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Day two – London to Milan

And now our train trip really began – with an early morning walk to the monument of travel that is St Pancreas international station.

We boarded the Eurostar with a slight familiarity of airport travel with queues, security and passport controls and then slept our way to France. The tunnel was a blur of about 20 minutes of darkness until we immerged into  France. Going at about 200km per hour, the trip lasted just over two hours and  dropped us in Gare du Nord. A quick metro trip to the Gare du Lyon brought us to the famous Train Bleu, a very stylish restaurant that we had wanted to have breakfast in.  In fact, whenever I talked about the travel plan, the sentence “ and then we’ll have breakfast in Paris” was my favourite.

A traditional part of old style travel, I thought and the décor most certainly reminded of Hercule Poiort movies. The food however, was a sad let down and very average.  A selection of bread which I had ordered in hope, turned out to be an old mini baguette and 2 slices of sliced pan…. My French was not up to commenting as I would have liked to but the review on google and trustpilot most certainly will. A gilded ceiling and age old tradition means nothing without good food. Maybe, lunch and dinner would be worth it but we didn’t stay long enough to find out.

Instead we went for a quick walk to the Seine and two hours later boarded the next TGV to Milan. The same classy train, very comfortable with power sockets and wifi and the amazing ever changing scenery as the plains of central France with their huge cereal fields turn into a southern looking agriculture with fields of sunflower and the alps in the distance. As I write this, the train that was nearly flying before, has moved past Lyons and we ‘re moving into lower alps around Grenoble. Going at a much slower pace, we head to the coffee shop for a late lunch and love our travels.

 The dining car, as it used to be called, is now an open standing area which, since we all have been sitting for ever, makes a lot more sense. Lunch was an unexpectedly nice quinoa salad and a beer with tea and biscuits to follow. As the alps turned to the plains of northern Italy, we arrived to Milan Garibaldi and the BAM ( Biblioteca degli Alberi park), an incredible urban area designed by a Dutch studio called inside Outside, it is part of the Porta Nuova urban project and comprises 10 hectares of extensions and a botanical collection. We knew nothing of the design and the ideas behind this project when we walked through it on our way to our hotel. Quite tired and on a mission to drop the bags and find some food, the impact of this space was still pretty amazing.

It made us think about the best of urban architecture and it made Milan look as if they were getting planning right, bringing nature back to the city and using the best of high rise architecture to do so.  The Vertical Forest Boeri Studio looked amazing. Aparently it won the International Highrise award in 2014 and hosts terraces with 800 trees, 11 000 plants and 5000 shrubs with a total of over 900 different species. Impressive !!!

However, our aim was  the “Best Hotel”.  A simple 2star hotel on a lovely quiet square in the centre of Milan brought the day to a very relaxing close especially as we found a great restaurant three doors up. Everyone at “Frijenno Magnanno” was  incredibly nice to the Irish with absolutely no word of Italian. He brought us courgette flowers stuffed with ricotta and we decided on pizza and pasta and red wine and sat on the street in the mild evening in Milan. After month of planning, the travel days turned out magnificent.

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Day One of 20/60 – overland to Greece

After the Bread round gets off the Hamster wheel and travels to Greece overland. We called it 20/60!!!

From Bramblestown ……

After the bread round gets off the hamster wheel – and embarks on a long planned overland trip to Greece. As you may realise, we are long back and have been baking again for the last week but I did write while we were away and I would like to share my thoughts on this trip – and practise writing and blogging so please bear with me as I take you from Bramblestown in Gowran to London and then over land by train to Greece.                                                                                                                 This trip was long planned and well prepared. Exactly 40 years apart, my son and I  planned a trip for our 20/60 year and settled on Greece because we share an interest in ancient civilisations.

carrying the bags…….

He gave us both books to study for Christmas and since then I was reading about ancient Greece or rather working my way very slowly through a book that presumed much more education and knowledge than I actually have. But I persevered and gathered at least some knowledge. The deal was that I would pay for accommodation and travel and he would pay for food – and carry my bags all the way!!!

Speltbakers closes for three weeks in July and we set off nearly immediately (once the sourdough were fed and in the fridge and all the necessary paperwork was either done or packed) I had long wanted to try a longer overland trip but still we cheated at the start – and flew from Dublin to London. Over the years travelling to Germany with the car every summer, the ferry from Rosslaire to Pembroke and the trip all the way along the M4 to London are old friends that, for this trip, were deemed too expensive.  As a holiday start, Dublin airport however, did not at all compare to the ferryport in Rosslaire. I much prefer the summer journeys that start with a sunset or an early morning in Rosslaire and ferry travel is so much more travel than the  busy airport with its still massive queues, long waits and tight spaces.

