Friday, January 25, 2019

Sourdough bread making...

I'm not much of a baker, usually.

It's not that I don't like cake - after all, who doesn't like cake?! I'm just not that much of a domestic goddess and while I enjoy eating (a lot), I don't really enjoy the process of cooking and baking all that much. I can do the occasional thing, sure, but the routine task of putting food on the table is not something I particularly relish and I don't usually strive to spend any more time in the kitchen than I absolutely have to.

That said, there are certain things I just miss, and one thing that I have missed ever since I left Germany and settled in the UK nearly 20 years ago now is a good loaf of sourdough bread. Whenever family or friends come to visit from Germany I ask them to bring some, and they usually oblige, but it's not quite the same, because they obviously have to buy the bread in advance, and by the time it gets here it's already not that fresh anymore. Still good, sure, and one of the fabulous things about sourdough bread is that it keeps much better than a normal yeast loaf, but I miss that taste of crusty fresh bread with butter on, baked that day, and dug into as soon as I get it home. 

I'm a bit of a bread snob I think.

A while ago a friend of mine gave me a bit of her sourdough starter and I proceeded to occasionally bake with it. All was well, but the recipe I had was quite time-consuming - sourdough, it turns out, needs a fair bit of hand-holding. It's not at all like the bread maker loaves that are so easy to just put in the machine. Instead you are talking about kneading, rising, more kneading, in a seemingly endless cycle. I did a few loaves, then gave up. And because I forgot to feed the starter regularly it eventually died. 

At Christmas I wished for another starter. I'd seen one on Amazon of all places, and thought I'd give it another go. D got the starter for me and I have been feeding it, more or less once a week. This seems little (a lot of recipes insist on you feeding your starter once a day at roughly the same time), but it turns out that a well-established starter can live in the fridge and, if kept cold like that, only needs feeding once a week. I take the starter out and feed it, then leave it on the worktop for a good 12 hours so it can warm up and get going. Then back in the fridge it goes.

Up until yesterday that's all I did with it. Christmas is busy, and to be honest, I felt a bit daunted by attempting another sourdough loaf. 

Then I found a recipe on Pinterest that I thought I should try. It is simple in terms of ingredients (but then, all basic bread recipes are - you are just talking about starter, bread flour, water, and salt after all), but it asked you to mix up a fairly liquid dough at first, then cover it and let it do its magic in a warm place in the kitchen overnight, for 12-17 hours. That's easy, I thought.

After that point you end up with a sort of sour-smelling bubbly thin dough. You then start mixing and kneading, adding as much flour as it takes to produce a stiff dough that isn't sticky on the outside anymore. The whole thing goes in a floured proving basket for another 1 - 1 1/2 hours and then it goes straight in the oven at around 230 degrees C. for around 50 minutes. The recipe suggests baking in a Dutch oven, but I don't have any such thing, and it turns out a normal baking tray works just as well!

I can tell you, the result is awesome! I'm so pleased with my loaf! It's crispy outside and fluffy and soft and aromatic, with a sour tang on the inside. It's delicious.

I can see a lot of sourdough loaves in our future!

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

yet another blanket...

Another (very old) FO - I made another blanket!

This was some time ago, but somehow I never managed to take pictures and blog about it. 

I made this one in thin strips, with alternating colours, then edged each strip with dark blue and finally sewed all the strips together. 

It was a stash-buster project because I'm still sort of drowning in acrylic and I don't use it for anything other than blankets (they do work best with acrylic yarn  because they need to withstand a fair amount of wear and tear and also get washed frequently). 

It's not a favourite and I don't consider it a particularly good-looking blanket. The strips were awkward, there was far too much sewing in of yarn ends, and the sewing together creates ridges that never look quite as good as you hope they will. 

It's OK, though, because it's soft and warm, and it's on rotation with all the other crochet blankets in the living room so it gets used all the time. All is well. 

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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Studio time...

We've had a busy past few months, and our fair share of ups and downs, but just this past couple of weeks or so, since Christmas and the school holidays, things seem to tentatively be looking up. It's still too early, too fragile, to think much of this in the long term, because we've been here before, and this is bug season, and the school term has only just begun, but we are feeling hopeful and just a little lighter, so we are trying to just enjoy this for now.

In the spirit of this uplift I've clocked some much-needed pottery studio time. I've been dreadfully slow with this, because I knew my next task was glaze testing, and there always seemed to be some reason or other to delay - it was too cold (but my new heater is in now, so this is not an excuse anymore), I didn't have enough time to get started (mixing glazes is time-consuming), I am still waiting for some glaze component or other to arrive in the mail (it's amazing how much stuff you need if you are testing, because there are so many different ways of putting together a working glaze), my studio is too chaotic (this was a bit of an issue for a while, because stuff had migrated in there on a temporary basis, but it's mostly sorted now)... So many excuses!

There are still fairly important things to sort out to make my little studio space work - I don't have a source of running water, so that is an issue,  because I don't like the idea of bringing potentially toxic pottery materials into the house via brushes or buckets. We are now considering installing a washing-up sink outside with a trap to catch heavy particles that I don't want going down the drain. Hopefully this summer...  I also need to repaint the concrete floor in my pottery space, because it's crumbling and therefore generating dust. This also does not allow me to mop the floor, meaning that any spillages will also dry and generate dust, which is a potential health hazard, particularly long-term. I also want to paint the brick-work on the walls because I get so much dirt falling down and contaminating my work space.

That said, it's a good little studio by now. My lighting is sorted out, and I have my awesome little heater, which means I feel less like an extra from La Boheme when I'm working in there at any time other than high summer.

I've even managed to get some of the dreaded test glazes mixed up the other day and I managed to pour only half a bucket of glaze over myself. I call that a win!

Now hopefully one of these testers will generate the glaze that I'm after, because I'm still struggling with that. I want a pure white glossy glaze that covers well and doesn't break over the edges of the little houses that I make. Once I've achieved that I want to make a big badge of glaze and create enough houses to put on Etsy or Folksy to sell so my pottery endeavours become a bit more cost-neutral at least.

I even managed to motivate boy #2 to help me paint the planters that he got for his birthday so they can be moved out of my studio onto the patio. Boy#2 is our green-fingered child, and he loves planting things, so we are hoping to grow some vegetables in his new boxes.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Knitting Wishlist...

We all have one, don't we? A list of patterns that we would love to try out and make. And a list of yarns to match it. 

Pretty high on my wishlist at the moment are those Icelandic sweaters with the lovely patterns around the yoke. I would love to make one, and look how pretty they all are.

This one is highest on my list, and I just love the colour combination, but look at all the other pretties...


The Fluffy Feather Sweater

I love them all!! 

It's all so tempting, but I've promised myself that I wouldn't add more WIPs to my list before I've finished at least two of my current projects. 

I'm not on track...

Knitting and crocheting has been pretty slow recently, and if I continue at my current pace I may get to my pretty Icelandic sweater when I'm ready to retire.