January 5th, 2014

10 hours to explore Paris

Coco&Me - www.cocoandme.com - Coco and Me - Trocadéro Plaza

(Pose~!)

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The day after teaching the chocolate workshop, I woke up early & checked out of the hotel. My Eurostar train back to London was at 18:15 that evening, which meant that I had something like 10 hours to explore Paris.

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The early morning métro was super busy with commuters walking super fast, especially at Gare Saint-Lazare (large terminus railway station) where I changed lines. – Is it my imagination or does the Parisians walk much faster than the Brits? Is that the secret to maintaining their trim figure I wonder…?

- Anyway, getting on the métro was a doddle. The system is similar to the tube in London – colour coded lines (also numbered) with the name of the final stop displaying which direction it goes to. And as for buying the fare tickets, Mrs C’s husband had kindly walked me to the nearest station to show me how to use the ticket machine. (Thank you!) :-)

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My first destination was Pâtisserie Carette by Trocadéro in the 16th arrondissement. I decided to go there prior to this trip by doing my research on Trip Advisor on where best to go for breakfast, & I read that the scrambled eggs at Carette was very good. That information coupled with the photograph of ‘French-style’ scrambled eggs… – had me. Because, though I knew of this ‘French-style’ egg cooking method from before, I had never sampled it. And what better way to introduce yourself to a new food than to eat the best from the very beginning? ;-)

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And it certainly did not disappoint my high expectations. It was sublime. French-style scrambled eggs (Oeufs brouillés), as you can see from the picture below, is much moister/ runnier. (And it came in a soup plate!) Oh-my-God, it was so heavenly creamy… Is this probably the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever had? Yes… Can I go back to my usual scrambled eggs now that I know better? Er…, no, not anymore. Not now that I have tasted the yummiest way to eat scrambled eggs ever! (… talking of ‘ever’, it was the most expensive scrambled eggs ‘ever’ too…)

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http://www.cocoandme.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/cocoandme_carette_paris.jpg

(Carette’s also came with two batons of perfectly flaky puff pastry. Hmm! Only the French…!)

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Another reason why I chose Carette is because it overlooks the iconic Eiffel Tower & I quite liked the idea of starting my Paris trip near it. ~ It seemed fitting! With only a minute’s walk from the pâtisserie to Trocadéro plaza, you get a fantastic view of the Tower that is across the river. A couple asked if I could take their photo, which I did. Then they offered to take mine on my iphone too. Pose~! (the photo is at the top of this article.) Ah, before you mention it, there were several police guards patrolling the plaza which made the place feel safe (& the couple looked like nice people anyway).

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Next stop – Les Halle located in the 1st arrondissement to visit the cluster of  cookware shops. I remember coming here over 7 years ago, visiting the same shops, especially falling in love with MORA. I overspent then & I overspent again this time. Lol… My purse strings loosen when I’m there…

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Coco&Me - www.cocoandme.com - Coco and Me - MORA in Les Halles PARIS - cookware shop - chocolate and pastry work equipment

(MORA. Pastry & chocolate work heaven…)

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Coco&Me - www.cocoandme.com - Coco and Me - MORA in Les Halles PARIS - cookware shop - chocolate and pastry work equipment

(Just look at the extensive stack of polycarbonate chocolate moulds!!!!!)

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Coco&Me - www.cocoandme.com - Coco and Me - MORA in Les Halles PARIS - cookware shop - chocolate and pastry work equipment - Hard polycarbonate chocolate mould - 3 dog

(Hard polycarbonate chocolate mould.)

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Amongst my purchase of a piping tip, cake tin & chocolate scraper, I bought this 3 doggy polycarbonate chocolate mould for 41 euros. Imagine…, white, milk & dark chocolate dogs… Or even strawberry or caramel colour/ flavour…, lining them up like soldiers. The chocolate figure could be solid or it could be hollow like an Easter egg. I could even stuff it with ganache like a bonbon! Or…, ah! What about shoving a strip of paper with a message in the hollow figure, just like a fortune cookie?! That might be quite cute…! – Possibilities,  possibilities…!!

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Coco&Me - www.cocoandme.com - Coco and Me - MORA in Les Halles PARIS - cookware shop - chocolate and pastry work equipment - Fèves ceramic ‘beans’ to nestle in the Galette des Rois on Epithany

(My new collection of fèves. The size of each charm is less than 2cms.)

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I also bought 2 assorted bags (9.50 euros a bag) of dinky fèves. – Fèves are ceramic ‘beans’ to nestle in the Galette des Rois on Epithany. The rule goes that the lucky person who finds it in their slice of pie would then become the King for the day! (Check out my Galette des Rois designs from last year!) – - Do I need all these feves? No. But but but… y’know what it’s like, This Girl Can’t Help It…

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After this, I hurried to the Rose Bakery in 9th Arrondissement to meet… guess who?! Clotilde from Chocolate & Zucchini! Yup, I asked her out for lunch! Yayyy, after all these years, I finally got to meet her! Super exciting! And it was so absolutely lovely chatting with her. There was so much to talk about!! It was non-stop! Lol. In a strange way, it felt like we’ve met before, because we knew so much about each other through our blogs & also through the email exchanges over many years, ever since she mentioned me on her brownie recipe back in 2009. (I also wrote a guest article on her blog last April too) ^^.

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Coco&Me - www.cocoandme.com - Coco and Me - Rose Bakery in Paris with Clotilde - mushroom risotto

(Clotilde! ~ Mushroom risotto!)

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After Rose Bakery, my Paris food pilgrimage continued on with my travel bag with chocolate-work equipments from the workshop the day before, & the new purchases from MORA & marrons glacés from G.Detou, plus a signed book from Clotilde that she gave to me (it’s her new French Market one, which now I have two copies of, since I owned one already! By the way, I’ve tried several of her recipes from it & I can vouch for the book! ^^).

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Conveniently on the same street as the Rose Bakery, there is Popelini, a choux à la crème (cream puff) shop. It is a cake shop that was on my list of ‘want to go’ places. Resisting the urge to say: “May I have one of every kind you have, s’il vous plait?”, I picked out the one that is on the left of the picture below. Well, it had the most cream on it didn’t it?! Lol! Happy to report, it was delicious. Wicked in sizing.- Moreishly small, & dainty in a hip sort of way.

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Coco&Me - www.cocoandme.com - Coco and Me - Popelini, a choux à la crème (cream puff) shop - Paris

(The choux display in Popelini.)

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Two to three minutes stroll down the same street toward the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette station, is another great cake outlet – Patisserie Sébastien Gaudard.

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Coco&Me - www.cocoandme.com - Coco and Me - Patisserie Sébastien Gaudard -  a mini Le Paris Brest, it's circular shape representative of a wheel to commemorate the Paris to Brest bicycle race. - Paris

(Le Paris Brest.)

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I purchased a mini Le Paris Brest, it’s circular shape representative of a wheel to commemorate the Paris to Brest bicycle race. It is choux pastry cut horizontally piped with praline cream inside. So pretty… And so perfectly made. Respect. And what is it about these small card plaquettes that make a pastry look so darn special! It sure adds the value-factor don’t cha think?? Although…, from a seller’s point-of-view, I guess it only works when you’re a high-end (& well-known) establishment that people want to parade perhaps? – Like, it’ll totally work to its disadvantage if the establishment were a Lidl (discount supermarket)…, for want of an example. One would be foolish to take around a pack of Lidl branded cakes if in need to up your game to impress.

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Coco&Me - www.cocoandme.com - Coco and Me - Patisserie Sébastien Gaudard -  mendiant tart, tarte - Thin tart shell packed with mixture of dried nuts swimming in good-looking caramel. Very Christmassy. - Paris

(La tarte mendiant. Thin tart shell packed with mixture of dried nuts swimming in good-looking caramel. Very Christmassy.)

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After this, I managed to go to another ‘must-go’ destination on my list. La pâtisserie des rêves par Philippe Conticini near Rue du Bac station in the 7th Arrondissement. I bought the lemon tart that has a ingeniously created meringue top. I knew about it from watching his website video sometime ago! – By the way, I recently heard that La pâtisserie des rêves is opening its London branch this February! Yayyy! Me says I-Can’t-Wait.

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Walking down the same street going south, I found the famous Angelina on the opposite side. It is their new outlet which is take-away only, no tea room. Happily surprised, I, quite naturally, walked in & bought their famous Mont Blanc (6.70 euro) Y’know, to sample ofcourse…, for research… cough cough.

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Coco&Me - www.cocoandme.com - Coco and Me - Patisserie Angelina - famous cake - Paris - Mont Blanc eclair cake window display.

