Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Shed and Garden

I love a shed......but with a small garden where there is nowhere to hide a shed, there is no option but to make it a feature.  The first major decision was not to build the sort of base which needed umpteen inches of hardcore and concrete.  After all if someone wanted to move it or remove it in the future, there would more hard work.  Instead we went for a much lower impact solution: ecodeck.   Mr S very carefully skimmed the topsoil, and sifted it ready for me to use elsewhere in the garden...levelled the site, set down the membrane, and fitted out the base.  I wheel barrowed all the chippings from the front drive.

We were really pleased with the shed...rather well made, and in addition with a much higher roof, and door so that Mr Longshanks doesn't crack his head so often!  It took a couple of days effort to get the shed erected to Mr S's aka Mr Longshanks's satisfaction.

After painting the outside...we are going to paint the inside, attach guttering, and have a water tub to collect rain water....



Here are a few more pictures showing a little more planting....

Succulents doing very well directly in the garden


Strange mixture put best out of their pots


Geranium Rozanne flowering her little socks off


Still in her pot..and struggling in the heat: Hydrangea paniculata vanille fraise.  They have since opened to a beautiful creamy white...in a few weeks they will turn pink.  This shrub will need to go into the ground this autumn, but first a good input of the black stuff is required!


Already producing are courgette plants; one green and one yellow.


I am a little disappointed with my new clematis but maybe with the very high temperatures and lack of natural water, it is not suprising...


close up of Clematis Aromatica which is a little underwhelming in its performance.



Finnish Rye again.....

When a baking friend posed the question: This is my refreshed starter including the water, rye flour and wheat flour. Does it look the right consistency?  I offered to bake the loaf and take lots of pictures.  I do hope this helps Angela...and it got me thinking carefully through each of the stages which makes up this loaf.

I have now made this recipe more than half a dozen times...it is a pure sourdough loaf, but it has no intermediate bulk rising, and gives a very nice even crumb.    If you want to see what I have posted previously: do go to Finnish Rye and Finnish Rye Again.  During cooler months, I have allowed the dough to rise in the tin at ambient kitchen temps, but as it is now rather warm...ambient day temperature 24 C, I prefer to do the rise during the day when I can keep my eye on the loaf.

For my personal taste I now half the amount of malt syrup, and have used honey this time.

This is the rye sourdough just removed from the fridge at about 9 pm.


I start by weighing into my bowl 25g whole rye flour


Then I weighed in 35g wholewheat spelt


followed by 30g water at room temperature


and finally 35g of the rye sourdough starter from the fridge


when it was mixed up this is what it looked like, before being covered with its shower cap, and left overnight on the kitchen worktop.  It looks just the same as Angela's mixture.


In the morning it was nicely puffed up


On top goes 75g of rye flour

 Then 150g strong white flour
 Then 6g salt

And finally 100g milk, 50g water, and 30g honey


Then I mix it all up by hand in the bowl
 

It is a fairly sticky dough, most rye flours result in a sticky dough...but no more flour please.  I use my trusty scraper to bring bits off the work surface and into the dough ball at regular intervals during kneading.  This is what it looks like after ten minutes....


I know my 1 lb tins work very well with 500g standard dough or a little more sourdough up to about 550g.  Just to compare with other tins...this tin holds 750g water.  I usually weigh the water held by different tins so that I can scale off the right amount for different tins. By scaling up the amounts in recipes I am able bake more than one loaf using different sized tins.  For example for a tin which holds 1000g water I use 1000 / 750 x 550 = 730g of dough.



Because my tins are a little old..I find I need to grease them very well for these long rise loaves..I use butter and a little layer of rye flakes, and the loaves comes out nicely. I would recommend preparing them before you start to knead, as it is handy to have them ready to pop the dough in, and not have to keep washing one's hands.

Using wet hands, which Jane Mason recommends, makes shaping the dough a breeze..and it is ready to roll in some flakes.  This is not in the recipe but I find it really helps with my tins.



The dough is now in the tin...and will sit rising under its shower cap.


Its just ten minutes to go before the first of the three hours are up...the dough has a long way to go, so I set the timer for another hour, and also another two hours.  I've had this timer for over ten years...and it is an absolute must for me, as I am usually doing several things at any time.  I was sorry to read that Salter have changed their design.  If I needed to get another one I have found one which looks almost exactly the same!


It took six hours rising to get the level of rise I was expecting


The oven was preheated to 230 C, with a baking tray to put the tin onto.  I find this bakes the bottom of the loaf nicely.  After 10 minutes I reduced the temp to 190 C as it is a fan oven.  After 20 minutes, rather than the 30 minutes given in the recipe, the loaf looked cooked.  Usually I find the timings about right, but there may be up to four loaves in the oven...this time there was just the one.  To check if the loaf was baked fully, I used the thermapen: 95 C...and yes, the loaf felt right.  From the amount of oven spring, I think another half an hour rise would have been OK.


