Cake Diary: Little Heath Farm Nursery

Cake Diary: Little Heath Farm Nursery

With the stunning colours of Autumn in full bloom a friend and I decided we must take this opportunity to head out with our cameras. The season disappears so swiftly and I couldn’t bare the thought of not spending some time amongst nature to capture this beautiful time of year.

Wrapped up warm with batteries charged we drove out to Ashridge Forest, part of a National Trust Heritage Estate. I have been visiting this place my whole life; as a child I’d climb trees and collect conkers, on school field trips we analysed soil samples and pond water, and now I walk the dog and enjoy photography in the fresh air. I remember as a child my family often dragged us out on walks before or after a Sunday roast to “blow away the cobwebs” or “work up an appetite”. This concept was lost on me back then but now, even when the weather is cold, I often feel the desire to get outside and stretch my legs.

Luckily the weather was dry, unluckily we did not account for the fact it was half term! We headed off the beaten track to avoid the hoards and take some shots. I uncovered a new interest in mushrooms and found more obscure ones to take photos of. I love the way looking through a lens can change your perception of a subject.

There is a lovely cafe at Ashridge Monument which we had planned to visit, on arrival the queue was out of the gate and the garden swamped with kids fuelled by cake and stressed looking parents fuelled by caffeine! Not wanting to counteract the peace and quite we had enjoyed amongst the trees we escaped Ashridge and headed to a place my partner in cake had recently discovered.

It seems this hidden gem is advertised by word of mouth. I grew up just a 10 minute drive from Little Heath Farm and I had no idea it existed. My friend found it through a friend, who found it through a friend, who found it through a…….you get the picture! Tucked away down a country lane lined with impressive detached houses it’s not the sort of place you would stumble across. Having been in business for over 40 years they are clearly doing a lot right. Turning into the very tight entrance it was clear the parking was not for the faint hearted. The narrow gateway leads you down an overgrown track and into the small car park. With no obvious flow to the traffic there was some mild chaos as a lady was trying to leave through the same gate we were entering! All good fun! (I can say that as it was not me who had to reverse!).

The Nursery feels very casual in comparison to the large chain garden centres you and I are probably more familiar with.

I feel my lack of horticultural knowledge would have found me lost and confused amongst the rows of unlabelled plant life so if you are going to buy I’d take  guide. A beautiful pergola draped in vines took centre stage, tucked underneath in their winter storage were tables and chairs, eagerly awaiting the warmer months. With my fingers more blue than green we headed into the wooden clad Sanuk shop and cafe to warm up.

Sanuk is a real treasure trove of items from around the globe. Large ornate mirrors reflect light from low hung chandeliers, illuminating hand carved wooden animals, decorated bowls and trinkets.dsc_0491 You have to cut through the small on site kitchen into the light, bright, dining room, all the baking is done off site and just warmed up and presented in the cafe.

A familiar vintage affair greats you, with mismatched furniture and grand dressers displaying the goodies on offer. I am advised that there used to be vines from the garden growing through the roof and coiling themselves around the exposed oak beams. After a recent face lift these have all been cut away (somewhat of a shame but possibly healthier for the structure), white washed walls display artwork for sale. The focal point of the room is an exposed brick chimney breast and log burner, all that was missing was a dog curled up at the hearth.

 

There seemed to be a limited amount of cake on offer, possibly as it was late in the day, and after hearing apologies at the next table for the crumbly texture of the chocolate cake I, perhaps controversially, decided to go savoury. The menu listed a warm cheese scone with butter which, on a chilly day, seemed the perfect option. I perused their eclectic tea cabinet which contained a wide variety of tea bags, from Twinings to Waitrose and everything in between. It was a little like rummaging in a friends kitchen cupboard in the hope something takes your fancy. In my mission to combat the chill in the air I opted for the warming spice of Masala Chai. My partner in cake braved the crumbly chocolate cake and had a (much needed) glass of homemade elderflower cordial to wash it down.

