Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Khorasan Sourdough

The flip side of getting my baking mojo back, is that I spend time researching recipes.  I found a great site with some excellent advice and took the recipe from there.  I tweeked it a little as regards to timing.

As for Khorasan Flour, I've used it before.  I had it a few years back when I used to go and pick up flour direct from Shipston Mill, when it was called Kamut Flour.  At the food show at Birmingham a couple of years back I was given a bag by Doves Farm.  This bag for this sourdough was on my last order from Shipton's Mill.

The recipe includes white flour, so I decided to used my first batch of white flour from Charlecote Mill.  I went out there on Monday, taking Rita out for a ride, to collect my local stoneground wholemeal flour.  Picked up a postcard and a bag of white flour too.  Mr S pointed out some little name right in the middle of the logo, and wondered whether that was the reason I bought the card! The white flour feels smooth, and is a lovely creamy colour.  Mr S has always liked the wholemeal from Charlecote as the bran is quite fine.

I played around with the thought of making a stencil using the Charlecote Mill Logo.  I had mentioned this to Karl...

 First thing yesterday I mixed  100g of white flour, 100g water, plus 50g of the rye sourdough.  At the same time adding more water and rye to refresh M.  Within a hour or so the starter was getting pretty active.

I had started the autolyse at lunch time yesterday, and baked this morning, so the loaves went into the fridge for the slow rise overnight.

Here is the dough having been divided into two, and just about to be shaped ready for the baskets after a 20 minute rest.

I'm pretty excited about these two loaves as there are several firsts for me here:

Khorasan Sourdough, Autolyse, only folding in the bowl, 2nd prove in the fridge, and baking straight from the fridge, making my own template, and

trying out a stencil.  I cut this carefully out of baking parchment, and am finding that after just two loaves, it is not resilient, so I shall have to think of something else to cut to shape, which I can wash and reuse.

A pity about the two big blisters on the side, I'm not yet sure how to avoid these.  I still want and need  to have more guidance on this and baking sourdoughs and am looking forward to having a 'master class' with Jessica from Bread for Life.  I am looking for fellow local home bakers to make up a little group for this.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Bring the Chelsea Highlights to your garden

That's the name of the email I received from the RHS today.  This has inspired me to review my highlights of my 'viewing' of the Chelsea Flower Show on the TV, and to document the very bits of my garden which mirror some of the high points....I still have 'episodes' in the can.

I have moss, not moss in the lawn, as I have no lawns, but stones.  Two points to me...I have moss on my Buddha, and I have stones all around....

I have art in my garden, well some statues, as well as some 'temporary' art:   Nicki brought round some of her project and we were inspired to play with it amongst the vibrant 50 shades of green...

I have tortoises, small ones, and not real stone...

A garden room to adjourn to in the garden which doubles up as Auricula 'housing'

More auriculas in the garden
New acquisitions, well for me they were new, and grown specially by a local plants woman

Wild Life in the 'very small' pond, ranging from newts, to frogs, toads, and damsel flies, and Red mason bees in the wall by the conservatory.  I had this little 'insect house' for several years, and decided this year, when the various empty raw plug holes in a sunny wall had been sealed up with mud, to move the sadly vacant house to that same wall. Within minutes holes were being visited, with the first 'let' sign being in the top right hand corner.  So it was the siting of the house which made all the difference.

The larger canes have the mud seal half way down.

We have conifers, a particularly large one at the end of the garden, and a small recent acquisition The Japanese Umbrella Pine with whorls of long needles, one of the five sacred trees of Japan's Kiso Forest.

Planting of shrubs with contrasting under planting, here the  Ajuga Reptans Atropurpurea with its long botanical name is vibrating to the rhythm of the numerous bumble bees which frantically visit each flower in between the showers, show off the low branches of the Viburnum  plicatum 'Mariesii'

Topiary, well not yet worth a picture: three golden lonicera which are currently small compact golden balls in pots, which I may trim into more flattened shapes..

