Category Archives: Learning Stuff

Castell Henlys, Pembrokeshire

Last weekend we were once more in Pembrokeshire and one day we had a change from our usual activities and joined the tourist trail and visited this reconstructed Iron Age Fort at Castell Henlys.

Round House Reconstruction

Round House Reconstruction

We walked up from the carpark past a stream where Brian saw a goldcrest flashing through the trees with a group of other small birds; the verges along the path were aglow with cowslips, dandelions, emerging violets and early campion.

On the hilltop plateau swirls a curve of thatched Iron Age roundhouses; from small Zeb-sized ones, to massive ones where you can imagine how to cook, spin and dye, weave, snooze, mill grain, tend the stew pot and, work with iron age tools, share meals, talk and dream. The learned guide on site was utterly charming, she wears clothes she had made from her own weavings on her warp-weighted looms. However when I asked her about Iron Age underwear she laughed and went off to talk to some children.

When you are tired you could climb onto one of the beds and fall asleep. Outside you can turn your eyes skywards and watch red kites patrolling and swallows diving, there are little hairy piglets (a cross between ancient wild boar and a Tamworth) to talk to and woolly sheep ( a small old breed).

While we were there there was a falconry display with a collection of birds from a small merlin to a Russian Steppe Eagle. I had the dogs with me so we didn’t stay for the display as an eagle swooping low over your curly ears might not have been Zeb’s idea of fun. While this has been envisaged primarily as an educational open air museum and interactive site for children, there is  something for everyone to enjoy here and there is a new turfrooved visitor centre in the last stages of being completed which will I am sure enhance the experience for visitors later this year.

If you are visiting with children in the summer, it sounds as if there is a wealth of activities to participate in and enjoy. You can find out more about Castell Henlys from their website. dogs welcome on leads, and if you are curious how an Iron Age Roundhouse was constructed there is a fun animation to watch on the BBC website and a short piece you can read about Iron Age living here which lasted in Britain for about 800 years (from c.750 BC to AD 43). As you may know the Romans moved in shortly after that and stayed for a while.

Here is a gallery of some of our photos, a mix of Brian’s camera and my iphone to give a flavour of the place. Not the easiest of places to take photos in so I hope you get something from having a peek at them!

 

 

 

38% Wholemeal Kefir Levain Bread

Sesame Crust Date Kefir Bread

Sesame Crust Date Kefir Bread – this one gets better every time!

For those of you looking for kefir bread formulae, here is what I have been up to. I mostly make the loaf you see above as we both just love it!

I hesitate to call what follows an experiment because home baking is really not very scientific or rigorous as my friend Sally at the Bewitching Kitchen would probably be the first to tell you!

I have no microscope or lab to tell me what is really going on in there, just a basic idea that the kefir is a mixture of yeast and lactobacteria and probably a whole bunch of other things that I don’t know are in there !

I do know from using it and from observation that it is different in many respects from a traditional water and flour fed sourdough culture. The kefir cultures milk primarily, though it can be adapted to use other foodsources,  and is generally slower to do so than an active sourdough unless it is really quite warm. Why use it? Because:

  • I like its tangy taste which is rich and satisfying without being overly sour.
  • It gives me a softer crumb than regular sourdough
  • and it gives me extra calcium for my bones and possibly other nutrients, I like fermented products generally and I don’t like drinking milk very much
  • it is also fairly easy to maintain, tolerant of a wide range of temperatures and suits my baking schedules such as they are

If you culture the milk at a warmer temperature than my ambient temperature which varies from around 14 – 22 C for most of the year then it does go faster, gets very active and produces quite a lot of alcohol smells. I don’t particularly want the alcohol part so I keep the kefir cool and slow.

Most of the recipes for kefir bread that I have seen use some sort of sugar  product to give the kefir easy food.  No recipe for bread really needs sugar for yeast or levain to work, it is a choice you make because you want sweetness in the final product. Sugar in the dough promotes a deep rich colour in the crust and adds a caramel-toned sweetness to it. A sweetness that we don’t maybe register consciously but it is there. Really great bakers can get all that taste by careful selection of flours, manipulating the dough and the bake without adding sugar.

