Holy Freaking Deliciousness Batman!

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Sourdough success!

You wouldn’t think that my first attempt at sourdough bread would turn out looking and tasting incredible.  You’d be right.   It’s edible, but not incredible.

I used a cast iron pot to cook up my first loaf following the method from a blog called Stone Soup (here). It sounded simple enough, and indeed it was easy to follow.  However I had a few issues along the way, namely:

My dough seemed way too wet and was difficult to handle.

My dough didn’t rise.

I burned the hell out of my fingers trying to put the searing hot lid back on the pot bare handed. (Yes, I’m an idiot).

I used wholemeal spelt flour instead of the bread flour in the recipe (because that was what I had in my cupboard).  I’m not sure how much this affected the results.  After the initial mixing it looked really wet so I added a touch more flour.  After 12-15 hours settling time (overnight and then the couple hours it took me to attend to it this morning) it was still looking soupy and not at all inflated.

I persevered with the sloppy dough to see what would happen.  Aside from me burning my fingers raw, this is what happened:

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The resulting loaf was very flat and very dense.  It does, however, taste quite nice. Particularly when eaten warm, spread with organic pastured butter.  So at least it can be eaten, which is a win.

But this lovely, if a little solid, loaf of spelt sourdough is not my sourdough success story.  That refers to these little beauties!

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That, my friend, is a glorious stack of freshly cooked homemade sourdough crumpets.  Oh yes.  I made crumpets.

I’ve wanted to make crumpets for years, ever since I heard a friend say she had made some.  But it involved yeast and I’m a bit lazy when it comes to things that need yeast.  Especially at breakfast time.

But as I halved and fed my new sourdough starter yesterday and prepared my bowl of bread dough, I set the extra aside thinking it could maybe make for some interesting pancakes in the morning.  As I settled in to bed last night a little thought broke through-

‘Crumpets!’ it cried. ‘Sourdough crumpets!’

‘Interesting idea,’ I thought. ‘I wonder if sourdough crumpets is a thing.’

Google (bless it’s little digital socks) told me that it was indeed a thing and offered up some recipe options.  The lovely Clotilde at Chocolate & Zucchini had an easy looking recipe (here), and so I whipped them up for breakfast.  And then, er, for morning tea.  And it’s taking all my willpower not to eat the few leftover right now. Thank you Clotilde. They are to die for.

I love crumpets.  As a kid I would slather them with butter and honey until it dripped through and made a puddle on the plate. Then I would turn them upside down, suck the rest of the golden mess out and re-dip the crumpet in the puddle.  Messy, but delicious.  (Ok, I still do that).

These were better than any store bought crumpets I’ve ever had.  Lighter, fluffier, more flavoursome.  Just yum. Oh so yum.

Here are some more pictures of the tasty little rounds…

Fresh from the pan:

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Toasted and topped with butter and maple syrup:

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Totally worth the effort of starting a starter.

If I never make bread again I will keep my sourdough starter alive just for these crumpets.

Go make some.

 

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It’s Alive!

The yeasties are blooming!

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The above picture is my starter this afternoon after three days of flour and water feedings.

I have very little (no) experience in the sourdough business, but the blogs and common sense tell me that when it comes to capturing wild yeast bubbles are good news.  The bubbles are appearing quickly after a good strong stir and the mixture is giving off a not totally unpleasant sour vinegaresque smell. Hopefully I’m cultivating a nice little starter that will work.

According to the starter recipe I used (this one) tomorrow my starter should be in full bloom and ready for maintenance and use.

Coincidentally, but conveniently, tomorrow will be Sunday.  This seems like a good omen somehow.  I’d love to get into the habit of baking a fresh loaf every Sunday for the week ahead.

Now to scout out easy looking recipes for my first bread attempt!

 

 

Starting Sourdough

There’s something so homely and comforting about freshly baked bread.  Just thinking about it fires up the senses; I can feel the warmth of a wood fire oven, smell the delicious yeasty smell of a fresh loaf and hear the crunch of a knife sawing through the golden crust.

That’s just my imagination talking though. I have never had a wood fire oven and I’ve actually baked my own bread less than a handful of times.  But baking bread at home has always appealed to me and I would love to do it more.

I think it’s the preparation required that prevents me from doing it more often.  The last time I tried to make bread I created a surprisingly edible loaf and realised how easy it can actually be, if only you can get yourself organised enough to start several hours (or days) before you want the bread. I guess the frequent bread baker has a bit of a routine in place. I could do that. Maybe.

