• One door shuts and another door opens

    This week was a busy week at the Coln Community Stores as one of my colleagues is on a much deserved holiday abroad.

    Rather than just doing four days, I am doing six and five out of the six started at 5.30 am.  Monday through to Wednesday, the early starts were fine, but by Thursday early starts on about five and a half hours sleep were starting to get to me.  After a short shift on Thursday (5.30 am to 11 am, albeit that I should have finished at 10 am if there hadn’t been an impromptu sandwich making requirement) I decided that I was going to have a nap before I started the daily chores.  After a quick cup of tea and a snack, I fell asleep only to wake up less than an hour later feeling decided disorientated.  With the sun streaming through the curtained windows, despite heavy duty lining, my first thought was that I had forgotten to set the alarm and was now late for my morning shift at the Stores.  With panic coarsing through my veins, the fog of an afternoon sleep began to dissipate and I realised that I had indeed fallen asleep after and not before I had completed my morning shift.  Calmed by a cup of Yorkshire tea, I began some mundane domestic tasks as well as tried to focus on some of the tasks which I had started but had not yet finished.

    Given that I was working to a ‘to do’ list, I will share my ‘to do’ list with you:

    1. Send Jo a copy of my birthday list i.e. a list of presents which I am hoping to receive from family members on my next birthday (helpful, rather than greedy hints, I hope) – PS he did ask me to send them to him.
    2. Finish the proposal for the Coln Community Stores cafe i.e. something which the manager asked me to put together in advance of the next Committee meeting.  You will be glad to hear that I completed and send this to my manager yesterday.
    3. Complete overtime sheet for Coln Community Stores.
    4. Send Rob, the owner of Lynwood & Co some of the ideas I had (some time ago) about diversifying Lynwood & Co’s offering.
    5. Put together some meal ideas for an elderly couple who are looking for someone to cook for them on a regular basis.

    Although all of my ‘to do’ list items could be expanded upon, the two which best highlight the title of my blog are no. 4 and 5.

    With reference to no. 4, Rob’s response to my ideas was very positive and I was glad to hear that he had similar thoughts and in fact was already implementing some of them unbeknownst to me – I am very much out of the loop at Lynwood & Co. since I went part time and even more so now that I am on a leave of absence.  A leave of absence which may be permanent, but which at this stage I am not sure.  Anyway, on the back of this, he rang me yesterday and asked me whether I would work with him in coming up with a fruit loaf for Lynwood & Co’s collaboration with Stay Cotswolds.  A collaboration in which Lynwood & Co provides a welcome gift of sourdough bread, granola and coffee.  They want to extend this gift to include a fruit loaf.  As I type this blog my first attempt at a fruit loaf for this venture is cooling in the kitchen.  It smells delicious.  Let’s hope it tastes delicious.  I am just waiting for it to cool enough to cut a slice to test.  Depending on the outcome, I might be taking my first attempt up to Rob’s house for testing this evening.  If the taste does not match the smell, it will be back to the drawing board tomorrow with a second attempt.   So the reference to doors in this anecdote is that even if the main door of Lynwood & Co. is shut (although I am not sure if this is the case yet), there may be a small door, which a small person could enter and do a bit as a side line.  This may just be a one off, but we will just have to wait and see.

    With reference to no. 5,  I was at work at the Coln Community Stores on Tuesday when an elderly gentleman came into the shop with an inquiry about his account, as well as asked to put a notice on the notice board.  Being nosy I took a quick peek before I posted it to see what it was about.  I note mentioned that the residents of one of the bigger houses in the next village were looking for someone to cook evening meals for them.  I thought this may be of interest to me so to cut a long story short, I met the residents on Tuesday to find out what they were after; informed them of a potential rate of pay on Wednesday and left some meal ideas for them on Friday with a note of how we could proceed if they were still interested.  Although very excited about the prospect on Tuesday, albeit a bit apprehensive, by Wednesday my enthusiasm was waning a bit and by Friday I was becoming quite uncertain.  I really do just want to bake and in a way, I am not sure whether I want anything else to get in the way of my end game.  Yes, it could be a means to an end, as well as could lead to other things, but at the moment, I am not sure.  The ball is currently in their court.  I doubt they will call me over the weekend, so I will just need to wait to see what next week brings.  So with reference to doors in this anecdote, a reading of a note has potentially opened a new door.  I am just not sure at this point whether I want to enter the door.

  • Back to ‘normality’

    Time seems to have gone very quickly since we left Watergate Bay via St Mawes and a quick stop at The Hidden Hut cafe for lunch.  “The Hidden Hut is a small cafe with a big difference. Found tucked away along the National Trust coastal path near Portscatho and St Mawes on the Roseland Peninsula, Cornwall; its a special spot to enjoy freshly cooked food with friends and family” (www.hiddenhut.co.uk).  I can’t really recall how I found out about The Hidden Hut, but I think I came across their cookbook in one of my magazines and decided to purchase it.  The description of the book is ‘irresistible recipes from Cornwall’s best-kept secret’.  I discovered, when I was down in Cornwall that The Hidden Hut is no longer Cornwall’s best-kept secret following an episode of “Cornwall with Caroline Quentin” which featured the restaurant.  At lunch, which is served between 12 and 3 pm, queues start forming very quickly as customers line up to taste the delicious food on the menu..  The food and The Hidden Hut experience did not disappoint and after a quick paddle board in the nearby bay. we made our way back to Coln St Aldwyns via Heathfiled (to pick up Montague from the dog sitter) and Ivybridge to see two of my four nieces.

