We have had some unseasonably cold weather of late. The wind has been blowing strong, and the river swelled with continuous falls. But spring seems to have finally arrived in earnest these past two days. The air feels and somehow smells warm. The foxgloves are flowering strong. The roses are making their first, tentative steps at revealing their beauty and intoxicating scent.
As usual, I have been busy in the kitchen, returning to bread baking. My favourite recipe, and the kids favourite too, is Cynthia Lair’s whole grain bread that appears in her book Feeding the Whole Family. My copy is spattered and marked, the edges of the pages curled from turning and use. Some pages have pulled away from their binding, and the front protective cover is peeling. It has been a treasured, and perhaps slightly abused, book!
The recipe begins with a fermented yeast starter based on a cooked grain. In the past, I have used quinoa, millet, kasha and leftover porridge oats. We all love the oat version, and as we often have some leftover porridge that would otherwise go into the scrap bucket, this is the version we generally always make. The starter is left to ferment for 24 hours before adding a mixture of white and wholemeal bakers flour. You can store the starter in the fridge for up to a week, but beware, it might overflow the jar and make a terrible mess!
I was fortunate enough to score an old bakery three-strap loaf pan – the heavy type used in bakeries before they became commercial operations. My Dad happened upon them by chance years ago and had used them to store nuts and bolts in the garage! A thorough clean, and they were ready for bread baking once more. The recipe only makes up two loaves, and while I have tried extending the recipe to make three loaves, thereby capitalising on the pan, it never quite mixes or rises as well. So I stick with two.
Freshly baked, the bread is soft, nutritious and digestible, perfect for toast and sandwiches and mopping up the gravy on your plate. I wrap the cut loaf in one of the large beeswax wraps I made a couple of years ago, and the spare I place in a sealed plastic bag. After a couple of days of being cut, the bread can be a bit dry. But, it is perfect for making french toast, or turned into stuffing for a roast chicken, or whizzed into breadcrumbs and frozen for future use. On its own, the bread has loads of flavour, but cutting that first slice off the end of a freshly baked loaf and slathering it with butter is heaven! My kids love it and lament when there is no more. Unfortunately for them, I do not bake bread regularly enough to have a continuous supply.
There has been more than bread baking and flower gazing going on around here this week. There have been exciting things like spinning wheels and food photography and writing a piece for a winter collection alongside a bunch of highly talented and creative people. It has been both exciting and nerve-racking and, at times, challenging. I will reveal all in the coming weeks, but it is a project that I have been able to channel my loves – writing, cooking and serving up nourishing food, and creating something both practical and beautiful. I feel so blessed to be involved in the collection and look forward to seeing my work sent out into the world. It is a small step towards a long-held dream, but it is a sweet one.
The most challenging part of the process so far has been taking photographs of food. While I love to cook tasty and nourishing food for my family and find immense pleasure in serving up a delicious slice of something when a friend visits, photographing food is not something I have had much experience or success doing. As it transpires, I’m not particularly good at it! There is an art and skill to food photography that I would like to learn if only to understand the process and be better prepared for any future projects. Until that happens, I have had to rely on my limited and untrained eye, a lot of reheating food, placing plates of food in unusual places and using my black linen dress as a backdrop as I had nothing else more appropriate. I had more than a couple of moments of regret that I chose food as my subject! But I am sure it will all come together in the end.
My week of photography has resulted in some lovely meals on the table, and as a Northern Hemisphere based collection, our cooler weather was perfect for some wintery cooking.
Something else almost equal in excitement has entered my life. A spinning wheel! I still don’t know how it arrived as suddenly as it did. Previously I had no ambitions to spin and was more than happy to pay someone else to perform that work on my sheep’s wool. Then almost by hypnosis, I found myself responding to an ad on the Canberra Weaver’s and Spinner’s Association website and speaking to a lady named Esther. Esther has been spinning for decades and was a wealth of information and confidence. Later that afternoon, an Ashford Elizabeth spinning wheel, one of three wheels she possessed, was gently placed in the boot of my car in the pouring rain. Half an hour later, it was in my loungeroom with us all gazing at it lovingly as if it was the most beautiful and intriguing thing to have ever existed.
At this stage, spinning is a foreign language, literally so! Neps and noils, short and long draw, niddy-noddy (thankyou Lis for my introduction to a spinner’s glossary!). All such fascinating and alien terms to me. I tried my hand at spinning some wool that I had previously scoured and carded (I used a pair of Ashford hand carders) and created a lovely tangle of lumpy over-twisted string. I trust this will get better, and while I am nervous about wasting a lot of fibre in getting it right, I know that the only way to learn is to keep trying. I plan to become a member of the association and attend classes and meetings and hope, through the slow trickle of osmosis, that I can absorb the skills of those talented people before me.
My week ahead will likely become as busy, minus the challenges of food photography. But at this stage, it is almost a blank canvas, which is always a welcome sight when you’ve been busy and stretched in unfamiliar ways.
I wish you all health and happiness wherever you may be. Until next time, take care.