Making bread at Ann’s smart school of cookery

This is the next part in my series about finding local activities for us to do together. The idea is that you can often miss things that are on your doorstep – even more so if you can’t see posters or other forms of advertising. So I use the internet to search for things, a bit like a tourist who’s new to the county or surrounding area. It can be things to see, things to learn, experiences – anything that I think S and I will both enjoy and that will be accessible for me as a blind participant. I’m responsible for finding and booking things, and S is responsible for agreeing to the shortlist and getting us there!

So, on Saturday we set off for Ann’s smart school of cookery to attend a bread-making class. They have several locations, but we went to the one in Windsor.

We were asked not to take any pictures during the course, which is why there are none on this post.

I booked the course in November, so I think they must be quite popular because this was the first available date. The link I used was on Groupon, and it gives you a substantial discount on the artisan bread-making course. (The link was correct and valid at the time of publishing. The link is a Groupon affiliate link, but I purchased the experience and it is not a paid promotion).

The course

We’ve been to Windsor a few times and it was easy enough to find the building. In fact we were the first to arrive, but there was coffee waiting for us while the others set up. (You can add alcohol to your booking, but we didn’t so I can’t comment on that).

The course runs for 2 hours, which included making around 6 types of bread, as well as some humus and dip to go with it. Participants sit at tables around a big square. One side of the square is where the practical stuff happens – we rotated in groups of two and there were usually around four people making bread at any one time. When you weren’t involved practically, you were listening to the explanations and watching the other participants.

With a couple of exceptions, most of the bread types were based on the same recipe, with additional ingredients being added later. You don’t make all types of bread yourself, but each group contributes something to the final feast!

Originally I had imagined that we would all make all types of bread, but this would create more bread than anyone could eat, especially as the food has to be eaten on site. It would probably also mean that you can’t get through as much in the two hours.

What did we make?

We were team walnut loaf – making a spelt dough and adding in walnuts. We made 4 small baguette-type loaves that were later chopped up and shared among the group.

How accessible was it?

S and I were sitting quite close to the practical area, which was nice to be able to hear what was going on. Having said that, the group was listening anyway and there wasn’t a lot of background noise. The teacher gave clear explanations of what he was doing, or what he was telling other people to do, so I could understand what was going on even though I couldn’t watch. A couple of times S gave me some extra information about techniques for making the rolls etc.

We worked in groups, so we divided the tasks to make it accessible. This meant that S did the weighing because I couldn’t see the scales. I’m sure someone else would have done it if S hadn’t been there though. Most people were with a friend or partner, but a couple of people came on their own too.

It wasn’t my own kitchen where I know where everything is, but anything I needed was close by, so I didn’t feel that my not being able to see kept anyone else waiting.

I liked the fact that the information was online, so I could access the recipes myself, rather than having to take notes or convert hard-copy materials to something that I could read.

Trying out the bread

The bit that everyone was waiting for came at the end of the session – trying out what we had made! All food is eaten on site – you get to try what other people made and see which recipes you want to recreate at home! It’s best not to have a big lunch before you go!

As soon as someone opened one of the ovens and I smelled the cooked bread, I began to get hungry! We tried some of all of the breads, and our firm favourite was the focaccia tear and share – probably because of the cumin and rosemary. The bread sticks were good too – I’m a real fan of cumin! There was nothing I didn’t like, although I think the very chocolatey brioche was better than the one with raisins – that’s just a personal choice though from a very biased chocolate lover!

After the course

There was time for us to ask any questions before leaving, and we were all given a printed voucher that gave us a discount on further cookery courses.

For a full list of the courses, from cheese-making to curry classes to an intensive chef course, you can visit the Anne’s smart school website.

We also received the same information by email, which was great because then I could read it too, as well as a list of the recipes as a PDF. Saves some trees and again I could read them using my screenreader.

We haven’t signed up for any more courses yet, but I am tempted by the cheese-making one!

Overall I thought the experience was a good way to help people make the recipes their own. It was not at all pretentious. Our teacher was approachable and happy to give tips or answer questions. People were laughing and all seemed to be having a good time.

It probably did help that S and I had made some bread before – pizza dough, naan breads, flat breads and my old school recipe for tarragon bread, but this wasn’t essential. I think we had a range of abilities in our group and you didn’t need to come with any prior knowledge.

Apart from being an interesting afternoon out and something for us to do together, the important thing for me is that we will use what we learned. I can imagine us making three or four of the recipes, and amending them to try out other herbs or fillings. We also picked up some good kitchen tips – for example I didn’t know you can freeze ginger!

As someone who works in adult education, the main thing for me about training classes is that people don’t just learn something on the day, but they can take it away and use it again. In this respect the cookery class met my goal – it taught us how to make some tasty recipes in a really easy way.

