• Catnap required

    It was Saturday night and at just gone 7 pm I announced to Jo that I could not keep my eyes open and required a sleep. I suggested that I should be woken up in an hour/hour and a half so that a nap wouldn’t mean that I could not go to sleep later on. I shouldn’t have worried as about 20 minutes after I dozed off, I woke up with a start and that was my nap well and truly over. Needless to say, it was another long week in the kitchen, or should I say out front cooking directly for customers. Only one out of my five days has been doing prep.

    Wednesday was my longest day – it ended up being a ‘split shift’. I had planned to get in for 6.30 am to get a head start, but with Jo away I took longer than expected to get into work. With a 6.50 am start, and a last minute change to the planned tart and salad for the day as the Head Chef left instruction that I needed to use up courgette flowers, beetroot, roasted tomatoes and olives, I felt a little on the back foot from the start. Despite this, I was mostly prepared for lunch service, bar making the side salad for the courgette flower tart. Thanks to the helpful front of house team, we managed to get everything up on time. However, with the morning preparations and a busy lunch service, I didn’t manage to complete the mis en plas that the Head Chef had left for me before the manager needed to shut up shop for the day. Determined to start Thursday on a better footing, I decided to go back to work at 7 pm (after relieving my poor dog who had been home alone all day, bar a walk with the dog walker) for a second ‘shift’. Despite being tired, it was quite pleasant pottering around the kitchen, getting things done, without the fear of hearing the words ‘check on’.

    Back home by 10 pm, I had time for a quick shower and decaffeinated coffee
    and then it was off to bed for me in preparation for another early start. On Thursday, I managed to get in for 6.30 am as planned. Despite a busy breakfast service, I managed to get my salad and spanikopita ‘puffs’ ready before lunch service. Unfortunately, it was a peculiar lunch service and there were only a few takers for my ‘puffs’. This meant that I had a couple of ‘puffs’ for supper when I got home – warmed up they were quite tasty, even if I say so myself.

    Friday was much of a muchness, albeit that we had a stand in chef in to do the weekend preparation as the Head Chef was preparing for a big event on the Saturday. I largely did service on my own with the assistance of the stand in chef when the ‘shit started to hit the fan’. To be honest, I didn’t understand the meaning of ‘shit hitting the fan’ until Saturday lunch. Having had the stand in chef in the background again in the morning as the Head Chef was still preparing for the event with another ‘kitchen assistant’, we were just heading into lunch service when the stand in chef announced he was leaving and the Head Chef and his assistant announced that they were going to the venue. I, on the other hand was left holding the fort by myself. I need to be careful about what I say next. Let’s just say that it was a difficult service with me trying to serve a rush of customers in a short space of time, with multiple dietary requirements and very little support (my only support came from a few front of house staff chipping in from time to time). I got through service, but not without making a couple of stupid errors and being reduced to tears out of frustration. Embarrassed by my reaction to the situation, my situation was made worse by being left to clean up the mess that everyone else had created in the preparation kitchen as everyone else, except for the ‘kitchen assistant’ made their way to the event. I should mention that I did not have a problem doing any of what I had to do in principal, but the lack of acknowledgement was a little difficult to take. I left the shift seriously wondering whether I was in the right job/working in the right place.

    After a lot of soul searching and my tail between my legs, I mustered up enough courage to go into work on Sunday – I was not quite ready to give up yet. A relatively uneventful service later, with little reference made to Saturday’s events, I went home, happy in the knowledge that I had two days off work.

  • Exhaustion sets in further

    Up until recently i.e. since I started working at Lynwood & Co, I thought that I had a lot of energy. Even though I had found the Diploma in Professional Patisserie tough at times (i.e. the number of hours in the kitchen and then studying at night), I have never felt my current level of exhaustion. Moving country, town, house and starting a new job all at the same time has definitely been taking its toll on me and that it with the continued help and support of my husband, Jo, who despite everything keeps on going and going.

    So exhausted was I that I wrote to the organiser of the 1000 Mile Challenge, a challenge we are currently doing and have been doing for some time, to say that it was with regret that we had decided to withdraw from the challenge – 8 months and 750 miles plus into the challenge. A bit of communication with the organiser later and I had a bit of a rethink. So I am back doing the challenge and feeling the pressure of having to run 21 miles plus a week. Irrespective, I think I have gone a little too far in the challenge to pull out now.