Going through the notes made during previous bakes of this recipe, and comparing it with this run through, I realise that with sourdough there can be so many factors leading to variations...usually time variations.  So judgement based on experience is the best guidance, and allowing plenty of time is of the essence!

Monday, 10 July 2017

Sunflower Bread - The Sourdough Way

I set this recipe for the July sourdough baking challenge.  It is on page 117 of Jane Mason's Book: Perfecting Sourdough.  I was inspired by a friend describing the sunflowers following the sun near her home in Spain, and also seeing those potted 'Sunflowers' for sale in a local supermarket.

The loaves were baked yesterday...in the morning in between folds of the bulk ferment, I spent time in the garden.  It is still very hot here which may account for the fast rises.  It was probably over 26 C in the kitchen.




The dough may have just over risen which meant it did not have quite the round shape I look for these days.  Never mind, I shall have to consider whether I need to leave out a little of the liquid, or allow the final rise to be set at a cooler temperature, bake a little sooner, or bake in tins.  Maybe it is the weight of the seeds, and the fact that I brushed the dough once it came out of the bannetons with skilly wash and then scattered on the sunflower seeds which may have flattened the loaves.  I look forward to seeing what other members of the group on facebook turn out.  Perfecting sourdough is a journey and with ones own lessons to be learnt.

Skilly wash as learnt from Clive Mellum in his book: 1 large teaspoon cornflour thickened with 125ml boiling water.  I keep the balance for more baking later in the week, in a jar in the fridge.  This really helps the seeds to stick on the loaves and give a great sheen, without having to 'break an egg'.



Here is the recipe with Jane Mason's permission with abbreviated directions...but I would recommend that you buy her book, or borrow a copy from the library,  and read carefully her good guidance at the start of the book, and various sections, as well as within the recipes.

80g wheat sourdough starter
330g whole wheat or spelt flour
250g white wheat or spelt flour
305g water
100g milk
50g honey
50g butter or lard
70g sunflower seeds, plus extra to decorate
10g salt


Evening:  refresh sourdough by adding 80g of the wholewheat flour and 80g of the water from the above ingredients, and put the sunflower seeds to soak.  These must be rinsed and drained before using the following day.  I allowed for 100g to include the topping for two loaves.
Morning: add all the ingredients, Knead well for 10 minutes, and leave in a bowl under cover on the work-surface.  Additionally, I like to do stretches of the dough still in the bowl, which helps to develop the gluten, every hour or so.
After 3 or four hours, shape, and put into a prepared basket or baskets, or tins,
After a further rise of about 2 hours or longer, when it has risen, it is time for it to be rolled carefully out of the baskets and onto a parchment lined baking sheet, and baked in a very hot oven for 10 minutes, then a further 30 minutes at 200 C.  The seeds can scorch so cover with more parchment after 20 minutes.

I prefer to cook my bread in smaller than 1 KG bannetons...so I used a 750g oval and 500g roundish one.  Next time I would use either tins, or my two 500g bannetons, and reduce the water slightly.  I used all wheat flour this time.....

In a Vase on Monday

 It continues to be really hot.  The sort of day that during the heat after lunch...maybe a game of patience is just the ticket.  Cathy who leads this group comes up with the most wonderful themes each week...she has such perseverance and patience.....she has come up trumps again!

Yesterday  I spent the late evening dead heading the antirrhinums in the front garden.  They are performing beautifully...but I have had to water.  In the back garden a few of the plants I brought with me are holding on but struggling despite copious watering.  Picking a stem from each of my favourite flowering plants, I give you this little arrangement for this week.




Achillea Millefolium Lilac Beauty
Agastache Mexicana
Alchemilla mollis
Astrantia Major 'Sunningdale Variegated'
Fuchsia microphyilla 'Silver Linings
Origanum Kent Beauty
Persicaria Red Dragon
Phuopsis Stylosa



The oregano is now a little heap of powdery blue foliage with shrimp like flowers.

I found just a little scratching of Phuopsis in a pot and am so pleased that it snuck and had a ride to the new garden.  I remember getting quite excited when I saw this plant the first time at The Courts Garden near Bradford on Avon.  It is thriving at the foot of the stone wall despite the dry and hot weather.  The Agastache was raised from seed by my friend Liz Watson in Kenilworth, and is flowering for the first time.

The Vase is the small empty bottle of Pear Liqueur ready to chuck into the recycling, now we have consumed the contents...a gift from neighbours for whom I watered their garden whilst they were on holiday!

The Persicaria Red Dragon from Cathy's Garden is one she has shared around rather well.  I have now a lovely rooted and potted specimen ready to pass onto a local IAVOM new friend.  So am looking forward to passing this one on...

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

A couple of days in Dunster

Its time to start exploring our new County: Somerset.  We set off for a couple of nights staying in Dunster.

