Monday, 30 December 2013

Report on Nutmeg for BBC Radio 4 Food Programme

Forgive me if I simply mention that my report from Grenada was used on the BBC Radio 4 Food Programme was used along side Nigel Slater in presenter Shelia Dillon's kitchen. .. you can listen to the show again on iplayer here …  I'm just going add a few photos, and go back to eating mince pies.

Hope you all had a super Christmas.

Catch you in the new year

Thursday, 19 December 2013

How I am going to eat my sourdough loaf

I'm so busy baking and getting ready for Christmas but had to share this .. Isobel was so excited as I popped this loaf on the table!

Monday, 18 November 2013

Easy Panettone Cake Recipe

Is there anything so glorious as a fresh baked real Panattone at Christmas?

Panettone is a notoriously difficult bread to bake but after 6 developmental recipes I finally nailed an easy reliable recipe with the right texture and flavour. I can't say that many recipes get that many developmental bakes.  It wasn't quite a record; that goes to the elderflower and lime macaroons from Prepped, which got 7.  I've never made then since.

The recipe along with all the ingredients you need is over here at Bakery Bits.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Lavazza Coffee Calendar Launch & The Romanian Beggar Lady

I will eat hot food tonight she tells me.
It’s raining.  I am walking back to perhaps one of the most luxurious hotels I can remember staying in.  It’s the Palazzo Parigi in Milan.  Everyone is beautiful.  The waiters’ are beautiful.  The other journalists are beautiful. Everything is beautiful.

There is a Lamborghini in the shop window. I can smell coffee in the damp air.  I am going through the list of questions I want to ask Francesca Lavazza.  I want to find out if Lavazza treat the farmers who grow the beans that they use in their coffee fairly.  I am worried that they might not, partially because I have been drinking Lavazza coffee for years, and partially because I am a guest of Lavazza.  How will my journalistic integrity stand up if I find out that they are less than fair?  The PR team has assured me that they take the sustainability of their coffee and the welfare of the growers seriously.

My parents have been buying Lavazza coffee for years.  Of course we’d rarely buy it here in the UK.  The French supermarkets do a four pack and it was always cheaper to buy in bulk when the exchange rates was good.  We’d travel back home with a boot full of wine, coffee and stinking cheese.

I don’t feel as though I belong here despite bing half Italian. I am simply not beautiful enough. I haven’t had time to sort my roots out and I can see grey. My nails are embarrassing. I hold my hands in such a way so my nails don’t show at supper. I feel huge in comparison to all these tiny dark haired impeccably dressed women who look stunning.  I have to remind myself I am here to tell a story.

I approach the hotel and spot the concierge.  I must hurry, as I am late for the grand unveiling of the 2014 Lavazza calendar, with Ferran Adrià, a Spanish Catalan chef who was the head chef of the elBulli and is considered one of the best chefs in the world. The photographs  of Ferran Adria
Albert Adrià, Massimo Bottura, Michel Bras, Antonino Cannavacciuolo, Davide Oldani
and Carlo Cracco have been shot by renowned photographer, Martin Schoeller, and looking forward to seeing the calendar.  (It is a work of art and you can see the photos in Xanthe Clay's report here in The Telegraph. )

I’m about to walk up the steps when I spot a woman trying to shelter from the rain.  It’s more like a fine drizzle. I look into the marble foyer of the hotel and then back to the woman.  It’s a surreal moment because I am in that instant overwhelmed with a feeling of shame.

Who am I? Who am I to be the one to enjoy privilege? Who am I to worry about my grey roots showing? Who am I to be embarrassed by my hardworking gardening hands? I am absolutely ashamed that my concerns are so trivial.

I turn around and go over to the woman.  She is Romanian. Maria explains to me that her husband is dead, and her children are a long way from here.  I can’t understand much more, but I want to ask her if she’d like a coffee with me?  I ask her in my broken mix of French, Italian and smattering of Spanish.  The concierge isn’t smiling now.  He is almost scowling. 