Last time I used supermarket bought yeast, which was ok, but when it comes to bread my real love is for sourdough. There are a couple of companies locally that make absolutely delicious sourdough loaves, both available from a shop within walking distance from my front door.  Usually they more than satisfy my need for tasty, additive free, fresh bread, but they are one of the key expenses thwarting my attempts to tighten the grocery budget.

In a quiet moment this afternoon motivation finally struck and I decided to start a starter.  If this sourdough starter actually takes off I will attempt to keep it alive and become a regular home bread baker.  Fingers crossed!

Sourdough starter sounds simple (mix some flour and water and wait, essentially) but I’m sure there are a million ways it can go wrong.

Always looking for the least complicated option, I found a wonderfully simple sounding recipe here.

Here’s a snapshot of my starter underway.

 

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This is equal parts plain flour and water mixed together. I will feed it the same again each day for 5 days and hopefully it will take off!

I didn’t use filtered water (simply because I don’t have any and I don’t have a filter) so hopefully whatever is in the local tap water won’t prevent the yeasties from blossoming.

We’ll have to wait and see….

 

 

Nut Butters and Butternuts

Food is fuel, but I think it is criminal to reduce it to simply that!  

Food is about enjoyment as much as it is about nourishment and there’s no reason why we can’t celebrate both of these aspects. Eating real, nourishing food doesn’t have to take away from the enjoyment of it.  In fact in many ways I think that being selective about sourcing and preparing good quality real food can enhance our enjoyment of it. 

To me, one of the fabulous things about cooking good food is the endless possibilities.  And the excellent thing about fuelling our bodies is that we get to do it (give or take) three times a day! Each meal is an opportunity to sit down and savour something delicious and a chance to try something new!  I love flicking through cookbooks and food websites for mouth-watering inspiration (although I rarely follow specific recipes). The internet is incredible for the home cook! It’s like having a million cookbooks right at your fingertips with all the tips and tricks you need to try something different.

Of course this doesn’t have to mean every meal should be new or complicated.  It’s fun sometimes sure, but a crisp apple or a piece of grass-fed steak with fresh vegetables can be mindfully eaten and enjoyed as much as a slice of carefully layered cake or fancy restaurant dish.  

I think eating mindfully (and by that I mean consciously slowing down, tasting the food and enjoying the experience) is the key factor to a good relationship with food.  Although it can be difficult, particularly if we’re eating on the run, lunching at the desk or otherwise attempting to multi task. All too often I find myself reaching down for another bite of something and finding I’ve already eaten it, or getting myself something to have with a cup of tea and eating it before the kettle has even boiled!  I am constantly trying to remind myself to slow down and savour my food. 

I do realise too, that we all have a preference for certain foods over others and enjoyment levels vary accordingly. Honestly, give me the choice between layer cake and an apple and I’m going to choose the cake 9 times out of 10. And that’s probably if the tenth time I was offered this choice, say, five minutes after consuming a whole cake. But my point is that we can still choose to eat mindfully and enjoy whatever we happen to have in the moment, for whatever it is (appreciate the appleness of the apple for example). Of course there are those moments when we only have a floury apple or otherwise unpleasant option, in which case we can take heart in knowing that the next meal probably isn’t too far away and may be much better!

When I do have the chance though I love to attempt new things.  I’m always on the search for new ideas in the kitchen.  A funny aspect of my travels through food filled web pages is that the majority of them tend to be written by people in the northern hemisphere, most often the US, which means that recipes are being posted out of season for me reading from Australia.  I see loads of fabulous recipes for hearty stews and comforting soups and warming desserts when it’s the middle of summer and fresh salads and frozen treats when I’m all rugged up and sitting in front of my computer screen with a steaming hot cuppa trying to stay warm.  And of course there are many recipes out there that I would never really think of coming from a different cultural background. This past spring and summer I saw loads of fantastic looking recipes using pumpkin as America went through autumn (sorry, fall) and winter.  And most of them desserts which is unusual here!  It recently occurred to me that now the cold weather has set in I should be trying some! I’ll see if I can dig them up and I’ll post a few if I’m successful. 

What the wonderful worlds of real food and the internet have brought to my table is nut butters. I hated peanut butter as a kid.  I think it was a texture thing.  But my husband likes it so it was often in the house.  When I made the switch to real food I traded his standard peanut butter for all natural 100% peanut peanut butter.  He didn’t like it much so I found other ways to use it.  Over time it has grown on me and the natural stuff has grown on him.  And I’ve discovered almond butter and some wonderful recipes for other nut butters. 

