Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Posh bread without the fuss!

For years now I've been trying to master the perfect loaf of bread. A loaf that rises beautifully with little effort and continues to do so during the process of cooking. Occasionally I've been lucky and made something which I consider resembles bread and is deliciously edible, mostly though, if I'm being honest, I create 'house bricks'. I genuinely believe that I could have built a house of sorts out of all those reject hard offerings.
Why don't you just buy a bread maker? I hear you say. Well I do have one, and it does make a good loaf, or would if I didn't insist on always being creative and jeopardising things there too!! Bread makers are good and I do use mine occasionally but there is something to be said about nurturing your loaf yourself. It takes time and attention like all good things.
Anyway, recently I have discovered a loaf that really does seem to work every time, even with a bit of creative input ;-) and it produces rather a posh looking, tasty loaf without very much effort at all.
So I thought I'd share my new found success story with you:-

Makes one delicious artisan loaf


3 cups of flour (I use strong white bread flour but have experimented with 50/50 brown and white and it still seems to work)

1 1/2 cups tepid water

1/2 tsp yeast

Pinch of salt

That's it!

Pop it all into a large mixing bowl, give it a rough stir (not too much attention needed) and cover and leave for 12-18 hours. Cling film works best as it keeps the moisture and heat in the bowl. I've started to prep this after dinner, then leave it over night and cook it in the morning ready for lunch.
The mixture looks dry initially and one questions whether there is enough water added but after the 12+ hours you are not greeted with a dry mixture (oh no) but a frothy moist bowl of bubbilness. The next step is easy. Preheat your over to about 150 degrees C, sprinkle a little flour on top of the mixture and literally scoop it out of the bowl and roughly shape it as you do so. I really don't do much here. Cover your loaf with foil (roughly, it's just to stop the top burning) and pop into the oven for 15 minutes. After this time turn the oven up to 180 degrees C and cook for a further 10-15 minutes until the top looks lightly browned and it smells delicious. The smell is a good indication of readiness :-)

Variations:- You could add some seeds to your initial mixture or roll your uncooked loaf in poppy seeds etc I was also thinking it might be good with garlic and rosemary or sun dried tomatoes....mmmmm food for thought. Do let me know how you get on XXXXXX

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

A feast in the wild

Our ancestors have been feasting on wild foods for the whole history of time, it has just been the past hundred years or so through the invention of the supermarket or convenience stores that many of us are now out of touch with nature and fending for ourselves. Most of us (if we are honest), have no idea of the origin of the everyday things that we consume to nourish our deepest being. No longer are we able to identify the things that will feed us nor those that will poison.
I've been foraging for about ten years now. It started with familiar blackberries and rose hips from the hedgerow but has developed into knowledge of many of our native plants throughout the year. If you know what you're looking for there is a whole feast to be had and all for free!

It's exciting to discover a new edible plant and new ways in which to use it, and it becomes quite an interesting topic of conversation when something thought of as a 'weed' is served up to friends.

I've come quite a long way since my stinging nettle fritters that (let's say)....left an interesting 'tickling' sensation in the throat as they slipped down....hehe!!

So today a lovely friend of mine organised a walk with a sweet and knowledgeable chap who runs a stall on the Stroud Farmers market. He sells his foraged finds and offers advice on discovering nature's bounty of delights.
So I enthusiastically joined the clan with my four (my niece included) less enthusiastic children for a walk around Stroud and three hours of priceless knowledge.
Of course I had the usual moans and groans at the prospect of three hours of doing 'weird' stuff. They love it really my children. They do complain at the thought but when you actually get them out into nature's playground they thoroughly enjoy the elements and all that the divine power has provided for them. It was more exciting following a different and unfamiliar route on unknown territory. Lots of new things to see and discover.


The key to enjoyment is to 'be prepared'.  I do remember one thing from my Girl Guiding days!! So warm coats, old clothes and wellies are just the ticket, along with drinks and snacks for famished growing bodies of course.
I had the usual 'I'm not eating that, a dog might have weed on it...or a hedgehog....or an ant!!' 'Lead by example' I say and just don't think about it. Having said that, obviously don't eat things growing around a lamp post or on serious dog fouling ground. You just have to use your head really.
There are so many things to learn, so much to digest (quite literally) that it really can be quite confusing. My advice is to learn a few new plants a year to add to your repertoire...that way the confusion lessens and just as you're becoming familiar and very sure of one set of plants it's time to familiarise yourself with another lot.