I don’t blame him. It is his job to keep beggars away from the from of the hotel and if I ask this lady to come in I will most likely get him in trouble. Instead I ask Maria if she will allow me to take her photo. She stands with a sign and a smile.  I give her 20 Euros.  It’s all I have and she is delighted.  I will eat hot food tonight she tells me.

 I look into the marble foyer of the hotel and then back to the woman.  
I go back into the hotel feeling like a coward.

All though the presentation I think that I should have asked her in for a coffee.

The presentation is over.  It is beyond glamorous and I am given a generous slot to interview Francesca Lavazza. Lavazza was founded in 1895 in Turin by Luigi Lavazza and is still owned by the Lavazza family – it is now in its fourth generation and so I am to have the chance to ask Francesca Lavazza directly about their initiatives. I am amazed to find out the company employs over 4,000 people around the world. As we sit in a conference room with the translator see in Francesca pride in her Italian heritage, its premium quality and its mission is the authentic Italian coffee experience – but I want to know is that at the expense of the famers?

What does sustainability mean to Lavazza? I ask. Francesca is clearly used to answering this question. “For Lavazza, contributing to the sustainable development of coffee producing countries is a key commitment,” She tells me. “We have always been a responsible company and we really pay close attention to the human, environmental and cultural resources of the countries from which we source our coffee.  We are very proud to be associated with and working alongside the Rainforest Alliance to protect the future of our environment and industry.” It sounds rehearsed but it is good to hear that the company takes their ethical responsibility seriously.

 I have read about the collaboration with The Rainforest Alliance that Francesca tells me about the ¡Tierra! Project  launched in 2002 aimed at helping improve living conditions of coffee-growers in Peru, Colombia, India, Brazil, Honduras, and Tanzania. Lavazza have been improving things through the development of environmental, economic and social initiatives. Francesca goes on to explain that the aim of their initiatives is to improve the living conditions, social development and economic growth with in the farming communities.  It has been successful. The second phase, was launched in 2010 and involves India, Brazil and Tanzania. 

  Left  - Ferran Adrià, a Spanish Catalan chef who was the head chef of the elBulli 
Reading between the lines it seems that if the famers do well then Lavazza also does well.  It is, it seems, in their interest to look after the farmers.  The main drive is economically beneficial to all and by developing high-quality productions that are increasingly ecological and profitable, alongside new agricultural techniques and production tools the overall aim is greater competitiveness and independence, whilst looking after the environment. It does sound like corporate spiel, and although I want to believe every word I have some doubts about The Rain Forest Alliance.

The biggest difference between the Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade seems to be the price paid for the coffee. The Fairtrade Foundation guarantees farmers a minimum price per pound of green coffee beans. This is generally quite a bit higher than the market price. The Fairtrade Foundation also pays an extra premium.  This social premium is to invest in community projects and yet the The Rainforest Alliance offers no minimum or guaranteed price.  When I was in Uganda I saw clearly that the policies of the Fairtrade foundation take into account all of the issues that the Rainforest Allience do.. so for me Fairtrade is simply fairer. Perhaps I am missing something?

 Bottom left Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana and right Martin Schoeller
Fancesca tells me that more schemes are being put into place and so far it seems that they have improved, simplified and made coffee production more efficient with all the initiatives.  They have built new homes, and infirmaries, schools, and micro projects for other crops have been established. Perhaps Lavazza provides this extra money and this is in place of the Fairtrade premium?   I ask but the answer is wooly, however Francesca is keen to convey that their corporate responsibility projects meet the needs of everyone involved. Lavazza excellence and sustainability go hand in hand.  I’d rather see it first had though than be sitting in a five star hotel talking about it.

I also am keen to find out more about Lavazza’s decaffeination process, having read so much about some of the processes and some somewhat dubious chemical practices used in the decaffeination process. Francesca explains that they use a water decaffeination process.  They own one of only two plants in Europe that use this method and I am delighted when I am invited to come and look at the factory in the spring.

Perhaps I will get the opportunity to meet some of the coffee farmers one day.

