Muslin Freezer Bags

Thursday, July 5th, 2018

The fashionable good cause this year seems to be the avoidance of single-use plastics. I’ve been worried about the big increase in the number of freezer bags that I have consumed since starting the B&B. Mostly I’ve been using them to freeze bread and croissants. Homemade bread does not keep for longer than a day or two, and the croissants that I buy from in-store bakeries lose their freshness in a matter of hours. That’s how it should be. I am highly sceptical of the “stay fresh longer” loaves one can buy these days — what do they put in them? Tesco’s croissants, which are made in their stores throughout the day, must be eaten on the day they’re bought. They do not survive well even if purchased the evening before. I freeze them as soon as I am back home and they stay in the freezer until just before my guests come down to breakfast. I toss them into my already hot oven (where the sausages and tomatoes are merrily sizzling) for about five minutes, and tip them out into a basket, ready for eating. As for the sourdough, I freeze it as soon as possible after baking it and let it defrost slowly overnight when it’s needed for the next day’s breakfast. I also freeze individual slices of wholemeal bread, as I don’t make my own — homemade sourdough and yoghurt are enough for me to cope with.

I have tried to re-use polythene freezer bags, but this doesn’t work. It’s impossible to get all the crumbs out, and if they’re left in the bags mould will develop. If I wash the bags, they take ages to dry, crumbs still lurk in the corners and folds, and the kitchen gets strewn with floating plastic bags looking for somewhere to park themselves. It really is more trouble than it’s worth. After much research I decided to try freezing bread and croissants in muslin drawstring bags. It’s worked brilliantly. In the case of longer-term freezing, the contents will dry out sooner than they would in a plastic bag. My solution is to pop the cloth-wrapped contents inside a polythene bag. Crumbs stay within the muslin, and the polythene bags remain clean and can be used more than just once, which is the aim of this exercise. It’s best not to keep items in the freezer for too long anyway, so most of the time, cloth bags popped straight in the freezer will be sufficient. After defrosting the contents, I turn the cloth bags inside out and shake them outdoors. The crumbs brush off easily and provide food for the birds! After a few uses, I throw the bags into the laundry basket along with the hundred and one other items going in the wash that day.



Solstice Sourdough

Friday, June 22nd, 2018

The regular turnover of guests and the long, warm days are working wonders for my sourdough. I started the culture in 2009 and have been feeding it every week since then. But a weekly bake isn’t really enough to keep the culture in peak condition. In cold weather, the natural yeasts are more inclined to be semi-dormant and take a long time to wake up. When I bake more frequently I have to feed the culture more frequently too, and this helps to generate yeast activity and encourage fermentation. These loaves are just about as good as they get.


Sugar lumps and low-fat spread


Thursday, June 12st, 2018

Since the start of operations at the beginning of May, fifty guests plus a few friends have consumed breakfast at Bressenden, and not a single one has opted for a non-dairy, low-fat spread in preference to butter. A couple of decades ago, when it was decreed that eating butter was the best way to clog up your arteries, people eschewed it, and plastic tubs of oily yellow substances replaced butter dishes in every household. Now butter is fashionable once more. If at the end of summer, by which time I should have had at least 100 guests to stay, the percentage of spread eaters is less than, say, 3% I shall have to consider whether it’s actually worth stocking and offering it.

By contrast, white sugar lumps have proved surprisingly popular. They are chosen as frequently as the brown cubes. Guests enjoy delving for lumps to put in their drinks rather than spooning in loose sugar. Perhaps there is something about staying in a B&B that says “Take your time. Relax. You don’t need to rush out to work today. Wait for the sugar to dissolve and enjoy the moment.” A retired dentist from Kentucky who stayed here for six days consumed so many lumps of sugar that I wondered how he still had any teeth, let alone a healthy set. “It’s plaque,” he said, “not sugar per se, that causes caries to develop.” Good news then for those with a sweet tooth, as long as they remember to clean their teeth on leaving the breakfast table.


Second Flowering

Sunday, June 17th, 2018

All but one of the rhododendrons have finished flowering now, and we’re waiting for the summer flowers to appear. But the azaleas have flowered again, less intensively than the first time, but pretty impressively nonetheless.

It’s sad when I can’t say a proper goodbye to guests who’ve been here a few days. Usually this is because I’m tied to the grill and the frying pan, making breakfast for a later-rising set of guests — and we all know how quickly bacon can burn if not whipped out at just the right moment. This morning a lady from Holland and her elderly father went back home after a four-day visit. They spent last night seated by the log fire in the little sitting room that’s available to guests. When I looked in to check the fire, they were playing a game of Scrabble and looked so peaceful and content that it was quite heart-warming to see. Although we are enjoying some fine, warm days, the evenings can be quite chilly out here in the country, and a fire is most welcome.




