Going Underground...

Since I last wrote, I think we were approaching winter and all the festivities that go with it.  Some of you may have been aware that I suffered at least two mishaps in the run-up to what is usually my busiest period of the year; the first was managing to slice through my middle digit with a razor blade and had to be bound-up by the lovely "Boris", one of the many assets of our local A & E department here in Luton.  This injury was threatening to halt all baking for at least the following 7 days, if not for a fortnight.

 I was teetering on deciding how capable I could be.  I didn't have to teeter for long; within days of this accident, my back gave way in spectacular fashion as I stepped through my own front door, returning from the school run.  It would be game over.   As luck would have it, I had not one, but two fledgling mini-doctors in the house.  Once they had got over the initial shock of a collapsed grown-up mumma howling like a banshee in pain close to the floor, they rallied round to bring me a chair, some water, my phone and painkillers.  My son and his buddy disappeared for a few moments only to return with a lovely card that they had made me en spec. So there followed a few disappointed customers and a series of trips to my osteopath for treatment.  I managed to squeeze in one more market and get all my Christmas orders fulfilled before my final treatment a couple of days before Yuletide.

Naked Panettones!
 And so, it was with huge relief that I had a brilliant end of year break, with visiting family, friends , far too much food and drink, lots of TV and oodles of sleep which I desperately needed.  As I am the worlds' worst anti-waster (I waste nothing) I have done my best to continue the indulgence theme through the best part January, as with every year, it comes with the promise of no markets until the end of the month, yey! Mind you, not much of an extended break really, given that I am now baking at least 3 times a week to fulfil regular orders.
 Being honest, my 2016 injuries did put a bit of a wobble on as to whether I wanted to continue with my growing business, as there are far easier and less physical ways to make a living - particularly when one is as smart as I am...(Pfnarr!).  But then came a charming message that was send to me a couple of weeks ago from a happy customer and my faith was restored:-

"As we embark on a new year I feel it important to thank the people who provide exceptional services and products. So Jo, I'd like to thank you whole heartily for your amazing sour dough. I ordered three loaves from Sue Lang over Christmas as my son Leo won't eat any other bread,and is disheartened when we run out,(I try and keep one in the freezer at all times). Also your panettone is truly outstanding. I understand how difficult it is to make and how necessary it is to hang upside down after baking. Thank you for your excellent bread." - From a nice chap who shops at the Black Cat Farm Shop, Roxton.

Third time's a Charm?

Wowzers, so I won another award this year - this time is was the Real Bread Award from the Chiltern Society and I won for the Northern Region. Really proud of myself that I am almost up there with Rex Bakery from Little Chalfont, who was the Central and overall winner and who kindly hosted the little award giving soiree on Monday night.  He produces some cracking breads and like me, comes from an academic background and learnt his trade in a relatively short space of time, driven by pure passion for his craft.  He is absolutely flying at what he is does and has very kindly offered to give me a proper tour of his bakery, which I want to do as soon as I can fit it in.

A week or two ago now, saw my debut at the Hitchin Food and Drink Festival.  I was assisted for the first time, by one of my customers who I am delighted to now call a friend and who had never done this sort of thing before.  I had no need to worry, since Gordon is a complete breadhead like myself, he chatted with ease, calmness and knowledge about the Real Bread that I make and why it is the best thing before, during and after the invention of sliced bread.

I had also been asked to do a demonstration/talk on Sourdough, on the main cooking demonstration stage.  Owing to the disgruntled rantings of the wife of one of the chefs, my early slot was pushed back to allow said chef to return home at a reasonable hour and appease his wife.  I was persuaded to take this later slot on the understanding that I would be sharing the stage with none other than Nigel Barden, the celebrity chef who does a slot every Thursday evening on BBC Radio 2, with Simon Mayo.  I was also misled into thinking that if I went on with him, he would take one of my sourdoughs away with him and then use it/mention it on a future show.  So I was all like, "Me? get a mention on Radio 2, my favourite station?!  Yes please!".  Oh, how I regretted that decision when it came to MY slot.  Somehow, the resident compère and said Mr Barden completely misread my pre-stage nerves (understandably) as more debilitating then they actually were and so took it upon themselves to railroad my 15 minutes of fame and continue to present the makings of a sourdough pizza (albeit with my dough).  At one point I was completely cutoff from the presentation and I had to stand there like a lemon whist they went on and on about onions, chorizo and other such toppings.  At one point, internally, I bellowed in my head "SO NIGEL, WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO TELL YOU WHY SOURDOUGH BREAD IS BETTER FOR YOU THAN OTHER BREADS???!!!  Suffice to say, I was not a happy bunny, although in the end, my Dad and step mum said that despite the crappy middle I managed to pull it back at the end.  Note to self: I am more confident about my subject than I thought I was and I can clearly hold my own.  BOOM!

