Road, Urmston are serving mulled Christmas punch.  Sorted. What’s more, Amy Darby, owner of Darby’s, has provided Urmston Independents with her extra special recipe. Enjoy!

Darby’s Mulled Christmas Punch
Makes one litre

Ingredients

800ml cranberry juice

200ml orange juice
1 tbsp gingerbread syrup
5 tbsp demerara sugar
and some dried mixed mulled spices wrapped in muslin.
Darby’s bought their mulled spices – which include dried fig and oranges –  from the Manchester Christmas Markets.

Method

Put it all in a large saucepan and bring to the boil and then simmer for 15 minutes

Call in to Darby's Coffee and Arts Lounge for warming winter treats.

Call in to Darby’s Coffee and Arts Lounge for warming winter treats.

If you enjoy the results of this recipe, you can thank Darby’s by giving their Facebook page a like or calling in to their Flixton Road coffee and arts lounge (M41 5AB) for food, drink or festive gifts.