In the end the only thing I can do …  is try to resolve my feelings when I am faced with such inequality.  The world is simple not fair and the only way I can deal with this is through being more determined then ever to use my privilege to help others.  Its good to chat to Farncesca about the corporate responsibility program, but I’d like to see it for myself. 

The 2014 Lavazza Calendar can be viewed online here. 

Sweet Sourdough bread with Dan Lepard - Guest post by Andrea Norrington

I seem to have an insatiable appetite for sourdough.  Since learning to make my own earlier this year with Vanessa Kimbell, the mention of sweet sourdough seemed too good to resist.  When I found out that the tutor for the course was Dan Lepard I was champing at the bit to be able to learn more.  Unfortunately I couldn't commit to the course date, and I sat wistfully looking at my well-used copy of Short and Sweet.   Thanks for the wonder of Twitter; a last minute opportunity for a place on the course became available.  My commitments had changed and I was free for the day so I sent off a tweet to enter....

The upshot was a wonderful day where I learnt so much.  The kitchen at Juniper and Rose is so welcoming.  Vanessa has created an environment that lets you feel part of the house.  There is none of the uneasiness of being in a more formal kitchen environment.   

There is another Sweet Sourdough Course on the 1st February 2014.
 As Dan introduced his plan for the day, Vanessa prepared our lunch, with amazing smells wafting around us.  The recipes had been carefully selected for us, and with the lovely (and very well qualified) Maureen assisting on the weighing and measuring we were able to concentrate on the tips and techniques from Dan without having to worry about watching the scales.

Being shown how to work the bread and to understand the texture and consistency of a working dough is an invaluable experience and one that is so hard to gain from reading or even watching on TV.  My confidence soared as Dan gently corrected my technique and I could immediately understand the difference that it was making to my handling of the dough.  Although a confident cake maker, I consider myself a newbie to bread making and not once did I feel daunted or overwhelmed by anything that was mentioned.   Dan answered any question we had – not just on bread making but on a whole range of baking topics.  He was so full of enthusiasm and passionate on this subject that I have been inspired to follow up the day with learning about different flours.  Of particular interest was how he explained the science behind dough, this was not technical at all and even novice baker like me suddenly had a light bulb moment in understanding what was actually happening when I was allowing bread to prove.

Totally delicious! 
One of the highlights of the day was the time spent chatting with Dan over coffee during a proving break.  He showed genuine interest in our own baking experiences that we were able to share tips (and photos) of our successes and discuss what might have happened for the failures.  The other by-product of day like this is the friends that you make – fellow twitter buddies to share your baking triumphs and woes with.  I have found that fellow classmates are so generous with their tips and recipes.  By the end of the day we had all made three recipes.  It was sad to leave the kitchen with our bundle of chocolate sourdough cake, sweet grape focaccia and pumpkin and raisin sourdough loaf but I went away inspired and enthused about what I could make.

Footnote: The chocolate sourdough cake has already become a firm family favourite and we have experimented with several toppings – chocolate orange seems to win at the moment!

There is another Sweet Sourdough Course on the 1st February 2014. 

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Bed and Breakfast is now open

The perfect table to enjoy your sourdough toast &  Fairtrade pot of tea at in the morning  

Oh I am just so excited. It's been months of hard work, with electricians, roofers, tilers, plasters, decorators, carpet fitters and plumbers here .. but the newest Northamptonshire bed and breakfast is now ready to have guests.  

I've tried to think of every small detail.  From buying beautiful organic cotton bedding to sourcing British made fluffy white towels, to making sure all the furniture and crockery are all vintage so as to be as ethical as possible where ever possible, and we even found some 100% wool carpets, with no man made fibres.

I think that the piece of furniture I am most delighted with I bought from Sugden and Daughters - it's a French dough table which is so appropriate in the breakfast room not least because of the sourdough bread making courses I run here. 

We started the project in July and left the builders to it whilst we were in France, but this week has seen a run for it.  Just 4 days ago there were bare floorboards and now after a marathon three day put together marathon we are up and running just in time for Dan Lepard to stay as he will be teaching here on Friday. 

Thankfully we are ready!

For more details on how to book click here. 

