Category Archives: Pure Joy

Apple and Hazelnut Filo Roll-ups

applesNow I could call these strudel but you know they aren’t really strudel –  what they are is me making use of the last of the wizening garden apples that have been sitting wrapped in paper in a box in the garage and a packet of Theos filo pastry that I bought for something else only I forgot what –  and I thought that I should use both of them up.

I rang my sister who used to make lots of this and who I think of as a strudel expert and had a chat about breadcrumbs and soft middles which was fun. She thinks the breadcrumbs are what makes the difference to the texture, with them the middle all comes together into a soft filling, without crumbs it stays separate and more chunky.

rollups

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

UK National Fungus Day

Bread in Morning Light

Sunday 13th October 2013

Some bread out of the oven cooling in the early morning sunshine.  The one in the front is in reality very small but because of the way the camera works it looks quite big. Thanks to the kefir and whatever yeast (fungus) we use we have bread and can make our own as human beings have been doing for a very long time now.

Fungi and bacteria work with the building blocks of the living world to create and destroy. The more we learn about how they work the more amazing they turn out to be. Maybe we should have a National Bacteria Day too?

Here are some of this autumn’s crop of fungi photographs, taken at Westonbirt, Glos and in the Forest of Dean, which is on the other side of the Severn Bridge, but on this side of the border with Wales. It is a good year for fungi in the UK, so have a go at seeing what you can see, or go to an organized walk or a talk, lots around ! This is the first UK Fungus Day and I think it is a great idea!

I have had a stab at identifying some of them but as ever warn people not to go by my identification as I am not a mycologist. I used to be quite reasonable at identifying about a dozen or so of the edible fungi, but as the years pass I have got out of practice. If you go on a fungi foray with a group or a self-styled forager be sure to ask them how they learnt their trade and ask lots of questions. In these straitened economic times, people turn to all sorts of ways to earn a living and foraging and ‘teaching’ foraging is one of them.

For most of us, wild fungi are not an essential part of our diet, but rather a treat, a flavour, an aroma, something maybe that one wouldn’t desire if not driven by media hype and an urge for different experiences.

I am not saying don’t or that it is wrong to want to taste and touch new things, just be extremely careful. There are cases of poisoning each year, usually well-documented in the press, of people who eat the wrong fungi, or the wrong berries or plants.

What is fun and completely safe however, is to go out and take photographs and look for them. We are sticking to that this year unless we see the ones that I know I can id positively.

And not to create any confusion, we didn’t bring any of the fungi depicted here home with us, only took their photos. Please do not ask me to identify your fungi finds!

larch Boletus Brian Kent

I am pretty sure this is the larch boletus, with its spongy underside.

Yellow Stagshorn Calocera viscosa

and I think this is Yellow Stagshorn( Calocera viscosa) – because it was growing on wood but it’s not one we see very often, it is very small and delicate but has this outstanding glowing colour.

autumn fungi

Haven’t looked this one up yet…

…and finally the most glamorous one we have seen this autumn which I think is a magpie inkcap but I haven’t found an image exactly like it so who knows?

magpie inkcap?

One of the hardest things is keeping the dogs out of the field of shot, as anything that interests us, interests them and we don’t want them to eat the fungi either!

Anyone want to tango with a wet poodle?

Anyone want to tango with a wet poodle?

So for those of you who miss him, here is your small friend Zeb, following an exciting jump into a mud bath on the edge of a small pool which contained a stick of desire that he had to have, (just had to).  We are taking him and his sister to the beach this coming week. I forsee many early evening baths.

Red Admiral Flowering Ivy

8th October 2013

Red Admiral Ivy Flowers Clifton Bristol Zeb Bakes

I associate butterflies with summer and it isn’t summer anymore. However both yesterday and today the ivy on the Downs (where we currently walk the dogs) was crawling with honey bees and other species of wild bees, bluebottles and Red Admirals  – all feeding on the nectar from the flowers.

The moral of this tale is, don’t cut your ivy back before it has flowered, it provides valuable food for all manner of beings at a time of year when flowers are not so readily available.

Photo taken with great difficulty, this was the best of them, windy weather, a flighty butterfly and a little hand held camera which I have never really had the patience nor the inclination to learn to use properly.  I have a blind spot about cameras, I just want them to work, I don’t want to understand them. So I have tried to enhance the red which was brighter by far than the image portrays.

Hope you are all well!

Heat Wave Thoughts

Screen Shot 2013-07-18 at 08.25.37

Today’s forecast (18th July 2013)  from the Weather Channel

Those of you who live in a climate where summer temperatures routinely hit 30 and above for weeks and months at a time probably look on in puzzlement at the UK (and all the fuss we are making about the weather) which is currently basking in very hot temperatures (for us) for the forseeable future.

