Thursday, November 03, 2011

Green genius

I was very pleased with myself. I had scored a big bag of beautiful Hass avocadoes from my local market, and all of them perfectly ripe and ready, not the solid bullets you sometimes find. Bargain price too.

I have played with many guacamole recipes over the years, and my signature version is what I call "Japamole". It includes some wasabi, the brain-tingling Japanese mustard, and a few other little Japanese touches. With my bargain bag of avocadoes, I would make a big bowl of it, and take it with crudites and tortilla chips round to my neighbour Erika's that evening. She has visitors from a Finland and a few of us were having an impromptu Saturday night get together, all bringing a dish.

Back home with my haul from the market, I started to halve, peel and stone the avocadoes. To remove the stone, I do the cheffy trick of a karate-chop with the sharp edge of a large knife, so it is slightly embedded in the stone, then twist and lift the stone out. The avocadoes looked amazing, just perfectly ripe and luscious.

Text message. It's Erika, checking what everyone is bringing tonight. "My special guacamole!", I text back. Reply: "Hannah's already bringing her husband's guacamole, can u do something else?" Something else?! "Okay, no problem!", I lie. So I have eight large avocadoes already halved in a bowl, and a potato masher in my hand. Hannah's husband Mauricio is Mexican. I can't compete. But I certainly need to do something with all these avocadoes. And quick.

This is definitely a time to turn to my favourite cookbook -- the internet. I wipe the avocado from my hands, and start scrolling through page after page of avocado recipes:

* Guacamole. Out of the question.
* Salads. Too many other ingredients I don't have.
* Soups. No good for a buffet.
* Cleansing face masks. Oh for Heavens sake.

Then I see it. Avocado lime ice cream. As well as my mashed avocadoes, I just need lime juice, honey and whipping cream. Check. I have all three. Genius.

For every two avocadoes, I add 120 ml of lime juice and the same quantity of runny honey, and blitz in my blender. I then fold in 240ml of cream and pour the elegant pale green mix into my trusty Tupperware Jel-Ring mould, then slide it into the freezer and hope for the best.

Needless to say, Hannah's husband's guacamole was delicious, with a lovely spiky touch of chilli with the creamy avocado. People knew I had brought dessert, but until I unmoulded the ring of pale green ice cream, no-one had a clue what it was. I quickly toasted some desiccated coconut in a dry pan, and sprinkled it on top as I scooped the ice cream into bowls.

Some people were a little reluctant, not wanting to be impolite, but also not very keen to try this unusual ice cream. But not for long. It was a real triumph. They really really loved it.

Next day, I had to send the recipe around on Facebook, and every couple of months since then, someone lets me know they have made it themselves. The Finnish guests couldn't get enough of it, and the recipe has now gone global!

Dare I try it with wasabi?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

You will always find me in the kitchen at festivals

I just heard today from the distributors in Dublin that I was the top-selling UK Tupperware consultant for the second quarter of 2011. Given that six months ago I had quit selling Tupperware after the UK distributor went out of business, I am very pleased with myself for doing so well. Thanks very much indeed to customers past, present and future, for your orders and your enthusiasm.

And it's full steam ahead for what is my most exciting Tupperware adventure yet -- my 3-day 1960 Tupperware party at the Vintage at Southbank festival next week. I was frankly daunted to be shown a 4 metre square blank space in the Royal Festival Hall last month, in which I have to create a kitchen set from scratch. I work alone, and I have pretty much zero budget, but I decided to face the challenge. The basic premise is that I am re-staging the first UK Tupperware party, which was in Weybridge in 1960, but I reckon I will be taking a lot of liberties with the period detail. But not only does my set need to showcase the Tupperware, and look more or less authentically 1960, but it needs to hold its own next to the professionally-designed and dressed living room set right next to me, hosted by Foyles bookshop. Sorry, I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit out of sheer terror. The festival organisers have trusted me to do a good job of it, despite my limited experience and resources, and I am determined to pull it off.

I have sourced some great period kitchen furniture from eBay -- although some of it will be going straight back onto eBay the day after the festival! I bought this lovely 1959 kitchen dresser, restored to its original glory, and I think I will be keeping it. I have ordered a roll of checkerboard lino for an authentic vintage kitchen feel, and I am trying to work out how to lay it without ruining the Festival Hall's wooden floor. Afterwards, I may well lay it in my own bathroom and kitchen. As well as all the Tupperware to dress the set and demonstrate for the punters, riffing on the classics I have been blogging here the last month or so, the lovely people at my local vintage shop, Radio Days in Waterloo, have been kind enough to lend me some original 1950s and 1960s items. These include a fantastic baby blue rotary telephone, a politically incorrect minstrel tea-cosy, some late 50s/early 60s magazines, and other gems. My sister Lois will be the party hostess, and she has bought a perfect 1950s frock for the occasion.

