Taking Stock

Tuesday August 14th, 2018


I have completed my first quarter, and at last I have a day without any breakfast guests. Time for reflection on how things are going. The answer is, far better than I could possibly have imagined. People seem to love this place and the reviews are excellent. Cats, dog, chickens, goose, all are undaunted by the constant succession of guests, and this house feels more lived-in and alive than it has for years. The sheer amount of laundry continues to be a problem, but I guess that goes with the job. There have been hairy moments, like when I turned the secondary fridge up during the recent heatwave and all the milk froze in its bottles. I had no milk left in the main fridge so there was none available to give to the guests that morning — at least not until I had soaked the frozen the bottles in warm water to thaw them out. At the same time, the hot chocolate I was making for one of the guests boiled over so I had no milk with which to make a new batch. And all of that was happening while I was trying to cook six full English breakfasts. That morning was a bit of a nightmare!

Single-night stays

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

Last Monday, after a busy weekend, I was faced with this pile of folded sheets ready to be ironed. It is the laundry generated during the weekend, from Friday evening to Sunday morning, and it does not include 22 napkins and goodness knows how many towels and bathmats. I had tackled a similar-sized pile a few days earlier.

Reluctantly, therefore, I took the decision that I would have to do what other B&Bs and hotels do, which is to impose a minimum stay of two nights for those who book to stay on a Friday or a Saturday. Such a policy really does go against the grain, as I hate to make it even more difficult than it is already for guests to find somewhere that will accept them for just one night at weekends. The problem, as I am discovering, is that one-night stays on Saturdays outnumber those on weekdays by a vast amount, and I have had far more bookings at weekends than I ever imagined, even in my wildest dreams. The pressure on my drains, my equipment (even though I now have two large-capacity washing machines in addition to my small domestic one) and my sanity, is just too much and I must now limit the one-night stays to manageable amounts. I also find that one-night stays are too fleeting to provide a satisfying hosting experience. I do like to get to know my guests a little — and this is not possible if they go off to an event soon after checking in, return late at night and leave immediately after (or sometimes even before!) breakfast. Bressenden is more than a pit stop. It is worth taking time to savour its atmosphere. Many people who come here say they don’t want to leave. Travellers on business will still be able to stay one night from Sunday to Thursday inclusive. My diary service will let me re-open one-night bookings temporarily at any time and at short notice if I find myself with too few bookings or if I have empty slots to fill. And it is always worth asking me directly if you try to book for one night but find that the calendar won’t let you. I may be able to make an exception if I’m not too busy!

Colour matching

Thursday, July 26th, 2018

My biggest and best room had curtains that needed replacing. For a start, they had ordinary linings which let in too much light for B&B guests wanting a lie-in on a Sunday morning. And then they were entirely the wrong hue — left over from a previous colour scheme. The challenge was to find something that would blend in with the chair on the left of the picture, the two persian rugs and the ivory and beige bed covers. I didn’t want plain curtains, as the walls are white and the bed covers are plain. The style of the room is unlike anything in the rest of the house, partly because the light levels are so high. Spain or the Mediterranean coast come to mind. I found this French cotton striped fabric at the Natural Curtain Company, who made it up into curtains. I’d used them before for the curtains on the landing’s window, and was impressed with the quality of their fabrics and craftsmanship. It’s always a risk choosing colours online, but I couldn’t be happier with the result. There’s a stripe for virtually every colour that features on the chair.

 

 

 

Newest Member of Household

Tuesday, July 24th, 2018

This is Barnie, who joined the household last week. He was delivered in the middle of the night, having made the journey all the way from his breeder in Lithuania. He’s five months old, weighs in at five and a half stone (so far!) and is absolutely gorgeous. He’s getting used to living with the other members of the household, including the cats Georgie and Peonie, two young kittens, Jemima the goose and assorted hens. He is a Polish mountain sheepdog, and his duties will be to guard us and the property and all these creatures — as well as being a lovable pet, which he already is. We hope he will deter the foxes, as we’ve lost too many young chickens in recent months.

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Hundredth Guest

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

My hundredth guest checked out this morning, pronouncing that breakfast was by far the best he and his family had enjoyed so far in England. Not just “the best”, but “by far the best”, which makes me wonder what other B&Bs provide, as I consider that my offerings are not that extraordinary. Particularly appreciated were the fresh ingredients. I always supply fresh fruit salad, homemade yogurt and homemade bread. These have to be prepared several times per week, as they have shelf lives of little more than one day at worst (the fruit; the bread) and four days at best (the yoghurt). And the eggs are usually from our own hens, though laying has slowed down considerably now, and if everyone wants two eggs for breakfast, I sometimes have to supplement them with bought eggs.

Cherries on the Table

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018

The local cherry season began exactly one week ago. There are few cherry orchards left in Kent, but there is one about half a mile down the road from here. The season normally lasts for four or five weeks as different varieties ripen in succession. Today, when I went to buy some at about half past three, there were four punnets left. The grower’s day had been good. He commented that one customer had been in every day, buying up vast quantities with which to make jam. “Jam?”, I exclaimed, “These are far too good for jam!”. The seller agreed with me, and we discussed the best ways of consuming these plump, juicy delights.  I bought three punnets and he kindly gave me the fourth one free so that he could close the gate and go home early. I made a clafouti for my supper, because that’s one of my favourite puddings, but nothing beats eating the cherries just as they are. I included some in this morning’s fruit salad (without their stones of course) and put out a bowl on the table as decoration. When I went to clear the breakfast dishes, I found that all my guests had ignored the fruit salad and gone straight for the bowl. I counted 18 stones on one guest’s plate!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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