Saturday, 8 March 2014

A Baking Saturday

It's been a weekend of baking!  It started with a first attempt at a Zendala which is a fusion of Zentangle patterns and mandalas.  What doesn't show up so well in the picture is the light glitter from the gell roll pens I used to give the whole thing some colour.  I like the usual black and white but wanted to jolly this one up a bit.  Because it's spring :) Nearly.
Then I tried this.  It's another recipe from one of the birthday gift baking books and it's made with WINE.  Quite a lot of wine :).  The basic cake was easy to make and the scent of ground cardamoms, lemons, oranges and wine wafting from the oven was very lovely.  The recipe then calls for a syrup to be made and drizzled over the cake to be absorbed but this didn't work.  In fact I think it spoiled what had been a real winner.
That didn't stop the cake being devoured.  While it was still warm this Bad Thing happened!  If you want to try, it's from the Hairy Bikers Big Book of Baking and (without the syrup) is bloomin' lovely.  I predict this will be taken to many girlfriends houses, nom nom.
The bread experiments continued too as I had another go at using the banneton.  I make this bread differently each time, mixing recipes, techniques and rise times.  This is what I took out of the fridge this morning.  This beastie had been in its basket in the fridge overnight, quietly rising.
And this splat is what it looked like after I'd turning it out of its basket.  I added the slashes to the top and put it into a hot oven immediately.  That's where I went wrong.  I should have given the splat an extra hour rise again and look like a proper loaf but I forgot. 
Then I waited.  Did you know bread "sings"?  When loaves are taken out of the oven, if they have a good crust as it cools down it makes little splitty, cracky, creaky sounds.  This is called singing.

And this one sang it's head off.  And despite being denied its full rising time, tasted gorgeous.  This is becoming my favourite part of the weekend, when I wake up early and sneak downstairs to bake the bread during the quiet, still time of the morning, snuggled up in big goonie working my way through a pot of coffee, listening to my bread singing and waiting for the rest of the house to wake up.
We decided we needed some muffins for after lunch.  Acting on the boys advice, I adapted the thermomix recipe I posted a couple of weeks ago and made a marshmallow and choc chip version.  I've made this basic recipe many times now and these can be knocked together and put in the oven within 15 mins so it's super quick.  There weren't many left to take a picture of so they all got pushed together to look like lots.
There are soooo many recipes to be tried and eaten.  All my recipe books have bits of paper hanging out of them where ideas have been marked, ready to be tested "when there's time"  but I'm realising that special time is never going to magically appear so I'd better just get on with it.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Fougasse Night!

There is something wrong with our TV.  It has football on it.  So I spent a lovely time having a go at one of the recipes in my new bread book. It's "Dough" by Richard Bertinet who has his bakery and runs classes in nearby Bath.

Here's the recipe.  In the opening pages he describes (with pics) how to slap and thump the basic dough.  There's also a very useful DVD with the book and you can see it thanks to you tube here.
I found slapping and thumping the basic dough a bit of a faff in comparison with my earlier breads made using James' Morton's Brilliant Bread book where you weigh out 4 things, mix them up and stick it all in the fridge overnight.  It took a good 20 mins of thwumping to get my dough looking like Richard's and the violence of the activity moved the kitchen table halfway across the kitchen.  Once it was made and rested for 1 hour and the table had been restored to its usual position, I shaped the dough like in the book.  Sort of.
 I made half the quantity of the recipe so had three lumps of dough to shape.
 You're supposed to slide the shape onto a pre-heated tray in the oven, and mist inside the oven with a water spray.  When I slid my dough onto the tray it lost it's shape and went wonky but I think it has a bready charm.  I didn't have a water spray so I threw a quarter cup of water onto the floor of the oven.  Seemed to work.  
My second and third attempts were more successful.  With these I didn't slide onto the heated tray, I placed the metal tray I'd shaped the dough on straight onto the heated tray in the oven.  One thing worth saying is that although I said the slapping of the dough took a while, it was absolutely worth it because this is the nicest bread I've made.  If I'd bought one of these from a bakery I'd be really happy with it!  However, as Himself pointed out, they're not going to make very good sandwiches.  

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The Mutton Years

There was no blogging over the weekend due to birthday japes, curry and cake, coffee in bed and lazy times. With another year in the bag  I fear I have entered the Mutton Years.  That short skirt which seemed socially acceptable at 6.45 in the morning is not by 11.30. Now I am aware that I have reached a certain age, I shall make the most of my short skirts and wear them with defiant abandon - as long as my knees hold out.  Speaking of knees, the couch to 5K running programme is entering it's final fortnight with 3 runs per week of 25 mins and no walking or stopping.  None.  Just running. On the plus side, nothing hurts at the moment and I get to run past loads of snowdrops.

In addition to loads of lovely books, I received some wicker bannetons to help my bread making.  They support the dough as it rises and create the nice circles you see on artisan bread.

