Community buy-out to secure biodynamic farm

Bluebell WoodThere was a time when the earth was free and belonged to all. People grew food and grazed animals, to eat, to live. Then the land grabs started. With legal stealth and physical violence, “enclosures” were enforced over several centuries in Britain. The commons – the earth and soil and woodlands used by peasants for farming – became the property of warlords who exploited the need to grow food for survival.

It does not need to be this way! We do not need to run the world for the benefit of might-is-right profiteers!

Fast-forward to the 21st century. One of the problems of producing food in the UK is the lack of available land. Who will be lucky enough to inherit? Most of the land belongs to a small percentage of the aristocracy.

Farming land is rare. Land is seen as an “investment”. Investors buy land to lock up their money, using it like a savings account. This means land becomes prohibitively expensive and makes it difficult for would-be farmers to find a foothold.

But I bring encouraging news. Community farm ownership seeks to break the “land-as-investment” deadlock, and make land accessible for farming.

Let’s take a closer look at this model by visiting Rush Farm in Worcester – which I had the good fortune to do as part of my work with Greenhouse.

Lleyn sheep Rush Farm

Rush Farm is an 150-acre mixed traditional biodynamic and organic family farm in the heart of England. In 2012, its current owners joined with the Biodynamic Land Trust to form Stockwood Community Benefit Society Ltd. The aim is for the Benefit Society to buy Rush Farm and its ethically-run 27-unit eco-property, Stockwood Business Park, from its current owners.

Pic below of current owners, Sebastian, Tabitha and Sophie, three siblings of the Parsons family.

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In this way, the land can neither be passed down to the next generation as an inheritance, nor can it be sold. Stockwood Community Benefit Society ensures the land remains as a community-owned biodynamic and organic farm – for ever.

Is land a community resource for the benefit of many, or a commodity to be bought and sold to profit but a few? In his article Transforming Capitalism, Martin Large of the Biodynamic Land Trust argues that managing land as a community resource can alleviate the current economic crisis.

This is the mechanism: Stockwood Community Benefit Society is selling shares, from a minimum of 100 £1 shares (£100) to a maximum of 20,000 £1 (£20,000) shares. Unlike commercial shares, community shares cannot be sold. Instead, shareholders are supporting a sustainable enterprise.

IMG_0400However, it’s not all one-way – Stockwood Community Benefit Society anticipates paying-out 5% interest a year to its community share holders. Here is a pic of its stall selling shares at Rush Farm fete on the 3 August. The £1 million share offer was launched in May and has already raised about half a million pounds. Offer ends 31 October 2013 so invest now!

A bit more background: Sebastian Parsons, and his two sisters, Tabitha and Sophie, bought Rush Farm in 2005. Their parents, Anne and Adrian Parsons, have managed it as a biodynamic and organic farm ever since.

WOW. Thanks to these enlightened farming methods, the soil is revitalised, carbon-rich, and brimming with fertility. Its native Lleyn sheep and Hereford cattle are beautifully cared-for. The farm’s mixed habitats –  ancient woodlands, wetlands, herb-rich meadows and grassland – are nurtured and wildlife has returned, including bees, butterflies, lapwings and curlews.

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Demeter biodynamic-certified and Soil Association organic-certified Rush Farm sells meat and fresh produce, and also earns an income from the rental from its on-farm Stockwood Business Park (see my pic of a light industrial units) – a vital rural hub employing over 100 local people, and making it viable for them to stay in the countryside. The business park is full of groovy businesses, too.

teiner/Waldorf kindergartenStockwood Business Park even has its own Steiner/Waldorf nursery kindergarten. (Please can I be three-years-old again, and attend?).

Wrapped around a working farm with lush nature, the business park has to be one of the most blissful places in he world to work.

Sebastian Parsons

Sebastian Parsons is also the CEO and co-founder of Elysia, which includes the UK distribution of Dr.Hauschka‘s organic skin care products, and is based at Stockwood Business Park. The voluntary chief executive of the Biodynamic Association, Sebastian also applies Rudolph Steiner’s far-out but incredibly practical philosophy on the interconnectedness of everything (anthroposophy) to to Rush Farm, Elysia, and Stockwood Community Benefit Society.

Makes sense doesn’t it? Because everything is connected!