I had read some time ago about the waterfall which comes off a cliff and falls to the sea.  Quite rightly I was intrigued to see this, so armed with OS Map, we found our nearest point to walk down to the beach to find this.  Been there, seen it, ready to move on!  Maybe it was because we had had trouble finding it, or because the weather was not wonderful, because we were hungry, or because there had been very little rain, we were disappointed and underwhelmed by the fall.  Here is my rather dreary post card from St Audrey's Bay. The position of the waterfall is where the greenery comes down the cliff.


After leaving we were wondering whether to head straight to Dunster...but travelling along, we spied one of those special signs that indicates an English Heritage site.  We had passed the turning, but decided that at the worst it would make an ideal picnic site, so turned back.  Not only was Cleve Abbey set in a quiet valley making for an ideal picnic place, but it was a real gem of a place.  

After lunch we spent a long time exploring the ruins, and musing on the various improvements made in the days of the Ministry of Works. The signage and description boards guide visitors around the site, and explain about the setting up and running of the Abbey before the dissolution, and the use of the many rooms. There are some wonderful tiles and faint wall paintings, and  a huge dormitory. 

Cleve Abbey Dormitory

Cleve Abbey

Cleve Abbey Gate House

Parking in Dunster is a little bit difficult!  Luckily we parked up in Dunster Castle Car Park, whilst we walked around part of the garden and High Street.  From the car park we spied a tea room in a pretty garden, but sadly the scones were not up to par...having far too much of the soapy taste of baking powder.

Our B&B  is in a wonderful location, and not surprising with a name like Dunster Mill House, it was adjoining Dunster Mill.  We managed to find some parking...phew!  This is the view of the back of Dunster Mill House, with the Mill alongside.  The mill race raw just on the other side of our bedroom.


Excellent breakfasts, welcoming hosts and a lovely room made for a great break.  We just managed to book two days away on the two dampest days for several weeks, so a foray to the beach was postponed for another visit.  Instead, our first stop in the morning was the Mill....most of you reading this will know that one of my favourite things to buy is flour!  We were delighted that they would be milling that morning.  We had a tour of the mill:  they have two overshot wheels and two sets of French Millstones, and watched the millers get the mill ready and testing the stones etc.  They use organic wheat from Dove's Farm.


Of course, I did not want to buy my flour at the start of the day...at the end of the day, ten minutes


before the Mill closed, they were surprised to see us again, and the Miller was particularly pleased by my order!  I bought their large 3Kg bag of wholemeal, some white which they sift in a very antique looking sifter, some rolled oats and porridge oats.  In the rain it was a quick dash next door with my STASH of flour!  Living up to my name again, must keep my stash filled with interesting flour!

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Castle, and particularly found the tour of the servants quarters fascinating.  With our guide we went through doors not normally opened for the general visitor: visiting the House Keepers rooms, the Butler's room, and female and male servants rooms.  There were many steps, and it was interesting to see the unimproved rooms.  We saw old bath which had been plumbed in, which the servants used...what a luxury for them, even though they were limited to the amount of water, and were reminded their time was up, by the House keeper ringing a bell after ten minutes.  Another interesting thing we were shown were the shells which act as sound insulation between all the floors at the Castle.


The grounds are 'lush', and the planting on the mount quite dramatic.  Large Redwoods dwarfed by tall hero.....


There were some wonderful trees


and rich green plantings. How about this for a Lover's Bridge, which took one over the stream towards parkland where a large herd of Longhorn Cattle were grazing?


As it was raining, we did not explore all of the garden...but left some for next time.

Dinner at The Luttrell Arms Hotel was the culmination of our 'wedding anniversary' treat.  This is now the meal by which we shall measure all future and past meals.  It is worth going to eat at the Lutterell Arms where Chef Barrie Tucker is a force to be reckoned with...I had the best Venison plate ever...every thing on the plate was feast for the eyes, palate and soul.... the salt crust baked celeriac was absolutely perfectly cooked, and Mr S had duck with salsify and other things.  Our two different dessert plates were a dream.  This was real chef food made with the best of local ingredients. 
Sorry no photographs.....Excellent wine...The Maitre D' for the evening Richie Ellam was charming, and the service was spot on.

On our homebound leg we called in at Coleridge's Cottage in the very pretty village of Nether Stowey.  I had heard of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and used to know some of  Kubla Khan by heart, and having re read it wonder whether Coleridge had been inspired by a visit Dunster Castle?  During his two to three year stay at Nether Stowey he did do a lot of walking in the Quantocks and surrounding areas.


With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.


I feel that I would like to read a little more about Coleridge and his poetry...even though the presentation at the cottage left us with the feeling that he was very self centered, going out for long walks, and even left his wife behind, who looked after their ailing child who died, whilst he was off gallivanting in Germany.  It also seems that he took advantage of his friend Tom Poole...

We took a walk around Nether Stowey guided by the brochure, which was a pleasant walk to stretch our legs before the final drive home.

I think there will be several return visits to explore this western end of Somerset.