Cartwright gardens

Anyhow, I appreciated the fast option, we took it and we arrived in London before midday on our first day of travel. Found our tiny room in Cartwright gardens right in the middle of London and settled right in. It was advertised as a studio apartment and looked like a room. On closer inspection however, we opened a cupboard – and found the kitchen sink and kettle and further search even unearthed cups, plates and saucepans. A very good value overnight for inner city London but as long term accommodation, which it obviously was, a little bit of an insight into city life and its lack of space! For lunch we found an ale house and I forced the travel companion to abandon the safe toasted sandwich and have a steak and kidney pie –  a first culinary success. On our way, we passed the British Museum in all its glory and discovered that as chance would have it, the exhibition “Luxury and Power: Persia to  Greece “ was in its last few days. Fate obviously and we immediately got tickets.

The British Museum

The British museum is an amazing place of flamboyant architecture and collections – all to be seen some other time. Today, we concentrated on three rooms of exhibits and for the very first time in my  60 years, I felt reasonably well educated. Having studied ancient Greece since Christmas, I recognised at least some names, wars, eras and problems and loved the amazing luxury and flamboyance of ancient Persia and how Athens tried to resist, realising -over 2000 years ago- that luxury and super wealth of few are a threat to democracy.

In the evening, we met the older brother of the 20 part of this journey who lives in England and together went to see the Mouse trap in St Martin’s theatre. In its 70 year and as the longest running play in the world, a must see if you’re in London. Our last plays in the West End had been the amazing Lion King with its flamboyant and brilliant dance, music and pageantry and the equally amazing Bad Cinderella  with its rotating stage and fabulous sets ( and brilliant story line and music). Here I was loving a play that is older than me and has one set and no costume changes. A classic murder mystery from the Queen of mysteries. I highly recommend it and no – I won’t say who did it!!!  The evening ended sitting in the street in the Spaghetti house, sharing pizza and feeling immense gratitude for family and the ability and gift of travel and looking forward to getting on the train tomorrow.

Quote of the Day: From Juvenal ( about AD 55 -130) Roman satirical poet 

Now we are suffering the calamities of long peace.

Luxury has settled down on us, crueller than fighting, avenging the world we’ve conquered….

…. It was filthy money that first imported foreign ways, and effete wealth that corrupted our era with its disgusting decadence.

( part of the Luxury and power: Persia to Greece exhibition in the British Museum)

….. to London

Place and meaning: We stayed in Cartwright Gardens named after John Cartwright who lived from 1710 to 1821. There is a statue and plaque to him in the gardens as a “firm, consistent and persevering advocate of Universal Suffrage, equal representation, vote by ballot and annual parliaments”. Apparently he was a naval officer who refused to “ draw his sword against the rising Liberties” The statue was erected in “sincere admiration of his unblemished virtue”   

On our way to find the roots of democracy, we already found one very determined democrat here in the middle of London.

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Wish on Wednesdays

Wish on Wednesdays –

– and your wish is our command. We delivery every morning to Waterford. New Ross and Kilkenny and on Saturdays to Carlow, Kildare, Naas and Athy. But sometimes we get enquiries from further afield and so we are now offering a wider service. On a Wednesday, we can deliver to within an hour of Speltbakers (R95 xv48). All you have to do is get us five orders ( preferably over €10 each) and we’ll drive your way next Wednesday. Check with your friends and neighbours. Delivery is free, you order on our shop and for orders over €100 total, we include our bread of the month (At the moment that is a fig and berberry sourdough!!) and a tray of pies as a gift.

Another kind of a wish we always encourage is old ( or new ) recipes that you may remember or want to try. Let us know and if we thing it might work, we’ll bake you some.

This week we dropped vegan scones to a beautiful farm near Enniscorthy.

Now get wishing!

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Treat a friend on Tuesday

Treat a friend on Tuesday

We like treats as much as the next person and an unexpected gift can be the best. Especially these days, where we are all a bit fragile and concerned. Where life is not as sociable as we’d like and we have seen a lot more than we ever wanted of our own four walls.

Anyhow, this is just a small gesture on our part to make it easy to treat a friend. Every Tuesday, we run Treat a Friend on Instagram and Facebook. All you have to do is tag a friend, or mention a friend ( if you are as untechy as me). Comment on our post, mentioning a friend. We draw one winner of all the comments and the winner and the winner’s friend will both get a bag of bread and treats on Wednesday morning.

Easy and uncomplicated, these bags could be yours!!! We’ll deliver if you are on our breadround to Waterford or Kilkenny.

If you are further afield, we’ll find a way to meet you. Winners are announced on Tuesday evening by 9pm and breakfast could be sorted.

Go on, Treat a friend

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Friday for the future

Friday for the future – 9th April 2021

Another Friday and another idea how we might help win the battle against climate change and environmental damage

Our table today

The current pandemic has had a significant impact on the use of single use plastics. What was frowned upon before Covid 19, is now deemed essential as regards packaging. We sleeve our bread with paper sleeves to be able to label the bread and were proud of our lack of packaging. Now, for most shops, we have to bag what we display and every loaf that we sell has it’s own plastic bag. We buy perforated plastic to enable the bread to breathe as it leaves the bakehouse still warm. This morning we made 100 Sourdough, 30 Soda, 20 yeast loaves , 30 baguettes, 60 Stromboli, 30 scones and 30 pies. You do the maths. We are only one tiny bakery. You do the maths for the country.

