Monthly Archives: September 2016

Time for a lightweight title

I think that title fits the bill. I’ve being trying to be more serious recently after a reading a book with a chapter on Search Engine Optimisation (or SEO as those in the know call it). You will often find it mentioned in spam emails and under titles like How I raised myself from Failure to Success in Blogging in Five Easy Steps. 

However, seriousness isn’t my natural state and I have been gradually relaxing. If you have read my new blog (pies-and prejudice.com) you will have noticed that the titles are much more factual on that one. It’s a strain but I’m managing it. Gems like Brockleby’s Stilton Pork Pie, devoid of puns and alliteration, are the ones, it seems, that will attract the search engines. Once I’ve attracted the search engines I will attract readers and once I have readers success is sure to follow. Success, in this case, can be defined as the offer of free pies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Brockleby’s Stilton Pork Pie or the lunch of Professor Quatermass?

See what I did there? Or was mention of the other blog so subtle that you missed it? And the possibility of free pies? Oh yes, I’m getting very commercial.

Meetings today.

Catching up with paperwork after that.

Taking pictures for an ID guide to hedgerow foraging for a school that is coming next week.

Resisting temptation to include poisonous plants as this is bad for repeat bookings.

Looking through baking books for inspiration. I have just been through Paul Hollywood’s 100 Great Breads. It cost me £3 from a bargain book shop, against a somewhat optimistic £14.99 cover price for a 140 page paperback. Well, is white bread, white tin bread, batch bread, cottage loaf, milk loaf great bread? I don’t think so.  How about Named Bread, which is bread made into letters? Then you get into the breads with random things in them – halloumi and mint, peanut bread and a variety of fruit breads. I’m sure they are all good breads in their own way, but 100 Great Breads might be claiming a bit much. Some good recipes though, and I can feel my love of bread coming back.

Also having a look at his How to Bake (cost me £8 from TESCO – lost count of the number of recipes, but definitely over 100 varied ones – not all bread).

It’s time to start planning a gradual escalation of baking effort for the group as we work towards our Christmas party. Wednesday was simple biscuits, Monday is saltdough poppies  and after that it is ten weeks until we produce the Christmas centrepiece.

Julia bought me a set of cutters from Lakeland yesterday whilst buying jam supplies. I want to use them now…

 

 

 

The new biscuit recipe

I think we have the egg free biscuit recipe covered now. I’ve made a couple of hundred and I’m getting the hang of it, to the point I’m sure I could stand up and guide a class through to a satisfactory conclusion (as long as I don’t give a choice of flavours and as long as I remind them to divide the mix equally in their pair!)

It’s a versatile recipe. I made lemon flavour on Monday night (and lemon flavour with poppy seeds, which was quite good). I followed that up with ginger and caraway flavours on Tuesday morning. The lemon is good (using hand cut zest after finding that the zester has disappeared from the shared kitchen).Vanilla is a popular choice with visitors – that’s easy, with just a quarter teaspoon of flavouring. The ginger wasn’t very gingery so we need more experimentation there (two teaspoons looks a lot when you add it but it isn’t by the time you eat it). I’m going to try 2 tsp of fresh ground ginger next time – mine’s been hanging about a while.

Today I did orange. I used a zester from home and produced some long pieces, which I decided not to cut as I thought ‘what harm can they do?’ Well, as the bits stretch between two biscuits they can make a mess of the cutting. Next time I will cut them shorter.

Finally I tried it without dairy – substituting rapeseed oil. It made decent biscuits, though they don’t seem to colour up the same in the oven. Texture is a bit crumbly and the taste isn’t all it could be. All in all it’s a biscuit you’d do if pressed for a dairy-free biscuit, or for a bet, but not for fun.

The group enjoyed making the vanilla flavoured recipe and taking them home in paper bags. They had a tough day working with poultry in the morning and doing the tree measurements in the afternoon so biscuit making in the middle of the day, and biscuit tasting at the end of the afternoon was a nice change of pace.

The recipe –

Ingredients:

175 g plain flour

110 g softened butter

50 g caster sugar

 

Method:

Rub the butter into the flour

Add the sugar

Form a ball of dough and roll out about 5 mm thick

You should get at least 18 – I used a small cutter and managed to get 25 out of it

 

Flavouring:

Zest of two lemons and quarter teaspoon of lemon essence

Zest of an orange and quarter teaspoon of orange essence

Quarter teaspoon vanilla flavouring

1 tablespoon caraway seeds

Still working out the ginger, and haven’t decided on a measurement for the poppy seeds yet as I just sprinkled some on.