    The holiday was soon forgotten with another six day week.  l was well until Wednesday when I had a very long day at Lynwood.  With another cafe opening in Burford, the prep list got bigger – two types of breakfast pots, two types of wrap, two types of salad pots plus the regular menu items and cakes.  After 9 to 10 hours in the kitchen and with me just about to go home to let Montague out (the dog sitter was away on holiday), I thought I would take a quick look at the orders for the Fairford and Burford cafes.  Good and bad thing that I did, as both cafes needed banana bread and on closer inspection of the cakes, I realised that we had no banana bread.  So rather than getting to go home for the evening, I went home to let Montague out and have a quick cup of tea and then turned around and went back to Lynwood to bake four banana loaves.  I finally got home after 8 pm, only to spend the rest of the evening getting ready for a 5.30 am start at the Coln Community Stores.  I started to get niggling pain on Wednesday evening and this got increasingly worse over the next couple of days.  Although I managed to work at Coln Community Stores on Thursday and Friday, by Friday, I had to resort to taking Tramadol to curb the pain.  I tried to get out of my shift at Lynwood on Sunday, but the Head Chef did not respond to my email to request a day off (he was on holiday and was not responding to emails), so I went in despite having not felt well for four days.   The less I say about the Sunday, the best.  Let’s just say that on the back of Sunday’s shift,  I decided to take a leave of absence from Lynwood until the production kitchen is up and running.

    The following week, I used the time that I would have been at Lynwood to organise a few things for setting up the baking business from home.  I ordered a limited number of business cards and stickers (I didn’t want to get carried away), as well as a large shelving unit for our kitchen to ensure that all my baking paraphernalia is in one place and easily accessible.   I am also waiting for a mock-up of personalised aprons from Banksford.  My business cards, stickers and shelving unit have all arrived and Jo and I spent Tuesday evening setting up the shelves and decanting all my equipment onto them.  Scary how much baking equipment I have when you see it all in one place.  We had to reorganise the kitchen slightly, but I now have a baking area, set up with all my equipment and a work surface free of clutter.  Certainly not the biggest baking area, but a baking area nevertheless.  Next step is to produce flyers to promote my home-baking business and distribute them to relevant places.

    I also used my Lynwood-free time to try out a few more bakes from BBC Good Food.  I tried their sticky malt loaf; bitter orange and poppy seed loaf and chocolate and banana loaf.  I have to say that every single one of the bakes was absolutely delicious.  My opinion of the deliciousness of the bakes was endorsed by those who tried them as well.  The greatest endorsement most probably came from one of the village residents (and a friend) who had suggested that he had bought a lemon drizzle cake from the Coln Community Stores, which wasn’t to his liking (apparently ‘too moist’ and no-one likes the ‘m’ word).  I decided to leave him a slice of the bitter orange and poppy seed cake to taste, before popping down to the pub to meet a couple of friends for a meal and a drink or two.  The following morning, the gentleman came into the Coln Community Store and took me aside to tell me that the bitter orange and poppy seed cake was the best cake that he had ever eaten.  I couldn’t say enough about how much he had enjoyed the cake.  It made me feel that maybe, just maybe I do get something right.

    I should possibly mention that thanks to five retweets, one from BBC Good Food, the sticky malt loaf received 46 likes on Twitter.  Similarly, a retweet from BBC Good Food, along with 10 other retweets, meant that my chocolate and banana loaf received 58 likes on Twitter.

    In addition to trying out three loaf cakes, a weekend visit from my in-laws, which included a picnic at a swing band event in Coln St Aldwyns meant that I needed to do a bit more baking.  Along with a number of salads, I made a very decadent salmon and onion quiche with the flakiest of short-crust pastry using a simple short-crust pastry from BBC Good Food.  The decadence came from a combination of Parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese and smoked cheese.  Dessert was Eton Mess in jars, made with homemade mini meringues using a Martha Collinson meringue recipe.   Delicious, but could have been a little colder.  Note to self, if taking dessert to a picnic make sure you have a good cool box.

    All baked out, I will stop this blog post now as having written down all my antics, I think I need a lie down.  Actually I jest, I am off to the shops to buy more baking ingredients for my weekend bakes.  But more of these later.

  • Watergate Bay, Canteen and all things Cornwall

    Whilst one of my employer’s, Lynwood & Co, has been opening their third restaurant, I have been quite absent and languishing at the Watergate Bay Hotel.  Now, I am not one to usually languish, or at least not languish for long, but I have languished long and very well, thank you very much, while I have been at the Watergate Bay Hotel.  Okay I had one day of not languishing yesterday, but more of that later.

    Up until today, the weather has been a little dreary so I have been spending most of my time within the four walls of the Watergate Bay Hotel.  I guess, not quite four walls, as I have been migrating between our rather luxurious bedroom, the Spa lounge and the Living Room i.e. the more casual eating place at the hotel.   Although we have ventured out to eat at the Beach Hut and Wax, both in Watergate Bay, after eating at the Living Room on day two of our stay, we decided that the food was surprisingly good for hotel food and have eaten here every evening since, bar last night.  More about the food later as it definitely deserves a mention.

    Other than eating, which I have done a lot of, I have been pampering myself.  Last time I wrote, I mentioned having a somewhat unsuccessful back, neck and shoulder massage.  Since then, I have had a very successful special manicure, a pedicure (my toenails are now adorned with coral gel nail varnish – all very summery) and a drench facial.  The treatments plus a concerted effort at drinking more water and less alcohol and choosing vegetable based meals have left me feeling a lot better than when I started my holiday.  I even treated myself to ‘The Green One’ smoothie in the Spa, a smoothie made from apple, spinach, cucumber, avocado, mint, grapes and lime.  I have always shied away from vegetable smoothies (favouring fruit ones instead), but my colleague, Charlotte, swears by them so I thought I would give one a go.  The result of all of this is that my skin, rather than looking like a parched desert or lizard skin, is looking more hydrated and human-like.  It certainly is not a miracle cure in anyway, just some progress has been made.

