Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Library Project

Good evening lovely readers, I hope you've had a pleasant week or so. I promised at the end of my last post that I would have far more material for you now that the summer holidays are over and big Tonju has gone back to school. However, there was one more thing to be attended to before I could really say I had time to give more again to the blog. You'll have noticed in the last few posts that I've made reference several times to a project with which I'm involved. Well, we had a big event on Monday evening and I now feel ready and raring to share this really exciting venture with you, which actually came about through a playgroup conversation and my talking about my blog and cooking to another mum there. It really is incredible that a chat in a place one has been visiting for a significant amount of time can lead to tremendously exciting things which one had not previously considered.

To give you a little background, the current Cardiff Council have been threatening to close seven of the local branch libraries, which is really a disaster for so many people and communities, and on so many levels. As a mum of small children, I visit our local library fairly frequently, to borrow books and also to attend the rhymetime and storytime sessions run there. The librarians are so lovely, and one of them has worked there for 40 years. She is the sweetest and kindest lady and her and her colleagues are simply devastated that this building which has been so much more than a place of employment for them has just been swept from under their feet by the decree of somebody unseen and clearly unaffected by such a decision. As in the many parts of Cardiff where library closure was threatened, some Rumney residents set up an action group to try to oppose the plans and keep the library open. I was not involved in this myself, although I was fully supportive of its intentions. To cut a long story short, the group were able to negotiate with the council to retain a library provision, although not on the same site, but in a far less convenient location away from the centre of Rumney.

In the mean time, I had extensive conversations at playgroup with a fellow mum who was heavily involved in the action group for the retention of the original library, and with the pastor of the Chapel in which playgroup is held. I expressed my great disappointment that the library was due to close, and it was a topic which kept coming up over the weeks, along with the usual getting to know you type chats (I've known Mike the pastor for nearly five years, but Becky was a mum who had only recently started coming to playgroup) in which I talked about the blog and cooking, as well as the other stuff I love to do but have less time for currently (knitting, spinning, sewing etc) university degrees which seem a world away; that kind of thing. As we continued to talk week after week, Mike and Becky divulged to me that they had new ideas of how to proceed with the library issue now the council had decided to move it. They wanted to set up a committee of trustees to put together a project to retain the library building for the use of the community, which would include a coffee shop and cafe, as well as community spaces which could be hired by people to run courses, peer to peer support groups could be run, and other really exciting ideas such as a "library of things" where people are able to borrow things they don't need to use every day, in the same way that they would borrow a library book. The opportunities and ideas are pretty much infinite, and I was very excited about the idea. We even joked about my getting involved. I was not prepared, however, when I was asked by Becky if I would seriously be involved with the project. I'd never done anything like it before and it was a formidible prospect, as well as tremendously exciting. I was asked to come aboard particularly from the perspective of the cafe and food provision, and I was asked to design a sample menu. After really careful consideration, I decided to go for it. The opportunity to be involved with something like this, which could be such a beneficial project, from the start, and the great privilege of what I was asked to do, just stuck in my head, and I prayed for guidance, and here I am!

After a number of meetings in which we formalised our group and dealt with various planning applications and all the background details (of which there are many to come) we decided, once we reached a point where it was clear we had the council's support and the project looked like it was really going to get off the ground, that it would be an excellent idea to hold an open evening in the library, to which local residents and businesses, as well as the relevant councillors would be invited, and members of greater Rumney Forum (resident members as opposed to trustees). There we would present our ideas, ask for feedback and ideas from residents, and also serve a taster menu of the types of food which we hope to serve in the cafe. Somehow I managed to volunteer myself, without actually any qualm or forethought of what a mammoth undertaking for an individual it was, to provide (as in, cook) the entire taster menu myself, going on an estimate of 100 visitors to the event. We had a couple of months prepartaion time, but as the day grew closer I did begin to think it was rather a large task for myself alone. I never once though, thought I couldn't do it, it was merely a matter of being completely and utterly organised, which I love to be, and getting help with the Tonjus for a couple of days, as I could not even have contemplated it if they were going to be in the house.

I went through my sample menu and selected a couple of dishes for each type of meal:

Natural yoghurt with seasonal fruit compote
American style pancakes served with locally picked blackberries and maple syrup

The seasonal fruit compote contained raspberries, and Bramley apples from our apple tree - you can't get more local than that! And for the acquisition of blackberries, we arranged a blackberry picking session which resulted much red staining and thorn scratching!

The Bramley apples and raspberries bubbling happily away next to the soup ingredients

All the food was presented in servings so people could easily help themselves, and we had tables manned by volunteers while we (the Rumney Forum trustees) mingled with the guests to answer question and talk about the project and the food.


As a snack I decided to make a quick recipe I invented a while ago which is on my Facebook page; the Sweet and Sesame Banavo Thickie. I thought it would be an interesting option for people to try rather than a generic smoothie, but in retrospect, it wasn't the best choice since both bananas and avocados discolour when peeled. It is definitely a dish which needs to be made and served immediately. People were definitely put off by the unfortunate dull grey it went after a while, rather than the vibrant green it should be.

