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!

May 11th, 2011

Jason Hindley

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Dearest readers, I would like to first of all apologize for not updating my blog much lately. I’ll report soon, I hope. But in the meantime, I would like to introduce you to my dearest, dearest friend of 14 years, Mr Jason Hindley.

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Jason is a photographer, an award(s)-winning one in fact. He’s also a very relaxed, good bloke too, & always very generous & buys me drinks! ^^ (Lol! Now it’s set in public domain, you’d better keep to it J! Lol! ) – On a serious note now, his photographic talent is awe-inspiring. He once took a picture of me when I was about 22, with a mohican-style quiff do. It got used for a calendar I think. Yesss, I’m officially a calendar-girl!! Ha! One day, when I’m wrinkled & want to look back on my youthful looks, I’ll show it to you. – – Anyway, I hope you’d agree from the sample pics here that he’s damn good at what he does… Respect to the man.

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In aid of the Japan Tsunami disaster, he’ll be exhibiting & selling his collection of 100 images taken in Japan at ‘theprintspace gallery’ in Shoreditch, London. All proceeds from the print sales will go to the British Red Cross Japan Tsunami Appeal. The exhibition will provide a rare opportunity to purchase the exhibited prints at an affordable charity price.

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The private view (which you are most definitely welcome to) will be on next Thursday, 19th of May, from 7pm to 10pm.

It’s at theprintspace gallery, 74 Kingsland Road, London E2 8DL.

And then the exhibition will run from the 20th of May until 3rd of June.

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I’m gonna be the first in queue to get in that night to snap up a print. I hear that there’ll also be raffle tickets & stuff too. It’ll be fun & it’s all for charidy!!

I hope to see you there. xxx

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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.)

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