Thursday, 14 November 2013

Sourdough Success!

About a year ago, my husband discovered sourdough bread and loved it so much he no longer wants to eat any other type of bread.  He doesn't eat much bread anyway, so it was no big deal to pick up a loaf for him when I was out and about - as long as it was on the shelf.  I have a few places that I can buy from, but just recently I've not been able to get a loaf from any of them.  Whether it's because the bread is more popular or the stores just don't bake that many of them, I don't know, but it's finally prompted me to have a go at making my own.

I've avoided it up until now because I know that it's not your average loaf of bread.  I knew that it took a few days to make the starter before you even get to making the loaf, and it seemed like too much hassle.  However, after a few days of fruitlessly trying to buy a loaf, I decided enough was enough.

It was time to make some sourdough of my own.

One of my best friends has also started some sourdough recently and it exploded in her airing cupboard which didn't bode well for my attempts as she is an excellent cook and if anyone can make this bread then she can.  However, it seemed I had little choice as the bread bin remained empty and my husband was starting to grumble about the apparent national shortage of sourdough bread.

The recipe I used is from this book - Bread Matters - by Andrew Whitley.  He started the Village Bakery in Melmerby, Cumbria, to solve the problem of not being able to buy 'real' bread and is a passionate advocate of making your own.  My Dad went on a couple of his bread-making courses a few years back and gave me his spare book.  It's not as easy a read as many cookbooks around today and there aren't many pictures, but it is indeed a "definitive guide to baking your own" as it says on the blurb.  (There's also a Kindle edition which is quite a lot cheaper - always good!)

Unlike other methods of creating the starter, my recipe doesn't use grapes or any added ingredients other than flour and water, and it's stored in a plastic container not a glass one as sourdough leaven has a tendency to explode (hence my friend's messy airing cupboard).  It does take four days, but to be honest, it was surprisingly little effort.  All I had to do was add some flour and water to the pot, mix it together and keep it warm.

This is what it looked like after four days ...

There was too much in the pot to make one loaf so I've frozen the rest of it for another day which will save me having to keep a pot of leaven permanently on the go.  This is what it looked like as it was "refreshing" before it was ready to be turned into a proper loaf ...

which again didn't take much effort.  The biggest thing has been the waiting for the dough to prove - sourdough is very slow compared to a normal loaf so I waited ... 

and waited ... 

and eventually it was big enough to start to create the final loaf.  I added more flour and water, kneaded it, added the leaven and then left it again ...

 ... and waited ... and finally it was ready to go into the oven!


Here's my finished loaf, toasted on the top just as my husband likes it.  It does smell different to normal bread but it tastes fantastic so I'm happy that all the waiting was worth it.  My husband thinks so too - but I still might buy the loaves when I see them in the store!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Fun with a Pfaff!

On Saturday afternoon - joy of joys! - I was able to collect my sewing machine from Maeri at The Make and Do Studio where it had been to be mended.

The problem was that a gear had split and I was originally told when I took it to a repair shop that it was beyond fixing, but whilst chatting to Maeri, she suggested that I let her sewing machine repair engineer colleague take a look at it just in case there was anything he could do.  I was already resigned to having to ask for a new one as a Christmas present but it seemed like a good idea anyway.  Just in case.

So imagine my delight (and considerable surprise!) when Bob said that it wasn't beyond help after all.  It's 30 years old at least, my machine; it was my Mum's and was an expensive one when she bought it so I'd be unlikely to be able to replace it like-for-like - but most of all I'm so pleased that I can carry on using my Mum's machine.  I like the continuity.  I like looking at the cotton reels in the storage case and remembering what she made with the colours.  I like to look at the attachments and remember picking them up and examining them as a small girl whilst she sewed at the kitchen table.  I like the idea that my girls will be able to use it and it's a machine with a history.

This is the split gear wheel - it's much smaller than I imagined it to be, but you can see why the machine was a bit poorly!

And here's my machine, back on the kitchen table and ready to go!

