Thursday, 3 August 2017

Home Baking

Lately I've been very conscious about unnecessary additives you find in commercially sold bread. The obvious answer to this problem is of course to bake your own bread. The only problem I had with this is the fact that all my loaves turn out to be quite dense and even when they tasted good spread with butter or as a side to soup they just wouldn't make proper sandwiches. So I started browsing the internet to find a recipe that would make a fluffier bread. I found this site and thought I might give the recipe a try. And I'm glad I did: Usually recipes I make don't turn out like the should even when tasting fine but this bread actually looked like in the picture shown on the site. Even though I substituted kefir for the milk (I do this whenever I can to use up the huge amounts of kefir that my grains yield) and used a cup of wholemeal wheat flour.


As for the taste, I will have to play around with seasonings a bit the next time, but I was very happy with the texture. Adrian and Aidan were too, so there wasn't much left by the time I remembered to take the picture. It did make lovely toast like it said on the website but it also worked as sandwich. So I expect we'll have more of this bread in the future. 

The other recipe I tried out is this one . Not only did it look beautiful but the quick-no-knead-heading appealed to me as well. I had never heard of a Dutch oven but I figured it must be close to a cast-iron casserole dish which it said you can use instead. I was a bit nervous because of the high temperatures and handling the hot casserole but everything turned out fine. The bread rose beautifully even without kneading and it tasted very good. It's not a sandwich-style bread but I did't expect it to be. I will certainly do it again. It does say to let it rise for 12 to 18 hours or 6 hours in an oven with only the light turned on but mine had risen well after two hours in an oven with set to about 30 degrees celsius.

There's another recipe I'd like to try but I have to be a bit patient for that as I need to make the sourdough starter first which will take a few days. I've made sourdough bread before but wasn't very happy with it. It came out very dense and quite hard. After reading up on this useful website  I figured that I probably didn't knead it enough and didn't let it rise enough. I am ready to give it another try now. I've started making the starter dough two days ago with just flour and water and I'm very curious how it will turn out and if I will be lucky enough to "catch some wild yeasts". It's a bit like trying to trap wild birds I think, you just lay the trap and hope some of them will be lured into it. The first day nothing seemed to have happened but this morning there were a few bubbles in the dough and a vinegary smell so I might be lucky.



My kitchen is getting pretty crowded with all the cultures feeding away: kefir, yeast and sourdough. A few years ago this really would have bothered me, but now I think doesn't look messy, just lived-in and cosy.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Rory's Baby Quilt

Yesterday afternoon I finished the quilt.


I have to say I am pretty happy with how it turned out in the end. There was a time during the sewing precess when I was worried that it might look horribly distorted.

This is only the second time I properly quilted after my first experience dampened down my enthusiasm: It was my very first patchwork quilt that I was making for Adrian's first nephew Dara. While I should have picked something simple, being me, I designed something with hearts and circles that I wanted to outline with quilting stitches. I've always enjoyed embroidering and I thought quilting would be very much like it. But far from it! The wadding was very thick and my embroidery hoop kept sliding off, but even when I managed to keep it on, the reverse side looked completely crooked: a circle on the front got distorted into some wonky egg. In the end I managed to make it look kind of right but it took a lot of time and tears (and swearing).

After this I opted for crochet blankets for the next babies and when I ventured another quilt for my nephew Emil I just knotted the layers together. But after five years I decided to give it another try. Again I used the same thick wadding as I still had plenty of it.


Yet I went for an easy design and decided to just quilt along the seams avoiding any curved lines. I also ditched the embroidery hoop which worked out great for me. The quilting didn't go smoothly and there were a lot of wonky lines on the back that I had to undo and redo. But I found that it was easier when I got into a flow of stitching and didn't worry too much about how it looked on the back. 


Not perfect but not terrible either! And Aidan liked the soft wadding.


While the fabric did pucker up a lot, or was stretched too tight in places while I was quilting, it didn't matter in the end. I actually like the three-dimensional look.



As for the edging I meant to do a bias binding but had trouble choosing the fabric. Luckily I visited my aunt in Germany who had just finished an amazing huge quilt. I noticed that for the edging she had just turned over the backing fabric and stitched it to front. She argued that this version is time- as well as fabric-saving - perfect for me! And I like that you can see the backing fabric on the front now as well.

