Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Ryanair - I like it.

Ryanair has always been an easy target for the eternal begrudger and  people who like to complain, moan and gernerally live happily in a world where everything is wrong and they are the permanently wronged ones. 

For me, Ryanair was always the godsend way of affordable travel between the old and the new home. They have made flying as easy as taking the bus and reduced the distance between Ireland and Germany to something manageable and affordable 

I opted for Ireland as my home as early as the 80s when I left the university in Bonn to study in Trinity. There I met my husband and basically stayed in Ireland. Flying home could cost anything between £300 and £500 and I went home rarely, my parents kindly footing the bill to see me at Christmas and in the summer. In between I hitched lifts on trucks which worked very well and was totally safe if probably quite unconventional.

Then came the kids and ferry travel twice a year. Normally that worked perfectly but inbetween, sometimes travel became crucial, for illness, for funerals, for celebrations not to be missed or just for a talk that could not bear the phone. For these days I owe Ryanair so much that I will never quarrel with them. Again and again they made travel possible and easy.

Yes, I doubted their wisdom of disallowing handbags or duty free bags and their general idea to make everything an add on on their really cheap tickets. But for me, even  with all the add ons, the tickets are cheap and affordable. They do exactly what it says  on the ticket - get me and mine from one place to another without any fuss. I travelled on my own, with three or four very young children. I travelled with my father who was not great to walk and not once - not once - did I have reason to complain. Staff was always kind and polite and if my bag was too big, it was too big and sometimes I got caught and sometimes I did not. A gamble, but my gamble and not their fault.

I am writing this in Cologne at the airport after two days with my mother - flying over for nothing more crucial than helping her pickle the pumpkins. My luck held as it does and neither of the flights was cancelled. We had a great time and I'm planning the next trip for next month.

Not only for me and my travel plans but for Ryanair, for all the people depending on it and for air travel as a whole, I hope very much that Ryanair is doing well and will continue to fly and fly in the face of conventional airways. And I hope my fellow travellers who are all making use of the cheap tickets might put a sock in it. The choice is yours. Make it and please stop moaning !!!!! 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Our customers are our quality control

This month one of our breads experienced problems. For a couple of days the Soda bread, a moist, wholemeal buttermilk soda, stayed soft in the centre and you would only have been able to eat the outside couple of slices. Before we noticed, about three or four batches went out which means that between 30 and 40 breads might have gone out substandard as they say or just not good enough. This can happen easily enough when you are making bread by hand. Changed rotas mean changed routines, The new harvest coming in means that flours have changed and now take less or more moisture and  recipes have to adapt and change.  Ovens might have been that little bit colder than they should have been. In rural Ireland without three phase electricity, our electric ovens sometimes challenge the net and may not be able to run at full heat – again something we may not notice on time. So, baking, while not rocket science, still demands permanent attention and focus and sometimes things can go wrong. That never means that we are trying to cut corners or don’t care what quality our bread is. It only ever means that we have missed a change and we don’t ever miss it for long. So, the point is that we are not infallible and that sometimes, thankfully very rarely, the quality is just not what it should be. If we notice, the bread does not go out, if we do not, we depend on you, our customers to tell us. 


As those of you who did tell us will know, we never presume you to be wrong. We will always listen, take note and always, always replace the bread for free. I actually am so grateful for quick, constructive feedback ,that I gladly throw in a few free scones or another free loaf  and always a most appreciative thank you!!  Obviously, the quicker you point this out to us, the quicker we can fix the problem which – in the case of the Soda we now have. 

However, we only had one customer who handed the bread back into one of the shops the next day. A regular customer who brought the bread back the next day, explained the problem,  took a new one and is – for this week anyway, our favourite customer. She brought the bread in  the Good Earth in Kilkenny, I don’t know her, but in the off chance that you read this, a sincere thank you very much. 

Once we noticed the problem we notified our customers and let the shops know that we had had an issue and that brought out a few customers  who said “ yes, I did not notice and didn’ t want to say…..” Why not please and how am I meant to notice if you don’t say?? We make over 15 different varieties every morning  and can’t try them  all everyday. We do try and taste and check and keep an eye but obviously things pass under the radar and we depend on you for honest feed back. 

And then of course there is the customer who notices a deterioration in quality, a problem with the bread and does nothing and avoids the bread in future. Or the customer who notices the problem, throws away the bread --- and tells all his friends to not buy with us because he bought this soft Soda bread there. This customer actually does damage and we don’t deserve this and neither does any other producer whose production process goes off kilter for a brief interlude. 

