Sunday, January 18, 2015

Bread. The staff of life - it's easy and fun to make!

I injured my elbow a while back which meant that kneading dough for bread wasn't possible.  I enjoy the process of mindful kneading, watching the dough change, grow, and at times expand so much it overflows from the bowl, in a luxury of sticky bubbles and glorious yeasty aroma. But that wasn't to be with a tightly bandaged and extremely painful elbow. What to do?

I'd seen Alton Brown on TV and watched him prepare a no-knead bread and cook it in his dutch oven. Perhaps that was worth trying as a temporary stop gap measure till my elbow healed?

No-knead breads were something we tried in the 70's. Back then we joked ... No knead. No work. Not because they weren't much effort, but because the results were ... unimpressive to say the least.

Perhaps back in the 70's we tried to rush the process, because this time, more or less following what I could only call a slap dash method, the results were outstanding! Not only are my loaves significantly cheaper than what's available at the supermarket or local bread stores, they're far tastier, and allow for a wider range of ingredients, and best of all there are no unknown additives!

Ingredients

  • 4 cups flour ... I usually use 2 bread flour 2 wholemeal. But you can also substitute rye, spelt, soy for some of the wholemeal. I've also used Atta flour which was fine. Note - all wholemeal can be somewhat heavy and adding soy flour seems to help it rise.
  • 2 teaspoons yeast
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 Tablespoon oil (I've successfully used butter, olive, coconut, macadamia and avocado oils)
  • 1 teaspoon or so of sweetener to nourish the yeast. (I've used white, brown, dark cane sugars and assorted honeys - all were successful). I'll try molasses soon.
  • Grains: Sunflower seeds, Pepitas (pumpkin seeds), linseed, raw buckwheat and I'm sure there are many more interesting grains available in different areas.  The selection here isn't exciting.  I might add 1/4 cup of each, depending on how I feel and what's left in the pack.
  • Liquid: If I have leftover whey after making soft cheese, I use that, it gives a slightly different flavour depending if I've used lemon juice or vinegar for coagulation, otherwise I use water. Depending on the amount of wholemeal and whether I'm distracted it can vary between 2 and 4 cups. I heat it to be snugly warm to an arthritic knuckle.

Method

  • Combine all dry ingredients and mix to distribute the seeds, yeast etc evenly.
  • Make a depression in the middle. This stops the flour puffing up when you slosh in the liquid.
  • Add the warmed liquid. 
  • Stir till it looks like a muffin mix and is just combined. It shouldn't take any effort at all. 1-2 mins max.
  • Spray a small amount of oil on top and around the sides of the bowl. 
  • Now cover and let it rise (Not in the hot sun! We have temps up to 45C here and the dough dries out and lumps up in an awkward way) I put a large soup bowl on top and leave it on the table then tend to forget it till a few hours later when it begins to smell deliciously yeasty. I've also left it in the frig overnight and let it rise the next day which worked well.

Now the messy (fun) part
Scoop the dough onto a floured area. I use a baking tray generously sprinkled with flour just to keep everything together. It's quite sloppy and very sticky, so the challenge is to scoop and flop the dough onto itself a couple of times - not too much! I do it about 8 or so times, but when it's extra gooey a few more times with extra flour so I can get it into the pan without too much sticking to the tray. If you're using a dutch oven, juggle the dough into a large well oiled bowl to rise again while the dutch oven heats.

Turn the oven on to 220C (that's according to the flour pack, but I've also cooked the bread at 200C which worked fine).

If using a dutch oven, grease it and put it in the oven to heat (if you're camping and have an open fire, put it in the coals).

Then after 20 mins CAREFULLY (burns hurt!) put the dough in the dutch oven with a splash of olive oil and sea salt on top and cook with the lid on for 20 mins. Take the lid off and cook for about another 20 mins. (Half way through I turn it 180 because my oven cooks unevenly). Then check for doneness - it should look golden brown and sound hollow when you tap it with your knuckles.

Yesterday we wanted square bread to make jaffles - I only had one standard loaf tin and two petite loaf tins. I cut the dough into halves and one half into halves again then kneaded (not in the traditional way, more a lethargic fold and flop) - till they were neat and the right shape to fit into the pans. I left them to rise about 15 mins then put them in the oven. The small loaves took about 15 mins, at 200C the larger loaf tin about 20 - 25.

Today I used 2 cups bread flour and 2 rye, added a mix of seeds, some cardamom, some finely grated orange rind and a sprinkle of caraway seeds.
Oh. My. Goodness. That's a winning recipe!!! The dash of orange rind is amazing!