So, going off on a tangent there from my subject header, why 3 times a charm?  Because I have just entered the Tiptree World Bread Awards.  I am hoping to win with one of my 2 entries.  Mind you, I hope for a lot of things.  Wish me luck chums!

Happy Birthday to me!!

My blog is getting a bit like the Four Seasons markets at Potton - only 4 times a year! With all best intentions to keep you posted of news and events and as much as I enjoy having a good ramble on, I find it difficult to make the time.  A whole month and a bit ago (I think it was May) I received a Highly Commended (that's second) from the Bedfordshire Food and Drink awards as a result of all my pleading and begging amongst all my customers to cast their vote for me, so I would like to thank each and everyone of you for doing so, as without your votes, I'd have got nowhere.  My husband took the day off work to accompany me to the ceremony, so it made it worthwhile.  The fact that I had to try and drink my own bodyweight in complimentary wine to cover the fee for us to attend the event, also helped.

Some weeks following this, our son went to his first cub camp - FOR TWO NIGHTS!!!  A great bit of freedom for us there, although It was on a Hitchin Market day, so for a change, I persuaded my hub to come and do the stall with me.  He worked really hard and I don't think I've ever sold so much bread pudding on a stall before.  We had a night out planned later on, although I think the experience exhausted him somewhat.

Last week, I did the biggest event of my bready career, which was the St Albans Country Fair.  I had no idea what to expect, so I made as much bread as I possibly could for the two full-day event and set off, bleary eyed on the Saturday morning to set up shop.  We got there around 8 and had best part of 3 hours to leisurely set out our wares.  Helping me were my two dough nuts, Shirley and mum.  i had no idea what to expect from the event but let me tell you it was very hard work and very hot too!  Most people who attend these events do not come for bread, so we had a huge challenge ahead to pull people in.  It helped that I did a few talks in the cookery demonstration tent as that tended to give us little flurries.  Towards the end of the two days, I did something that I never do - did an offer of 2 for 1 on all remaining loaves.  I work really hard to produce good bread and I know that my loaves are very reasonably priced compared to other bakers and stalls I've come across - and these tend to be the ones with all the equipment, premises and staff! I think out of 291 loaves, After giving a couple to stall holders and to mum and Shirl-girl, I think I took home about 29 small loaves for the freezer, which wasn't too bad in the end.  Never, Never again tho.

And so to this week.  On this this day, 5 years ago, Jo's Loaves was born as my little hobby business.  Who knew I'd make 5  years!! Certainly not me, but I am very proud at what I have achieved and I hope to do more in the next 5 years.

Pause for thought...

My Son's favourite - Picky Tea!
Joyce and her baps
So, did we all have a good Easter?  I'm guessing most little terrors have since returned to school by now, although my dude went back last week, so normal service has well and truly resumed in our household and the chocolate mountain, a fond and distant memory.  Tuesday was the first day of the "anti-holiday" and I had organised a final (possibly) baking course for 4 wonderful individuals in my kitchen. 

I have to say, that although I enjoyed it immensely it was mentally exhausting; there is no way you could run one of these courses without vigorous planning and organising and I do find them more labour intensive than baking for a weekend market.  (I expect I'll eat those words in July, when I've a two-day event..).  Hopefully, my student bakers don't notice that I get the most fun out of it, although judging by the feedback and the happy faces at the end of the day we are probably even stevens.
And Relax!

This week is a rare market-free week, with time, yes, TIME to plan things to do and to do things that I've planned.  (tick in the box for writing my blog there then..). It's a sad fact that as a small business owner I still have to spend a lot of time in front of a computer and today in particular, has been no exception. Still, I know I am lucky and I get to immerse myself in something that I love most of the time.  I have a couple of things on the back burner and I hope to be able to bring you some news about that soon.  In the meantime, TOMORROW is the 21st April and that's the day that Hertfordshire Life is published;  I think there is an article regarding Real Bread inside and I hoping I am in it! 

Right, I best crack on, or we'll end up with no dinner tonight - just time to point you to my new page Recipe of the Moment  - check out what I made for lunch last Saturday, it was inspired!

In the Kitchen before Hitchin!

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.   

2016 Bedfordshire Food & Drink Awards - Vote Now!

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.

Mr Gunn, Phil and me at BEDSFDA Press Launch
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. 

Slightly jaded...

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.