Monday, 31 January 2011

chocolate, beetroot and raspberry cake...

the last of the January posts, in true spirit of the studio, is to ditch the diet and eat vegetable cake.

so - as promised for an age - here is the ecospot chocolate, beetroot and raspberry cake recipe...

350g beetroots (weighed before grating!)
2 large (organic and free range) eggs
150g golden caster sugar
125ml vegetable oil
200g self raising flour
35g cocoa
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

homemade or a good quality raspberry jam

125g butter
125g icing sugar
1 tbsp raspberry jam (or natural raspberry extract)
natural pink food colouring (usually made from concentrated beetroot as well!)

make it:
preheat the oven to 180 degrees C or gas mark 4.
peel and grate the beetroots and place in a colander to drain.
place the oil, eggs and sugar into a large bowl and mix thoroughly until light and fluffy.
add the flour, cocoa, bicarb and baking powder and mix again until combined.
the mixture will look rather scant and thick at this point - do not worry - now add the grated (and drained) beetroot and mix to create a lovely, gloopy and combined cake batter.
(variation - you can add some spices as well if you like - chilli goes quite nice... add 1tsp cayenne or similar, or to taste)

bake it:
place into two non-stick loose bottomed 8 - 9 inch round cake tins and bake in the preheated oven for 30 mins. (or place into muffin cases and bake for around 24 mins)

assemble it:
when done, remove from oven and let the cakes cool on a wire rack.
when completely cooled, sandwich the two rounds together with a nice layer of raspberry jam and sit to one side.
make the icing by combining the sifted and lump free icing sugar with the softened butter until smooth.
stir in the raspberry jam (or if using, 1tsp natural raspberry extract) and add drops of natural pink food colouring to the icing - mixing until your desired shade of pink is achieved.
cover the top of the cake with the icing and sprinkle on any other decorations (we usually add little chocolate stars or dried raspberry pieces)

EAT! safe in the knowledge you are not eating cake, you are eating vegetables...

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

the people's supermarket...

Staying with the foodie theme from my last post, I thought I would talk a little about what could be the future of shopping.

Independant shops? Hopefully. Farmers Markets? I should hope so. Growing your own? Practical for some, but not others. Urban farms? They are coming, but not just yet.

So, what could be the immediate future from our food shopping experiences?


Yep. You heard me right. Supermarkets, but not as we know it.

We have become conditioned to shop for everything at one place - cramming our little cages on wheels with essentials every week before we drive home to consume (or throw away...but that is another post). The supermarket is just the way most of us do our shopping. Fact.

Even though many of us try to grow our own, support our local producers and frequent our farmers markets, many of us still use the supermarket model as our main shopping experience.

So if you can't beat the supermarkets, why not join them.

And this is what a few enterprising souls have begun.

Park Slope in New York is a 25yr old co-operative with around 6000 members, who give up 2hrs 45mins per month to work in the supermarket (cashier, cleaner, shelf replenishment etc) in return for wonderfully sourced, local, often organic produce at hugely reduced rates. With (little) wages to pay, the community are actively pocketing the mark-up savings in the lower prices available. If you do not do your shift, you have to make up with double the time next shift, and if you continue to flaunt the rules, sorry, you are out.

This can sound a little harsh, but this kind of model can ONLY work with full communication and trust between all members. Sounds great to me.

It also looked great to Arthur Potts Dawson (who also set up the London eco restaurant Acorn House), who has taken this seed idea and translated it into London's first version of the American model, in Holborn, called The People's Supermarket.

The basic premise is the same - pay your £25 membership, sign up to your 4 hour shift and you are a member - AND part owner - of the People's Supermarket. This entitles you to hugely reduced core produce (large lovely loaf £1.85 to 'regular' shoppers, £1 to members) and 10% reduction on your overall bill.

But being a part owner of the supermarket also means that you are entitled to a say in what is stocked, where from, and how the whole kit and caboodle is run. An ideal situation really - cheaper stuff, a nod to the 'big society' and a say in keeping that local raspberry yoghurt you have come to love as well as the larger decisions.

Not everyone will like the idea of working four hours to qualify for the benefits, but (having worked for a big supermarket to pay my way through university) it can be fun.

And in a time of gloom, surely a few more pennies in the bank, a few more local bits in your belly and a few new friends in your phone can only be a good thing?

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Hugh's Fish Fight...

I tend to not watch much TV - usually too busy to watch things live so catch up via iplayer / 4OD and the like, but on occasions, I do pencil in some goggle box time for things I feel passionate about.