The staff seemed a little distracted and took a while to take our order, not that we were in a rush, but thankfully the food didn’t take long to arrive. Our order was served on quaint, mismatched crockery and a teapot reminiscent of Aladdin and his lamp. The giant wedge of scone laid before me surpassed all expectations. It had a relatively dense texture but was rich with cheesy flavours. I was grateful for a decent helping of butter to accompany it, I always feel a little embarrassed asking for seconds!

The salty, creamy butter melted into the golden scone and gave me a big cheesy hug as I devoured every last morsel. The first cup of my Chai was delicious, warm yet refreshing. Unfortunately with it being a tea bag in a tea pot it started to over brew and as I refilled the dainty cup the flavour became too strong and slightly bitter.

The afternoon soon disappeared amidst photography talk and ideas for our next adventure. It was such a pleasure to be introduced to this secret garden and the homely little cafe within. The joy will be returning as the seasons change to explore what is in bloom and discover what homemade treats are on offer.

Little Heath Farm, Little Heath Lane, Potton End, HP4 2RT       TEL: 07835 200789

Two angels in a vauxhall corsa

Two angels in a vauxhall corsa

via Daily Prompt: Volunteer

This weekend I have had the great pleasure of spending time with an amazing organisation who support people in crisis. We all have mental health, the same way we all have physical health. Assuming we are immune to poor mental health is equivalent to assuming we will never catch a cold or suffer a tummy bug, throughout our lives both will experience peaks and troughs. There is still a stigma attached to mental health issues and people often don’t know where to turn. Their GP can be dismissive if the issue is not “serious enough”, or dish out tablets like sweets so people can suffer in silence until something detonates the issue and they require urgent intervention.

So what about these people in the middle ground? Stricken with anxiety or depression, suffering grief or financial strain, perhaps turning to drugs or alcohol to cope. Being lonely and isolated during the night can be scary, even if you do have friends or family around would they really appreciate a phone call late on a Saturday night? There are help lines and charities who can lend an ear but they miss that personal touch and often lack continued support. Regularly people will turn to 999, in despair and afraid they need someone to help them. Police officers have a duty of care and will do their best but their limited resources need to be out fighting crime. The NHS is over stretched and have to priorities cases; who do they treat first someone in cardiac arrest or the anxious person who feels life is getting too much for them? The cracks in the mental health service are so severe that bus loads of people can fall through them until, perhaps ironically, they turn to crime or self harm to get noticed and become the business of our sinking emergency services anyway.

Through both work and personal life I am aware of numerous mental health organisations and charities so I am all too aware of the strict criteria many of them have in place. This restricts their client base or the length of time they will work with someone which can make people feel like an inconvenient number rather than an human in need. This is why discovering NightLight and the Complex Needs Service was so refreshing. I was also told that if something was too good to be true then it probably was but this doesn’t seem to be the case here. The staff are made up of employees with an extensive background in mental health work and volunteers who are ex service users or have personal experience with mental health issues. The one thing they have in common is that they can see the cracks other services create and are passionate about putting the humanity back in to mental health support.

They are headed up by Carol, a superhero without a cape, she is one of the most caring and supportive people I have ever met. This is combined with a healthy amount of common sense and compassion for her team as well as the clients they deal with. No one goes unnoticed and if it is within her power it will be achieved. The service has bases around Hertfordshire and a helpline open Friday, Saturday, Sunday & Monday nights. They have the time to talk to people who are in a state of crisis, listen to their needs as an individual and provide practical advice on the issues they are facing. The centres are sanctuaries that people can visit should the need arise, a space away from the daunting reality of their situation where they can talk to someone, gain focus and be given time to look at their options.

They shared stories of carers who were at the end of their tether and needed to get out of the house, NightLight gave them this space and put them in contact with agencies who could help them. Someone hearing voices in the night was too scared to be alone so regular calls were made to them throughout the night to prevent any escalation. Someone with mental health issues being sent letters from a bailiff and didn’t understand what was happening was able to seek advice and guidance on their rights, enabling them to cope with the situation rather than let it get out of hand. There approaching is practical yet client centred, supporting people to help themselves.