Today I learnt that you can eat daises. I knew you could eat dandelions (flowers and leaves) but never gave daisies a thought. Mmmmmm they are delicious and well worth a nibble......might be nice in a salad, or perhaps a egg mayo and daisy sanbo??
Another plant that I've known about for years is 'cleavers' or 'sticky willy' as my children and others call it. It's out already and at the moment is at its most succulent and not as tough as it becomes later in the year.

I'm quite familiar with Summer pickings now but really don't get out much in the Winter months, especially when the weather is as dull as it has been recently and stopping to pick leaves is certainly not the first thought on my mind when it's bitterly cold. But it's good to know that there is stuff out there even in Winter.

Fen found a dead newt

There are many books out there on foraging, it's worth investing in one before you give it a go so that you've got a point of reference, or alternatively join a guided walk. Most plants are perfectly safe but there are a few that can make you very sick. I invested in a copy of Richard Mabey's 'Food for Free' many years back, it's a good little book with lots of interesting info and makes a good starting place.

Playing in the gap where a tree had been wrenched from the ground during recent storms

Miss P commented on the way home 'You know what Mum, I was the only 'normal' person there'......Oh well, you can't win them all!!!

Friday, 14 February 2014

Cupid's spell...... (slight sensoring suggested!)

Am awoken abruptly from peaceful slumber at 7.35am and forced to leave warm cosy retreat otherwise know as 'bed' to answer loud knock at the door. Gorgeous man stands on my doorstep holding enormous bouquet of 50 red roses elegantly displayed in water wrapped cellophane.
'Happy Valentine's Day' he cheerily chants to a somewhat surprised and bedraggled me who having just got up stands there in my faded pyjamas, breasts hanging freely under bra less top, hair unbrushed, sleepy dust stuck in eyelashes and one sock hanging half off toes!

Whilst opening the accompanying card a second knock echos from the door and a beautiful bunch of perfectly formed tightly closed tulips are left on the doorstep......15 bouquets later the table is rather full and am wondering how we shall manage to sit and dine today, without plonking selves on picnic rug on the floor?

10.45 am and postman is this time making a special delivery from  extra van appointed specifically to carry mass supply of cards in red envelopes. Spend rest of the morning and most of the afternoon wondering who all these secret admirers are??????? 

2.34 pm take a quick ride to nearest town to pick up provisions for tonight, best be prepared for the unexpected....(well you never know!). Unusually seem to be attracting rather a lot of attention from males. Find self feeling rather embarrassed initially but then hold head high as I stride around supermarket. Leave store and stop to view latest rentals in Estate agents window, turn side ways to admire booty in window reflection only to reveal large ladder and hole in tights with pink frilly panties on full view! Hmm That might explain things.....!!

8.15 pm Children finally in bed so set about preparing delightful Valentine meal for one as no one would babysit for me to go out and pretend I was having a jolly good time being single for third year running. Am stopped in tracks by muffled knock at door which dog (with over sensitive hearing and very loud bark) amazingly hasn't heard, thus children remain in state of sleepy unconsciousness. Rather rugged looking handsome man stands on door step with no gift (it's not about that). He flatters me with beautiful comments, teasing me with little kisses around my neck then nibbles my ear sending shivers though out my whole being, then he envelopes me in his arms before pulling me close to him thrusting his groin against me, his excitement is clearly defined....Wyld man smells divine and his tantalising presence melts me to a pulp right there on the door mat!
'TAKE ME TO PASTURES NEW.......please'......... Arrrr!!!!!

Am awoken by alarm clock at 7.30am.........
bugger hey!!!