It is very exciting, and something new for me, to see my presence at the festival mentioned in the media:

I will be in the ticketed performance area inside the Royal Festival Hall, not in the public market area outside, but I do hope to have a chance to work the crowds outside in the market too, and hand out a few catalogues.

I am nervous, but definitely excited.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The art of Tupperware

I am thrilled that Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway have asked me to organise a Tupperware party as part of their Vintage at Southbank festival. For the weekend of 29 to 31 July, London's Royal Festival Hall will be transformed into a warren of venues and performance spaces, to celebrate and showcase British style and design of the the last seven decades. There is an amazing programme of music, films, performances, events, workshops, food and drink, and more; and there will be a vintage marketplace outside the RFH, which is open to all.

I will not, as you might expect, be in the marketplace. The Hemingways have instead asked me to create a retro kitchen set inside the ticketed area of the Royal Festival Hall, into which I will invite festival punters to join me and my hostess at a Tupperware party that celebrates fifty years of Tupperware as a classic piece of domestic product design. Very exciting, and quite daunting, but I am delighted and excited to be involved.

This is not the first time that my Tupperware parties have collided with the world of art and performance. In September 2008, I blogged about a Tupperware party hosted by bearded drag queen Miss Timberlina at a London Fashion Week party, in a beach hut decorated by Alesha Dixon. Then at the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I supplied Tupperware products and after-show sales for US Tupperware queen Dixie Longate. Sadly, my blog was on hiatus at that time, so there are no photos or reports from Dixie's show, but if she makes it back to the UK for more shows, I will be at her beck and call and will blog it all.

One performance for which I was actually paid as an artiste was Gay Shame Goes Girly, an event organised by the Duckie collective in 2009 as a tongue-in-cheek alternative to London's Gay Pride. A celebration of all things female, or matters perceived to be culturally female or feminine, I was brought in to do Tupperware Lady training. I prowled the event in my Tupperware pinny, with a tottering tower of Tupperware all Velcro-ed together, looking for likely recruits, of any gender. I used the official Tupperware training manual to ensure that each potential Lady had clean nails, had their hair off their face, and that they could do a decent product demonstration to their friends. Successful candidates became part of my sales force for the evening, for which I gave them a business card and a complimentary piece of Tupperware to demonstrate and keep.

Most recently, Goldsmiths fine art students Miguel Pacheco and Isaac Muñoz asked me to be part of their gallery show at the College. It was a performance assignment, but they had decided to get someone else to do the performance for them: my good self. I did a 20-minute potted party in the white gallery space, with a totally straight face, and without any concessions to the venue. I think an art critic would call it a transgressive interactive performance piece: as well as demonstrating some student-friendly Tupperware products, I drew a raffle, put a tutor in a gingham pinny as my hostess, and encouraged the international student audience to give Tupper-monials about their favourite products from their mothers' kitchens back home in Lisbon, Frankfurt, Budapest and Rio. At the end of the party, art met commerce and I took orders. Miguel and Isaac took a chance by allowing someone else to do their performance for them, but I think I did them proud.

My Tupperware parties at the Vintage Festival will take place across the whole weekend of 29 to 31 July, on the ground floor of the Royal Festival Hall. Festival ticket holders only, I'm afraid, but I will also be taking a turn around the market place now and again.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Tupperware Classics: Space Saver Ovals a.k.a Modular Mates

This photo is obviously a publicity shot. No-one in the real world would have kitchen storage like that. Would they?

Ladies and gentleman I refer you to Sandie, one of my first ever customers in 2006. When I delivered her order, she sweetly allowed me to take a snap of her larder. I refer you also to Leanne and Paul, who have hosted two fun parties at their lovely home in Woodmansterne, and who again were kind enough to allow me to photograph their kitchen in 2007.

A kitchen cupboard well-stocked with Space Savers is the sign of a hard-core Tupperware connoisseur, like those lovely customers I just mentioned. A snazzy lunchbox, water bottle or sandwich keeper is something you can show off, or showcase in the office fridge, but only you see the inside of your kitchen cupboards. Just imagine opening that door to bliss, not chaos.

The Space Saver range is another product that Tupperware could not stop, even though they tried. They had an ostentatious farewell party a couple of years back, and replaced them with the boxier and frankly superior Space Maker range. But, momentum and demand brought them back, and the Space Savers are still a mainstay of the catalogue. I find they are especially popular with my antipodean customers, who I suppose are used to being particularly scrupulous with the air-tight storage of dry food, protecting it from humidity and bugs.