 

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Maple Cinnamon Pecan-Almond Butter

Yesterday I attempted my own for the first time. It’s unbelievable how easy it is if you have a good food processor or blender to do all the work. Since my favourite nuts are pecans I thought I would try pecan-almond butter.  I also decided that since it was highly likely I would eat this nut butter with maple syrup I would just go ahead and flavour the whole thing.  So maple-cinnamon pecan-almond butter was made!  

I’m not a recipe following kind of person but here’s a rough idea: 

2 cups pecans (I used raw unsalted)

2 cups almonds (I used dry roasted unsalted)

Maple syrup and ground cinnamon to taste

Process. A lot. 

For a proper recipe you can either Google whatever your heart desires or try this one, which is where I got my inspiration. 

This slightly sweet nut butter is delicious thickly spread on a slice of good sourdough, as a topping on porridge or as a sneaky finger scoop on your way past the pantry. Not that I do that. 

 

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Maple Cinnamon Pecan-Almond Butter
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Maple Cinnamon Pecan-Almond Butter

 

 

Gratitude

That about sums it up.

We can get so caught up in the chase for the next thing to fulfil us, make us happy, make us complete.  When maybe all we need is to show a little gratitude for what is already around us.

Even in my new quest to find a ‘simpler’ life I find myself thinking I need to buy more, do more, have more.  I read a blog about making homemade cleaners and automatically think that I need to go out and buy some pretty supplies to make my new cleaners in, or I feel that to grow some food myself I need to set up a fully functioning kitchen garden straight away… preferably one that can be gazed upon from the kitchen sink in my expansive, perfectly decorated farmhouse in the country.  I need to stop and remind myself that if I want to really benefit from some of the joys of building a simple home life I need to learn to be grateful for what I already have and begin there.  I can get some fantastic ideas from others about how to incorporate new things into my life, but I don’t need to do it all, and I don’t need to have it all.

I’m not sure how I ran into Becoming Minimalist.  A happy accident in another link-clicking adventure I suppose.  But something caused me to click and then reading a little caused me to linger.  Blogger Joshua Becker’s thoughts on minimalism and mindful living struck a chord with me.  It simply made sense to me and I had a ‘I want to do this’ moment.

So I’m doing it. Slowly, slowly.  I’ve been compelled to organise things better recently, but the simple truth might be that I first need to de-own some things.  I’m piling things up at the moment, destined for a garage sale and/or donation.  It’s terrifying and freeing at the same time.  It’s amazing how you can suddenly become nervous about parting with, for example, some DVDs you haven’t watched and probably never will. And I wasn’t even much of a hoarder to begin with.

Husband is semi-on board with this project too which is helpful. It will be an interesting process determining where the line is for us in terms of minimalism, but I’m excited to start!  I hope it will help us to refocus our priorities to

-be more grateful for what we have

-focus on making memories rather than acquiring things

-live in the present

Of course, while I do hope to gain some life perspective from this, and that’s wonderfully deep and all… I mostly hope this leads to less cleaning.

Bones (Part 3)

Eat Frugally

Yesterday I made a huge batch of chicken stock in the slow cooker with some chicken carcasses I had saved. I put some containers in the freezer and then made a big pot of chicken and vegetable soup with the rest.  Perfect for this chilly winter.

I love everything about this trick. It couldn’t get much easier than throwing a few things in the slow cooker, covering with water and turning it on. Seriously, you don’t even have to chop things if you don’t want to.  Homemade stock/broth is delicious, nourishing food.  It reduces wastage of those useful animal bones and provides stock that is considerably cheaper than store bought- almost free if you consider that it’s just things you would normally throw out plus some water!  I also love that you can control what is in it, adjusting salt levels to suit your taste and needs, as well as ensuring it’s made from good quality animals and free of all the wacky additives that often hide in store bought stock.  Frugal and fabulous.

I have to note that ‘frugal’ for us basically means reducing wastage of what we already have as well as curbing unnecessary spending on new things.  What we determine to be necessary and/or worth spending money on many people may disagree with.  It’s all about personal priorities.  So buying expensive organic meat , dairy and produce might not seem frugal to some, but to me it’s important. Frugal living and eating for us has really come about as a side effect of our expensive food changes (see Bones 1 & 2) in a maternity leave/saving to build a house situation.  I struggle with the expense of buying a wide variety of good quality food. A ridiculously large amount of our income still goes on food but I’m aiming to find ways to be smarter with what we buy.  I hate to waste leftovers, I stretch our meat a long way, we eat a lot of vegetarian meals and I save money where I can on some of the basics.

I’m also beginning to learn about gardening so we can hopefully supplement our supplies with some organic backyard produce. You can’t get any fresher or more local than your own garden. I can’t wait until the day I can go out and pick a basket full of vegetables for a whole meal.  I mean it when I say I’m a beginner though- I only have a few little containers on the go in our courtyard and if I grow anything in these early days it’ll be more good luck than good management. I do have a budding broccoli outside that I’m extremely excited about… let’s hope I can keep it alive!