I am itching to do another quilt now!

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Gloves

As an admirer of fashions in the past I'm always looking at ways to incorporate details from bygone eras into my everyday wear without looking dressed up. A great way to do this is to use accessories and if you ever had a look at one of my online shops you might have noticed that I have a mild obsession with gloves.

In the last few years I've crocheted several pairs, usually fingerless. When I'm happy with how they look they end up in my shop. There are still a few decent ones that I could wear myself, but I rarely do. Up to the middle of the 20th century no lady would have ventured out without hat and gloves and while I love the idea of being pernickety with your clothes I can't be bothered too much about them these days. After all it's no use donning gloves when you're wearing old jeans and a t-shirt, you want just a little bit of coordination.


There is something to be said for the casualness of modern clothing and I am glad that I can go out of the house without spending hours getting dressed. But at the same time I do deplore the absence of elegance in most of our clothes. Now and then I enjoy being fussy about what I wear. 



Recently I had an opportunity to wear gloves at my cousin's wedding. I wore a fifties' style dress with the little white crochet gloves in the first picture. Of course I don't have a photo...
SaveSaveSaveSave

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

A baby quilt for Rory

The last week has been very family orientated for me. My sister Bille stayed with her husband and toddler son first at our house and then at my sister Marina's. We spend a lot of time together, chatting away while the boys ran around and did screeching competitions...


... and went to feed carrots to the donkeys. We are so lucky that we all get along so well: we three sisters, the three husbands and now Aidan and Emil, too.
Then on Friday my husbands littlest nephew arrived into the world. Aidan's third male cousin (only one girl so far). We haven't met the newest addition to the family yet as my sister in law lives in England but we hope to visit some time this year. As I seem to have made it a tradition to make a baby blanket for all the babies in our family, I seized the first chance and disappeared into my sewing room to plan a quilt. This is what I have come up with so far:


This is a good few hours work, little as it seems. It sounds fun to pick out the colours and arrange the fabric (and it is), but it's also quite hard to make it look nice. This is not at all what I had in mind at first. I wanted to go for a crazy quilt with lots of patches and ribbons but after playing around with patterns and colors for a while I decided to go for a more traditional look. After all I want this quilt to be finished while Rory is still a baby.
My aunt who is very good at quilting would probably not be happy with this, but as it is only my third quilt I prefer to keep it simple. The next step will be sewing together the squares which shouldn't be too hard. Hopefully more about this in the next post!

Friday, 5 May 2017

Recipe: Kefir Lemon Poppy Scones

A few days ago I had a "day off", meaning Aidan spent the day at his grandparents. When I dropped him there my mother in law was just making scones so I felt a craving for them all the time during my dentist's visit and on the way home. Then my sister Marina texted to ask if she could call in giving me the perfect excuse to start baking. I had a lot of kefir to use up so it had to be kefir scones. But I wanted to add a bit more flavour. After some browsing on the internet I came up with these poppy seed scones that turned out surprisingly well. Luckily I wrote down all the ingredients and quantities.


So here is the recipe:

300g self-raising flour (or plain flour with 3 tsp of baking powder mixed through)
150g wholemeal flour
70g poppy seeds
100g butter cut into cubes
285ml kefir (or buttermilk) plus a little bit more for glazing
1 lemon
85g sugar
1 tsp baking soda


Preheat the oven to 200C fan.
Mix the flour with the baking soda and cut in the butter then use your hands to bring it all together.
Grate the lemon zest and mix with the sugar, then squeeze the juice out of the lemon and mix about half of it with the kefir.
Add kefir, sugar and poppy seeds into the flour and butter mix and stir with a wooden spoon to mix it all together. Then knead with your hands to make a dough.
Turn out onto a floured surface and roll out thickly (no rolling pin required). Cut out circular shapes using a cup or glass and transfer them onto a baking sheet. Use the other half of the lemon juice and mix with a little bit of kefir and glaze the scones using a brush.
Bake in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes depending on the size of the scones. They should be ready when they turn golden brown.
Enjoy with butter and orange marmalade!



Saturday, 15 April 2017

Happy Easter!