The Space Saver is as well-designed a piece of Tupperware as any. Maybe more. It comes in four sizes -- five if you include the round spaghetti jar -- which correspond with food packaging sizes. Designed on the skyscraper principle, the Space Saver has a small "footprint" on your shelf or countertop, storing vertically to maximise space in my hostesses' bijou London kitchens.

Interestingly (to me, anyway), the Space Saver name is only used in the UK. In markets where kitchens and living spaces tend to be bigger, like Australia and the US, the name is Modular Mates, emphasising their stacking and tesselating qualities. Because with a selection of the different sizes, you can create stacks all the same height, which is very pleasing. The lip on the seal means they stack securely without toppling. Here's Leanne's stack for a perfect example. Opening your larder to see that, you don't have to be Bree Vanderkamp to feel a frisson of pleasure.

Once you look at it in detail, you realise what a feat of kitchengineering the Space Saver is. The container is lightly frosted to add to the uniform appearance when many are used, but there is a cutaway polished window, so you can see what's inside. The seal has two separate openings, a small one for pouring and a large one for scooping. The seal opens flush against the side of the product, so there is no clogging or backwash when you pour something like flour. The Space Saver is slim, and fits comfortably and ergonomically in the hand. At a party, I sometimes make a saucy remark about that, depending on the mood of the crowd.

You can get a sheet of reusable labels for your Space Savers. No need to arrange them in alphabetical order though.

As a treat, here's my favourite relative Aunt Barbara, the top-selling Tupperware lady in the US, demonstrating them for you:

B01 Oval 1 500ml £8.00
B02 Oval 2 1.1L £8.80
B03 Oval 3 1.7L £9.65
B04 Oval 4 2.3L £11.05
B13 Round 5 1.1L £7.95
B25 Container labels £2.10

Monday, June 27, 2011

Tupperware Classics: Sandwich Keeper

Tupperware is keen on coining new names for its products. I have a soft spot for the Eleganzia range, which I always say in RuPaul's voice, but the Bake 2 Basics range is one pun too many for me. And there is a lot of 'n': Grab'n'Cut (scissors), Heat'n'Serve (microwave dish), and Sip'n'Care (baby's cup).

I also like the idea of naming the product in a way that suggests it is not just passively storing your food, but actively taking care of it. Doing the job so you don't have to. So your cake is not in a tin, but in the Cake Taker; and your sandwich is not in a box but in the Sandwich Keeper.

The Sandwich Keeper is a very humble product, almost the cheapest thing in the catalogue. It is the product I recommend to party guests who don't really want to buy anything, but who don't want to be impolite to the hostess. It feels like a classic, hence its inclusion here, but that's maybe because there is something a bit old school and retro about a sandwich made with sliced bread. You certainly wouldn't get a baguette, roll, or doorstep butty in there.

Don't underestimate the Sandwich Keeper. It is beautifully designed. There is no seal to store (or lose), because it is attached, which is a blessing. The Sandwich Keeper's compactness, slim with the rounded edges, is very pleasing on the eye and in the hand. It is a minor feat of engineering too, with what Tupperware grandly calls a "living hinge", all moulded from one piece of plastic. There are no separate pieces to fall apart, get lost, or harbour crumbs or germs. The clasp is also integral, and will not pop open when carried.

A nice feature is that it is designed with a proper top and bottom. The bottom has four little feet that keep it slightly raised above the counter top to avoid scratches. According to my product guide from Tupperware HQ, the sandwich icon etched on the top of the Keeper adds "a touch of humour", which even I admit might be pushing it a bit.

The Sandwich Keeper currently comes in the same colours as the Sports Bottle, and customers do indeed tend to buy them together for children's school lunches, no doubt packed in smart West London kitchens. On my consultant order form, intriguingly the colours are marked "Boy" and "Girl". At first glance in the catalogue, you would say "Green" and "Pink" -- but hold your horses, and look closer. In a camp flourish worthy of Eleganzia herself, the choice of colours is actually a manly "Tang" or a womanly "Fuchsia".

K26 Fuchsia Sandwich Keeper: £5.10
K27 Tang Sandwich Keeper: £5.10
Limited edition Hello Kitty Sandwich Keeper: £7.65
Limited edition Spongebob Sandwich Keeper: £7.20

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tupperware Classics: Tiwi Ice Tups

"Tiwi" is a teddy bear character devised and copyrighted by the Tupperware Brands corporation, but he seems to have never quite caught on with children. There have been a number of Tiwi branded products over the years, and he does still feature in some knick-knacks like colouring books and keyrings that I can use to keep hostesses' children out of my face while I am trying to entertain her guests. But Tiwi is pretty much toast, usurped by Hello Kitty and Spongebob Squarepants, both of whom are licensed for kids' Tupperware products that I can occasionally supply.

