This week, I am returning to the pretty village of Pirton, just outside Hitchin to attend the Farmers’ market there, which takes place on the last Friday of the month and annoyingly, it’s the day before Hitchin Farmers’ and Craft market, which happens on Saturday. So, whenever I have a ‘doubler’ such as this, I always try and make sure I have the opportunity to relax a bit before the chaos and mayhem begins, as once Thursday evening hits, there is not much chance for a break for me until Saturday afternoon, when I sell my last few loaves.
This Thursday (today) has been no exception, Thursdays generally start with the school run at 8am, followed by the first of two stints at the bakery, where all my different doughs are mixed and proving baskets and tins are prepared. Owing to the volume of loaves that I bake for the Pirton & Hitchin combi, I also had the added challenge of trying to squeeze six 25kg sacks of flour into my teeny tiny bakery; Ok, I confess, I did have help this morning from Shirl-girl. (My lovely neighbour). We managed to finish in record time, just shy or 12.30, which means I have an extended ‘afternoon off..’ This generally consists of a nice lunch, (The Cheese Teller ‘best Camembert EVER’ and toasted 5-seeded) and a bit of tele, in the hope that I might nod off for a bit. I think I managed a couple of winks, before the fact that I’d not prepared anything for tea tonight started to niggle at me. What’s to do?? Not much in the fridge other than a few ‘mature’ veggies, half a small loaf of white sourdough and absolutely NO desire to go to Asda. Well, it just so happens I am a magician when it comes to conjuring up tasty and balanced meals from a crumb and a lemon. So now, as I type, it’s all ready to cook for 5.45, when my boys come home – I just need a wok, some boiling water for pasta et voila! as my littlest man likes to say. Check out my RECIPE OF THE MOMENT! page – just click the highlighted link if you can’t see it at the top.
A recent market left me with a a couple of extra focaccias; instead of freezing them whole, I decided to split in half. Last Saturday, returning from the “shops” and needing a quick lunch before the next family activity, the oven was cranked up, focaccia was retrieved and to it, I applied:-
Home-made tomato sauce*, (or you could use red pesto from a jar, thinly spread) A few thinly sliced onions Sliced up mushrooms A sprinkling of capers (optional) AND if I had ham, peperoni, peppers, anchovies, rocket, artichoke hearts from a jar, olives I might have put some of these on to 🙂
Shoved on a baking tray and baked for about 6 minutes, then removed and added grated cheddar (I would’ve added Mozzerella if I’d had any) and returned to the oven for another 5 or 6 minutes. I’ve sorry that there are no pics of the final result, but it was so delicious we devoured it very quickly!
Comparison against supermarket Pizza Base versions:-
Call me a cynic, but I have a feeling I will not be winning this award; I feel I have confused the organisers, by having my business registered in Bedfordshire and my baking happening merrily in Hertfordshire. This has meant that I have been nominated in both areas, which is not permitted under their rules. Earlier on this year, I was asked to choose one region so I chose Bedfordshire, not wanting to be up against my friends at the Redbournbury Mill in Hertfordshire, whom I hold in great esteem.
But today, I get another communication, congratulating me on my nomination in Hertfordshire; [sigh]. I was also notified of the others taking part and surprised to see that one of them hasn’t actually been trading for over a year now and another on the list I don’t think even bakes from scratch on their premises, let alone bakes any bread at all! I don’t want to shoot myself in the foot here, but given that I was nominated last year without being notified until it had all been wound up, I am beginning to wonder whether I should just be serenely contented instead of my usual “Whoop Whoop, bring it on!!” self.
In spite of all the bureaucratic shenanigans, I am very grateful to the organisers [Bedfordshire] and the fantastic Fratelli’s restaurant in Ampthill for hosting a superb press launch event in January for all the nominees and sponsors. I also had the pleasure of meeting Mr Gunns from Gunns bakery and his wife, who were just lovely and Mr Gunns even fetched cup of tea for my mum, who couldn’t walk without the aid of a frame back then. The chap in the middle of the picture is Phil Jellis, a farmer of rare breed Dexter beef, who also runs a farm shop in Broom nr Bigglewade. (He also sells really good bread on a Friday afternoon/Saturday morning!).