    Last week was slightly fewer hours (about two less) than the week before, with me on my own on both Wednesday and Thursday. This meant that I was both preparing for the lunch service as well as cooking for customers all day. I managed to get a salad and tart out on both days and on time. A Greek salad (yes, I know, very simple, but it went down well) on Wednesday and a Israeli potato salad on Thursday as I had a lot of potatoes to use up.

    My tart on Wednesday was a salmon, trout and cream cheese tart and on Thursday it was a broad bean, pea and bacon tart. Not what I had originally planned, but I had been left instructions to use up ingredients which needed to be used up. So after moving all day on Tuesday, I sat in the New Inn in Coln St Aldwyns with my Mum and Jo, using the pub’s internet, trying to work out how to incorporate cream cheese, trout and salmon into a tart before I went into work on the Wednesday. Wednesday’s offerings definitely went down better than Thursday’s offerings, although Thursday’s offerings were certainly not a mitigating disaster, albeit it was my longest day to date (11 hours) and on my Birthday! A rushed clean up after work and my family and I went to the New Inn for a meal. I was possibly a little too exhausted to appreciate it. My Birthday was not all bad as I did get a very special surprise after work on Wednesday night, when I got home to find my 20 year old, youngest son, lying on the sofa after a long trip from Glasgow to see me on my Birthday. It made my day and Birthday, albeit that despite all of his efforts, I spent most of his visit working and generally feeling pretty exhausted.

    I am not sure if exhaustion was written all over my face, but Friday through to Sunday, I was mainly in the prep kitchen ensuring that we had everything we needed for the weekend service. I made marinades, sauces, cooked bacon and portobello mushrooms, cracked who knows how many boxes of eggs and baked the full range of cakes on offer (polenta and orange, flapjacks, brownies, carrot, banana etc.). A very busy service on Sunday, meant that I managed to escape the confines of the prep kitchen for an hour or so to help the Head Chef out front.

    I had plans to go running or stand up paddle boarding or kayaking after my shift on Sunday, but a painful stomach on Saturday (along with exhaustion), which prevented me from going out with the rest of my colleagues and another long week in the kitchen meant that other than doing the remaining part of the lawn (Jo had done the rest when I was at work) and cooking a Nidiya Jamir Hussain’s Ploughman’s Cheese and Pickle Tart from her book, British Food Adventure for my Mum and Jo, I collapsed in a heaped, ever grateful that my two days off had finally arrived.

    Although I speak of long shifts and exhaustion, I am enjoying my new challenges, I just think that I need to do some acclimatising again.

  • 47.97 hours and counting

    Okay, so I survived my first full week in the kitchen – a whole 47.97 hours. I have the physical scars to prove it – ‘repetitive strain injury’ in my right wrist from cutting loaf after loaf of sourdough bread; cuts on my fingers from my new Flint and Flame bread knife (which I need to be able to cut through the sourdough bread) and a number of burns and removed finger prints from the very hot grill. There was little prep kitchen for me, just cooking directly for customers all week. In the main, despite the exceptionally high volume of customers I managed to ensure that every customer was feed. I even got a few compliments on my food from the week day customers along the way. This was slightly counteracted by a ‘complaint’ on Sunday as the avocado I used in the avocado, feta, lime, zhoug, coriander and sesame seed toast was a little on the hard side. When I was making it, I felt that the avocado was a little on the hard side, but frightened of wasting a more expensive ingredient, I went with it. I shouldn’t have – I should have trusted my gut instinct. We replaced the meal with an substitute and I ate the offending toast for lunch – it was actually quite tasty (maybe the lime juice had softened the avocado a little more by the time I ate it). Another lesson learnt.

    Wednesday through to Friday, I was required to do all the front of house cooking on my own (photo of one of my porto sandwiches shown). On Wednesday, Josh, the Head Chef was around for the morning but was focused on preparing for an event. He did however cook the croissants, sausage rolls, tart of the day and salad, which was a huge relief as balancing prep cooking and front of house requires the most efficient of multi-taskers and I am not that as yet.

    Thursday was a slightly different story as I was the only chef at the cafe, albeit I was thrown a safety line in the form of Shermaine, the manager, who made the salad of the day. I managed to make the soup of the day, something that I didn’t think would quite work as it was courgette soup – I had been left instructions to use up the courgettes, as we had a bit of a glut. Despite my reservations, the courgette, potato and cheddar soup went down a treat and received a few compliments from customers.