Funnily enough, Tiwi's last remaining product is one of Tupperware's most beloved and classic: the Tiwi Ice Tups, a.k.a. the Tupperware ice lolly makers. When I say beloved, I mean of course beloved by parents, not by the children they are aimed at. I am a childless bachelor, but even I know that just as children prefer Spongebob to Tiwi, they would generally choose a Fab or a Funny Foot over a frumpy home-made ice lolly.

Still, the Ice Tups are a fun and iconic product, and they always prompt cries of nostalgia when folks see them, and as such they are definitely worthy of their place in this countdown of classics. The set consists of a stand and 6 moulds, each stick featuring Tiwi himself. You also get a couple of extra seals and sticks for when they get lost (and they will). You fill the moulds with fruit juice. coulis, milk shake, smoothie or yogurt, then give them a few hours in the freezer to make healthy and original bespoke ice lollies.

But face the truth. If you order Tiwi Ice Tups from me, they are for you, not for your children. So why not make some grown-up lollies for yourself. If there was time at a Tupperware party to prepare and freeze lollies, I would be filling the moulds with coffee ice cream laced with a slug of Kahlua, then dipping them in melted chocolate before a quick re-freeze. Or I would make these fantastic and easy Pimms ice-lollies.

I have run Tupperware stalls at many summer fetes and fayres, and even though there are some quite spendy items on my display, it had never occurred to me that they are tempting thieves. Strangely, the only product that has ever been stolen is a set of the Tiwi Ice Tups, at the St Barnabus Community fair in Bow, East London. I blogged the whole sorry saga back in September 2008.

K20 Tiwi Ice Tups £19.45
Kahlua and Pimms from your local suppliers

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tupperware Classics: Shape-O

This rather arty shot of the Tupperware Shape-O toy comes from the Australian blog Babyology: Modern Finds for Hip Kids and Parents. Modern? Hip? For a toy that hasn't changed in 50 years, that is quite an accolade. As the blog says, the toy has retained its iconic status because "the Shape-O teaches shapes, colours and logic as well as being a super rolling rattle for bubs".

I find that almost everyone knows the Shape-O from childhood, but that many folks are surprised that it is a Tupperware product. In fact, the Tupperware catalogue has always had one or two products unconnected with food, usually toys. Remember the Pop a Lot. Tupperdiva's fantastic website has a gallery featuring Tupperware toys from 1965 to 1989 -- including the Amphibio and Totempails, which were briefly available again last year during Tupperware's UK 50th anniversary. Today's UK catalogue features the Shape-O, and also the pleasingly old-fashioned Stencil Set that Brianna and Chelsea are enjoying in this 90-second YouTube clip. Note Chelsea's product placement of the Shape-O at the end of the clip!

All the classic Tupperware pieces I am blogging about have had some subtle colour changes over the years, usually to reflect changing tastes in kitchen decor. A 1970s solid opaque orange Quick Shake for sure looks a little too old-school for most current tastes, and it now comes in a see-through colour that the catalogue calls Custard. And while it's true that a Google image search will return a very few Shape-O's that have dabbled with a different palette, that was a very brief interlude. I can certainly only supply them in the classic and timeless red and blue, with yellow shapes.

The Shape-O is a fantastic toy, and brilliantly designed to take children through different stages of play and learning. For the very youngest children, 6 months and up, it is a ball that makes a cool noise because of the shapes inside, and that is easy to pick up by the holes. Eventually the child will learn to pull the little handles connected to elastic, which opens the ball to release the yellow shapes. Posting the pieces back inside the ball teaches about shapes and logic. And when that gets old, each shape features an etched number and dots, for number learning.

A Shape-O is built to last, and they are often passed down from parent to child. I know from my customers that it is also a popular nostalgic gift for an adult friend or family member. The mini-version, attached to a keyring, would probably be my best-seller, if I could get hold of them in any quantity.

Naturally, sometimes the shapes themselves get lost. A very determined and strong pair of children who try to stretch the two halves as far apart as possible might eventually snap the elastic. Spares are available from me.