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Making our own chocolates at Dr Choc’s in Windsor

This is the next in my series about finding things for us to do on Groupon. Things that I didn’t even know existed nearby. Things that S and I can do together to experience something, learn something new, or do something we haven’t done before.
On a Saturday afternoon in late December, we found ourselves back in Windsor, where we visited Doctor Choc’s. We’d been there before to buy slabs of coffee or orange chocolate, but I later discovered that you can do chocolate making workshops there too. So of course we had to go back.

This is not a sponsored post – just something I decided to do with S and that I’d like to share with you.

We were a bit early, so we browsed around the shop for a while until it was time for the workshop to start.

I don’t know what the maximum numbers are, but nobody else had signed up that day, so it was just us and the member of staff running the workshop, which made it a really personal experience and gave us time to ask questions, or for me to get a bit of extra help when I needed it.

The workshops take place in an area behind the counter where there is a large table for dipping and decorating, and where the three chocolate machines full of their molten goodness are.

Rings came off, and I had to squeeze my unruly mane into a hairnet – I haven’t done that since I was about 12 when I used to do dressage competitions!

What we made

Our first task was to make the shells for the filled chocolates. You choose plain, milk, or white chocolate, and hold your mould under the chocolate machine so that you can fill three of the sections in the tray. As I couldn’t see where the chocolate was going to come out, I needed assistance lining mine up, and then to get rid of the excess.

The chocolate making room

When the shells in their mould were taken off to cool, we moved on to bigger, more shallow moulds. The tray had room for three bars. You could go for three of the same type, but both S and I wanted one of each – a plain, a milk, and a white chocolate bar.

Before we filled the trays, we chose from a range of jars which toppings we wanted to use. There were all kinds of things – nuts, seeds, fruit, chocolate decorations. I chose ground coffee beans for my dark one, chocolate buttons and a sugar butterfly for the milk, and guava pieces for the white one.

We then filled the moulds for the three bars and brought them back to the table where the decorations were waiting. They set fairly quickly, so it was important to get the toppings on so that they would set into the chocolate. They were then taken away to cool.

The next step was to pipe chocolate fondant filling into our shells. I’ve done icing with a piping bag before and I won’t get an award for the most beautiful piping, but I got the chocolate filling in the shell and this was easier once I’d worked out how fast it was coming out and how hard you needed to squish it to get the right amount! When this was done, we went back to the chocolate machine to give our chocolates a bottom that sealed the piped filling inside the shell.

Chocolate machines producing white, milk, and dark chocolate

The final part involved a cup of molten chocolate into which we dipped some pre-formed truffles. You put them on a stick, slosh it around so it’s covered, then remove it whilst not losing the truffle off the end of your cocktail stick. It’s all in the angle apparently! The truffles were really big, and we also dipped a couple of pieces of candid fruit. The remaining chocolate wasn’t wasted – it was set with a wooden stirrer in it for use as a hot chocolate spoon.

The café

The Groupon deal we got also included a drink at the café upstairs while we waited for our chocolates to set. I got hot chocolate in a cute little jar and it was very rich and very good. There was also a wide selection of cakes on offer – I didn’t have one because we were going to another event in the evening, and truth be told I’d rather fill up on pure chocolate than cake, but if you want some chocolate cake while you’re waiting, that’s no problem!

I enjoyed this experience – both because we learned a bit more about how the chocolates are made, and because we went away with some delicious chocolates! I think it’s a good activity to do with a friend or as part of a larger group. The staff were friendly and helpful, and you don’t have to have any prior experience or particular creative skills!

From an accessibility point of view, help was available if I wanted it, either from the member of staff or from S, but I was also able to participate actively in the workshop.

So if you like chocolate and can get to Windsor, I’d definitely recommend it. Also check Groupon to see if the deal’s still running!

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Alpaca encounter- meet Humphrey the alpaca

It was my birthday towards the end of September. We had the day off. And it was raining. Not just a gentle drizzle, but the kind of rain that has you soaked to the skin in minutes!

This was not good news, because we’d planned to do an outdoor activity. It was one of the things on my list! I keep a list of things to do that I think we’d both enjoy. I hunt them out online and S is in charge of navigation! It works well!

I’d heard several friends talking about lama treks and alpaca walking, and I thought it would be a great way to meet some animals, go for a walk, and learn something new.
As a child – well ok as an adult too – I enjoyed visiting farms to meet animals and find out what they look like. For those that a young blind child can’t go up and pat, like the lions and tigers at the zoo, there was always plastic animals. But I’d never felt a real or a plastic alpaca, so I didn’t really know what they looked like. Ok, there are descriptions on the internet, but the problem is that they often compare the alpacas to other animals that I have never seen, so that’s not massively helpful.