(Window display at Angelina.)

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Coco&Me - www.cocoandme.com - Coco and Me - Patisserie Angelina - famous Mont Blanc cake - Paris - sweet meringue base, very flat & small, mountain of lightly sweetened chantilly, & chestnut cream beautifully piped over it.

This Mont Blanc was consumed in the Eurostar, half way inbetween France & England. Yet again, happy to report that this was also amazing. I’m so glad I bought it. I also don’t know of anywhere that sells Mont Blancs here in London, other than in Laduree in Harrods, & I’m never down that end of town. For me, it’s intriguing to sample good cakes, especially those that are their signature ones,  to see what’s so winning about it (or, I sometimes pick out the most obscure item on the menu if it sounded unfamiliar.). - Eating them is like deciphering like a detective, I taste each component separately first, then eat it as a whole to see how it unites. Oh, it’s super fun!

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Angelina’s Mont Blanc is simply a thin sweet-meringue base, mountain of lightly sweetened chantilly, & chestnut cream beautifully piped on it. The chestnut cream was really special. Flavorsome, not too sweet, & also very dense. A lot denser than I thought actually, which by the end, really filled me up. I imagined eating this with their famed hot chocolate in their famed tea room. I reckoned it’ll be too much for me. Though, then again, I guess you’d be spending a long time in the tea room, taking time to eat & drink, soaking in the grand atmosphere…?

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Anyway, back to the story about my trip walking down Rue du Bac. After Angelina, weighed down by even more things to carry – cakes, & then souvenirs for my kids that I bought in Pylones - I walked in to a large Food Hall called La Grande Épicerie de Paris. This again, was only a stones throw away. (The walk down Rue du Bac toward the south is a food dream alley!)

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Thinking ahead to supper-time on the Eurostar heading home, I bought a slice of ‘Le Croque Classic’. An indulgent double-decker sandwich made of bread, turkey, pancetta, cheddar, tomato, cucumber, hard boiled egg, iceberg salad, mayonnaise & worcestershire sauce. 5.90 euros. Not sure why it’s called ‘classic’ (I would’ve thought croque is more like croque monsieur with ham & cheese only? I might be wrong though! ^^), but it was worth every penny & went down well.

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Coco&Me - www.cocoandme.com - Coco and Me - La Grande Épicerie de Paris - 'Le Croque Classic'. An indulgent looking sandwich made of bread, turkey, pancetta, cheddar, tomato, cucumber, hard boiled egg, iceberg salad, mayonnaise & worcestershire sauce. 5.90 euros. - Paris

(My take-away food to eat aboard the Eurostar.)

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Coco&Me - www.cocoandme.com - Coco and Me - French madam deliberating a panettone loaf in La Grande Épicerie de Paris -  - Paris

(French madam deliberating a panettone loaf in La Grande Épicerie de Paris.)

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I deliberately left pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki for my final destination before boarding the Eurostar as I knew I would be buying the most cakes there. Thinking, oh yeah, I can walk from La Grande Épicerie to his shop on Rue de Vaugirard no problem – wrong. Gah, I was lost. It seemed simple enough on the map, but somehow I walked around a block twice. Not what you want to do when your bag is digging in to the shoulders.

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Nevertheless, I trudged on, only because I’m not in Paris so often am I & if I missed going there now, the next time will probably be way away in the future. Luckily though, after about a troubled 15 minute “Oh dear I’m lost” moment (which felt like at least double its time), I found the pâtisserie. I bought these 3 items: Genmai-cha (Japanese roasted tea) eclair, millefeuille with vanilla crème pâtissière & another of those in green tea version.

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Coco&Me - www.cocoandme.com - Coco and Me - pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki - Genmai-cha (Japanese roasted tea) eclair, mille feuille with vanilla crème pâtissière & another of those in green tea version.- Paris

(These survived the Eurostar journey!)

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Coco&Me - www.cocoandme.com - Coco and Me - pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki - Genmai-cha (Japanese roasted tea) eclair, mille feuille with vanilla crème pâtissière & another of those in green tea version.- Paris

(Cross-section picture to just prove to you that I took my time & didn’t wolf it down…!)

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I’m jealous of the perfectly caramelized top on the millefuille. It’s not weeping (wet). Other than the only niggle of the genmai-cha sprinkled on top of the eclair being slightly soggy & had lost it’s crunchy characteristic, all three purchases were ah-mazing. So good. So perfectly balanced. Sadaharu Aoki is my favourite pâtissier… Shame he doesn’t have a London branch… (Or, then again, perhaps that’s a good thing?? My sugar-fueled figure certainly doesn’t need the source of maniacal obsession so close by!)

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Coco&Me - www.cocoandme.com - Coco and Me - pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki - Genmai-cha (Japanese roasted tea) eclair, mille feuille with vanilla crème pâtissière & another of those in green tea version.- Paris

(This was a freebie gift! Sadaharu Aoki’s ‘Chocoron’. Macaron coated in Domori chocolate. Cute transfer on one side like a chocolate bonbon.)

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Anyway, thank you for reading this rather long post! I hope you enjoyed it! ~ Happy New Year everyone! xx

September 25th, 2012

About Lanzarote + book/ podcasts to recommend

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This summer, we went on holiday to Lanzarote!

The last time we had a major holiday like this was over 7 years ago (!) to Japan, so it was a biggy for us.

www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco & Me - Coco and Me - Lanzarote - Canary Islands - landscape -

The landscape was breathtakingly extraordinary. Everywhere you look, it is typically red, ochre & black. Lanzarote has around 300 volcano peaks which makes for the most surreal scenery.

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco & Me - Coco and Me - Lanzarote - Canary Islands - grilling chicken over volcanic heat -

At the Timanfaya National Park (Fire Mountain), we ate chicken that’s been grilled over the volcanic heat from below! (but the chicken was tough…)

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco & Me - Coco and Me - Lanzarote - Canary Islands - restaurant -

Our favourite restaurant was Casa Torano in the tiny fishing village called El Golfo. We went there twice on our holiday. In the evening, we happily sat there & watched the sun set behind the undisrupted view of the Earth’s horizon. We also saw that the horizon is slightly curved. – It’s obvious, yes I know that Mr.Galileo said Earth is indeed round, but it was a rare view for us! It was a reaffirming & humbling experience.

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco & Me - Coco and Me - Lanzarote - Canary Islands - ocean horizon curve -

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At the restaurant, we ate amazing seafood:

www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco & Me - Coco and Me - Lanzarote - Canary Islands - fried sardines -

(Must squeeze lemon over deep fried seafood! Because it cuts the grease & helps in digestion as it emulsifies the fats so that they don’t sit in the stomach! Also, squeezing Lemon (extremely alkaline) over fried seafood (extremely acidic) bring the body into perfect PH balance!)

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco & Me - Coco and Me - Lanzarote - Canary Islands - fried baby octopus -www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco & Me - Coco and Me - Lanzarote - Canary Islands - grilled octopus -

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Unfortunately, there were no exceptional sweet desserts to report back to you from this holiday… Dessert-wise, we just ate a lot of juicy watermelon back at our rented apartment. It was a perfect way to rehydrate our skin & body after a day out in the sun (watermelon is about 92% water). Watermelon also contains lycopene, which is a nutritional protection against skin damage from the harmful rays of the sun too! Double perfect.

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Finally, let me share with you my holiday book of choice. It is the ‘Nutrition Diva’s Secrets for a Healthy Diet’ (~What to eat, what to avoid, and what to stop worrying about~) by Monica Reinagel. It’s a book packed with useful information & I loooove the book. In fact I’m a big fan of the author. I also listen to her podcast shows religiously! I first got to know about the Nutrition Diva via Clotilde’s chocolate & zucchini, when Clotilde posted about the food podcasts she listens to. If listening to podcasts is your thing, check her list out.

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And while I’m writing about podcasts, the only other one I listen to is ‘Crimes Against Food’, hosted by Gloria Lindh & Mia Steele. It’s two girls from Yorkshire talking (hilariously) about the worst food crimes. ~ I smile & giggle along with them when I listen, & it makes me happy. :)  :)  :)

www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco & Me - Coco and Me - Lanzarote - Canary Islands - Nutrition Diva's secrets for a healthy diet book -

(Reading on Famara Beach.) 

