Category Archives: Bristol

Suburban Solstice

Suburban English Solstice

Suburban English Solstice

Through a window spattered with raindrops the sun rises over the backs of neighbouring houses and lights up the day.  Sending you my best wishes for health and happiness in the last days of the old year and my very best wishes for the years to come.

Joanna

Snow Pics from Bristol

Witchhazel in Snow

Witchhazel in Snow

While they are still fresh and the snow is on the ground here are some snow photos from yesterday morning.

Before 'sunrise'

Before ‘sunrise’

We woke up to 16 cms of sticky British snow, the sort that hangs on the powerlines and brings them down as it has done in Wales.

Wintersweet

Wintersweet

The sun didn’t come out so the photos have that grey cast to them, I have brightened them up a bit but anyway it gives you an idea of how it looks here.

Galloping Poodle

Galloping Poodle

Nose-diving Poodle

Nose-diving Poodle

The dogs love the snow and the snow loves them, clinging to their legs and forming huge balls of ice in their fur which we have to melt off when they come in again. I might have to buy those ridiculous legged suits for them if this goes on.

Caraway Rye at the back and Kamut and regular wheat at the front

Caraway Rye at the back and Kamut and regular wheat at the front

Edited to add a crumb shot, very pleased with the lightness of this loaf!

Crumb shot of light rye and caraway sourdough loaf

Crumb shot of light rye and caraway sourdough loaf

Because the central heating is on more or less all the time, the sourdough was very happy and made me two lovely loaves of bread in about seven hours altogether. One is with some kamut in the mix, the other with light rye and caraway. The rye was a looser stickier dough and even though both loaves had the same overall amount of flour, one a bit more water and followed my regular formula but they have different shapes and the dough felt very different. The moment you introduce rye the dough gets stickier to handle. Always interesting, how the bread comes out.  Stay warm if you are in the Northern Hemisphere this weekend and I hope my Antipodean friends are staying cool!

A Home Loaf and Britain’s Best Bakery on TV

sourdough with braided top, Zeb Bakes, What I made today, (except of course I started yesterday)

The Day Before Baking

Mix together well

  •  50 g of once refreshed starter
  • 200 g  breadflour
  • 250 g water

Leave for 12-16 hours in a cold kitchen;  6-10 hours in a warm one

The following day

Mix a dough with :

  • 450 g of the above
  • 400 g water (approx, may vary depending on how much strong flour you use)
  • 350 g very strong bread flour
  • 300 g regular bread flour
  • 150 g dark rye flour
  • 1 tablespoon of dark malt dissolved in water
  • 5g dry yeast
  • 20 g fine sea salt
  1. Mix well and knead or not as you prefer.
  2. First prove 3 hours with two folds at hourly intervals.
  3. Shape and Second prove of about 2 hours
  4. Turn out onto peel
  5. Bake in a preheated oven  with steam at 220 °C for 25 mins and then reduce heat to 200 °C for a further 20 – 25 mins.
  6. Cool on a rack.

Baking notes:

Despite the extra bit of yeast, this dough took about three hours to do its first prove. My kitchen was around 18 C most of the day so after an hour or so I put the dough inside my top oven with the door held slightly ajar with a teatowel in the door so the oven light would stay on.  The light was enough to bring the internal temperature of the oven up to around 24 C. I needed to rotate the bowl occasionally as one side got warmer than the other but it works very well and isn’t as expensive as putting the heating on just for the dough!

I then split the dough into two and thought I would have a go at making a loaf with a braid on the top.

I took three balls of 60 g of dough each and rolled them into long even strands and made a three stranded plait which I put in the bottom of the banneton. Then I added a boule of dough on top of that, so that when I turned it out the plait would be on the top.

sourdough with braided top

If I do this again I will make longer strands and a fatter plait, maybe 90 g per strand.  The dough that forms the main part of the loaf weighed 850 g. I made the remaining dough into a smaller loaf.

Why the braid? I have been watching Britain’s Best Bakery on ITV1 for the last couple of weeks, cheering on all the wonderful bakers, patissiers and cake makers who have been brave enough to let a TV crew into their workplaces and film them.

