Posts Tagged ‘Ben’

Visiting the Mother Country

Saturday, January 5th, 2013

Recently my seat allocation on trains has been very disappointing. I always request a window seat where possible but my past few train rides have had me either facing backwards, in the seat next to the wall between two windows, or the countryside was so covered in fog that I couldn’t see anything anyway. But not this time – I am currently in a winning position on my train from Sheffield to London with a huge window view in a forward direction, the sun is setting and there’s no one sitting next to me. BOOM! WINNER!

Train view

So pretty.

My Christmas and New Year break in Sheffield has come to an end in the alarmingly sudden fashion that all holidays seem to have. I can’t really call it a holiday – more a volunteering mission where I participated in the rewarding and particularly humanitarian activity of providing baked goods to the British. It is nice to have my brother living so close by as my desire to have family members around continues to increase. Ben’s business partner, Martha, and her family treat Ben and I like long lost relatives and fed us three meals involving pork on Boxing Day. I don’t think I’ve eaten that much pig in so many different forms over such a short a period of time in my life.

I am starting to really like England – a few years ago when I was contemplating moving to Europe I was adamant that I would never live in England. Far too many Australians live there, they speak English and it rains too much. But now that I have spent some time there and have eaten more sticky toffee puddings, beef and mushroom pies, and random wild birds in delicious sauces, I am starting to see its positives. And while some have very strange accents, terrible hair cuts and worse dress sense, the British are generally all very friendly, relaxed and hilariously polite. They also say weird things like “Ta-rah” and call you “Love” a lot, but you’ll be pleased to hear that I had Martha and her brother saying “Hooroo!” after just five days of my stay.

Mmm... sticky toffee pudding...

Mmm… sticky toffee pudding…

I have also come to realise that the only reason why the rain is an issue for me is because I am never appropriately dressed and therefore getting wet and stepping in mud puddles is an unpleasant experience. Ben and I went for a walk through forested areas of Sheffield towards the Peak District, and we passed lots of Brits wearing gumboots or heavy-duty walking shoes and EVERYONE made a rustling sound in their plastic, waterproof jackets. It dawned on me that I, too, could own some gumboots (preferably red with white stripes or spots) and waterproof clothing and then I would be able to walk straight through the giant mud puddles like a five-year old. It would be brilliant! I am now overwhelmingly excited about this concept.

Foresty. Well... nearly.

Foresty. Well… nearly.

While in Sheffield I decided to start applying for a UK visa, not completely certain that I am allowed to do so from France. Hidden deep within a PDF that you are told you have to read on about page two of the application, was a small note that essentially says that yes, I can apply from France. Well, thank you for telling me, UK Immigration department. Greatly appreciated. So if all goes well, on 1 March I will move to England. Where exactly, I’m not sure but Ben has offered me his lounge room floor which is much better than a cardboard box under a bridge. Things are looking up.

Serious Apple Pie

Saturday, January 5th, 2013

I am currently sitting on the train from Sheffield to London digesting. Ben and I went to his local pub, The Broadfield, for lunch and both rolled home in a state of extreme excess. Ben was worse than me having chosen the beef and mushroom pie which is served with hand cut potato chips and mushy peas. The pies are very good but I wanted dessert so I was somewhat smart and chose the leek, potato and stilton soup. We both then ordered apple and walnut pies. In my mind I pictured a decent slab of sweet pastry filled with soft apples and the odd bit of nut. I had quickly dashed off to the loo and returned to discover a PIE THE SIZE OF MY HEAD sitting on my plate. It wasn’t just a slice, it was a full pie with a pastry lid and everything. Next to it, the ball of vanilla ice cream looked miniscule. Ben and I looked at each other and just laughed – how the hell were we going to eat these things?

That's a big pie.

That’s a big pie.

The answer was ‘we couldn’t.’ We tried – oh how we tried, but we both left large amounts of pastry cases on our plates. I usually love the pastry more than the filling, but even I couldn’t tackle this. The pie innards were very good – huge chunks of apples with whole walnuts and dates. Seriously tasty. But way, way, way too much. Even if Ben and I had shared one we wouldn’t have been able to finish.

It pains me to leave food on my plate, particularly when I have enjoyed it, but if I had continued to eat my stomach would have exploded into a hundred million pieces, strewing itself throughout the pub with large chunks of pastry hitting other customers’ faces. And I wouldn’t have been able to tell you about it.

Merry Not-So-White Christmas!

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

Merry Christmas friends! I hope you are all happy, healthy and having plenty of cake on this festive day. I am currently sitting in my brother’s lounge room in Sheffield, listening to a Hospital Records drum and bass podcast and waiting for my next meal. It isn’t far away – lunch should be in the next half an hour or so. Ben and I have bought a chicken for dinner along with some brussel sprouts and other vege and we’ll have chocolate puddings for dessert. Not bad for a Christmas for two!