So if you would like to cast your vote (please vote for me!!) you can do so by visiting www.bedsfda.co.uk and choose best Artisan Bakery under Categories/Voting, or click on the handy link below. Bedfordshire Food & Drink Awards 2016/
Ok, so it’s taken me almost 11 months to post new wit and wisdom to this blog; 11 months!! Where did that go!! I’ll tell you where, apart from the mountains of loaves that I baked in that time (approximately 7000) it was mostly care for the elderly, (although she won’t thank me for calling her elderly). I’ve recently updated all my events for this year on the “Where can I buy..” page but I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for the wit and wisdom owing to lack of sleep and the post traumas of a really good night out with friends. Good bread will always be provided from the bakery, and I hope resume a better blogging service in the very near future, in the meantime, this week, you will find me at HITCHIN FARMERS and CRAFT MARKET on Saturday; you can’t fail to miss me, go round the back of the town centre, find Simmons, snigger as you pass, at their attempt to create their own bread stall (sourfaux in fact, and more expensive) and come on down to my REAL BREAD stall in the Cloisters.
Just a really quick post to let you know about a couple of things – I am now coming to Hitchin Farmer’s Market on the LAST Saturday of each month; that’s this coming Saturday!! This will be my second attendance and I am really looking forward to (well, obviously being there) but also buying some lovely cheese from the lady next door.
As a result of this extra market, plus a few more coming up throughout the year and ‘proper’ job commitments, I can no longer find the time to do any more bread courses for the forseeable future, unless my arm is truly twisted of course. Hopefully, this will allow me to spend more time in the bakery experimenting! either that or I might finally get around to sorting out my office, it’s a wonder how I get anything done in here…
So, with my trusty Wonder Woman whip-ey thing, I must away! as I’ve still got to prep my kitchen so that I can welcome my course students a final bit of dough slinging tomorrow.
Well now, it turns out that there was a reason why I wasn’t loving my new replacement van. After just a week, it wouldn’t start – this just happened to be a Thursday before one of my markets so timing wasn’t great. It went in for a check up but having found nothing wrong, the garage got it started on a replacement batter and I collected it from them, 4 days later. 2 days after that, it failed to start again (on a mega-bake Thursday aswell). Needless to say, it wasn’t only the van that was blue at the time, I had a few choice words to release into the air. But the garage were fair and offered to buy it back from me at the same price. I purchased another van pretty much the day after and was mobile again. Fingers crossed, this van is in better condition (well, it goes!) and I’ll have no more trouble with it. I’ve even got my signage up on it (most of it) so it is feeling a little bit more like my own and I am starting to have warm feelings towards it.
Adding to my van woes, I also had to say goodbye to my Saffron, whom I’ve loved since she was just a kitten in 1997. When I told my son, he immediately wanted to tell his little friend about it, so that he wouldn’t be sad, so he wrote a little letter and drew a picture of her. The picture, letter and collar have remained in the corner of the sitting room which also used to be occupied by a cat bed. A new year means new beginnings so I know I shall have to move on and put these little keepsakes away, although I always look to the corner when I’m missing a cuddle.
Putting aside the sad stuff the of passing of my van and cat, Christmas at the Bottrills was wonderful this year; I only cooked for one extra person and that was a breakfast. We’ve had no stuffing or pigs in blankets in this house and sadly, not much in the way of leftovers. I have, however, managed to chomp through chocolate and cheese until I’ve blown up like a balloon. It’s been what I call, a proper rest, but it ended today, when I spent 45 minutes on the bike at the gym this morning. 500 calories burnt, so I figure that means I can quite happily scoff the rest of the chocolate without too much worry. We also still have a Stollen (dubious if this will still be OK) a Panettone (reckon I can hold out on this for at least another week) and 4 boxes of biscuits (3 shortbread, 1 of the chocolate variety – will be gone in a couple of days).