    You will be glad to hear that I haven’t just been languishing and over-indulging, I have been doing exercise along the way.  In addition to our workout on Sunday night, I have exercised everyday except yesterday.  On Monday, we did a cardio and weight session in the gym, followed by 20 lengths of the pool.  On Tuesday, I did my first yoga session followed by a 6 mile run after lunch.  As predicted, I was the most uncoordinated person at yoga, but the yoga-teacher was very good at praising people for what they achieved (not what they didn’t achieve), even me on the rare occasion I did something right.  I don’t think I will be rushing back, but it was a good experience.  On Wednesday we attempted an early-morning stand-up paddle board in the sea (all I will say about this experiment is that in our heads it seemed a lot easier), followed by 80 lengths of the pool in the evening.  I still need to get out today, but more about that later.

    I have also drafted quite a bit of my business plan and come up with some menu ideas.  I am still not entirely sure if I am on the right track, but lets just hope that my ideas are evolutionary and that my final idea resembles something which is fit enough to survive rather than the weakest link or something worthy of extinction.  Speaking of the weakest link, before my holiday and when I was working in the Coln Community Stores, I was doing some work on the computer in the back room, while keeping an eye on the shop, when I heard a loud holler, ‘Shop!’.   I made my way to the till, made my apologies for making the customer wait and then looked up at the customer.  It took a while for me to recognise the customer as she was wearing a baseball cap and dark glasses, but then it dawned on me that it was Anne Robinson.  Reflecting on the voice with which she called me to attend to her needs, it was the same tone as she would say, ‘you are the weakest link, goodbye’.

    On Monday or Tuesday, I can’t recall which (nor is it important, really), Jo came back from Otter Surfboards extolling the virtues of a place, called Canteen, where he had eaten lunch with his fellow surfboard makers.  I quick Google search later, I had found out about what looked like exciting sister eating places/adventures i.e. the Woodfired Canteen (‘a catering company that cooks over wood fire for people that share memories around tables’) and Canteen (‘Breakfast, coffee, lunch, cake – events as and when’).  Inspired by their website and Jo’s glowing review, I decided to get in touch with them to see whether I could work for them for a day to get an insight into what they did.  I was lucky to get a morning in the Canteen kitchen yesterday, followed by lunch at Canteen (a delicious meal of smoked sweet potato, chipotle butter, creme fraiche, mozzarella, rocket with a sprinkling of seeds, nuts etc.) and an afternoon at Otter Surfboards, waiting for Jo to complete his day of shaping his surfboard.

    Although I did a bit of veg prep for lunch service and the evening event, perhaps my ‘biggest’ contributions were helping make the tabbouleh (this was the basis for the meat menu item which was smoked harissa chicken, fresh tomato and preserved lemon tabbouleh, tahini and dukka and the flat breads.   I made the flatbread dough (which thank goodness rose), portioned it, rolled it and then painstakingly cooked them over an open fire – all 36-40 of them, which I had to cook four at a time.  With one casualty (one of the nicest flat breads falling between the grill into the embers below), windswept hair (I knew I should have worn my headband) and my newly washed hair smelling of BBQ, I proudly presented my offering of freshly made flat breads to the Head Chef, which were thank goodness good enough for lunch service.  As you will see from the photo, they are quite char-grilled.  More than I would have liked, but as I was instructed to do.  What I should mention about Canteen is that its lunch service consists of two dishes (created daily depending on ingredients, chef’s inspiration and adaptability), a vegetarian dish which can become vegan and a meat dish.  One of the elements being wood-fired.  A simple idea, but it seems to work according to the write-ups in Olive Magazine, Cornwall Living etc. and the presence of the Woodfired Canteen at festivals like Feastival and Wilderness.

    Oh, yes, I mentioned earlier that the food at the Living Space deserved a mention.  I just want to point out that this is not an afterthought but rather saving the best to last (okay, the Canteen experience was sort of best as well).  At the risk of making you drool, here are some of the meals we ate at the Watergate Bay Hotel:

    • Salt and pepper squid: Japanese seven spice and wasabi mayo
    • Moroccon halloumi salad: roasted vegetables with almond duqqa, dates, crispy chickpeas with tahini and turmeric dressing
    • Beetroot, portobello mushroom and blue cheese falafel burger: Da Bara oregano ciabbatta, roasted portobello mushrooms, beetroot falafel and blue cheese with cashew aioli and fries
    • Fishcakes: hand rolled haddock, white fish and salmon fishcakes served on Romesco sauce with peppery rocket
    • Veggie pastrami ciabatta: sweet potato pastrami, Rajas salsa and sour cream on a Da Bara oregano and onion ciabatta

    I absolutely loved all the dishes, but was particularly intrigued by the veggie pastrami and Rajas salsa.  No sooner had I finished my meal, I started Googling sweet potato pastrami and am now armed with recipes for both which I will try at home.

  • “Change is inevitable, progress is optional”

    I feel like I haven’t done much but yet have been very busy.  Three weeks with one day off, means that I have started my holiday in Cornwall very tired indeed.  This was evidenced by the fact that I slept on and off the whole way down from Swindon to Watergate Bay yesterday, with the exception of lunch and a comfort stop.  As if this was not enough sleep, I fell asleep again around 9/9.30 pm last night and slept through to 6ish this morning.  Possibly the early night was aided by the fact that after we arrived yesterday afternoon, we decided to do a beach workout before we went to dinner at the Beach Hut.  After bear crawls, duck walks, hero carries, wheelbarrows, walking lunges, push ups, burpees, squats, handstand dips and planks, we were decidedly knackered and a little sore when we went to dinner.  Being anaesthetised by a glass of wine was the final trick in sleep induction.