The finished loaf below with its circles and my clumsy cuts.  Next time I'll cut in a square shape round the top.  (You make cuts to allow the dough to open in a controlled way rather than just splitting.   There are other reasons too but I can't remember them.)
Another birthday gift was a jar of home made marmalade which is becoming a bit of an annual ritual and I don't know what I'll do if my friend gets bored with her Seville orange based activities each January!
On the creative front I've been planning what I'll get the girls to make when I'm hosting our crafting day in a few weeks.  I've been experimenting with some back to basics crafting, using minimal tools, paints, cards, papers, stamps etc.  Below are shabby chic flowers and leaves made without using scissors.  It's brown paper torn from one of my birthday delivery boxes, some pages from a 50p charity shop book, a white pencil and some buttons and string.
I like the effect and will use them to make a scrapbook cover.
Finally, THIS is a brilliant thing!  It's a puffy spritzer puff I got here.
It's great for using with felt pens or any marker pens you may have.  You push the pen in, lock it in place by turning the little screw, squeeze the bubble and....
Voila!  A nicely controlled spray of colour which isn't so wet it mushes up your paper.  Genius!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Home Made Happy Face Cream

Some weeks ago in dark and dismal January a few of us girls (hah!!) at work got chatting about our hobbies and discovered that we are each gifted geniuses.  So we put some Saturday dates in our diaries to go to the home of that month's hostess, drink her tea and coffee, eat her food and learn her craft thing.  The first of these creative dates was yesterday and was a massive success :) Not only did we have a splendid lunch with contributions from all, we also learned how to make lip balms, body oils and the BIG revelation - face cream.  The recipe was similar to this one from the school of natural skincare.  We just used some different base and essential oils but the method is the same.  Some of our ingredients...

I didn't know just how gorgeous Papyrus oil is.  It's the sort of scent you only need to catch a waft of and it gives you an "oh that's all alright then" feeling and it seemed to complement everything we put it with.  Our host had brought some back from a holiday in Egypt and it's tricky to find in the UK but I found one online site, Hermitage Oils.  On the "ouch-how-much!?!" scale it scores an eeek but we only used 10 drops for about 90gms of cream which gave each of us a 30gm pot to take away with us and the delicious  scent had us ooohing and ahhhing all afternoon.  The texture is softy, creamy, silky, creamy, softy, yummmm (you get the idea) and melts into your skin without leaving a filmy residue or feeling greasy.  I'll have to stop re-applying it or at this rate my pot will vanish in days.
And at the end of the session we had made all this...we will be very, very beautiful on Monday.  
And the Couch to 5 K programme continues.  This run was the first of 3 for Week 6 and the sun shone so it was worth taking some pics during the walking sections.  Himself came with me as he always does if he's home and even though he can walk faster than I can run, it's good to have company :)
There's a lane we run down where the field alongside is starting to fill with the songs of skylarks looking for nesting sights and fighting for territory.  That's how we know spring is on the way.
And when I've completed the current programme, I plan to do a 5K to 10K programme and run over the hills and far away.
 Zentangling is still proving to be a very rewarding, restful thing and this week I've mostly focussed on practicing the patterns but this tile captures some new ones learned this week.  I really like the one that looks like netting, it's quick, airy and useful for filling a space when you've got to hurry up and do something grown up and boring.  Like ironing.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Hearts and Thermomix Strawberry Muffins Recipe

Valentines' Day.  A day for romance.  One day out of the whole year?? Nah!  Since moving into the Country House with Himself I've been making "moments".  Dimming lights, lighting candles and popping the scented oil burner in the kitchen window. It's just an excuse to make sure we spend time together which was the whole point of me moving in.  So I make small packages of time - away from work, away from all the decorating projects we still have to do and away from checking weather updates (me) and football results (him) on our phones.  

My Valentines Day gift to Himself was a zentangle inspired little drawing which I put in a frame...I'll show you later.

The bread practice continued with the lovely James' Morton's no knead whole meal loaf.  Usually I shape and plop on a baking sheet and put in the oven.  This is pure laziness and means I don't have to wash up a tin afterwards but this time I decided I'd ask Himself to wash up so it went in a tin :)

And ta dah!  
While the bread was cooling down we went for a run in actual sunshine.  This is the first we've seen of blue sky for several days.  I had time during my warm up walk to take this pic heading out of the village past the tiny, tiny toll house on the left.  Himself says in Olden Days there would have been gated access at this toll house to the main street with various charges depending on whether you were driving a herd of geese or riding a donkey.  
So, I had some strawberries and the now compulsory cupboard ingredient for muffins - white choc chips.  I also had a very reliable Thermomix recipe for muffins which brilliantly gives the basic recipe and at the end says just add 150gms of whatever flavoured ingredients you want.  This is my kind of recipe because although I mess around with savoury recipes all the time, I never do with baking recipes.  Time to change that....
How gorgeous do those colours look !
And the end result...well there are supposed to be 12 but I had to check a couple before taking the photo so I knew I could tell you they were ok.  And yes, they are very ok!
The recipe is below and was adapted by Pam Sihota from Australia who converted it for the Thermomix. (There's no reason you couldn't mix everything by hand I'm just lazy and trying to get more use out of my Thermomix

for 12 muffins

- 220 g Self-Raising Flour
- 90 g Vegetable Oil
- 130 g Buttermilk or Plain Milk
- 170 g Caster Sugar
- 1 Egg, lightly beaten
- 1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
- 150 g added Flavours, e.g. raspberry & white choc chip, banana, grated apple
How to prepare Thermomix Muffins
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Prepare muffin tins (lightly butter/oil or place muffin cases).
Placed all ingredients into TM bowl. Mix for 20 Sec. on Speed 4.
Add flavourings. Mix in Reverse. 20-30 Sec. Speed 1.
Place in tins and bake for 15-20 Min. or until lightly browned.

