The much anticipated annual Abergavenny Food Festival returns this weekend, and friend of Little Otter Events, Baked by Mel will be there. Mel has been attending the festival for a few years now and will be situated in the Upper Brewery Yard next door to Hallets Cider. (Cider and cake, sounds like a good combination!)
As well as her award winning bara brith, Mel will be selling a beautiful selection of scrummy treats all baked in her kitchen in Llantwit Major. If you haven't tried her persian rocky road, brownies or gin and tonic cakes, you are in for a culinary treat!
I interrupted Mel's baking to ask her a few questions ahead of her busy weekend...
What do you enjoy about the festival?
Well it's all about food of course, and in a relatively small space you can go and try so much variety, see your fave celebs and get in on the party atmosphere too… it's just lovely. It’s a very well attended and prestigious event attracting a lot of people and food fans so there is a lovely festival vibe around the town.
Who you are looking forward to seeing?
So many people!! The Preservation Society, Samosaco, Welsh Coffee, The Parsnipship, Hangfire Smokehouse, Hallets cider, Petals of the Valley, Sytch Farm Studios, Shellys Shortbread and I am hoping to hear Allan Jenkins talk on Sunday…fingers crossed. Its really a big annual event and I love having a catch up!
How is your prep going?
I never seen so many sultanas in my life…
Good luck Mel! We hope that you have an amazing weekend.
Find out more about the festival programme and tickets on the official website.
This Saturday 14th July, I am honoured to be having a stall promoting our Christmas markets and selling work from our directory makers at a very special event - Rachel's Day.
Rachel's Day is in memory of Rachel Day who very sadly died of Sepsis last summer. Rachel was just 29 years old, and fit and healthy when she contracted the deadly infection. This Saturday's event is organised by her friends and family as they aim to raise awareness of the disease and raise vital funds.
As well as working at Llanishen Leisure Centre, Rachel used to walk dogs for Cardiff company Friends for Pets, and so when she sadly passed away, her friends thought that it would be a fitting tribute to organise a charity day, involving a dog walk here in Rhiwbina.
Last year's event was a huge success and raised over £4000. This money has paid for the ‘Sepsis 6 Pathway’ scheme at Wales’ largest hospital. It means that anyone who goes into the Heath hospital in Cardiff with a fever or signs of an infection will be checked for ‘red flag’ symptoms of sepsis.
I caught up with Catherine Clarke, one of the organisers of Rachel's Day to find out what they had planned for this year...
Catherine, what does this year's event involve?
"This year at Rachel’s Day we have various types of stalls selling food, cakes, crafts and your good old fashioned village fete stalls. These include Tombola, Raffle, Kids Tombola & a Doggy tombola especially for the dogs only! We also have a signed blues rugby shirt up for grabs with a silent bids table!
"For the children we have the kids tombola, Lob the gob (throwing a rugby ball through a hole!), a face painter, crazy golf and Vale Owls are bringing some of their beautiful birds. Rachel loves dogs but she also loves Owls!
"We have a bar that will be selling beverages and cocktails including Rachel’s Delight a cocktail named in memory of Rachel. 10% of the takings from this will go towards Rachel’s Day Sepsis Fund. We also have live music from The Big what?! Band and Al Moses."
"Friends for Pets will be giving away 200 goody bags and Georgina Flambert photography will be doing portraits of families and their dogs which you can purchase, with money to go to the charity. K8’s short bark n sides a local groomer are actually closing their shop for the day to come and spend it with us! They are offering to clips dogs nails for £5 and give all proceeds to the charity. We also have bandanas for the dogs to wear."
Do you need a dog to come along and enjoy the day?
"With so much going on you don’t need a dog to enjoy the day. It’s just as much for the people as it is for them. The walk will take place at 1pm to and around Caedelyn Park. You can join in if you want but it’s not necessary and you don’t need a dog to join in the walk. Registration will take place from 12 pm. There is no entry fee for this year though donations will be grateful received.
"With the weather the way it has been we never thought we would have to worry about it being too hot! We are taking every precaution to ensure the safety and welfare of the dogs. We have onsite canine first aiders, plenty of water, wet towels, shaded area and a much shorter route around Parc Y Pentre if needed."
What are you looking forward to the most?
"What we loved the most from last year was the sight of a sea of people and dogs walking to the park and then seeing all the dogs run around playing! It made all the hard work worth while seeing people and their best friends smiling and happy. We will look forward to that again this year for sure!"
What are you hoping to achieve from the day?
"Obviously the importance of doing this event again is to further our quest in raising awareness about Sepsis. We are passionate that the money raised is spent in Wales and the family have various ideas of how to spend it. One idea is helping to provide assistance dogs for those who have suffered life changing disabilities through Sepsis. Ultimately we never want another family to have suffered like the Day family have or another to endure what Rachel did!"