 

Bones (Part 2)

Eat Ethically

For a while there, I thought about going vegan.  I decided against it.  Here’s where I stand.

At some point my switch to real food (motivated by health) led me to the issue of animal welfare and  factory farming.  I was introduced to the concept at the beginning of all this real food stuff, when watching the film Food Inc (a film worth watching, if you haven’t already seen it). It shocked me. But I did a little research online, determined that Australia’s standard farming practices were thankfully not as bad as America’s, and carried on much as before.

Recently, however, I came across Animals Australia’s Make it Possible campaign against factory farming.  I added my name to the pledge that I would refuse factory farmed products. That anonymous internet pledge made me feel a sense of responsibility. It also led me to read more information and learn that some of my supermarket meat choices (I was already trying my best) weren’t as ideal as they might at first seem. I made sure to buy only quality free range eggs, organic where possible, and began to source our meat directly from local farms.  Our pork and beef now comes as a CSA share from Jonai Farms. This small family run farm is located about a 45 minute drive from my home and prides itself on producing quality ethical meat. I love their mission and the meat is absolutely delicious to boot!

I kept reading things though. I’m not sure how I come across them. It just happens. And it happened with dairy. The lot of an average dairy cow doesn’t seem so bad when you first think about it. Or, better still, if you don’t think about it at all. But in truth the production of dairy is less than ideal, and in some cases downright cruel. You can go to Animals Australia’s dairy information here if you’d like to know more (go on, you should).

Around the same time I was also reading a lot about vegetarian and vegan diets. Not so much because I was interested in them, but because it was a side effect of looking for vegetarian and vegan recipes (this ethical meat thing is fantastic and all but it’s to be eaten in moderation, not to mention very expensive). People out there in internet land (internet vegans in particular) seemed to be pretty enthusiastic about their choices and the impact on their health.

And so an experimental dairy-free April was declared.

Dairy-free April came and went without any (ok, very very little) dairy.  Results: going without dairy wasn’t as painful as expected, but no amazing health improvements were noted.

Then I reevaluated things.  This is where I dabbled in the idea of veganism.

Note: I jumped straight to veganism because with all my new found knowledge it seemed to me that being vegetarian for ethical reasons was almost pointless.  I’m sure vegetarians would beg to differ, which is totally ok, but this is how I see it.  If one decides not to eat meat because it is wrong to kill animals, then one should probably extend that to dairy products.  A meat animal lives a while doing what it does (depending upon which farm it has had the (mis)fortune of being born) until one day it is shipped off and slaughtered for food.  A dairy animal is forced to produce offspring yearly (many of which are poorly treated and then slaughtered straight away) and have its milk taken daily until such a time as it is no longer useful.  At which point it is most likely shipped off and slaughtered for food. Summary: live a short life and die vs live a longer crappier life and then die. It’s an all or nothing kind of call.

I considered my options, did some soul searching and decided that I feel animal products do have a place in our food system.  Lions can eat gazelles, cats can eat mice, people can eat cows (etc).  We do, however, have the enlightenment, empathy and ability to treat our farmed animals humanely and with respect.  This should happen more than it does.

As for dairy products, many against dairy have put forward the argument that humans are the only animals to drink another animal’s milk after weaning.  I find myself wanting to say ‘Er, yes, but humans are the only animals to do a lot of things: make fire, talk, build buildings, invent electricity…’.  Again, provided the animals in question are treated with respect, and the individual consuming dairy has no adverse reaction to it, I see no issue with a little dairy.  Ditto with eggs.

So my rules for ethical eating are as follows: eat only humanely raised, naturally fed meat, eggs and dairy. Preferably local. Always in moderation, second to a healthy variety of plant based foods.

Which sounds great, but is difficult in practice. I’m not perfect. I’m so far from perfect I can barely glimpse perfection on the horizon. I’m lucky to live in Australia where conventional farming practices are better than some but let’s face it- Ethical meat and dairy is expensive and hard to find. Conventional meat and dairy is  much more attractively priced and hard to avoid.  I guess you  just have to focus on the fact hat every good choice is a step in the right direction and accept that it will be a challenge to uphold this ideal, especially beyond the walls of your own home.  Especially when you love amazing food. Especially when there is an incredible smelling, mouth-wateringly succulent looking piece of slow cooked bbq pork belly of unknown origin being offered to you… (yes, this was recent… yes, I ate it… gosh it was yummy).

Another work in progress.