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.

No time to stop and chat...

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.

TGI January!

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:-

No point crying, eh?!  Happy New Year Everyone, lets make it a Real good one!!