Photo 03-12-2006 07 01 49 PMSebastian’s grandfather was David Clement, a pioneer of Britain’s biodynamic movement. In 1933, Clement bought Broome Farm (also in Worcester) which became an agricultural research centre, and for half a century, the Biodynamic Association’s headquarters. But, sadly, in the 1980s, Broome Farm was sold  and lost to biodynamic and organic management– to the Parsons’ chagrin.

“My sisters and I never spoke about it at the time,” says Sebastian. “But much later we found that each of us had resolved to one day buy Broome Farm back. We never did. However, when we bought Rush Farm, we felt we had achieved our aim, and fulfilled our commitment to the land.”

More social history, this time about Rush Farm. Under its previous owners in the 1950s, Rush Farm inspired the writing of The Archers, the world’s longest-running radio soap opera.

Radio Times Nov 1951

Radio Times Nov 1951

Early episodes were recorded at Rush Farm and its nearby pub, The Bull, at Inkberrow, while Rush Farm’s fireplace featured as the Archers’ fireplace on a Radio Times cover (viz pic). And if that is not enough farm gossip, Olympic showjumper, Pat Smythe, used to ride at Rush Farm, when it was a stud farm in the ’50s and ’60s.

Now Rush Farm is in the limelight again, thanks to its Stockwood Community Benefit Society share offer to secure the biodynamic and organic farm’s future – for ever.

Community investors – be part of the solution! Invest in this worthwhile sustainable enterprise (with 5% return). Deadline ends 31 October 2013.

Best week in Bantry, County Cork

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I won a literary prize. Published in the 2013 Fish Anthology, and launched at the West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry  7 – 14 July 2013.

I do not usually go to literary festivals (preferring music/dancing ones) but hey, how many times do you win an award? I had always wanted to go to Ireland so I made a week of it.

And what a week. For a start, I hit the heatwave. Instead of being bent over laptop while sun shines, I was at leisure, in nature, by the sea. I could not believe my luck.

I had booked a hotel half-an-hour walk from the town. Built in the 1970s, the Westlodge hotel was the first of its kind with a spa. So I started the day in the hotel pool.

In the grounds, I found a place to meditate (word used loosely – basically try to to sit still for five mins.). Pic below.

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Then I found a hidden back-route towards town via the grounds of Bantry House (just visible in distance, below).

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Ancient trees line this magical route

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as I headed past the back of Bantry House, a Jacobean statement of oppressive English might-is-right.

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I preferred its ruins, below.

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Or I could divert to the sea to a corner of the bay, beside the Abbey graveyard on a hill, where families swam every day in the Mediterranean-hot July.

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And friendly women to look after my bag, and give me the local low-down.

Food-wise. For breakfast, soda bread. Real bread.

Raw carrot salad in Bantry House cafe. Delicatessen take-aways from The Stuffed Olive to eat on the steps of Bantry Library in brilliant sunshine.

And joy of joys, an organic cafe and store.

Organico is one of Europe’s pioneering organic shops. Founded in  the 1990s selling wholefoods to hippies, it now caters for the increasingly mainstream demand for good food grown properly.

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Organico Cafe also had the latest copy of one of my favourite eco-magazines, The Land

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Tangent-alert as I praise The Land: a publication that believes social justice lies in access to the land, gives eye-opening history on Britain’s 500-year-old land-grabs, and reports on current efforts to access, and work the land, sustainably.

Back to food: fish and chips in the hot evening sun in Wolfe Tone Square. The Fish Kitchen looked nice but I never got there.

Festivals can be stressful if you suffer from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). A lifetime of this disease has taught me coping strategies. I lie down a lot and breathe, and accept I spend my whole life missing out. Here is the West Cork Literary festival programme, a long list of events I missed.

When I did venture out, things happened: I made good friends, had four strangely synchronistic conversations about getting writing help with mentoring from Fish Publishing and/or a Creative Writing MA, and caught some great speakers including:

Executive director of Amnesty International in Ireland, Colm O’Gorman, and the author of Beyond Belief - his story of sexual abuse by a priest, how he successfully sued the Roman Catholic Church, thus making way for fellow survivors to break their silence.

Colm O’Gorman was joined by a young man transitioning from the female gender he was born into, whose mum spoke from the audience, fierce with love for her son, causing some audience members to sniffle, so moving it was.