The service they provide is unique, I believe Hertfordshire is only the 2nd county in the country to have anything like this. It’s importance is highlighted in the comments left by clients in the guestbook. They make it clear that helplines have made them feel like they were “talking to a brick wall”. No one else has “understood their needs” and offered such practical guidance. My favourite comment being “It was like being saved by 2 angels in a vauxhall corsa”!! You can’t help but wonder what the fate of these people would be if they had not found NightLight.

Being an out of hours service they work closely with the Complex Needs Service who can then take on clients after the crisis and work with them on an more ongoing basis. Assisting them complete forms for housing or council, ensuring their benefits are right, supporting them through court cases, helping them cope with social anxiety and integrate the into a supportive society. There is little they can’t help with.

The vastness of these two services means we should not have people within our society feeling isolated and afraid, turning to drink, crime or ending their lives because they didn’t meet the right criteria to access support. Being funded by the local authority puts these organisations on risky ground, if they are not able to evidence their viability there is a chance that funding will be stopped. This simply can’t happen and the team work tirelessly promoting their services via GP surgeries, Hospitals, Police stations, drug & alcohol clinics and anywhere else they can think of. Time dedicated by volunteers is vital in this area as there are not enough hours in the day for the staff to do everything.

Long live this amazing service because one day it may be you that needs rescuing by 2 angels in a vauxhall Corsa!

Daily Prompt: Candle

Daily Prompt: Candle

via Daily Prompt: Candle

There is something reassuring about the simplicity of a candle. In this day and age we have digital media replacing CD’s & DVD’s, Kindles replacing books and virtual friends replacing human contact it’s amazing to think that in the UK we spent approx. £78M on candle products last year! we are obviously not relying on candle light to reduce our electricity bills so what is the hook that keeps us waxing lyrical?

I love the warmth a candle can provide, whether sat around a dinner table or curled up reading a book. The flickering glow gives the space life rather than a clinical, static light bulb. Radiating a peaceful energy it calms you, reminds you to breath and quiet a busy mind. This makes candlelight perfect for Yoga practice or meditation.

Whether scented or not there is a distinct fragrance you get from a candle that cannot be replicated by a plug in or pump action freshener. A subtle waft of wax and fresh linen, summer nights or Christmas spice. You can transform your surroundings with the spark of a match and the flicker of a flame. Extinguished with the lick of a finger, a pinch and sizzle before the reassuring smell of carbon.

If not purchased for yourself they are so often brought for others. Gift sets and tea lights, wax burners or candle jars. You can even get candles containing hidden gems. Don’t dismiss candles as an “easy gift” as you are not just buying someone wax & wick. You buy them warmth and comfort, an ambience to relax in and a reason to stop and breath.

Modern inventions are wonderful and we live in an age where it all moves to quickly. Our hectic lives crave speed and convenience but our physical selves can’t always keep up. Perhaps every now and again we need to step back and enjoy a paperback by candlelight.

Cake Diary: Frithsden Vineyard

Cake Diary: Frithsden Vineyard

After a recent cake diary entry, which included a dilemma over the correct way to douse a scone in jam and cream, I was contacted by a Cornish friend of mine offering some one to one tuition. How could I refuse this opportunity and I knew the perfect venue. A Vineyard is not something you think of when it comes to afternoon tea and it is certainly not something you immediately associate with the British climate! However there is one, a very good one, just 30 miles from central London.

Frithsden Vineyard is run by a delightful couple, Simon & Natalie, who put their all into rebuilding this disused site since they brought it in 2006.

Frithsden V

Nestled away in the tiny hamlet of Frithsden it’s a place you have to seek out, rather than stumble across. I was first introduced to it last year when my best friend had her wedding reception here. I was taken aback by the picturesque location and homely atmosphere. Orderly strings of vines intersect the hillside, heavy with fruit for harvest. The grapes are handpicked during September and October and the process continues on site until the finished bottles are produced in March. If vineyard tours and wine tasting were not enough they also offer themed foodie evenings and, of course, afternoon tea.

