Monthly Archives: June 2012

Perry Higgins and the Lazy Dollar

On my way back from dropping the teen at school for her last GCSE exam I took the opportunity (during a moment of calm between weddings) to indulge myself with a visit to my favourite spot for a bit of vintage browsing.

Perry Higgins in Penmaenmawr is rather a hidden gem along the North Wales coast. Lots of people travelling along the A55 expressway would easily miss it as they zoom through from central England on route to Holyhead Port and the Irish ferries. It’s a shame as its well worth a detour. Although maybe not, because I like having it almost to myself!

My main reason for dropping in was for the pleasure of uncovering countless curiosities and treasures, but it wasn’t my only reason. There was a foodie related motive to my trip and that was to look for more vintage serving bowls. Really large ones for lots of people! With three floors to browse I was in there a while.

The top and ground floors are full of beautiful artifacts, furniture, costume and kitchen ware. I easily found what I was looking for before I’d even descended to the basement which is a treasure trove of bargains, bric a brac and chairs! There are absolutely loads of cheap chairs (prefect for starting a supper club!!…This is where I bought a few of mine and at £20 for four…I haggled…I couldn’t really argue, even though they needed a sand and varnish). If you happen to come across the owner…well you can’t miss him, he’s eccentric, bordering on grumpy, especially if you have younger inquisitive children in tow..but he’s often open to a spot of bartering and he is helpful if he thinks you have a genuine interest or are a genuine buyer 🙂

As well as the items I eventually purchased I came across this

I totally fell in love with it but couldn’t justify the £37 the shop was asking. What? I hear you say, only £37 for a beautiful vintage, intact picnic hamper. Well I kicked myself the following week on a return visit when the owner told me it had sold that very morning. I was devastated. I wanted to cry.

The last little gem that makes this place a MUST visit is the cafe which adjoins the shop.

No where else in North Wales will you find as authentic an American diner. Perfect in every detail. The jukebox, the pictures on the wall, the decor. I stayed around for a coffee and pancakes (I’d yet to have breakfast) which were sadly rather disappointing. This is the one problem with the Lazy Dollar; the food doesn’t live up to the setting. Even though their cooking facilities are limited (they have no proper kitchen on site and only the means to keep food warm or cold) they could invest in some better ingredients from local suppliers. There’s no need to use Carte’D Or ice cream in their Knickerbocker glory when they could use Mon ar Lwy or Fortes or Llanfes Dairy, need I go on?

On a return visit with the kid and his 1950’s loving mate (trust me I’ve never met a nine-year old that knows more about the 1950’s than Yani…this is a boy who got a sequined Elvis all in one for Christmas!!), my boy struggled to eat his ice cream because it was too ‘artificial’! Yani on the other hand thought he’d gone to 1950’s heaven and loved every second of his after school treat.

Now that I’ve discovered the lazy dollar my mind has gone into overdrive. So many possibilities; so much potential!

….watch this space there are plans afoot.

Perry Higgins and The Lazy Dollar are open 7 days a week. The Lazy Dollar serves teas. coffees, ice cream and sundaes.

Mon-Sat: 11 til 4.30pm

Sun: 11 til 3.30pm

You will find them both on the main street; Bangor Road which runs through Penmaenmawr.

 

 

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Four weddings and a festival (part two – wedding number four)

Plas Gwynfryn, Harlech

And so we progress to our fourth and final wedding. This was the biggest and most elaborate of all. A barbecue menu, table service, tapas, all in a big marquee. Not only was I preparing a three course dinner, but for some reason I thought it would be a great idea to say yes to making a cupcake wedding cake as well!

This time we were keeping our fingers crossed for sunny weather and for a while things did seem to improve. A few warm and bright days made us all hope for the best, until we saw the weather forecast. Rain and high winds. Great. Just what we needed catering in a marquee.

