Autumn 20

Pizza Plans

We’re taking advantage of the good forecast for mid September and firing up the oven on Friday 18th.

We’ll be operating on a first come, first served basis and we’ll have enough dough to keep the oven busy for two hours*. 

There will be a few well-spaced tables on the terrace – but given SD guidelines, why not bring a picnic blanket or a few deckchairs and avail yourself of the real riverbank?

To keep things simple, we’ll have four pizzas to choose from. Just fill in order form, hand it to us and we’ll text you as soon as everything is ready.

*We’ve never run out before – but we have come close!

The Cafes are Open

We were super-proud to be included in this thoughtful scheme which supports independent cafes, the Brownlee Foundation and the health and wellbeing of participants! This challenge was the brainchild of Jonny Brownlee, who missed his cafe stops during lockdown and was keen to support this hard-hit sector as lockdown eased and cafes began to reopen. Basically, you pay to enter (proceeds to the Foundation that brings sport/triathlon to children), cycle the Dales and eat cake.  Really, what’s not to like?  Full details at thecafesareopen.com

A massive thank you to Jonny and Alistair Brownlee and EVERYONE who has supported Riverbank and all other independent cafes and shops in this difficult year.

Winter 2020

Who knows what’s in store?

Every day since we reopened in July, we have changed and tweaked things; trying to create a safe, comfortable space for our team and customers.  Thankfully we are surrounded by acres of beautiful space, and now that the CRAZY summer post-lockdown frenzy has abated, it seems Burnsall is a good option for people looking for something to do.

Over winter we plan to open as usual* (Thursday-Sunday 9-3) – our inside space will also be open, but so will all doors and windows.  As soon as it cools down, we’ll have the fire cranked up and we need one person from each group to follow the contact tracing protocol, which seems to be working fine.

*If this changes, I’ll update Instagram, riverbankburnsall.com. tripadvisor, facebook and google.  In any event I’m always delighted when people get in touch and you can contact me on 07711 530 156 or email rachel@riverbankburnsall.com to check.

A quick update on Mum and Dennis

Back in June I wrote a blog post about the horrors of 2020, which began in the wettest February on record and 3 consecutive weekends of flooding in Burnsall.  This seemed bad until Dennis keeled over and, with impeccable timing, received the unbelievably exceptional attention of our NHS, just before they were diverted by a global pandemic. 

Well Dennis got better, he beat all the odds and in August, he and mum were married and although I could cry every time I remember that I haven’t hugged my own mum for months, I’m bursting with happiness that she, and we all, have Dennis back and they are now Mr and Mrs Lee.

Mum and Dennis as the new Mr and Mrs Lee
After the wedding in August 2020

Tales of the Riverbank – The next chapter

When the lockdown was eased, Burnsall hit the headlines – several times.  The weather was beautiful, the people had cabin fever and the countryside was opened up to them.  “Travel as far as you like” said Boris – so they did.  The only problem was, nothing was open.  No car parks, no toilets, no cafes, pubs or shops… and it was chaos.

I watched through the camera I’d had fitted to my Riverbank building (originally installed so I could watch the river levels remotely).  Burnsall looked like Blackpool times ten and social distancing looked like ancient history. 

And the rubbish – yikes, it was unbelievable!

I know I could have reopened Riverbank and made up for weeks of lost business, but I just didn’t feel comfortable about it.  So, I didn’t do it.

As we approach the date earmarked for a reopening of hospitality, and speculation about a relaxation in the 2m rule is rife, I’m looking forward to welcoming customers back.

Reopening plans:  Initially, it won’t be the same.  Riverbank will probably reopen as a takeaway, with tables spaced appropriately outside.  I’m planning to have screens fitted to the serving hatches and to keep things moving as quickly as possible, I’ve been testing out some new bakes and salads that will be much quicker to serve, along with the usual cakes and coffees.

The Model:  We never offered table service at Riverbank and our simple indoor/outdoor space was always more of a convenient shelter from the elements than a conventional café.  In Covid world the model won’t change much.  Whenever we can leave the kitchen to sanitise surfaces, we will, and in between we plan to leave wipes out that people are welcome to use.  We will remind customers to remain socially distant but we won’t be policing or enforcing anything.