I also went to the best talk-ever on oceans ever by marine conservation biologist, Professor Callum Roberts. Clear, articulate and accessible speaker. Get his book, The Unnatural History of the Sea.

Callum featured in the powerful film on overfishing, The End of The Line, with eloquent descriptions of the destruction wreaked by the fish’s most efficient predator (us). Memorably, Callum had said: “The amount of fishing power we have at our command far outweighs our ability to control ourselves.”  Talking about bottom-trawlers which dredge the sea-bed:  “the signs of destruction brought up on deck by the trawl would make an angel weep.”

The high-point was Wednesday and holding a copy of the 2013 Fish Anthology in my hands. Thank you, Fish Publishing (thought-up by then-fisherman now publisher, Clem Cairns, hence its name).

It was a mixed emotional time because my winning memoir was about my late husband, the author Adrian Reid. He died 27 years ago, but love is not linear, and loss does not obey the passage of time.

On Friday, a sell-out talk by former president Mary Robinson – what a woman! I rose spontaneously with the massive audience to give a standing ovation. Yes, she has  privilege, but she is on the side of the angels, as far as I am concerned – including raising awareness of climate change. Mary Robinson said: Ireland must follow Scotland, and create more renewable energy - wind, solar, and especially tidal. 

In 1971, she told us, she campaigned for the legalisation of condoms, and was reviled by press and clergy. Archbishop McQuaid called her a “curse upon the country. Mary Robinson said: Nothing has been as bad as that experience. (Not exact quote as audience was asked not to use mobiles and I use mine for taking notes).

The interviewer was journalist Alison O’Connor – acute, sober, intelligent. More, please.

Then on Saturday (after the ferry ride to Whiddy Island and poetry) a talk by Jane Murray Flutter on her late mother, the author Rumer Godden whose books I read and re-read as a child.

I always meant to write to Rumer Godden and thank her for writing the book for adults, The Peacock Spring. Her compassion for a teenager’s unplanned pregnancy helped me when I was expecting my first-born – then, in late 1970s, I was “unmarried” and my child was “illegitimate”.

I do not take feminism – or indeed any respect for human dignity – lightly. “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance”, a quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson.

My Bantry week  took place against the backdrop of the Irish government debating whether women whose lives are at risk should be allowed a legal abortion.

No one wants an abortion. I know from my own experience it can be devastating. But surely, this must make it more imperative to treat a woman who has an abortion with kindness.

Thankfully, the de facto practice (allowed but not legal) of abortion became law on Friday 12 July. Nevertheless women who cannot prove their lives are at risk will still travel to England to have abortions, and poor women will get into debt to do the same.

So many significant meetings.

Deirdre whom I met on the aeroplane from Bristol who drove me to Bantry even though she lives in Cork, taking me up-to-speed on Irish politics, giving me insights into a country’s painful past transmuting to healing; Bogusia, poet (thanks for quirky humour and pics!), and Debra, Core Process (Buddhist psychology and mindfulness-based) psychotherapist and life-skills mentor, who gave me a great swim in a deserted bay, a bed for the night (her bookcase had few books not on my Bristol bookcase) and drove me to Cork the next day. And Carole (Bristol connections), and her friend who told us about Alexander technique for swimming.

More memorable conversations: talking about abortion with an Irish farmer (he thanked me keeping my first-born), and a gentleman on the bus to Manch Bridge who explained how Ireland (unlike England) largely escaped invasion by the Romans, and the Anglo-Saxons, leading me to conclude: its Celtic roots more intact, maybe that’s why the church came down so hard on Ireland’s earthy spirit.

And to wind-up the roll-call: journalist, Paul O’Donahue, who MC-ed the open mike, a true encourager of writing (and author of this great line: “I long to be your kissed”) plus comic poet, Martin Daly who had the open mike audience in hilarity – and songwriter, Steve Millar…Gad the list continues.

Here is the last food I had in Ireland:

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Irish soda bread at Cork airport, just like I’d had every morning in Bantry.

One of the best weeks of my life.

Millions March against Monsanto

Durban GMO protest

Wow. On Saturday 25 May 2013, two million people worldwide marched against Monsanto, reported the Guardian. (Image above by Phillip Martin of the Durban protest from No GMO South Africa).