Leaky Teapots

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

I’m always relieved when people ask for coffee as their breakfast drink. If they ask for tea, I cheerfully ask “English Breakfast or Earl Grey?”. But what I’m inwardly thinking is: “Another tablecloth to wash tomorrow, then.” Teapots inevitably create stains like this one, and having to launder and iron a large tablecloth (108 cm x 70 cm) because of just one stain seems so wasteful. In this case, it was two large tablecloths because there were a lot of guests, and there was a similar stain on the companion cloth. The huge breakfast table is covered with two identical overlapping cloths rather than a single one, partly to facilitate ironing and partly because it’s rare that the whole extent of the table is used, so one side may remain pristine while the other side gets soiled. Guests are usually very careful to avoid spilling jam, egg yolk or tomato ketchup on the cloth. But unfortunately, my teapots-for-one are hopeless at pouring. No matter how careful one is, the spout generates drips that crawl down the underside of the spout and surround the base of the pot to produce unsightly rings. It’s definitely not the guests’ fault because this happens every day unless everyone is a coffee drinker. There is something about the design of most teapots’ spouts that makes them conducive to dripping. It’s odd, because I don’t have that trouble with the coffee jug, which also has a spout, albeit short and wide and more akin to a pouring lip. It behaves impeccably, so why can’t teapot manufacturers redesign their pots accordingly? Today I tried putting the pots on small white side plates to see if that helped. It stopped the rings but it did nothing to stop the dripping spout, so there are still small patches of tea stains dotted around. Saturating the stains with stain removers like Vanish alters the colour of the stain but doesn’t make it disappear. The only remedy is a hot wash immediately after the breakfast table has been cleared. When all my guests are coffee drinkers I can keep a cloth going for several days if I’m lucky.





Colour Wheel

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018

I was so pleased to find this basic glass turntable (or lazy Susan) for about £15 which neatly solves the problem of how to present breakfast jams in such a way that guests can pick and choose their favourites easily. I love jams not so much for their taste as for their beautiful jewel hues. My jam colour wheel goes from lemon curd yellow to chocolate brown. All that’s missing is green, so I guess I need to get some lime marmalade or greengage jam. The little pots are recycled jars of Tesco’s Hollandaise and Béarnaise sauce. They are a perfect size for two or three people and won’t sit around for weeks before their contents are used up. Their plain black lids, free from sell-by dates or other printed matter, are perfect. I thought about stick-on labels but decided that they wouldn’t be compatible with the dishwasher. Gift tags are the answer here. In due course I shall look for a traditional wooden lazy Susan for other breakfast items, so that guests won’t have to dance around the table to find what they want.


Tomorrow’s Layers

Saturday, May 19th, 2018

When you run an English B&B you need a constant supply of eggs. Many of them. If you have four rooms, all of them occupied, you can end up using 16 eggs every morning. And that’s just for breakfast. If you bake cakes and need eggs for yourself and your family, it really is worth investing in your own production line. In the three weeks since opening, we have been self-sufficient in eggs, with the hens producing more than enough for the moment, but hens don’t lay at the same rate all year round, and they don’t last forever. These little creatures are the latest additions to the household and will hopefully be next season’s layers.

Best Time of the Year

Friday, May 11th, 2018

This is the best time of year for this garden. It’s a short. intense season. This weekend’s guests are lucky.



Laundry Mountains

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

One of the most time-consuming chores when running a B&B is dealing with the laundry. I knew there would be a lot of it, but I didn’t imagine the volume of stuff to wash and iron would be quite so huge. Here’s last weekend’s assortment of sheets, duvet covers, pillow cases, cloths and napkins, washed and folded and waiting to be pressed. It doesn’t include the towels, face cloths, bath mats and bath robes that also had to be washed. To iron that pile will keep me busy me for most of tomorrow. I am now thinking in terms of converting a redundant bathroom into a laundry room, and installing a couple of large washing machines and dryers. Otherwise, my domestic-sized washing machine will simply crack up under the strain.


Pink Explosions

Sunday, May 6th, 2018

I couldn’t have wished for better weather to launch this B&B. Three sets of guests have stayed since Wednesday 2nd, and I’m expecting a couple and a family this evening. The garden is exploding in all directions, with flower buds opening before one’s very eyes.