Eco disposables: Much as it goes against the grain, we’ll be serving everything in disposables for the time being to keep everyone safe (all compostable of course).

Stuff I’ve leaned: One advantage of being a follower when it comes to reopening, is that I’ve had an opportunity to be a customer of other businesses and see what works well and what doesn’t.   For example, I’ve found it frustrating to stand in a queue (no matter how short) and not have much of an idea what’s on offer at the end of it.  Then when you finally have your moment, there’s so much pressure to make a quick decision!

The Offer:  I plan to post the day’s cakes, bakes and salads on riverbankburnsall.com/food and keep it updated throughout the day.  Whether you’re standing in a queue or sitting at home, you can see what we’ve got, what’s sold out and what’s being added throughout the day.

Pre-ordering Food:  If anyone wants things set aside, I’ll be only too happy to oblige.  A DM (instagram/facebook), text (07711 530 156) or email (rachel@riverbankburnsall.com) with your food order, your date for collection and ETA is all I need.  I’ll always reply to confirm your message has got through. I’ll bag up your food order, write your name on the bag and have it ready for when you get to the hatch.

Opening hours:  Since the beginning we’ve opened Thursday to Sunday 9-3, year-round and only closed up for holidays (or floods!).  I plan to return to this but honestly, I have no idea what’s going to happen in this new world, so the best I can do is set out the plan and keep everything up to date online.  Riverbankburnsall.com, instagram, facebook and tripadvisor will all be updated if anything changes.

Wood fired pizza:  The wood fired oven and the Riverbank setting could work so well in these strange times.  There’s plenty of space to spread out on the Riverbank terrace and on Burnsall green, and the car park is so convenient to wait for takeaways.  I hope to go back to the regular slot for pizza – 6-8pm on the last Friday of the month from July, and as ever, I’ll keep updating online.

Only too happy to answer questions: I love it when people get in touch. If you have any questions, I’d be delighted to help.

Rollercoaster

2020 has been an exceptional year for everyone.  Down in Burnsall, the roller coaster set off at about 10am on February 4 with a catastrophic sudden illness striking a loved one. 

Doing their favourite morning dog walk around the lake near their house, my mum was, thankfully, with Dennis as he collapsed and my brother was, even more thankfully, just a scream away…  After what must have felt like a lifetime of CPR, Dennis was airlifted to the nearest intensive care unit, where he remained for several weeks clinging on to his “2% chance”.

So, when the wettest February on record did its worst, and we had flooding in Burnsall three weekends in a row, at least I could put things into perspective.  If the water got into our flood-resilient building, it would be a pain in the neck, but the clear up operation would be relatively simple and at least nobody was going to die.

The flood defences working well in Burnsall

Meanwhile Dennis was still in ICU, conscious now but suffering a brain injury and with a desperately bleak outlook.

On the third weekend of flooding the water finally got in.  I will forever be grateful for the help I received one weekend after the next as we defended the building with huge success – but in the end the ground was just so saturated that the third weekend of heavy rain finally did for us!  As predicted, it was a pain – but we’d cleared up and were serving again by mid-morning.

I wasn’t sorry to say goodbye to February.

By comparison March started well and despite the worrying news of Coronavirus, we were planning a year of workshops and wood fired pizza nights and looking ahead with confidence.

Maybe the events of February had been such a distraction that I genuinely didn’t expect things to happen so quickly.  As I collected the Riverbank bread from Lovingly Artisan on Wednesday 18 March and Aidan, whose bakery it is, said of a lockdown “it’s not IF Rachel, it’s WHEN”, I was honestly shocked into finally believing it was a real prospect. 

The team at Lovingly Artisan had been in full planning mode on that last visit, considering options to continue operating safely and this inspired me to swiftly do the same.  I knew that takeaways were allowed to continue operating through the Italian lockdown and as Riverbank had started life as a takeaway, a switch back would be relatively straightforward.  So, when Boris shut down hospitality just two days later, I listened to every word.  Sure enough, he gave the nod to takeaways that I was hoping for, so I stayed into the evening and hastily re-configured the kitchen – sending out a message to explain that Riverbank would be staying open.  It was a late night, but I felt really pleased with the plans for the following day and encouraged by the lovely replies to my email.