My question this Friday is: Do we really need it? There is no law, there is some guidance and while some shops display the bread behind their perspex screens other leave it out but most request plastic packaging. On the market, we have established distancing with an empty table between the customers and the bread remains unpackaged. We observe strict food hygene, which we would have done before the pandemic as well, handling the bread with tongs or cloves but displaying it openly. For the entire year, I only got two comments of people looking for all bread to be packaged. Both times I asked about the plastic situation and damage and they agreed that there was no winning….. but said they would just feel safer. A fair comment and a sad reflection of this strange time where fear rules .

Our table pre covid

Looking for facts, I went back to source and checked the website of the World Health Organisation. They say quite clearly: “There is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread through contact with food or food packaging. COVID-19 is generally thought to be spread from person to person. However, it’s always important to practice good hygiene when handling food to prevent any food-borne illnesses.” We have always known that and practise that. So, I would ask the question this week. Can we please remember the other world problems and not create this packaging mountain unnecessarily. There is no evidence that bread should be packaged while on display. It should be treated with respect, obviously only touching bread we intent do buy etc. But we did this before Covid and now, that everyone wears masks, arguable we are a lot safer around open food.

Let’s respect and beat Covid but get the fact, keep our fear in check and please let’s not forget: Single use plastic is still a problem and we are all the answer.

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Friday for the future

Friday for the future – 2nd April 2021

Friday for the future is an international climate strike movement which started 2018, a movement where young people try and propel us all to action to avoid the deadly climate crisis we are heading for. Now, I am neither young, nor am I going to strike on Fridays but I do very much believe that we need to do something, something to avoid the continuing climate crisis, something to battle the ever increasing use of plastic with all its associated problems for the environment and last but not least something to improve our own lifestyle and attitude to food and food production to mellow our own impact on this planet and improve our health and wellbeing.

As a bakery, we like to think, we do our bit for good food but, like everyone else, we need to constantly work on our process to make sure we do the best we can. So, every Friday, we are going to keep you updated with one way we try and improve our business and the bread we sell to you.

The product we use most in baking is unquestionably flour. We use about 500kg of spelt flour every week. Since we started, we have only used spelt flour ( hence the name). First, we used spelt imported from Germany, then spelt grown in France. Then, we found Oak Forest Mills, who grow and mill their spelt in Ireland and who operate organically. We use their magnificent flour to make our Irish sourdough and our Jalapeno sourdough. Since the start of this year, all our flour is now grown organically as we have moved to Echt Meel from Holland for the remainder of our breads. As we said last week in this column, spelt can be tricky to grow, to mill and to bake with but we like it and we hope you do too. And using organic products, products produced in line with nature and without causing damage has to be a very important step.

As every week, let us know what you think, what you’d like to know or where you think we could improve. As we all need to deal with covid and all its side effects on all of us, it is maybe more important than ever to remember the bigger picture.

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Flour News

News …….News…….News

This is a new section to our web site, a place where we share what is new for us and where you can check back on what I say to everyone who does or doesn’t what to hear it at the market.

The flour is back to a great standard

Today, it is the flour. Last year was not a great year for spelt and the harvest is now arriving in the mill over in Mechelen in Holland. When the grain is not super, the flour cannot be either and if there is a massive spelt shortage, the millers have to take what they get as do the bakers. So over the last while you might have noticed that our white loaf was not quite what it should have been and that we either had no croissants or were selling them cheap because we were just not happy with them. Basically the flour was poor and because we use only spelt we did not have the option of adding wheat, which is what many other bakers do to strengthen the spelt.

Spelt flour is a bit of a drama queen. Which is why wheat was invented and why the majority of all bakers and bakeries use wheat rather than spelt. But as Speltbakers, we have limited our choices with the name and what seemed a good idea 10 years ago is still a good idea today – or so we keep telling ourselves.

We were working hard to keep the quality up, using the ever reliable Oak Forest mill flour which we use for our Irish or Pilltown sourdough, to reinforce the poorer spelt. Thankfully, a new batch of flour arrived last week from Holland and we are back to full quality and loving it. So keep an eye on our Facebook and Instagram and if there are any questions, check back to this section where we will keep everyone up to date. We always try our best, and we will always keep you informed. All feedback welcome.

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28/10/10 Traditional Barm brack

For the week that’s in it, we have to choose the Barmbrack this week. It is a beautiful spiced brioche loaf with plenty of fruit and a flavour that lets us know Christmas is not too far away. A low fat brioche where most of the sweetness is supplied by an abundance of furit, it also contains a coin for luck. It is not a tea brack but a traditonal yeasted Barmbrack so it’s shelf life is about 2 days fresh and another 2 toasted. We only make them in October – so don’t miss out!!!

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Bread of the week – 9th September 2022

09-10-2020: This week’s bread of the week is the Brown baguette. Over overlooked, it is a beautifully light baguette or bread stick with the added benefits of plenty of seeds and wholemeal flour. All spelt obviously, this bread is also now made entirely with organic flour. Try and with pate, cheese or fish and you won’t be disappointed. Great for a picnic for those last sunny days.