    I wish I could say that I am feeling refreshed this morning, but as I write this post in the relaxing spa lounge of the Watergate Bay Hotel, overlooking the beach, I feel that my eyelids are already getting heavy.  I feel that my massage at 11.10 am this morning may send me over the edge again into deep slumber.  So with that thought in mind, I had better get some writing done before I fall asleep.

    In terms of the reference to progress in the title of my blog, perhaps the biggest developments since last time I wrote is that I finished getting to grip with the Safer Food, Better Business document and I had my meeting with the environmental health officer.  She was happy with everything and I should be receiving a copy of her report shortly.  Our landlord has also approved me operating a business out of our rental property subject to getting the correct insurance in place.  In his words, he wants us ‘to be happy in No. 13’.  We are very grateful for his support as running a business from home is contrary to our tenancy agreement.

    My next step is to iron out my business model (still not sure exactly what I want to do or how I want to do it).  My ‘job’ is to complete this while I am on holiday this week.  It may sound a bit backwards to have set up my ‘business’ (and I say that loosely) before I know what I am doing, but I wanted to register my business so that I could bake/cook for people from home if I was requested to do so.   I guess it was also spurred on by cooking pizzas for the Coln St Aldwyns fete in September.  I want everything in place by then.

    With reference to change in the title of my blog, the only other thing I have really done since last I wrote is that I have been tinkering with the apple and rhubarb, vegan loaf that I originally made for Lynwood & Co at the Head Chef’s request.  My first attempt replaced the apple and rhubarb with nectarines and raspberries.  My second attempt used peaches instead of nectarines.  I tried the nectarine and raspberry version as I experimented with this at home, but the peach and raspberry version was too warm when I left work on Wednesday.  I did ask the owner’s wife to try the nectarine and raspberry version and she gave it the thumbs up.  I am still waiting to hear whether the Head Chef liked it or whether he tweaked it again.  He did like my Instagram post of it, which might have been his thumbs up.  I will post this variation of my vegan cake under recipes in case anyone wants to try it.

    On this note, I am going to end this post as my massage is fast approaching and I need to get ready to relax.

    Well my massage is over and according to the therapist, I did not, but need to relax more.  Without being rude, ‘tell me something I don’t already know’.  Despite not relaxing (someone, please teach me how), I think it was still time well spent.  Although I requested more pressure as I knew the instant the therapist began to massage me that I my back had more knots than a boating knot guide, the pressure was a bit too intense at times which made it difficult to relax.  She did suggest that I advise her if the pressure was too firm but I didn’t have the heart to tell her as it was me who asked her to increase the pressure in the first place.

    Oh, I just remembered that I also made a delicious carrot cake loaf with excess carrots which we ordered for the Coln Community Stores.  Okay, it was Jo but I asked him to order them at the end of a busy shift which he was helping me with on the recent Bank Holiday Monday.   Apparently he asked the supplier for the usual amount and they sent 3 kg rather than 1 kg.  I suppose all’s well that ends well as we got a carrot cake out of the excess, which was enjoyed by my colleagues at the Coln Community Stores.  Jo unfortunately missed out as I was putting the finishing touches to the cake when he walked out of the house for one of his business trips.

  • 60 ‘Maltese’ cupcakes

    Looking back at my Instagram account, it doesn’t look like I have done a huge amount since I last wrote.

    Perhaps the most significant events, although not very significant in themselves, are that I got to bake the 60 cupcakes for the customer order which I mentioned in my last post and I trialed our proposed pizzas for the Coln St Aldwyns fete, which is to be held in September.

    On Friday evening, after an early morning shift at the Coln Community Stores (5.30 to 10.30 am); a quick trip to Fairford to pick up some ingredients; a two-hour mow of the lawns to get our garden sort of in order for visitors, I set about making pizza; tomato sauce and caramelised onion, and preparing the toppings for 11, eight inch pizza.  You might ask why, 11 pizzas.  Well, we have just purchased a pizza stacker with 11 slots for 11 pizza trays.  Our mission (Jo was in charge of cooking them in our new Uuni Pro) was to see how many pizzas we could cook in a certain amount of time, in preparation of the Coln St Aldwyns fete.  We are hoping to cook 60-80 pizzas in two hours at the fete.  Limited by only two toppings (the organiser’s suggestion), pepperoni and  caramelised onion and goat’s cheese, we prepared and cooked 11 eight, inch pizzas, which were tasted by 6 of the fete’s organisers to determine whether they were worthy of appearing on the fete’s menu.  With Jo able to cook 6 in 9 minutes, and a thumbs up particularly to the caramelised onion & goat’s cheese topping (the firm favourite, not surprising given the discerning palates of the organisers), we have been given the go ahead to appear on the fete’s menu.  The leftover pizza dough (I made enough for 16 pizzas), together with the caramelised onion (of which there was loads), tomato sauce and goat’s cheese were made into a delicious calzone with added anchovies and mushrooms.  I think after the trial run and the calzone, we were all pizza’d out for a while.

    If cooking a shed load of pizzas on Friday night was not enough, on Saturday, after 6 days straight at work (albeit between the two jobs), I went to work ready to make 60 cupcakes (actually I made over 80 to ensure that I had 60 decent cupcakes for the customer) along with preparing what else needed to be made for general cafe use.  I didn’t envisage that some of my day would be spent supporting the front of house chef as it was a very busy day at the cafe.