Well my garden is a hotchpotch:  I love plants, plants with associations, sometimes I go wild and buy choice plants from Chelsea Gold Winners, and sometimes lovely plants from local plant sales.  I love propagating, so have made sure to take plants from garden to garden as I move, and beg cuttings of fancied plants.  From being just able to walk, my favourite place was my parents' garden, and each garden I have worked in has brought me joy.

Not all plants survive, and I have to do battle with insects, mildews and rusts, pigeons, and grey squirrels, and have varying weather to test and sometimes destroy plants.  Unlike Chelsea, I have not spent loads of dosh, I do not force plants, have not built the garden over a matter of weeks, but it is my garden, I love it, and love it when friends say oh I love that plant, and I can propagate it for them.  I love the wild life that visits and those 'benign' ones which choose to make it their home.  I love being able to just step out and walk and breath the fresh air, and look to each plant as it performs its little part.

I have been to Chelsea, my Dad took me once when I was little, I have been to Hampton Court, and various other shows, and marvel at the choice that plant hunters, breeders, and growers bring us.  Thank you to all of you.

Sunny Day out in the Cotswolds

Sunny Day out...anyone reading this will wonder where we were.  This bank  holiday weekend is not really sunny, nearly a washout, but I am remembering last weekend.

Mr S had planned on going to a Model Railway Show in Stow.  He had planned this a few weeks before hand, and had 'bribed' or is it rather 'rewarded' my offer to go with him, with an offer of lunch out.  However, as the day bode hot, I suggested a picnic lunch.  I would rather have found a nice spot than spend a couple of hours in a restaurant, which also included the time to find one.  So looked out our National Trust Book and found an open property nearby.

We set off for Stow on the Wold, and made for the Town Hall.  I loved the room on the first floor, and was intrigued by all the old oil paintings on the wall, and other artifacts dating from the Civil war.  I spent time looking at these, whilst my dearly beloved looked at a very n gauge layout.

 After tea and cake, we had a tour of the town, and came across this lovely cookshop

and what did they have that caught my fancy but a casserole on very special offer!

Chastleton House was amazing, I can't believe that we have not been there before.  We had our picnic in the shade by the croquet lawns with a lovely bank of wild flowers behind us.

I spied some sempervivums growing wild on a wall..

Inside, the plasterwork and carvings are amazing

If you are thinking of visiting do check opening times as they will be closed during a few weeks in the summer for filming.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Waitrose Kenilworth stop standard Tate & Lyle Sugar

Yesterday I went to my local store to pick up some sugar ready for Jam Making.  The fruit are ripening and the first of the English Strawberries mean its time for me to start.

However to my disconsternation the brand they now carry is Silver Spoon.  I went to the desk and 'filed' my complaint.  The assistant said that they had changed the brand as a request from customers who wanted to support British Beet Producers.  Well maybe sugar beet is fine to put in your tea or coffee, or on your cereal, but for bakers: please give us a choice.  My query when I insisted, was written on a little piece of till roll.  I wonder whether this will go any further?

When I had first moved to Kenilworth, I had bought this brand from Sainsburys and I really did not feel it was equal in my preserves or baking.  The set was not quite there, and my meringues not quite so good.  At first I thought it was me, but when  Waitrose opened and they had Tate & Lyle, I could feel the difference straight away.  Am I the only one to think this?  Tate & Lyle are fairtrade and how about supporting foreign sugar growers.  If we are to support just British Farmers, will Waitrose start to stock only English Butter, English Charcuterie, English caught prawns.  I would be pleased for similar ranges to be supplied just from English Farmers too!

I really hope that I can find Tate & Lyle somewhere else.

Friday, 16 May 2014


I get to buy pretty named varieties, but then loose the labels, and plant up shallow pans the current favourite being discarded bonsai pots.  They are tough plants, can stay outdoors all year round, need very little attention, except rejuvenating which really means repotting young ones, and throwing out the ones which have run to seed and then die.

If anyone has empty ones lying around, they can bring them round and choose some little ones to plant up for themselves.