I came to kefir baking via Cecilia  @  thekitchensgarden.com who uses home raised honey in hers, I have been using date syrup in the preferment and this provides the kefir with a reliable and easy form of sugar food and this (as the loaf in the first picture above) produces my favourite of all the kefir breads I have made to date.

I have several friends though who don’t want any sugar in their breads over and above what is in the flour already for dietary and health reasons and so I thought I would work on making the dough without any added sugars.

My first attempts using my usual white stoneground flour just didn’t work well. I made a complete pig’s ear of one dough when I mixed it with all milk, thinking erroneously that this would give the preferment extra sugar.

Bad bread made with too much milk

It didn’t make a nice bread, it had a dense close crumb, and the bottom crust split all round and it had that texture of cooked but spongy heaviness that I dislike in a sourdough.

Just to show you what I mean by a poor crumb...

Just to show you what I mean by a poor crumb…

I have met this problem before making milk sourdough breads, so tend only to use milk as the main liquid in breads leavened with commercial yeast.  If you leave a sourdough mixed with fresh milk for long enough to develop properly you get this really unpleasant sour taste,  I have done that before and that is why I was pleased to find that the milk kefir can be used where fresh milk is not very suitable. It might be different with raw milk that hasn’t been pasteurized but I don’t have easy access to that here.

There is such a wide range of taste when it comes to bread, I am sure some of you happily make sourdough with loads of fresh milk, but I find it unpalatable.

A surprise flower in the stormy weather !

A surprise flower in the stormy weather !

I then tried three variations of preparing a preferment and kept some basic notes as to what I saw and thought.  Each of the three was made with the same quantity of active fermented kefir, and with different flour or treatment.  I hypothesised that as hot water releases sugar in flour, maybe if I mixed some flour with very hot water first and then introduced the kefir to it it would find the sugar more easily and work faster.  I am not sure that it made a significant difference in the end. After 24 hours it did look as if it had more bubbles, but I wasn’t really convinced.

For some reason when I mix kefir with water and straight white flour the resultant preferment always ends up with that acetone/paint stripper smell that I don’t like and this proved the case this time too, so I didn’t make bread from those two as I had tried before with the acetone scented sort and didn’t like the bread it made then. This was more of a check to see if it happened again which it did.

Neat trick to keep track of what is in a bowl seen on the internet

Neat way to keep track of what is going on in what bowl and a memory jogger!

However, the kefir mixed with stoneground wholemeal and water produced a beery/fruity smell which Brian thought was acceptable so I built a test dough with it and baked it off.

It was acceptable to us, tangy but not sour, lean and clean, without any of the butter or syrup that I usually add to our soft kefir loaves. Brian claims that he couldn’t taste much difference, but I thought the crumb was slightly less sweet and the crust was definitely not as gorgeous as when made with the date syrup.

I think the kefir organisms consume most of the date syrup used in the preferment leaving very little sugar in the final dough, but one would have to have a lab to test the bread to know the truth of that, and we are all so inured to hidden sugar tastes in our food that maybe my palate just doesn’t register it as sugar.

So here is a little formula to be going on with… Misky @ The Chalk Hills Kitchen pointed me towards this shortcode for recipes that WordPress now offers. Fiddly or what? What do you reckon to my first attempt at coding? Does it make it easier to read and print? It took me ages and many edits to bodge my way through this. Practice, practice….

38% Wholemeal Milk Kefir Levain Bread

  • Servings: finished loaf weight 400g approx
  • Print

38% Wholemeal Kefir Levain

38% Wholemeal Kefir Levain

To make the preferment:-

Day 1

7.30 pm

  • 25g fermented and lively fizzing/bubbling milk kefir
  • 35g room temp water
  • 60g stoneground wholemeal flour with reasonable protein levels i.e. not pastry flour

Mix and leave  in a covered bowl at room temperature for  36- 48 hours   (15°- 19 C)

Check for fermentation during this period (if the preferment is full of good bubbles then use earlier!)

