Sunday, 15 June 2014

Roll for the Soul

It has a ring to it, Rooollll for the Soooooul. But that's later.

However, my day started with this yesterday. It was quite warm, I fed my sourdough starter and went to work. Did anyone else love the Ladybird book of "The Magic Porridge Pot" as a child? I did, whoops! 
I mixed up my dough for my second loaf and left it to raise overnight in the fridge. What a calming and therapeutic way to spend Friday night, an hour between each fold and prove, so it fitted in with a lazy end of week evening fabulously. It may become a habit. Me and my sourdough like two peas in a pod.

The oven was pre heated with baking stone in situ fairly early on Saturday and I baked my second ever loaf of decent sourdough (see here sourdough loaf number one) It cooled for about an hour and made just the best ever bacon, mushroom and watercress/rocket sandwich.
After all those calories (bread and butter also!) we needed some exercise, the forecast was so good we decided to go and explore Bristol some more and be a little daring by trying to find the cycle routes in the busy traffic areas. Long Ashton to the Harbourside along the Festival Way is an old friend now, but I didn't know the cobbled section along by the river is called Chocolate Way, as the long section of squared cobbles is very chocolatey! Those cobbles are nothing compared to the boneshakers on Welsh Back alongside the harbour near Queen's Square. I'm not convinced that a) I still have any fillings or b) any bolt is still firmly bolted on my bike. We weaved and wandered and locked the bikes up and found the Corn Exchange and St Nick's Markets. I am slowly working out Bristol geography. I use an app called Endomondo for tracking some rides, it's good to have a history of where you have been, how far, how many miles and how much ascent/descent. I still find it spooky being followed by Big Brother though.

But we rocked up at Roll for the Soul community bike café. In a slightly out of the way location in Quay St but a great industrial feel. A mainly organic and moderately priced middle eastern inspired vegetarian and vegan menu with quality coffee and local beer and cider. They have cake.... we ate cake. It would have been rude not to, brownie and rhubarb tart. The workshop is surprisingly upstairs, but it was a lovely pit-stop with friendly welcoming staff. They have bands, and events and a big screen for biking events. Roll on Le Tour! I loved the poster wall too.
We went back across the harbour and looped off to find the award winning  Pump House housed on the waterside in Hotwells, a Victorian Pumping Station in a past life. Superb setting, and given it is the sister pub of Long Ashton's Bird in Hand we have to return to try the food. Today just a very pleasant chilled Ashton Press cider sat outside watching dinghies tacking and gybing in the harbour.
 We wandered home, a nearly 13 mile trip according to Endomondo, that didn't seem any distance at all.
 I love sourdough bread and cycling.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Sourdough bread

My first successful sourdough loaf
I have made bread for 15 years for my family, in a bread machine. I throw in the ingredients as I go to bed and awake to a beautiful fresh and preservative/additive free loaf. It is quite challenging to make all the lunchbox sandwiches not as doorsteps, as the bread is hard to slice when warm. It's quicker and cheaper than shop bought too, as we don't have a large freezer. I could sit and eat my half white half wholemeal bread all day. However, as the baking resurgence gathers pace, I have had an increasing need to investigate all this sourdough bakery, or bread made with no added yeast. Sourdough is made from leaven, a flour and water batter that cultivates the natural yeasts in the air. Allegedly every culture aquires a different "taste" from it's surroundings. I have had the odd slice of sourdough in a restaurant but I have never bought a loaf, the time invested in a loaf has to be paid for and my home made bread in the machine is just fine. Well that was my excuse.

But the challenge niggled away, as not much defeats me baking wise. Sure macarons were a heck of a challenge but I can  make a passable batch now. A couple of years ago I made a sourdough starter, dividing and feeding it but now I know I was not precise enough, and it obviously went off, or I used too much expired ferment and the taste of the loaf was just revolting, I also didn't feed it enough flour. If that's what home made sourdough tastes like I was not interested. Skip two years and I happen to see Vanessa Kimbell, the sourdough queen, was offering 10 prizes of  her sourdough starter culture on twitter, she uses a starter that is over 100 years old and originated from the South of France. How romantic! I retweeted, commented on her blog and thought of it no more until she emailed me the next day that I was a lucky winner. You would think I had won the lottery. It really made my day.