The next two days were a bit of a blur.  Customers were amazing, the weather was kind and we worked extremely hard in the kitchen – but the fear in the village was palpable and in amongst all of the support, one or two vicious comments online, plus an anonymous letter pushed through the Riverbank door really spooked me.

On Monday 23 March we shut up shop and I retreated to the Lakes for lockdown.

Unable to run Riverbank, I switched focus to my other ‘passion project’ giftandcraftshop.com.  For around a year I’ve been building my stock of carefully selected gifts and cards but that was only ever going to be part of the story.  I had a vision for the ‘andcraftshop.com’ part of giftandcraftshop.com that had gone absolutely nowhere.

It still has a long way to go but giftandcraftshop.com now has a fully functioning e-commerce site and my very first craft kit is even on there.  The website is simple – and far from perfect – but I built it from scratch – and I even got around to switching it on!

Branded packaging

And Dennis, or Lazarus as we now call him, has restored my faith in happily ever after.  His recovery has defied all expectations, he’s home, getting stronger every day and even walking with my mum and the dog around the lake again (although they take a portable defibrillator in a small backpack on every outing!)

Dennis and mum in lockdown
Smiling again – Dennis and Mum

Crafternoons at Riverbank

I love making things.  There’s so much joy in the simple process of creating something beautiful.  The time that goes into selecting the materials, design and tools is an investment – but only the start.  The effort that then goes into crafting the finished item shows real commitment.

I’m lucky enough to have mastered a few of the basics as a child.  Mum taught me to knit and sew and bought me a sewing machine when I was in my teens that I still use today, although there were many years in between when in rested in the attic.

From pottery to macrame, knitting, sketching, sewing, embroidery and silver work – I’ve had a go a most things, been okay at some of them and enjoyed them all.

I desire beautiful paper, pens, cashmere and woollen yarns, wooden knitting needles gorgeous fabrics and trims.  I also love the fact that you can start a project on a cold winter’s evening in front of fire – then pick it up again the next winter, and finally finish it off the following one – loving the finished article every bit as much as you’d hoped you would when you started.

Maybe I’ve got this all wrong, but it seems that the things I learned to do as a child are dying out.  Kids don’t seem to know how sew or knit any more and in our digital, ‘throwaway’ age, nobody has the time, need or desire to learn.

In our quest for digital downtime, mindfulness and sustainability, surely crafting has a role to play?  In a world where everyone has everything they want and nobody needs anything, what better gift to give than one you have created yourself?

Then TV programmes come along like The Great British Sewing Bee, Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas and the pottery thrown down one, and I feel perhaps I’m not alone!

Last winter a friend put out a call for a few of us interested in craft to meet up, bringing our projects with us and spend a few hours together, just chatting, drinking tea and working away.  We did it a few times and it was lovely, very sociable and a welcome change of pace.  I took knitting, another friend made Christmas decorations, one sketched and another did felting.

So I wondered whether something similar could work at Riverbank?  I’ve been wondering this for ages in fact, so perhaps it’s time to find out…  I talked it through with Phil and he came up with ‘Crafternoons at Riverbank’ and this is my first, tentative step forward in exploring the idea.

If we opened the space on a Wednesday afternoon when we’re usually closed – but in the kitchen baking and prepping.  If we lit the fire and put the coffee machine on and provided cake, would anyone be interested in bringing their project along for a couple of hours?  If you are even remotely interested I’d love to hear from you.

Nothing ventured…

 

 

Saving the day

I’ve always admired great sportspeople, but it’s my partner Phil who is the true fan.  He played rugby for years, sails and runs whenever he gets chance.

A number of years ago (maybe 5?), he’d taken our dog Hector for a run through the fields near Appletreewick and when he returned he told me he’d just seen the Brownlee brothers out cycling.  He’d held Hector back to make sure he didn’t run out and skittle the group, who’d nodded an acknowledgement and carried on.

Wind the clock forward a few years and I find myself in Burnsall, manning my little kitchen and doing my level best to build my new little Riverbank business.  It was tough in year one, with no inside space and just a chiminea (thanks Tracey) outside for warmth – so I got blankets (thanks mum), and hot water bottles and did the best I could.  It was amazing that anyone came – but a few have even recalled those bonkers early days with a nostalgic affection!