Day 3

3.30 pm

Mix dough with

  • 50g of  above ferment
  • 172g room temp water
  • 80g stoneground wholemeal bread flour (Stanway Mill)
  • 80g white organic bread flour (Stanway Mill)
  • 90g very strong (manitoba type) bread flour (Waitrose/Marriages)
  • Short autolyse ( of about half an hour)  before adding salt
  • 4g salt

Once mixed leave in a covered bowl while the dough is proving, the time this takes will vary according to temperature.

Two short folds at intervals of approx 1 hr rather than intensive kneading are adequate to give the dough shape and structure. Susan Tenney demonstrates dough folding here for anyone who doesn’t know what this means.

7.30 pm

Shape dough and place in banetton, covered on a tray, whatever you prefer.

Leave to prove for another 3 hours. Think about preheating your oven at some point.  Do not expect the dough to puff up like a yeasted dough does when proving. Do a finger test to see if it is ready to bake. If your gentle prod leaves a dent that doesn’t come back after five/ten minutes then bake the bread in your preheated oven.

Prepare dough for oven, slash top etc

Bake at 10 30 pm on a pre-heated tray at 210° C for 38 minutes with steam.

Crumb of 'sugar free' Kefir Levain

Leave to cool on a rack. Cut when the sun shines in the early morning!

Recipe Credit : zebbakes.com 

PS

For kefir grains there are sources on the internet or if you live near someone who has some just ask them nicely if they would mind sharing when they have some spare or trade something you have made or grown. It seems to be getting more popular again so they shouldn’t be that hard to source. If you have serious difficulty let me know by contacting me on Twitter, (Zeb underline Bakes) comments on posts close after a while as old posts collect spam so badly.

Left and Right Socks

Conviction, Uncertainty  and Falke Sensitive Trek Socks

P1070188

I read a piece about this yesterday and various points hit home and sometimes I wonder how we all survive the battleground of human communication and relationships, at times so complicated and yet I suspect it could all be much simpler if we all stopped taking our thoughts quite so seriously and just got on with the task at hand and then the next task and the next. I think it would all be easier if we focussed on being interested, compassionate, loving and trusting. Those seem to be the core healthy emotions to nurture. Continue reading

The Goddess of Small Lost Things

Dawn in Pembrokeshire Cottage

 6th November 2013

Tales from Pembrokeshire

Dawn gushed into the dark spaces of the holiday house through the old tree window, shocking in its intensity and unbearably golden.

Cows walked up the field behind the mill stream, a robin sang sweetly, the corvids took off for their day jobs, the farmer hurtled down the lane and splashed through the stream, rattled over the grid and over the hill. Out to the west the shoreline beckoned as the tide dropped.

We ate toast and chatted about a little packing up to go out for the day. I struggled with Brian’s two slimline flasks but twisted them open, filled up with hot water, measured out instant coffee into tiny container and tucked it in next to Brian’s teabag collection,  all squeezed into an old fashioned toffee tin, remembered teaspoon, remembered biscuits for us and biscuits for dogs, apples, put a towel in bag to protect the flasks, in short tried hard to get my fraying act together.

We had a leisurely stroll up and down one beach,  admired a curious Atlantic grey seal fishing ten foot out in the surf, and then headed off to a point on the map that looked like it could be fun. We are very bad at reading tourist guides, so have the joy surprisingly often of stumbling on views which are (we realise with hindsight) famous and we think we have discovered them for ourselves.

We tried one way, Road Ahead Closed, so we went back and round the other way where there was also a Road Ahead Closed, but we carried on figuring out that it was one break in the road signed from two directions, either that or an MI5 safe house being camouflaged by signage in which case they would come out and shoot us.

Finally we got to Bae Ceibwr, walked down to the cove, played around and then up again to the car. It was long gone lunch time, but we would make do with a drink.

I had forgotten the cups.