Here are a few different types waiting for their final containers

They also look great with just one variety planted in one pot

Burnt Pan

I've seen this before, and I've also burnt the very same pan.  I was 'reducing' the liquid in which I had poached some figs, and had just popped into the garden......The figs are now sitting in Marsala Wine! By the way they were not in the pan when it got burnt, I was just reducing some of the soaking liquid.  The figs I had bought when we went to Croatia last year.  I bought them straight from the woman who had grown them and dried them herself.  She was so delighted when I went back and bought a second lot from me, I nearly thought I was going to be invited back to her farm!  I settled for a small bunch of grapes and a handful of rocket picked that morning and still with the roots on as a gift.

A few minutes later, or maybe more, I came back in, and my nose said that's it...I was resolute, I would not be upset.  After all I have had this pan over twenty years, and maybe another one would be best.  There is a slight dink in the side when someone, not me must have dropped it!

I left it overnight soaking, but next morning there was no change.  Then I got out my very seldom used oven cleaner.  Don't get me wrong I do clean the oven, but I prefer no harsh chemicals, and  use Kitchen spray and elbow grease.  I donned rubber gloves, long sleeves and apron, and applied the Oven Pride to lid and pan, and put the whole lot into a large bag for another overnight soak.

The next morning lid was completely clean, but the pan was still solid.  I trailed the internet, and decided to use the vinegar and baking soda routine, together with plenty of elbow grease.  Actually I used an old spoon to scrape the surface.  I did this in batches, as my elbow grease was running out and finally the pan/casserole is useable again.

I've just looked up the price in case I still want to buy another of these stellar casseroles, but no I won't be, and I now think the time I spent scrubbing really worth while.

Prologue:  I found a shop just by accident on a day out to Stow...and they had a Stellar caserole, of a large size, on offer, at a price I could not refuse!  I still have my smaller caserole, and I have since had the tip off a friend that rhubarb boiled up in the pan works too.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Grevillea Canberra Gem

Yesterday I speeded out to view the shearing of the Alpacas at Toft Alpaca.  It was my own fault that I was late.  At Pilates my teacher Jayne, had mentioned that she was going out there, and it seemed just the thing for me to join her, as I was 'free' and had the car.  For over a week I have been housebound, whilst we have the bathroom gutted and plastered, and tiled, and refitted.  D had decided to work from home, and hence the unexpected day of 'freedom'.

The group had already set off, and went down various paths to try to find them.  I found mothers with babies, but no group.  I went back to the shop, enjoyed looking at the yarns, but decided to head back after waiting for half an hour or so.  I had the car, and I was on my own, so decided to drop in on Ryton Organic Gardens.  Officially they were closed, but with my RHS membership, they suggested I slip round the main buildings.  It was lovely, hardly anyone else in the garden, I strolled around, but then had to dart back to the car, as heavy rain drove its needles into me.

On my way back I decided to call over to Avondale Nurseries in Baginton, and have a look round.  Brian Ellis had just given our last talk at the Kenilworth Horticultural Club.  His show garden is really worth looking around but the plant which I spied had no small ones for sale.  Next door, all within the Russell Nursery complex is  John Gillies who has just opened a small outlet for his shrubs, so I popped in there.

John has some unusual shrubs, with the entrance to his area decorated with fine specimens.  Just looking around, I felt that what I needed was a bigger garden!  His little dog is sure to greet you, but he is definitely on guard.  John was in his tunnel working, and I felt quite free to browse without pressure.

Well I felt I needed a treat, after all I had missed the walk around at the Alpaca Farm!  I was drawn by Grevillea Canberra Gem.  It was an Australian Plant, and I could grown it in a pot for a while.  I loved the leaf form and the shape of the flower.  It reminded me of those bunches of flowers we get early in the year in florists which often include some of the large Protea flowers, and a few others.  John gave me some advice.  I loved the form of the flower, and have looked up various sources to learn more.  Its a member of the Proteaceae family!  I've gathered care instructions which include NOT feeding it with a phosphate festiliser!

