Tuesday, October 27, 2009

First Attempt

Not bad at all; a little crusty, a little brown and the tin was too large for the dough. The dough rose well, the taste was great...and I got to bed at a reasonable hour too...all good.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Magic happens slowly

I have been making bread all week. Not lots and lots of bread, just one loaf. You see, I love food that talks to me, that responds, that carries some magic. Think ginger beer plants, elder fizz, kefir yoghurt and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Many years ago I shared a restaurant kitchen with an eccentric psychologist who made bread because he liked to. I would go in at 6am to bake cakes and begin breakfast and he would be there, before work, with his hubble bubble pot of starter, making the most delicious rye sour dough which he would return to bake at lunch time. During the summer, the starter would sometimes erupt out of its jar and glup its way down the shelves in the pantry. Late at night, when everything was quiet, it would quietly grumble away, keeping me company in the empty building.
Bakers keep their starters as guarded secrets between the chosen few. Sour dough is a bit of a mystery, more magic than science. Definitely time for me to try…
Five days ago I began: carefully measuring accurate quantities of unbleached white flour, whole meal and boiled rainwater cooled to 40 degrees centigrade. Each day the process was repeated, I’m not going to tell you the exact amounts because then I would have to kill you…
The optimum temperature to activate the starter was 28 degrees centigrade. Ha! (This recommended by an English cook - bet she had great central heating.) Of course, on day 2, winter returned and the temperature in the house hoveried around 14! After a couple of days, a couple of fires, the starter was beginning to show a few bubbles and beginning to smell a bit fruity…all good.
Today was baking day. Before breakfast I made the production leaven (I don’t remember this bit from before.) This needed to sit for 4 hours before making the bread. Okay, weigh and mix, go for a walk and come back to it. I have made a lot of bread over the years and I’m not convinced this is right, it looks dry and crumbly. I bravely added some more water and went off to have lunch.
Now the directions said add more water and more flour with a little salt. I add all white flour as I have concerns about the rye having not enough gluten. Suddenly I have something that looks like a lump of zebra. Knead, knead and knead again and its back to looking like bread dough. The extra water has softened it up and I am happier now that it pops up when I press it.
It’s off to its (don’t forget to oil it) tin to rise till double now. The recipe warns it could be five hours. Magic does happen, it just happens rather slowly. Now I have to figure out what happens to the rest of the starter and the lump of leaven in the fridge. The recipe doesn’t tell you, I’m sure she thinks you would have given up and thrown it in the chook bucket by now. The author said the recipe came from a friend of hers (!) I must remember that excuse next time someone complains one of my recipes didn’t turn out great.
In all this fun, I quite forgot that today was the day I try and discipline myself to write the blog. I asked Amita over lunch, what do you think I should write about this week? The bush fire? Drive out and take ghastly photos of devastated bush and moan about the lack of support for the local fire brigade volunteers? I looked over the benches, flour, dough, leftover starter and baking tins. No, I’ve got a better idea.
It could be a long night; I’ll let you know tomorrow how it turns out!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Show Day

The weather leapt into summer overnight, ignoring spring entirely. With two days until I was due to enter my produce in the local agricultural show it wasn’t the best time for extreme weather.
The day before it was already warm at 6.30 am when I discovered that the best stick of celery had begun to bolt overnight, the biggest red cabbage was looking a bit cooked and the coriander was now three foot tall and flowering and wouldn’t be any good for my display of culinary herbs. Thank goodness I only needed a minimum of six different herbs and had more vegetables to choose from. I bundled the second choices up and it all looked pretty good when I dropped it at the hall, primped, sprayed and hidden under a wet tea towel for the afternoon judging.
The day of the show was a scorcher. By noon all the fresh produce was limp, the milk had turned solid in its bottles and the iced cakes were looking sad. By four o’clock hot, tired show people and volunteers were beginning to pack up. Outside the office a long queue of people, wound across the grass. The happy, rowdy line up on the lawn was the final part of the show process. These people had acquired their show program as soon as it was available, studied the sections they wished to enter, visited the office the week before to register and pay an entry fee for each item they planned to enter, delivered their exhibits the day before and had just picked them up again. The pre planning in some cases had taken a whole year to produce the best blooms, most handsome chicken or best dressed pet. The red and blue cards they clutched as they waited showed that they were the successful ones, waiting in line to collect their winnings.
The people around me were a perfect microcosm of the day: teenagers from the photography class, retirees and their art works, young girls in jodhpurs, grannies with their preserves and men bantering about their veggies. Friends of many years, neighbours and complete strangers all waited patiently, dissecting the day and comparing prizes and how to spend them and congratulating each other in happy camaraderie.
As the line moved slowly in the hot afternoon sunshine I felt that to be with these people, in this community, was the real reward for our labour. And yes, I did win a couple of prizes – the cash will be used to buy vinegar to pickle all those cabbages!

Enjoy the weather,


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

So... I did!