I set to researching online, every recipe and video seemed to demonstrate a totally different method, many totally contradicting each other. For some the sourdough starter needs to be refreshed and used 8-12 hours later when most active, and others say at least 24 hours after being refreshed. I had a week to prepare myself, so I bought a round banneton proving basket from the Kitchen shop in Clifton, Bristol, they are also available at Bakery Bits. I also bought a Mason Cash baking stone and set too seasoning it. Last Saturday this lovely package arrived, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string with a very helpful instruction sheet from Vanessa on how to keep and nurture my starter.
I made a 1:1 starter by refreshing the sample. Mix 200g organic flour with 200g (or 200ml) water, preferably filtered, boiled and cooled or stood for a day and add 2 tablespoons of the culture and stir. I keep mine in a kilner jar or Vanessa recommends a stoneware jar. I put the rest of the culture, labelled, in the freezer just in case. It's best to use rye flour for every other refresh. I put the starter in the fridge after a day, as I wasn't baking until today (Friday). Yesterday morning (Thursday) I refreshed the starter and left to stand for 8-12 hours, ie until after work. I used this Hobbs House You Tube as the basic recipe, adding on and adapting bits I had read from River Cottage Bread book, and Carl Legge has helped me a lot with detailed tips and tricks and patient advice on twitter. Carl is the author of the Permaculture Kitchen
How I made my first sourdough loaf recipe:

460g Strong White Bread flour
300g soughdough starter
10g seasalt
230ml warm water

I measured the water and weighed it in the jug and then added the correct weight of starter, which floats when it is active. The rest of the starter went back in the fridge for next time.

I then added the water/sourdough leaven to the flour and salt in a large bowl and worked it together, I didn't have the specialist bread scraper so I used a wooden spoon and then I oiled my hands and delved in. I turned out onto a lightly oiled work surface, you don't want to be adding extra flour. It is sticky, but you just knead as well as you can for 10-15 minutes until the dough is much easier to handle.

Form into a ball and plop into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with cling film. Place in airing cupboard or warm place for an hour. Remove.

Stretch the dough out and fold into thirds, pinching the edges closed to trap air, form into tight ball and back in the airing cupboard covered again for another hour. Repeat 1-2 times  more and the last time I placed the tightly worked ball of dough (after sprinkling with rye flour) into a very well floured (rye flour again) banneton basket, placed in a plastic bag and left in the fridge overnight for 12 hours until doubled in size, it doesn't matter a bit less or more time. In the morning it looked like this:
I had also sprinkled some rye flour on top.
I preheated the oven with the baking stone in from cold at the maximum temperature 230 degrees in my fan oven, for 40 minutes. At the same time I took my bread basket out of the fridge so the dough came up to room temperature before baking. I carefully turned and eased the bread out onto the stone, and cut the top with scissors, apparantly an authentic baker has a grignette. Don't they look gruesome?! Slashing the dough is important so the steam can escape and the sourdough puff up without restriction. Get the stone (using oven gloves!) back into the oven quickly and bake for 30-40 minutes, some say spray the oven with water but I flicked in some water. Some cover with a large preheated oven proof pan or iron casserole, or a special (expensive) Dutch oven, a baking stone with terracotta dome lid. The ultimate dream is a bread oven.
 My loaf had 35 minutes, I turned at 20 minutes as my fan oven is uneven. It looks fantastic!
 I put it on a wire rack and looked at it cooling and tweeted my excitement for half an hour.
 
I decided to eat my salad I had made for lunch whilst I waited. Some sourdough aficionados say the bread should be totally cold before eating. sorry, that was impossible.
 I dived in. Here is the "crumb" shot. It should technically be holier, but Carl said it was very good for a first attempt. More folding and a slightly wetter dough will give a holier crumb (like the edge holes), but then it is harder to handle. Next time....
I slathered a slice in butter and devoured. It was amazing, a crisp and crunchy crust, tasty and very slightly chewy on the inside, none of the harsh bitter taste of my initial attempts two years ago. The faintest slight tang. Two more slices followed. sourdough is supposed to keep for up to a week, my bread machine bread is best eaten the same day so I will report back, if any of it is left!
I have a feeling I am going to have to substantially up my bike miles, and restrict bread to one loaf a week!