Our houses are designed for the most part to keep the cold and the damp out and are not always the best when it gets hot. But like most humans, we adapt  – given a couple of days to get used to the idea, so I get up earlier and water plants at the coolest point in the day. I am also practising revealing body parts that are normally swathed in socks and thermal underwear, eat later and do things a bit more slowly.

Of course if I did things much more slowly I would indeed be exhibited in the zoo as the three-toed sloth that I am. I do most of the things that absolutely need to be done and then ignore things that can wait till another day, having discovered that if you ignore them long enough they have a habit of not needing to be done at all, or someone else, racked with impatience will do them instead.

Here are a few slowly snapped pictures to share with you this morning. We start off with the ex-chervil. Doc once commented that we don’t show the gaps in the ground, the plants that didn’t grow, the failures, so here just for him is a special photo. One evening there was a happy plant, the next morning….

Ex Chervil For Doc

… we think the dog may have watered it while no one was looking

But in my hand, Doc, is one of the first sugar snap peas that I grew from your collection and they are good and sweet and snappy. I don’t know that they will do that well on account of the heat, but I am enjoying picking and eating them as I go.

Doc's Peas

We also put a couple of rows of lettuce plugs in last month which grew rapidly and successfully. There was an odd ugly one which Brian said was ‘red gem’ or so it had been labelled. When I harvested one yesterday it turned out to be a rather wonderful radicchio inside. We have never had good radicchio because the rain always seems to stick their leaves together at the top, a bit like balled roses, but no rain, equals great radicchio.

Radicchio

We have flowers! Here is a lily for Heidi and I am pleased to report that we vanquished the early lily beetles this year and they haven’t re-appeared so far, so we have enjoyed this one with its beautiful curly petals in peace and unmunched quiet.

Lily

We had the paths at the front cleaned yesterday, never done that before and the moss and green stuff has all gone, so hopefully when the cold and ice return, we won’t fall on our bums, slithering towards the front door. This beautiful soft and furry leaved plant (Stachys byzantina or Lambs ears) ended up covered in grit as a result, so I have been out there trying to clean it up. It is beloved by the white and golden bees that visit and lives happily in the gravel garden. Anything that the bees like is all right by me!

Stachys byzantina (Lambs ears)

We are mildly obsessed with French tarragon, that wonderful herb that goes so well with all manner of foods. It is slow to grow and tricky to keep going through a cold winter. We were sent some by post from Rome and we have potted it all up and it is doing very well on the windowsill. We also have a South African blue basil which we traded with a man at the Garden Centre for two oca plants. I love trading plants, such fun!

The photo below is of tagetes lucida, also known as Mexican tarragon, or winter tarragon. I have bought a little one and am hoping it will do well as it is supposed to be a tough plant but we will see as this is not Mexico!

Tagetes Lucida

Tagetes Lucida or Mexican Tarragon

Fat HenI carefully sowed some special marigold seed that someone had sent me last year and even went so far as to plant them out, only to realise that the plants I ← had nursed were in fact Fat Hen, a weed I was unfamiliar with, but apparently is edible and which has been used as a pot herb for a very long time, (thanks once again to @Rhizowen on Twitter) but I didn’t want Fat Hen, I wanted marigolds so they had to go.

Zeb has found a shady spot to sit in when he wants to be outside but he tends to go in mostly when it is like this and he likes to sit quietly and plot his next move at times like this. I put the kitchen thermometer next to him to see what the shade temp was.

Zeb

I have baked once since it got hot.  I thought I would make French bread. I had forgotten how sticky and impossible dough can be when the weather is warm and I wrestled a couple of baguette shapes together and then gave up with the rest of the dough and shaped it loosely onto a tray and baked it off. The loaves stuck together but do we care really, it is all food. It had a good crust and an open crumb but my regular sourdough is a lot easier to handle than this stuff.

French Bread

IMG_3084

Here is a picture of carrot and coriander soup from when B was still feeling delicate. You will note that one bowl is topped with sourcream – that was mine !

Carrot and Coriander soup has to be one of the easiest soups out there. Chop carrots and an onion, sweat till soft, add stock and fresh coriander, whizz till blended with either a stick blender or a food processor, season to taste and serve.

Carrpt amd Coriander Soup

And I am treating myself on a daily basis to cherries which came first from Turkey, then from Greece, from France and finally yesterday from England. I love cherries!

Cherries

So that is a snapshot of where we are at, today is supposed to be even hotter and I had better lift a paw and move slowly and elegantly  towards the shower. Take it easy wherever you are!

Singing Crusts and Rising Bread

Zeb Bakes Apple Bread

This is going to be what I now believe is called a ‘longform’ post. i.e. more than three lines and two photos.

It has been about five years now since I picked up a bag of flour and wandered dustily down the bread road.

Other people in the same time span have started their own businesses, gone to baking school, and done all sorts of wonderful things seduced and entranced as they are by the whole baking world.  I still haven’t made croissants or doughnuts, but I like to think I can make a reasonable loaf of sourdough and great pitta bread.