I signed up for an online sewing course a few weeks ago through an Australian store called The Haby Goddess.  It's a nifty idea - it runs for six weeks with a catch-up week in the middle and a few extra catch-up weeks at the end.  Each week's lessons are uploaded on a Monday morning and then you have the week to work through them at your own pace.  There are also project sheets to practice what you've learnt, a Facebook page to show off pictures and ask questions and plenty of opportunity to contact Jodie, who runs the course, to make sure you're doing it right.  

I decided it would be a good idea because my dressmaking skills are a bit rusty and I want to work on them with big daughter.  This course is ideal for us as it starts right at the beginning so big daughter can gain confidence without having to learn how to put zips in, for example, in the middle of a project.

I'm quite a way behind as I've been waiting for my sewing machine to be repaired, but when I got it back on Saturday I was far too impatient to start at the beginning and instead launched into a project - a bean bag bed for my friend's pup!

This is the bean bag bit, completed without too many beans on the floor. They're really fiddly to pick up if you spill them as they go static-y and stick to the brush and fly about the room, so it's definitely a job that needs your full attention!

Next onto the cover.  I made a bean bag for our dog a while ago as I didn't like the way his bed had gone lumpy, so it was a simple matter of taking the lumpy filling out and replacing with beans (which is why I know all about them flying all over the place!).  It's so much easier having washable covers as dogs are such muddy things, especially at this time of year!  I decided to put one of the Sew School lessons into practice and made a zipped cover.  I'm really proud of the way that the end tab covers the end of the zip and looks very professional!

And this is the finished article!  I made two covers so that one could be in the wash, and I'm very pleased with it.  As usual, the colours have done strange things in my photos - I need to work on my photography! - but they're actually quite a nice chocolate brown colour which is an excellent colour for muddy dogs!

Not bad for a start, and I'm going to enjoy going back over the lessons and getting to know my sewing machine again.  Big daughter is also looking forward to making something else after her first foray into dressmaking this summer, so hopefully we'll have more to show you very soon!

Friday, 8 November 2013

After the holidays ...

It's always strange after the girls have gone back to school.  Our October half-term was a week earlier than lots of schools so we haven't been able to catch up with friends in different parts of the country this time, but we still had plenty of things to do.

Now that I've got the house to myself again, I'm back on my de-cluttering mission.  We made a big dent in that with the Great Bed Swap which in turn led to the Great Bedroom Clearout, the aftermath of which is still on the landing in bin bags waiting to go downstairs to the dustbin.  We're mostly done now; big daughter prefers to sort her things out for herself but small daughter needs to be supervised otherwise she filters out the mess and can't see anything but a tidy bedroom.  I think we've all got that ability, but unfortunately, it's not practical to use it most of the time!

Part of my de-cluttering involves finishing things off.  I've got so many ideas buzzing around my head all the time that it's all too easy for me to get distracted but I've made a concerted effort to tick a few things off my list this week.

First up, the garden pots that I wanted to put up to brighten up a boring wall.  

The sprawly bush is some kind of honeysuckle but it's never done anything exciting so it had to go.  It's quite a dark, damp place and nothing has really thrived there - apart from this plant which has had it's moment.  

The pots I wanted to put up involved drilling holes in the wall so I handed the drill over to my Dad who'd come over for the afternoon.  He can do that sort of thing much faster than I can, and would only supervise anyway, so it's easier all round to leave him to it.  This is the result, and I'm very pleased with it.  The plants, winter bedding plants, are plug plants that are still filling out, so they look a bit piddly at the moment but will soon be much bigger and the pots won't look quite so lost on the wall.  They're actually IKEA kitchen utensil holders but as soon as I saw them, I knew they'd be ideal for my wall.  The pots even have handy drainage holes already drilled into the bottom of them - perfect!

Next on the list, I finally found some buttons for the Sirdar Kiko cardigan that I made with the yarn that I bought from the Black Sheep open evening.  I finished the cardigan ages ago, it was such a quick knit with huge yarn on even huger needles, and I've worn it a couple of times.    It took me a while to find the buttons that I wanted and eventually I found them at a local garden centre, of all places.

This elegant dishcloth is in fact my Bayfield shawl which I wrote about here in July. 