How fabulous is social media? My sourdough has been inspired by the help, generosity and kindness of artisan bakers like Carl Legge, Vanessa Kimbell, River Cottage and the Fabulous Baker Boys amongst others. Thank you all.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Table runner - DONE!

Remember this? No? I'm not surprised!

I did finish my table runner a couple of months ago but I forgot to blog it! The family don't "get" it.

They asked if it was a table protector for hot pans or a narrow and unfinished tablecloth or if I was making another to make two "rows" of place mats. I explained it was for decoration as the big table doesn't get used for every meal any more as we eat at the kitchen table. It makes the view from the hall more interesting. As for the request that it is removed from the table before eating as it's not designed for frequent washing, was denounced as ridiculous. The curtain fabric is linen. I was very pleased I managed to eek out the apple green stripe to make the narrowest of bindings. The bright raspberry check is from IKEA
Anyway, I like it! Just don't look too closely at the workmanship.
I had painted our old pair of treacly 1930s chairs before Christmas, and recovered the seats in spare curtain fabric, and lightened the table by painting the fascia and legs too. It means we can sit 8 without having to rope in the computer chair and piano stool!

Well the reaction to the table runner was nothing compared to the outcry over the pom pom bunting I made in the autumn but had the audacity to NOT to take down after Christmas. The family have disowned me as a slight nut case. Our dining room is north facing and why should pom pom trim be just for Christmas? I made it in the curtain colours, not Christmas colours. I had bought a Clover pom pom maker months previously, what a clever invention. No more tracing round cups on the back of cereal packs in great Blue Peter style.

The dining room is the only room that has been decorated since we moved in over a year ago......and the magnolia paint stayed. I love the bright apple green fern print wallpaper, a B&Q bargain. My Portmeirion Pamona china happily sits alongside.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Cycling the Bristol to Bath railway path

Saturday was one of those perfect spring days, better than summer because it was warm enough to sit and enjoy a mug of tea outdoors but not so hot that I suffer with sunburn and heatstroke. Too hot for me, when I'm active, is over 20 degrees! I had to persuade the husband that really he wanted to go for a bike ride and not play golf. I promised a pub stop, and he played golf on Sunday.
From home we can cycle into Bristol centre on bike routes that are shared with pedestrians and not big bad lorries and buses and taxis and the like. We now also know that we can go all the way to Bristol Temple Meads station to catch a big train and Cabots Circus and then out to Bath without breathing fumes and risking our lives too. Somerset and Bristol are a dream for cyclists in the UK. Thank goodness for Sustrans and lottery funding. 
The 13 mile Bristol to Bath cycle path (mixed use) is tarmaced and so scenic. It's almost Disney themed with the artworks and sculpture along the way. Refreshments are available at regular intervals.Warmley station café is open weekend Easter to September and is great value for home made lunches and cakes and teas/coffees and ice creams. I loved the people on the platform, including a station master, waiting for a mythical train!
There was another tumble down halt with lovely modern artwork in the station arches. Transport past..
..and present. We didn't really stop on the outward track and continued after the end of the railway path to follow the river, past the university buildings and into Bath. 20 miles from home. It was too nice for city centre today so here is proof we did the extra couple of miles before heading back to Saltford for a Ploughmans and a pint at the Bird in Hand. So far 25 miles from home. Good for me, not anybody else, and there was a headwind all the way to Bath and it's definitely downhill on the way back!
Ploughmans and a pint at Saltford
On the shared use path we saw cyclists on bikes, stabiliser bikes, tandems, trike, a recumbent, with kiddie trailers and child seats. Then there were skateboarders, roller skaters, folk enjoying the sunshine in their electric wheelchairs and pushchairs and even promenaders! So lovely to see so many folk out.

Here is a statue of what we do well in Somerset....shame it was a water fountain not a cider fountain!
It's downhill all the way back into Bristol and a few hundred metres from home I managed to swipe one of those bike calmer posts, slowed right down, aimed for the gap and wobbled so I clipped my handlebar and ended flat on my back on the tarmac right in front of playing children. Whoops!!  It is true, Life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance you must keep moving!  40.5 miles clocked at an average riding speed of 13.5 mph. In my defence there is a lot of weaving, and waiting for zebra crossing lights, and time taken to pick yourself up after falling off your bike!
Bike Snacks

We took these bike snacks to nibble on the ride, fabulously healthy tasty none crumbly trail bar recipe.