So please, if you like our bread and you like what we do, please be on our team and give us the feedback, tell us the issues and if there is something wrong, give me a ring, make us aware and help us out. You may mean to be kind by not complaining but I  would much rather you were kind while complaining. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Trading in Herbert Park in Dublin

Well here we are – trading Sundays in Herbert Park in Dublin. Even in the wind and rain last Sunday, you get a great feeling of community with gazillions of kids on wheels of some sort, with the soccer academy kids in stark blue and the hockey girls in green, with busy tennis courts and a bodgia or boules match in progress – competitors  dressed in white - calm and concentrated. Through the park cuts a tarmac path with stalls on either side. With about 15 stalls, most of which serve street food, we are enjoying ourselves and compensating for the early morning with an awful lot of food. Beside us is “Take the Cake” and we most certainly do. Later on in the day, pizza is called for and sausages, and dumplings and ice cream and organic fruit and a lovely bunch of flowers to take home.  The two student members of Speltbakers  are planning to take on this market and I’ll be glad to get my Sunday  back but for now – I am enjoying writing this blog in “Lolly and Cooks”,  the Park’s coffee shop and trying to get a feel for who lives here, who shops here and what bread they might like to buy. To make this trip worthwhile we  need to sell well and  the jury is still out as to whether we will in this so very different community to Kilkenny or Carlow.

An hour away from the stall, an hour of people watching, an hour of stopping mself from giving people unwanted advice. Like when you’re out with your kids, don’t talk business on the phone  and when your kids ask you a question, you’ve got to answer and do leave a tip on the table if you leave it completely ruined, requiring both a hoover and a wet cloth. So far, I’m restraining myself, and just enjoying listening in. My mother always prefaces unasked for advice with “somebody has to tell them” , I used to disagree but I now I am wondering sometimes.

Restraining myself, I concentrated on my own work and stopped listening all around me. I thought on  hashtags which apparently I need. Tweeting without hashtags apparently is pointless so # it is ( as it took me a while to find the #on my keyboard) I understand I have to cultivate specific # for  the business so #speltgreat will reflect the many times people think they are being original with “How do you spell that. #loveyourmarket will cover my love of local market shopping and .#greatfood will signify how much I love the shops we supply and the big array of really good food. So please  follow our blog, out tweets and our general idea and tell me what you think when you see me at a coffee shop listening in to anyone who happens to be close enough and wondering if I will ever be calm enough to dress in white and play boules and afterwards – no doubt heading home to a sorted life and drinks before dinner………

Friday, September 1, 2017

Take a holiday - get off the hamster wheel!

After the bread round is turning to before the bread round as the blog returns and the short interruption due to technical inability is over. 

As a reasonably new and definitely very tiny business in the food sector , I often get asked how I can afford to close for three weeks and take a holiday. Yes, it is expensive and we save for those three weeks all year long but it is definitely worth it. As I get off the hamster wheel once a year,  I relax for a short while, recover and recuperate and then turn and have a good long look at the wheel and the why, the who, the “Whose idea was this” and - we make changes. This year, we brought back a new recipe and we changed the sourdough process to make a better bread and a tighter work schedule. We changed a few hours and gained an extra pair of hands in son no 2, who very kindly is taking a gap year in the business. He started as second baker in third year in school and is now training up as first baker - moving his start time from 4.15am to 2am and moving me to the office.  

Once a week, he takes an early morning and once a week, I take an office night. I start at 2am also – theoretically to be there as back up, in practise to tackle the VAT returns ( last week) and the social media and the blog this week. VAT returns are easy compared to twitter and instagram and blogger. 5 hours later as the rest of the house rises for breakfast and the amazing peace of the night house is broken, I have reconnected with my twitter account, decided to abandon instagram and have actually managed to put a follow button on my blog!!! You may laugh, but that counts as an achievement and please – if you like what I write at all, try that button and follow us on After the bread round

On my travels this morning, I also discovered that our website seems to be deactivated, that I had over 50 notifications on twitter, that there are lots of blogs that I’d like to follow and why didn’t I - and that a night spent in the bake house, producing steaming, wonderfully fragrant and crusty loaves, baguettes and Stromboli is massively more satisfying than a night struggling against my technical inabilities in trying to keep up with modern media. 

