Monday 29 February 2016

Spice of Life Throw - Done!

I bought yarn for Cherry Heart's Spice of Life throw back in the autumn, before the Dutch Ripple was finished! As it was a present for a good friend I have not said much about it.

The idea was for a contemporary look, with colour pops in the neutral greys and browns that I bought in triplicate. It's a standing joke that my friend LOVES pinks and purples, and I'm not as keen. She hates blue (well navy really, I snuck in a greyish blue) but likes greys as neutrals. My most hated colour coral, is her favourite cycling jacket colour. I also tried to incorporate natural countryside colours as we both love the outdoors.

It all ended up with more pops of colours than greys! I have always loved using Stylecraft Special for throws but wanted to make another throw in natural fibres like my French Ripple, this time Drops Cotton Merino. Drops is the only natural yarn cost effective for large projects as far as I have been able to ascertain.

Sandra (of Cherry Heart) released her free pattern as a crochet a long or CAL in autumn 2015 to complete over 6 weeks, it took me a bit longer! I did manage to finish in time for her birthday in February, well a few days late. Unfortunately my tension went off at the end and it needed severe blocking, which my friend is very good as she is a superb lace shawl knitter.

Next project is to finally see if I can manage to knit a lacy and delicate shawl! I have already cast on Loren with Townhouse Yarns Trinity 2 ply I bought on a fleeting visit to Dublin earlier this month!

I have been teased about my multi coloured blankets, and I think I have kept up my reputation with this one!

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Cosy Dutch Ripple Throw - DONE!

I have been quiet on the blog, plenty of knitting and crocheting in the last 18 months, but writing it up has passed me by, even if a lot has happened in that time!

My Cosy Dutch Ripple Throw was started at the beginning of May this year, and as ever the project accompanied me in the car, on the ferry, to knit and natter and friends' houses.It went to France three times, watched a lot of cycling on TV and has seen the seasons pass by. I worked on it outside in the summer and autumn, and finished inside as November started closing in.

The colours were chosen by my lovely eldest daughter to coordinate with her living room, and it will be flying off to Holland to live with her as her 26th birthday present.

I got a lot done watching the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a España highlights every evening in June, July August and September. Extra bonus was the Rugby World Cup!
I had a very large birthday in August.
 Many Sundays after a long bike ride, I rested the aching legs and crocheted. The odd piece of cake may have been consumed (chocolate and beetroot here)
 Fitting in the odd row on the kitchen sofa whilst cooking.
 Until it is finished!
 A double crochet (parchment, walnut and burgundy) and scalloped border (burgundy), after filling the gaps in parchment.
 I repeated the ten main colours four times, but randomly. A parchment section (colour 11) every five colours to bind the design together.

Cosy Dutch Ripple finished 5th November (started 1st May 2015 so six months, very slow.)

Stylecraft Special DK

Couple of balls of each, 3 of parchment
1035 Burgundy
1054 Walnut
1061 Plum
1062 Teal
1063 Graphite
1064 Mocha
1065 Meadow
1067 Grape
1080 Pale Rose
1123 Claret
1218 Parchment

Purchased from Get Knitted

HOOK: 4mm 

PATTERN: Attic 24 Neat Ripple

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.
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