Finally, I think the gift went down well because it's been placed on the mantelpiece.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Still raining...

The rain continues to fall and although the Country House is (mostly) watertight the journey to work along flooded country lanes gets more interesting each day.  Will I get through the Big Dip...  will I make it past the Plain of Puddles?
And the wet weather keeps us all indoors, so this week I've continued to focus on Zentangling with the aid of a very good book.  One Zentangle A Day teaches you three designs each day which you then have to use in a tile.  As you work through the book it introduces you to using shadow, shading and other things to add depth to your patterns and make them pop.  
I had my doubts about needing a book to teach me how to "doodle" but there is more to it than I thought and I can see an improvement in what I'm producing now.  It's flowing more easily.

So all that had helped with a birthday present for someone.  I won't say anymore in case they read this before I see them tomorrow !!  It's caused artistic differences between me and Himself because he doesn't think much of it and that made me doubt it.  But a straw poll at work (ie asking one other person!) restored my faith and so it's framed and ready to be given.  I just have to hope Himself is wrong!
For a change I thought I'd try drawing on a stone too...
 Since this was just a practice I drew straight onto the was very gritty and wore out my pen nib :(

So I'm getting two stones ready for next week by coating them first in some gesso I found in the back of a you do.
There was a lot of baking done this Sunday too, the Little One made some cakes form a school recipe. They were such a success I didn't get a chance to photograph them!  And I had another try at one of James Morton's loaves from his book Brilliant Bread.  For this loaf I left it to prove overnight in the fridge.  Next morning we had it for breakfast and although it's still a bit dense, the taste was great, in fact...brilliant!  This may become a regular thing!
The best breakfast ever, nom nom!

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Three Ships and an Abbey

Our few days away at a hotel with a spa and a gym had been booked up for ages.  After the house move, Christmas, the return to work and life in general we both felt we had deserved it.  I'd like to say I exercised more than I ate.  But I didn't.  Why is it you eat far more of a hotel breakfast than you ever do in real life?!
Time to do more running (or paddling - after all the rain) down the lanes surrounding our village...(starting week 5 of Couch to 5K programme soon.)
 Before we left I picked the chillies from our plant and left them to dry out on the window sill.  I read somewhere cutting them will encourage more to grow and we do use a lot of chillies :)
I hope it works because the plant adds a splash of bright bold colour into the weak winter daylight in the kitchen and cheers the place up.
Then we were off, past some rocks on our way to the south coast...

 Stopping only for a beer and a crossword...
 Day 2 we went to the Portsmouth Historic Docks to buy a family ticket and check it out ahead of a visit later in the year with the boys.  I didn't know what to expect, I'm not massively interested in ships, docks, weavils and that sort of thing but it was a great day out!  We got to wander about the very neat and impressive HMS Warrior which is important for reasons, but I can't remember. Might be the hull.  
 Here she is with the Spinnaker tower in the background on a very overcast day. We were trying to scoot round quickly before the rain started but it turned out to be too good to rush.
 And this is HMS Victory, famous for being Nelson's ship during the Battle of Trafalgar and the place where he was shot and died 3 hours later but only once he knew the battle had been won.  Stirring stuff!
 And below (both below here and below decks) is the inside of the ship.  The photos aren;t great because it was very dark and it's a guided tour so there's little time to take pictures and you're not allowed to use a flash.  Suffice to say it's all very atmospheric and impressive and cramped.  What a life, I'm glad I wasn't a sailor.
The visit included the Mary Rose, Henry VIII's flagship which sank during the battle of the Solent in 154...something and was raised from the seabed a few years ago.  No pictures of that because it was beyond the ability of my camera but well worth a visit of you get the chance.
We tootled back via country roads and passed through a place neither of us had been before, Romsey.  I had a feeling Romsey was famous for an Abbey so we parked up behind some houses and walked into town. This must be a very pretty place but the river was only just contained in its banks following the rain and flooding we've been enjoying this year :(  You can see below the water can only just flow under the small bridge.
 The abbey was lovely, as was the cake we shared at a coffee shop for lunch.
 And on the way home, we had to take our chances on a badly flooded bridge.  We made it though!
 While we were away I had my drawing things and continued my Zentangle exploration.  It's becoming quite addictive.
 One completed tile...
 And another...
A busy week coming up.  Not sure how much drawing will get done.