I have no markets at all in January, so instead I turn my attentions to planning and also running my bread courses, which even if I say so myself, are lots of fun for all. I will however still be baking small amounts each Friday, not only for a few local orders and to look after Stopsley Baptist Church but also as I’ve begun to supply Parkside Farm Shop (Click here to visit their site) in Broom (Nr Biggleswade). Previously, Parkside Farm Shop had been supplied each week by Hitchin Bakehouse, who contacted me recently to say that he was taking a bit of a breath from baking. It must have been a hard decision to make as I know how much he loves baking. The downside of a full-time bakers life is that it really is full-time round the clock – when you’re not baking you’re sleeping and the end result in terms of ‘salary’ can be pretty dismal. I am lucky enough to be in a unique position where I like to run my business as a hobby around childcare responsibilities and also around a very flexible part-time job. I can’t afford an extravagant lifestyle, but I’m happy to say that money is no longer the key motivator in my life, so the little money I bring to the pot each month is just about enough.
I suppose it would help the budget if I entered into the Dryathon or Dryanuary or whatever it’s supposed to be called; I could save a bit on my favourite tipple of red wine, white wine, well, anywine really. Actually, I don’t drink anywhere near what I used to drink in ‘the good old days’ (Mum you should be extra pleased about that). But I fail to see that binge ‘abstaining’ is going to help anyone’s stress levels nor waistlines this month; everything in moderation, I say. (Except fake bread – avoid avoid avoid!).
To kick of the new year with an’ out with the old, in with the new’ kinda theme, I’ll leave you with the cherry on the top of my world in December:- broken van, dealing with incompetent car insurance management company, car hire company, underwriters, salvage company, commercial van sales, mechanics, trips to the vet with poorly cat, Christmas markets and Christmas orders to prepare for, Christmas presents to buy and wrap, cards to write, holiday cover for my ‘proper’ job, sick child for over a week with 4 days off school and then 4 pints of this happened:-
I am not sorry to say adieu to what was a very challenging month for me. On the first day of November, my beloved bread van sustain a fatal injury to it’s frontage. I’ve spend the last few weeks being passed between insurers, underwriters, loss recovery agents, non-liability management claim agents and it’s not something I want to go through again, ever ever ever. None of them know what each other are doing, and I’m stuck in the middle trying to second guess their procedures and protocols. I’d like to say the nightmare is over, but I am still very much in the dark as to when I will receive my settlement payment, and with just £5 in the bank, It’s going to be a lean Christmas in the Bottrill household, I can tell you! I have managed to replace my van with a blue one but as I am still mourning the loss of my little white one, I haven’t quite fallen in love with it yet. It smells a bit funny (the old one was fags and builders stuff which I’d kinda warmed to) and it’s not got it’s proper signage on yet but I’m sure it will come to love it as time goes on. I’ll post pics when it’s looking lovely, in the meantime, I need a little help to get me in the festive mood, so here are some biccys that I’m been told I’ve got to make again for my son’s school tomorrow. I need a break!!!
Such glorious weather for the time of year! And with it being half term, I’m going to try and make the most of it before I enter total meltdown at the weekend, where I am doing a farmers market AND a food Festival on Sunday. I think I’ve just about worked out when I’m going to sleep, but part of it might involve a pallyass on the bakery floor. More on that later, as I wanted to tell you about a little confession I had from a fellow baker, who’d acquired some jalapeno and 3-cheese bread from Tesco. (Hmm, my favourite fake bread store). I’ve been threatening to experiment with chillis for a long time, ever since a chance posting next to a chilli stall at a market in Bedford earlier this year. So I took her nudge as a call to arms and got experimenting. After a couple goes (mainly to turn up the heat) my Red Chilli and Cheddar loaves made their official debut at Hexton farmer’s market a couple of weeks ago and I have to say, I am rather proud of the result and I hope it will be as popular this week as it was at Hexton.