Cleaning is my perfect antidote to long frustrating days wrestling with the computer. My attack on the pantry took two afternoons and a talking book and left me with two bags for the rubbish bin, the chickens with an interesting bucket of food and a box of preserves ready to donate to the local fire brigades next fund raiser.

I began with the spice rack that hangs on the back of my pantry door. I remembered a quote that I had heard: ‘Some of your spices are as old as your children…’ I tried to remember when I had last used or bought each one and ruthlessly threw out the rest, making a note on the next weeks shopping list to buy more. I then scrubbed the shelves with hot soapy water to which a little lemon scented gum essential oil had been added and replaced them all in alphabetical order. I know it sounds anal, but it makes life a lot easier when you are cooking.

Shelf by shelf, I followed a similar routine:

Clearing shelves one at a time, I checked for best by and expiry dates. My best find was brandy snap baskets purchased for Christmas 2004! I discarded any food that shows signs of insects: cobwebs, mouse poo, white dust or small holes in grains and packets. Please throw away any dried herbs that are no longer green or spices that have little aroma, they will add nothing to your cooking except the texture of sawdust!
With my squirrel mentality, each year shelves of preserves slowly take over my life and pantry. With stone fruit season hurtling towards us, it was definitely time to do some sorting. I discard any preserves that have changed colour at the top of the jar, have no label or whose contents are runny or leaking or jars where the lids are showing signs of rust. Decide how much you can logically consume and donate the rest to family, friends and charities. I don’t take a lot of notice of dates on jam and marmalade unless they look odd; the high sugar content prevents spoilage. We have happily eaten marmalade 3 or 4 years old with no ill effects. This doesn’t apply if you make preserves which are low in sugar.

In flour bins you can use a sprig of bay leaves to help repel weevils or tape to the lid of jars. If you have open packets, roll the tops down and clip with a peg or secure with a rubber band and place in a sealed box or container, labeled with its contents.
If you have ants, a 50/50 mixture of borax and icing sugar laid on a lid on their trail will kill them. I like to wipe down the shelves every now and then with a damp cloth with a few drops of eucalyptus, tea tree or lavender essential oil. Cockroaches don’t like this although you may need to place some contained baits if they become a problem. All insect and vermin problems are helped by ensuring that food is stored securely and spills are cleaned up. If they can’t find anything to eat, they won’t return.

When you reshelf, place the oldest food towards the front, so it gets used. Try eating from the pantry for a while before restocking and place new items at the back. If you put related items together in a way that makes sense to you and if you label those endless jars of jam and strange packets of flour as you buy or make them, you won’t overbuy or waste so much and everything will be easier to find.
It's back to the computer now for me, happy spring cleaning!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

I'd rather clean the pantry!

Twenty years ago, my teenage children pooled their resources to buy a Commodore 64 computer and we became a high tech family. We attached the lead to the control, plugged it in and turned it on. They were totally hooked from the first moment: eyes glazed, hands glued to the joystick, screeching at the screen and each other as the games got more exciting. One short session playing ‘tennis’ with its irritating electronic ‘pock, pock’, and I was over it - I have never been much of a sportsperson.
It was five years later I was dragged kicking and screaming to buy my first computer after Nerys, as always at least ten steps ahead of me as far as new technology was concerned, convinced me that I couldn’t live without one.
The new machine was delivered and the man from the shop drove seventy kilometers to show us how to set it up and drive it. It was all part of the service. This first computer was my friend and helper for seven years. We knew and liked each other and I didn't mind having my early morning coffees at the internet café.
With plans to go travelling, I finally decided to upgrade to a wireless enabled laptop. It was pushy, always wanting more: a decent keyboard, a hand held mouse, a wireless modem for the house, extra memory, a carry bag and someone stronger than me to carry it. We were never friends, maybe it was because I bought it from overseas and it didn’t understand English. Within two years everyone close to me, fed up with my computer dramas, was urging me to get rid of it.
I spotted an advertisement for a ‘future-proofed’ computer with a memory that number one son gently informed me was not called a tetra bite but a terra byte. (We were probably out of milk at the time!) This computer had it all, the shop was within walking distance and the credit card to hand.
That was three weeks ago, since then I have had: an unbelievably unhelpful dialog with the shop; a near divorce; gallons of Rescue Remedy; a trip to the city with the computer; sessions with a patient friend and his bottle of Bombay Sapphire, and another with my genius son. I have purchased blank DVD’s for back up, power boards and updated programs after being bullied by Microsoft. Today I have the internet working, the home network upgraded, the security is on, my files have been transferred, the printer and the camera have been installed and for the last two days I have been avoiding the office and cleaning out the pantry instead.
Now, with fingers crossed, shelves cleaned, I am ready to blog again. This machine has cost me a similar amount in dollars as my first; the cost to my sanity has been much higher. While I can appreciate all that it will (eventually) do, I want to know whatever happened to the simple life and that lovely man from the computer shop?