Thursday, 10 October 2013

To gracefully let go of things not meant for me ...

The past few weeks have gone by fast.  I feel like I am quite literally galloping towards Christmas. I had hoped to be making an exciting announcement about a book deal this week, however I decided at the very last minute, despite all the hard work of planning and proposals that the organization I was going to be working with was not what I thought it was. It’s been a disappointment, much like finding out someone who you are a huge fan of is actually not all that nice. At one point last week I was so upset by an aggressive and confrontational person my hair started to fall out in clumps.  I took this a sure sign that it was not for me.

I keep on reminding myself of the Buddhist saying that in the end "only three things matter.  How much you loved, how gently you lived and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you." Clearly this book was not meant for me, so despite being really saddened I shall try my best to be graceful and some really positive things have come from this.  I have to go back to the drawing board, but there is another book brewing…

October is my favorite time of year but I’ve had little time to appreciate it.  I use to wonder why there were so few women in highflying positions.  I now realise that if you have children they are demanding, but when you have sick or poorly children then they are beyond demanding.  They are everything. I remember being so certain that having children was never going to affect my career, or my sex life or my figure. With a size 12 figure, two full time personal assistants and being newly married I was beyond naïve.  I was ignorant of the most fundamental instincts of life.  So here I am sleep deprived, a size 12 a dim distant memory and no personal anything anymore let alone two assistants. I am, however, happy and I wouldn’t change a thing.  

On Tuesday I went to the World BreadAwards. I was the category leader for the sourdough section and loved every minute.  There were almost 40 breads to choose from and Charles Campion was my partner, along with team judges Linda Hewett and Luke Collings from The Cake and Bake Show. It was a brilliantly organised event and I really felt that it was done with the same good spirit that bread is baked with.   The winners were The San Francisco Sourdough by The Bread Factory and the runner up was from Alex Gooch, artisan bread baker.
My mum popped over yesterday and kindly dropped off a bucket of pears from her tree, so I figure I will bake a pear and walnut muffins tomorrow. I’m also about to add some more courses on to the cookery school website which is always fun.  A jam and preserves making course, a pastry making course and a fantastic guest tutor with Chantal Coady of Rococo Chocolate coming up for the day.

My trades are finishing off the last of the renovations in the coach house as the bedroom and breakfast room are finished today, so the bed and breakfast will be ready as soon as the downstairs is insulated and boarded out.  So we are just a just a few weeks away from being able to advertise that students will be able to stay over.

I have to admit that I am really looking forward to people staying, although there will always be a degree of chaos in the place, with chickens, dogs, children and a new kitten, people will have to just take us as they find us. 

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Guest post: Plates, grain sacks and chalets - why I love vintage

Occasionally I come across a blog that I really love.  It might be a turn of phrase, a pretty photo or just a sense of being likeminded in life so when I bought some pretty vintage pocelain in France I wondered who else loved vintage china as much as me?  I've been reading a lovely blog written by Andrea Mynard called Shabby Chick so I called her and asked if she'd like to write guest post about why she loves vintage china. 

In my cupboard and stacked on my dresser are piles of old vintage china plates. Some are sprigged with roses, others are gold edged, a few are covered in daffodils and many are chipped. While some of my tea plates are pretty, others are better described as handsome and many when looked at objectively are decidedly dodgy. All are well-used, well-loved and when placed around the table in a mismatching jumble, very pleasing to the eye. Well, to my eye anyway.

Andrea Mynard writes a lovely blog called Shabby Chick 
I'm not in the least bit precious about any of my old plates. They're all there to be used and enjoyed, certainly not wrapped up and stashed away for 'special occasions' that never quite happen. Many of them were bought from a nearby barn sale when I was on my way to buy paper plates for my daughter's 4th birthday party.

Stumbling across lots of old china plates and saucers (perfect for children's snacks) for a few pence each, I realized they were cheaper than buying disposable plates and far more attractive to me and my daughter. A lot better for the environment in my view too to get more use out of something that may otherwise end up in a landfill.

