Wednesday August 26th 2009, 4:06 pm

the wooden cannon under construction

Here at Taurus, an annual fire sculpture event has become a much anticipated part of the events calendar. Each summer for the last 10 years, a giant wooden sculpture has been constructed on the front lawn, following a chosen theme and culminating in an evening of ritualistic revellery and the sculpture being set alight. Last year the theme was the Severn Boar, which referred not only to the wild boars that are sighted from time to time in the Forest of Dean but also the famous River Severn tidal wave (spelt Bore) that keen surfers like to ride and that runs close to Taurus. Round here, never a week goes by without a report in the local paper to the effect that someone’s dog has been chased by a boar or someone’s child was chased by a boar or someone was scared out of their skin by a boar.
This years event, Shoot The Moon, is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, when man first stepped foot on the moon. I know it may be sounding more than a little ambitious, but the intention is to send someone to walk in Neil Armstrong’s footprints. A sixteen foot high wooden circus cannon is being built as we speak and on Saturday night the foolhardy crew plan to climb inside it, the fuse will be lit, and said crew will be propelled out of the stratosphere.

the wooden cannon under construction

In true circus style there will be a big circus build up and considerable razamatazz helped by musicians, pyrotechnicians and projectionists. Steve Hyslop is building the sculpture and can add ‘human cannonball’ to his CV. ‘I like the mechanical, rather kitch image of the fat circus cannon. It’s comic rather than threatening, with an element of anarchy,’ says Steve. He and co-conspirator Damon Bramley will thankfully be donning safety gear for their heavenly mission.
All in all, it looks like being a spectacular and memorable evening and everyone is welcome to come along this Saturday 29th August, 6 – 11 pm. You’ll find more information how to find Taurus Crafts here. There is lots of on-site parking (£2 donations welcomed for parking) and you are advised to bring a torch and suitable clothing. For more information phone 01594 844841

the wooden cannon under construction


At My Corner Shop
Tuesday May 19th 2009, 5:21 pm

Artisan breads from La Bodega

One of the great advantages of opening my shop, The Laundry at Taurus, is that La Bodega has become my corner shop. La Bodega, the on-site organic delicatessen at Taurus Crafts is in fact the nearest food shop to my home, but now I only have to walk a matter of yards to pick up ingredients each day for lunch or dinner and I get the pick of the fresh produce the moment it arrives, either just harvested from the nearby market garden or delivered from other local suppliers.

Herefordshire asparagus

Friday is the day the fresh bread is delivered from a local artisan bakery. I haven’t made a sourdough loaf in ages as it is now just too easy to grab one from the deli. It is such a delicious sight when the trays, piled high with loaves, arrive and I make sure I’m near the front of the queue.

tomatoes on the vine

As well as the food and comestibles on sale, my neighbour, Jane Hale, sells her ‘country bunches’ there too; fabulous and subtle bouquets of wild and cultivated flowers and foliage. Many of her blooms are grown in her own country-style garden and she mixes in other stems of foliage and wild flowers gathered from the surrounding hedgerow and roadside and she always manages to capture the beauty, colour and fleeting quality of the countryside.

Jane Hale\'s Country Bunches

Jane Hale\'s Country Bunches

Friday April 10th 2009, 6:56 pm

Fabrice\'s Fabulous Pastries.

This Easter weekend heralds a change in mood and a real feeling of optimism after several months of the winter doldrums. Not that I’ve been in the doldrums – I’ve been far too busy. Since opening the shop I have realised some of the advantages of going out to work. I am now able to tap into the creative energy generated by others, instead of feeling responsibility rests solely on my own head.

Tables laid for the opening day of The Garden Cafe

Today, Good Friday, saw the opening of the new Garden Cafe at Taurus, just a short hop from The Laundry’s front door. The quality of the food the Garden Cafe will be serving makes this event very exciting indeed, with food and ingredients sourced from local producers and specialists, cheesemakers and artisan bakers. The cafe will be open weekends and ‘holidays’ throughout the summer (call Taurus Crafts for opening times and directions: 01594 844841) and for a first day, things look very promising.

The new Garden Cafe at Taurus

Attention to detail is key, with fabulous rectangular stoneware platters, dishes and generous bucket-shaped coffee cups, all made especially for the cafe by the pottery, again here on site at Taurus. The clay oven built last September (see my post about our oven building weekend here ) will be fired up to supply freshly baked flat breads which come with various fillings and accompaniments.

The Garden Cafe platter

All we need now is some decent weather to make the cafe the ‘MUST visit’ place in the area. See the menu here. As these are early days, expect the menu to be tweaked as things progress.