As an aside I'd always accepted that it was vital to follow the recipe on the back of the flour pack precisely if you wanted perfect bread of the knead variety. It was an eye opener to follow a discussion on Instagram where a friend went to a bread making class and used far more liquid than I'd ever dreamed of - it seemed to be far too wet, but it worked. He posted pictures of the process, and there was a discussion about the % of liquid and what happened when that % was varied. I figured if he could get great results there was nothing to prevent me being a bit more relaxed about quantities and working on the trial and error basis. It's been fascinating to see the different textures that come from adding more liquid.

Would I go back to the traditional way of making bread by kneading, knocking back and kneading again? Possibly not - this way of making bread works wonderfully, it's quick (apart from the rising time) and there's little chance of aggravating my elbow.

Why do we outsource so much cooking when it's so easy to do our own?  I feel we've brought into the con that food preparation is too hard - it's the domain of a professional, and in doing so, we've lost the skills and sense of achievement of making a meal from scratch .... and to be honest, I really appreciate the positive comments, the outlet for creativity and experimentation ... and the wonderful aromas!

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

On iconic Australian wildlife ...

... and what to do if you come across an injured animal.

It's a horrible feeling to run over one of Australia's higher profile, and much loved animals, and it occurred to me in only a mildly tongue in cheek way that knowing what to do really should be included in any immigration qualification test.

Christmas Eve last year, we were pootling along a quiet country road, eucalypts arching overhead, birds twittering quietly in the summer heat, listening to Christmas carols and singing along in a toneless way when a man stepped out into the road and flagged us down. A rapid discussion ensued - should we stop? Could he be a crazy fellow with an axe hidden behind his lycra covered body? Why oh why did he look panic struck and dishevelled?

Figuring that three of us should surely be able to overpower one lone person if he did turn out to be problematic, we stopped and wound down the window a smidgeon. He stumbled toward the car with crazed eyes, gesticulating wildly and gabbling about a koala. Realizing that his intent wasn't malicious, we paid closer attention and made out that he'd just cycled past an injured koala and needed help to get it off the road.

Driving on a bit further, there was indeed a koala in bad shape. It was staggering around at the side of the road and appeared to be injured and disoriented. Doing my best 'action woman' impersonation I commandeered the cheap *billabong blanket and remembering to look both ways before I crossed the road, strode over while unfolding the blanket.

Getting closer it was obvious that the animal had been hit by a car or truck, its eyes were bleeding and it was dragging one leg.  Steve Irwin would at this stage have been proud of his legacy. I remembered watching him leap on assorted animals, and knew that the fight put up by the koala when I tackled him could well be far, far more than I anticipated. I also know they have very sharp, long claws, and no matter how cute they look on tv, they are more like a ball of aggro muscle, intent on discouraging any threats.
Note the length of the claws!
This koala looks docile,
but it can go from sleeping to slashing in milliseconds.
Holding the blanket in front of me a bit like a matador, I knew I'd only have one chance to throw the blanket over him, but given that it was a cheap, lightweight one, that I'd not only have to get it over him, but hold it in place, cover his eyes and somehow tuck his legs in away from me so I didn't get slashed.

I was prepared for the angry, frightened LOUD growling of an animal in dreadful pain, and I knew I'd only have one shot at this before he either headed bush or into the road (horrible thought that I might be up close when another car hit him), so I kind of just looked at him, worked out the trajectory of leap needed and went for it.

Me! I still can't believe I did it. I have no idea why I took over, why I didn't shove the blanket in someone else's hands. Strangely some part of my brain took over and did the directing. And this isn't like me, I'm a wimp. I hate seeing injuries where there's blood and I've been known to freeze in an emergency.

Anyhow, there I was, lying on top of the violently squirming, extremely strong koala, being savagely growled at, now wondering what the hell I was going to do next.

It was all well and good to have his limbs tucked in (no claws in sight) face covered (it's what they do on tv, and is presumably an attempt to calm the terrified creature) but he's got 4 legs, each ending in 4billion long, sharp claws, and a mouth full of teeth, and I have absolutely no idea how I'm going to lift him into the esky that my hubby and daughter have brought over. If I let go of any bits, I'm likely to get severely slashed, gouged or torn to bits. (Reminiscent of classic drop bear injuries.) Not good.

Meanwhile, my daughter had called the local wildlife help service (there were numbers on signs along the road) and had been given details of the closest vet that we could take the injured koala to, to receive treatment. This is a free service provided by vets! Hooray for vets!! 

A trucky had stopped and supplied a pair of leather gloves, and the extremely concerned lycra clad cyclist was hovering overhead clucking encouragingly.

Hubby and daughter manoeuvred the esky as close as possible and two of us lifted the distressed animal into it. I exchanged phone numbers with the cyclist as he wanted to know the outcome and hoped beyond hope that the koala could be rehabilitated.