I have spent the last few days working in my brother’s bakery and it is nice to sit down and do NOTHING. Ben and Martha have worked so hard over the past five weeks to get their bakery open, functioning and capable of delivering bread for the Christmas period. It was slightly insane over the last few days and I think my lungs are full of icing sugar from dusting 40 stollens three times. It has also been a delicious past few days with plenty of bakery treats being slightly too dark or misshapen and therefore available for bakery staff consumption. Mmm… weird shaped croissants taste just as good as perfectly shaped ones.

And have my dreams come true and is it snowing outside? No. But one of my favourite people, Stephen Fry, informed me last night on the Christmas special of QI that it only snowed in England on about 15 Christmas Days during the 20th century and therefore the likelihood that it would snow today is quite low… But it is raining so at least I know it is England.

I shall leave you with some glimpses of my Christmas. Thanks for reading – love to you all!

Poppyseed stollen

Poppyseed Stollen – so beautifully dusted and wrapped (I did that)

Forge Bakehouse

Christmas bread at Forge Bakehouse

christmas stollen

Mmm… marzipan stollen for Christmas morning tea

christmaswham

Waking up to Christmas with Wham!

bananachristmastree

Ben and my banana Christmas tree

Baking Up a Forge

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

I appear to have fallen into a deep, dark hole when it comes to my blog updates. Very bad. I have an excellent excuse though. Trust me.

Yesterday evening I returned home from Sheffield where I had spent the last five days helping my brother Ben and his business partner, Martha, set up, open and run their bakery. These two have been working hard building shelves, installing ovens, painting walls and buying flour and the opening day had finally arrived. Forge Bakehouse opened with a Friday night shindig where local passers-by and Twitter followers came for free tastings of the bread and baked goods. I was the proudest sister in the history of proud sisters – so many people came and everyone left with huge smiles and very extended bellies. The bread was amazing, the pastries were amazing, and the support from the local community proved that what Ben and Martha are trying to achieve is exactly what the folk of Sheffield want.

Forge Bakehouse

Inside Forge Bakehouse

Over the next few days I helped as checkout chick, customer service provider, chocolate brownie baker (I was officially titled Master of the Universe Brownie Baker), and general kitchen hand. I burnt myself on the oven, I sliced my finger open and my hands cracked and dried from washing my hands so much. I was part of the team!

Forge brownies

I made these!

Watching Ben and Martha work in the bakery was astonishing. Their ability to coordinate when to prep, prove and bake bread, make custards for tarts and whip egg-whites for meringues was just incredible. Considering they are still relative newbies in the bakery world, the fact that they could produce so much bread so successfully is huge credit to them. I kept wanting to give them both hugs for being baking-geniuses.

Working in the bakery was possibly the most fun I have had in yonks. YONKS, I say. It brought back memories of being eight years old and running a café (appropriately named Café Olay (which I didn’t realise until quite a bit later was, in fact, Café Au Lait. Clearly I had French in me from birth) in our computer/office/play room, serving invisible customers, cooking playdough food and thoroughly enjoying the moment when I got to use the till. I now have an intense desire to set up a real café, but I have lots of desires to do many things so I should probably sit on this one for a bit longer. But it was certainly inspiring to watch these two work so hard to get what they want.

I am looking forward to going back at Christmas to help out with the festive season rush. In the mean time I shall rest my cheek bones from excess smiling each time a customer walked in the door. It hurt.

Visiting the Family

Friday, October 19th, 2012

I have been ‘out of range’ for the past week and a half as I went to watch my big bro’ graduate from his baking school in England. Having completed three-and-a-half degrees, he finally went to one of his graduations, previously having chosen not to pay to wear an unflattering gown and stupid hat. I think he chose best graduation to attend because:

  1. It was short
  2. There was an AWESOME lunch afterwards in a normally inaccessible abbey
  3. I could attend.

Ben had been studying on the School of Artisan Food on the Welbeck Estate. I had been looking forward to his graduation as it meant we could have a lunch in the beautiful old stately home that normally is closed to public access.

Welbeck Estate

Welbeck Estate

The lunch was a delicious selection of local produce most of which was made on the estate and we ate in a gorgeous wood-panelled room that I would consider to have been a ‘reception hall’. Very fancy. At least it was fancy until we all attempted to eat slices of beef while standing up and holding a plate, a champagne glass and knives and forks. Not enough hands. Everyone had food around their mouth at some point.

Resulting from Ben’s studies is his new bakery venture with fellow student, Martha. Anyone in the area of Sheffield should make their way to Forge Bakehouse on Abbeydale Road. Due to open early November, you can follow their progress here.

