Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Flour and Water

If you have ever attempted to make sourdough bread you will understand my disproportionate excitement at having baked this beautiful loaf.
Even golden dome, crisp exterior, nicely aerated interior, moist without being soggy.... and dangerously moreish toasted with jam for breakfast. 

My first attempt at sourdough a few months back was met with bright-eyed, greedy appreciation, and devoured with smacking lips... by Joan the pig! 
With hindsight, I had been a little impatient and approximate in my approach. Slapdash and sourdough do not make good bed-fellows.

So when I spotted the opportunity to join a sourdough workshop, run by Chris Brennan from the fabulous Pump Street Bakery, I’d booked my place before you could say ‘knead’. Chris is a self-taught baker who has spent years perfecting his craft. Who else would take their sourdough starter on holiday with them?  I say workshop, but it was more like a cross between a chemistry lesson and an episode of ‘Supernanny’. Just substitute ‘sourdough starter’ for ‘wilful toddler’. 
For many of the anxious faces present, it was a chance to find out where our parenting skills had gone wrong. By the end of the session we had each fostered a small pot of ‘starter’ and ten pages of instructions.

Just a tip... if you’re planning to make sourdough bread, do book a week off work so you can stick rigidly to the timetable. (....fortunate for those of us work at home).
Initial twenty-four hour feedings at room temperature can easily be accommodated, but then throw in 6 hours here and a ‘fold after 50 mins’ there and you can soon find a whole weekend’s activities having to be rearranged.

By page five I was running round the house with my greenhouse thermometer looking for  a nook that was 28 degrees. Boiler room? on top of the fridge? heated towel rail? No.

Airing cupboard? Perfect. 

Smug, I then realised I didn’t have a ‘bannetone’ to prove the loaf in. 
A basket would have to do; there’s one on the front of my bicycle, or the one the cat sleeps in.... keep looking!
Finally, with my loaf balanced on top of a pile of clean linen in the airing cupboard, 
there was just time to scrub the glass panel in my oven door.... after all there’s nothing like actually watching your loaf cross the finishing line!

So, what’s the big deal about sourdough? 
Come round for breakfast and you’ll see, but just give me plenty of warning! 

Or pick up a loaf at your Farmer’s market and happily pay the price tag in the knowledge that as well as flour and water it might contain blood, sweat and tears! 

Monday, October 21, 2013

I've got that Monday morning feeling

I felt a flicker of resignation this morning, a kind of melancholy as I scuffed through a layer of fallen leaves on the way to let the chickens out. 

The air was damp, oppressive, like a mantle of decay settling over the garden. Banished was the capricious spontaneity of September, when summer temperatures could still be found shuffled, like a grinning joker, into a pack of fresher autumnal days. 

I rescued some dew laden chrysanthemums that were bent to the ground.
They’ve been sat on my desk all day, kindly drawing me into their restorative beauty.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Blue Hill Farm

A few weeks ago I was commissioned by the brilliant Blue Hill Farm 
to paint some tasty vegetables for their innovative range of yogurts..

...yes, VEG!

The stunning designs by Aptone feature my jewel coloured watercolours and hand drawn lettering. 

For the latter, it was a good chance to get out my chinese ink and worn out brushes.

And when you peel the lid off... the yogurts look good enough to paint with too!

Photos courtesy of Cup of Jo... do take a look at Joanna Goddard's blog where she has beautifully captured the flavour of the official yogurt launch!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival... again, it's addictive!

"Aldeburgh may not be the biggest food festival in the world, but it is undoubtedly the most intimate, friendly and warm." Lucas Hollweg

Once again the fabulous Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival last weekend was favoured with blue skies and bright sunshine. Apart from being a showcase for local food producers, of which the diversity is astounding... shoulder of goat, eccles cake, hedgerow cordial anyone? ...there was a whole programme of lectures and workshops for the unashamed foodie. 

With my own pig fattening up nicely back home, how could I resist trying my hand at sausage making?

The lovely Ian and Sue from Lane Farm got a dozen of us eager novices straight on with the job, from kneading salt and spices into freshly minced pork, to deftly twisting our plump filled casings into garlands of “threes”. 

And didn’t we feel chuffed with the results!

Later on as the coastal breeze tugged at her auburn curls and teased her floral hemline, Vivia the Wild Food Forager took a group on a gentle walk beside the reed beds. She enlightened us as to the edible potential of our surroundings.
Fascinating as it was, I think my family were grateful that I came home with pork sausages for dinner rather than bulrush pollen and mallow seeds.
Cider tasting was undoubtedly the perfect way to round off the day. Henry Chevallier Guild spoke with the eloquence and authority that goes hand in hand with a) precision trimmed sideburns and b) the running of a family firm that has been producing premium cider since 1728. 
Explaining how the making of Aspall Cyder elevates it to the same level as a good glass of wine Henry had the advantage that after we’d tasted half a dozen varities, anything he said would have been utterly believable. The proof of the pudding, however, is that I’m already planning what to cook at the weekend to complement a nice bottle of “Harry Sparrow”.

P.S. And I haven’t even mentioned sourdough... oh no... I'll blog about that when I have assimilated ten pages of detailed instruction!