The outside seating area is tucked under a decorative pergola, draped in vines and paper lanterns. A little chilly on an October weekend but fabulous in summer.

The winery cafe is a converted barn, the naked wooden panelling sympathetic to it’s past life. The walls are filled with art work and photographs, shelves bulging with nicknacks and artisan food stuff to buy. Arriving during the lunch time rush (this is a popular spot for local ramblers and cyclists) we tucked ourself in the corner away from the gaggle of MAMILs (middle aged men in lycra!). The decor is a relaxed balance of rustic charm and chintz details. A wood burner stood proud in the corner ready for the winter months, local magazines and books for perusing or board games for more social interactions. A place to while away an afternoon come rain or shine. Even the bathroom has entertainment, the walls busy with newspaper cuttings and pictures of the venue. So if there’s a queue you know why!

Advised the sandwiches are all made fresh we were brought our drinks to warm us while we waited. No loose tea on offer but an array of Teapigs options and they were happy to provide coffee as an alternative if desired. A quaint matching tea set contained my earl grey and my partner in cake had coffee served with warm frothed milk. It didn’t take long for the three tiers of temptations to arrive, set centre stage and served with a smile.

Initially I thought the sandwiches looked a little sad. Thinly sliced bread in triangles lay weary on the plate. I cautiously reached for my first selection and the bread surrendered beneath my finger tips like a feather pillow. Soft to the touch and light on the tongue, the crust giving a little crunch of texture. The fresh ingredients were full of flavour, thick cut ham with wholegrain mustard and cream cheese complimented by delicate slices of cucumber to cleanse the pallet. First impressions did not count on this occasion and I could have gone another round.

It was then time for my inauguration into the ways of Cornish scone preparation. I learned that the Cornish tend to favour a plain scone (personally I love a fruit scone) but today we were served fresh blueberry scones. Another Cornish twist is they often opt for butter in addition to the jam and cream! Hearing my arteries gasp I resisted this addition. The scone was light and delicate, slicing it in half exposed the plump, juicy blueberries hidden within. I followed my guide; jam first, plenty of it right to edges. Cream next, take a dollop and drop it in the centre of each half. Here is where my inexperience let me down. Trying to spread the thick clotted cream over the slippery fruit jam I ended up with a mess of the two elements combined. I sought advice…….once the cream is piled in the centre you take your knife and gently tease the cream to the edges. Short, sharpe strokes are the key, turning the scone as you go until you have even coverage. My second attempt was better but I’m far from a pro. Although my attempt was not aesthetically pleasing it tasted delicious. The blueberries kept the scone moist on every bite and my hybrid of cream and jam topping was thick and satisfying. There was even enough cream left over for us to dip in the fresh strawberry garnish and devour, waste not want not!

The balance of this afternoon tea is well thought out. You haven’t got to battle door stop sandwiches, scones the size of your head and then a slab of cake. That always seems like a good idea at the time but it’s often wasteful and you are left feeling uncomfortably full. Our scones were followed by six bitesize squares of chocolate brownie and lemon drizzle cake. That’s six each so we certainly did not leave hungry! The brownie was soft, not gooey, with chunks of chocolate inside. The lemon drizzle was sweet and zesty with the perfect sugar crunch across the top. Unfortunately the tea was not bottomless so we had to order a second round of drinks to see us through all three tiers but the atmosphere is relaxed so we took our time and grazed the afternoon away. The staff are young and bubbly and have a great rapport with the customers. Several of them take turns in baking so you know your produce is freshly made on site. They all live, sleep and dream about the vineyard which shows in the attention to detail and experience they provide for their guests. There is a lot going on here, all year round, so wether you fancy tea and cake or wine and tapas I highly recommend this hidden gem.

Frithsden Vineyard, Hemel Hempstead, HP1 3DD        TEL: 01442 878723