May bouquet

 Yesterday I went out to pick the first of the Etoile de Hollande Roses, and made up this little posy which I photographed today, so I know that my new blooms and good as cut flowers.  These are not the first of the roses as those have been eaten when they were in tight bud.  I have some visiting grey squirrels and gradually they are getting a liking for all of my favourite things...Last year it was the pears, and this year it is rose buds.  I watched it brazenly perch on the top of my arch, break off a bud, and eat it, whilst watching me doing the washing up.  I run into the garden yelling, and it balances on the fence and shouts back at me.  I shall look for a good water pistol.

With my roses I have the first cut flowers from a couple of new plants which I acquired last year.  The white flower above is a Centaurea Montana Alba.  It is a short and compact plant, with greyish leaves.  The blue ones are popping up around the garden.  The bees loves both of these.

The white perennial candytuft is Iberis ex Betty Swainson.  It is a lowish growing plant with really lovely large flowers, and very good a cut flower.  I got both these plants when I visited a small nursery.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Garibaldi Biscuits

Inspired to make these by the many references to Garibaldi during our Sicily Holiday, these were baked this morning.  I rolled out the dough and managed to coax it into a nice oblong, and found the right shaped cutter.    Strange that they did not have any Garibaldi biscuits in Sicily.  I added a little mace dusting over the currants before folding over the pastry and rerolling.  

The dough is fairly plain and takes 175g plain flour, into which 40g butter is rubbed into, then 40 g caster sugar mixed and the dough bound with about 4 tbsp milk.  Roll the pastry into a large rectangle then brush well with beaten egg, then sprinkle half with 60 g currants and about 20g demerara sugar.  Fold over the pastry to cover the currants, then roll keeping a rectangle shape.  Thickness is decided by the size of the currants, easy!  I use my long palette knife to keep the edges square.  This amount gives 15 good sized biscuits.  Brush the tops with more egg and a little more sugar.  Bake on parchment at Gas Mark 4 to 5 for about 15 minutes until golden brown.

My baking mojo has been asleep but I just felt that D would be looking for something this Friday when returning from work.

We are currently bathroom less!  Back to bare brick, the room was prepared yesterday and is being re-plastered today.  

We went swimming yesterday then a very good shower, so all the dust is washed off!  It will be another week for all the tiling and fitting to be done.  We have Tim and Robert the plasterer working their socks off.  Just how many cups of tea and coffee have I made?  Must get up and make them drinks, maybe they will enjoy a biscuit too?

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Sicily holiday

We love Italy and we looking for somewhere a little different to go to, early in the year, when the spring flowers are out...We wanted an 'easy' holiday, so booked a trip called Seriously Sicily.  We stayed at four different hotels, and saw sufficient of the country to entice us back again.

Lessons learnt:

Packing was just about right with two larger cases.  We normally have one large and one small case, but normally that means washing much more.  The dearly beloved is the master packer.  He even asked me if I wanted my camera charger, which I declined:  bad move battery ran down, when I mistakenly put my camera back in its case without turning it off during a review of pictures taken.  So take the camera charger, and take two cameras!  I used Hubby's camera a bit, put got the exposure wrong.  I am still hoping to get some pictures from fellow travelers. I had a lot of sympathy from new friends and offers to use their chargers, but none of them fitted!

Do not travel to very religious countries during their major religious periods.  Many places in Sicily were closed over Easter, and when we had 'free' time just after lunch those shops etc which may have been open were on their siesta close down....

Our first stop was in Noto which really lives up to its name of a 'garden of stone'.  Our room and balcony were looking over some hills with orchards of orange and lemon trees sloping down to the hotel right on the outskirts of the town.  I was amazed by the wonderful scent during my early morning stretches on the balcony.  Right by our hotel a small railway line and interesting railway buildings nearby sparked an interest for D, but there were very few trains, I think we only saw and heard a couple during our stay.   The center was only a few minutes walk from the Hotel: Grand Hotel Sofia.