I listened then, as I do now, to all ideas generously shared by friends, family and customers – people were, and continue to be, kind and incredibly helpful and I took lots of it on board in my quest to appeal to as many groups as possible:

Locals – I love it when they come to Riverbank.  Something feels wrong when my regular locals are missing for whatever reason – and the farmers and builders living and working nearby basically got me through the first winter!  So I still have hot roast pork on sourdough ciabatta with home made stuffing available every Friday.

Walkers – when they arrive in the car park or on the green, I often butter a couple of fresh scones and take out samples to tempt them back to Riverbank at the end of their walks.  Sometimes this even works.

I try to consider them all:  campers and holiday-makers, day trippers, Dales-Wayers, fell-runners, even canoeists – and the list goes on – but a key group that started to swing by early on was the cycling community.  They were especially helpful with ideas – and I quickly put a bike stand up, bought a track pump, got hold of some gels and a stash of inner tubes (thanks Martin).  And when we finally secured planning permission to build Riverbank as it is now, we were sure to include a water tap in the dining room so that water bottles could be topped up…

Knowing that Jonny and Alastair Brownlee cycled in the area a lot, a few people (including Phil), thought it would be great if they became Riverbank customers.  “Would you know them if they did come?” asked Phil…  I replied that I thought I would – but it turns out I was wrong.  I’d served Jonny and his companions, chatted away and was proudly showing off the indoor area and water tap – introducing myself as I do to everyone who’ll listen, when it dawned on me who he was – just as he confirmed it in reply to my introduction.

Since then we’ve got to know them a little – and a few other triathletes who are an absolute pleasure to have around.

So when the worst weather of the winter closed in on Sunday, and Jennie, Michelle and I had all but closed up and let the log burner die out and Jonny, Alastair, Linda and Harry pulled in looking chilled to the bone – there was only one thing for it…

Well three things actually; the giant tea pot (Alastair’s suggestion from months ago), came down off the shelf – Michelle delivered four Fat Boys that had been swiftly warmed in the oven and the Parsnip and Spiced Orange cake that I’d regretted icing earlier that day, found a good home.

Alastair stoked up the fire and gradually, four freezing souls warmed up.

Jonny thanked Riverbank for saving the day – but the truth was Jonny, Alastair, Linda and Harry saved our miserable, freezing cold, write-off of a March day.

Next time I’ll remember the hot water bottles!

And breathe…

Three years ago today I flew away, with my friend Gilly, for some winter sun. This is something we’ve done almost every year of our adult lives. It’s a massive treat – we relax, chat, eat, drink and sleep a lot.

In 2016 we chose Dubai. It ticked the priority box for our holiday (good weather) and as a bonus we met up with some friends I’d studied for a master’s with in London.

We drank cocktails at a bar that was ‘most of the way’ up the world’s tallest building and did lots of eating out, a bit of running and some swimming – but mostly we just lay around in the sun and in my case daydreamed and hatched plans – and at some point during that week I had an epiphany.

At the end of the holiday, en route home from the airport, I stopped off in Burnsall to chat the then owner of the kiosk – and the Riverbank journey began. Three years on and I can hardly believe what’s happened.

Riverbank now

The original kiosk

With an incredible amount of help and talent in my corner, we’ve transformed the kiosk on the green. There have, of course, been tough times (very tough times) along the way and not all of the riverbank vision has been delivered yet (see below!), but it will be.

Still to come - wood fired food

For me, life is very different. I love, love, love creating things that people enjoy. I love working with the riverbank team, chatting to customers and learning new things every day. I have put my heart and soul into it but I must confess, I am exhausted! My annual chill with Gilly has taken a back seat while the focus switched to establishing the new little business which, (apart from the building phase) has been open every Thursday to Sunday since August 2016. Until this week…

Just after Christmas I made a decision to close for a week and head off to the sun with my pal. I pinned notices up everywhere, told all of our regular customers (several times), updated Google, Instagram, Facebook and riverbankburnsall.com.

As a bonus I arranged for some snagging work to be done inside the building while I’m away and I’m sure the builders will tell me whether anyone turned up looking for lunch!