I have to admit that when I was asked to write a guest post about vintage for Vanessa, I was keen to contribute to this very lovely blog but had a slight reservation that I was certainly no expert on vintage. Although I would love to be the sort of person who makes water bottle covers out of old flannel shirts or transforms vintage pillow cases into beautiful, life-affirming objects for the home, SouleMama  style, I have to admit to being distinctly more shabby than chic. I may manage to rustle up lavender heart bags from old sari material and love to knit welly socks from magic wool, but mostly when I attempt to sew I'm reminded of my attempts as a child to make dolls' clothes using cellotape and staples.

Finding vintage treasure in Bridport
Yet I look around me and realise that some of the most beautiful and useful things around me are vintage. I'm sitting on a cushion made from an old Hungarian grain sack. On top of a pew which we retrieved from my mother-in-laws' garage; it was oil-stained but sanded up beautifully and is far more solidly made and comfortable than anything we could've afforded new. Lots of children regularly squeeze up on the pew, which fits perfectly along the kitchen table that my partner made from reclaimed oak.

Facing the wood-burner in our kitchen, my daughter often likes to snuggle up on the sofa under a multi-coloured crochet blanket, made when I was a child by her great-grandmother out of leftover bits of wool. Outside, I regularly dig up potatoes with an old fork that once belonged to my Grandad. And of course on the shelves within easy reach of our battered old sofa, are some of my favourite vintage buys: books, including several lovely ladybird childrens' classics.

Bridport this summer
The ladybird books remind me of the fantastic vintage market in Bridport, where some of them were bought. We spent a lovely time in Bridport this summer, enjoying the fabulous Shabby Chic charms of the Bull hotel, where Parisian flea market finds mix wonderfully with contemporary local art While we also had so much rock-pooling, winkle collecting and crab eating fun at the seaside in Wales this year staying in our friend's 1960s beach chalet. In a wild spot, surrounded by tangles of honeysuckle, ferns and foxgloves and with a stream in the garden that trickles down to a glorious beach, the beach chalet is the same vintage as me. I won't say that due to the 1968 vintage, we're both showing a few signs of wear and tear. It would be unkind to the lovely holiday home. Which still has most of its original furnishings and was such a comfortable, fun place to stay in an idyllic spot.

All reminding me of that lovely satisfying mix of money-shaving thriftiness, nostalgia and fun to be enjoyed from having vintage finds in our lives. Perhaps most of all, the environmental reasons are why embracing vintage makes good sense to me. As I look around and realise how so many beautiful, well-made vintage items add loveliness to my life, I'm inspired to try harder. There is so much that is quick and disposable around us these days. Yet with a little more thought, turning discarded possessions into treasures seems to add so much more comfort and richness.  

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Warm words in a cold book

Ben Vear 
It’s amazing how time just disappears. In the end it’s all we have. Time. 

Between running classes, renovating this old house, writing blog posts, looking after three young and wonderfully demanding children, gardening, cleaning, walking the dogs, looking after the chickens, housework it is so hard to find a moment. I’ve really neglected my friends and it’s about all I can do to keep up with my own family.  I am, however, as happy as I’ve ever been.  The one thing I have made time for is ten minutes meditation a day.  It doesn’t sound like much, but I feel spiritually in touch with who I am, and some how this is a dynamo that really helps keep me going.

Of course I can’t work at this pace indefinitely and so in July this year I was exhausted. I literally packed up this blog, suspended my twitter account, abandoned facebook and shut off any kind of technology.  We headed to the South West of France. For the first few days I was almost in a daze. It was almost like I was recovering from an illness.  We did nothing. I did have almost withdrawal symptoms from not using any kind of technology though. The feelings were oddly similar to when I stopped smoking many years ago.  After a week of fighting a nervous twitch without my phone in my hand I started to remember what life was like pre social media.  It helped that there was no signal in France.  It did however leave me with a pile of work to do when I got back.  I’ve been working my way through and saving the best bits until last.