September 10th, 2012

Window of opportunities

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When I set about blogging back in 2006, I wonder, would I have ever known of how well that decision to write would turn out to be?
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Looking back, I suppose I could have not blogged at-all, considering I have never been a confident writer to start with.
(…I have a dismal history of getting a rather discreditable grade E for English at GCSE school… Lol! Now laughable, but not so at the time! Add to that shame, I got a grade F for French… Wouldn’t it be funny if I had studied German & then get a grade G? I could have accomplished a hat-trick of obtaining lowly grades in alphabetical sequence! It’ll atleast make a mildly good story to tell in a pub…)
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Anyway, through this blog, I’ve made new friends & have met lots of interesting people. This blog has been a window to opportunities.
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In fact, unimaginable opportunities have been thrown my way this year - new business proposition from amazing team of people with renowned backgrounds, offer to become an instructor for a regular chocolate-making workshop, & even an (albeit very initial) enquiry about own TV show (!?) Ha ha, yeah, I know, the last one’s especially surprising/ crazy/ amazing/ bizarre/ humbling/ exciting, right!? Although let me point out once again that it was just purely an enquiry in their initial/ ideas stage. So nothing has come of it! And I never followed it up. Still, nice to be asked though, huh?
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Another opportunity I get is to be invited to food related events. This Summer, I went to three.
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La Maison du Chocolat:
Coco&Me - www.cocoandme.com - Coco and Me - La Maison du Chocolat - Picadilly Circus - Chocolate bonbons. selection -  CEO Geoffroy d’Anglejan & head chocolatier/ creative director Nicolas Cloiseau
Coco&Me - www.cocoandme.com - Coco and Me - La Maison du Chocolat - Picadilly Circus - Chocolate bonbons. selection - CEO Geoffroy d’Anglejan & head chocolatier/ creative director Nicolas Cloiseau - piping bag pattern on surface
(the pattern was made by dipping piping-tip.)
Coco&Me - www.cocoandme.com - Coco and Me - La Maison du Chocolat - Picadilly Circus - Chocolate bonbons. selection -  CEO Geoffroy d’Anglejan & head chocolatier/ creative director Nicolas Cloiseau - chocolate tree
(La Maison du Chocolat CEO Geoffroy d’Anglejan & head chocolatier/ creative director Nicolas Cloiseau, with the 2012 chocolate tree inbetween them.)
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One was an invite to check out the 2012 Christmas collection at La Maison du Chocolat. Dearest readers, I know you’ll totally be on my side here when I say, “who can resist”, right? Who am I to turn down an offer to sample chocolates from one of world’s finest chocolate shop?
→  →  →  From the first bite, the very enchantment restored the faith in me that THIS is what real chocolate is about. And so, quite naturally, as you can expect from yours truly, I took on the occasion & ate through a many bonbons. All the while, I listened to chef chocolatier/ creative director Nicolas Cloiseau explaining each of the flavours of these refined morsels. Delectable. Delightful. Perfection. Bliss. Paradise. Need I say more?
→  →  →  Meeting the head chocolatier/ creative director Nicolas Cloiseau was an amazing experience too. I explained to him that my first ever experience of eating macarons was from La Maison du Chocolat back in 2004 & that it was a life changing experience by no means an exaggeration. I was ‘in’ to only chocolates back then, but it was the awe-inspiring deliciousness of their chocolate macarons that made me start to bake on a serious level. Inspired & obsessed, I experimented numerous times to re-create macarons at home. As you might know, macarons are notoriously diffcult to make, & it certainly was not a wise choice for first baking project. At first, I simply couldn’t get it right – mine cracked & there were no jaggedy ‘feet’ that is the must feature of any good macaron. When I did finally get it right, by the end of it I was hooked on the joys of baking & here I am today, baking professionally for 7 years.
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El Bulli: Cooking in Progress (2011):
Coco&Me - www.cocoandme.com - Coco and Me - El Bulli: Cooking in Progress (2011): - preview screening - flim - Ferran Adrià
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As some of you may already know, I finally started to twitter this year. And it was through twitter that I was invited by Artificial Eye (a film distributer) to a preview screening of the El Bulli docu film. I’ve been curious about this Ferran Adrià fellow & his restaurant from some time ago, & so I went.
→  →  →  What did I think of the film? Well… let’s first say that I ought to leave personal tastes aside. Because ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ & you have to respect that. The food’s not my cup-of-tea, I’d salivate over homey & soul-warming foods ten-fold, but it doesn’t stop me from greatly respecting Ferran’s quest for new-worldly, artistic, conceptual cuisine.
→  →  →  Y’see, there, it’s not just fine-dining, but I would rather coin it as “fine-art-dining”. It’s so concept-led, going to his restaurant must have been like participating in a fine-art exhibition! When you hear that there used to be 2 million people applying for the 8,000 bookings available in a year, I do think it’s a little silly & faddish though. But I guess you have to understand that these people who can afford to splash a small fortune to getting there & paying for the 30-course menu are after ‘the experience’ & ‘status’ of having eaten there, so that they can get the badge & form an opinion, & that’s fine for them.
→  →  →  This fly-on-the-wall docu film lets us observe what a year at El Bulli was like (it’s closed down now). And it is a precious record of the phenomenon that was El Bulli. If you want to witness something that will surely be talked about in food history, this film will be right up your alley & I will recommend it. Despite being a success already, the man clearly still has the passion & the burning ambition to better himself (& others). And people with dreams & ambitions gets my vote, fully.
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Pastry Network:
Coco&Me - www.cocoandme.com - Coco and Me - Fred Ponnavoy, Head Chef of Gü
(pic with Fred Ponnavoy, Head Chef of Gü, with the new recipe book out next month.)
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My friends F & S organize a gathering group called Pastry Network, of which I am now also a member. Once-a-month, pastry chefs meet to exchange information as well as make friends with people who you have a common ground. I have great admiration for F & S to take time out of their very busy schedule to organize such group. It is clear that they are passionate about pastry. They pass on their knowledge freely, & I think it is a sign of a great person & teacher.
So far this year, they have organized head baker of The Berkeley Hotel to talk about ‘What it take to make fantastic bread’, & on a different month, member chefs brought in their favourite cookbooks to share.
→  →  →  This month, we heard Fred Ponnavoy, Head Chef of guest speak about Gü’s branding & product development. Despite that I won’t ever go down the same road, it was nevertheless a priceless opportunity to learn the inside story of how a successful company like Gü operates. And the talk left me with great respect for their dedication to create delicious gourmet products that’s now sold in all major supermarkets, a feat in a market which is otherwise saturated with inferior quality desserts.
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PS: Dearest readers, especially the readers who have been taking their time to write a comment, I’d like to say… THANK YOU very much! Did you know that YOU make this blog happen with me? Without your encouragement, & without the knowledge that I am being listened to, understood, I don’t think I could have achieved half as much & have quit this ages ago. And that is the truth. So thank you!!!

Warmest regards, Tamami xx

April 17th, 2012

First ever Coco&Me baking lesson!

www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco & Me - baking course London - Z & Tamami

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Hello~hello~hello~ dearest readers!!!!! So sorry for not writing often on this blog…! Hope you’ve all been well. Is life treating you sweetly? And I wonder, are you looking after yourself well?

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I’ve been ultra busy with God-knows-what, just a bit of everything mounting to one big busy-ness I guess, I feel my mind’s cluttered up that, if I was to compare this situation to a computer, it’s overloaded & hence the system is running slowly. Basically not achieving as much output as I ought to. Does this make sense??? Lol. Sometimes I don’t know anymore.

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Anyway, the idea is to do ‘one-thing-at-a-time’ isn’t it? So here’s a write up about what happened (ahem,) all the way back in December 2011.

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x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x

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Actually, no, it was October 2011, I received a special message through this blog by F, a guy wanting to organize a one-off baking lesson as a Christmas gift for his girlfriend Z. And that he wants it to be a surprise for her. (Ladies, one-two-three! “Ahhhhhh…!” How sweet!)

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On first reaction, Hm, I thought. Not sure.

I mean, I can’t even strike up a courage to go to cinemas alone, so how would I feel going to a strangers’ house? But the message read that they are regular customers of mine at the market. I thought back to all the customers that I can remember & I couldn’t think of any weirdos…

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I emailed back hinting that it would be best if he could come to the stall so that we could discuss it further. (Although the actual secret intention was to see who this F was!)

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It turned out he can’t until November as he has to be out of town. – Hm… decisions… Oh, go-on, let’s do it then. Perhaps there must’ve been something in the waters that day, (or maybe I glimpsed a Nike ‘Just do it’ logo!?) but I thought yeah, new experience, new opportunity & all that. Just do it? Yes, I’ll do it! My heart was pounding as I wrote back to confirm, because I was still totally not sure, but I thought (sorry F) I could always call it off if I didn’t like the look of F when he comes to the stall in November.