Baking flatbreads in the woodfired clay oven

Handmade chocolate at the Garden Cafe

Friday April 03rd 2009, 4:51 pm

The Laundry April 2009

Apologies for being away for so long, but I’ve been really very busy and once out of the blogging routine it becomes harder and harder to begin again. For the last 3 months I have not been idle however, and now have so many stories to report it is hard to know where to start.
Firstly, in these strange and difficult times when shops and businesses are closing down left, right and centre, I have opened a shop. I’ve come close to it before but it hasn’t quite happened, so it has been very exciting to gather everything together, paint the walls, think about shelving and display, and eventually open the door for business.
The Laundry’s shop sign states ‘homewares, jam & pyjamas’ and I sometimes hear puzzled people outside saying to their companions, ‘jam and pyjamas, that’s a strange combination!’ Yes indeed it is and, as a person possessed with a mischievous streak, I am relishing giving people something new to be puzzled by, to talk about and hopefully to enjoy. The shop is close to my home and after a few weeks of getting to grips with dressing before noon, I am now enjoying ‘going out to work’ and being able to show the established strands of The Laundry plus many more new ones, all together in one place. Colourful Mexican washing baskets sit alongside bannetons, for artisan bakers, dried lavender sold by the cup-full and butter muslin measured out by the metre (I insisted on a drapers measure fixed in place along the edge of the counter for a traditional touch). When the weather is fine The Laundry’s wares can be displayed outside as well.
A few weeks ago my preserving book, Fruits of The Earth was published, so bringing another element to The Laundry which is set to develop into a ‘Glut Kitchen’ brand. Anyhow there will be plenty of time to tell you more of that in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, I’ve got things to write about.

The Laundry at Taurus

The Laundry at Taurus, Taurus Crafts, The Old Park, Lydney, GL15 6BU Tel: 01594 840563

Monday October 27th 2008, 11:14 pm

building a clay oven

I have been interested in wood-burning bread ovens since seeing one in action on a visit to Australia and when I returned home and began baking my own sourdough bread, this interest turned into an obsession. I fully intended to build an oven in the garden this last summer, but other obligations and rubbish weather meant it just didn’t happen. Even my sourdough starter has been rather neglected lately and is currently sitting at the back of my fridge waiting to be invigorated.
However, I am all fired up after this weekend attending a ‘how to build a bread oven’ course, held at Taurus Crafts, just down the road from where I live. The course leader, Warren Lee Cohen, is a very experienced bread baker and oven builder and he set out to pass on his knowledge and enthusiasm to a group of us eager to learn.

building a clay oven

During the course of Saturday and Sunday, 16 of us collaborated – the plan to build 2 ovens; one under a beautifully constructed wooden canopy that would become a permanent feature at Taurus, the other a slightly more modest affair that we would be able to fire and bake in by the end of the second day. The domes of both ovens were made of cob, a mixture of clay, sand and straw, that had to be layered on a groundsheet and then trod, by booted foot (it was just too cold to use bare feet, but apparently you can), to form the correct working consistency to form into bricks. One by one they in turn were then wacked around a mound of sand, manipulated and stroked to seal the gaps between until it all came together to form a domed oven.

Building a clay oven

Of course there was a little bit more to it than that, but not much. What was so utterly brilliant was the simplicity of the whole thing. The second oven was made to be be more substantial, had thicker walls, a beautifully crafted oak door so that the oven could be used for baking loaves and was moulded and tended with loving care. The other oven was more basic and though it would have benefitted from a longer drying out time, was fired up by the end of the first day so it could begin to dry out sufficiently for us to bake our pizzas.

building a clay oven

Warren’s approach to sourdough was also surprisingly casual. I have written before about the trials and tribulations of working with a wet dough, getting to grips with hydration and how buying some digital scales and using precise accuracy with weights and measures helped me crack it. Warren doesn’t weigh anything, instead gets the feel of the dough and uses his instinct and experience. It seems a very relaxed way of doing things but I wasn’t the only one who felt slightly traumatised by the thought of simply going with the flow. This approach was refreshing though, after the complicated techniques described in my many books on the subject and proves that there is more than one way to do these things successfully. He had brought in some sourdough for us to use for the pizza bases, which was given a quick kneading in the morning and was ready to use by lunchtime.

building a clay oven

By the time we got round to baking, I was starving. We all had the opportunity to make pizzas with whatever topping we chose. Each base was rolled out wafer thin and topped with finely sliced tomatoes, ripped pieces of mozzarella, smearings of pesto, chopped olives, onions, olive oil etc etc. We had to be sure that the oven wasn’t too hot by throwing a handful of flour onto the hot oven floor and counting to ten. If the flour burnt in that time it was too hot, so the oven floor was wiped over with a wet cotton mop a couple of times till it had cooled down enough. The pizzas cooked in a matter of minutes, the thin crusts bubbled up and scorched round the edges, like the bestest ever pizzas you could ever wish for. Each one was cut into wedges and everyone ate so many pieces we all lost track of just how much pizza we had eaten. I’m now desperate to start building my own oven.