A few days ago Matt Inward the art director at Absolute Press send me a lovely tweet which served to remind me I hadn’t had the time to properly read a book Ice cream and otherfrozen delights, written by a great friend and brilliant chap Ben Vear.  There is a lovely review here by Helen of Fuss free Flavours. So that evening I made sure I had a couple of hours clear. This was my treat, my moment to actually really read and digest this beautiful book of ice cream, and I had been looking forward to it all day.

Ben's grandfather first started making ice cream in the 1920's
With a large a glass of red wine I settled down in my most comfortable chair and turned each and every page. I caught myself smiling, as the flavour combinations are so perfectly balanced and delighted in some of the utterly delicious flavour combinations.  This is a serious ice cream book with truly stunning photography, but with a really fun side to it. My mind started to wander through my fridge and panty working out if I had all the ingredients to make the gingerbread recipe. I almost got up out of the chair to start making ice cream despite it being late.  The recipes are written and photographed in such a way that they actually make you want to start making them right away.  I stood up and then sat down again and reminded myself that I really should carry on and read all the recipes.

It really is a superb book. The combinations are all just delicious sounding. I loved the balsamic, blackberry and strawberry ice cream as well as the damson gin ice cream and I will definitely be making my favorite sweet in the whole world, baked Alaska later in the week. 

As it got towards midnight I flicked the last page, the acknowledgments.  Time for bed my husband announced. I was about to close the page when a word caught my attention; it was the last paragraph on the first page of acknowledgements. Matt had mentioned them in his tweet.  Divine chocolate.  Good on you Ben! I thought. I’m passionate about Fairtrade.  I’ll have to tweet Ben in the morning I thought. I carried on reading; after all it was just half a page more.  I couldn’t be more pleased that I did. The very last paragraph in this lovely book was written about me, and how my adventure inspired Ben to start writing.  It was an absolutely totally unexpected and utterly delightful surprise.

Damson gin ice cream looks like a prefect autumn evening dessert 
As I finished reading Ben’s lovely acknowledgment quite unexpectedly tears just rolled down my face. The sudden intensity of my emotion response took me by surprise.   They were tears of happiness and tears of grief all at once.  

When Mott Green died so unexpectedly in June I had been completely immersed in the material from such an amazing trip with one of the most inspiring people I had ever met. I'd been listening to recordings I made from the week for several hours, making notes and chuckling away in my office, reliving the celebration of bringing in the chocolate 5000 miles on the Tres Hombres. Less then an hour after I had been listening to those celebratory recordings that were made just two weeks previously I was told he had died. 

It was a real shock, and I found myself reluctant to venture out of my comfort zone since.  It's surprising what you learn about both yourself and others when you something tragic happens. I found myself shortly afterwards reassessing my relationships with people around me and I've busied myself more so than usual in my work and family, avoided socialising people over the past few months. 

Somehow as I read the Ben’s Ben had written about me they shined light on this subconscious barrier I had put up.  The truth is that to inspire people I mustn’t be afraid to give part of myself way. I need to be warm hearted to be me. It was a huge privilege to get to know Mott, and even though it feels vulnerable to write about real feelings for all the world to read, it is also a time to remember and celebrate knowing him.

I am reminded of the Buddhist saying. "thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened." 

Well done Ben on such a beautiful book.  Thank you for your kind words and I will be making ice cream for my loved ones from it for years to come.

Monday, 9 September 2013

The French Bakery

The Best Bread in France
It’s taken me several attempts to start to write.  I suppose having taken the whole summer off I feel almost rusty. My fingers feel slightly out of touch with the keyboard and as I am writing about both my summer in France and my childhood experiences in a French bakery.  For some reason I am feeling oddly vulnerable sharing both my holiday and my childhood helping in a bakery in France. It feels deeply personal to be writing about a place that is a large part of who I am.

I read Paul Hollywood’s vivid account of his very first memory baking bread in this week’s Telegraph.  I am sorry to say I have no such memory.  Bread is so much part of my childhood it is as though it was always there, so I am afraid there is no such first time account.

Boulangerie Janet in Nadaillac, France
When I was very young my mother used to make soda bread. It was damp, slightly green and smelt of of sour milk and soda.  I’m not sure I appreciated it very much.  I remember pleading with a boy at school to swap the chunky wholemeal soda bread and cheese lunch my mum had lovingly made for me for his flaccid limp white marmite ones. He was not persuaded.