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Come November, F dropped by my stall. Turns out he is a charming, likable bloke. With great relief, I chatted with him about our surprise plan. He then came back to my stall with the unknowing girlfriend Z to pretend to browse the cakes. The real intention to secretly introduce her to me. Did I do well with my poker face F?? Lol! :)

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December. Knowing who they were was a huge plus. On the baking day itself, I was not as nervous as I’d thought I’d be. Giddy, oh yes, but in an excited way. With a small suitcase full of ingredients, pots n’ pans, & with a heart pounding fast like a small animal, I rang their door bell. F opens & signals me to quietly go to the living room. I hear Z in the other room asking who’d come. She definitely senses something is up. Aw, I hope she likes this surprise… What if she hates this or hates me? Even worse not recognize me!?

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Very pretty girl Z peers in to the living room. One look at me &… big big smiles & little shrieks. So natural, so sweet. I instantly knew that we’d get on absolutely finely.

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F & I spilled the beans of our secret. How F had been planning months ahead, how F took Z to my stall… The surprised look on Z…, & her smiles & laughter as she listened, so adorable.

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So! It’s a 3 hour baking course, I explain. We’ll be making tarte tatin, chocolate truffles, creme caramel & homemade vanilla extract!

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Like a team-work, we peeled braeburn apples, cored them, arranged them in the caramel/vanilla pan… On went the sheet of puff pastry, not forgetting to tuck in the edges… 40 minutes in the oven. Hey presto, tarte tatin.

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco & Me - Tarte tatin - upsidedown apple cake pie - creme caramel - vanilla - baking course

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Following that, we made ganache for the truffles. This was in tandem with making vanilla extract as the ganache needs to cool before piping, then more cooling after that so that it is firm enough to roll, coat in melted chocolate & finally rolled in cocoa powder. – Finally it was on to making the Creme caramel which was a doddle, & we finished almost exactly 3 hours of lesson time.

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Like I said, we had this amazing team-work thing going on, & I felt that it was rather more like two girl friends having fun baking & chatting. Sure, I’d be peppering in baking tricks & know-hows, & answering baking questions, but it certainly didn’t feel like a strict teaching setup. And I much prefer it that way.

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Thank you F for setting up this most amazing, valuable experience. I’m really glad I said yes. And thank you Z, I’m so happy that my first ever baking student was you! ♥

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco & Me - baking course - eating in kitchen

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December 31st, 2011

Skills Competition 2011 & Mrs T

(Pastry chef doing sugar craft, working under the heat lamp)

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Here’s something that happened back in October. – I told you I had a back-log of stuff to write about! :)

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In October I visited the Skills Competition* held at the Excel centre in London. I never knew about this competition before but it’s a huge event held every 2 years, where over 950 Competitors from 51 countries compete to be ‘the best of the best’ in 46 different skill competitions. I found out via Mrs T, who I’ll tell you about later.

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The type of skills competed are vast. Some of which are:

Wall & Floor Tiling, Cabinetmaking , Offset Printing, Floristry, Mechanical Engineering, Mobile Robotics, Hairdressing, Caring, Beauty Therapy. – And the ones that are of interest to me & probably to you are Confectioner/Pastry Cook & Restaurant Service.

- Below in grey-type are what those two categories are about in detail (copied & pasted from the Skills Comp. website.)

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Confectioner/Pastry Cook:

Confectioners/pastry cooks are skilled craftsmen and women. High levels of knowledge and practical expertise are required to produce the range of intricate items which they provide.

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Confectioners/pastry cooks create an abundant variety of elaborate and delicious products for all kinds of event, which employs artistic talent as well as gastronomic flair. They must be able to work economically and use their initiative, not forgetting the quality of products, ergonomics, and health and safety regulations. They make and present decorated cakes, pastries, biscuits, chocolates, modelled marzipan, hot and cold desserts as well as centre pieces in various mediums such as chocolate, cooked sugar, pastillage and nougatine.

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Contestants are all in individual booths. Observers are very close to these contestants, about just 1 meter, only separated by red rope. When I visited, the chefs were all doing sugar work. It was very exciting to watch as I have no experience in it. It was so inspiring that I pondered on finding a course that I can enroll myself on. And actually, even just looking at what equipment they were using was totally interesting & I was hanging around these booths for a very very long time.

- Many congratulations to Austria, France & Japan for winning the Gold medals!

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Restaurant Service:

Restaurant Service demands an extensive knowledge of international cuisine, of beverages and bar service. The waiter is the most important contact person in attending the customers. It is therefore necessary to have a complete command of serving rules and to know the preparation of special dishes and drinks at the guest’s table. Basic requirements are skill and resourcefulness, good manners, aplomb and practical ability.

- Restaurant service requires excellent skills in areas such as:

- – Serving food and drinks
- - Mixing international drinks and working behind the bar
- – Preparing food in front of customers, e.g. carving or flambéing
- – Serving wine
- – Identifying alcoholic drinks
- – Folding napkins

Service skills require competence across these types of restaurants:

– - Bistro ~ Plated service
- – Cocktail Bar ~ Gueridon service
- – À la carte restaurant ~ Cooking at the table
- – Fine dining ~ Gueridon service

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me - Skills Competition 2011 London Excel Centre

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At the Cabinet making booth:

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Embroidered on the back of every Japan team member is がんばろう日本!- Meaning “Don’t give up Japan!” A message of strength with a deep meaning for the earthquake that happened on March the 11th.

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Now, you’re perhaps wondering why I went to see the cabinet making section right? Well, it was to try & find Mrs T, who was working there as a translator for the Japan team.

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Mrs T & I have been pen-friends for a long time now, first through this blog & then to exchanging long emails & pictures. But we never met, what with being in a different country. When she found out that she is to visit London for her work, she contacted me, but her busy schedule in London with the team, aswell as that coinciding with my baking schedule was such that we sadly couldn’t plan a proper meeting. But I said I’ll pop by her area & see her work from afar.

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!! There she is, there she is!!

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I immediately spotted her in the distance in the blue jacket. I was wondering if she’d look my way & then I’d at least wave to let her know that I did come, but she looked very busy… I decided to have lunch then come back & try my luck after.

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During lunch I struck a chat with pastry lecturers from Northern Regional College, their students were doing demonstrations at the show. We talked about the Red Devil apples that they were using in their desserts. – Red Devil apples are stunning bright red in colour, almost lipstick red, sweet & juicy. The unusual thing about these apples are that the flesh is pink stained (how beautiful!) & that the juice is pink too. Now I want a red-fleshed apple tree for my (small) garden!

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Satisfactory lunch & pleasant chat over, I moved on to go for a final visit to Mrs T’s area. I’m so glad I did go back because I finally managed to catch her & wave! – And even better, Mrs T came out to have a chat too!

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www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Coco and Me - Skills Competition 2011 London

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I think we both felt a little weird & giddy from finally meeting after so long! And Mrs T was such a lovely, warm, friendly person!! What touched me was her faith/ confidence in how I will be successful in what I do – It kind of blew me a bit because most of this year I have been on the ‘down’, feeling tired all the time & consequently feeling uncreative. – But Mrs T, your such supportive words must be working its magic, as it propelled me to finally get going with experimenting in the midnight kitchen again for new recipes! I’m glad that I met you. One day (& God only knows when), I’ll finally visit Japan, & so I hope to meet you again! (& hopefully in beautiful Miyakojima)!

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* The next International WorldSkills Competition will be held in Leipzig, Germany in 2013. It’s a fantastic event for everyone, I think especially for the young students to see first-hand what options/ opportunities there are for their career ahead. Visit highly recommended!

June 22nd, 2011

Currently I’m in love with… Amy Stevens’ cakes

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As you know, I-love-cake.
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So, quite naturally, in my spare time I’m on the look out for cake on the internet. And it was when I was link-hopping that I found Amy’s art cakes.
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Amy Stevens art cake blue white black www.cocoandme.com Coco&Me Coco and me

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Don’t you think these pictures are Oh-My-God-‘this-is-out-of-this-world’-Wonderful?

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Amy Stevens art cake orange red green www.cocoandme.com coco and me Coco&Me

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When I encountered this treasure finding, I just had to share her with you!! ^^

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Amy’s art confections series started when she turned 30. She originally wanted to make 30 cakes for her show, but as she discovered that her cakes were not going to look like what might appear on a Martha video, she decided that they would look better if made in their exuberantly imperfect state.

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What I love about her cakes is exactly that imperfection.

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It is perfectly imperfect & beautiful.

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Amy Stevens art cake white blue amber www.cocoandme.com Coco&Me coco and me

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I asked Amy some questions:

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Q: Are they all edible?