So, if you watch this space, you’ll see an active blog, a buzzing twitter account and a website which will hopefully be up and running again once all these helplines that I emailed this morning get back to me. Now, as the bakers outside finish off and the cars head to Waterford, Kilkenny and Carrick, we get back to important stuff  like our new Super bread or athletes bread as it is called in Germany. There the bakers association and the Olympic council got together to devise this energy boosting bread, based on rye and spelt and brimful with seeds and sprouted seeds. We got the recipe from a German baker in Mechernich and we’ve been practicing for a while. This week the bread made an outing to Inistioge on Tuesday and Kilkenny on Thursday. Tomorrow you can taste it in Carlow and then it will be part of our everyday offerings. Good things happen off the hamster wheel. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Travel – permanently curious

We’re back to baking, the bread is back in the shops and on the market stalls, life is good, nights are short and the holidays are over. Isn’t it amazing how time moves on whatever we do and how all things come to an end – the good and the bad.  Yesterday was the first day to bake and I was not at all sure that I’d remember all the recepies and the routine but when you actually stand in the bakehouse at 2 in  the morning, all becomes routine and the holiday a short interlude that is slowly turning into memories and lovely photographs. 

As every year, we travelled to Germany this summer to spend two weeks with family over there. We have always taken the long way in the summer and travel the roads and the sea. With only me driving this used to take two days with a break in London. These days, with more drivers in the car, we go straight through and drive the 1000km with two ferry breaks inbetween. We snooze in the car and some can do this better than others but whichever way, five people in a Transit Connect for 24 hours is not comfortable but well doable. The ferry creates the break and the snooze stretched out on benches – with possibly a little bit of beer or gaming thrown in. Comfort it isn;t but fun it can be and for us, something we have done every year and something which is a tradition and a definite part of our year. Travelling by land like this also give you a great idea how far apart places really are. Geography becomes reality as we reach the coast, wait for the boat and reach the other side of the Channel or the Irish Sea. England becomes a distance to be travelled through not only a point destination  and we learn interesting cultural facts like the fact that the Welsh close their motorways at night for roadworks and like to have their diversion signs in Welsh – a language with an inordinate amount of consonants. Every single year we come to Dover and see their amazing fortification on the famous cliffs and every year we say we should look at that and some year we will – but not this year. This year we arrived in Dover at 6 in the morming and discovered that they put out their recycling in bags in the street and that the seagulls think that’s feeding time. Also, no coffee shop is open except for a 24h Mac Donalds which was not the super success, as opposed to the amazing Beach Diner in Fishguard in Wales which was open early ( when we hit in on the way back) and served the best breakfast I have eaten for a long time. Locally sourced meat  might have been the key or possibly the 12 hours spent in the car......

Taking a break from family, we took 2 days in Den Helder in North Holland just for us, a 21st had to be celebrated with wind and surf and beach and so we hit the motorway again for 4 hours and left the hills of the Eifel near Cologne for the astonishingly flat lands of the north Holland. Courtesy of Airbnb, we had a lovely house in a very pedestriansised part of the town where everyone seems to cycle these lovely big bikes with comfortable saddles. Nobody wears a helmet and biccyle paths abound – as do canals and deichs. Walking, boating, cyling, my kind of place. 

As always it was great to see another place, meet new people and do new things.  Often we think we’d like to travel and think that travel needs lots of money and time and in the end the majority of us just don’t go. So, since, neither time nor a surplus of money are on the horizon for After the bread round any time soon, I’ve opted for the tiny version of the grand tour. I travel for two days at a time, a weekend here, a day there. It all addsup to lots of new places and experiences and courtesy of the always available pasta and sauce , it is never really expensive. This time I got to visit an old submarine of the Dutch navy. Hugely interesting but an immensely tiny space for 70 men. A car with five people seemed massively luxuriously after that.

Ours is the age of cheap travel so make the most of it. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Books, books and more books