Like everything else, this is a test. Maybe closing (with plenty of notice), will work and maybe it won’t. Only one way to find out I guess – but as beautiful as Burnsall is, it’s lovely to have another view – and time to write a blog post…

Today’s view

All new Riverbank

In May we completed the building work at Riverbank, giving us some indoor space for customers – and then the UK basked in an exceptional heatwave for the rest of the summer.  So instead of looking for shelter, people came inside for cool and shade.  Not what we imagined but great to be able to help in any event.   

It felt epic at the time, but in fact the build was pretty quick – especially given the hard winter that preceded the crazy hot summer.  And now it’s a challenge to even recall the old Riverbank.  The new space is simple but beautiful and it does exactly what it’s supposed to.  These lovely images of the completed Riverbank were captured by artisansand.co

The way we work hasn’t changed – still home made food, no menu, served from the kitchen window, Thursday to Sunday.  We’re certainly not a traditional cafe and we’re about to become even less of a traditional cafe…

There’s still a lot to do before the wood fired artisan pizza is fully deployed but the good news is that the oven works well, the ideas, passion and energy are all flowing and with the change of season allowing a little more time for planning, the wood fired food offer is getting closer…

Another riverbank

Forbes in New South Wales is on the banks of the River Lachlan and that’s where I spent the rest of January.  It’s a real country town and my friend Annie, who moved there a number of years ago, knows just about everybody!

We spent time catching up with old friends, chatting, experimenting in the kitchen with new dishes and bakes, drinking wine and chatting some more.  We effortlessly picked up where we’d left off and by the end of January I was relaxed, warm (it was 40 degrees plus most days) and full of ideas and energy because this trip to Forbes was different to my previous ones.  This time I had my own Riverbank to return to…

So the learning that started in the kitchen at Kepos Street, Sydney, continued as I made my way inland.  Annie herself is a great cook and an avid collector of recipes.  In fact she’s even compiled a family cookbook of tried and tested favourites – with recipes admitted by general consensus after successful dinner parties and events.

Outside the kitchen I met Wendy from Girra Girra, a driving force behind Grazing Down the Lachlan, a fundraising initiative that is gradually installing some stunning sculptures on the riverbank near Forbes.  We went to visit the first sculpture one afternoon and it truly was amazing!

Lachlan riverbank - Forbes

The first in a planned sculpture trail

Then I had some more tuition courtesy of our friend Brian, who has a commercial-sized wood-fired oven in his garden.  We made traditional pizza and a peach one for dessert, with peaches we’d picked from the garden.

I spent most of a day with Toni too.  Toni used to have a very successful and much missed cafe in Forbes, and she was generous enough to share her most popular recipes, even helping me convert the Australian cup measurements into grams (I’m such a nerd when it comes to baking!).

There was even an afternoon of coffee training with Scotty, our friend Al’s husband who has his own catering business and gave me loads of insights and ideas.

And the cherry on the cake was my first prize in the Damper competition*, run by the CWA (Country Women’s Association) on Australia Day!  Under the watchful eye of Annie, I made three types of Damper in the searing heat of the afternoon on January 26, a national holiday over there.  It was very worth the effort though, I was thrilled to bits with my certificate and even got a mention in the Forbes Advocate!

* Damper is a yeast-free bread, traditionally baked in campfires by drovers and bushmen and no, Jon Wingfield, my victory didn’t mean that I’d wet myself a little bit more than everyone else…

Kepos Street, Sydney

In May 2016 when my friend Annie flew over from Australia to visit for a few weeks,  she brought with her two lovely cook books.  Falafel for Breakfast was my favourite, I cooked from it and kept it with me at all times in the Riverbank kitchen!

So when I booked flights to Sydney for January this year, I took a deep breath and sent a random, cheeky email to Kepos Street.  My request found its way to Kristy, half of the married couple who own the two Kepos restaurants and write the beautiful books.

A few exchanges later and not only had I fixed myself up with a couple of days of work experience, but I also had a long list of personal recommendations of places to eat and visit.

This was great news for my friend Jennie and me.  Jennie had flown over from Auckland and was there to meet me when I arrived in Sydney.  We spent four nights together in the city, exploring the list of cool coffee shops, eateries, ice cream parlours and even gin distilleries around my two days at Kepos Street.  Yes, we crammed it in!