I had hoped to finish it in time to go to a business event with my husband, but I completely underestimated how much time I had to sit and knit and as it happened, it was far too hot to wear any kind of shawl on the night so it wasn't the end of the world.  I finished it a few weeks ago and it's needed blocking to pull it into the proper shape.  Blocking is the magic part of making something like this; you soak your work and then stretch and pin it into shape and all the beautiful lace stitches (and your hard work) can be seen.  You can see my shawl sitting all ready on the towel ready to be stretched ... a few magic words ... a few muttered words as I stick pins into my fingers ... and the finished result is this ...

This is a close-up of it as it was blocking - the pattern is just beautiful and I'm so pleased with it.  It's interesting to see how the colour has changed depending on where it's been photographed too - I'd always assumed it was shades of red and pink but the outside picture looks much more pink.  I'm very much looking forward to wearing it!

But as pleased as I am with all of these, I saved the best till last.  Fanfare please ... I have finally found a pattern to make a sock yarn blanket!  I've made a LOT of socks - over 40 pairs at last count - and they don't use up a whole ball of yarn, so I've been wondering what to do with the rest of it.  I've looked at various sock yarn blankets on Ravelry but nothing's really caught my fancy. Until I came across this pattern.

vivid blanket

It's called Vivid by Tin Can Knits and it's just perfect for what I want to do with my yarn.  As I looked through my leftovers, I realised that I have a bit of an addiction to stripy socks and I wanted a pattern that would make the most of that without breaking up the stripes too much.  You can see from the next picture that the stripes come out beautifully with this pattern, and it's fascinating to see how different the squares are even from the same ball of yarn.

It's going to take me quite some time to have enough for a blanket, but there's no rush.  I've loved all the socks that I've made; most of them have been for other people so I like the idea of being able to keep the memory of that sock in a blanket square.  It'll be my Socks I Have Known blanket J.

But despite all my good intentions, look what arrived in the post today!  It's a Stylecraft colour pack which I bought from Wool Warehouse - excellent price and service - and is for a new project that I'll be able to tell you about later. What did I say about being easily distracted ...? 

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Monthly Musing - November 2013 - Technology

“Hey, Daddy, do you know what?  Guess what I did at school today!”

Small daughter always has a lot to say for herself but because of the hours my husband works, he doesn’t often get chance to catch up with her before she goes to bed.  Today, though, he was getting the full story and what made this even better was that he was in America.

I can often be heard to do quite a lot of muttering about new technology, usually when I’m at the self-service till at the checkout (“it’s IN the bagging area!”), but even I can’t deny that being able to see and speak to your family when you’re thousands of miles away and five hours behind is nothing short of amazing.

Small daughter takes all this in her stride.  To her, it’s nothing miraculous at all, it’s just how it is.  She navigates around the computer with ease, knows how to work my mobile phone better than I do and wouldn’t dream of going on a long car journey without her iPod.

Big daughter can’t believe that there was once a time when we didn’t all have mobile phones.  Trying to talk to her in her room the other day, her phone bleeped almost constantly with message after message for the five minutes I was in there.  If I wanted to ask a friend about my homework, I had to go round to see them, or wait until the next day.  I certainly wasn’t allowed to use the phone for such a trivial matter, and if I did manage to persuade my parents that a phone call was vital, I had to wait until after six o’clock when it was cheaper!

Most of the time, I wouldn’t be without the technology that we have now.  Big daughter went on a Duke of Edinburgh Award expedition hike last weekend and we were more than relieved when the original “no mobiles” instruction was changed to “take them but don’t use them”.  At least I knew that in an emergency she could call for help, and when her return train was late home, I knew exactly what time to meet her at the station.  And when our electricity went off overnight a few weeks ago, I realised that although there is something rather nice about sitting in a room lit with candles with nothing to do but talk to each other, I was also very glad when the electricity came back on as I’m lost these days without the internet! 

So much of the technology around today makes our lives go faster; we immediately reply to emails or messages rather relying on the post, or we just call someone up to ask a question instead of waiting until we next see them which can be as frustrating as it’s useful, but watching their smiles as my girls spoke to their Dad so far away, I wouldn’t swap any of it.

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