Saturday, June 20, 2015

"take five" knead bread

No pictures of "takes 1,2,3 & 4" as you've seen one cowpat you've seem them all, right!  This super easy - so simple a four year old can make it - bread caused this 40(ish) woman a lot of grief!

The first four attempts tasted great, they just looked flat.  At first I followed the original Jim Lahey recipe but my dough was very runny - not sure I correctly gauged 1 5/8 cup of liquid as I don't have a 5/8 increment on my measuring cup. Other sites give 1 1/2 cups of water and even 375ml, which was way to much! Given that this bread is commonly hailed as fool proof, I began to trouble shoot - staring from where I'm at!  1020m (3346ft) above sea level which in the realms of culinary alchemy often calls for  some small modifications to established recipes.  In this case less rising time and oddly enough less liquid.  After researching bread making at altitude - 3000ft and over - it would appear that often more liquid is necessary.  Also I'm not quite sure the flour we have here in France is the same as in the US, we don't have 'all purpose flour' which seems to be common place stateside.  Here our flours are mainly classed by number - 55 for cakes and biscuits, 65 for white bread, with the numbers gradually increasing 80, 110, 130 for wholemeal.   I settled on two cups of 65 and one cup 110, for 1/4 tsp instant yeast, 1 1/2 tsp salt for just a little less than 1 1/3 cup water.  10 hours for the first rising and 1 1/2 for the second.

I'm now happy enough with the result.  I think next time if I carefully place the dough in my dutch oven rather than just 'plopping' it in, I might just get the perfect round shape I so desire!

On the up side I've had a few first time success's in the kitchen, which helped temper the bread 'hicups':

Lemon & Mint Syrup

Left Over Oatmeal Muffins
'Nut-emma' - hazelnut/chocolate spread

'Nutella' is making the headlines in France right now after Ségoléne Royal - the environmental minister - trashed the product claiming that it contained very few nuts and lots of saturated fat and emulsifiers (you don't say!).  Her claims don't sit well with 54% of the french population, who believe she is wrong to site one particular product as 'un-healthy'.   Personally I've never bought the stuff 'cause it tastes like grease and my kids don't like it.  They do like, however, the homemade version - which contains LOTS of nuts, cacao powder, maple syrup and a little water.

So what's cookin in your kitchen lately?
Have you tried the No knead Bread experience?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Our Little Den

Just before our last visit to Wales in April my dad mentioned that he had a present for me - it was something new but old, wasn't an antique but could become one and as we were coming by car we would have no trouble bringing it back to France with us.  I had no idea what it could be, and was more than a little sounded like a lot of thought and money had gone into this gift - what if I didn't like it.
Turns out I had nothing to worry about.

He'd bought me this amazing picture of Strumble Head Lighthouse!!!! 
It came however with a condition, that it be hung over the stairs, opposite the computer table!  The particularity of this area is that ten years after moving in it still hadn't been plastered.

I'm planning on painting the wood wall slate grey (one-day...)
Richard designed and built our house (he's not an architect or builder) and apart from his fathers help did the entire thing himself!  As this space was over the stairs it would need some pretty inventive (home made) scaffolding and quite frankly Richard was feeling pretty spent with building work and so kept putting it off.

Hi (high) up there!
But the gift was the motivation that he needed, and so it has gotten done, and not only that,  he also rustled up this wonderful book case for me in secret one afternoon!

The uprights are made from trees that Richards father planted for the birth of his oldest son almost fifty years ago, that they cut down in 2002 (our kitchen celling is made from these also),  the shelving is left over wood that Richards parents recieved from his grandmother as a wedding gift more than fifty years ago!

Years ago on the eve of my best friend's wedding we took a walk out to Strumble Head Light House with her, the future groom, her parents and my dad, all very pleasant indeed until Richard spotted a seal, then another swimming just of the coast.  Wanting to share his discovery with us he shouted "phoque! phoque!" - which means seal in french but is unfortunately pronounced like a very naughty English swear word!!!  Given as I'm a french speaker I didn't bat an eye lid but the others, wondering why Richard had taken it upon himself to stand swearing like a trooper at the water, all stood glancing at each other, in much puzzlement!!!  How we did laugh afterwards, and the incident even made it into the groom's speech the next day.