Books are the ultimate treat for me, a good book is better than
television or social media any time,  a book will make everything
better and a good book will make many things perfect.
The good things in life need a book to make them perfect. Christmas
without a new book is nearly as bad as Christmas without a new pyjama
and holidays without a new book are seriously lacking while even a
stay in hospital can be made bearable with a book. Days that threaten
to go really bad can be survived with a book – like the time I arrived
in a new city and found the student accomodaton a serious disaster.  I
walked the streets until I found a shop that sold supplies and
thankfully also a small array – of actually seriously mediocre books.
With crackers, cheese, a glass of wine and a book , the student
accomodation became a possibility, the first night was weathered and
everything panned out ok and turned out to be one of the best years
spent in college. Books, you gather, are important, books are both
crutch and inspiration, relaxation and – just sometimes - even
education. For some strange reason it is not only the content, it is
the feel of the book, a real treat to read a good hardback. After the
bread round goes with the times – most of the time – and has lots of
books on the phone which is also a good way to read but never the same
as the real thing. Yesterday, on the deck chair beside the forest
swimming pool beside the Steinback brewery ( after the bread round is
on holidays....) holding the phone to read was just not the same.
Can’t read the screen in the sun and the contrary phone always slipped
the screen sideways – just to annoy.
Kilkenny has such an amazing abundance of book shops and a wonderful
library that there is never a shortage of books anywhere and
everywhere there is a wonderful attitude to the seriously long winded
and very undecided browser that needs to read half the book before
considering to buy. I love bookshops, especially bookshops with
This year’s holiday book was a very undemanding and
uncomplicated and lovely to read novel called How to find love in a
book shop by Veronica Henry. One of her characters is only just
converted to reading and comes up with this conclusion “ So that’s why
people read. Because books explain things: How you thought, and how
you behaved, and made you realise you were not alone in doing what you
did or feeling what you felt.”Simple, straight forward and not at all
bad.  Books are one of the keys to life and there is one for every
mood and every person. So put down those insipid video’s on your
captivating screens and grab a book. After the bread round has just
finished the morning read. Still waking up early have the sunny
terrace in my mother house – a house full of books – all to myself.

Shall now start the day and go and negotiate with the local baker to
swop recepies. Irish Soda bread against his amazing “Sportler Brot”.
If you’re lucky that could be the start of Speltbakers dabbling with

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

More selling …..

Last week, After the bread round was worried about expensive food festivals and unaffordable stall fees. This week, after the bread round, set up a stall at the National Hounds show in Stradbally. Stall fee €40, easy access, setting up after 10 am is perfectly ok and we were involved in choosing stall location as to where we thought we’d fit best. Setting up in front of the van, there was no access hassle, no parking issues, no frazzled wardens – there was in fact nothing but sunshine, horses and hounds and people in snazzy horsy outfits wondering if they could buy a scone for breakfast – and did we have butter?  An experiment in selling locations was underway and the easiest set up ever experienced.
Basically, we wanted to know if we need foody festivals and food orientated venue or will an abundance of people suffice? Will people in any life situation buy bread if it is on offer? For food festivals, people come specifically to buy food and we are surrounded by other food stalls. People who come to our stall most likely are familiar with the benefits of spelt and they know their sourdoughs and yeast loaves. Here, people knew their horses and their hounds, they waited for the lead rein class and the hounds competition, they really came to buy saddles and bridles and halters and when they saw us beside Simon Porter, some meandered over and figured that maybe that bread that they brought for the picnic could do with an improvement. 
Stradbally hall is one of the most picturesque estates I know, a lovely old house and very pretty pastoral land with – of course – grazing sheep. They had set up a vast array of horsy entertainment from pony games and lead rein to horse shows and jumping competition. For more entertainment there was side saddle and hussar riding and dog shows not only for the professional hounds but also for any kind of dog you had. Obviously the show is trying to change from a purely competitive event to a fun show and is beginning to succeed. Now, I love horses and I can easily spend a Sunday sitting in the sun and admiring beautiful horses being shown, jumped or led. I also enjoy all the rest, the hassled mothers arriving late, with nervous kids, nervous ponys and the tail not plaited yet. I love seeing the teams gather around their truck with a long table set with table cloth and flowers - for the lunch and tea. Nearly everyone here was here for the day. I really loved watching the style, the dress of the leaders of the lead rein class, the men with bowler hats running nearly as graceful as the horses they are leading and the kids so proud and the dogs so everywhere. 
I would enjoy a day out at a horse show anytime. In another life, I would have loved to compete and be part of this world but as it is, having a bread table in the middle of it, is good fun too. Good fun and it worked. We sold nearly all we brought, could have sold more of certain breads and will come again now that we realize what is needed, what people know and what they will buy. To give you the figures, I sold 55% of what I would sell at a really, really good day at SAVOUR. Taking the stall fees into account, that number goes up to 70%. Now add to that, that here I am meeting an entirely new customer base, that there was not an inch of hassle along the way, that the nice man at the bar gave me a free glass of wine, that nobody had to carry anything anywhere and that I only started the bake at 3.30 am rather than at 1.30am, you do the maths. I think it’s a no brainer. And as I said, I like horses and because it was my lucky day – just when I was seriously regretting no having brought some butter, Bride Mc Donald set up beside us in a horsebox. She was churning and selling butter……..
Oh, and these kids where the star of the show – pony games: from now on my favourite sport.