Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sourdough bread

We have made sourdough bread on and off for years, but for the last year or so I have made it quite regularly most weeks.
Here is our trusted sourdough bread recipe. It makes two 500g loaves.

The first thing you have to do is make a  sourdough starter. It takes a few days and is quite time consuming,  but once you have the starter it's always there ready for you to use. If you look after it it will last for ages. Like I said, mine is at least a year old.

Whilst writing this blog I did some reading up about sourdough.

Sourdough bread is made by the fermentation of dough using naturally-occurring lactobacilli and yeast. Sourdough bread has a mildly sour taste not present in most breads made with baker's yeast and better inherent keeping qualities than other breads, due to the lactic acid produced by the lactobacilli.
Sourdough bread is traditionally made with Rye flour, which contains relatively little gluten and therefore doesn't rise well with yeast alone.
Sourdough is teeming with bugs—some 50 million yeasts and 5 billion lactobacilli bacteria in every teaspoon of starter dough.

These two websites will tell you a bit more if you are interested.

You keep the starter in a clean airtight container where it lives in a semi-dormant state -  only to be revived when you take it out into the warmth and feed it (with flour).
If you make bread regularly, that will be enough to keep it going. If you don't bake regularly, you should remember to feed your sleepy starter once a week. A teaspoon full of sugar per week is enough.

As the recipe suggests you take a cup full of the starter out of the fridge the night before you want to bake, add warm water and bread flour and leave it covered in a warm place.
For this stage I tend to use white strong bread flour as I find it keeps the starter smooth and consistent.

During the night the yeast and lactobacilli come to life and get moving. By morning the mix should have formed bubbles like this.

Then you add the remaining ingredients.
At this stage I like to dabble with different flours. In addition to the white flour I like to use rye flour. It's more expensive than wheat flour, but adds taste and texture. I have also tried wholemeal flour and spelt flour, and I like to add some seeds.
Be aware though that different flours may react slightly differently. Wholemeal flour, for example, seems to absorb more water and can make the dough dry.
Bear in mind that you can always add more flour, but it's difficult to add more water to an already formed dough. So keep some flour aside to add as necessary, rather than dump it all in.

Knead the dough until it is elastic but not sticky. If it's sticky, sprinkle more flour onto the work surface to knead in.
I have never used a mixer and always knead my bread by hand.

When the dough is ready, place it in a bowl, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place to rise.

It should double in size ...

When the dough has risen, cut in into two halves to form into two loaves. There should be air pockets formed within the dough.

Shape the loaves, cutting slashes across the top and leave to rise until doubled in size again.

Then bake at gas mark 5/ 375 F/ 190 C for approximately 50 minutes or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped at the bottom.
I like my crust hard, so I brush the loaves with salt and/or honey water every 10 minutes or so whilst baking.
The loaves are flat, but tasty. Best with just butter I think.

And please share your own thoughts, recipes and experiences.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Iris (Book Review)

This is the first time I write a book review.

At the beginning of the year I realised that I have completely gotten out of the habit of reading books. I used to read all the time, and - if I had found a book that really grabbed me - could be spotted reading whilst knitting or even cooking.

So why have I stopped?
I expect lack of time has something to do with it. But mostly I blame social media.

So I decided to make it a daily practice to set time aside for reading.

The first book I picked up was "Iris", an biography about Dame Iris Murdock by her husband John Bayley.
I vaguely remember watching the film with Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent and Kate Winslet, and quite enjoying it.

It took me a while to get into the book, perhaps because I am out of the habit.
I came close to giving up, but persevered, perhaps because I didn't want to give up my new reading venture yet.

Perhaps the truth is that I like to find at least one character in a novel I can identify and journey with.

I found no such character in "Iris". This somewhat eccentric couple of academics in the literary world of 1950s Oxford seemed really quite alien and far removed.

More interesting to me was how Iris changed with her advancing Alzheimers. Perhaps all the more because she had been such a brilliant mind.
And I guess I needed to know the young Iris to understand how the dementia changed her...

I'm not sure if I would recommend the book, but perhaps I should try reading one of Iris' many novels one day?

But for now, what should I read next? Answer on a postcard...

Sunday, January 3, 2016

"Why do you believe [in God]?"

"Why do you believe?" - That was the question I was asked early on Sunday morning and I have been mulling it over for the last 8 hours.