I also decided to make houmous with toasted pitta slices, sliced carrot and courgette, and my absolute favourite type of chips, smoked paprika sweet potato wedges. The houmous was made to a recipe I found on Jamie Oliver's website, and the sweet potato wedges were my own recipe, although par-boiling some sweet potato wedges, slathering them with olive oil and seasoning them with salt, pepper and smoked paprika before roasting them for 45 minutes can hardly be called a recipe! They went down well though.

The sweet potatoes went next to the houmous, but I was waiting 'til the last minute to bring them out so as to keep them warm and crisp for as long as possible, so unfortunately I don't have a photo of them. In fact, as you've very likely noticed, all the photos of the food and the evening have been taken on my phone as I had no time at all to photograph the cooking procedure, and no space for my camera, so apologies that they're all a bit rubbish.

This was definitely the most labour intensive part of the preparation, since I had to make nine Herby Ham and Sweetcorn Tarts, which involved making the pastry the day before, ready to roll out later on on the Monday (which was the day we held the open evening) for the filling to be added. I also made one of my favourite soups, Butternut Squash Soup with Chilli and Creme Fraiche from BBCGoodFood. I made bread rolls to go with it; 100 to be precise. As you'll see from the photos, I had no issues with getting the dough to rise! I also made little Goats' Cheese Salads which entailed for the purpose of the open evening, a caramelised walnut, placed on a little crumbled goats' cheese, placed upon a small bed of rocket leaves on a crispy miniature bread roll, finished off with a drizzle of fig balsamic dressing. I also made a roasted vegetable and couscous salad, the vegetables in which comprised aubergine, courgette, red peppers and red onion.

This is my own recipe, slightly adapted from another, and perhaps I could reduce the amount of yeast, maybe..?!

I'm a little gutted as I don't have a photo of either the tart or the goats' cheese salad, but I can share a tart photo from my last post when I published the recipe, so fear not!

There were nine of these, each cut into 12. 

Thankfully I had a little help with the cakes. One of the Rumney Forum trustees' mum made cupcakes, a beautiful carrot cake and chocolate cake, so I only had to make a Coffee and Walnut cake, for which I used, in my opinion, the best c&w cake recipe there is; Nigel Slater's in The Guardian. I've made this so many times and it is sublime. I also made a Bara Brith, so I was definitely not trying to make things easy for myself.

One of the Trustees trying to pounce on the cakes

I did remove the c&w from the lid of the cake box and display it on a cake stand, fear not.

 It was a really enjoyable evening after an incredibly intense couple of days. In fact, it took Tuesday for me to reacclimatise into real life again. It's been so long since I've done anything where it's just been me, without a little person somewhere, constantly requiring my attention, that it was quite a peculiar feeling of liberty coupled with a feeling of how strange life is without someone needing you. I know those are part of the feelings a stay at home mum is very likely to experience. My oldest is nearly five, and it's been that long since I've really done something so entirely myself, without babies and children in tow, that it felt, actually, it felt inexplicable. I loved it though, the experience, the pressure, and the absolutely necessary organisation. It was a really fantastic experience.

Sadly, the numbers we catered for were rather an overestimate, and we did end up with a fair amount of food which we had to distribute after the event. Obviously it wasn't possible to save some foods at all, such as the thickie, but I took home a tart, a box of couscous and a tub of bread rolls, which actually sustained us for lunch and dinner for the last two days. For dinner I roasted and shredded a chicken breast which I placed on top of the roasted veg couscous, topped with half a sliced leftover avocado, some Tahini Goddess Drizzle from Half-Baked Harvest, for which I had ingredients in the fridge, and topped it all with a handful of caramelised walnuts. I gave the boys some couscous salad, tart and avocado. And for lunch we've been eating the bread rolls with soup.

I cannot finish this post however, without mentioning the fantastic Handlebar Barista we hired for the event. Since we'll be a coffee shop too, we really wanted to serve some fantastic coffee which would be a representation of the type of coffee we plan to serve in the cafe. One of the trustees had come into contact with the owners of a really exciting and innovative new business locally, Handlebar Barista, who are hireable for events, as well as setting up their beautiful adapted trike at various locations around Cardiff, serving excellent quality coffee for people on the go. We were really excited to be able to hire them for our event. Their delightful trike was in the foyer of the library, in a fantastic location, and they were really lovely, friendly and genuine guys. They also had a good look around at the end and were really encouraging about the food and the project in general. Here's a photo of their beautiful trike; it really helped bring a little atmosphere to our evening, since the library is not the most atmospheric of buildings!

So that is what I've been doing, and why the posts have been a little sparse lately. I really hope to step them up again now, but please follow me on Instagram for general photos of the food I'm making and other things I'm getting up to. There was even a bit of spinning in my Instagram feed the other week, though again, I need to make time to get back into that too. Like everything else really. Search @cookingforsanity on Instagram as I need to get my link on the right fixed.

There is a lot more to say about the Library Project. As you can see, I've focussed particularly on the food aspect and my personal involvement, but as you can imagine, that is a very small side of what's going on. I will endeavour to write further once we have some more information to share, but in the mean time, I hope to go back to giving you more recipes and making you aware of the incredible talent there is available online and the delicious recipes you, yes, you, can cook!

Thanks so much for reading, especially if you made it to here :-)

xxx Sam

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Cooking for Sanity