Forge Bakehouse

Mmmm… real bread…

Hands Off My Croquembouche

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

I have always thought my brother is a bit of a genius and have often had little sister jealousy over his ability to be brilliant at EVERYTHING he tries. At school he was always the smart one – he won all of the awards, he was good at maths AND art, and he was loved by all the teachers and students. He has studied various degrees (and been good at ALL of them) and has now moved to England where he is studying artisan baking – the ultimate mix of mathematical precision and artistic flair. He is, of course, doing very well at it.

And while part of me is jealous that once again he has found something he’s freakishly good at, this skill I have been able to benefit from in the form of delicious, delicious baked goods. Mmm… food. Ben met me at Dubai airport on our way home to Perth with a large bag of crumbs which, a few hours earlier, had been chocolate biscuits. I can tell you that there is nothing more satisfying than standing in the middle of Dubai airport at 2 o’clock in the morning stuffing your face with chocolate crumbs. We may have looked like drug addicts eating weird powdery goods from a plastic bag, but it was worth getting arrested over.

And that was just the start – the real treat came for Grandma’s birthday when Ben decided he would attempt the impossible by making a croquembouche (a profiterole tower) in a kitchen he had never been to, in a hotel chalet at the Bunker Bay resort. INSANITY.

Ben baking

I don’t think this kitchen had ever been used for any sort of real cooking up until now.

I volunteered myself as sous-chef and was given the task of finding a round object about the size of a 20 cent coin to then trace circles on baking paper for Ben to pipe regular sized choux pastry balls. Luckily, I have a collection of oversized red rings, one of which was the perfect shape. I was fulfilling my role as sous-chef well so far. A much harder task was to sit for 35 minutes watching a chocolate cake bake in my cousin’s chalet, inhaling wafts of delicious 70% dark chocolate smells as the cake rose and my mouth filled with saliva. That was just cruel.

Ben had never built a croquembouche before and so there was an element of “Is this going to work”? for a majority of the morning. However, as I carefully selected each profiterole based on size and shape, handed them to Ben and he then dipped them in molten sugar and stuck them all together, the miracle of Grandma’s-90th-Birthday came to be. The sugar hardened, the profiteroles stuck together and the tower of goodness came to be.

Croquembouche

Adding the final sugary touch

Standing back and watching Ben create this tower was really exciting. Not only was it amazing that the tower didn’t fall over, but the skill and precision Ben used to create the croquembouche meant that the end result was beautiful and looked professionally crafted. So this time, I wasn’t so much jealous of Ben’s skills but proud of the fact that it was MY BROTHER who had made such a wonderful birthday cake for his 90-year old Grandmother. And that I was going to get to eat it.

Birthday cake

Oh cake. I love you.

Ben is almost at the end of his baking course and is currently planning on establishing a bakery with a fellow student in Sheffield. Looks like I’ll be making many trips to England for free baked goods.

In Ink

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

I finished my lino cut today and then played around with paint. I really wasn’t sure how much paint to use and the best way to apply it, so it took a bit of experimentation before things started happening. It still isn’t perfect but I now get the general rules for successful paint application, and look!

Lino print

Printed.

I am very pleased with the results. I want to experiment with adding some colours and layers. I am looking forward to see what eventuates!

A Very Big Challenge

Monday, April 30th, 2012

On day one of my 40-Creations-in-40-Days challenge, I realised it was going to be difficult to complete. On day two it all became scarily obvious that I am not going to be able to do it. No, wait, I take that back. I COULD do it, except the things that I would produce wouldn’t actually be what I want to make and hence, what is the point? I guess creative development is always good and I am still trying to do something everyday, however I don’t think I will make 40 pieces.

The reason is simple – lots of the pieces that I want to make simply take longer than one day, and when I have other things in my day that also take up my time (eg. eating) I am not able to fulfil the requirements of the challenge. SO, I am going to change the rules to be 40 days of intense creativity, resulting in as many creative pieces as physically possible. Yes, maybe I am making it too easy on myself, but I also don’t want to just create rubbish. I see no point.

So what have I been doing? Pure brilliance, is what. Allow me to show you in photographic form:

Ben stencil

Step 1. Take a photograph of your brother and use Photoshop to turn it into a black and white image.

Pencil transfer

Step 2. Go crazy with lead pencil on the back of the image for a cheap alternative to transfer paper.

Stencil

Step 3. Attach image to a piece of lino and trace over the lines.

Transfered stencil image

Et voilà! Magic.

Lino cutters

Step 4. Take your Lino Snijgereedschap and start carving.

Lino cut

Step 5. Cut away from you. Don't not put your hands in front of the lino cutter. Attach the lino to your work surface. Remove all white space.

Working outside

Step 6. Work in a lovely outdoor environment and enjoy.