The drive to the vets was distressing for all of us. I was glimpsing in the rear vision mirror and every so often could see an arm extending up from under the lid much like a vampire rising from a coffin. It was horrible and needless to say, he kept growling.

The vet was wonderful, but the outcome wasn't. It turned out that the koala had been hit by a car or truck some time previously, and that large cut was filled with maggots, he'd then been hit again which had damaged his head and eyes. The vet was very compassionate when he told us he'd put the creature down. The worst part was phoning the cyclist to share the news with him, he was clearly very upset and couldn't understand why no one else had stopped to help, as a number of cars had driven past him ignoring his pleas for help.

(Even though the service was free, we did make a donation to help cover expenses.)

If you do happen to hit an animal and kill it, it's best to drag it well off the side of the road. In many areas Wedge tailed eagles and other birds and animals will feed off the carcass and far too many of them are also killed because they are unable to move to safety quickly enough.
A wedge tailed eagle with its wingspan of over 2 metres (about 7ft 5in) and length of around a metre (3ft 6in)  is slow moving on the ground and needs time and space to take off. Seeing a pair of these magnificent birds splattered on the roadside is horrible.

Hunters should also ensure that any feral animals they kill are well off the side of the road.
Wild pigs left to bloat and rot by hunters. 

Wallabies, kangaroos and emus are scatty to say the least. They'll appear to be heading in one direction, then completely without warning will leap in the opposite direction, often directly into the path of the car. Beware when you see them! They're completely unpredictable and passengers, in particular children, can be extremely distressed when one is hit and run over.

A comprehensive list of wildlife care groups is at: 
http://www.fnpw.org.au/resources/wildlife-carer-arescue-groups-australia

These groups will also give instructions on how to manage if an animal is injured, and you are unable to get it to a vet.

*A billabong rug is a woollen picnic blanket with waterproof backing. The one we had in the car was a cheap imitation which was good as it needed to be discarded after use.


 




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Monday, December 9, 2013

The Zeppelin Museum and the truth about swivel chairs revealed!

The truth just occurred to me.

The truth about swivel chairs.

You know all those severe, haughty looking business men in their intimidating black swivel chairs, steepling their fingers. The ones who can barely deign to look down upon mere mortals who weren't born into a position of entitlement and privilege. You know the ones, the media barons, the mining magnates, the arms manufacturers ...

The truth is that when there's no one in the room they act up just like the rest of us when we think no one's watching! Unlike the teacher mentioned below, they just haven't been caught ... yet!

Their black leather covered, official looking, high backed, swivel chairs are really the corporate excuse for a trip down fantasy lane and into the realms of childhood!! But they probably won't admit it ;-)
... and maybe, just maybe if they could allow themselves to make a habit of enjoying the fun and fantasy and Mindfulness, (read on!) the world would be a happier, healthier place.

While on the subject of fantasy, aren't these playgrounds superb! (yes, I can see they're not covered in umpteen centimetres of soft material for the children to fall on, perhaps German children don't whinge if they fall and their parents expect them to hang on tight.) They're in Friedrichshafen Germany, the city which is home to the arty, interesting, wonder inducing Zeppelin Museum.

A kiddy sized zeppelin complete with lookout, steampunkish wheeled swan/boat, and slide; and while I was tempted to shoo the kids away and have a play, I put on my grown up face and took photos instead, secretly imagining I was in the lookout, flying over the town.
Speaking of flying, sometimes you can be really lucky. I could hear a low droning, humming sound coming from over the lake, and overhead, pushing through the clouds was ...
 ... not a fabulous building with interesting reflections, but a dinky di blimp!
It was funny to watch people diving for their pockets and dragging out their phones all with the one purpose - to take photos. I don't know if the blimp we saw was as big as this, but the models give a real sense of scale of the Hindenburg - it was HUGE.
This is just one tiny section which has been reconstructed so you can climb up, 
 walk through and get a sense of the living and sleeping quarters and the immense scale of the structure
 functional art
intricate criss crossed beams (?)
 ... and the beauty of the workmanship.
This is a different kind of fantasy and shows the result of a productive, creative imagination (and impressive engineering).
But back to playgrounds as a powerful device to promote a rich and full inner life for the young and not so young! Cogs, shells, sea creatures and propellers ...
 which could lead the imagination to who knows where ...
Clearly much loved and buffed to a lovely copper colour where countless children have sat and imagined who knows what ...
This magnificent playground is a superb example of a rich imagination, a city prepared to celebrate art and sculptures, excellent craftsmanship, and shows how playgrounds don't have to be garish plastic sanitised clones of each other.
 Weird and wonderful humanoid rabbit/seal/Idon'tknowwhat creatures
So, in the spirit of nurturing your inner child, take a moment to slow down.

