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Breakfast time? Try these carrot and walnut pancakes, courtesy of The Cake Cafe and SLICE

Ray O’Neill of The Cake Cafe and SLICE in Dublin shares his thoughts on the last few months and offers a nice healthy pancake recipe.

Image: The Cake Cafe

IT WAS MONDAY 9 March and I began reading more and more about this deadly virus, Covid-19 and how it was about to hit our shores and affect every person, young and old.

We quickly had to try and figure out what we could do within the businesses to stop the spread. We stopped taking keep cups in the cafes and tried to minimise our contact with customers as much as possible, something that we are so used to now, but at the beginning of all of this, it was a strange and unfamiliar position to be in.

Being in the service industry, it is ingrained within us to try and make people feel as comfortable and safe as possible when they come through our doors and we felt this welcoming normality for customers was taken away from us.

As the week progressed and we took more tables out of the cafes to allow for social distancing, (a term that was so completely alien to us back then but is now firmly established as part of our daily vocabulary!) I began to get more and more concerned that we might have to shut our doors.

As the weekend came around and we prepared for our brunch services (by far our busiest days of the week) you could see a clear nervousness and uncertainty to our lovely customers that walked through our doors.

Nobody knew what was coming next. When Sunday came around and after chatting to several of my fellow café owner pals, I decided the safest thing to do was close both cafes with immediate effect.

Myself and many others at the time had thought that we would have to close our doors for a maximum of two / three weeks so we could get the virus under control and then get back to normal, how wrong we were.

The next day I was joined by chefs and managers in both cafes to clear out our fridges of all of our perishable goods. We donated hundreds of eggs, breads, meats and cakes to local charities. Locals in the neighbourhood got some tasty treats that were left over, as did our family members.

Adjusting fast

A memory that stands out for me is while cleaning out the fridges in The Cake Café was when I came across a wheel of delicious Smoked Gubeen Cheese that had a ‘best before date’ of 20 April, I remember thinking, that should be fine, sure we’ll be back up and running by that date!

Over the next few days, once the cafes had been cleared out and I had been in touch with all staff to organise what could be done regarding payments for when we were closed, I sat back and wondered what I could do now….then I suddenly thought, that this is the first time in many years that one or both of my cafes had been closed for a day.

We were now in a situation where literally nothing that could go wrong would go wrong, no dishwasher to break, no fuse to blow, no delivery issues. I tried to tell myself to enjoy this downtime for as long as I possibly could.

I took this time out to try and reflect on everything; how I lived my life, the pace at which I worked, the way I processed things and how the businesses worked. Everybody in my house works in the service industry so we all stopped working at the exact same time, our dog Eoin was more than delighted.

Novelty wearing off

As the days went on the novelty of sitting around the house with very little to do soon dried up. There’s only so much bread you can bake, Zoom chats you can have and online recipes you can put out to the world.

For my businesses to survive I needed to do something fast to bring some revenue in. I started selling online “Brunch it Forward” vouchers for SLICE and “Afternoon Tea with Prosecco” vouchers for The Cake Café.

We saw a huge response from our customers, with so many people wanting to support us, which was really heartwarming. I then tried to think of ways I could actually get the businesses back up and running. The Cake Café is located in a courtyard within a residential building so unfortunately, we were unable to open our doors there, but with SLICE we decided the safest way to reopen in some capacity was with a “hatch” system.

I didn’t want to start taking staff back and come off the Covid-19 payment without knowing how busy it was going to be so myself and my partner Jack started running the show.

I came in at the crack of dawn baking breads, cakes and anything else we could sell in our window. The response from the local community in Stoneybatter was overwhelming and after the first week, we decided to start giving out “care packages” in the community to anyone that was a frontline worker, that was cocooning or just needed a pick-me-up.

Over the next few weeks, we put all of the necessary safety measures in place and opened up SLICE as a shop which has been going well for us since then. Due to the fact that we couldn’t open our doors in The Cake Café until much later, we decided to do “Afternoon Tea @ Home” deliveries, where our customers could order online and have their afternoon tea with Prosecco cocktails delivered contactless to their doors.

This venture has proved hugely popular with customers with orders increasing every week. The Cake Café reopened on 30 June 30 and our customers are slowly trickling back in. SLICE is still running as a shop and deli and we hope to be back open for seating in some capacity in the near future.

If I have learnt anything through all of this, it’s that we all need to look after each other as much as possible. You just never know what life is going to throw at you, Covid-19 has really taught us that. So let’s all try and enjoy what we have right here, right now. And while you’re doing that, try these delicious pancakes for breakfast:

Recipe

Carrot and Walnut Pancakes

● 160g SPELT flour 

● 60g chopped walnuts 

● 2 teaspoons baking powder 

● 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 

● 1/4 teaspoon salt 

● 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg 

● 1⁄2 teaspoon of ground ginger 

● 50g brown sugar 

● 135ml Almond Milk 

● 1 tablespoon Sunflower Oil 

● 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 

● 2 tablespoons honey 

● 2 large free range eggs, lightly beaten 

● 135g Grated Carrots 

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Preparation 

1. Combine Spelt flour and the next 6 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk.

2. Combine brown sugar, almond milk, sunflower oil, vanilla, honey and eggs and whisk. Then combine the two mixtures

3. Fold in the carrots

4. Heat a large nonstick skillet over low heat. Coat pan with sunflower oil. Spoon mixture onto the pan to make three small pancakes (about 1 1⁄2 tablespoons each). Cook for 2 minutes or until the tops are covered with bubbles and edges look cooked. Carefully turn pancakes over; cook 1 minute or until bottoms are lightly browned.

5. Be patient as they take longer to cook than normal pancakes

6. Serve with stewed fruit or lemon curd and toasted walnuts.

Ray O’Neill owns and runs The Cake Cafe and SLICE in Dublin. 

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