I’d also lost two helpers so spent the beginning of the week stressing over staff. I contacted a couple of people who had emailed me at the beginning of May and eventually met up with Ursula. She was my fab front of house organiser for the day, which was just what I needed, someone to take the strain off me and let me get on with cooking and be able to organise and manage my two waitresses Rosie and Amber. I also found Jacky, an experienced local chef (runs The Bistro in Caernarfon) who was an absolute god send. I could never have managed three barbeques on my own and plated and prepped salads and tapas dishes.

I knew the event would be a challenge. I’ve worked in the odd field kitchen but never had to cook and prep like this so I was very nervous. I wanted to do a good job (obviously) but it did feel like everything was against us.

I’d initially planned to finish prepping and packing the van by two on Thursday. It’s a long way to Plas Gwynfryn in Harlech, nearly an hour and a half drive and further than my usual range. It’s also a long way to come back if anything crucial is forgotten. We rammed everything into my little van adding more and more as we went on. Vintage china, tapas dishes, trays, tongs, knives, bowls, jugs….on and on I went but I still didn’t feel ready. I realised early on that I’d not fit everything plus an extra waitress in the back, but Rosie ever the optimist kept saying “don’t worry Mum it’ll be fine”. She kept saying this until we shoved the last box in and it dawned on her that actually it wasn’t fine. We’d run out of room.

The van now contained one hundred cupcakes, trays of part-roasted chicken, freezer boxes of salmon and minute steaks, a ton of salad and fruit, boxes of meringues (all hand-made), a tray of bread (half of which was hand-made) plus half the contents of my kitchen. But just as we were ready to go drama struck. Now don’t get me wrong, I like a little pressure in my life (otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this job) but really I wish it would give me a break sometimes. We discovered that our hens who had sat on eggs for 21 days without result now had two little chicks.

one of our little chicks

They flapped about the garden in a panic while Steve the cat watched, licking his lips. This led to emergency action one of the day. Phone Len. “Help” we cried. Len arrived with a wheelbarrow full of wood, wire and tools and restored calm. He put together a chicken run, added a base to the house, chucked in straw and various other bits and bobs to secure our little babies. Safe in the knowledge that we’d protected our babies we left for Harlech, an hour late. We still had to take a detour via Bangor station to put a parking ticket on Sean’s car (he hadn’t had time that morning before he left for another mates wedding in London) and collect waitress number two, who squeezed into the front seat with Ro in a highly illegal manoeuvre (don’t tell the cops!!).

The journey was slow and I was nervous of every bump, hill and bend. When we arrived at Plas Gwynfryn preparation was well under way in the main marquee, but my gazebo looked a touch flimsy. I’d had a call that morning to say the earlier one had blown down in the night so this was a replacement, but now the wind was picking up and I wasn’t convinced it would withstand a gale. Having unpacked the contents of my kitchen, the girls and I moved in to our over night caravan at the neighbouring Plas Gwynfryn Farm cottages.

The girls were as excited as two nine-year olds on their first camping holiday until they realised that Rosie’s idea of packing food for our tea consisted of a tin of tomatoes, some tomato puree, a pot of chopped fruit and the end of a loaf of bread plus the three remaining cupcakes. In the worsening rain I headed back to the venue, minus a raincoat which I forgot to pack, to fetch provisions that would make us a dinner. An hour later we made what Rosie christened “French bread pizza slices”…this consisted of a quickly rustled up tomato and herb sauce, some basil leaves, a few slices of mozzarella and a small salad of cherry tomatoes and red peppers.We didn’t starve at least.

As the wind picked up and the rain increased in intensity I popped back again to check on the gazebo. It was just as well that I did because it flapped about, minus tent pegs and with one guy rope snapped. I guessed it wouldn’t be long before this one took off as well. Fearing the safety of my vintage china and all the food we made an executive decision to dismantle it. At ten O’Clock at night emergency action number two took place. A small team of helpers moved all the food, china and equipment into the neighbouring barn (including a full and heavy fridge) and I returned to the caravan wet and tired, poured a large glass of wine and shortly after headed to bed to shiver and listen to the pelting rain on the roof.

