Blog & News
Today I delivered my last batch of brownies for 2017. I introduced brownies to the range almost exactly a year ago, in January, and I didn’t expect them to be quite as popular they have been if I’m honest! My first order was posted out to Hampshire on 26 January, and since then I’ve delivered and posted 1,392 brownies, from Robertsbridge to France. For Valentine’s Day I introduced a mini heart-shaped version, in August a gluten-free version, and t...his December a chocolate orange brownie. I’ll be honest, I had plans for other new flavours in December, but sinusitis struck and I lost my sense of taste for over a fortnight. But I’m back firing on all cylinders now and excited to bring you more flavours, and brownie canapés for 2018!
So Happy New Year, and thank you for all the brownie love in 2017. (Oh and if anyone has any advice on stopping cocoa powder settling on everything and every surface in the kitchen, I’d be very grateful!)
So here we are in Yorkshire finally. ...
In the last 7 days I have baked and wrapped 732 brownies and 240 muffins. I could treat you all to tales of having to strip the Baby in Knightsbridge after delivering the bulk of the aforementioned baking, following an unfortunately timed exploding nappy...or of how we didn’t get the tree up until 20th December, and for the first time in 13 years the lights didn’t work, and the Bee had to decorate it because I was out delivering puddings...but instead I’ll just share this picture which says it all about my parenting over the last week. When I asked the Bee if she wanted to put some sherry out for Father Christmas, she said no, gin and tonic.
So cheers! And thank you for all the orders and support this year, it’s been epic. Lots of exciting things planned for 2018. But until then, enjoy your puddings! And Happy Christmas!
No time for a proper blog this week as I still have 132 muffins to bake, before I package the 600 brownies and other 108 muffins up ready for delivery tomorrow, so thought I would share this with you all instead...
I have the following left if anyone was wavering:
I was planning a quiet week, celebrating the end of pudding season, with my feet up, sipping gin. Instead I have 600 brownies and 240 muffins to make.
Meanwhile, back at Bee & Bear HQ, this was behind today's door!! It would obviously have been a much prettier picture if the entire door hadn't come off in the Bear's hand, but rather apt, I thought!
Right, am keeping it short this week in order to get some sleep before the Great Bake begins. See you on the other side!
As well as The Baby's birthday, I had two more Christmas Fairs this week, one of which was after the start of Sleep-gate, when I had managed 1.5 hrs sleep the night before. It was at the amazing Poppinghole Farm, near Robertsbridge, which is an equestrian centre, as well as having a spa, and luxury holiday cottages. When I arrived to set-up, other people were mucking out their horses, and someone was riding in the sand school...and I reminisced about the days I did the same on a Sunday morning before the pub lunch, after ten hours of unbroken sleep. And wondered why I was selling food, not real estate...
Anyway, I was opposite an unmanned stand of reindeers made from small logs. Despite the owners not actually being there to sell their goods, they sold out in 2 hours. They turned up to restock at lunchtime, and sold out again in another hour. I found early on at markets that unless I engaged with customers and got them to try my food, I didn't sell anything. Clearly the same doesn't apply with reindeer - they literally sell themselves.
I am also becoming increasingly aware that people have strong views about Christmas pudding. You either love it or hate it. One lady, who was a fan, did try mine and declared it was 'marvellous' but she always bought hers from Waitrose because she liked the fact it was covered in gold shimmer...I knew it!! I'm packing my gold spray for next week and will be plastering my tester with it to lure people in.
And finally, please let me know THIS WEEK if you still want to order, as they need a fortnight to mature before eating, and Christmas is creeping up on us! Here are my rapidly emptying shelves.
Anyway, Stir Up Sunday. I did some research into this earlier in the year when it looked as though I might be running a workshop for children today. Plans changed and it didn't happen, but I found my notes this morning by chance. There are many traditions associated with Christmas puddings.
The stirring itself should always be done East to West, to honour the journey made by the Magi, and each member of the family should have a turn at stirring, making a wish as they do. It also seems to be traditional for the pudding to contain 13 ingredients, symbolising Jesus and the 12 Apostles. Mine contain 11...sorry about that. And apparently Christmas puddings began life as a Christmas porridge called Frumenty, made with currants, prunes, spices and wine...and beef and mutton. It was eaten as a fasting meal in preparation for the seasonal festivities. How times have changed!