When to add the flavouring? I put it in at the beginning, Julia tells me it should go in at the end. Seems to work either way.

Sorry about the lack of science. 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other end of the scale

Two days ago we had five-year-olds, yesterday we had ninety-five-tear-olds. There isn’t necessarily a lot of difference between them at times, though the  older age group is easier to handle as they speak more slowly and don’t run about so much.

They also have better stories.

On the minus side, we have to visit them and this month (for a session on harvesting) we had to work in the conservatory, which is hot and airless at the best of times. Fortunately it was overcast, but even so, I felt relieved to finish, particularly as one of the old ladies kept asking where she was (despite us stopping to tell her every couple of minutes) and nobody offered us a cup of tea. That’s right, nobody offered us a cup of tea. The country is going to the dogs. First we lose the Empire, then we lose our manners and the ability to pronounce certain letters (‘t’ and ‘th’ come to mind). Finally, our tea ceremony (though not so formal as some) seems to be extinct.

Fortunately the Empire has come here, and it has brought a vast array of curry houses with it, so not all change is bad. I’m also growing old, so I’m allowed to be bad mannered and I’m becoming too deaf to bother listening to the inane lisping of footballers and teenagers (did they say ‘four’ or ‘Thor’, you ask yourself?) However, you’re never too old to need tea.

That was actually meant to be a serious post about the joys of working with such diverse age groups, but I was thirsty and I’m never more than a few yards from a rant. (A bit like supposedly never being more than six feet from a rat, though with different spelling).

After the talk we passed the biscuits round. They liked the biscuits. I think they liked the biscuits more than the wheatsheaf loaves, the corn dollies and the fresh vegetables.

There must be a moral in the ability of biscuits to bring happiness.

Though, of course, you can’t attain full happiness unless they give you a cup of tea!

The Remains of the Day

We’ve just been Rainbowed. It sounds delightful doesn’t it, like strewing rose petals, sipping sherbet or riding to work on a pink unicorn.

OK, maybe not pink, but you get the picture.

In reality it’s more like a whirlwind of activity, a lot of high-pitched squeaking (some of which only bats can hear) and a large number of biscuits.

I’m not good on biscuits, and the recipe was one we’d never tried before because we had to find an egg free recipe (due to allergies) which used the rest of the ingredients we already had. Then, due to the lack of anything suitable for zesting lemons (shared kitchens are like the Bermuda triangle for shared utensils, I always find) I set to and spent half an hour paring the yellow outer skin from lemons and chopping it small. And chopping it smaller…

It all went reasonably well, though 15 out of 16 opted for vanilla flavouring instead of real lemons. I will be making lemonade tomorrow. The girls seemed happy, the leaders seemed happy and even Julia is happy. I just wish I’d remembered that offering a choice of flavours to kids is a bad idea and that you have to tell them to share equally even though you think it is obvious. I know all this, I just wasn’t firing on all cylinders.

Pictures are of my poppy seed and lemon biscuits. They were plain lemon but after using the poppy-shaped cutter I thought, why not use poppy seeds. The first lot were sprinkled on top and rolled in because I only though about them after I’d rolled the dough out. The rest were incorporated in the mix as I squished (yes, it’s a technical biscuit-making term) the dough and rolled it again. That’s why they look different.

So, once again, we have provided a good time for a group and nobody has spotted I don’t know what I’m doing. That’s not a bad way to wrap up the day.

 

Theft, rain and Rainbows

I arrived at the farm on Saturday after dropping Julia at work, to find that the pink bale pigs guarding the entrance to the centre.

A couple of hours later I found someone leaving one of the polytunnels with a handful of tomatoes and chillies, all bright red and bursting with ripeness. I could have let it pass, but when you see the results of your year’s labour disappearing with someone else it’s difficult to stay silent. I was, however tactful.

It seems she had gone for a look round (people seem to treat it as a tourist destination) and found three tomatoes and two chillies on the floor. It was tempting to ask her if I could visit her house and purloin anything that was lying on the floor, but I didn’t. It was tempting to express scepticism, but I didn’t do that either. This turned out to be a good thing, as a quick survey of the polytunnel revealed that someone had indeed stripped the plants of all the ripe tomatoes and chillies.