A: The cakes are edible, although they are rarely eaten. Because I make them with the sole purpose of decoration, I don’t use the very best ingredients and sometimes the cakes sit for a while in my studio while I am shooting and editing the images.

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Q: Is it sponge inside?

A: I use the same cake recipe for all of them, it’s a yellow cake recipe from Martha Stewart. Every so often, I will spend a whole day baking cakes – of many different shapes and sizes. I then freeze the layers in a big freezer in my studio and when I want to decorate a cake for a shoot, I thaw out various layers and put them together. Usually the cakes are layered with icing in between.

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Amy Stevens art cake white orange www.cocoandme.com Coco&Me coco and me

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Q: What technique do you use? ie; piping bag with different nozzles?

A: I use parchment triangles for the bags and various tips.

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Q: Is it buttercream?

A: The icing is a decorator’s ‘buttercream’ recipe I got from a cake decorating class. It’s basically powdered sugar and vegetable shortening. I found this to hold up the best – even under the hot lights while shooting. When I bake cakes for eating, I will make real buttercream (with butter!) I find it to be a little finicky in humidity, but it tastes so good.

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Q: Do your get cake orders from friends? Or bake a lot beside of art?

A: Sometimes I make cakes for friends or special occasions. I have this book called the Cake Bible and like to try different recipes from it. But in general I love to cook and bake and am constantly trying something new.

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Q: Amy, I love your pictures so much, have you ever considered doing a calendar? I’ll be the first to buy it!!!!

A: I have considered calendars and maybe in the future will make one. Right now I am working on a photo book of Confections that will be available through my website and Blurb, and will also be selling note cards soon through my website.

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Amy Stevens art cake green www.cocoandme.com Coco&Me coco and me

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Check out more of her fascinating cakes on her website!

t xoxo

June 14th, 2011

April & May

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April & May was pretty rough going.

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It was in the last week of March that my father was diagnosed with brain tumor. You can probably tell from how I write what I write, that I love my family very very much. I respect my father, he is a great man, & he is a big part of my life. He understands me, supports me & influences me. So you can probably tell that I was upset over this news. I may know a thing or two about baking, but brains? I may have one, but that’s about it knowledge-wise. Perhaps it’s that unknown that brought on the fear, the fear of what if something awful might happen?

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First of all, I should say, don’t worry though readers, he is fine now. After re-scheduling & another re-scheduling of surgery, the tumor was finally removed. And that is almost a month ago now & he is now doing absolutely great & is at home with us. The doctors have said surgery was successful. It’s a huge relief.

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During this time, I got my self in to a tiny bit of state. I found it mentally draining. Motivation for my book writing waned, well, to a complete halt actually – it’s not been touched ever since. – Despite the very fact that I knew it was comfort-eating/ emotional-eating, I snacked a lot. And now I’m two kilograms heavier. – Rather than working at night like I ought to, I would log off very early, curling up to my warm & cuddly girl ‘S’ at her bedtime.

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Now though, thankfully, things are alright, back to normal, & I’m starting to feel alright too. I feel alright enough to share this with you.

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Here’s a realization: Isn’t just a normal, everyday life great!? ^^

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Picnic:

We were going to go somewhere a little special for my 35th birthday, but what with the uncertain re-scheduling, decided to do a picnic on the nearby heath.

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We celebrated with some of my close friends, on a part of the Hampstead Heath called Parliament Hill (also known as Kite Hill), which is the highest point in North London. With blue sky, green grass, stunning views, yummy food, flowing alcohol (atleast 15 bottles were consumed!? But who’s counting? ^^) & most importantly, with fantastic company of friends… – what more could a birthday girl want? (oh, other than a diamond ring or three perhaps…of-course! Lol!)

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Picnic dessert:

My answer to portable dessert on the day? Lots of freshly made bite-size choux!! (the inside was vanilla crème patisserie mixed with whipped double cream.)

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Note-worthy picnic foods that day was…:

  • Friends T & S brought this truly AMAZING smoked salmon from Hansen & Lydersen. IT WAS UNBELIEVABLE. Really, never tasted any smoked salmon so spectacular. And it was such a great party gift too – the crowd went wild! ^^ I highly recommend it if you live in London & can get hold of it.
  • Another friend T.E who is ‘in’ to baking bread brought with him a ‘No-Knead Bread‘. It was reaaaally really perfect – with crunchy & tasty crust. He used the recipe from here. In the video, it says it needs to rest for more than 12 hours! Wow, thanks T.E for making it!!
  • Home-made Spanish omelette from friend C (that I didn’t get to try…),  a special cake called ‘engadiner nusstorte brought from Switzerland by friend G (Engadin is the valley where she grew up), beautiful Prosecco wines, Champagne… And not to forget the freshly made coffee using a camping stove

It was a very satisfactory picnic indeed!

January 27th, 2011

Hope to see you?

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Hello!

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My one month winter hiding is almost up!

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From this coming Saturday (29th) you’ll see me regularly down at the market again!

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I’m really looking forward to going back to work (did I just really write that??! Lol). As much as I enjoy being cocooned at home, there’s so much of it that I can take, I become a total lazy so-and-so! I hate myself for it, but I think my head still thinks it’s Christmas! I hardly touched on the loads of “To-do’s” & the exciting projects I have in mind… There’s intentions but no actions, just lots of ineffectual stomping on the same ground… And perhaps it’s because it’s winter, I’m just eating eating eating! (Needless to say that I have a sweet tooth…) I know it’s not good but I can’t stop! I think I need to get busy with work just to keep my weight in tow!

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And ofcourse, when I go back to work, I should hopefully meet lots of you too? xx I’m very happy to say that last year there were so many blog-readers who came to the market to see me (currently, on average I receive around four blog readers every Saturday – & that’s just counting the ones that do reveal their identity!). Astonishingly quite a number are from abroad, especially America & Asia. I should also mention that there are lots from this country too! It’s SO amazing. I know it might sound odd, but I am still blown away by it all. Every single time, I’m struck with a dose of happiness to find out that they came via knowing me through my blogging.

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Here’s a picture of one blog-reader who came to the market last Autumn – all the way from Minnesota!!!!!!!

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Coco&Me - Coco & me - www.cocoandme.com - Tamami and Mrs. L at the cake stall - Broadway Market(Mrs. L)

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She & her husband were such smiley & happy people. I felt the connection straight away. After this picture was taken, they presented me with a gift. What?! Wow wow wow!!!!! I mean, I totally didn’t expect that obviously. – It had a red & green ribbon on the box, so I kept it unopened ’til Christmas day. Keeping an unopened present for a month in the house was a bit of a suspense, in a good way. I must admit, on quite a few occasions I almost opened it, especially days when I felt tired & in need of a ‘pick-me-up’, but I kept true to my promise to Mrs. L. – When I did open it on the morning of Christmas Day, I was enchanted to find a set of silver measuring spoons, delicately engraved! Wow, it’s beautiful & truly special Mrs. L! Thank you!! xxx

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I’m not sure how it’ll exactly pan out for me (I’m still everywhere with my ideas), but I’m thinking of retiring from selling cakes in the next year (or perhaps two), so if you’d like to, please visit! I really would love to see you!!! (Ps: I should point out that, no, you don’t need to give me presents to see me! Really! Lol!! Like I say, your “presence” is the “present”! Geddit? A bit naff?? Lol, oh well, it’s true though.)

November 16th, 2010

General update

(Picture courtesy of D from The Teaching Kitchen. – Back in the Summer, D came to visit the market! Her opening line to me was: “I travelled 5000 miles to see you!” Read her account on it here.)

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Hello! How are you keeping in this Autumn?

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I must say, I’m actually doing really good – yeah, it’s getting too cold for standing long outside on Saturdays, but I wear TWO layers of Uniqlo ‘Heat Tech’ garments under my clothes, & I recently bought my first ever wool socks which won’t let the cold penetrate from the ground so much as cotton. (I just can’t believe I never had any before! I’m hooked… so if you haven’t got one, please, I recommend you go out get a pair too!).

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The cake sales are on the up (on some weeks it’s still down, but it’s mostly up). And I’m thinking: “… like, finally!”, after the rather unfruitful Summer period when it was almost not worth the time & effort to be there every week. (I put the blame on tightened purse strings due to the economy’s downward spiral.) Although, having said that it being not worth the effort, I WAS there pretty much throughout, my main drive was because I felt strongly that I mustn’t look unreliable to not be there regularly – I mean, it’s a sure-fire way of losing loyal customers right?

