Thursday, 21 August 2008

The tree of life for the indecisive

It seems a cruel irony that, as a notoriously indecisive person, I decided to set up a business which requires me to make hundreds of decisions: furniture, building materials, crockery, music, amount of space between tables, number of power sockets, amount of storage, width of passages? No wonder I can’t sleep.

My problem is, I’m terrified of making a wrong decision. To avoid that, I do so much research that I end up more confused and overloaded with choices than when I started. Take packaging for example. I want to do environmentally friendly packaging for takeaway items at the cafe. Decision made. Ha! It's like the time I decided to paint my room white and then discovered the paint shop had booklets devoted to different shades of white.

A lot of companies claim to offer environmentally friendly packaging but if you want to know what that really means, you have to delve a little deeper. I had one supplier tell me that they had a range of packaging that was made to look environmentally friendly. Is it? Well no, but customers think it is.

You can go the biodegradable plastic route (eg. poly lactic acid), but PLA will only break down in an industrial composting facility, few of which exist in the UK. Also, the sugar cane or cornstarch used to make plant based PLA is from GM crops. So the environmental credentials of PLA start to look a bit iffy. This article by John Vidal in The Guardian sheds more light on the environmental pros and cons of bio-plastics.

Another option is packaging made from material that can be recycled in mainstream recycling facilities, eg. paper. Again, you need to investigate whether the paper is sourced from sustainably grown forests and/or made from recycled paper.

All of this effort to provide recyclable and biodegradable packaging is largely futile if customers just throw their used package into the general rubbish. But, at least with paper, even if customers don’t put their packaging in a recycling bin, it will break down in landfill.

And that’s just the start of the decision making process. I then need to decide on the sizes, colours and shapes of the packaging. Of course none of the packaging made from the materials I want come in the size and shape I want.

Drowning in a sea of packaging samples.

A couple of months ago I went to a seminar on sustainable packaging hosted by London Remade. While I soon realised that no one was going to provide me with a quick solution to my packaging dilemma, I did come away with a very useful tool: the Packaging Decision Tree designed by Jack Shepherd of London Remade. If only we could plant forests of decision trees to help the indecisive.

Monday, 11 August 2008


Last week I escaped to my aunt’s house in Cornwall for a few days to try and clear my head. The stresses of council applications, sewerage pipes and packaging decisions seemed a million miles away as my aunt and I went for long walks along the coast, swam in freezing water and cooked some fantastic seafood with help of a Cornish neighbour:  Rick Stein’s cookbook "Seafood".

While I was there I became a little addicted to rouille, a garlicky mayonnaise served with the French fish stew bouillabaisse, but also fantastic on crab sandwiches, any type of seafood or even just spread on toast for breakfast. The magic ingredient in rouille is harissa, a north african spice paste made from red chilli peppers which gives the mayonnaise a fiery kick.

Now back in London, I'm relying on harissa to give me a warm holiday glow and fire in my belly.

Roast fennel with chickpeas, feta and harissa dressing (for 2)

1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 bulb of fennel cut into wedges (keep the fennel fonds for garnish)
1 red onion cut into wedges
half a punnet of cherry tomatoes cut in half

Harissa Dressing
1 generous teaspoon of harissa
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon of honey
zest of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Mix the dressing ingredients in a large bowl and add the chickpeas. Stir to combine and let it sit awhile.

Put the fennel, onion and tomatoes in a baking tray. Toss in a little olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in the oven for about 30-40 minute or until fennel is cooked.

Add to the chickpeas together with the crumbled feta and garnish with chopped leaves from the fennel top.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

More sightings of LaMouth

Coffee supercouple "LaMouth" (aka La Marzocco and Monmouth) have been spotted again in London.

Tucked down a side street behind Whole Foods in Kensington, Kensington Square Kitchen boasts the best coffee in London.

It's a big claim that they don’t quite deliver on as the quality of the coffee varies depending on who is driving La Marzocco.

But it is a very nice spot to sit, read the paper and have brunch.

Until recently, LaMouth was also seen hanging out at Milkbar: the latest venture by the flat white lads, located just around the corner in Bateman St.

It is less frenetic, a little more roomy and better ventilated than flat white with the same laid back feel and consistently brilliant coffee.

Best of all, it is a ten minute walk from the site so its where I now go to get my daily caffeine fix.

Yet just when the LaMouth twosome was looking cosy at Flatwhite and Milkbar, I hear that Monmouth has been dumped for a young, relatively unknown new comer on the coffee scene; Square Mile.

Is this the first sign of overexposure? Could LaMouth be headed for splitsville like Bennifer?

Or can they withstand the pressures of fame and prove the cynics wrong - a la Bradgelina...

We’ll have to wait and see whether they make an appearance at 13 Charlotte Place.