On giving me the picture my father also reminded me that when he dies he wants to be cremated and his ashes thrown from the lighthouse!!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The birds and the bees

We have a new chicken lady, to replace the one that disappeared into thin air this winter - literally disappeared into thin air - there were no feathers or signs of a struggle as with a dog or fox attack so I'm assuming that she was taken by a bird of prey. 
The kids have called her Paella, I think it is a loosely disguised threat that if she doesn't come up with the goods she will be the goods!!!  Not that they, or Rich, would ever go through with it - I've called their bluff before on this subject telling them I'll peel the veggies while they 'do the necessary' with the chicken - and the lady in question has always lived to see another day, or lay another egg as the case may be.

We don't really have bees but we do now have a bee hive!  It needs a little work and I need a little information on bee keeping before we buy a swarm, but it's a start at least.   The boys are now very busy trying to think of names - approximately 40 000 - for it's future inhabitants....that'll keep them occupied for a while!

The garden is slowly taking shape, but we are paying for our lack of autumn maintenance with sore and blistered hand this spring - it's a jungle out there!!  no pictures I'm so ashamed!!!
Despite Friday's snow - yes Snow - we have managed this weekend to plant kale, carrots, Brussels sprout, courgette, runner beans and pumpkins and I've gotten myself a 'wonderful' farmers arms tan!!!

Sow - how does your garden grow?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Foraging Fever

Tuesday morning Richard rose bright and early, briefly informing me that he was off to pick 'bourgeons de sapin' and that there was hot coffee ready downstairs!  He'd scoured the internet the night before for recipes but ended up concocting his own... 'au pif' as they say in french.  My mother always baked with a similar disregard for precis measurements and her cakes were the best, so I've high hopes for Richard's 'Sapinette'.

Time will tell - 'the mix' of sapin buds, 40% proof clear alcohol and sugar needs to be left for three months in the dark and regularly shaken.  After which it can be consumed with moderation!

La Sapinette is expectorant, antiseptic and known for it's curative powers for respiratory infections.  It's also very alcoholic, so for the kids Richard made a few jars of 'sirop d'épicea', basically substituting the alcohol for water and leaving the mix to infuse for three days in the sun.  It can be drank diluted with water, poured over pancakes, ice-cream etc.

It seems the big guy has caught foraging fever, as the very same afternoon he was out picking dandelion flowers - 365 one for each day of the year. With Rémi's precious help we proceeded to slowly pick off all the yellow petals before leaving them to dry for two hours in the sun.  After which I was on my own!  I found the following recipe on-line and stuck firmly to it:

Cook together 365 flowers, 1 organic orange, 1 organic lemon and 1.2l of water and leave to infuse for 24 hours.  The next day, re-heat, filter (give the solids to chickens) add 1kg of sugar to the juice obtained and cook until set - approximately 10 minutes.

I got just short of 5 250g jars of golden 'honey'; as you can see there were no bee's involved but as it has a very honey like consistency it's often referred to as 'miel de pissenlit'.

Dandelion Honey

I wonder what foraged loveliness Richard will bring me next? 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Birthday Gifts

We're all invited to a birthday tomorrow - well actually two different birthdays but in the same village so we might just be able to go to both!   But the one we've been busily creating for this week is that of a 10 year old girl in Rémi's class.
I bought this box for Rémi to decorate with his signature 'Rosace' and he thought a few extra embellishments might also look nice...

...her name and a few wee flowers were the perfect touch.

A few weeks ago Kim sent me a letter in a hand decorated envelope, it had on it a cute little bee, so we borrowed her idea - hope she doesn't mind our plagiarism!!