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So anyway, my Summer 2010 was spent moaning about the frustration of bad sales to any ear that would listen – well, the victims were mainly my dearest stall neighbours actually – so I’m sure they’re just as happy that my sales are up finally…! lol.

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Nowadays, it’s just great to be making chocolates truffles & hot chocolate drinks again, because I missed making them (I only sell chocolates during the cold season, from mid-Autumn to mid-Spring). Delicious cakes could surely give people great pleasure, but when I see people eat chocolates, it’s like watching a cat in a cream factory, y’know, really savouring it for what it is ~ there’s nothing like it, there’s a small dose of magic in chocolates.

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Recently I got to thinking that perhaps my children would be reading this blog when they are older. At first I couldn’t quite make up my mind on wether I liked the idea of it. Can’t explain well, but I guess I worry about what they would conclude out of reading this. Recipes to hand-down to them is definitely going to be a plus, but what about all the other things I have been writing here? The ups & vulnerable downs. Perhaps I might come across as self-absorbed? Or perhaps they’ll relate to my passion for what I do.

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I guess the one thing I am proud of conveying to them from this is that I NEVER write anything negative about anyone. And that’s the same when I talk to people in everyday life too. I might like my girly gossips but I hate speaking ill of anyone. Because if you turn it around & imagine somebody else saying that about you, you’d sure get hurt. I also believe what goes around comes around. If you sow the wind, you’d reap the whirlwind. On this note, it’s important to remember that it works the other way too – if you treat others with kindness & respect, IT WILL be returned to you. It could even start with just a simple act of smiling to people you meet. For example, when I work at the stall, I always like to beam my best-est smile. Real smiles. Not fake because a lie always catches you out. Anyway, it’s easy to smile & say thank you because I still can’t believe how great that anyone would want to spend their hard-earned cash on things I make.

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Our boy ‘I’ will be seven in December. Already. (Has seven years passed by that quickly?) He wants to be a footballer, artist & head-teacher (yes, all three in one!). He is very good with reading at school & what’s more important, he has good social skills. He’s amazing with dancing & is tall & very handsome too. I’d like to think he’d make a good pop-star but he absolutely hates the idea of it!

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Then ofcourse, there’s our little girl ‘S’ who is two & a half years old already. It still seems like only a little time ago that I wrote about her birth on this blog. And documented about the time when I was pregnant with her. She is so sweet, so gentle & very clever. I can see positive determination & good concentration skills in her. She’d like to be a school teacher too (actually it was her idea to be a teacher first & ‘I’ copied!).

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When they are old enough to start reading this, I wonder what great people they will be. And I wonder what I will be doing too – I have been thinking that this trading every week at the market thing, I’m probably going to stop in the next year or two. There’s one or two projects I’d like to get my teeth in to. And besides, with the family-life needing more of my energy & attention, the balance of work & family is not quite right anymore & it tires me out & the rest of the family members. Time for re-adjustment. I always think that my children come first in priority stakes, & work? probably third or fourth. You get just one-shot at being a Mother whereas you can re-establish work many times. What I need is a job that can allow me to stay at home & makes lots of money while at it!! lol. But doesn’t every mother want that?!

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About the picture above – that same day there was another blog reader, & she was also from just as far away: CANADA! It is just too exciting for words! The fact that there are people from out-of-country coming to the heart of East London of all places & to put seeing me as part of their journey…! Wow… really…, thank you!!!!!!! Isn’t it weird & wonderful - I sometimes find that there are certain customers who I think are suspect-blog-readers – they’re just taking more pictures than that of usual & observes my face more than the standard fair. Perhaps it’s all my wishful imagination but it makes me beam out a smile of all smiles anyhow. ^^

April 16th, 2010

Christian Ward

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Let me tell you about something special that happened last month that made me very very very happy.
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I was given a painting!!!!
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It was from the artist Christian Ward, in return for the wedding cake I had made for him back in mid 2008. The wedding cake was a gift from me to him & his wife A, one of my closest girlfriend. My friendship to Mrs.A go back all the way to our college days. We shared a flat for more than four years I think. And actually, Mrs.A is the one who initially started Coco&Me with me – she’s the one without whom I wouldn’t be doing what I do nowadays. So it was only natural that I make a cake for them as a gift, despite their offer of payment – I mean, how could I charge them when I owe so much to her for changing my life for the better?
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So that was back in 2008. Then just last month, I was told that he’d like to give me one of his paintings & I was like: Oh-My-God! Because I knew Christian Ward does amazing paintings. You’ll see what I mean – just check out his other works on the following gallery websites:
Max Wigram Gallery
Patricia Low Contemporary
The Saatchi Gallery
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I obviously felt as though my cake does not have the same value as his work. It is such a huge honour… Plus I’ve never owned a painting ever before…
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I’ve taken some pictures of it to show you, but perhaps my photos don’t do it justice. The colour is a lot more mysteriously luminous, & has the power to draw you in to the unique world. Me & my other girlfriend’s ‘personal take’ on this is that we think it maybe depicts the after-life, as the cherry blossom could mean ‘transience of life’. Yet it is in full blossom, in the glorious midst of beautiful life. And it has varicolored pools of aura. I find it very calming & spiritually cheering.
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Coco&Me - Christian Ward painting - www.cocoandme.com.Coco&Me - Christian Ward painting - www.cocoandme.com(Close up.)
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I really love the painting. Thank you Christian! It means a lot to me. I sometimes stop in front of the painting, & have a look, have a calm breather, & then go back to my busy day.
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Coco&Me - White chocolate cigarretto wedding cake with chocolate sponge 3 tier with roses - www.cocoandme.com (And here is a picture of the wedding cake I made for them. – Three tier wedding cake with white chocolate cigarette surround. Inside is a dark chocolate sponge cake with raspberry ganache layer.)www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Wedding Cake(Close up.)
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So far I have made four wedding cakes. All of which went to very special people in my life, & I feel so honoured to be part of their special day. One was to a local regular customer, another to a special blog reader, & ofcourse there was one that was for my stall neighbour Ms.S that I documented here on the blog back in 2007. – Ms.S & her family still talk about the wedding cake to this day, so sweet, & makes a point out of always buying cakes from me for family get-togethers!
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PS: You’re all probably wondering what’s gotten in to me, posting stories on here three times in a space of two weeks!! ;-) LOL…!

January 2nd, 2010

Winter madness

www.cocoandme.com - www.thisisnaive.com - Tommy picture of Tamami at the cake stall at Broadway Market, Hackney - Coco&Me(Image courtesy of T of this is naive. – I’m recently rabbit mad… The lemon drizzle cake has a rabbit motif too!)

www.cocoandme.com - www.thisisnaive.com - Tommy picture of Tamami's flourless chocolate cake at the cake stall at Broadway Market, Hackney - Coco&Me(Flourless Chocolate Cake. – T of this is naive is so good with taking pictures I just HAD TO ask her to let me use her pictures on my blog!)
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How are you surviving the holiday? Got the “stuffed like a turkey with party-food” drab feeling like I have?
Now that the party season is officially over (my kid’s birthday, Xmas, New Year’s Eve & New Year’s Day parties in a short period of 3 weeks+ is way too much!), I am writing this in sparkly wishful anticipation of normal life to begin it’s cycle again. Monotonous simple life is sometimes the best for très-tired self I think.
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And oh, have you hit the winter-sales yet? Me? Not yet. I like going at the very end of the sales when retailers really slash-down their sale prices. Then again, nowadays I don’t buy clothes as much as I used to anyways. – Ever since I started to earn money by “cash-in-hand” literally “counting” my earnings & not by receiving some digits on a monthly pay-slip, I value “money” a lot more. I look at a price tag on a dress & think “but that’s almost ten cakes worth!” or “but that’s x hour’s worth of work!” & put it back on the railing. When I think about the number of times I shouted “end-of-the-day Saaaaale” on my stall, in the cold winter chill, just to get that extra bit more cash to take home, I just can’t bring myself to blow big money on a whim.
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Then again, maybe I’m writing make-believe. Because I spent 60 quid on a Christmas Tree & as for my kid’s birthday, God knows how much I splashed out to cater for 10 families that we invited. And I always have to buy organic when it comes to cucumbers & carrots too even if it’s more expensive (cucumber’s got high water content & as for carrots I eat them raw so for the benefit of mind I like em “safe”).

