Last weekend I had the most indulgent and festive of Saturdays.
Usually, that sentence would indicate that I had spent the day stuffing my face with rich food and drink, perhaps getting a bit (lot) drunk, and just generally being a pig. Although that is definitely one of my favourite past-times, this particular Saturday was indulgent in a totally different way. You see, I spent the whole day baking and practicing yoga in a sunlit school hall in Llandaff – a real bit of ‘me’ time at the end of an otherwise mega-hectic birthday week.
Anyone who knows me well, knows that this is quite out of character. I’m the first one to admit that I regularly abuse my body – be that with booze, salt, sugar or just a simple lack of exercise and fresh air. I go through phases of treating myself like crap to be honest; I’m working on it.
It was with some apprehension, then, that I prepared myself for an activity as wholesome sounding as Stretch and Knead – bread making is more for the home-makers and yummy mummy types, surely? As for the yoga, I was worried about just holding the poses without collapsing; I have the core stability of a slinky.
Turns out, I needn’t have worried at all.
Elisabeth, the bread making wonder-woman behind Pontcanna’s One Mile Bakery, and doughy half of Stretch and Knead, is the type of person who makes you feel instantly at ease. As we began the day by mixing our basic bread dough, I started to feel much more relaxed about the activities ahead. Elisabeth is a firm but friendly teacher, quick to put nervous new bakers at ease with lines like “You’re in charge here Jane, you’re the human, that’s just a blob of dough – come on!” We were all giggling like idiots, but I was already feeling confident that I could do this again at home.
After mixing our ‘yoga loaf’ dough we left it to prove, and feasted on a mid morning snack of buttered, toasted, stilton-and-pear bread. It was as bloody good as it sounds, especially as I had skipped breakfast.
Mid-morning, we began our first yoga session with Tracy, the bendy half of the business. If ever there was an advert for the health benefits of yoga, ask Tracy her age when you meet her, you won’t believe the answer 😉 Eager to reap the same benefits, we got to work on the mats. Normally, the threat of an hour and a half exercise class would send me running for the hills, but this one was perfectly tailored to each individual’s ability. Some of us were fitter, stretchier and stronger than the others, but everyone was looked after and made to feel capable and part of the workout. I got some knots out of my shoulders which I am sure had been there for months, and felt a real sense of achievement at the end of the session.
Lunch was a vegetarian affair (always a winner in my books) with slices of garlic and spinach fritatta, a spicy carrot slaw and a fennel, feta and roasted barley salad. After all of that exercise it felt great to be putting proper, wholesome food in to my body, and we all filled our plates and bellies to bursting.
I was worried about the afternoon’s baking, as I’ve never really liked Stollen, but I’ve also only ever eaten it from the supermarket. As it turns out, handmade Stollen filled with rum-soaked fruit (ten days of soaking, no less) is the stuff of dreams, and bears no resemblance whatsoever to the dry cack I’ve munched on in the past.
Our Stollen dough-making was followed by another, hour long session of relaxing yoga – not too taxing this time, and with a big focus on stretching and unwinding as the dusk fell outside. By the time the smell of our nearly-baked Stollen filled the room, I was in a state of total, happy, calm; something no amount of fatty food and booze could ever do.
We finished the afternoon with a ginger-infused Christmas cocktail and a farewell chat, me grinning from ear to ear from a mixture of smugness at my day of wholesomeness, and the sense of pride I felt carrying my two warm loaves out to my car. Definitely one of my favourite days of 2014.
For information about the next Stretch and Knead class, keep an eye on their Twitter feed and Facebook page, where they will also be posting information about their yoga and baking retreats, including a date at the beautiful old Great Marlborough House in Monmouthshire, from May 8th -10th 2015.