One of the top ten US chemical companies - think Agent Orange and DDT -Monsanto started buying up seed companies in the 1980s. Now it is the biggest producer of GM (genetically modified) seed.

Portman Square Bristol BS2 Sat 25 May 2013

Portman Square Bristol BS2 Sat 25 May 2013

Here in Bristol, we chanted: “We don’t want no GMO.”

GM (genetically modified) technology is based on the outdated scientific premise that a gene is responsible for a characteristic. So all you have to do is add a desired characteristic from one species  into another species and ta da, you have a nice new genetically modified organism (GMO).

It’s nothing like traditional breeding because it crosses species barriers, creating organisms that would never exist in nature.

Once a seed is genetically modified it can be patented – which means the company that patents it, owns it.

Which means you can now prosecute farmers who have your patented seeds on their fields. Even even if the seeds arrived (as seeds do) by wind or bees.

Check out GMO Myths and Truths for more info. This fully-referenced report shows that Monsanto et al‘s claims – that GM crops yield better, reduce pesticide use, and are safe to eat – are dubious.

Also check out: GM Education, GM Freeze and GM Watch. Also: Thierry Vrain, former pro-GM research scientist for Agriculture Canada now promoting awareness of the many dangers of GM food.

NO GMO Monsanto couple

Back to the march.

Well, despite some “trolling” beforehand including fake reports that marches were not going to happen, or would be violent, they happened and they were 100% peaceful.

See these pics of the London march and below.

Bianca Jagger - image from http://www.demotix.com/news/2088303/environmental-gmo-activists-march-against-monsanto-london#media-2088296

Bianca Jagger – image from
http://www.demotix.com/

I was a steward (I have an NVQ in Green Stewarding, I’ll have you know) for the approx 500-strong Bristol march and I can report it was filled with good humour and co-operation.

Portman Square Bristol BS2 Sat 25 May 2013

Portland Square Bristol BS2 Sat 25 May 2013

As we waited at Portland Square before setting off from the march, a man with a beautifully-ironed shirt volunteered he had escaped his “corporate pay masters” to support us.

“O, that’s great,”I said. “Are you coming on the march?”

Well, no, he wasn’t because he had already been there 45 minutes already.

He said Monsanto probably had some observers at the march but they were likely dressed in a “bohemian” way.

He was keen to meet local organisers but was uninterested when I suggested Bristol Friends of the Earth.

Monsanto has used a PR firm in the past to discredit opposition and according to some, employed a security firm to monitor activists online.

I think a security firm will have its work cut-out. The thing is there is not one over-arching or hierarchical body behind people like us.

These marches are organic and spontaneous – the human spirit rising up to protect our food.

Veg fest

After the march, Julia and I went to the VegFest (above), and reaped the benefits of a happy healthy food movement.

Who would have thought that wholesome food could be subversive?

Pinterest UK

PIF Badge 150

I admit it. I was flattered. Pinterest wants to feature one of my Pinterest boards during its registration process for new UK users.

Right, what is Pinterest? It is a new social media network – based on sharing images – that has grown phenomenally in its three-year existence.

Thanks to Mike Farrow for turning me on to Pinterest – companies were finding Pinterest was driving more sales than Facebook.

Explaining this phenomenon, Steve Longoria quotes stats that 80% of Pinterest users are women, saying, “women love to shop” (ouch, goes feminist-self).

But there is more gender-balance in UK, according to David Moth at Eco-Consultancy. Do see Eco-Consultancy’s analysis of how huge (and small) brands use social media. Most instructive.

Yes, I can see how retail is suited to images. Selfridges is on Pinterest, so is OcadoYeo ValleyClipper Tea, campaigners such as the Woodland Trust, and (I like this one) National Rail Enquiries.

F4E tuna fishing

I set up action brand, Fish4Ever, on Pinterest. Its pictures tell the stories of sustainable fishing and its the fight to support small fishers, so suited to image-led Pinterest.

Then, when browsing Fish4Ever products on Ocado, I noticed a Pinterest button on each of its product pages. Ooooh, that made it easy to upload the product images to a new Board I titled: Fish4Ever on Ocado.

Then, when you click on the Ocado Fish4Ever product image at Pinterest, the link takes you back to the UK online supermarket so you can buy the product. Neat.

I also set up my own Pinterest account. It is a way of mapping out interests online – pleasingly visual. I have just started a Board to gather my recent blogging/journalism.