    On Friday, the lovely Giles, came in to do all the prep for the weekend as I held the fort out front. Josh had a few days off, so Giles (the exiting chef) stood in. He was on tart and salad duty, so all was well in my world. I have never seen anyone so efficient in the kitchen – ticking off the prep list at such great speed (I am sure Josh is as fast, if not faster, but I haven’t seen him in Friday prep mode as yet).

    On Saturday and Sunday, Giles and I were a double act out front, to my great relief. Saturday went quite smoothly – we were well coordinated. Sunday was a little more bumpy at times, possibly a combination of Giles’ hangover and my exhaustion. I should have realised how tired I was when I tried to go for a run after the 10 hour shift on Saturday (I flat lined after 2.6 miles – lack of hydration and low blood sugar, but managed to recover after a while to finish a 4 plus mile run). In summary, I survived the week, the busiest again in the history of the cafe, which we all celebrated with a drink at the pub next door at the end of the day. Now on my second day off and not sure it is enough time to recover until my next five day shift, but I will certainly give it a go. A house move today, is not going to help my exhaustion, but at least our new home is closer to work than my Mum’s house.

  • Gainfully employed

    It has been a while since I last wrote. I was in limbo for a while as I waited to hear back whether I had secured the job that I did a trial for. A week past Thursday, I received the news that I had secured the job and that given the need for a transition period, I needed to be down south in Lechlade by the following Wednesday. With the almost immediate start, we didn’t have time to pack up the house together. Instead we packed up what we could; said a few goodbyes; went to Glasgow to see our sons, as well as fitted in a Spartan Sprint in Edinburgh.

    We arrived in Gloucestershire on Tuesday and I started my new job on Wednesday. I was only down for two shifts last week, which was most probably a good thing given the week that I had previously. I also worked part-time this week (Monday, Wednesday and Thursday) and then I start full time next week. I was slightly surprised to hear that my hours would be Wednesday through to Sunday every week, with Monday and Tuesday off, but I am slowly getting my head around the back that I will never have a weekend off unless I request it.

    Monday was the first day that I spent most of my day cooking directly for customers – previously, I had done a lot of the preparation work behind the scenes. I had a baptism of fire this week as unbeknownst to all of us, this week is likely to have gone down as the busiest week in the history of the cafe. Everyday has been like a weekend day. We are not sure the reason for the increase in customers. It could be that it is the school holidays or it could be that the other local cafe, Veras, which is also a B&B was flooded and had to close temporarily. I know at the very least that we have been taking on their breakfast customers. Needless to say, I have been unintentionally dropped in the deep end. Most of the time, I have managed to swim, albeit possibly doggy paddle. There has been the odd time, however, when I have had to ask for a bouyancy aid. My bouyancy aid has come mainly in the form of Josh, the Head Chef who makes everything look as simple as possible.

    There have been a few mistakes along the way – overcooked scrambled egg; a lovely porto sandwich, which I was just about to serve, which I dropped on the floor as I was carrying it to the plate; slightly caught porridge. In the main however, I think things have gone okay. I can certainly be quicker and more coordinated and my final products could have more finesse, but I think I am getting there. I will soon find out, as on Wednesday and Thursday next week I will largely be on my own, given that it is the Head Chef’s days off. In the meantime, I plan to ensure that I know the menu inside out and know the order of the day so that when I go in on Wednesday, I can hopefully hit the floor running. Speaking of running, or more accurately running and obstacles, we have had to cancel our last obstacle course races of the year for a few reasons: the moving process; working on weekends and covering shifts. No longer will we be able to book events on a whim or compete on a regular basis. I think we will have to take the approach that ‘less is more’ and be more selective in what we do.

    I should possibly mention that I had been practicing my baking skills when I was up in Aberdeen in preparation for the start of my new job as there had been some discussion that I could expand the cake repertoire at the cafe. My attempts included an apricot crumble slice; raspberry, lemon and almond bake; flapjack pecan brownies and white chocolate cakes. Since I started in my job, not only have I been cooking all day, but I also seem to have become the resident cook for my mother, preparing a range of dishes from chilli and pasta to fishcakes; butternut squash, feta and roasted pepper quiche and seabass in chilli, garlic and ginger. As they say, ‘no rest for the wicked’. All I can say, is thank goodness for BBC Good Food.

    I think that is enough of a catch up for now. I will update you next week on how I manage on my own. In the meantime, I need to get my house in order so that I am well prepared for another new experience.