I'd also like to say how much I rate Christmas pudding charms - I was brought up with them, and we still put them in each year, along with silver coins like sixpences and threepenny bits. The charms each symbolise something for the coming year - wishbones for luck, a bell for a wedding, a button for enduring bachelorhood, a thimble for a spinster etc. They're especially great for children (even if the symbolism itself is aimed at grown ups!) and definitely encouraged me to get involved with eating Christmas pudding. If you have a set you want to use, wrap them in a small amount of grease proof paper before using a skewer to poke them into the pudding, and for Pete's sake DO NOT MICROWAVE THE PUDDING WITH METAL CHARMS INSIDE IT!!
In other news I have been working on party food and canapés this week. Tiny versions of what I do already, but some new stuff too. I am ridiculously over-excited about a new canapé brownie I will be revealing in the coming week. I am rubbish at keeping secrets, but have somehow managed not to blurt it out on Social Media yet. Anyway hopefully you'll all be very excited too. I'm just waiting for the vanilla vodka to arrive...
And finally, here's an exquisite flat-lay The Bee produced earlier, which represents the perfect tray of canapés.
I have mainly spent this week recovering from last Saturday...however I did find time on Wednesday to deliver a batch of puddings to BRITISH design: BRITISH made, in Battle, and later in the week I secured a new stockist, Browns Farm Shop, Robertsbridge. I have a couple more possible outlets in the pipeline, which is all very exciting! In my head I'm a sophisticated artisan producer who wows people with her demure poise and presence even before they've taste...d the goods - I have three feral children to dispel any such myth. I kept them all strapped in the car while I dropped off some puddings at the open-fronted farm shop on Saturday morning, and my beguiling chat was rudely interrupted before it had really started by the Bear wailing very loudly, closely followed by the Bee screaming 'YOU CAN'T GET OUT, SO JUST STOOOOOP CRYYIIIING!!!!'. There was no-one else in the car park so I couldn't even tut disapprovingly at another customer.
For anyone who missed it I did launch the first of my festive brownies this week - chocolate orange no less. The second one is close to lift-off, I just have a minor tweak to make to the buttercream (I know, I distinctly remember saying 'no icing, ever', but trust me on this one...), and some experimenting to do with excitements like edible glitter gel, and gold spray... By the way gold spray is a God-send if you have a picky toddler - they won't turn their nose up at broccoli once you've gilded it, believe me! Even cauliflower looks appealing once it's had the Midas touch. However, I am aware it might be addictive. I first came across it when I went to a demonstration at the Aga showroom in Tunbridge Wells where someone cooked an entire Christmas dinner in a 3 oven Aga in an hour. Obviously the turkey had been started off before our arrival, but it was a masterclass in multi-tasking and using every inch of your Aga. It was utterly exhausting to watch, and she didn't pause for a second, but as we neared the end of the spectacle, out came the Christmas pudding, and, without blinking, she reached for a can of gold spray, coated it, banged the can down on the counter, and announced she was done. I was slightly horrified if I'm honest, but after a few days of having some in my clutches I'm aware of how easily what starts as a bit of harmless fun from time to time can escalate...
Saturday was my first market with my Christmas puddings, and the only one where all 3 children needed to be in attendance for set-up. It was at their school, which Grizzly also works at. But he wasn't free until 11am, the start time, due to it being private and Saturday school and all that. It was also the same day that I had an order for 50 muffins, for a 50th birthday party. And was working a shift in the pub...Relishing a challenge, I created a spread-sheet to work out timings. I concluded I only had to get to 11am, then I could relax and enjoy the rest of the day.
4.15am: In the kitchen baking
5.50am: All 3 children awake
6.00am: The Bee joins me in the kitchen, and almost instantly starts insisting she helps
6.03am: My silent promise not to lose my sh1t unravels, and she's banished to the sofa with some colouring-in
6.30am: Baking completed, I announce to Grizzly that I'm having a shower, and he can get The Bear and The Baby up
7.00am: The relaxed breakfast commences - except clearly no-one else has read the spreadsheet, and think this is a prime time to start behaving like utter cretins
8.00am: Car should have been packed by now. Instead I'm still trying to dress three children and myself.
8.45am: Strap aforementioned children into their respective seats and start packing the car [so as no one can maim anyone else for the next 5 minutes] - it turns out what my spreadsheet didn't factor in was the enormous weight of Christmas puddings - I can carry far fewer at a time than I'd envisaged.
9.00am: Wheels should have been turning by now, instead they're starting to come off. I'm half-way through packing the car.
9.10am: Car packed. Now I'm trying to find my car keys, a muslin for The Baby, and my phone - and it's bucketing with rain. The car keys are clearly in the car somewhere because it's unlocked. Half-way through removing all the puddings to try and locate them, I realise the radio is on, so weirdly at some point I can't remember I must have put them in the ignition.
9.30am: Deliver 50 muffins
9.50am: Arrive at Fair, and, as instructed park 'nose to tail' behind the Sports Hall.