Without comment or criticism, notice what your thoughts are doing. Notice what you can hear, see, touch, taste and smell.

Feel the weight of your bottom on your wheely chair.

Put aside the serious you for a moment.

Give your hips an experimental wiggle.

Feel your muscles stretch and tauten as you twist back and forth.

Feel the fabric of your clothing as it pulls against your body and the way your lungs expand with the anticipation of action.

Place your feet against the floor and feel the pressure of your feet as they push against the floor.
twist right
twist left
twist right
spin!!!!!!!

Notice how your face forms a goofy kind of smile, a little embarrassed (was anyone watching?) but oh, so satisfied!

Note the physical sensation of slight, but pleasant dizziness. There was possibly also a sense of exhilaration, of daring to do something different and perhaps a bit naughty? What would people say!?

Make room for your thoughts and feelings; allow them to flow through you. If your inner critic is wagging it's derogatory finger, observe it without buying into the "shoulds" and "oughts" for a moment.

Breathe, have a little shake and relax.

Reconnect with your values and choose a course of action.

And notice ... the desire to do it again ;-)

Immature?

You bet. But it's also ...

Mindfulness in action!

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Friday, November 29, 2013

A jolly swagman in Tubingen, Germany.


Channelling the Australian theme in Tubingen, Germany ...
Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
A watering hole although not quite a billabong!

What picnic would be complete without beer!



















under the shade of a Coolibah tree 

and he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled
you'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.
Lots to look at while waiting for the billy to boil!
Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong
up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee
and he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag
you'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me
Selfie with swagman and jumbuck!
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.
Up rode the squatter mounted on his thorough-bred
Down came the troopers, one, two, three.
One
Two
Three.
Whose that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tucker bag
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.
Up jumped the swagman, sprang in to the billabong
You'll never catch me alive said he,

And his ghost may heard as you pass by that billabong
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.
 Documented by the colourful crew from Mars TV
These students were interviewing passers-by about refugees, inequality and prejudice, and while they were focusing on refugees from war-torn countries, marginalised and poor people, such as the swagman in the ballad,
were/are often poorly treated by dominant, powerful groups. 

From Wikipedia with additional information:
Waltzing Matilda is Australia's most widely known bush ballad written in 1895 by Banjo Paterson and has become our unofficial national anthem.  Waltzing Matilda is slang for travelling on foot with your gear slung over your back in a bag (apparently this is known as waltzing  or auf der Walz in German). 

The song is about an itinerant worker, a swagman, making a cup of tea in a billy, (a kind of tin saucepan), at his bush camp by a billabong (waterhole) and stealing a wandering sheep, (jumbuck) for dinner. The swagman wouldn't have been wealthy and would have seen the sheep as fair game and something nutritious to pad out his meagre supplies. 

We know the sheep's owner is a wealthy landowner (squatter) because he arrives on a thorough-bred horse accompanied by three troopers (police) - he wouldn't have been at all happy about having his sheep stolen, particularly by a poor, itinerant worker!

Naturally, the worker wouldn't want to have been locked up so commits suicide by drowning himself in the billabong, leaving his ghost to haunt the site for evermore.


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Thursday, November 28, 2013

UGG Boots. A great Australian tradition.

What is it about UGG boots that has caught the attention of people around the world and convinced them that they should be worn outdoors?

Admittedly, they keep the toes toasty warm on a cold day, when the heating is down low to save on energy bills, but they're not aesthetically pleasing no matter how much bling they're weighed down with.
Unlike a sheep, they're not waterproof. They have no support. And even if they have heels and solid soles, are in no way a match for dedicated outdoor footwear.

 In short, they're a furry, snuggly slipper. 
And like a slipper, they're designed to be worn indoors. They can be slipped on and off the feet easily so that when, for instance, you need to take some scraps out to the compost heap,  you can slip them off and put on something more suitable for the trudge through the damp grass out into the wilds of the back yard.

Speaking of slip, when UGG boots are worn outdoors have a tendency to slip when the sole, heavy with the weight of a human body, is placed on a wet autumn leaf of which there are many in London at present. Don't be fooled by the use of the word "boots".

They. are. not. outdoor. footwear ... Even if you're feeding a cute squirrel.

Watching relatively well dressed people shuffle around like little old folk in a nursing home is perplexing.
They scuff uncomfortably along through the bleak weather, feet slopping around, unsupported in their furry wrapping, the sheepskin getting wetter by the moment.

How did it happen that this useful item of footwear has become an outdoors fashion (sic) item?

Very clever marketing if you ask me!

But I'll never be convinced. Put the bling on; laden them with bows, jewels and heels, no matter what decoration they're strewn with, they'll always be indoor footwear for me.

 UGGGGGHHHHHH!
Bemused sheep, giggling that people have been "fleeced"
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