Er, so yess… just take the previous paragraph about value with a pinch of salt actually…
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Let’s swiftly change the subject back to about the Market as this blog is ought to be about…
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Trading on my last Saturday of the year was truly madness. Guess how many truffles I made for that day? SEVEN HUNDRED!!! Madness right? It’s because I read my blog-post about the previous year’s Christmas Market day & it inspired me to make that much for this time round. – I can almost hear all of you asking how I did with its sales. Well…, (drum-roll please!) it… (now hit the cymbals!) sold out! (Fanfare!) Alright alright, it took all-day to do it but it did. And as for the hot chocolate drinks, I made over 10 litres & sold out on those too. Madness! I am sooo relieved that waking up til 4am the previous night did the trick. As you can imagine, I topped last year’s figures. Whoo-hooo! GO GIRL!
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But just like last year I had lots of cakes left & I was calling out “saaaale!” near the end of the day. (I just never ever learn.) As I sipped Baileys that got handed to me by the cheese-boys from the stall behind me, my Christmas spirit fired up & I thought it best to just hand out those unsold cakes to the people who’d been kind to me. So off the cakes went one-by-one;
- to “Ladybird S” who gives me cookbooks & toys for my kids that she should be selling,
- to S of La Bouche for letting me use electricity from his shop to power my hot chocolate machine,
- to the fish-lady who gave me some fish in return,
- to the cheese-lady & the bookseller-man for being kind & for buying from my stall every week,
- to meat-seller R who gave me 3 packs of steaks to cheer me up after a horrible man grabbed a truffle & walked off with rude remarks (he was a type of man that would loiter outside pubs asking for a spare cigarette),
- to the Market boys for their good job & also for braving the cold weather (the temperature was on average 0 degrees centigrade that day).
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And ah, talking about the cold weather, again just like last year, I caught a horrible cold which confined me to bed the next day or two. (Like I said, I just never ever learn…!)
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x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x . . x

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Happy New Year Everyone!

And don’t forget to put away your Christmas Tree on the 6th (last day of Christmas)!

August 27th, 2009

A backstage visit to Browns Hotel Tea Room

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In many occasions I feel blessed that I run a Market stall. It is because, not only is it a special time when I get to do a “me-thing” away from the house chores, it is also a time when I get to meet all sorts of people. Come Saturdays, I get to meet fellow stall-holders to whom I love chatting to, meet dear friends that come visit me, & then there are customers who drop by my stall who I love engaging in a bit of chat with.
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One such lovable customer I love talking to is E who is a regular face at my stall. After several visits & chats, we found out more about each other. She is a doctor, & bless her she would ask about how my children are doing every time, & if I tell her that ‘oh, baby S has a cold’ or something, she would always give me proper advice.
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Two weeks ago, on another of those across-the-table chats, she mentioned that her friend is the Chef Patissier of Browns Hotel. Browns Hotel?! Isn’t that where the reaaally famous Tea Room is?! When I expressed “Ooooh!” sounds amongst other words of excitement, E promised to get me in contact with the Chef.

Cut the fore-story short, Chef Patissier F kindly allowed me to visit him at the hotel. So last Monday off I went to Mayfair London, donning on nice pair of heeled shoes so that I don’t look out of place in the posh hotel.
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Coco&Me - Browns Hotel Tea Room - www.cocoandme.com

(Browns Hotel is London’s first ever hotel) 
Coco&Me - Browns Hotel Tea Room - www.cocoandme.com

(A blurry picture of the tea room that I took extra quick because I didn’t want to disturb any of their customers! It was 1pm, 2 hours before the tea service so it wasn’t crowded yet. On the left there’s a baby grand piano.)
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As I briefly wait in the reception for F, I see how grand the place is aswell as their clientele affluent & feel glad that I wore nice shoes. As I thumb through their leaflet I read that Queen Victoria & Winston Churchill often took tea here, Rudyard Kipling wrote ‘The Jungle Book’, & Alexander Graham Bell made the first successful UK telephone call from the hotel.

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Coco&Me - Browns Hotel Tea Room - www.cocoandme.com

(F is on the right)

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F turned out to be very friendly, & very generous. And we clicked right away. As we talked ingredients, merits of Italian meringue over French meringue for macarons, shelf-life of handmade truffles, he would hand out things for me to taste. Truffles made with single origin Varlhona & Amedei was truly divine. I couldn’t remember when I last ate a Criollo. I learnt that truffles shouldn’t be stored in a fridge as it’ll change the texture of the ganache.

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As he explains the ratio of fruit to sugar for jams (100 fruit: 80 sugar), I got given a table-spoon of homemade strawberry jam that was delightlful. Then on to tasting a chocolate macaron which had whipped ganache middle & I listen intently as possible to his recipe whilst I gorge on it. Hmm. I love chocolate macarons…
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This year Browns Hotel English Tea Room won The Tea Guild’s Top London Afternoon Tea Award & I can easily see why. F’s pastries are all made expertly, with the best ingredients & it tastes amazing. The tea room decor has original wood paneling, cosy fire places & it oozes sophistication & history. The location of the hotel is a stone’s throw away from Piccadilly Circus & it’s perfect for stopping by after shopping. Now, I don’t think I’ll ever get to stay there since it costs something like half-a-grand per night, but on hearing that F had already made the Christmas fruit cakes earlier this Spring & has been topping it up with brandy regularly ever since, well, my curiosity will likely take me back to the hotel this Christmas just for that…!

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It was super nice of F to meet me just before he gets very busy with the tea service. What also made me happy about all of this is how my stall customer have cared for me enough to think better for me & connect me to him. I feel blessed. And what’s more, now I have F to telephone when I have pastry questions!
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Coco&Me - Browns Hotel Tea Room - www.cocoandme.com

(Mass amount of plain & fruit scones)
Coco&Me - Browns Hotel Tea Room - www.cocoandme.com

(More pastries that I tried in the kitchen)
Coco&Me - Browns Hotel Tea Room - www.cocoandme.com

(Here’s even more that I took home! And yes, I skipped dinner that night.)

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January 1st, 2008

Anna Karina in “Une femme est une femme”

Coco&Me

(Over this Winter holiday we watched Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘anti-musical’ musical “Une femme est une femme” (A Woman is a Woman,1961) & I instantaneously fell in love with the lead actress Anna Karina. – Obviously the director fell for her too, as they married after filming!)

Coco&Me

(She’s sooo cute! I hear Agnès b. has channeled Anna Karina as the muse for their latest collection. I wonder if they sell a similar trench coat & cardi? I must get myself to one of their shops…!)

Coco&Me(In the strip cabaret: This was the ‘it’ scene for me, when she seductively sang to the camera, about her beauty. The song melody has been playing in my head ever since…!)
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Firstly, Happy New Year to you!

Every time I greet the new year, I just can not believe that it’s ‘Another’ new year. It’s like ‘What?! 2008?!!’ How can time fly so quickly? I mean, I still can’t believe we’re in the 200x (in the Noughties) anyways!

Maybe my reaction is a sign of getting old… *sigh…*
Just yesterday, our friend T told us how he had a work-experience student coming in for a week at his workplace, who’s born in the… mid-90′s! – Huh?! mid-90′s??! Everyone around the dinner-table (all aged 30+) shook their heads in disbelief (& consequently checked if their ears are still hearing correct)!

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SO, dearest blog readers! Have you thought of what your new year’s resolution might be? Any plans or goals for this year? In Japan, we say “1年の計は元旦にあり”, It means New Year’s Day is the right timing to plan your year ahead when your mind & spirit is fresh.
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Huh? What? My new year’s resolution/ plan?
Well, I’d like 2008 to be about re-establishing my passion for making chocolates & pastry making. On self-reflection, the whirlwind of the last two years, franticly making the same stuff for every Saturday, had not given me enough time for new explorations. And the products I produce for the market is often limited/ restricted to popular stuff that would sell well, & I certainly hadn’t been making desserts (such as with mousse, ice-cream, etc) that is not suited to sell if not in a refrigerated food display.

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This year’s schedule is going to be quite different, what with giving birth to my second child. – meaning I’d be spending a lot more time at home, meaning there’ll be a bit more ‘Me’-Time! Yay! Very exciting. I want to use that time to make new desserts & do all-sorts of things I wanted to do but couldn’t because of my market-commitments. Be it working on my camera-skills, channeling sexy-cute Anna Karina for fashion…, & how about being a better mommy who’s there everyday… …
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Currently I’m thinking of working for another one more month in February (I want to be selling chocolates for the Valentine’s season), before giving birth. And then give myself a six month break, & go back to regularly doing the market again from around mid to end of September (I want to start after my first child starts reception class – he’s gonna be going All-day 9.00 to 3.30!). I’ll be working for the whole of the Winter season, which is the best season for selling my chocolates.