I was very taken with the wonderful showpiece sourdough loaf made by the Metfield Bakery  in Suffolk which had a plait on the top. The judges thought their sourdough was amazing and I had never tried putting a plait on the top of a loaf so I thought I would try for a bit of fun and a sort of homage.   Predictably mine has come out looking nothing like the one I saw on TV, mine looks a bit like a drunken Roman Emperor, whose laurel wreath has tipped over the side of his head after imbibing a bit too much wine…. (Edit: Stuart from Metfield Bakery has left some helpful tips in a comment below, thank you Stuart!)

sourdough, homage to Metfield Bakery

Watching the shows I was struck by how passionate the bakers are, how much they care about their craft.  The show has a competitive element, but in some ways that is the least important part of the show for me. I just like to watch the teamwork involved, the dough being shaped, admire the different ovens, the mixers, the hustle and bustle, and the icing on the cakes.

The judges have a delightful manner and accentuate the positives they find in each and every one of the bakers they talk to; the challenges they set the bakeries are quite fun, but a bit random and not necessarily equal in skill difficulty.   The section where they visit the bakeries and have a look round and a quick chat and a few words from enthusiastic customers is for me the best part of the show. They showcase the bakeries and their warm, inviting interiors and beautiful displays of cakes and breads, their cafés and delighted customers really well.  I found myself making mental notes about where they all were and hoping that one day I would get to pop in and sample their baked goodies for myself.

I really enjoyed seeing my friends at the Loaf in Crich who were on this week, the judges were very complimentary about their big green olive sourdough and it was lovely to see the shop and café humming with life and happy customers. I have almost got the 100% spelt sourdough (my personal nightmare) right now, thanks to expert advice from Andrew at the loaf.

100% spelt sourdough

Here it is looking decidedly more airy than my usual bricks. One of the most rewarding things about dabbling in breadmaking has been all the wonderful people I have come across while doing it. Andrew is one of those people who has always been kind hearted and encouraging. We all need encouragement.

It is well worth having a look at, recording or using Catch up TV options to whizz through the adverts and share in the delight and see places that you might want to visit if you were in that part of the UK. The series is in the second of four weeks, so plenty of time to catch some of the shows as they travel around the UK.

By the way….

In Bristol we have the brand new East Bristol Bakery in St Mark’s Road, Easton and Laura Hart is opening her new bakery this Saturday 8th December, both highly recommended!

I get so excited when I walk past a bakery and I always have to go in and buy something, even if I have a breadbin full at home I can’t resist.

Where Zeb Walks in Badock’s Woods

Where we walk a lot of the time is a piece of old woodland ten minutes away from home. I am not good at reading landscape and seeing the past and using my imagination to see what was and how it looked. I don’t usually see ghosts. This place however has a curious quality to it. It isn’t very big at all but it has steep sides and trees and the River Trym runs through from Filton to where it meets the Avon at Sea Mills. (So named as there used to be tidal mills there). It is another place worth visiting if you haven’t been there and only know Bristol as a busy city.

In the middle of the woods the Trym meets an unnamed stream which comes in under the road and is often full of something nasty from somewhere higher up.

This summer the Trym was almost dry and we wondered why it was so much lower than any previous year. Two evenings ago we were walking through and there were men in big helmets and yellow jackets, clambering about in the water and up the slopes and I wondered what they were doing. Fortunately I met Mark yesterday; he is the wonderful hard working park keeper who looks after the Woods on behalf of Bristol City Council – the man who knows everyone and everything that is going on.

The riverbed has a leak, a large hole in its side and it’s running into the sewers. It’s going to cost lots of money to fix and it’s all a bit of a worry. It’s very unusual for a river to run into a sewer, usually it’s the other way round. When it rains heavily the river rises right up the banks and rushes along in a mad frenzy, it’s very variable.

I was told a bit of the history of the river by Mark and how it has been altered over time.  There is more to be read on the Friends of Badocks Wood site; how it used to be four feet deep but got filled in when some boys drowned in it and how there used to be a pond down from the weirs. Someone else told me there used to be a little tea place by the side of the rocks.

There is a nice pdf here which shows you the layout of the woods, as you can see it really isn’t very big but it feels big because of the mature trees and the hill slopes and you feel a mile away from the city when in fact you are surrounded by it. These images have been put on boards around the woods to help people orientate themselves when they are there.