Why do I believe in God?
I suppose the simplest answer is because I have believed in God for as long as I can remember and I cannot imagine not believing in God.
Those who know me, know that I am not adversed to questioning and scrutinising religious teaching, scripture and authority. I do it all the time. It's my questions, my doubts and my criticisms which shape my faith.
But never, not in my darkest moments or times of doubt have I not believed in God.God simply is part of my life.

In my mind seeking God is deeply ingrained into the human psyche, whether we are religious or not, or believe in God or not. Perhaps we call that seeking by different names.
I know that I can only speak from my own perception and experience, so forgive me if I do, but I sometimes wonder how atheists can deny that God-shaped hole in their lives. The only way I can imagine it being denied is, well, by denial.
(I am sure many of my atheist friends will disagree. And that's okay. I'll probably hear about it.) :)

To any who at this stage feel inclined to say "So you believe in God. That's fine ... but which of the thousands of G/gods out there??" I would reply that I don't think it matters all that much. Religions are simply human attempts to put the concept of God into human words.
Different religions seem to emphasize different attributes of G/god(s) and at the same time share many similarities.
But outside of all those human concepts G/god(s) does exist or not. Regardless of what we believe about him/her/them (or not).

Why then am I a Christian?
I am sure much is to do with culture and familiarity. If I was born in Afghanistan I'd be more likely a Muslim, if in India a Hindu. It just so happens that I was born in Europe into a Roman Catholic family.

I think my criticism of Christian doctrine may put me on the periphery of Christianity. I quite like the words of Richard Rohr who calls it "being on the edge of the inside". That sounds like a good place to me!
Occasionally people have said to me that I am deist, not a Christian.
I disagree.
Despite being on the edge of the inside, I feel quite firmly part of the Christian faith. Perhaps it's the person of Jesus that keeps me there. Jesus, who said "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father" and "I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you" leaves me believing that his teachings, words and example are worth reading, mulling over and putting into practice.

By that I don't mean blindly following what others tell me. Quite the contrary. It requires me to dig deep and search for myself what it means to "be like Jesus" in this world here and now, wherever I go and whoever I meet.
I know how Jesus' teachings fitted into first century Palestine because the gospel writers left their records.
And I know from Paul's letters how he felt it should be applied as he travelled to other countries and engaged with other cultures.

One of the beauties of the Christin faith is that we believe that we are all flawed and prone to make mistakes. And that gives me the right, or even the responsibility, to scrutinise what others think and say about my faith. And to discern for myself whether they are right or wrong.
The gospel writers and Paul are not here to live according to Jesus' teachings in secular Britain in the 21st century. But I am!

So yes, I do believe that one day I will meet God and that I will account for the things I said (and didn't say) and that things I did (and didn't do), as well as my thoughts and attitudes towards others.
And it won't do any good to say "I did these things because my pastor or vicar or imam or guru or teacher or parent or husband etc told me so".
It will be down to me, and me alone.

Will I always be a Christian? It may be arrogant to claim that I will, although I cannot imagine ever not to be.
But wherever my faith journey takes me, I don't think I can ever be an atheist and not believe that God is here.

There you have it, @hellboy2112. I don't know if it answered your question, but it has passed a rainy Sunday.
Much love. :)

Saturday, January 2, 2016

2015 The Recap

I know, I know. 2015 is so LAST YEAR!
But before 2016 really gets going, it's not such a bad idea to have a brief look at what the last year had to offer.

2015 was, all in all, not a bad year.

It started with the birth of the #ToriesMustGo beanie - born out of the desire to see the back of the Tory party in government, inspired by a Twitter hashtag and thought up by @SkelMawhrin who still valiantly wears it in his Twitter avi. The free pattern is available on Ravelry.

Sadly the message that #ToriesMustGo did not spread far and wide enough as the general election in May was to prove.
So 2015 became the year in which I became a member of the Labour party and emailed all undecided Labour MPs in June, urging them to nominate Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership contest. And (by the skin of their teeth) they did. :)

In July I joined some marching buddies at the Durham Miner's Gala. Definitely an experience and hoping to join again this year.

Crowds, much laughter and even more drinking...

Oh yes, and political speeches ...

More political action in October, when I joined Walking the Breadline and a group of Scousers in their march from Liverpool to Manchester to the Tory Conference.
We held up some traffic and shouted until we were hoarse.

I also had the opportunity to meet up with @davegore2005 and @VonGrime, two of my fave Twitter friends. A bit exciting and a huge pleasure to meet you guys for the first time.

2015 was also the year our youngest left home to go to university.