Our first day consisted of a walking guided tour of Noto, where we visited several buildings.  We were dropped off by coach by the gardens at the East of Corso Emanuel, and walked past the Porta Reale,
on a hot day this offer of freshly squeezed orange juice would have been lovely except that we had to keep up with the crowd...

We stepped into various churches and the Pretty Decorations in Pink of the Basilica SS Salvatore: feminine and fine caught my eye.

Close up the details on the columns were beguiling..I could have stood and gazed for a long time, but there was a group to keep up with.

The tour guide called these windows with grills jalousies, where women could look out at the world, at their eldest sisters endowed with dowries who were married off, whilst they lived in monasteries.

Along the Via Nicolaci, there were intricate stone corbels holding up balconies on the Palazzo

In the afternoon our tour took us to Scicli.  This is a charming small city, and as we had not seen any of the Moltalbano series, we shall look out for the repeats, we did not do any of the buildings some of our group were making for.  Instead we wondered around admiring the many baroque facades, then spied a sign for the Museo del Costume/Cucina.  It certainly did not disappoint and was a welcome counterbalance to all the churches.

Day 3 saw us on excursions to Ragusa and Modica.  After a pleasant walk round the Ibleo Park

viewing down into the valley below, and admiring the succulents

we made our way into the town.  I wonder who made the elegant gates to the Cattedrale di San Giorgio, with steep steps beyond?

Just before the large square with palm trees, we went into the smaller Chiesa San Giuseppe.

The interior was quite different to the many churches we had been into...white and gold, with the largest biggest red velvet curtain we had even seen.

We plotted our way on our own to a little restaurant we had spotted on our way up for the first taste of Pizza of the holiday.  Just when I thought I had been so original in using pumpkin on Pizza instead of tomato, I find the same thing on the menu among a whole list of Pizza Blondes!

This one was covered in pumpkin cream, I think this is their word for pumpkin puree, Mozzarella, ricotta cheese, sausage, and parsley.  The restaurant, name not noted was in the basement of a Palazzo in the stables where we sat along the trough.....well lit, clean, slick and chic otherwise!

We then set off for Modica with an 'obligatory' visit to Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, one of the oldest producers of chocolate in Sicily.  It was interesting to watch them worked a block of chocolate, as we looked on having donned flimsy white disposable overall and hats.  I looked on aghast as they used a small hand sawn piece of old Formica work surface with the rough edge of compressed fibre exposed, on top of their stainless steel worktop.  However I was somewhat placated if not disappointed to hear that their chocolate 'factory' is elsewhere!  The chocolate was dry and grainy not much to our taste, bit like the chocolate version of Kendal Mint Cake, yes one has to have it once, but again, I doubt it, but it was an interesting visit non the less.  My eye was on the patissiers making up cakes with tiny strawberries and pistachio nuts....this time on the pristine stainless steel worktops.

The following day saw us move Hotel from Noto to a City Center Hotel in Palermo.  We had several treats in store for us on the way there.  One stop was a tour of Caltagirone.

 I loved the steps, all 142 of them...I wasn't counting, just looking at the many designs, and capturing just a small number of them, a few only just here!
The ever patient perfect holiday companion just let me spend as much as time as I needed..

Our lunch break was taken in the middle of the country, high up in the verdant hills at a Rural Country Estate.  We had an extensive antipasti table to start with....

By contrast our Hotel in Palermo was strictly a City Hotel.  Although we had an acceptable evening meal on the first night, this hotel was not geared for evening meals, and as meals for the other two days were not included, we ate out the rest of the time.  Palermo is a very busy city, but with maps it is easy to get around, and small enough to walk easily from one side to the other.  Our Hotel was just by the Politeama Theatre a grand building crowned with bronzes.  Our room however was within earshot of a cinema...I am sorry for the hearing of the punters...however we had good shutters, double glazing and good air conditionning!