Valentine's day day of the year when I am reminded of the fact that I am single, widowed and without significant other. This day has in history never bothered me (whilst I was with someone), I'm a true romantic in many ways but do not need to wait for February 14th to prove it. However, this year although having had several invitations to go to events and have a jolly good time, I cannot help feeling a bit tiddled off with the whole thing. Just a little. Normally I would put myself into a bubble and create my little romantic scenario at home with just me, a drink or too and a special meal home cooked exactly how I like it. This year I have felt very differently, some how dreading the day. I had to pop into Chipping Norton briefly last night and was bombarded by the shop window displays and the anonymous yarn bomber who had done her usual delightful act of covering lamp posts, benches and door handles with crochet bits of loveliness. Normally I stop to admire her work and am truly grateful for the time and effort she puts in - but not last night. I held my head low and walked avoiding making eye contact with anything consider remotely related to love and hearts. I even had to turn over the radio station!
I lay in bed last night thinking how unlucky in love I am then it occurred to me......what a load of trash! Firstly I do believe that the whole Valentine thing is a ploy to encourage commercialism and secondly how can I possibly even begin to think I am unlucky in love??? I was married to the same amazing guy who loved me unconditionally for 19 years. 19 totally amazing years. That is not unlucky at all, that my friends is something that I can smile about and be grateful for. But that is not all, I have three beautiful children and masses of very 'real' friends who wrap me up in love bubbles all the time. I AM NOT UNLUCKY IN LOVE, it's all around me :-)

So no red enveloped cards for me this year (that saves on tree sacrifice and landfill) but a big smile of gratefulness and a heart full of love. Here's a little for you <3 <3 <3 <3 <3


Monday, 10 February 2014

5, 6, 7, 8 and 1.........

I was rather excited towards the end of last week as a month or so ago I booked myself on to a course to teach cheer leading - 'Cheer' as I now know it to be referred in the industry.
This new venture was not my, children.... (the girls mainly) decided that cheer would be something they would like to try. Now I know I could have done what most sensible, 'normal' parents might do and simply have taken them to the nearest group, but life just doesn't work like that. As I have already unintentionally pointed out, I tend to lean on the side of doing the ridiculous. So here I am (written on Saturday) lying on the bed in my hotel room (of course taking full advantage of my weekend away ;-)) post wonderful shower, having just completed the first day on a two day course on a subject, I honestly (until today) knew absolutely nothing NOTHING AT ALL about.
Now I have to be honest with you, I thought it would be pretty easy this world of Cheer, I mean I've taught gymnastics to a pretty high standard, competed myself and was a fitness instructor and dancer in a previous hard could this actually be??? That was my thought, until whilst lying in bed on Friday night it suddenly occurred to me that if someone was venturing onto a gym coaching course with NO knowledge or experience, how hard would it be???!!!!

Oh heck! What have I done?

So racking up Saturday morning at the venue, the nerves suddenly started to set in. I could honestly only laugh at myself when it came to the introductory bit of the day when we went round the circle introducing ourselves, all 25+ of us.....I was last and had to follow all those High School cheerleaders and club leaders with 20 odd years experience........'I'm here because my children sent me!!!!!'

Oh crap!!!

Well now what can I say? Well the gym was nice...apart from being ridiculously cold. In that sort of environment I always feel a little bit of inner life within me shouting to get out and tempt me with a few skills....temptation and shame of potential embarrassment, resisted!

I felt like a really dim student having to question the simplest (OK virtually every) matter and the shame of having to stand count and perform jumps to a count were whoop whoop, riiiiigggghhhttt over my head. What could I do but chuckle....IDIOT!!!!

The tumbling section was in the afternoon. Finally an area in which I do have previous experience and suddenly I'm no longer the fool but the 'pro'....Oh yeah!!! Hehe, finish on a high :-)
Well I say that, but we ended day one with a 45 minute written test. How could I have failed to have notice that there was a test?? Hmmmm could be interesting!!

Day one complete, too late to worry about anything now, time to relax in my hotel room. So what does a Wyld Woman do when she has a night off???? ;-) now that would be telling.........

Day two......after a night with very little sleep....(not used to heat at night and stifling stale air)...oh and a slight headache from the bottle of fizz I sampled.....I enthusiastically jaunter down for breakfast.

Course starts with the results of day one test.....'Well I'm please to say that you have all passed, level one'.....I wait anxiously for the instructor to point out that that was in fact accept me...but NO, YES YES too!!! Woohoo!! (head starts to swell)....

So day two wasn't as bad as day one. Despite the fact that I consumed a little bubbly and read through not a single word of the course book last night, I actually managed to digest quite a bit of the information from the first day and approached the second day more confidently. I'm still awaiting the results of my second 45 minute exam....

What an exciting weekend! Now to decide what I'm actually 'do' with my new skills.......