Thanks so much Catherine and well done to you and the team on all your hard work organising what promises to be a fabulous day here in Rhiwbina.
I hope that you can all come along and support it and please come and see me on my stall and say hi!
Here is some more information on Sepsis:
There are around 150,000 cases of sepsis each year in the UK, with an estimated 44,000 deaths - more than breast cancer and bowel cancer combined.
In Wales, that equates to around 8,000 cases and 2,500 deaths each year.
It is a life-threatening illness, caused by the body overreacting to an infection.
The body’s immune system goes into overdrive, setting off a series of reactions that can lead to widespread swelling and blood clotting.
Symptoms usually develop quickly and include a fever or high temperature (over 38C), chills, a fast heartbeat and fast breathing.
What should you do?
Seek medical help urgently if you develop any or one of the following:
Slurred speech or confusion
Extreme shivering or muscle pain
Passing no urine (in a day)
It feels like your going to die
Skin mottled or discoloured.
Since I started Little Otter Events, I have met so many talented makers and I love following them on social media and seeing their latest work.
Last year, Cardiff based Elena Floarea came along to our Rhiwbina and Penarth events selling her range of beautiful French macarons. Elena is an amazing baker and creates some truly stunning cakes. Recently I met up with Elena to find out where this talent came from and if she has always enjoyed baking....Introducing Elena...
When did you start baking?
I started when I was 16. I went to a culinary college and at the end of the course I won a french patisserie contest. The prize was an apprenticeship in France with one of the best French pastry chefs there was that year.
That’s when I fell in love with baking and creating delicious cakes and macarons.
Who was your biggest influence?
My mum always encouraged me to reach as high as I can. I went to France to complete the apprenticeship I’ve won because she encouraged and supported me. I was only 18 so she was my rock, helping me increase my confidence.
Where did you study?
I studied for my Culinary diploma at a college in Bucharest. Then in France I’ve received a french patisserie diploma for completing my apprenticeship and also been offered a 1.5 year contract with a popular french patisserie in France.
When did you start your own business?
I set up Lolo’s Cake Away in 2015.
Where do you get your creative ideas from?
I use a lot Pinterest for inspiration! I’m also part of many cake and wedding groups on Facebook where I can follow trends and see what people like most. Then combined with my knowledge and experience acquired over the last 12 years I try to get something different to ensure our customers like the suggested design.
What is the inspiration behind Lolo's Cake Away?
‘Lolo’ comes from Lawrence which is my partner and our gorgeous son Lawson (Lo-Lo). I was in my second year of uni studying Business Management at Cardiff Uni when my partner said he would help me set up the business and follow my dream. It was one of the best days ever and I went for it! Three years later Lolo’s Cake Away is a recognisable brand in Cardiff.
I’m also trying to make Majestic Macarons the best macaron business in Wales. We’re growing every day and maybe one day we will have a shop where we can combine cakes by Lolo’s Cake Away and delicious macarons by Majestic Macarons.
Do you have a favourite flavour cake/macaron?
I have quite a few favourites. However, Ferrero Rocher macarons are my no. 1 favourite ! I’ve mistakenly ate some from my order and realised I had to make some more
And my second favourite is pistachios macarons. It always reminds me of my trips to the Parisian patisseries in France.
As you can see I find it difficult to choose one favourite only! Guess I really love my job!
What is the longest time you have ever spent creating a cake?
One week was the longest time I’ve spent on making and creating a cake. It was for a four tier wedding cake with cascading roses in pink and yellow.
I loved the end result and the hard work definitely paid off! Sugar Flowers are very time consuming but when they’re finished they look so amazing it is worth all the time in the world.
The bride and groom were over the moon and I’ve receive so many compliments on design and skill.
Thanks so much Elena!
Elena's creations are absolutely amazing - she is on social media and regularly posts up photos of her latest work.
She is very kindly offering friends of Little Otter Events a 20% discount - so if you have a birthday, wedding or special occasion coming up, get in touch with Elena to discuss your ideas.
What an amazing maker! I want to get married all over again just so Elena can make me a cake!
Royal wedding fever has hit the UK this week ahead of the wedding of Prince Harry to Megan Markle this Saturday 19th May. Even if you aren’t a royalist, this weekend provides the perfect excuse to get together with family and friends to join in the celebrations.
There has been lots of speculation as to what food will be served at the Windsor Castle reception this weekend. We know that Megan and Harry will be having a lemon and elderflower cake decorated with edible flowers - so chic. But I wonder if the very stylish MM will have chosen to feature the popular choice of many modern brides - macaron favours.
I caught up with Elena Floarea of Cardiff-based Majestic Macarons to find out more about the macaron and its history - it turns out that it was originally created for a royal wedding!