Five AM the next morning and I was wide awake listening to the quiet. The wind had mercifully died down during the night and it even looked quite bright. By about eight the gazebo and kitchen had been reinstated and by the time I arrived at 8.30 everything was back in place, albeit in need of a good clean.

From then on in it was full steam ahead. Jacky, Ursula and I got to work on the salads, ceviche, and halloumi kebabs. We stuffed the peppers (with the filling I’d made the earlier…in the caravan!) and assembled the dishes for the tapas starters. With the rain lashing it was hard to open the sides of the gazebo for ventilation so once all the barbecues were lit it became really hot and smoky. Our eyes watered and we had to keep going outside to cool down.

My main aim was to make sure everything was perfect inside the marquee, whatever was going on outside. Caroline and her team from Plas Gwynfryn, plus the bridesmaids and best man took responsibility for setting up and decorating the tables and marquee. We took charge of the food, with Ursula out front ensuring it all ran smoothly and that Rosie and Amber knew what they were doing and felt supported and confident. Caroline’s team cleared the tables, while my girls served. There was a gelling of both teams and at the end of the day I think we achieved this.

Tapas starters on the table

The buffet table for the main course

Cupcake wedding cake

If you are wondering about the bat theme…Sam, the groom is an ecologist specialising in bat services.

Pudding was a choice of Eton mess (home-made meringue naturally) or fresh fruit salad. The Eton mess was most popular, waitress served, which left no time for photographs sadly.

Overall the day went without major mishap, although we learned many lessons from the small cock-ups along the way…

  • I couldn’t find kebab skewers for love or money and had to get the groom to phone a friend to bring them
  • The tablecloths (that I commissioned) arrived late and were not right. The couple ended up having to hire eight extra round cloths from the venue. I was rather mortified as I hadn’t checked them when they were delivered to my house.
  • Small items were forgotten…the blades for the hand whisk, a lemon squeezer…just little things
  • We had no waste water bucket for the out-pipe of the sink (I’m afraid we left a rather waterlogged lawn for Caroline) but when I asked what other caterers did she told me that no one else had ever ordered a sink unit. I asked her what they did then for washing up, hand washing etc? She didn’t know but stated that the food was already prepared when it arrived on site. I felt rather proud of our little team and the fact that everything was freshly made.
  • I think also I would need to check that I am in a professional catering marquee. Some of the stress came from not knowing whether I would have anywhere to cook in the morning.
  • Caroline will hate me because I forgot to take our bin bags home with us
  • And finally there was the coffee debacle. Our waitresses, plus Caroline’s must have toured the marquee pot in hand a dozen times. Still people came out saying they’d had no coffee. The problem was the sun came out briefly so people disappeared from the tables. We made tea and coffee until the boiler ran out of water and STILL people said they’d not had coffee! We could have stayed serving and making coffee all night but at 7pm the hog roast man arrived to set up for the evening so we had to call it a day and finish packing up.

Bev looked radiant and her day was (I hope) perfect…except the damn rain which we couldn’t have predicted. At the end she hugged me and said “oh Denise, thank you”….which meant the world to me.We arrived home at about 9pm. Too wired to sleep we ordered pizza (which we sat eating at 11pm with a couple of glasses of wine) before collapsing into bed after midnight slughtly drunk, very tired but happy we’d done a good job.

Its been a crazy month, but totally worth it. I love this job 🙂

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Four weddings and a festival

Apologies for my tardiness, I’m sure you’ve thought I’d abandoned you all over the last month, but really I’ve been so busy doing that I’ve had little time for putting my endeavours down on paper. Now that the craziness has died down I have plenty of time to update you all with what we’ve been up to and what is still to come this year…

I knew May and June were going to be hectic. With four weddings, a festival and a few other jobs thrown in for good measure it was inevitable. As you will know from my earlier post my first wedding went well. Despite the almost arctic temperatures and prematurely running out of Quiche, we still received a round of applause for the food (I didn’t actually hear it, but my waitresses did).We started the season on a high.