Pennybridge Alpacas

I started looking around for alpaca or lama walks nearby. I found Pennybridge alpacas in Hampshire via their own website, although they regularly do deals on Groupon, and when we booked, the Groupon price was also honoured for us.

I called to enquire about availability and was told that the alpaca encounter takes around 2 hours. I booked us in for the afternoon of my birthday and paid by Paypal, although it’s also possible to pay in cash on the day.

I mentioned my visual impairment, but it wasn’t a big deal. You get one alpaca between two people, so I knew that S would be able to help me with directions and I would lead the alpaca because it was one of my birthday activities!

On the day

When we arrived, it was raining heavily. We were offered hot drinks, so I stood there with a mug of coffee in one hand and an umbrella in the other! I didn’t borrow any wellies, but I was glad of the plastic waterproof cape that I borrowed and kept on for the rest of the visit.

We could already see and hear the alpaca in the barn. I liked the fact that the first part of the visit was a talk so we could learn more about them –including what it’s like living on an alpaca farm, how they behave, what they eat, how they are shorn, and the process for making things with the alpaca wool.

We didn’t hear a lot of noise from them, but a couple of the females decided to spit at one another over food! They all seemed to get on well together, but there were definitely a couple who were in charge!

We then went on a walk around the grounds to see some more alpaca, offer up some hay, and meet some of the other animals. We encountered the cockerel several times – he wasn’t scared of the people at all!

I found that if I held the hay out slightly over the fence on my side, the alpaca would stretch their necks over to get it and allow me to stroke them. Some were a bit less inquisitive and less sure of us, so I just gave them the hay and they moved back a bit to eat it.

As well as the alpaca who were happy to munch on our hay, there were also some friendly goats. One of the babies came out and I held her in my arms for a while. She seemed a bit unsure as she was passed from person to person – but once she could feel your arms around her, I think she would have happily gone to sleep. A very chilled out little goat!

Our walk with Humphrey

The last part of the visit was our walk with an alpaca. The alpaca were ready with halters, and they were distributed one animal to every two people. We then lined up with our new alpaca friends and went round the grounds in a procession. Some liked to be in the lead – others were happy at the back. Humphrey, who came round with us, was a laid back kind of guy and he was ok in the middle, or I think he would have been happy wherever he was in the line. He didn’t want to be left behind, but he seemed in no hurry to charge ahead either!

We were advised to have one person on each side of the alpaca, but in terms of me knowing where I was going and turning the corners, it worked out better to have S guiding me and me leading Humphrey, so that’s what we did on the second lap. He didn’t try to get his head down or charge anyone else out of the way. Neither did he randomly stop to look around!

Having alpaca who are willing to be led is good for alpaca experiences, but it also has other advantages. Animals that are used to being handled are more accepting of the times when they need to be handled, such as vet procedures, sheering (which is done once a year), or having toe nails cut.

The young alpaca are introduced to people from an early age and they seemed happy to be around us. After doing two circuits of the grounds, we had photo opportunities, then took Humphrey’s head collar off and let him go free to wander again!

If you want a memory of your day in addition to the photos, you can get a range of gifts from the shop. Some of them have pictures of the alpaca from the farm on them – we found a Humphrey mug – and there are also gifts made of alpaca wool. I picked up a warm winter hat, and I couldn’t resist a cuddly alpaca too because I wanted something in the shape of one. As we drove away, the heavens opened again!

I was really glad that we went. I love animals and enjoy meeting and learning about them. The alpaca encounter was something different because it was interactive and educational. Have you ever done anything like this? If so, let me know in the comments.
Also, if you like animal posts, check out our encounters with wolves, owls, donkeys, and birds of prey.

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Note: this is not a sponsored post. S paid for the alpaca encounter as part of my birthday present.

Getting close to the animals – open day at Miller’s Ark

It was the second day of our holiday and I had been planning this particular adventure for the last couple of weeks. One of our friends mentioned that there is a local farm that does adult-only open days. It does ones for the whole family too, but every 4 to 6 weeks there’s one just for the adults, which appealed to me because then you don’t have to negotiate herds of small squealing people if you want to see the animals! So into the diary it went!

I checked out the Miller’s Ark Facebook page and was excited to read that they had a donkey foal who was just over a week old. I wasn’t sure we’d be able to get close to her, but as it happened we could go in with her and her mum and stroke her soft woolly coat!

The weather wasn’t great, but most of the pens were indoors anyway. The donkeys weren’t fond of the rain though, so some of them huddled inside.

Lunch

We arrived around lunchtime, so went to get a snack first. There is a café on site with a range of burgers, hot food and drinks. You can bring your own lunch and eat it in the picnic area, or you can buy food and eat it in the tea room, where you can also read about the farm’s history.