I added some honey to the mix, but they do work, and although not a sweet treat cake they really were fabulous on a bike ride, and transport easily! No butter/fat and just eggs and tea to bind and sugar from the dried fruits (unless you add a bit of honey too as I did!) Thank you Carl for the recipe, he has just published The Permaculture Kitchen and is a great fountain of knowledge on bread-making too.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Stripy Shellseeker cycling hoodie - DONE!

She sells sea shells?
It's finished, and I love my hoody, although my Shellseeker is not perfect, I learnt a lot. including my first attempts at off piste knitting, aka designing the hood. Other knitting techniques new to me were; 3 needle bind off, magic loop for the sleeves and applied i-cord! Next time I'd make a far better mark II hood now that I have worked out the construction! The top down construction of the whole sweater is ingenious, look mum no seams!
I blogged the start of my Shellseeker here. I used Drops Merino Extra Fine, and I can't recomend this yarn enough, I can only wear superwash, it's a far better price than other 100% merino brands and the colour spectrum is beautiful. I did order turquoise too, but a good knitty friend said that was not needed as too bright, funny how I have a turquoise T shirt on today! Perhaps I can use a colour like that for my next one? *

I was pleased with the red applied i-cord edging, I used 3 stitches so it's not too fat. I cannot get it to lay flat, I tried sort of blocking and sort of holding it flat whilst applying steam from the iron, but not touching.
I had not known about three needle bind off before either. what a quick and simple way to cast off and "sew" knitting together at the same time. Look how neat the seam is on the inside, you can also see how neatly the red applied i-cord attaches too.
This is the seam from the right side, every stitch perfectly matched up. 
Heidi's shellseeker just had a rolled unfinished edge but I picked up and added some 2x2 rib, I decreased a fair few stitches at the armhole seams on the first couple of rounds by starting k4 p4 on the sleeves and then reducing to k2p2. I then cast off the central front stitches and continued for the hood. I haven't blogged the mods as it's not great! 

I loved my stripe sequence but I did not like the evening spent sewing in three lots of all these ends, body and two sleeves, and then there were all the hood ones too! 

Self striping yarn would be my choice next time for many coloured stripes. The increases and decreases were harder as I didn't do the 2x2 stripe sequence recommended, if I had there would have been no need for a row counter and no ends. Heidi is so clever making the knitter's life easy.
The out takes! The back "flap" is a stripe longer than the front, I tried freestyling it to be much longer when on my bike but forgot the unseamed edge would just roll in, so it had to come out and I had to follow the pattern. These pattern designers do things for a reason!
The kangaroo pocket is a really useful value added feature of this pattern. I had flu really badly as I got to the pocket, and after 10 days I came back to working out the pocket construction from the pattern and was stumped. I couldn't picture it from the pattern. I thought I was wrong so I undid it. Stupid me, it was right! I searched Ravelry and found it wasn't just me, and the advice was to trust the pattern, do as your told and it will work out. The advice was spot on.
This is a sweater I'll take everywhere, abuse and love! If found abandoned on a garden bench please return to owner!

She Sells Sea Shells finished 20th February 2014 (took about 5 weeks but time out in the middle being ill)

YARN: 
Drops Extra Fine Merino DK 100% merino wool.
Light Grey Mix (05)
Denim Blue (13)
Light Grey Blue (19)
Green (18)
North Sea (28)
Red (11)
Mustard (30)
Pistachio (26)
Marine Blue 27
Purchased from Wool Warehouse

NEEDLES: KnitPro Symfonie circular 4mm

PATTERN: Heidi Kirmaier's Shellseeker

HAPPY KNITTY INDEX: 9/10 

PS *I love it so much I have cast on the next one in cotton bamboo, the morning after finishing She sells sea shells.....She's still seeking shells. See the turquoise was singing to me!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Betsy Bunny - my Little Cotton Rabbit!