In this post I just wanted to have a little chat and a meander through my baking past such as it is,  because I sometimes think that people don’t quite believe that we all go down the same road more or less trying to figure out this bread thing, which is how to make bread that makes us and the people we share it with happy!

I have spent a bit of time trawling through old photos, many of which were taken by Brian, (the clue is that his have that fancy blurred background thing going on).  I will try and do a ‘with hindsight’ running commentary on what was going on, and what might have gone wrong, but it is hard to know exactly. If you knew me when I posted on Dan’s forum you will have seen these photos before as I puzzled over what to do to put things right the next time…

First Mill Loaves!

Here we have two of my very earliest loaves, I was very ashamed of them, but I also thought they were quite funny so I took their photo vowing that I would do better next time.

They were both made from the same dough, the flatter of the two on the right had stood for about an hour longer than the other one before being baked and was completely and utterly overproved. The very dark one had been in the oven for ages at a very hot temperature. All those hours of waiting and I wasn’t very impressed.

However my best loaf possibly ever and the one that makes me smile the most is this one:

Mouse Cathedral 1

This was an experiment in not kneading and not folding and putting dough in the fridge overnight. I thought I would be even more minimal than the most minimal of bakers and very clever. I hadn’t really understood that you have to get rid of some of the bubbles in the dough, or stretch and shape it.

Mouse Cathedral 2

As you can see it turned into a mouse cathedral, and rose in a way I have never been able to replicate since. I think there was so much air in the dough that it just didn’t know what to do. Ah me.

White LevainThis was my first attempt at a basic white sourdough made with Dan Lepard’s recipe in the Handmade Loaf. It is a simple dough but not an easy one to handle if you are starting out. I read somewhere the other day that simple is not the same as easy, and this certainly applies to bread making. I think I had used so much oil to handle the dough that the crumb took on a shine resembling my face after a day in the kitchen. Using oil to shape dough is very useful, but too much can cause problems, particularly when it comes to sealing the seams underneath with a firm dough. Use it sparingly and save yourself this grief.

At this point I spent a lot of time reading about flour and reading bread books and decided that if only I had the ‘right’ flour I would make much better bread. In fact I hummed and hawed about this a lot, bought all sorts of different flours and experimented madly, and spread myself so thinly that I never really knew what I was doing.

Sourdough overnight baguettes - 9

I made an attempt at  overnight sourdough baguettes and was appallingly pleased with myself. In fact it is just sourdough in baguette shape but no matter. As I have said before I am not a perfectionist and am easily pleased! Look at their funny little shapes and their slashes!

IMG_2989

I proved these in my old cotton teatowels, no fancy couche cloth here, not a clue really what I was doing, but I do remember eating these, baked from cold from the fridge and being extremely happy and greedy.

How many can I eat?

I carried on making breads and posting about them on Dan Lepard’s forum, I shyly chatted away to people who also posted. I made friends, I asked questions, I began to think I knew some of the answers and tried to help people who also turned up, the curse of being an ex teacher and wanting to share knowledge, partial though it was and still is.

It was a lovely forum, with a great mix of people from experts to beginners and was very gentle and friendly. I admit I bought brotforms, in those days not as easy to find as they are now,  so I ordered some from Germany. I found two french banettons with linen liners in a catering suppliers in the UK too.  My early banetton loaves had a ghostly white pallor as I had read somewhere to dust them with potato flour to stop the dough sticking. It works fine but doesn’t change colour in the oven at all. The loaves were beginning to look like loaves that made sense to me at last.

Mill Loaves again

I am not the most consistent of people and I maybe never took the baking or the blogging quite seriously enough to be a bona fide food blogger nor a baker but every so often I get a nice comment or an email from someone who has been brave enough to make something based on what I have written here and then I feel very pleased that I have helped which brings me to the highlight of my blogging week:-

Highlight of the week

JoH Bakes Beautiful Sourdough

Look at that crumb!

Look at that crumb!

Sharing and Baking

These are photos of JoH’s sourdough that she sent me this week which I am allowed to show you.  I think her bread looks just great and I am delighted that she too is jumping up and down with happiness at making a loaf that pleases her. She was working from my weekly sourdough sheets which you can find here → Weekly sourdough pdf

So here’s to all of you brave and foolhardy people who drag a bag of dry flour into the kitchen, squint at a recipe, wonder over instructions like ‘give the dough a turn’ or ‘ form a boule’, who convert cups to grams and ounces to handfuls,  burn your arms and skid on semolina, to those of you who sit by your ovens and smile as the bread rises,  feed your friends and family, share pictures and stories, advice and lore on the internet, with your salt and your leaven, your ferments and baskets, I salute you, may your bread rise and your crusts sing and crackle!

Oh and a last word of my best well-meaning advice – don’t worry about what they do on TV, follow your instincts, take it all with a pinch of salt, they don’t know it all, no one does – question everything, practise lots, study your failures, as they will tell you more than you think, and have a good time!