I hovered on the brink of throwing myself over the cliff – how could I forget the cups? –  but decided that was a little hysterical even for me and so it came to pass that Brian performed the outdoor tea ceremony. First he found some ancient teabag, one which I hadn’t included, so he must have had it somewhere in a pocket, along with some green fluff, stale dog biscuits and a dog bag or two. He unscrewed the lids of our new slimline flasks. The  water was piping hot!

pouring tea

“We can drink out of these.”

I gave him a look.

He delicately poured two spoonfuls of water over the teabag, waved and dibbled it in each lid and passed me a lid with its miniature curl of steam.

We sipped it decorously, stared at each other and then grimaced: it was tasteless, nothing quite as dispiriting as a teabag which has given up the ghost.

We chucked it away, extravagant gesture of two people with tiny tiny cups maybe, but a necessary one.

Gingerbiscuit

Moving on, we went for the decaff instant coffee option.  Brian slipped open the tiny tin I had put it in, tapped a few granules into each flask-top and delicately poured the hot water over it. We repeated this exercise three times and ate our ginger biscuits, which as you can see, just about fit into the lid for a quick dunk. We discussed biscuits and agreed that ginger biscuits are the saving grace of the British Empire, without the ginger nut, civilisation would cease to exist.

Happy again!

We walked a little way on and stood on the cliffs admiring a group of young people diving off the rocks and swimming off round the coast, like water sprites.  My vertigo has got worse over the years and though I would have loved to have walked along the cliff path and stared into the Witches Cauldron we didn’t go, but by all accounts it is fantastic and a wonderful place to explore in a sea kayak.

I had a moment of memory loss compensating genius later that evening. Brian was looking for the dogs’ hair clips. Yes the dogs wear those hair clip grip things on their dangly ear fur to try and stop it getting full of bits of dinner. They look silly but a poodle is used to looking silly, they have a hard life, anyone with a pompom does. Back to Brian, man on a mission.   He couldn’t find them anywhere. I was busy trying to make a sort of soup thing. The dogs were crying because they could smell their food but they weren’t going to be allowed to gulp it down till the hair clips had been found.

Eventually his voice became more desperate, we get very hung up on small things like this,  and I said,

‘If you had them in your hand now, where would you put them to keep them safe?’

There was a slight pause, and I swear I could feel little sparkles of electricity as a neural pathway lit up a memory circuit Day-Glo yellow in the brain of Brian.

‘Of course, my special dog box!’  he said.

Apparently he had made one for this trip. We would fail miserably on that Mr and Mrs show I think. Anyway my Goddess mode was working well, and what was lost was found  and the prospect of dangly ears full of cooked cabbage and boiled fish receded happily into the distance.  Everyone was happy once more.

It reminded me of a long ago time when I had been out with family somewhere in central London. On returning to the car Dad couldn’t find the keys, we retraced our steps, returned to Tower Records, looked here and there, forlorn, suddenly tired and desperately wanting to be anywhere but the middle of the city at midnight.  As we debated going to the police station I contemplated Dad’s smart country walking and hiking jacket, bristling with useful pockets and toggles.

“You didn’t put them in your extra-extra-secret secret pocket, did you?”  I said. (I had no idea how many or what pockets he had on the damn jacket, he said he had already looked everywhere…)

I saw an embarassed grin and picked up some small nonverbal sounds – the gasp of the person who finds that there is in fact one more layer of chocolates in the box thought empty, the catch in the throat of the person who thinks she has missed the last train but it has been delayed so she hasn’t, those moments when the universe smiles sweetly and Lady Luck gives you a small tender kiss and sends you on your way –  and joyfully he rummaged in the dark recesses of his jacket and yes he did indeed have an extra secret pocket which offered up the car keys, which trilled triumphantly on being rediscovered.

All of which brings me to the title of this post, I think I have a raison d’être: I am going to be the Goddess of Small Lost Things.