Book tower
And I also made a Board for Books. (Above a pic of pile: books I am reading, want to read or have read but can’t bear to be parted from).

Pinterest UK launched on 9 May. Why an UK launch when Pinterest is global, right, like Facebook? Pinterest guest blogger, interior designer, Will Taylor, admires this localised approach and thinks it makes sense because Pinterest is “probably one of the most personal platforms…highly influenced by where you live.”

Pinterest founder Ben Silbermann indicates its success may also be be down to this marketing approach: having local events to engage local bloggers. Verrrry interesting! (see my comment below in ‘Comments’).

According to marketing blog, Pinster, Pinterest has been very successful at generating traffic for US bloggers and invites UK bloggers to share reports of  any traffic increases as a result of this current marketing drive.

Getting ten UK bloggers a day to Pin It Forward for 30 days sounds a Herculean task especially if they were as recalcitrant as I was (haven’t I got enough to do?).

But I was intrigued by the marketing campaign so here I am, passing the baton to the next blogger in this 30-day marathon. Whom it turns out, I am already happily connected with…

Laura Scott is a fellow food blogger with a beautiful and practical blog, How to Cook Good Food, and do see Laura’s fascinating and share-able How to Cook Pinterest Boards.

Inspiring, too. I am gonna get pinning.

Beetroot and Carrot Salad

Beetroot and carrot salad

I used to think beetroots had to be cooked. Now I am wiser, I know they can be  raw. And may be more nutritious as a result.

Grating beetroots makes crunching effortless while an oil and vinegar dressing adds luxury. Carrots, also grated, are a perfect companion.

You know what they say: eat for colour: orange, reds (and more), each colour containing different immune-boosting nutrients.

I first came across the beetroot/carrot combo at the Better Food Cafe about seven years ago, and copied the idea, working out a version at home. 

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Then turned it into a recipe for Grown in Britain CookbookI wish I had name-checked my inspiration so glad to be doing so now. My beetroots came from  the Better Food Company, too.

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I peeled the carrots and beetroots, above. Grown organically, slowly, biologically, they are chemical-free and needed only scrubbing, plus the skin has nutrients. (But I am not perfect and peeling is faster).

I was taken with the yellow, white and purple carrots, as they used to be before 17th century Dutch growers went monoculture orange to praise William of Orange. Poetically, these 21st century rainbow carrots were grown in Holland.

Bear Fruit Bear Pit
I had bought my Dutch rainbow organic carrots at the Bear Fruit stall (above) in the Bear Pit, Bristol.

The Bear Pit is, by the way, an example of urban regeneration from the grass-roots-up. A dingy subway on a busy city roundabout now transformed by locals into a lively market and meeting place.

Beetroot and Carrot Salad – ingredients for four

  • 600g raw beetroot
  • 600g raw carrots
  • 50g sunflower seeds
  • Dressing: 4 tablespoon olive oil + 50ml balsamic vinegar
  • oil for frying/toasting + soy sauce for seeds
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • Fresh herbs (parsley, coriander) or snipped salad cress.
  • 1.1. Scrub/peel carrots and beetroot, and trim tops and tails. Keep carrots whole for grating. Peel the beetroot and cut in half. Grate the raw vegetables, using hand grater or food processor. Combine in large bowl and add olive oil and vinegar dressing.2. If not serving immediately, don’t add dressing yet. Instead, store covered in fridge. Remove 1 hour before serving to bring to room temperature. Then add dressing (below).

    3. For the vinaigrette, put the oil and vinegar in a screw-top jar, put the lid on tightly and shake vigorously.

    4. Gently heat olive oil in a small frying pan and toast the seeds for 3–4 minutes over a moderate heat, stirring to prevent sticking. Add the soy sauce at the end of the cooking, if using. Most of the sauce will evaporate, leaving a salty taste and extra browning for the seeds. Store the toasted seeds in a jar with a lid if preparing the day before.

    5. When ready to serve, add the chopped herbs to the grated beetroot and carrot. Shake the screw-top jar with vinaigrette, then pour over the vegetables, and season to taste. Toss the salad gently until everything glistens. Scatter the toasted seeds.