That gave hubby and me the opportunity to remind ourselves what it is like to be (just) a couple again.
We spent much time cycling and under floorboards together and found out that we indeed still like each other's company. Bonus!

2015 was the year we raised chicks from eggs and I finally started to take the allotment more seriously.

So all in all a productive year and a joyful one.

I have so much to be grateful for. So many friends, acquaintances and loved ones. So many interests, hobbies and areas I can learn more about and develop further.

Possibly one of my greatest joys is to create and make new things, to develop new ideas and let them grow.
So I am looking forward to doing more of that in the future.

Thank you to all of you who are my friends. For your support, honesty and inspiration. I would be a far lesser person without you.
I hope you'll stick around in 2016. x

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween/Samhain/All Hallows Eve

Today is my birthday.
It is also the day when children wear costumes and come knocking on your door trick-and-treating.
And also Samhain, the time when pagans believe the veil between the world of the living and the dead to be at it's thinnest.

I was born and grew up in Germany, long before the curious tradition of Trick-and-treating came over from the US. And living in a Catholic family I knew nothing about Samhain either. So the 31st of October was just another day. Which also happened to be my birthday.
The day after, the 1st November, however was a special day. All Saints Day, a holiday in the Catholic calendar.
As I got older, having a day off on the day after your birthday party became a distinct advantage. ;)

However, having a day off school didn't mean lazing around in bed. It meant spending the better part of the day traipsing across church yards to visit the graves of dead relatives. Not so much fun when you are a kid ... but an opportunity to hear old stories and to learn about people I had never had the chance to meet.

Looking at the present season with the shortening of the daylight, the dying down of vegetation and falling of the leaves; with the temperature dropping and the wildlife getting ready for the winter ahead; it's no wonder that our ancestors turned towards pondering life and death and their own mortality at this particular time of year.
And perhaps it's right that we should do so too.

I don't visit graveyards anymore. But I like to think about those who have gone before me. Those who have made me and shaped me. Those who helped me become who I am today. Those who didn't always get it right, but tried their best. Those who gave me everything and I owe them so much. Those who helped shape the world and society I live in now. Those who created, invented and discovered all the things we now take for granted.
And I ponder if in even a tiny way I may be able to shape and contribute to life in a positive way too.

So forgive me if I don't celebrate Halloween. If you come knocking on my door, you won't get any sweets. I won't even open it.
That's partly because Halloween just isn't a part of me. But also because I dislike the hype and consumerism attached to it. And because to me it teaches our children that you get nice things by threating to do bad things in turn. For me it's no more than Consumerism-meets-blackmail.

So forgive this grumpy old woman for not opening her door. It's her birthday!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Winter is coming

One thing I love about having an allotment is how close it brings me to the seasons.
Yes, I know that I live in a country where I can buy fresh produce - even out of season - virtually any time... But my allotment tells me otherwise.

I love the urgency and business which this time of year brings.
Yes, at the moment I am still picking a small but steady amount of autumn raspberries. The apple tree is still laden with apples and a lot of plants are still in the ground.

But as the squirrels - who have been burying my broad bean seeds up and down the plot for weeks - know, winter is not far off.

In this part of the country frosts aren't really expected until November. But even then, November is only a couple of weeks away.
Once the frost arrives, the raspberries will stop fruiting, the apples will drop and - apart from the hardy winter vegetables such as cabbages and leeks - all produce will need to be protected somehow - either covered or picked and stored.

Winter is getting nearer.

I love the mix of having to busily plan the final jobs (picking and storing the beetroot, harvesting the apples, taking down the runner beans, processing the last tomatoes etc) and at the same time knowing that a time of quiet and rest is coming, and looking forward to it.

Winter also means shutting off the shed, letting the allotment rest, curling up in front of the fire with a freshly baked apple crumble and a blackberry wine. And perhaps next year's seed catalogue.

Winter is coming. ENJOY!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Walking The Breadline - JSA (2)

Over the last few days I heard some shocking stories. 
Stories from unemployed people who have to work 4-6 weeks at a time in Work Placements - not for pay but for continued Job Seekers Allowance. 
The reasons given are that the work placement will "provide valuable experience which will look good on the CV"  and that "it *might* lead to a proper paid job". But the paid job never comes. Instead the "trainee" is sent back to the job centre and a new "trainee" is brought in... 

Essentially this creates a work force on extremely low "pay" which is not even paid by the employer but the tax payer, and the employers gets a work force for no cost to themselves. 

That's madness! It's grossly unfair. How can we possibly allow this to happen?