Back to life, back to reality

Normal services have now resumed. Well, sort of normal.

Normal in that I am now two weeks back into the swing of London life.  Normal in that I am not waking up and attending morning wine tasting sessions and eating 3-courses-plus-a-cheese-plate for lunch. Normal in that I am back in a double bed.

Being back here in London feels very familiar. Familiar faces, familiar smells, familiar tastes of London water… After 10 (I know, can you believe it!) years of living here, I think I can say that London is my city, my home. And with Spring most definitely in the air, I am happy to admit it’s been a lovely homecoming. So many blossoming trees. So many lovely light evenings. The anticipation of Summer is a strong one, waking up the city. There’s so much going on. So many different buzzings and murmurings. New places to visit. New food to eat and drink. Festivals, gigs and exhibitions to see.

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London from Primrose Hill

It’s so wonderful being back and seeing friends and family. All of whom are very happy to be eaters and tasters. New mouths to feed! A perfect audience.

But as the same time as all this familiarity, it’s feeling very NOT normal too. I feel quite different. While London as I know it might not have changed much in 12 weeks, I feel like I definitely have. My perspectives, my habits, my interests and my thoughts are tending in a different direction to where they were when I was last here. I’m baking bread. I’m cooking every day and loving it and missing it when I’m not in the kitchen.

While I am not getting back to Service Design work immediately, I am keeping myself very busy. For me, April is another month of cooking school but this time my education is in the form of real work experience in kitchens. I figure I’ve gained some momentum and started down a pathway and so if I don’t do this now, I’ll never do it! And there’s nothing like putting all the skills and learning into practise. In fact, many would say this is the best way to improve, to learn and to figure out in what shape and form I want cooking in my life. And I’m lucky enough to have secured two places in two of the most amazing kitchens ever! First up is Violet Bakery in Hackney and second is Ottolenghi’s.

I could not be more excited. My experiences of each will be documented in blog posts all of their own. But the idea that I will be getting up every day to be a chef??!! Check me!

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Rolling chocolate truffles

In other news; my sourdough starter is still alive and well and getting to grips with the wild yeasts of London and the even wilder London water. (I’m now making it with boiled water, not just straight from the tap which I think is an improvement on taste and texture)

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Sourdough loaf numero 2

I’m staying above ground as much as possible; minimal tube rides is a sure fire way to have a happier London life.

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Enjoying coffee and cake with Chuck on our afternoon excursion of eating around Hackney

It’s great seeing friends and family and I’ve also been lucky enough to have Kate and Chuck from Ballymaloe over here doing their two weeks work experience at Ottolenghis and Nopi. With them we’ve explored some great London foodie places; Maltby Street Market, Nopi and St John’s Bread and Wine. It’s been so great to have them around and debrief after our days in the kitchen and readjustment to life  in the real world.

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Our starters at Nopi

So arguably I’m still in the honeymoon period of being back to London life, but it’s a honeymoon I’ll happily stay in.

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Week 12: A summary in numbers

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And so, the end.

This time I can’t agree with Dr Seuss when he says, “Don’t be sad it’s over, smile because it happened” What a load of tosh! I’m desolate it’s over. How could I not be sad that such an amazing, wonderful, immersive, joyous, frustrating and dare I say it… life changing event is now over.

The exams are done, the bubbles have been drunk, the recipes (Thank God) are filed, the Goodbyes are said, the cottages are packed up and our January 2016 Ballymaloe Bubble has popped; dispersing us back to the 4 corners of the world from whence we came. Continue reading

Days 59 & 60: Exams and a bit of a party

With my practical exam done and dusted on Wednesday, it meant I had Thursday free to focus on studying and filing. As I waded through recipes and lecture notes going as far back as week one (remember ‘How To Make The Perfect Cup of Tea?’) I realised not only how much we’d learnt… but how much I had to revise for the three different exams on Friday. Mother and daughter sauces, food costings, Health and Safety (including far too much detail on the 5 main types of food poisoning) specific Ballymaloe recipes to go with the 10 herbs, 15 spices, 10 cuts of meat and 10 fish we were going to have to identify… it was brain overload. What can I say; the art of cramming is not a lost one!

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Learning my different cuts of animal

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Days 57 and 58: à point; my Masterchef moment

Tuesday morning was our final, final demo of the 12 week course. And we were so lucky to have Rory taking us through it. And it was wonderful. Talk about saving the best til last. Oysters with Champagne. Roast Haunch of Venison. Amazing Beef; in Red Wine Sauce, Carpaccio’s and Tartares. Whole Poached Salmon. Quail Veronique and Oeufs a la Neige. All indulgent, special occasion dishes.

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Rory and his salmon

Rory was on great form. Honestly has just been such an amazing teacher, so precise and clear. Everything feels totally calm and achievable. Every sentence there’s something to learn. Every word is a gift.  Continue reading

Day 56: The end of regular programming and a visit to Cafe Paradiso

Week 12! I mean I should not have been surprised it had arrived. But for all my day by day counting and weekly summaries, I distinctly remember waking up on Monday morning and thinking “WTF. Have I counted right? Can this really be week 12?” But I checked. And of course, it was. There was no getting around it, we were marching swiftly on to THE END. (Gasp)

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Me (late) off to the kitchens to do my final day of regular cooking

And what a week it was going to be:

  • Monday was the only day of regular routine in that we were in the kitchens cooking in the morning and then had our usual demo in the afternoon.
  • Tuesday was our final demo and study day
  • Wednesday and Thursday were Masterchef (read practical exams)
  • Friday we had 3 written exams followed by our final party.
  • Saturday was goodbyes (and inevitable hangovers).

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Week 10: a summary in numbers

On Monday, Darina told us we might find ourselves getting rather frustrated this week. Along with week 5 (the first low point) the next bump in the road is officially supposed to be week 10.

“You’re all tired and it’s suddenly hits you there are only 2 weeks left. You’re overwhelmed, unsure of what might come next, some of you may feel you never want to see a pot or a pan again and everyone is annoying you… including me! But don’t worry, all this will pass” – Darina

For me, any low points (e.g. a 1am finish while writing out my final menu, to facing a small mountain of filing, to feeling like a lobster murderer) have been totally outweighed by the good stuff. The foraging classes, the miraculous lamb butchery lesson where I learnt the best way ever to french trim a rack of lamb, the tapas demonstration (and sherry tasting….) the Californian wine tasting, the pop-up dinner. Again, many, many times to count my blessings and feel immensely grateful.

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