And there we have it! I am still working on slicing my brother’s face, but I hope to finish within the next day and then I can make some prints. It is such an enjoyable experience – I love the tactile nature of the lino and the fact that my hands were starting to hurt by the end of the day. I haven’t made a lino cut since my year 8 art class so I am having to teach myself but I think it is going to look good. I will show you the final results soon.

SNOW!

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

On my trip to England I learnt a very valuable lesson – the more you complain about not getting something, the more likely it will come when you least expect it. For example, snow.

I missed out on the snow in Paris this year due to French visa requirements and was a TEENY BIT disappointed. Ok, I cried. But it really was very unfair as all I wanted was a little bit of fluffy white stuff to start tumbling from the sky sometime around the Christmas period. Not a big ask, in my opinion, but clearly too hard to manage for the French Weather Gods.

I had given up all hope for seeing snow this winter as Paris has now moved into Spring with the flowers and the birds and the babies, but then I went to England. Good old England and its crummy weather. The day I arrived it was beautiful and sunny (and apparently hot but I’m not convinced that 19 degrees can be classified as hot), the day after it rained, the day after that was sun again. On Tuesday morning, when Ben and I drove to Manchester, it was sprinkling and by the time we arrived it was definitely raining. We spent the morning dodging rain drops walking through Manchester but in the afternoon it cleared up. However, there was clearly something brewing in the sky as very dark patches of clouds loomed in the distance and the winds picked up. As we left Lesley’s house at 9pm, it was cold, dark, windy and threatening.

The drive home required us to go up into some hills and the higher we climbed the colder our car’s temperature gauge told us it was outside. It was raining and soon that rain turned into icy rain and then suddenly I was able to scream out in delight, “IT’S SNOWING!!!”

England snow

Yikes.

I think Ben, as driver, was slightly less pleased by the snow as he was having to tackle slippery roads and very strong winds pushing torrents of snow flakes into our car as we zoomed along the motor way. It was like driving into an asteroid belt and going through a time warp. I suspect Doctor Who would have experienced similar things. It was pretty scary as rain + wind + snow + not really knowing the roads = not so good, but Ben’s good driving skills, the iPad GPS and some awesome 80s, 90s, and 00s hits as our driving music helped us get home safely.

The next morning it was snowing in Creswell but not pretty white fluffy snow – soggy, wet, melt-on-impact snow. Apparently other areas not far away had been snowed in so technically we were lucky, but it would have been nice to see some decent snow that wasn’t just gross. Anyway, I was still happy and did scream with joy like a child on occasion.

Creswell Snow

It looks like Christmas!

I am heading to the Alps this weekend with some friends where I will get to see some REAL snow – but I kind of like this random, unexpected non-mountain snow that just happens because it is cold.

Cars Make Me Anxious

Friday, April 6th, 2012

This week I realised that I am really quite happy to not have a car as they can cause a high level of anxiety as they start failing on you. We hired a car which we picked up from a town about six miles away and Ben took me on a small tour of the local area. After he had shown me the Welbeck Estate where he does his baking course, the car decided to tell us that we needed to check the coolant level. The temperature of the car hadn’t increased and after a small about of concern and discussion we decided to keep going and we’d check the coolant when we got home.

Ben took us on a scenic drive home, showing me where he rides his bike with a local cycle group and as we pulled into a side road between two farms the car then informed us that it was going to turn off the air conditioner because the car was getting too hot. That’s when the temperature gauge shot up and Ben quickly pulled over to the side of the road and stopped the car. No more coolant.

English countryside

At least we had a nice view.

Luckily for us, the car hire office was still open with 15 minutes to spare, so we called them and the AA (that’s British for RAC) to organise for someone to come and look at the car. This was a feat in itself as Ben had to use his phone, iPad and Skype in order to find a good enough signal to call the AA. Thank goodness for technology.

An hour later and the AA guy arrived, checked the car and informed us that the water pump wasn’t working. We’d need to be towed. By this time the sun was almost set and the relatively warm day was becoming rapidly cold and Ben and I wished we had decided to bring jumpers “just in case”. As I cursed Vauxhall for their poor craftsmanship and prepared for another long way for the tow truck, the AA guy simply turned his van around, popped the boot et voila! – a very neat winch and pulley system that after 20 minutes was attached to our car and we were on our way to the car yard. Brilliant! I declared England the home of ingenious car service people and wished Australia was a bit more like the Mother Country.

AA car rescue

The sun sets on our broken-down car

So that was fun. It meant that our planned pub meal couldn’t happen as the kitchens had closed by the time we’d finished dealing with the car. Wonderfully, Enterprise, the car hire place, waited for us at the office and gave us a new car with a free tank of petrol. It was another Vauxhall and this time a bit of a family wagon so we spent the rest of our holiday driving around trying to find children to put in the back seats.