The food was fine – the only problem for me was the very friendly cat, whom we had to send away a couple of times because I have a cat allergy! I’m so glad it doesn’t include all the other animals – it’s just cats!

Goats and sheep

The first animals we met were some goats and sheep that were in the same pen. We had picked up some food when we paid our entrance fees, and the goats in particular were very happy about this. They came right up to the fence, balancing on their back legs with their front legs on the bars so that they could see over and get closer to the food.

I put some food on my hand and held it out to them. A couple of times I had two little goat faces feeding from the same hand, as if they were kissing. So much goat cuteness!

There was a little one who kept getting pushed out of the way, but S distracted the bigger goats with some food, while I held some more down for the little one. He hadn’t learned to gobble the food down yet, and was much more sedate about taking it gently and chewing slowly till it was all gone.

All around the farm there were volunteers with the animals who told you more about them and answered your questions. There was another pen with goats that you could go in, so I met a few more close up, including Jeanie, the frisky goat who escaped out of the pen and had to be brought back. I had to hide my hair under my coat because some of the goats thought it was food. No, my hair is not hay!

Two of the smaller goats were lying side by side on a children’s slide – so cute!

When we were talking to the donkeys, there was a weird sound. It was a bit like a dog growling, but I didn’t think it was a dog. S went to check it out and found that it was a sheep, but I’ve never heard a sheep bleat like that before. He sounded a bit annoyed, but I think that was just his normal voice. Maybe he had been bleating at the visitors all morning and made himself a bit hoarse!

Donkeys

I think my absolute favourite of all the animals had to be the donkeys! We visited 3 enclosures and spent the most time in one with mums and foals. It was so relaxing just hanging out with them, grooming them, stroking them, and learning about their stories, likes, quirks, and donkey life in general.

Spice was making her way through a hay bale and she was really chilled out – so I spent a lot of time talking to her and grooming her. There were various brushes around in the enclosure and the donkeys were happy to let you groom them.

The two younger lads were up for mischief, trying to get each other to play and having to be told to calm down!

The donkeys were different sizes, but they were all miniature donkeys. They were friendly and inquisitive, and seemed perfectly happy to have visitors in their enclosure, although due to the fact that the little ones were there, there could only be a certain number of people in at a time. While we were waiting, I reached over and some of the donkeys came for pats.

I’d already read about Lavender, the foal who was just over a week old. I thought we would maybe get to see her from afar, but we were actually able to go in with her and her mum. She still had that woolly foal fur, and after a meeting with a 3-day-old horse many years ago, I was surprised how steady she was on her little legs. Her mum showed no signs of worry that we were in there. In fact her biggest concern seemed to be that she was missing out on the fuss herself!

Pigs

It said on the website that some of the pigs like their tummies being tickled, but the one I found was more interested in snuffling around all over the floor of his enclosure and munching. Still, he was happy to be stroked and I felt his little piggy ears! They had wiry coats, a bit like a terrier, and I hadn’t realised just how sociable they can be.

The volunteer who was in with the pigs was talking about her own pigs and how they like company. They come to sit with her when she drinks her coffee outside and liked to know what was going on!

Golden retriever

When S spotted the golden retriever, he knew stroking him would make my day! This is my favourite breed of dog, and Dudley was more than happy to get some fuss. He started by sitting there having his ears rubbed, then rolled over for tummy tickles! Goldies are the best!

Birds and small animals

I didn’t hold any of the birds or guinea pigs, but you could visit them as well. There were also chickens and ducks wandering around. It went from drizzling to raining quite heavily throughout the day, and the ducks definitely weren’t a fan of the umbrella going up!

Overall impressions and future events

I really enjoyed our visit to the farm and will be sure to go again.

The animals were well cared for. The volunteers and staff clearly cared about them and were able to answer questions about the individual animals, their life on the farm, their behaviour, what they ate, and to tell stories of their antics.

I liked the idea of an adult only open day because it was so chilled out in a way that it never is if there are lots of children around and I generally try to avoid really noisy events. If you have children though, there are open days that everyone can join in and learn about the animals. Under 2s go free.

There are also some special events coming up during the Christmas period such as carrols in the barn and living nativities. You can also book children’s parties at the venue, or the animals can travel to events such as fairs, schools, or private functions. I got the impression that this was to help educate people about the animals and give them the chance to meet them. I never got the impression that they were being used as an attraction, so anyone who is thinking about booking an event should do so for the love of animals and the relationships we can have with them – not just as a way to entertain the little ones.

I did suggest that our honeymoon suite could have a massive garden area outside for donkeys, but if we did that on our big day, the guests might not see that much of me, so S said it wasn’t one of my better ideas!

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