My local bakery is going stale…

When we moved here, we were really happy to see that the local cluster of shops (useful stuff like Post Office, Chemist, Dry Cleaners, a small super market) that serves our neighbourhood also had one of a dying breed, a traditional baker’s shop, part of a small chain owned by a family business.

Sure, the bread wasn’t made in the shop, they had a more modern bakery in a light industrial unit about 30 minutes drive away which supplied all their shops and wholesale customers, but they sold great tasting loaves with a fantastic light texture and crispy crust.

My stomach really can’t hack cheap supermarket bread, either bulked up with high percentages of soy flour to help improve the consistency of the crumb, or made with more yeast than is necessary to reduce the time needed to prove. Both upset my insides, causing me bloating, discomfort and in some cases, pretty bad indigestion.

So I was delighted when shortly after moving here, the indigestion just stopped dead. The only thing which really changed in my diet was where the bread was coming from (aside from possibly the water coming out of the tap). I even tested this theory by eating regular mass-produced bread, and the gut rot came back within a few days.

Relieved to put a calmer stomach down to the nice crusty bread on my doorstep, it just reinforced all that was good about our new neighbourhood.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. While the bakery hasn’t closed down, it has recently changed hands, and is now being supplied by the new owners – still a small, local bakery, but it turns out, it isn’t quite the same.

Not to be daunted, we tried a few things from there over the last couple of weeks, only to feel let down.

The breads don’t look the same: uneavenly risen, with a pale and flaccid crust concealing a spongy, yet heavy, dense, interior, with a cotton-wool-like texture. Neither do they smell the same: there’s an overriding smell of yeast about the new owner’s bread.

The old owner’s recipe would go stale by going dry and hard, and would seldom go mouldy. The new owner’s bread goes mouldy, because it seems to retain the moisture for longer.

Sadly, this also extends to their pastries, which leave a feeling like the inside of your your mouth has been coated in a layer of vaseline (I guess they don’t use butter, but some sort of margarine or veg shortening) as well as being so sweet that you get the shakes.

While we’re glad that it’s stayed a bakery, rather than becoming yet another hairdresser, nail bar, beauticians or (our first!) fried chicken shop, we’re gutted that we’ve lost our supply of traditionally baked bread that was on our doorstep.

“Snackboxes”: Cutesy, yes. Wasteful, probably.

I’m just heading up North on a Virgin Train (thought I’d better try one while I still can).

I ended up going 1st Class because it was cheaper than Standard, when booking in advance. Not that uncommon actually, and sometimes it’s even worth doing if it’s a couple of quid more expensive, because of the inclusives: light refreshments such as tea and coffee, and wifi access at no extra charge. Basically, you can sometimes get good value for money, and Virgin (and other train companies) get to put bums on 1st class seats which would otherwise go empty off-peak, and it reduces the pressure on the cheap seats.

In common with most train operators, the weekend 1st Class at-seat service is a shadow of it’s midweek counterpart: limited to tea, coffee, water and snacks. This used to be things such as (normal-sized packets of) crisps, nibbles, and biscuits.

Today, this has been replaced with “A little box of snacks” – about 2×3″. Now, it looks cute. There’s no doubt about that. There’s a childlike feeling about opening one for the first time.

But the contents are distinctly underwhelming:

  • The smallest bag of pretzels I’ve probably ever seen (and if you don’t like “sour cream and chive”, you’ll be left feeling a bit sour)
  • A micro-flapjack that would leave a hobbit’s tum rumbling
  • A pack of cream crackers and soft cheese
  • A continental “speculoos” biscuit for with coffee
  • A bit of Valrhona chocolate (yum)

I had the pretzels and the chocolate, as I didn’t really fancy the rest of the contents. The rest will no doubt go in the bin.

While I’m in no doubt that it makes inventory control much simpler (and may well be cheaper), it is effectively a reduction in choice for the passenger, and surely increases waste in an era when a huge part of companies’ social responsibility is dedicated to reducing their environmental impact?

M&S Salted Caramel Ice Cream

I know salted caramel has been quite the in thing for some time, but finally, M&S have now caught on, and now do a pretty decent salted caramel ice cream.

It’s good, yes. But it, like others, is still nowhere near as good as the salted caramel made by Bi-rite creamery in San Francisco’s Mission District.

But, 11000 miles a long round trip (and a lot of jet lag) for some ice cream. Even ice cream that good. So M&S will just have to do when I want a treat… 🙂

Flowery marketing adjectives gone wrong

If you live in the UK, you’ll know the purple phenomena which is Premier Inn, advertised by that jolly Lenny Henry. (He’s a very tall chap. I wonder if they have a special bed for him when he stays?)

They actually do well at providing a reasonably good and consistent hotel product, something which the UK has long been lacking. Remember we’re talking about the country where you could end up in an antique hotel complete with rattly plumbing, school-canteen food, and that epitome of UK hotel kitsch, the Corby Trouser Press.

However, the warm, fuzzy, “I know what I’m getting”, brand consistency which comes with Premier Inn, also comes at a cost: There’s a marketing department back at Premier Inn Central in Dunstable, which feels the need to use lots of adjectives. Fairly standard marketing practice, but it’s almost like it’s there for the sake of it, and often downright odd.

My current cringe-worthy favourite is from their “grab and go” breakfast, or whatever it is they call it. It stood out as being odd when I first saw the flowery prose, talking about grabbing:

“A Costa Coffee and a baked croissant“…

The first thought that came into my mind was “Baked as opposed to what?”

Poached? Steamed? Deep-fat fried? The mind boggles.

Some copywriter in the marketing department just had to put in an adjective.

Yes, it made me pay attention to their “baked croissant”, so maybe it worked, but it’s just bloody weird when you read it.