    I made a decision to make the cupcake mixture in two batches as I didn’t want the mixture to sit around for too long before putting it in the oven.  I painstakingly made the first batch of mixture and took my time filling the cupcake cases.  I adjusted the oven to 10 degrees below the suggested 180 degrees Celsius as the recipe I was using did not specify if the suggested temperature was for a conventional or fan oven and baked the cupcakes for 20 minutes (the recipe suggested 20 – 25 minutes baking).  A skewer test suggested that the cakes should be cooked so I took them out of the oven.  In retrospect, I should have taken them out a couple of minutes later but retrospect was too late at this time.  That being said, after letting them cool for a while, and cutting open 3 or 4 cakes just to be sure that they were cooked (the less decent looking cakes) the cupcakes revealed themselves to be of a very light and decent texture.  With my first batch of cupcakes cooling, I set about making my second batch of cupcake mixture.  With time pressure on me, I tried to hasten the cake mixture (I thought that maybe I had been a little too cautious the first time around).  The result was that the second batch of mixture was not quite as good as the first and there were fewer cupcakes in the second batch that I thought were worthy of finishing off for the customer.  In retrospect (there is that word again), I should have made a single batch of cupcake mixture (our industrial mixer needs a lot of ingredients to ensure that it mixes them properly).  Irrespective, I had 60 plus cakes worthy of icing out of the two batches.

    Towards the end of the shift, we started the task of making the icing for and then icing, all the cupcakes.  The intention was that my colleague, who bakes and decorates cakes in her spare time would ice the cupcakes, as I never feel that this is my forte.  The first challenge was to get half the icing red enough.  Armed with 6 tubes of extra strong Dr Oetker gel red, food colouring, we attempted to get the correct colouring.  It was a deep pink rather than red.  My colleague made the correct call to try to add some more colouring.  A quick message to my husband Jo, saw the arrival of three more tubes of Dr Oetker.  These did the trick.  The second challenge was to ensure that the icing was firm enough to ice the cupcakes (it was sweltering in the kitchen) – a short chill in the fridge did the trick.  The third and final challenge was to get an even swirl of white and red icing on top of each cupcake.  My colleague used a method used by her aunt, which was to wrap the two coloured icings separately in cling film and the place them in a large piping bag to pipe.  This method ensures that the colours do not mix when piping.  Ingenious!

    After all the icing prep, which took much longer than expected we set about icing the cupcakes, 60 for the customer and the rest for the staff.  A test by my colleague and me revealed that I could in fact ice neater than her so it became my task to ice the cupcakes.  80 iced cupcakes later, 60 of which were left neatly tucked in boxes in the fridge (it was too hot in the kitchen to leave them out – it was the right call as the icing on the ones that we left out for staff, melted slightly), we left for the day, praying that the cupcakes would be okay in the morning.  As I had the Fairford 10km run on the Sunday morning, I was not going to be around for the pick up.  To end this rather long-winded story about the life of a cupcake, lets just say that they were picked up and that the feedback from the customer yesterday was very positive.  The customer came into see me personally to thank me for the cupcakes.  She said that they were more than she had expected and that her Mother (whose Birthday it was) had tears (of joy, I should add) when she saw the cupcakes.  The sentiment most probably came from the colouring of the cupcakes, rather than the cakes themselves as the red and white was supposed to represent the Maltese flag and their heritage.

    Going back to the Fairford 10km.  It was a very fast race with the winner averaging a speed of over 18km an hour.  Although we didn’t place well we were happy with out time of 47.22 minutes.  Our goal was to achieve a sub 50 minute 10km, which we did.  After the race I did a short stint in the kitchen at Lynwood & Co (2-3 hours) and then some paddle boarding and canoeing with my husband, sister and nephew.  Needless to say that we were exhausted so resorted to pub meal and a glass or two of wine at the New Inn.  While at the pub, we got talking to Daisy May Cooper, the actress and recent BAFTA winner from This Country.  She was an absolute delight and asked Jo and I for our phone numbers as she thought we were lovely (her words) and suggested that we meet up for a drink sometime.  She is unlikely to call, but I am sure we will bump into her in the pub sometime.

    The last thing I should mention is that I have made some progress in setting up a business from home.  I am now registered as a business with the Cotswold District Council and have an environmental health officer coming to see me on Monday afternoon.  I have one supplier secured, to provide me with ambient goods and for the ingredients for the Coln St Aldwyns Fete.  I now have a few days, starting after breakfast this morning, to get to grips with the Safer Food Better Business document before the meeting on Monday afternoon.  While I say that I have made progress, any progress that I have made may be thwarted if our landlord does not approve of me operating a small business from home.  We will just have to wait and see what he says.  It is not the end of the world though, as our year’s contract is coming to an end in August and we can look for another property if needs be.

  • #Masterbaker, #ColnStAldwyns

    Okay, so the title of this blog is certainly not what I would refer to myself as but these are the hashtags used by the local photographer when he posted a photo of the chocolate cake I made recently.  Not only did he take some lovely photographs of the cake, enhanced by some personal props, but he then took it down to the cafe in the Coln Community Stores to be tried and tested by the customers.  Allegedly the feedback was very good and I received a five star rating from one of the tasters.  Lets hope it was five stars out of five and not five stars out of ten.