On the morning of 11 January I was apprehensive, but I needn’t have been. Kristy Frawley could not have been lovelier.  As we ate breakfast together, she shared stories of how they found Kepos Street and the massive hand fate played in them taking it on. She told me about how hard they’d worked and how tough it had been to open, but then how they’d never looked back.  And Michael, her husband, on hearing that I have no formal training in a kitchen told me that passion is the most important thing anyway.  I loved that.

Next stop was the kitchen itself and the team in there were amazing.  They explained things, gave me some easy jobs and taught me to make some delicious Kepos salads.  I loved the opportunity to learn and just soak up the magic –  the dishes were skilfully created, delicious and beautiful to look at and I was completely delighted when Michael offered me the opportunity to do an evening service too.

Honestly, had I not booked my travel on to the country, I’m not sure they would have ever shaken me off.  I loved every minute.

Thank you team Kepos. x

Why Australia?

I first travelled to Australia as a fresh faced graduate, nearly three decades ago!  My friend Rich, who was at Warwick with me, suggested the trip.

He thought it would be a great idea to go in opposite directions around the world and meet half way.  So that’s what we did.  Rich went to South America and I went to Asia – the Philippines in fact, where I’d arranged to do some voluntary work at a university in Mindanao.

I’m not sure what I was expecting but what I encountered was fascinating, beautiful, heart warming and at times pretty nerve wracking.  In fact current travel advice for the Philippines shows half of the area I went to coded orange (advise against all but essential travel) and half red.  Nothing much has changed.

The remains of a bus that had been ambushed and set alight, still smouldering on the roadside as I journeyed from the airport to the place I was staying, rang the first alarm bell…

I stayed a month.  I’d planned to stay three but decided instead to go for it, take some risks, have some adventures and make some memories but then push on.  I don’t regret a minute of this first stop on my west-to-east around the world trip, but by the new year I was ready for the next leg, Australia.

New Year’s Eve on the Rocks in Sydney was quite something.  I loved it and soaked up the city and its sights on my traveller’s budget while I looked for some casual work to help fund my year away.  Competition for work was tough though and I guess back then, as now, I was a country girl at heart, so it didn’t take long for me to head inland and my first stop, Orange, sealed my love affair with country New South Wales from the (almost) moment I arrived.

I say almost because my first night in Orange was a bit grim.  My quest for budget accommodation took me to the Occidental Hotel.  I didn’t mind the lack of frills and I was resigned to the shared bathrooms, but I was a bit creeped out by the old bloke who slept on top of his bed, starkers, with his bedroom door wide open.

Keen to find some more suitable accommodation for a single female traveller, I packed up my rucksack and said goodbye to the Occidental the next morning.  The Youth Hostel was surely more likely to be a perv-free zone…

My luck was in.  I called them and not only did they have space, the wardens had plans to go away for a few days and I could stay for free if I kept an eye on the place.  They assured me that they could quickly show me the ropes, all I need to do was get myself there, which was not quite as simple as it sounded because the Orange Youth Hostel, a bit like a Ryanair airport, was in fact 10km outside of Orange at Mount Canobolas.

But that was fine.  The thing I loved most about my first year of travel was the sense of opportunity.  I had no plans, only a rough idea of where I was heading and a flexible airline ticket.  I’d survived the Philippines, surely I could get to Orange Youth Hostel?

Keen to get cracking, I called into the Tourist Information Centre where the woman behind the counter expressed reservations about “sending you out there, after the murder*…”.

*The most notorious death on Mount Canobolas was that of Dearne Nonnenmacher who was brutally murdered on Christmas Day 1990. (news.com.au – full story)

Apparently, having issued this caution she (Annie), saw the despair in my eyes and took pity.  She offered me a coffee and within an hour I was meeting her friends at Toad Cottage, 354 Summer Street East.  Within a couple of weeks Rich, who had arrived in Australia from the other direction, had moved in too.

Twenty seven years later Rich and I went back to celebrate Annie’s birthday with her.  She is godmother to his children and a lifelong friend to us both.  Over the years she’s generously shared her family and friends with us and quite frankly, some of the happiest times of my life are down to Annie.

That’s why Australia.