Dog walkers are a wonderful disparate group of people, the one thing we have in common are our animals and their needs and as we go round and about we love to share our stories and our bits of gossip.  I have met people who came here as children, people who remember the Wildlife Park, now closed, people who remember shimmying up the fences round the Lake and swimming late at night when the Club was closed. In the war there were allotments on the field by Doncaster gate, then pre-fabs which were demolished in 1979. I heard about how it was almost a no-go area full of burnt-out cars at one time before we moved here and now it is a much loved and well used place. Last winter I saw the spotted woodpeckers most days and there are nearly always grey wagtails down by the stream. Wild garlic grows here in abundance in the Spring and there is lovely mixed woodland to wander through.  The Council make changes and not everyone likes them, but that is always the way with spaces with different groups of users. From a dog walker’s point of view it is almost perfect. It is safe, enclosed and peaceful; there are streams to jump in and a mix of woodland and open spaces to run in off lead.

Here is an experiment with WordPress’s Gallery Format, I think you should be able to see all the photos full size in a sort of carousel if you click on one of them (let me know it it works and if you like it).

Photos from my phone yesterday, not an iphone, so they are a bit blurry… Zeb saw a ball in the water so decided he had to rescue it. Poodles like going in water if there’s a bit of a challenge involved.

I looked for photos and old maps today, I wanted to find a picture or a drawing of the rivers and the pond that Mark was talking about but I ended up getting completely distracted by these acoustic pieces by Jono Gilmurray based on recordings of the water rushing through Badock’s Wood. Not only dog walkers are inspired by this lovely place….

Badock’s Wood 11 by Jono Gilmurray

Woodland Walk in April

April is the month of showers and young shoots in England and once again the nettles and the wild garlic are overwriting the brown manuscript of faded winter leaf litter in vivid shades of green;  baby saplings are shooting from where the squirrels have planted forgotten acorns and hazels – and when the sun shines, muddy puddles glint and poodles dive in for a quick paddle.

 

We walked through the woodland at Ashton Court, passing by the new mountain bike trail along the deer park fence; it has weathered and is not as intrusive looking as it was when it was all raw and new and finally came out on this dusty path down the hill with a view to the sky and Dundry Hill in the distance.

The buzzards were busy carrying nesting material around, beautiful big birds outlined against the blue.  There was much rustling and squawking and the alarm calls of birds which I couldn’t quite identify; tall trees creaking and rubbing alarmingly against each other in the wind. We walked softly down the side of the hill and along the lower wall.

Wood pigeons flew out of hollow trees, wrens whirred and fizzed on their short flights from woodpile to streams, goldfinches bathed in the shallows and for a big city there are always surprises. We heard talking up in the air at one point and realised there were two people chatting in one of the ancient pollarded oaks that are cared for at Ashton Court. I took a picture of the tree they were in two years ago almost to the day. It is a miniature ecosystem in itself, with ferns and fungi and grass growing in its centre.

Pollarded Oak Ashton Court

Celandine and wild violets were a couple of the more common wildflowers that we recognised. I nibbled a blooming violet and it was gently sweet.

If you can identify nettles, then at this time of year you have a free source of the most wonderful healthy (and, dare I say it, fashionable)  green vegetable to add into your supper dishes. I saw a piece by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall about them the other day here in the Guardian. Brian’s Dad and Gran always ate nettles in the springtime and Brian says his Dad could pick them with his fingers the way he can – must be a special nettle picking gene!

Last year around this time I made nettle gnocchi and wrote about them in this post. I haven’t made them since, but I remember they were very good and I really should make them again!

 Yesterday we picked (that is the ‘royal we’ – Brian picked the most because he has asbestos fingers and I didn’t have any gloves, good excuse!)  the top four leaves of young nettles on our walk and I picked a bunch of wild garlic.

Both nettles and wild garlic are fairly easy to identify and I have written about the wild garlic on a page here. If you are unsure about any wild plants find someone who is confident about their identification skills and go out with them the first time. Better safe than sorry.

You could always borrow Zeb as he is expert at finding wild garlic.

We made a risotto with the wild garlic and the nettles that we picked which I will post about next.