Sadly the weather was no kinder for the remaining four events. Imagine biblical scale flooding, a months rain in a day and high winds that levelled two marquees and you will get an idea of what we’ve had to deal with.

Our little festival cafe…full of wet & cold people on Sunday

Our first event was Kaya festival which had its fair share of dramas (mostly due to chaotic organisation) . This was a brand new festival put together by a team of novice promoters with the aim of celebrating music, diversity and arts. They certainly had big ideas, an impressive list of acts, interspersed with a range of exceptionally good local artists and it all looked good. For my part I’d been asked to do some cookery demonstrations and had several conversations with them about local suppliers and producers.  Sadly this, like a lot of things over the weekend didn’t quite run to plan. The demonstrations didn’t happen as no kitchen was organised. A lot of workshops didn’t happen either although this was in part due to the atrocious weather conditions on Sunday which saw a lot of local people head for home. With hindsight it was a good thing they didn’t happen as I ended up having plenty of other problems to  sort out. On Friday I arrived to unload, I didn’t know where I should set up and neither did anyone else. After five hours of trying to work out what was going on I finally phoned a friend, borrowed their marquee and put it up myself in a spot I quite liked. The organisers appeared happy to let me solve my own problems although security (or site management i’m not sure which) glared at me and spoke intensely into their radios for a while before leaving me in peace. It also emerged that I was the only person on site doing decent veggie or vegan food. Consequently I sold out three times and had to go home every night to prepare more for the next day. Making hummus at midnight on a Saturday and chick pea stew at 5am on Sunday is not good for the energy levels.

When the heavens opened on Sunday a lot of cold damp people that remained on site flocked to me for a warm lunch and a marquee to stay dry in. We’d sold out of stew by tea time…again. I didn’t have the energy or ingredients left to make more but I did nip home and make hummus and get more feta for wraps and buns.

Despite selling out three times I was left with about two hundred pounds worth of meat (I’m saving the last bag in my freezer for the next produce market). Numbers on Sunday were low and as we weren’t doing breakfasts (which with hindsight we should have done) we just couldn’t get rid of it!  I wasn’t out-of-pocket before you fret on my behalf, but I certainly didn’t cover my costs for three sixteen hour days, plus preparation for the cooking demos, plus helping out other stall holders source local produce and find staff as well as doing costings for the organisers.

On a more positive note, Friday and Saturday were lovely days. The music was great and the production team did a fantastic job. Lots of attendees had a wonderful time (I’ve seen the reviews). There were some lovely touches; the baby chamber, the healing field, Dr Zigs giant bubbles, James and the syrcus circus tent that played host to some great acts,  the ‘market’ run by Emma at Ysbryd y Ddraig, plus a run of lovely visitors to our stall for wraps, baps and hot stew. Over the weekend we fed Bandabacana, The Pistols, (Johnny Rotten’s reference...”the chorizo was bang on” ) plus Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and his musicians and members of Drymbago…and i’m not sure who else because I was very busy!! The funniest moment was watching Rosie my teen waitress climb on stage with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry

If the organisers can sort out all that ‘behind the scenes’ stuff that let the festival down and learn from their mistakes this has the potential to be a great little festival.  I’d like it to happen again. It’s a beautiful setting, in a great part of the world. Hopefully next year will be more polished and will have grown from this years experience. I know I have!

Moving swiftly on (and it really was a swift transition) to wedding two and three;. The heavens opened at Kaya and didn’t really stop. I’d lost two working days due to the Jubilee celebrations (which mercifully I slept through) and I was seriously playing catch up by the time Wednesday arrived.