When my parents bought a house in the Dordogne I was just nine. It was late spring and I remember looking in delight at the yellow cowslips peeking out from the verges as we drove into the village.  We didn’t go the house as we first arrived weary and hungry after a fourteen hour drive.  We went to the hotel, where Jeano, the Frenchest of Frenchmen and his family welcomed us. The restaurant was full of locals eating delicious smelling food, drinking Pernod and red wine.  The potage, the juice from the steaks and the cheese were scooped up with crusty white sourdough bread from baskets piled high on the tables. The bread smelt slightly of woodsmoke.  I remember eating the bread thinking that the soft white interior was the best bread I'd ever had.   My brother and I fed carrots to the rabbits in cages, little realising their final destany

It got dark quickly and a slim dark boy called Bertrand showed me the tree in the square. He chatted to me in the most beautiful language.  I hadn't a clue what he was saying but we stood under a huge oak tree outside the church, which is sadly no longer there, but I was captivated by all things french from that moment to this day. 

Une Courant. 
It didn’t take long for the local children to find my brother and I and after just two or three holidays we were given the run of the village with the other children. It was the most perfect childhood. There were people everywhere. Farmers drove their tractors through the narrow streets, women tended their vegetable gardens, chickens scratched about unconcerned by the dogs, who barked at strangers and chased cats.  Morris our neighbour would wander past twice a day with his four cows and the three village shops stocked a range of never seen before sweets such a carembars, but the best bit for me was the bakery. 

I soon made friends with Noel, who has four strapping boys.  Perhaps because she had no daughter, or perhaps because I was so interested in everything she did in her kitchen she spent hours teaching me to speak French. I affectionately call her my French mum and her youngest son Eric I call my cousin. I love her wry humour, patience and affection.  (We've been scouting around al the brocontes together buying French treasure, visiting the market at Terrasson an generally laughing, gossiping and eating - it's been so good to catch up. )

The bakery is known to be 150 years old but it probably older
Bu the time I was twelve I spoke better French then my parents and would find myself translating for them. Even now I count myself incredibly lucky to have such amazing parents and smile as I remember creeping past their bedroom in the early hours, out into the night to the bakery. 

I used to think that it was the smell of the sourdough bread that woke me up, but having been woken up almost every night this summer I now know it was not the smell of baking bread that woke me at all.. it was the smell of the wood smoke as the oven was lit. The wisps of smoke wind out of the chimney over the roof tops, curl under the shutters of my bedroom whispering an invitation into my dreams and promising fresh baked bread in the morning.

Thinking back now I would have been about eleven when I first woke up and decided to crept out of bed and down to the bakery.  The baker was happy to let me help and I spent every summer until he left when I was about fifteen.

I swept the floor, brushed the croissants with egg and milk and brushed the hot loaves off as they came out of the oven, and as I got older helped knead and shape the bread. The smell was heavenly and the warmth of the bakery was enough to make me brave walking down the black unlit alleyway to get there.  The church clock would chime, just as it does now, and I’d while away from 3am until the morning when the sun would come up and I was allowed to serve the villagers their bread.

The same recipe has been used since the 1950's as Laurent passed his recipe on to Herve in 1988 
This summer Herve, who bought the bakery in 1988, welcomed me back.  The bakery shut for a year or so and the original owner trained him in his way of making bread. By the time I was in my late teens all the children I’d grown up with in the village would go night clubbing together and on the way home we’d stop and buy warm bread from Herve. We’d all sit drinking coffee and smoking our cigarettes, still slightly drunk, whilst eating warm buttery croissants and fresh crusty bread until the sun came up and then we'd all sleep until after lunch.

Thirty years on I relived waking to the smell of wood smoke.  I crept out of the house in the early hours, only this time it was my children I was trying not to wake. The same irrational fear sat in the pit of my stomach, even though cows a long gone, as I walked along the black alleyway again, and the same feeling of absolute joy was there as I walked under the orange street lights and into the warmth of the bakery. 