There is so much to see in Palermo, we had a walking tour, visited some of the churches, had nice lunches, ice creams, coffees, and some of the best bits were

Teatro Massimo  where I whispered on the sweet spot, and felt the whole world could hear me,

 The gardens of Villa Giulia,

Giardino Inglese, The Catacombs of the Cappuccini Convent, the markets with the lovely cheeses and fruits,

the squares with their large banyan trees 

and of course the Piazza Pretoria

 and the Cathedral.

There was also a little window shopping

Our second full day in Palermo was set aside for a visit to Monreale, I have just doubled checked some of the dates:

Cathedral Bronze Doors from 1185

A beautiful large cloister with fountain built in c 1183

with carvings and patterned columns

and where even simple shapes and clever carving lead to interesting detail well above head height

such a contrast to the internal intricate marble surfaces and large mosaics

This building also certainly has the rear of the millennium

Our next hotel took us to a more rural area to Mazara del Vallo.  Our well appointed room at the Mahara Hotel with large balcony looked down into an inner courtyard with fountain and bonze statue, quiet with sea air, and a very short stroll down to a pretty fishing town.

Highlights of the three nights spent there were

The Museo del Satiro where the town displays the finds from the bay including the Bronze Satire.
The sea trip and visit to Mozia must be one the top three.  We set off from the salt pans of Stagone where the Phoenicians were making salt nearly three millenium back.

I have this thing for sea salt and was really disappointed that there were non for sale there, but it was Easter, though I did get a little from a Mazara Supermarket.

Mozia/Mothia was built by the Phoenicians on the small island of San Pantaleo.

There was a very good Museum and the archaeological sites which were developed by Whittaker, an English Man whose family were linked to the trade in Marsala.  Just great a great article so making a link here.

The walk around the island was peaceful, with loads of wild flowers and birds singing....

We then had a short stop in Marsala, where I could not resist popping in to see the Tapestry Museum, you really have to hunt for it, and there is just a small door, then some steps, and you are in the most wonderful space with 8 large tapestries from the 16th Century which are still vivid and in excellent condition.  The person in the Office was really helpful and found me an English Leaflet.

After a delicious lunch at one of the lovely street cafe, we went on to a Marsala Tasting at Florios.  This was very slick and very well maintained.  We walked among the barrel some huge on beautifully tendered crushed tufa floors which helped to maintain just the right humidity and temperature.  We then were taken to a large room where we were taken through a film whilst we tasted the three Marsala wines with appropriate snack.  Then we had a few minutes in their very elegant shop with excellent choices of wine and other drinks.  We bought a nice bottle in an elegant tin.

Our last few days were spent in Acireale at the foot of Mount Etna.  Our hotel Maugeri was nicely situated for a walk straight into the centre, though much was closed for Easter.  On Easter Sunday, whilst most of the gang went to Etna, we decided to have our only day off.  We ventured down a very steep path down to the coast and on the way back up found a nice restaurant with great views.  It was quite a relief as we wondered whether we would find anywhere open.  We had tried a restaurant along by the quay but they would only serve the full 4 courses as it was Easter Sunday.  We did end up having three courses at the other restaurant...all very good, and within 10 minutes of our arrival the whole place filled up with Sicilians!

We had tours of Acireale and also Catania, both really interesting and after all the baroque architecture D was delighted to spend some time at the Museo Civiso Castello Ursino.  I loved the large Basalt Elephant....

We were both a little overwhelmed with the amount we saw.  We felt we could not eat any more Pasta, or Pizza, etc., but its strange within days of coming back I have made Pasta Norma, and made my version of the chickpea and fennel soup we had for lunch on a lemon farm...yes we were allowed to pick one each, and when we got back I made home made lemonade.  They get four crops of lemons a year!

Would I go back, yes, take me now!  What I wish the Sicilians would do...finish their buildings, and find a solution to their rubbish and litter problems...please, then it would be close to Paradise.

Thanks to our fellow travellers, some from as far as Scotland, and Australia for making agreeable holiday companions, and thanks to a great driver and tour leader too.