    Speaking of tasters, there are some builders in the local area at the moment, working on a Cotswold stone house in much need of transformation, who pop into the Coln Community Stores on a regular basis.  Not so long ago I took in some carrot cake muffins into the Coln Community Stores for my manager to try.  I left them on the fridge in the cafe when I got in, just as the group of builders came in for lunch.  One of them said that he thought that they looked nice.  I deliberated for a while and then decided to give one of the muffins to the builders to try.  I emphasised that they were homemade and had nothing to do with the Stores.  I said that they were welcome to try the muffins provided that they gave me constructive feedback.  The feedback was very positive and there were questions as to when I would be baking again.  Given that they were supposed to be in the area for just one more week, I promised that I would bake again.  Hence the chocolate cake.  Despite positive reviews from the customers at the Coln Stores about the chocolate cake, I don’t think it went down as well with the builders as the carrot cake muffins.  Next time, I think I will use chocolate with a lower percentage of cocoa solids so that it is less rich.

    In addition to the chocolate cake and carrot cake muffins, I have been experimenting quite a bit recently:

    • Challah bread
    • Fruit & plain scones
    • Mini cheese cakes in a jar (gingernut, blueberry & lime)
    • Challah French toast with blueberry compote and orange
    • Quadruple chewy chocolate cookies
    • Lemon and polenta loaf cake
    • Lemon slices
    • Fig and toasted hazelnut Dutch oven bread
    • Spelt party bread (bread dough base with multiple toppings)
    • Banana loaf with icing drizzle and dehydrated bananas

    My next challenge is to make 60 vanilla cupcakes for a customer on the 02 June; half with red icing and half with white icing to represent the Maltese flag.  The customer asked for fondant icing but we are keen to encourage her to have buttercream icing instead.  Not only will it have a better texture and taste, but it will look better, especially now that we are thinking of making the icing half red and half white.  I did a trial run of the cupcakes, using both fondant and buttercream icing in white and red.  The owner of Lynwood & Co. and the Head Chef are happy with the vanilla cupcake recipe.  We just need to decide on what’s best for the icing (or encourage the owner to choose buttercream icing) before the big bake on 02 June.  Hopefully the bake will not go on too late into the night as Jo and I are doing the Fairford 10km on the Sunday.

    Speaking of running, Jo and I completed our first 10 km run a couple of weekends ago, the Salming Trail Run in the Forest of Dean.  I was the 5th lady over the line and the 1st lady in my age category, so was quite chuffed.  I also took part in the Hatherop Fun Run last night in support of a local charity.  Although it was a fun run, there was certainly a competitive contingent.  There were some very fast teenagers running the 5 km race – definitely setting a pace that was slightly uncomfortable for me.  I managed to come second out of the ladies (overtaken by the 1st lady on the final hill), albeit that there were two female teenagers ahead of us.  Irrespective, I ran the 5 km in 22 minutes which is the fastest I have ever run a 5 km.  So again, chuffed.

  • All in a day’s work

    Other than offering you a recipe for pizza dough and tomato sauce, I haven’t written my blog for a while.  And yes, I am fully aware that I start almost every blog entry the same way and even if I don’t I am thinking it.

    My last few weeks have been a bit of a juggling act.  Having had reduced hours at Lynwood & Co for a while, I am now working at both Lynwood & Co and the Coln Community Stores.  I continue to do prep work (mostly baking) at Lynwood & Co, while working early morning and afternoon/evening shifts at the Coln Community Stores (doing anything and everything they need me to do).  I am quite enjoying the balance, albeit at the moment I am working six days a week and am a little knackered to say the least.

    I am waiting patiently (or maybe not so patiently) for the Lynwood & Co production kitchen to be set up in Hatherop so that I can focus on just baking for them in addition to doing my hours at Coln Community Stores.  I have sort of been promised this when the production kitchen has been set up.  It has been suggested that I will have 4-5 hours baking, 4 times a week when the production kitchen is set up.  I have agreed to the hours and the pay in principle but am still in the process of clarifying when I can do the baking.  I am looking for flexible hours to be done around my Coln Community Store hours as I feel that my balance of front of house work at Coln Community Stores and baking at Lynwood & Co will be an ideal combination as working in the prep kitchen on its own is a little bit isolating.  Although I joke that I don’t need human interaction and prefer the company of the animal variety (i.e. dogs), I have discovered that I do in fact need a job which has more human interaction.  I am hoping that things are sorted out in the production kitchen before I burn out again.

    Speaking of burn out, although my health took a bit of a dive the week before last – a combination of doing the early morning shift at Coln Community Stores on my own for the first time (and a couple of personal issues which arose at the time but which are best kept private) and looking after my Mum, who was involved in a bus accident, which resulted in a concussion and a need for on-hand support, this week has been okay health wise.  Good enough to compete in a 10km trail run yesterday in the Forest of Dean.  Although running is not my forte anymore (I am more of an OCR competitor these days), I managed to be the fifth lady over the line, so am very content.  Sore, but very content.

    After driving back from the Forest of Dean, we dropped the car off at Swindon station; changed out of our running gear into something more presentable (hopefully not watched by CCTV and the risk of being charged with indecent exposure); sprayed ourselves generously with deodorant; stopped for a takeaway lunch at COSTA and then hopped on the train to London.  Our mission was to meet five of my fellow (now ex) Diploma in Professional Patisserie students at Mommi in Clapham North.  We had a great catch-up.  It was well worth the journey.  I had forgotten (how could I) with everything that has happened since we left Ashburton Cookery School last year just how much I missed and love our group.  Note to self (just like Bridget Jones), I must make more of an effort to see them more regularly if I can.  If any of you are reading my blog, you are welcome to come to visit me in the lovely Cotswolds.

    Before I went to London, I was going to tell you about my very busy day baking at Lynwood & Co on Friday.  But now, I am not so sure if I should, having heard the hours that one of my ex fellow students is doing at the Ritz.  My workload pales into insignificance in comparison to hers.  Okay, okay; you twisted my arm.  I will let you know what was on my agenda yesterday but really in the context of my ex fellow student’s workload it is really no big deal.