Elena explained, “Created for a royal wedding back in the 16th century in Italy, a macaron is a sweet meringue-based confection made with egg white, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond powder or ground almond, and food colouring.
“The macaron was introduced by the chef of Catherine de Medicis in 1533 at the time of her marriage to the Duc d'Orleans. Catherine de' Medici, daughter of Lorenzo II de' Medici and of Madeleine de La Tour d'Auvergne, was an Italian noblewoman who was queen of France from 1547 until 1559, by marriage to King Henry II."
“The term "macaron" has the same origin as that the word "macaroni" -- both mean "fine dough". And originally the macaron was like a cookie in size. But only at the beginning of the 20th century did the macaron become a “double-decker” affair.”
Ladurée, the famous Parisian pastry shop could very well be most associated with the modern-style macarons today. The shop was founded in 1862, but it was not until the early twentieth century that Pierre Desfontaines, grandson of Louis Ernest Ladurée, had the idea of piping ganache on a shell and topping it with another. So the modern day macaron was born presented with a ganache, buttercream or jam filling sandwiched between two such cookies.
Over the last fifteen years, the popularity of the macaron has travelled across the Channel. In 2005, Laduree opened a store in London’s Harrods, and positioned the macaron as a luxury confectionery.
Today macarons have become a popular sweet to appear on afternoon tea menus across the UK and they are very popular at wedding receptions and other parties. But what is it about this little sweet treat that appeals to so many people?
Elena explained, “With such an amazing range of colours and flavours available, the macaron can be perfectly tailored to suit any wedding colour scheme or favourite flavour of the recipient. Apparently Megan is a big fan of green so will we be seeing any green pistachio macarons on the table this weekend?”
I can’t wait to find out and will be watching from the sofa this weekend. I might even put the bunting out!
** If you are planning a wedding or party and want to include macarons, Elena Floarea of Majestic Macarons is offering Little Otter Friends 20% discount. Visit Elena's directory page to get in touch. **
March has been such a strange month hasn't it? Sunshine then snow, then rain along with biting winds. It seems that every time I get a summer dress out, the forecast changes and I put my Saltwater sandals back in the box. Let's be optimistic and ignore any reports of the return of the snow in time for Easter! Bring on the blossom please!
Here is a bright and sunny collection of gifts from our talented directory makers to remind you of sunny days, blue skys and flowers in the garden...
Flower pot cake by Lolo's Cake Away.
Braided fabric knot ring by p&d designs. £14 plus postage.
Foldover mini clutch bag by Lynda Shell Textiles.
Organic clouds romper by Zac & Bella. £23 plus postage.
Floral collection from Seascape Curiosities.
Personalised icecream notebook by oh! Susannah. £5 plus postage.
Blue and mustard leather messenger bag by Pocket Pirate. £320.
Since creating Little Otter Events back in 2013, I have met some amazing talented people many of whom have now become friends. One regular face at our events who has been a huge support to me over the years, is the very lovely Melanie Constantinou of baked by Mel.
Mel set up her own small business baking from home and was asked to talk about her journey and share some of her advice as part of an International Women's Day celebration last week, hosted by Her Worship the Mayor of The Vale of Glamorgan Councillor Janice Charles, organised by Julie Brown PA to the Mayor.
I caught up with Mel to find out a bit more about the day and how she got involved...
What did you talk about Mel?
I spoke about starting a small business from home and how/why I had come to that decision. I started baking as a business as a single parent to two small boys living on Machen mountain, outside Caerphilly. After many wanderings and living in various places, here I came, to settle in Wales…though with my family, all in Essex…it was tricky to fit in working hours and I struggled to imagine how I would return to teaching. Keen to improve our circumstances, I realised a home-based business would suit us perfectly. Naturally (very )…I turned to cake!!
I was specifically asked to speak about non-aggressive networking too and I gave out some of my tips. It was an honour to be invited and spend time in the company of so many inspirational women including:
International Women's Day...
Started by the Suffragettes in the early 1900's, the first International Women's Day was celebrated in 1911. International Women's Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.
This celebration held in Barry was part of the #pressforprogress campaign which is the campaign theme of International Women's Day this year which kicks off on March 8 every year. The IWD campaign theme provides a unified direction to guide and galvanize collective action. The campaign theme does not end on International Women's Day. It's just the start. Throughout the year many groups worldwide adopt the IWD campaign theme for further campaign work, gender-focused initiatives, continuing activity and events.
A huge well done to Mel for speaking in public which is always a nerve racking occasion! To find out more about Mel and her work, please visit her page on the Little Otter Events directory. To find out more about IWD campaign #pressforprogress, visit their website.
April Liddell. Founder of Little Otter Markets. Lives a crafty life. Loves going for walks with her dog Betsi, listening to music, and eating chelsea buns.