And this is why I spent 9-10 last night watching Hugh's Fish Fight on channel 4.

Even though I know about the EU fish allocation system and the 'discard' element, it was very, very hard watching indeed. The sheer amount of perfectly good fish thrown, dead, overboard from our fishing fleet was absolutely disgusting. The poor fishermen were understandably upset - seeing all that food (and money) wash back into the sea due to a ridiculous EU law is truly maddening.

The allocation system was created to help preserve fish stocks and ensure that over fishing does not take place. On the face? Well, sounds good. But whilst watching, it became brutally obvious that this system purely does not work. If anything, it will compound the issue it seeks to resolve.

How? Well, each species has a certain 'catch' allocation which fishermen are legally not allowed to go over, so, if you catch all your cod allocation in a couple of net castings then sorry, any other cod has to go back into the sea - it cannot be landed. But fishermen need to make money, so they continue to fish to fulfil their other species allocation to make a wage. If the next nets hold 90% cod and only 10% say, monkfish, guess what? Yep, the cod go back - dead. And the nets are cast again to try and catch more of the still vacant allocation species, usually with similar results. How can this be preserving fish stocks?

So what is the answer? Many fishermen suggested an allocation free system, where they are legally limited by the TIME they are out rather than the kg of each species. Whatever the answer is, Hugh's campaign needs our help to try and convince the Government to act to change this ludicrous system, so either click on the fishy film clip on the side, or visit and sign up.

Friday, 7 January 2011

welcome back....

It seems as though a lot of us seem to go awol around this time of year, with various visits to relatives, illnesses and general rushing about for the seasonal activities.We were no exception, as we have really only just got back to grips at the studio after the mini break.

But we are now back and raring to go, and we are now thinking about what 2011 may have in store, eco wise?

Well, there are many people out there willing to put forward their two penneth worth, so here are a few bits we have found on the web...

The rise of service design - where items are REPAIRED instead of discarded and thrown away - I think this is due to the economic downturn as well as the elements of perceived greenness. The throw away culture of excess that we have grown to take as the norm is now being questioned by many who may not have considered their position before.

The rise of the amateur - again - craft has been enjoying a newly found and well deserved resurgence in popularity as people appreciate the skills and human qualities of hand made design. Perhaps this is another revolt against the large scale industries which we are starting to distrust as we hanker for the nostalgic and simpler may of life? I am all for this prediction and I hope that craft will continue to become a major player in the small scale retail industry. Remember peeps - quality over quantity.

Urban farming is another trend that seems to be popping up all over the shop, and with money belts still tight and a continuing distrust of large manufacturers and the dreaded supermarkets, I reckon this is one which is here to stay for 2011. Will we get back to the war time front and back garden allotments? Perhaps not, but look out for more edibles popping up in your street, and fantastical proposals for mobile, skyscraper and city centre farming utopias. I thought that cutting gardens would also enjoy a resurgence in 2010 as people get used to growing their own and become more aware of where their weekly bunch of flowers come from (we designed two gardens in 2010 for cutting), but maybe I was a little too keen. Maybe this is another one for 2011.

Sharing seems to be another big hitter in the prediction fronts - from skills sharing to bike sharing, car sharing and food sharing. I suppose this sort of goes back to the sort of medieval barter systems which have been resurrected in a time where cash is short. This could be in a 'you can have some of my chicken eggs in exchange for some of your apples' sort of way, or larger scale, involving skills exchange between companies. Our studio has signed up to a skills share programme in Brighton where we offer our expertise and time to design needy charities and social enterprise projects, so again, this is one to stay for 2011.

I think local food and farmers markets will also continue to grow, along with small scale foraging (I spent all of Christmas engrossed in John Wright's fantastic River Cottage Mushroom, Hedgerow and Sea Edibles handbooks) and home preserving.

Green design in general will become more accessible (heard a lot of people asking for eco bits whilst out shopping for pressies) especially now people are questioning the throw away / landfill fodder purchases of old.

Lastly, I am quite optimistic about the design industry in general. The last two years have made it hard to sell something essentially 'invisible' but I think things are on the shift. People and businesses are realising that quality of life is more important that the amount of things you have, and so are looking to designers to maximise their opportunities available and create them spaces to enjoy being in at home and at work. Business are realising that consumers are examining them as well as their products before making a purchase, and are responding accordingly.

Check back next year to see if I am right.