It seems that I'm getting more and more nostalgic about Germany, the longer I live abroad. This is the first Easter I actually decorated eggs and made some traditional German yeast buns. Easter in Germany - at least in my home - means egg hunts in the morning (preferably outside in the garden), bright spring colour decoration, long mass with choir and orchestra and of course food: lots of boiled colourful eggs, chocolate bunnies, yeast buns, cakes in the shape of lambs...  It's such a beautiful joyful spring holiday!

If I were a properly organised person I would have planned what to make for Easter in advance and I could have blogged about my projects. As it is, I just write this quick post to show some of the things I made yesterday and today. The eggs in the picture above are boiled and then decorated with
self-adhesive fabric that a friend of mine gave me for my birthday. It's perfect for sticking on eggs. Very unmessy as no glue was needed. For my husband's niece and nephew I made those incredibly quick and easy paper baskets:


I found the idea and photo instructions here.

Today I did all the baking. I made a huge amount of yeast cardamom dough (German recipe here) and tried to do the bunny shapes from the recipe. You need a lot of imagination and good will to see that they're supposed to be bunnies...


I need a bit more practice! After making about fifteen bunnies I used the rest of the dough to make some Easter nests, that turned out a bit better:


There was no trip to the shop involved in making those things as I happened to have everything at home. Perfect last minute projects. Next year I'd like to plan a little in advance and make some decoration to put up. I'm always saying that and never do it...
Anyways, happy Easter everyone!



Saturday, 1 April 2017

Fairy Tales

It's time for some book reviews. I don't get to read as much as I used to, but I couldn't imagine a day without reading a few lines. Mostly during mealtimes which is a really bad habit but I love it. The perfect breakfast always includes a book next to my plate. 

And this is the book that's on my breakfast table at the moment:




I picked it up while browsing in my favourite bookshop, Charlie Byrne's, in Galway. Fairy tales have always delighted me since I was a very young child and I want my son to get as much pleasure out of them as I did myself. While I was always convinced that it is wrong to deny your children the pleasure of fairy tales because they can be cruel or sad, I do feel a bit worried about this now that I am a parent myself. Of course no parent wants to scare their child and it is normal to feel worried that those gruesome details might do some damage to your child's psyche. According to Bruno Bettelheim though, the opposite is true: Pretending that life is always sunny and denying that evil and death is part of it as well, can do much more damage. Fairy tales teach children about the darker sides to life in a safe way, they show evilness and death but in the end everything comes right, evilness is punished, good deeds rewarded. If I think back to my childhood I don't remember ever feeling scared or threatened by a fairy tale, but I do remember feeling happy and consoled hearing the last line: and they lived happily ever after. 

Aidan is still a bit young with his two years but when he saw the picture of Red Riding Hood and the Wolf on the cover he was intrigued so I got out my old Fairy Tale Book and read him the story. He loves the picture of the wolf and doesn't seem to be upset by him swallowing the grandmother and Red Riding Hood.

Another book that I just finished is this one:




This is one of my most favourite books. I've reread it countless times since I first read it when I was about sixteen. Though this is my first time to read it in English (The German translation was published under the nondescript title "Sommerglanz"). What makes it so enjoyable? From a literary point of view there is probably not that much to it. The story is simple, the characters a touch stereotyped. The newer editions are actually published as young adult fiction as you can guess from the cover, even though Eva Ibbotson regarded it as a book for adults. It is such a pleasure to read. It has everything you secretly want from a book, but might be too scared to utter aloud for fear of being ridiculed. I do enjoy reading "high" literature (though probably not for the right reasons), yet sometimes I just want something light, something stereotyped and predictable. There is nothing wrong with predictable: The heroine is Anna, a young Russian countess who has lost everything in the Russian revolution and comes to England to work as a housemaid in a grand manor house. Rupert, it's young owner, just back from being wounded in the war, is exceptionally liberal minded - as are all his family and neighbors. They take active interests in their servants' lives and they welcome a Jewish family into their neighborhood - not very likely for the English gentry at that time, I believe. You can guess from the first pages that Anna and Rupert will fall in love and end up together. And it would be very disappointing if this wouldn't happen. Like in a fairy tale: you know the heroine will win and get the prince in the end but that doesn't make it less enjoyable to read. It doesn't matter how old you are: We all need fairy tales sometimes!