Meet Betsy. She is just about to be packaged up and sent off to Durham to be cared for by my nearly 4 year old niece as it's her birthday next weekend.
knit soft toy
Betsy is my first attempt at knitting any kind of toy, Nellie the elephant was crocheted! Most of the pieces are knitted flat so there is quite a bit of sewing up but I decided to half do the body, the legs and her dress in the round on dpns. Now I know how to do  magic loop I think I would use that to knit another bunny, easier and neater. The body is knitted in Rowan Felted Tweed in camel and Kidsilk Haze in pearl worked together and the dress, tights and shoes in Drops Baby Merino 4 ply, the colour range is just beautiful.
Julie's pattern is very precise and gives a great result, even for a beginner bunny maker. Lots of tips on sewing up and the all important stuffing and facial features. I made the dress a bit longer to cover up dodgy workmanship on Betsy's legs.
I even managed to be organised and knit Betsy in plenty of time for the birthday girl. I went to find her to package up and post and spent the whole weekend getting more and more desperate as she had run off. Eventually I found her on Monday night really buried in my yarn box under the bed. Phew, I didn't have time to knit another. Yes I had already looked in there several times! Betsy is having a breath of fresh air in the sunshine before a few days under wraps until being released into the wild in her new home next Sunday.

Next I will have to knit Betsy a brother, I think his name will be Bert!
Betsy Bunny finished 2nd February 2014 (knitted in a couple of weeks)

YARN: 
Body: Rowan Felted Tweed DK (157) in Camel 50% merino wool, 25% alpaca, 25% viscose and Rowan Kidsilk Haze in Pearl (590) 70% super kid mohair, 30% silk  Purchased from the ever wonderful Get Knitted in Bristol. 

Dress, tights and shoes: Drops Baby Merino 4 ply fingering 100% merino wool. Dress in Blue (30) and Light Sky Blue (24) Tights in Light Sky Blue (24) and White (01)  Shoes in Red (16) Purchased from Wool Warehouse

NEEDLES: KnitPro Symfonie 2.5mm 2.75mm and 3mm dpns

PATTERN: Little Cotton Rabbits' Bunny Girl in a Dotty Dress

HAPPY KNITTY INDEX: 8/10 (next one will be 9.5/10 as I know what I am doing now)

Monday, 10 March 2014

Shellseeker cycling hoodie or hoody - in progress!

I have made some more progress with my sweater, I am knitting Shellseeker by the talented Heidi Kirrmaier. I am using Drops Extra Fine Merino. I love this yarn, I used it for my French stripey throw and promised myself a sweater for me in it. Grey plus 8 colours, a ninth one has been rejected as being too bright. It's a superwash double knit yarn, so no hint of lanolin or itchy wool-itis, and it comes in lots of gorgeous natural shades and it is relatively affordable!
Shellseeker is a clever top down in the round construction with neat shaping...
..as you can see below, which cleverly incorporates the kangaroo pocket. Decreasing in the centre and increasing at the sides so the sticth number doesn't actually change but shaping happens! Now that pocket was a bit of a challenge, I had had flu badly and been in bed for ten whole days with no hope of knitting, and however hard I tried I could not fathom out the pocket logic. I googled and found others had the same problem. The solution...
...is to stop trying to imagine it and just follow the instructions exactly, and then it works. Even post flu befuddled brains can do it. I was so annoyed with myself as I undid it once when I had done it correctly...duh! Follow the instructions exactly as written and it works.

I am so proud of myself as, about a zillion years after everybody else, I also taught myself Magic Loop. I thought it was some extremely complicated clever technique for super advanced knitters requiring multiple classes to learn. It is extremely clever but super easy, knit anything in the round on one size circular needles. Google and watch a You Tube video for 2 minutes and anyone is an expert! I have just picked up the sleeve stitches from the holder in the pic above to knit magic loop. Now just to work out how you knit two socks at once.

The only problem with all these luscious stripes are the ends......I have sewn them all in except for the second sleeve I am just finishing off. 2 ends per colour stripe for the body and each sleeve Far wiser to use just two yarns as the pattern advises so the yarn can be carried up neatly! 156 ends, never mind a few grey ones too.....I have endititis.
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