Don’t ask me for reasons or hows and whys, don’t ask me what motivated the object to lose itself in the first place, nor why life is sometimes so hard and so random and capricious or why people go hungry, why people are cruel, why, why why, so many questions, a person can go mad looking for answers…. but finding small lost items that have a way of holding up your life till you find them – that sounds perfectly possible and like being an Automobile Association rescue person, you turn up, step one and then, step two, with luck you fix the car, everyone is happy, and even if you didn’t fix the car, hell at least you tried!

So tell me what you have lost and I will help you find it if my Goddess mode is operating on full power and if we don’t find it, hey it passes the time, looking for stuff you find all sorts of other things you have mislaid, which is pretty exciting too.

Just remember you always find what you are looking for in the last place you look. And..

..in a world full of crazy beliefs and unwarranted assumptions that is as good a thing to believe as anything else…

…and even if the Lost Thing stays lost a little longer, eventually the dawn will come again and life will go on.

dawn interior

Who is this? A little puzzle!

This is the trouble with hot nights. One reads one’s friends’ blogs. One wanders off across the internet to other blogs, and before you know it, you are making jigsaw puzzles.

Thanks to Time Thief and Panos and the jigsawsite (links below). You are so generous with your knowledge and make it easy for people like me to play and have fun late at night.

So just this once, here is a jigsaw puzzle on the blog, and it is not a poodle..

Online jigsaw puzzles from JigsawSite.com

and now the voice that speaks on the computer and calls out the half hour in an attempt to make me not sit here for too long tells me it’s 1 a.m. So hot or not I had better try to get some sleep.

… no spoilers…

Helpful tips (added following morning) : The puzzle has 25 pieces, is a square and the finished puzzle takes up maybe a 1/4 to a 1/3 of the frame and you can use the buttons at the top to stop and start and rewind I think. And I love you whatever your time or even if you don’t do it at all. It’s only for fun! PS It doesn’t work on an iPad, I don’t lnow if it only works on a desktop computer, sorry if you can’t see it. I will put the photo in a post tomorrow, Joanna

Twitter Tagliatelle Tutorial – almost as good as being in someone else’s kitchen

Tagliatelle making

For the full Tweety Conversation pulled together by Lynne using Storify click here :  Twitter Tagliatelle Tutorial

My abbreviated version with mainly Carla’s tweets and photos  – loads quicker or if you have a slow connection – click here) of the tutorial on Twitter that Carla gave us yesterday on making pasta with the Imperia pasta machine. I was given this wonderful gadget as a birthday present last year by my lovely sister and this was its first outing. I had borrowed one last year from Mitch who lives in Bristol but there was something lacking in our technique the one time we tried and we felt a bit out of our depth, so when Carla, expert chef,  (in Rome) offered to teach me yesterday, I jumped at the chance!

The Imperia

I could write it all out here as a post but that doesn’t give the feeling of the fun of doing this yesterday and this way you get to see all Carla’s wonderfully detailed photos and read her instructions. She is a fantastic tutor and I feel really confident now that I can do this again!

Freshly cut tagliatelle

Lynne, who tweets as @josordoni, another Twitter friend of Gibassier fame, has kindly spent some time to make the Storify story. I had a try at using Storify, but left out my own tweets.  Lynne joined in and made the noodles by hand, an act of great determination!

I served the tagliatelle with chestnut mushrooms, onion, parsley, and a sauce of Charvroux goats cheese and some Serrano ham

I served the tagliatelle with chestnut mushrooms, onion, parsley, and a sauce of Charvroux goats cheese and some Serrano ham

So thank you Carla and thank you Lynne so very much for the company and the joy of sharing.  You are both such kind and generous friends and I wonder daily at this world where one can be friends with people who one has never met in person and have such fun.

Have a lovely weekend!

Zeb Eats Tagliatelle and Dreams of Carla

My pasta was made with

  • 3 eggs weighing about 140g unshelled
  • 150 g of 00 Italian flour
  • 150g of Semonlina Rimacinata flour (the finely milled durum wheat, which has a fine slightly gritty feel)
  • 1 tbsp of water
  • and a lot of love from Carla