"Mirror, mirror..."
For Alice I made a little bag from a tea-towel.  My uneasy relationship with my sewing machine has been touched upon briefly on my blog before but this time I went about the project a little differently, I made sure 'Ms Singer' knew who was in charge!!! I even chanted a mantra "Who's the Boss?"  "Emma's the boss"", over and over as 'we' sewed.  And guess what, things went pretty well.  Granted it's basically a rectangle with a strap but for me that's is quite an achievement!  Though about making another one for the other birthday boy (40th), you know, a Man Bag "you can still be tough and carry your stuff"  but Richard thinks a six pack will be more welcome.

What have you been crafting this week?

Friday, May 1, 2015

Rabbit Al Fresco

Bunny's summer day residence is ready

She appears to like her new 'terrain' but is a little wary of the barn, that Richard and the boys spent so much time making!!!

I think she looks a lonesome in there all by herself, but my attempts at getting Richi to agree to a bunny partner are as of yet unsuccessful.  A friend has advised me not to push it for the second bunny if I want to get a goat, Rich likes animals to have a purpose, like the chickens laying eggs, so I'm selling him the goat as a precious help in lawn control. 

Ringo does hang out with her a bit until wonder lust gets the better of him and he takes himself off on a wee jaunt.  I can't expect him to sit with her all day, after all he does have the chickens to harass also!

She is enjoying finding lots of new and interesting things to eat but I had to scatter a little bit of straw around the place as she seems quite preoccupied with the mud sticking to her feet - precious little house rabbit that she is!!

We bring her back in at night as I don't want her going all wild on us, and besides, during our long winters she will have to be house bound again (and trained).

Around the other side of the house, work is almost finished on our first raised bed (f.i.l thinks it's a waste of space!).  There is nothing growing in it at the moment so it looks a bit like an above ground tomb!  Will share some pics in a few days.

Next up will be changing all the fencing around the chicken coop as the snow wrecked havoc with it this winter, and once that's done I want the chaps to build me one of these:

A Nordic Bath - I'm dreaming obviously, I know full well I won't get one but can you imagine soaking in there after a hard day of toiling in the garden, sipping a glass of something cold and refreshing...

Monday, April 27, 2015

To the sea...

...or to be more precise, to the beautiful Pembrokshire Coast National Park.

The three day drive from France was surprisingly uneventful - given that we had two kids and a dog in the car!  (Thank you Mark for the loan of the portable DVD player!).  Our first pit stop was a charming 'gypsy' caravan (Roulotte) in St Quentin, in the Picardie region.
 I must admit I'd never given the north of France a second though as a holiday destination but it is definitely a spot I'll like to return to in the future for a longer stay.  The region is steeped in history as it was the stage of many WW1 battles, and there are countless monuments and epitaph's attesting to the bravery of the soldiers, the resistance movement and the citizens who lived and died during this horrendous war.

The water in sunny west Wales was as cold as ever, but the boys still had a wee dip!  Even Ringo got his paws wet.

We enjoyed seven days of glorious sunshine barring the morning we decided to do a 'paying' activity, when it rained,...sods law, but the boys managed to get their fill of fun all the same.

Whilst Richard and Ringo took themselves on early morning coastal runs, the boys were treated to breakfast in front of the TV (watching cartoons in Welsh!!), with the rest of our days spend with my dad aka Papy Tatoo, walking on the beach, the coastal path and visiting places of historical local interest...

...St Byrnach's Church, or what remains of it, after the rest was washed into the sea in 1859 in a dreadful storm which was also responsible for the loss of 113 ships along the coast of Wales...

 ...and the UK's smallest city - St David's...

 St Davids city centre!
which owes its status as a city to the fact that it has a cathedral!

Papy Tatoo
We were lucky in more than one way with the good weather, it enabled us to eat out doors as dogs are not welcome in very many restaurants in the UK!

We've only been back a few days but I'm already looking forward to our next visit.  Richard is even talking about buying a holiday home over there (he must have more cash stashed under the mattress than I know about!!).

Some pictures of our last visit can be found here