The alley way isn't scary during the day .. but when it's dark, trust me,  it's spooky. 
This summer my own children found me in the bakery first thing in the morning. I have no doubt that they saw glimpses of the eleven year old me, eyes shining, covered in flour and chatting to the locals as I once did. I seemed to connect with them as they fell in love with my village. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so happy as I have this summer.

Herve still uses the same sourdough recipe for his bread and bakes it in the same oven that has been used since 1950. He's an amazing baker.  Nowadays most of the business is hotels and restaurants, although some of the older residents still buy their bread early in the morning.  The hotel is now the distribution point for the bread and Herve delivers bread all over the area as he bakes over 200 large loaves a night.

I can’t thank Herve enough for having me back, sharing his sourdough method, recipe, techniques and advice.  Of course I have brought back the “chef,” starter so I’m now baking my bread with my French starter from the bakery. I will spend rest of the year making sourdough and telling my students about the bakery and return to the village again next year for the summer .. and treasure the time I spent there.

Isobel helping Jordan brush the flour off the hot loaves.  She wants to be a baker too she told me. x

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Closed for the Summer

I've been so busy setting up the Juniper and Rose Kitchen Garden School this year I've hardly paused for breath. Looking back over the year so far I'm really pleased how far things have come. The garden has provided all the herbs, salads, flowers and fruit I've needed for the school,  the extra's I've relied on my local Green Grocer and my local butcher, Sauls of Spratton, and I've sourced as much produce as possible directly from my local flour millers and farmers.  If there has been a fairtrade option on any of the ingredients we use then we've chosen Fairtrade and we've had lots of students through the doors learning to bake sourdough bread, make jam, create their own artisan cheeses and bake...all whilst using ethical and sustainable ingredients. 

Now after what seems like an eternity of rain and cold there is some sun shine.  It's glorious, and I've time to stop and really think about where we are and everything else that needs to be done.  The builders are in full swing, turning the two bedrooms in the coach house into bed and breakfast and we'll have guest bedrooms ready for students in September. 

Early Autumn will see the How to Keep Chickens course ready to run again and as chickens have laid all the eggs we've used as well as  successfully hatching out two small clutches of Lavender Pekins, we'll some spare Pekins for sale. 

I've started learning about bee keeping on Sunday morning.  A wild honey bee colony have moved in above the sitting room. We'll move them into a hive and hopefully have our own honey next year too.  

If you go to France of Italy in the summer months you will see that the French and the Italians have no problem shutting up shop, whilst for some reason we English seem to plough on despite that fact that half the country is on holiday and the other half are just too hot to be bothered to do anything. 

I know I'm working on new projects over the next couple of months, but for now the Mediterranean in me wins as the summer holidays are upon us.  My children are growing up so fast and these next six weeks are precious days.  Sometimes you just have to forget technology, switch the computer off, abandon the housework and enjoy the sunshine, so we are closed for the summer. 

See you all in September. 

Thursday, 4 July 2013


I made cheese today; a lemon and mint soft cheese with poppy seeds and lime.

It was made with local buffalo milk and organic lemons, which is all very well .. but really I made cheese as a distraction.  

I was distracting myself from feeling naughty.  Do you remember that feeling.  Mischief.. .. it's the kind of feeling that as a child would make me rope my brother into going scrumping or play cherry knocking in the village, or dare him to climb a tree that I knew was far too big for him to climb down from.  It's the kind of feeling that only goes away when you do something you shouldn't and just get away with it by a whisker. 

I used to love the thrill of climbing over the neighbour’s fence, sneaking up under an apple tree, and  picking the most tempting apple I could see.  Of course my brother and I would then run.  Really run.  Perhaps it was the running that gave me the thrill.  I was always convinced that we’d be caught.  We’d have to find a spot to eat our warm slightly acidic, under ripe  apples, and we'd laugh and laugh...  more from the sheer pleasure of the deed than anything. 

I'm not sure that we ever got caught  ..  but I do remember those stolen apples being delicious.