It’s not the first time we’ve suffered losses, but it’s the first time someone has gone in and stripped a polytunnel. Well, they left the courgettes, marrows and cape Gooseberries, but they stripped everything red.

It’s annoying, but I have a plan. Actually I have two, but Julia won’t let me inject laxatives into things…

The group has been seeing to the poultry today, a some needed moving out into a larger pen, and found the smallest egg we’ve had so far. They have also picked anything else that is  nearly ripe in the garden, done the composting and helped prepare for the Rainbows who are coming tonight. We are now planning what to do on Wednesday – it’s a good activity for a cold, rainy afternoon, as it makes Wednesday more productive and keeps everyone dry and warm.

 

I’ve made a replacement for the Wheatsheaf Loaf that broke at the Flintham show. I have to have one for the church at the weekend and need one for our visit to the Care Home tomorrow so I daren’t not have a back-up. As a bonus I made two small ones, which we can leave at the home tomorrow. The pair of them took me less than an hour to make, whereas the big ones are still taking nearly two hours despite my efforts to speed it up.

The only trouble with the small ones is that the mice are really tricky!

 

Flintham Show

Well, after days of baking and making salt dough shapes the show finally arrived, as did busloads of kids.

Apart from salt dough and bread tasting we had the bread story,  corn dollies (with paper straws), the bread shed, adverts for our two new educational units (Festive wreaths and the Great War), the famous Ecocentre bread-plaiting roadshow (modesty prevents me telling you which charismatic,  bearded fat man runs that) and Julia’s two pig sculptures made from straw bales..

Of course, with all the good stuff, we also had a helping of adversity. One of the wheatsheaves, having dried badly, developed cracks before falling apart, and Julia’s pigs suffered from an outbreak of vandalism. They were popular all day, but for some reason we kept having to retrieve the snouts and ears from various souvenir-hunting children.

In a short break I managed to knock up a small wheatsheaf loaf to check how practical it was as a group exercise. It seems OK in terms of scale and time, though I couldn’t get anyone to give it a try on the day. That’s one for next week. Note the decorative charring to the smaller loaf – a feature of all our bread on the day.

Fortunately the day, which started cold and drizzly, was dry and sunny by the  time the gates opened and all the hard work of the show committee paid off. The photos don’t do it justice, but it’s hard to fit it in with the other activities. By the end of the day all I wanted to do was sit down – one bread roll a child for 80 children is works out at about 12 sessions and 6 kilos of dough, all mixed by hand.

The results of the Bread Test were:

  1. Home baked white
  2. TESCO cheap white sliced
  3. Home baked brown and shop bought seeded brown  (a tie)

We’ve run this session a number of times and it’s always the same – a narrow win for home made white over Chorleywood white sliced with brown, seeded and sourdough lower down. So I won, but it’s depressing.

The Goat Escape (again)

First things first – we arrived today with a list of things to do, and the first thing we saw was a massed escape of goats. They had clearly been peckish, and if there’s one thing a goat likes it’s some nice twigs. Things weren’t helped when a flat battery allowed them to climb over the so-called electric fence.

They have much more character than sheep. It’s just a shame that they express this character in making such determined bids for freedom.

It was a busy day yesterday – another 100 salt dough shapes ready for Flintham Show, an improved Wheatsheaf loaf, and an element of panic as we realise there is not enough time. That, of course, is not unusual: there never is enough time.

As you can see, the poppies are coming along nicely, though they do take a lot more salt dough. For one thing, they are bigger than many of the shapes we use, and for another, they need to be thicker to pick up the detail.

The thickness isn’t a problem when you are making biscuits, but when you have to glue them to a stalk it can be tricky, as experience shows they can overbalance or pull themselves of the stalks. I’ve invested in better glue this time!

We had a look in the mobile bread oven and found it was full of cobwebs and a small barbecue.  Yes, it was a surprise to me too.

One thing we haven’t done is test the oven or dry any wood. That’s because the farmer doesn’t believe in planning and hates using wood to check things are working. Farmers hate spending money, even if, as in this case, it does grow on trees.

When it all goes wrong tomorrow it will be my fault.

Do you know how many colloquial expressions there are for “goes wrong” in the English language? More to the point, do you know how many of them are suitable for use in polite conversation?