Hello Kitty cake

Hello Kitty cake
It’s not often I go mainstream but basically my eldest daughter asked me to make a Hello Kitty cake for my granddaugher Tayda’s fourth birthday party in December (this blog is well-overdue) held at St Werburgh’s city farm.

A few days before I got baking, my eldest daughter had a nightmare about the cake-making.

I said: “Good. Prepare to be disappointed.”

I felt I had to manage expectations.

However, it turned out well. The cake tasted good and actually looked like Hello Kitty.

For the latter, I must thank the opportune arrival of my middle daughter who took over cake-decorating just as I was getting bored. She talked me down from “getting creative”, insisting we adhere to its original design.

So here’s the Hello Kitty birthday cake-making story plus recipes.

I started by looking online for a clear image I could print and trace.

I ended up on GirlyBubble, a website for “girlyness and cute stuff”. Yes, I was in alien territory but fearless in my quest for a clear image of Hello Kitty.

I printed the image and traced it by hand. I admired the clever simplicity of the design, neither round nor oval, and its trademark bow and whiskers.

I owe decoration-detail to Coolest Birthday Cakes where readers have submitted their Hello Kitty cake designs. How grateful am I to the web and its culture of sharing?

Then it was time for real-life cake-decoration shopping at my local sweet shop on the independent-tastic Gloucester Road  (one of the last independent high streets in the UK).

Scrumptiously Sweet is a traditional sweet shop offering attentive service and saintly patience as I agonised over icing tubes, jelly beans and marshmallow pipes.

Side-view of Hello Kitty

We used bootlace liquorice to outline Hello Kitty’s head and ears, her bow, whiskers and nose.

We squeezed out Dr Oetker Designer Icing to fill in the red of the bow.

And encircled the lower base of the cake with pink marshmallow Flumps (you can see the join in the pic below).

Hello Kitty cake

Hello Kitty Cake and Icing recipes

I owe everything to All Recipes.com and its Foolproof Sponge Cake. It is truly foolproof for I am the fool, and here is the proof.

I made two sponges, one square, one round.

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The deeper square one (above) was sliced through its middle and filled and covered with pink buttercream icing.

Hello Kitty "face"

The smaller sponge (above) was baked in a round flan tin, requiring only some trimming with a sharp knife to become Kitty-shaped. This sponge had white icing to contrast with its bigger pink base.

Recipe for Foolproof Sponge Cake

No need to cream butter and sugar. Instead, sieve the flour and mix in the other ingredients. I used organic ingredients for health of people and planet, and butter not marge. It seemed strange to cook a sponge for a whole hour – but it worked. Brilliantly.

Serves: 12

340g (12 oz) self-raising flour | 280g (10 oz) caster sugar | 280g (10 oz) butter (or margarine) | 5 eggs |3 tablespoons milk (or soya milk) |

1. Grease and line two 20cm (8 inch) square or round tins and set aside. I used an 8 inch square tin and an 8 inch round flan tin, and did not skimp on the greaseproof lining paper.

2. Pre-heat the oven to 150 C / Gas 2, or 140 C for fan ovens.

3. Sieve self-raising flour into a mixing bowl, add the sugar and butter, then the eggs. I used my electric hand-blender, adding one egg at a time, blending after each one, until all ingredients were amalgamated. Once blended, some extra fast whizzes. The result: a thickish smooth batter.

4. Pour into the tins, place in centre of oven and cook for about 1 hour 15 mins, to 1 hour 30 mins. All Recipes says test with skewer: if it comes out clean, the cake is done.

Thank you All Recipes.com. Now a huge big shout-out to HonieMummyBlog for Perfect Butter Icing - perfect indeed! - and a genius selection of different quantities. Again, gratitude.

Honnie Mummie Perfect Butter icing

250 g / 8 oz butter | 500 g / 1 lb icing sugar | 4 teaspoons milk

For base (not Hello Kitty face), we carefully added drop-by-drop red colouring for a pinky effect, and mixed before adding the next drop.

I made the cakes on the Thursday, the butter icing on Friday, and assembled it all on Saturday – party day. 

And did not disgrace my family.

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Here is the cake nibbled down to its essential Hello Kitty-ness.

And here’s a under-1-minute video of the cake at Tayda’s party.