So what’s happening this week?? Well, it’s a Halloween special on Friday at St Mary’s Church in Pirton and all the stall holders have been asked to ghoul up their stalls and themselves. I’ll not be letting the side down and if any mini witches or ghosties care to visit my stall, they can be assured of a little chocolate treat. I get an opportunity to sleep on Friday night, but then come Saturday, assuming I’ve calculated my sourdough starters correctly, it’s straight down the bakery to prepare dough for the first Ampthill Food Festival on Sunday.
The event takes place from 10 until 4 at Parkside Hall in Ampthill so I’ve realistically got to be there to set up from 9; this means leaving home at 8.30 in the morning so if I manage to get any sleep on Saturday night it’ll be a miracle. So for now, I shall try and get some fresh air, exercise on the bike with my boys (assorted sizes) and try and bank as much sleep as I can. For more information about the food fayre on Sunday, please visit the facebook page:
I LOVE the end of summer and the beginning of Autumn. Such an abundance of food out there, ripe for the pickin’s and a lot of it free (I don’t just mean the scrumping that goes on within the fences of my mum’s back garden either). I’m not a great gardener myself; I think I like the idea of growing one’s own goodies but when it comes down to the hard work, I always have something else to do. We always manage to grow a few lovely tomatoes tho and this year was no exception. Some nice big, fat, juicy, neigh-ugly tomatoes, the type that you will not find in any British supermarket but are the best you’ve ever tasted. When I say “we”, of course I mean the royal we, as my step-father provides the plants and hubby and I merely shove them in a bag and try to remember to water and feed them from time to time. I am also lucky to have a neighbour (have I mentioned her before?) who is in with another neighbour, who has an allotment. In exchange for bread and the odd kitchen experiment, she often furnishes me with some of the excesses that
our keen allotment keeper cannot manage. I’ve had marrows (in fact still one and half in the fridge) apples and my favourite was 9 cucumbers, some of which I turned into some delicious bread and butter pickles. I also have a dear friend who lives in Banbury, whose darling husband started an allotment a couple of years ago from scratch and is doing exceptionally well for a novice grower. Two weeks ago, he gave some lovely potatoes and about 4 carrots (authentically will all the soil on). Only 4 carrots I hear your cry?? These things were enormous, and we are still enjoying them to this day. (The photo doesn’t do it justice, it was about a foot long!!)
Anyhoo, I digress, as per usual…. We are also deep in the heart of Sourdough September, a completely made up festival by the Real Bread campaign, to raise awareness and celebrate this massively under-rated Elixir of life. Hey, just look at me, I eat tonnes of the stuff (truly), I am never ill and I am not overweight. I don’t even bother with the gym now (although I am still quite active, what with all the baking and cooking and stuff). My little family are never ill either. There has to be something in that, right??
And I was also working out a few figures on the back of a fag packet (metaphorically speaking) and I worked out that if the average family bought 2 loaves of sliced bread every week from a supermarket (the ones sold in plastic bags that are devoid of all nutrition) it costs around £200 per year. HOWEVER, if the same family baked their own bread, using quality organic flour, it would cost less than half of that amount. So what would you do if you were handed an extra £100?? Book yourself on a Real Bread Course with me, and I’ll give you the means to never have to buy a loaf again. (Check my Power to the Flour page for information).
One final thought of the day, I also did a little thing on bought oven chips compared to buying actual potatoes and making your own oven chips using the tiniest bit of rapeseed oil; the percentage saving is pretty similar. Next time, I’ll show you the cheese I made and my raspberry infused vodka…!
Ok, so I am making a commitment to all you bread fans to include a weekly menu, which will be updated every Monday. It will list all the loaves that I will be baking for the up-coming farmer’s market, together with a price list. If you can’t make it to the market but are tempted with the goodies on sale, then drop me a line/text by Thursday, with what you’d like me to save. If you would like 2 or more loaves, please let me know by Wednesday; I’d rather not have an empty stall! I am also running a limited offer on Mrs Middleton’s cold-pressed Rapeseed Oil; DO NOT MISS OUT! This won’t last for ever. Please see this week’s menu for more information and don’t forget to check back every Monday to see what you fancy for the following week.