9.55am: Persuade The Bee and The Bear that I've created a secret den for them under my table, and leave them with the iPad. Mercifully The Baby is asleep in the car.
10.00-11.00am: Try to set up my table whilst retrieving The Bear from Santa's Grotto (in a different part of the building...) over and over again. Discover the Baby has woken up, after a microphone announcement instructing the owner of a silver Volvo to get more involved in the nose to tail thing and budge up.
11.00am: 1 minute silence, entirely ruined at my end of the Sports Hall by Octonauts playing from underneath my stand
11.10am: Grizzly arrives, and, amidst a rare Public Display of Affection, I announce how I've never been so pleased to see him and the children are all his to take home
11.11am: Grizzly asks where I've parked the car
11.12am: I stopped swearing and crying long enough to explain about the 'nose to tail' thing
11.13am: Grizzly takes over the swearing
11.50am: Grizzly has finally moved all the car seats into his own car which is not parked 'nose to tail', and retrieved the elder two from the craft corner where they're being looked after
15.00: Fair finishes
I won't bore you with the rest - but it involved waiting for the owner of a blue Peugeout 406 to pack up her stand and release us all from our nose to tail prison; cook tea for the children; then go to work in the pub. However I did get to tuck into some steak about 9.30pm which I'm flagging as a potential highlight of the day.
So for anyone who's ever told me they don't know how I do it etc etc, here you are - the sordid truth about times of sketchy parenting and total lack of forethought.
And here's a picture of me #parentingtheshitoutoflife at Bedgebury today - no one had gloves or hats, and it was 7 degrees. My hands were so cold by the time I announced we were going to the café that I couldn't get any coins out of my purse, and had to extricate a note with some kind of lobster grip instead. #iwishiwaswinningatlife
When we bought the house two and half years ago the sitting room was not a room you wanted to spend time in. It had a hideous fake electric fire with awful tiles behind it. It had white walls which were marked and dirty. It was utterly soulless. After hours spent on Pinterest and watching reruns of Monarch of the Glen, I had a vision of what I wanted to create. I painted the walls dark blue, spent a lot of money on an oak mantelpiece, invested in a stone stag's head to go above said mantelpiece, and did many other things to create somewhere suitable for relaxing with a large Laphroaig whilst discussing salmon flies with the ghillie. Due to its lack of heating, it's still not a room we spend much time in. And frankly, the ghillie has never materialised. However its lack of radiators does make it an excellent cool-store for Christmas puddings! So the poshest room in the house has become a store-room until Christmas (yes those are IKEA Billie bookshelves...I'm using 'posh' very loosely here).
I now have 6 days to make these all look beautiful, work out how to use my new card machine, design my table, and all the other things I listed in August, so there was no last minute panic...
I did sneak off to Hastings one morning earlier this week for a networking lunch, which I had very kindly been invited to. One of the first people I met was a vegan, and it struck me the extent to which veganism is on the rise right now. When I was growing up vegans were a rather rare breed of pale hippy to be frank, but nowadays it's become entirely mainstream, and pretty cool. Within minutes of chatting to him I realised I needed to offer a vegan option on my web-site, and he showed me a social media page his wife had set up showcasing her vegan baking and recipes. It all looked incredible. So, watch this space, but I hope to have a vegan brownie on offer in the next few weeks.
And if anyone is wondering how the s@dding pumpkins have been getting on, let me enlighten you... Now as you all now, we have an Aga, which means a warm kitchen 24 hours a day. I'm prepared to accept that this may not provide the ideal environment for storing large vegetables pre-Halloween, but after driving across the country for an hour, enduring weather previously only seen on documentaries about American storm-chasers; quite possibly scarring the children for life; and almost certainly ruining my jeans forever, I expected carvable pumpkins. Whilst hoovering the kitchen mid-week I noticed one had begun to rot... I whipped the bread knife out, announced we were carving the first one NOW, and removed as much rotten flesh as I could before we started on the face. The second one looked fine, but as I had the knife out I thought I'd just lop the top off and scoop the middle out, leaving the face for the kids to carve themselves. No sooner had the knife pierced the flesh, a miasma of rotting vegetable matter started to permeate the kitchen. By the time the top had come off the smell could have knocked a donkey over. Rather than scooping out the flesh, I simply poured brown liquid into a bin bag, whilst retching and yelling at the children to KEEP BACK!
I have seen many pictures of joyful pumpkin picking forays on Facebook this week, in fact so many I'm prepared to accept we picked a couple of wrong'uns - but the sooner I see the back of ours and can put the entire experience behind me, the better.
I modelled this one on my own face whilst carving it.