K02 Shape-O toy: £21.15
Spare shapes and elastic: £1 each
Shape-O key ring: Good luck. Try eBay.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tupperware Classics: Square Rounds

Of all the Tupperware classics, the Square Rounds are probably the most timeless and iconic. Whether it's the roomy 800ml size shown here, or the lower-slung 400ml version, it is a sorry kitchen that doesn't have some Square Rounds. Air-tight, water-tight, cool-looking -- perfect.

Once they were an all-purpose Tupperware container, but Square Rounds have really come into their own for freezer storage. The high-quality polymer material stays flexible at freezer temperatures, so a quick dip in warm water and a squeeze will loosen the solid contents with no need for a knife or pounding. The stackable design, seal with its raised lip, and slight tapering towards the base allow for maximum air-flow and quick freezing.

Originally both the container and the seal came in a milky white. The colours have chopped and changed over the years, and the font used on the seal has updated every few decades, from 50s diner-menu style through 70s bubble writing to today's Helvetica Bold. They went solid orange in the 70s (what didn't?), but they now have settled into a frosty white, with bold single-coloured seals. The current Freezer Starter Set consists of two each of the 800ml and 400ml sizes, and a longer Double Diner with their seals in orange, dark pink, and red. An audacious use of very similar colours together, but it works. Interestingly, the Double Diner name itself is a throwback to an earlier time, because it originally came with a divider, for use as a lunch box.

People sometimes say, "What is the big deal, Tupperware Man? I use plastic tubs from the Chinese takeaway, or old Flora pots. They are free." I am all for a bargain, but frankly I think Square Rounds are value for money. How many of the kitchens we grew up in still have Tupperware products that are 30, 40 even 50 years old, and still going strong, having paid for themselves hundreds of times over. I have to say I do also have plastic tubs from the Chinese takeaway: they are what I use when I send people home with leftovers. My Tupperware Square Rounds never leave the house.

If you buy Square Rounds now, they have a subtle (and for Tupperware, very rare) surface design: an abstract snowflake pattern etched all around the sides, as you can see in the photo. But otherwise they are identical to their 50s ancestors. I can stack some of my grandma's original milky white ones with mine, seamlessly.

Here's a Tupperware party tip: pour a layer of melted chocolate laced with a few drops of mint essence onto the seal, just enough to just reach the brim of the raised edges. Into the fridge it goes, and you soon have some classy thin mints.

D03 Freezer Square Rounds, 4 x 400ml: £17.65
D05 Freezer Square Rounds, 2 x 800ml: £9.90
D11 Freezer Starter Set (2 x 400ml, 2 x 800ml, 1 Double Diner 1.3L: £29.25

Tupperware classics: Quick Shake

A couple of years ago, someone at Tupperware decided the Quick Shake needed a bit of a revamp. It was redesigned and repackaged for the naughties as a smoothie maker. Frankly, you mess with perfection at your peril, and like New Coke, the gussied-up Quick Shake was soon airbrushed from history, and the original reinstated.

The Quick Shake's printed scale makes it a handy measuring jug for up to 500ml of liquid, but it is when you add the little blender wheel and seal that it performs the real magic. Pop the wheel in, snap on the seal, and then you can beat eggs in a few shakes, and whip cream in a few more. Many a 1960s housewife Quick Shaked (Shook?) her Yorkshire pudding mix for maximum airy magic, and many still do.

The Quick Shake of the 1970s was probably solid opaque orange. Then it went clear, and for many years had a dark blue seal as seen here -- or a hot pepper red for the occasional limited edition. It now comes in "custard", with just an orange blender wheel as a subtle call-back to its 1970s glory days.

I have shaken Bloody Marys and Martinis, and at one memorable Tupperware spa party in Highbury, I shook olive oil with rock salt and a spring of rosemary from the garden for summer sandal foot lotion. You can also save a fortune on frappucinos by shaking your own. And don't forget the air-tight seal allows you to keep the contents fresh until if you need them: one of my more outdoorsy hostesses cracks half a dozen eggs into the Quick Shake and packs it with the camping gear, dispensing the beaten eggs as she needs them for camp breakfasts.

The Quick Shake is still one of my best selling items, and most fondly remembered by customers. And I don't just supply complete Quick Shakes: every month or so, I get a breathless and panicky voice mail or email, from someone whose Quick Shake blender wheel was lost in a house move, or whose Quick Shake seal has lost the little flip-cap or been melted on the hob. I supply both pieces as spare parts, and you know what, I usually just pop them in an envelope without even asking for any payment. The idea of an incomplete Quick Shake is too tragic, and I am happy to put it right. It's what any Tupperware Man would do.

E86 Quick Shake 500ml in custard and orange: £9.90
Spare blender insert and flip-cap: usually free