    In my shift yesterday, I made:

    • Two large carrot cakes (48 portions)
    • Two large lemon polenta cakes with a crystallised sugar, cardamom and freeze-dried raspberry topping (48 portions)
    • Two large salted caramel and pecan brownies, including the caramel sauce to go into it (48 portions)
    • 26 chewy quadruple chocolate cookies
    • Four apple and rhubarb vegan loaves (32 portions)
    • Two banana loaves (16 portions)
    • Two ginger loaves (16 portions)
    • Rhubarb compote
    • Pesto for our Porto sourdough toastie
    • Double portion of flatbread dough
    • Cracked and blended 140 eggs and cracked another 70ish for baking
    • Etc.

    Having not made the caramel sauce or the salted caramel brownie before, I took the sugar and golden syrup to a level which I thought was correct and then added the salt, butter and double cream as required.  Although the end result was a lovely golden colour it ended up a rather piffling amount which then set too hard when it cooled.  I started again with three times the original recipe (at the Head Chef’s suggestion).  My next attempt resulted in a lovely free-flowing caramel sauce which didn’t set in its tracks and was the right consistency to add to the chocolate brownie mixture.

    Not long after I had completed my caramel sauce making, the owner of Lynwood & Co came into the kitchen and asked if he could try the discarded portion of hardened caramel (sauce).  He exclaimed that it was delicious and suggested that I could give Werthers a run for their money.  He then asked whether I thought I could replicate my mistake again.  I haven’t tried yet, but I think I may give it a go when I have a spare minute.  I have to admit that it was a very tasty and happy, rather than unhappy, mistake.

    On a final note, I should possibly mention the Coln St Aldwyns Fete, which is due to be held on the 1st September 2018.  My husband, Jo, is on the planning committee, in charge of the stalls and following conversations with other committee members recently, the fact that I ‘bake’ has been bandied around.  It looks like I may be roped in to do some baking for the fete.  Now for most people this may be a chore.  But for me, I think it may be an opportunity to ‘show case’ what I can do.  You never know where this may lead.  Nowhere, but possibly somewhere.  I hope it leads somewhere as Jo and I have cut short our wedding anniversary holiday to support the fete on the day.  I am also quite keen to get my beloved Uuni Pro out and ‘show case’ my recently acquired ‘pizza-making skills’.  I think that they are looking for additional food offerings, so they may be interested.  Watch this space……

  • Dutch ovens and pizza ovens

    It has been quite a busy time since last I wrote.  I have been using my reduced hours at work to practice and hopefully develop my cooking skills.  Over the last couple of weeks, I have made:
  • Happy mistakes

    When I was at Ashburton Cookery School, our Chef Tutor used to talk about happy mistakes i.e. a mistake which ended up resulting in something unexpected or better than the original product.  I am not sure if what I am going to tell you about first is exactly a happy mistake, but it is certainly a recovery of sorts from what would have been a very expensive disaster. 
    Last Saturday, I was happily baking one of our staple bakes, chocolate brownie.  All was going well until I took the chocolate brownies out of the oven.  I have no idea how I did it, but when I went to put the two large, gastro trays of brownies in the cooling racks, I managed to scrape the surface off the lower brownie with the base of the gastro tray of the top brownie.  The result was a bit of a molten mess with no surface skin.  A brownie of sorts, but certainly not a brownie which could be served to a Lynwood & Co customer.
    After my initial panic and thoughts of having to buy the whole brownie (large enough to serve 24 people), I plucked up the courage to tell the Head Chef about my mistake (I have to say that I did delay telling him for a while, mainly out of embarrassment).  We had a brief discussion about what we could do with the brownie, rather than just throwing it in the bin, which wasn’t really an option given that one brownie contains 15 eggs, 500 grams dark chocolate, 250 grams milk chocolate, 750 grams caster sugar, 750 grams ground almonds and 750 grams butter.  I left my shift with the task of coming up with a recipe/s to use up the brownie.  After scouring the internet for a while, I came across a recipe for chocolate chip brownie cookies from Two Peas and their Pod.  Armed with the recipe, which I will share with you shortly, I went into work on Sunday morning mainly to complete some Black Forest panna cotta lamingtons,  which I had started on Saturday but also to make some cookies from my disasterous brownie.
    Slightly nervous about trying the cookie recipe (as I didn’t need another mistake), I made the recipe as instructed.  The upside was that I produced 35 delicious chocolate chip brownie cookies, which were liked by the Head Chef and Manager and hopefully the customers at Lynwood & Co. 
    The downside was that the cookies only used a small amount of the damaged brownie.  With most of the brownie still unused, I set about salvaging some, freezing some and moulding some into brownie balls.  I managed to salvage 4 pieces of brownie, which were good enough to serve Lynwood & Co customers.  I froze a large section of the damaged brownie to use in further batches of chocolate chip brownie cookies. I froze the brownie balls and then coated them in melted chocolate to make chocolate truffles at home, as chocolate truffles are not quite a Lynwood & Co thing. 
    Although I have not managed to use up all of the damaged brownie as yet, I am well on my way.  I am sure with a bit of defrosting and further cookie baking there will be no further evidence of my disaster.  What better way of getting rid of the evidence than eating it.
    My other challenge last week, which I already alluded to, was making the Black Forest panna cotta lamingtons.  These were made at the request of my Australian owner using a Flour and Stone recipe.  As I mentioned, I started the bake on Saturday by making the chocolate sponge, cherry compote and vanilla panna cotta.  Initially concerned that I knocked too much of the air out of my sponge, my sponge either rose too much or the half gastro tray which I used was too small (although if I read the recipe correctly, the gastro tray was slightly larger than I needed) .  With the cake being quite thick, when I went to sandwich two layers of cake together with cherry compote, the resultant  cake was too thick and didn’t create a neat lamington.  Although the Head Chef suggested that the panna cotta had set just right (the right amount of gelatine), the way that I lined the tray meant that a lot of the panna cotta seeped under the baking paper and did not affix to the bottom of the sponge as required.  Although there was a thin layer of panna cotta on the top of the cake, the panna cotta layer was missing on the bottom of the cake.  As if this wasn’t enough, the recipe required me to use three types of coconut for the final coating.  Although I only had dessicated and shaved coconut, using the shaved coconut as well as the dessicated coconut resulted in a rather untidy finish.  All in all, I was not happy with the end result but at least going through the process of baking them means I know how to improve things next time – use a larger square tin, lined with a single piece of baking paper and use just dessicated coconut. 
    In conclusion, it has been a week of mistakes, some happier than others.
  • One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns

    Despite my good intentions of writing my blog while off work, I haven’t got around to it until now.   It has been just over three weeks since I last wrote my blog and quite a lot has happened in the meantime.  I am still largely off work.  Although I had every intention to return to work in the the same capacity as I left it, after a week of being off work, I decided that it wasn’t fair on Lynwood & Co to say that I would return in the same capacity as I left as I am not a reliable employee at the moment. because of my health issues.  I requested whether I could return in a part-time capacity, focusing on the cakes and doing customer orders and cover work.  Although, I think the intention is for me to possibly do this sort of role in the future, the business is in a transition period at the moment, with the new cafe in Burford opening up in eight weeks, so am playing a waiting game at the moment.

    I have been back to work, albeit on a very part-time basis.  I first went back last Thursday evening to make hot cross buns for the Easter weekend.  I ended up making 56 hot cross buns and some sable biscuits, shaped as eggs with an apricot jam ‘yolk’.  The biscuits were supposed to be a joke for the Head Chef, following on from my heart shaped biscuits for Valentine’s Day, but he misunderstood my intentions and the biscuits were sold in the shop, without him trying them.  By all accounts, they sold very quickly.  I also tried to make a Cadbury’s creme egg cake – a chocolate cake with creme eggs in the middle, but it didn’t work as depicted in the photo of the recipe.  Rather than having a lovely core of eggs in the centre of my cake, the centre of my cake was a gooey mess and when I went to move the cake (which I think I did prematurely) the cake fell apart, despite the fact that the chocolate cake mix around the gooey mix was well baked.  You live and learn.  Actually, I did learn something after the event – if you freeze the creme eggs for a couple of hours before baking them in the cake, they are more likely to remain intact.

    I then went back into work on Saturday to do the weekend baking, as well as make 36 hot cross buns for the investor for a party they were having on Sunday.  All was going to plan with the bake until I put them in the oven to cook.  I noticed quite early on in the bake that a few of the hot cross buns were splitting against the cross.  As this had never happened to me before, I was quite surprised and concerned as to remake the hot cross buns would take another three and a half hours.  Not happy with about half of the hot cross buns, when they came out of the oven, I decided to start again.  This was three o’clock in the afternoon.  At 6.30pm on Saturday evening (having been off the clock since 3 o’clock), I finally left Lynwood & Co with 36 decent hot cross buns made.  The only thing which I think could have resulted in the split hot cross buns was that I forgot to cover the hot cross buns in the second prove, which resulted in the surface of the hot cross buns drying out and splitting in the bake.

    Jo, who had come to rescue me from my woes ran home with me – 6.2 miles to Coln St Aldwyns.  We consoled ourselves with a glass or two of red wine.

    On a plus side, the rest of my baking went fine on Saturday and the Head Chef even said that my white chocolate and macadamia cookies were the best ones I had made to date.  These were the first ones I had baked since the ones I made on the night I went off sick as despite my intention of baking cookies during my time off, I heard via the grapevine that the Manager wasn’t too happy for me to go in on my own to bake, albeit that later I was advised that any concern she may have had got lost in translation.

    I should also say that they did manage to sell most of the dud hot cross buns at the cafe on Sunday, toasted with butter and jam.  I also heard via the grapevine that the hot cross buns went down fine at the party.  They obviously were well enough received as I was asked to go back into work yesterday and then hopefully again on Saturday.  I am still wanting more hours as still going spare at home.

    In addition to Easter bakes, which I should perhaps mention also included baking a couple of Donna Hay’s hot cross bun loaves, I have also tried a couple of traybakes.  The first was a gluten free coconut Bakewell slice with cherry jam, from The Complete Gluten Free Baker.  The second was something I concocted on my own from a photo which the Lynwood & Co’s owner’s wife sent me, ginger, lemon and almond slice.  The latter still needs a bit of tweaking to get the bake right and the balance of ginger and lemon correct, but otherwise it was a delicious bake.  It deliciousness was helped by the fact that I finally got a decent recipe for lemon curd, thanks to the Head Chef at Lynwood & Co.

    Although exercise was certainly out of the window in the earlier stages of my time off work, I have been managing to do more lately, including a few runs.  I also completed my first OCR since July 2017 – a 5km Tough Mudder in London.  It was good to be doing events again, albeit that it was not overly challenging.  I managed to do the 12 swinging rings, which I wasn’t sure that I would manage.  I was a little nervous on the walls, particularly because they were more slippery than I expected (I was wearing regular trainers rather than OCR shoes, as recommended by Tough Mudder) because of the recent rain.