With my kitchen helper ensconced I set to preparing canapes for thirty for delivery that evening. Blinis with smoked salmon, tomato and basil brushetta and tiny oak smoked tomato and black bomber tarts were put together at a rate of knots and delivered to Llanberis at the foot of Snowdon in the worst torrential rain you can imagine. From there I zoomed off to Caernarfon to give a talk about my experience of running a supper club and setting up in business at a Chwarae Teg event.

Friday morning and the rain continued. Preparation for wedding three was complete. At four pm we drove to the venue to deliver the food through a flooded Ogwen Valley. It was like a scene from Indiana Jones. I imagined myself driving through water falls while rocks fell from above. The platter of dressed salmon shot from one end of the van to the other as I braked suddenly. Then a box fell on top of it.  I was on the verge of tears. At the venue the guests and wedding party wore head to foot waterproofs and wellies.

On the day itself the bride had planned to canoe across the lake Hiawatha style to arrive at her wedding. Instead she drove herself there in her white van and entered the venue protected by a huge umbrella. The salmon survived. The bride remained dry and at least by the afternoon the rain had subsided and a hint of sun allowed the guests to go outside and the kids to play in the field.

Inside everything was beautiful. Yellows and greens gave the venue a fresh summery feel despite the weather outside. As with our first wedding we provided a hot and cold buffet, this time with waitress service to make sure portions were strictly controlled. With vegan food put to one side we couldn’t risk the meat eaters helping themselves. I felt like a food fascist as one man said “could I have some tart please” my response being “are you vegetarian or vegan”? “No” he replied, “well you can’t” I responded at which point he moved a long and had some lamb looking a bit sorry for himself. ).

Putting it all together in the kitchen…vintage china, which was also used on the tables and for tea and coffee

Cakes galore!

The menu of over night roast shoulder of lamb with rosemary and honey (lamb from Gerlan), marinated chicken with gremolata, cold salmon with dill mayonnaise, wild mushroom and leek croustade (vegan), plus a selection of salad, bread, Welsh cheese board and chutney went down a treat. The desserts (baked cheesecake with blackcurrant coulis, chocolate torte, chocolate cake (vegan) made by the best vegan cake maker I know, Lynwen from Aderyn Melis, fruit salad and mango-passionfruit sorbet) also disappeared so quickly some barely got a look in!

A beautiful wedding cake made by the brides mother and sisters graced the table later, along with two huge vats of stew and couscous to go with them. It always amazes me how quickly food disappears…no matter how much you put on the table!

This wedding was of friends of ours so Sean and Aidan joined me for the evening and we Ceilidh’d the night away, until I had one too many glasses of wine and tiredness caught up with me. I abandoned the van and Sean drove us home, me nodding with tiredness in the front.

You might have hoped the last wedding was less dramatic but sadly you would be wrong. This makes a story on its own which I will regale you with in my next post! For now though I feel obliged to thank all those people that made all these events possible…Rosie the teen waitress; as ever, beautiful, stroppy, over dramatic, but always there when I need her (except at Kaya cos she was too busy having a good time ;-)…for the weddings…Elin Cain (singer with Vintage Magpie), Lhotse Sounds (get well soon honey), Lee Watson (The Beach House Kitchen), Amber Green (our newest lovely waitress)…..for Kaya; Zion Stuart (bassist with Dinosaur Garden…next time try not to scare the customers away :-)), Sam Cuthbertson, Swyn Anwyl Williams and Sadie Medhurst

….I love you all and thank you xx

Last but not least I have to thank Magimix for my new blender….10 kilo’s carrots, 5 kilos beetroot, three buckets of hummus (using 50 cans chick peas), cheesecake and chocolate cake mix for 60 plus 100 cupcakes,  40 onions finely chopped, 20 heads of garlic, plus bunches of parsley, mint, coriander all finely chopped….would have been beyond the capabilites of my poor old machine so my new machine truly was a LIFE SAVER!!

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