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- So for anyone who visits my stall, it seems like I won’t be around much this year… I will miss you…

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“Happy New Year to you!
May every great new day
Bring you sweet surprises!”

t xxx
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October 12th, 2007

The customers that visit my stall

Coco&Me picture from the stall

(Last month, my customers Joel & Bec took the photograph above. Then came back last week to give me the print-out! How sweet of you guys! You’ve made me happy. Thank you!)

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This week, I want to tell you about some of the nice customers that I often encounter at my stall. I thought it important to let you know that the ‘not-so-wonderful customer’ I told you about from last week really was a rare case!

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These lovely customers & many others are the very reason why I don’t get a part-timer to man my stall – ‘market-life’ is too fun to miss! ;-) I love meeting them, & when a regular face doesn’t show up, I would be thinking of them.

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In no particular order;

  • There is the charming lady pensioner who every week pops-by around mid-morning to buy a slice of ‘flourless chocolate cake’ (her husband is always standing 2 steps away from the table). She is the very cause of why I have kept the price of it still at £1.80-a-slice, when all the other cake slices have gone up by 20 pence to £2.00… because I’m scared the change might dishearten her & put her off.
  • Then there’s a man who also visits every week, similar to my Dad’s age, who buys a ‘fruit-heart-tart’ for himself. If I don’t have any customers waiting to be served, we chat all sorts across the table. ‘What’s your favourite fruit?’ ‘How was your week?’ to even ‘Do you believe in spirits?’ He says ‘toodle-pips for now!’ when saying bye. I think we have introduced our names before, but I’m the crappiest when it comes to remembering names, so for me he is called ‘The Toodle Pip Man’. – On that note about introducing – I’ve had loads of customers who’ve told me their names. I must start a little book to note them down…
  • A while ago, there was a young vegan man who can not buy anything from my stall (as everything I make has butter). He pleasantly suggested I make vegan stuff to sell (it should be popular because it is untapped market), & came back the following week with a print-out of a vegan cake recipe for me (with some notes scribbled on the side explaining some of the unusual ingredients that it were listing)! So sweet of him…
  • ‘Fruit-heart-tart’ is also popular with the fabulously dressed young lady. When I see her, I smile & say: ‘the usual right?’ & it’s a quick 1-2-3 step process. Although, last week, she surprised me a bit by ordering the ‘lemon-heart-tart’ instead!
  • Every other week, I get a visit from the French jewellery stylist (who always has a natural & happy smile on her). Her choice is always the medium chocolate tart. The other week, I used more milk chocolate than dark (as I didn’t have much dark chocolate left) – the following week she told me she had noticed. Goes to show I mustn’t tamper around with the regular items…!
  • Old man who I think looks like a thin version of Einstein, likes my lemon tart – & buys the large one almost every week for his family.
  • Once, another regular-face bought the ‘fruit-heart-tart’ to take all the way to his friend in Brussels!
  • Last two Winters, my stall always had a visit from a guy who bought a dozen or so of the truffles & mendiants. He is a silent type, never ever chats or smile. Such a comparison to the others who visit the market, that are ultra-sociable. The guy is mysterious to me (I wonder what he does for living?), but I like him – his presence is definitely part of my market-life. I wonder if he’ll be back this Winter? I hope so.
  • I have been doing special-orders now & again for people looking for wedding cakes. I think they are all locals who know my stuff well. What’s charming is that these people are super-super-appreciative that I make them, I mean, they’re paying proper fees but nevertheless! I’m so happy my cake is part of someone’s special day.
  • There is an elderly lady who visits every week that buys just one item for herself. We comment on how we look each week & we share lots of personal news – happy & sad. Some time ago she was so sad that her friend died (of old age). Anything I said to comfort her was probably going from one ear to the other… but maybe she wanted someone totally unrelated like me to just tell, as part of healing process. – It reminds me of a girl who I barely knew who asked me to accompany her to the abortion clinic (I did), & another who told me about her husband’s affair. You realize people just need someone to dump their pain on a bit.

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Other’s I want to quickly mention before this list gets any longer are those who come back to the stall just to say ‘Hi’, & those others who come to give me a nice feedback: ‘The tart last week was great!’, & those who bring their visitors to me & say ‘This is the stall & the lady I was telling you about!’
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Last week at the market:

Hooray, it’s that time of the year again – as I finally started making chocolates! The weather is unmistakably cool enough for me to start selling without risk of them melting. What with not making them for
a while, I totally got the quantity of cream & chocolate wrong, & made 70 classic vanilla truffles instead of making 30 that I’d planned… Damn… But I had friends around the next day, so I thought I could just stuff these girls with the left-overs. – To my delight, I still managed to sell out on them! Yay! I’m gonna try make more varieties for next time…

February 18th, 2007

I love Martha

Heart pattern with the words 'I LOVE MARTHA'.
Last Thursday D & I had an argument. Oh no no, don’t worry, it was nothing serious atall, but, the next evening, he came home from work with an apple ipod shuffle as an apology gift, bless. – For some time, I’d been telling him I was considering purchasing one, to listen to it for times like when I walk to the nursery (20 minutes) to fetch our son, so I was happy to accept it indeed.
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So far, I.am.lovin’.it! The dinky thing (mine’s orange) is clipped on to my top all the time & I walk around with it at home. I casually listen to it on & off, hooked just on one ear (so that I can listen out for my son), while washing up dishes & rather unelegantly, even while on the bog…

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And what was my first choice of content I imported? An audiobook – for once, ever since our kiddo’s born, I have a way to ‘read’ a book.

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The audiobook I have downloaded via itunes store is titled The Martha Rules: 10 Essentials for Achieving Success‘ written by Martha Stewart & read by herself. Martha Stewart has been a bit of a heroine for me for sometime. Okay okay, she maybe a convicted felon…, but I admire her for managing to turn her personal passion into an undeniably successful business empire. (All the more because she started just as a home based caterer, just like me!) In that respect, I can see that there’s something that I can learn from her & her business. Her omnimedia style is inspirational, & her sense of style is beautiful throughout, focusing on pretty much everything domestic (food, kitchen, bodycare, everything home interior, wedding, home-crafts, pets, flowers & gardening…). I can understand that they are all interconnected – if you’re interested in food, you’d want a better kitchen & equipment, & a nice interior to serve that food, etc.
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The chapter on ‘what’s passion got to do with it’, really struck a chord. It’s true, ‘when work is based in passion, it does not feel like work’, & that ‘passion is the first and most essential ingredient’. And what she says: be frugal, trust yourself, know your customers, pay attention to the details, make it beautiful; boosts what I also believe in.

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Her website is a treasure trove of ideas for domestic style. It’s a huge website, which is a bit too overwhelming, but when ever I have time, I will browse through it, with the keenness of a kid in a candy store.
My current haunt is the video library section of ‘The Martha Stewart Show’. Notable clip was when Martha invited Jacques Torres (Chocolatier) to make molded chocolate turkey, rabbit & easter eggs on her show. I was so impressed & happy to see that she invited a true proffessional like Torres to showcase ‘good’ chocolate work – something I rarely see on easy-going UK food shows.

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Now, my fascination of Martha recently got me ordering a year subscription of her Martha Stewart Living Magazine. My first issue should arrive end of this month. Can’t wait.

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I think I rather love Martha.

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This Saturday:

The weather was good. The people came out in droves. My large cakes went in no time & my chocolate truffles were bought up quickly too. I feel as though I made ‘just’ the right amount of items, which is unusual for me – I often make too much & have to stay extra longer to finish selling them.
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This week, I experimented with making some ‘baked cheese tarts’. It’s basically a cheese cake encased in a tart case. It is absolutely delicious, I love baked cheese cake, rather than ‘rare’. BUT, it ‘looks’ real boring & savoury like a quiche. I scribbled the word ‘cheese’ on it in white chocolate to somehow make it look better, but am just not 100% satisfied. While having a chat with a chef called Roger who drops by regularly, we thought that maybe baking some raspberries in the cake may help – the red blobs scattered against the cream/ brown colour of the cake may look good… although I think it is a 50/50 chance that it might instead look sickly. I’ll have a go anyway…

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Post Update 07.05.07:

I’ve just read through my 3rd issue, & I can gladly say I am happy that I’ve subscribed to it. The articles are interesting & informative. And the pictures are stylish & inspirational. BUT… sorry Martha, there’s too many advertisement pages in it, pretty much inbetween each article, & even on the side columns on article pages! It’s hard to tell which page is real content, especially as advertisers nowadays try to design their adverts like it is part of magazine content…! And also dear Martha, the quality of the paper stock is cheap. My butter fingers can’t catch the pages! I think it is a shame when the magazine format does not match the quality content…