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.

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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.

Small Business Saturday 2014

small business saturday

It’s Small Business Saturday: please support small businesses wherever you find them.  There are hundreds of small businesses in Urmston, Flixton and Davyhulme.  Speaking as the owner of a small business, I know that, from candle makers to plumbers, none of these small businesses would exist without customers, including my own tuition centre.  

Using a small business is not an act of charity. It is quite wrong to assume that big chains are cheaper than small, independent traders.  Behind the marketing jargon, the deals offered by big corporate chains often represent a more expensive proposition than the more straightforward pricing of a smaller concern.  Why do we assume that big chains are cheaper?  Because they spend massive amounts of marketing money telling us their prices are fantastically low; small independent businesses can’t and don’t.  

As well as fairer prices, there is often more expertise in a small business; small businesses thrive on the passion of their owners and making money is not their main focus.  Personally, I don’t see education as a product I sell; I see it as a way to change young people’s lives forever.  Look at Mrs M, of Mrs M Vintage on Flixton Road: she’s not a corporate suit, working on her next ad campaign.  She just loves vintage and sells it because she wants to spread vintage joy.  How about Card World on Crofts Bank Road?  They have the biggest range of cards in Urmston and beyond – adoption cards, confirmation cards, sorry-I-forgot-to-get-you-a-Christmas-card – you name it, they sell it and that is because they really want to provide a card for all occasions.

If you want to support small businesses today and can’t make it out to the shops, why not tweet about them, like their Facebook business page or even write an online review for them (please only do this if you have used their service)?  Online recommendation is a powerful way to help small businesses, and what’s more, it really encourages independent traders when they see something lovely written about them – after all independent trading can feel a little lonely at times.

So today, Small Business Saturday 2014, please shop small and shop local: use our independent traders in Urmston and help our little town thrive.

An A-Z of independent businesses in Urmston: https://urmstonindependents.org.uk/urmston-independents-an-a-z-guide/.

Urmston Market at Christmas

Urmston Market's Christmas Fair takes place this Saturday.

Urmston Market’s Christmas Fair takes place this Saturday.

Along with raindrops and roses and whiskers on kittens, Urmston Market’s Christmas Fair is one of my favourite things. This Saturday the market will be bursting with colourful, beautiful, useful things.  As well as festive food and drink, there will be finely-crafted giftware, wreaths and decorations (including large, pot-grown Christmas trees) and all the trimmings you need for Christmas.

Live music will provide an ambient yuletide vibe and the event poster promises ‘festive friends’, so if you do go down to Urmston Market’s Christmas fair, listen out for the jingling of bells and keep an eye on the sky …

Urmston Market is open on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with an Artisan Special on the first Saturday of every month and and Vintage and Crafts market on the last Saturday of every month.  It’s a stone’s throw from Urmston train station and the bus stop (numbers 15, 22, 23, 255, 276, 278 and very probably some more).  You can park in Eden Square car park at M41 0NA if you’re driving.

Shop Independent in Urmston

Black Friday has arrived in the UK, bringing scenes of near-riot as ardent consumers flood into supermarkets in furious mobs,  knocking each other to the floor in the dash for a ‘bargain’.  Black Friday is a marketing construct: shops in the US offer big discounts on the day after Thanksgiving. This lends a tint of irony to the shocking behaviour of many Black Friday shoppers: give thanks one day; trample on your fellow shoppers the next.  We live in interesting times.

There was tough competition for a discounted television at Tesco in Stretford.

Buy Nothing Day falls on the last Saturday of November.

You don’t get any of that nonsense with independent shops: the prices are transparent and there’s zero chance of being caught up in a stampede in Mrs M Vintage.  There’s a cosy, laid-back feel to Christmas shopping in Urmston that cannot be replicated in the big behemoth malls, such as the Arndale and the Trafford Centre.  Nor will you find yourself gridlocked in traffic or squashed like a sardine on a tram, bus or tram.

Black Friday coincided this year with ‘Buy Nothing Day’.  Started by Adbusters back in the nineties, Buy Nothing Day challenges consumers to ‘switch off from shopping for a day’.  Visiting the campaign’s website, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the campaign is explicitly supportive of independent shops and businesses, because, as it says, “local shops act as a community hub and must be preserved because for every £1 spent in an independent shop – fifty pence goes back into the local economy. For every £1 spent at a supermarket only five pence goes back into the local community.

Most of us can’t or won’t ‘buy nothing’, however a quiet majority is growing ever more disengaged with the voracious pit of consumerism our festive season has become.  It seems that there is almost no time for actual celebration because the choosing, buying, wrapping and distributing of gifts has taken over the whole season.  Gifts for our family, our friends, our neighbours, our childrens’ teachers, our colleagues, our acquaintances, our local lolly pop ladies and our car valeters. There’s barely time to go to work in the month of December and no time at all for the quiet reflection and slowing down that nature calls for in the darkest season.

Times are hard, economically, and some claim that Black Friday represents an opportunity for the cash-strapped to obtain much-needed material goods.  This argument would hold more water if all the goods that were being fought over were not things that nobody needs (huge tellies, iPads, that sort of thing).  In any case, if you’re genuinely cash-strapped, a £189 television does not represent a good use of your money.  Black Friday enables big retailers to whip up a frenzy among consumers which, they hope, won’t die down until Christmas Eve.  Whether the bargains are genuine is questionable: the Guardian recently reported that many retailers put Christmas goods on the shelves at ‘full price’ in August (when no one will buy them) in order to reduce the price and promote them as bargains closer to Christmas.

Shopping locally with independent retailers automatically makes you part of a community’s beating heart; an economic champion of this little town.  It keeps more money in the local economy and thriving independent shops help keep house prices buoyant. Take a look at our A-Z of Independent Businesses in Urmston (and please let me know if you would like me to list your business).

Some links to previous posts about Christmas gift shopping in Urmston:

Independent Christmas Direct for Urmston

Last Minute Christmas in Urmston