In Bristol’s green heart, we trust

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Green party councillor, Gus Hoyt, says Bristol’s mayoral Cabinet has a “green heart at its core”. (Image credit Bristol 24-7)

Previously city councillors had voted for their leader. But the Coalition government gave ten of England’s biggest cities the option to vote for its own. Last May, Bristol people voted in a referendum to elect their own mayor, the only city to do so. In November, independent candidate, George Ferguson, became the city’s first “directly-elected” mayor.

Does a directly-elected mayor give more power to the people because they (rather than councillors) are voting? Or does the new role give too much power to one person, the mayor? But that’s another story.

Last November, Gus Hoyt, Bristol North’s first Green party councillor, got a late-night call from newly-elected mayor, George Ferguson, inviting him to join the new mayoral “rainbow” cabinet.  Gus Hoyt explains in his blog why he accepted.

It’s a question because the Green Party is opposed to the cuts - yet the Bristol mayoral cabinet is pledged to cut £35 million. The intention of the cabinet is to minimise hardship, says George Ferguson. “I’m trying to minimise the effect on services,” he says.

Personally, I don’t get this cuts business. For a start, the UK is one of the most powerful countries in the world. To my mind, Austerity Britain is a marketing slogan to cover up the reality which is: “Stop giving money to the poor, so the rich can get richer.” But I digress.

Last night at a Bristol Friends of the Earth meeting, guest speaker, Gus Hoyt – focusing on food and energy – described the positive things the cabinet hopes to achieve.

Green Bristol food vision

  • Make it easier for local food producers to sell their produce, building connections with local supply chains
  • Establish a “nuts-and-bolts” food market at Bristol Temple Meads railway station new enterprise zone - if successful it could be replicated in areas of deprivation
  • Aim to declare Bristol a zero waste city hopefully working with green-friendly Labour MP for Bristol East, Kerry McCarthy, who introduced a food waste bill in parliament
  • One fruit tree to be planted for each Bristol child born so apples and nuts can be harvested at will, and children can learn where food comes from (it really does grow on trees.)
  • Edible beds in public spaces and food production in parks so food can be picked for free
  • Turn Bristol into a food capital. The city already hosts several food festivals – let’s host more
  • Enable more schoolchildren to learn how to grow food to eat and how to cook it.

At this point Gus Hoyt referred to the horsemeat scandal, and how we must bust the myth that affordable food has to be rubbish. When people cook from scratch, food can be healthy, fresh – and affordable.

At this point, let me invoke my mother invoking her mother:

“The secret of good cooking is quality ingredients. The first step to learning how to cook is knowing how to choose quality raw materials.”

My grandparents lived in poverty in the East End – but they knew how to cook. The UK media delights in making healthy food a class issue, as it sneers at middle class obsessions about organic food. Hello?! The true class issue is companies producing rubbish food and spending millions on marketing it to poor people.

Back to last night’s meeting. There was a discussion about the Blue Finger, a stretch of local land perfect for growing food. At the start of the 20th century, Bristol was ringed with market gardens which fed Bristol. Now we buy tasteless produce in supermarkets trucked in from far away.

And should the negative effects of climate change and fuel shortages take hold, making Bristol more self-sufficient in food makes a lot of sense. And more pleasant and healthy, too.

At the Friends of the Earth meeting, Phil Haughton of Better Food Company said that plenty of local farmers would be happy to lease/sell a field the land: what is missing, he said, are entrepreneurs. Meanwhile Joy Carey, author of Who Feeds Bristol, said to make Bristol food-secure, eight main things need to happen including composting, growing, learning to cook and supporting small shops and producers.

Involves all of us

Bristol Food Policy Council (the first in the UK) is developing a food plan with those eight components. Bristol, be proud.

Green Bristol energy vision

  • Bristol to become the go-to-city for renewable energy 
  • Make Bristol a truly solar city
  • Bristol can be “a living university ” for green institutions
  • Aim for Bristol to become the European Green Capital
  • Invite aeronautical businesses to use their expertise to create tidal technology (rather than bomber ‘planes) -  a kind of “swords into ploughshares” idea
  • Secure £10 million to make council houses more energy-saving
  • Work with institutions such as the NHS and universities to make energy more affordable with ‘Energy Partnerships’
  • Wind turbines at Avonmouth are due to open in December
  • Bristol to be 100 % “fracking” and nuclear-free.

So, dear reader, does this gladden your heart? It did mine.