Monday, 27 February 2012

more sourdough

Since my last post about bread-making I have continued to make bread regularly. We have had hardly any bought bread in that time. On the whole I have stuck with the same basic recipe, just varying the flour and trying both fast action dried yeast and fresh yeast and generally using a measure of the sourdough starter as well. The results have been good - a dough which rises surprisingly quickly and a fairly consistent, even-textured loaf.

Yesterday I decided it was time to branch out and make a different style of loaf, so I flicked through my book and settled on Pain de Campagne a rustic French style bread which uses just the sourdough starter and no additional yeast. After my previous experience with the sourdough solo I was a little anxious about whether it would work and warned Steve that he might have to go out and buy his breakfast bread today!

I was pleasantly surprised because it did in fact rise quite well. It was slow, and I went to bed rather later than I had planned, but I was very pleased with the final loaf. The recipe creates quite a slack dough and I resisted the temptation to add more flour, using the French-style stretching and throwing kneading technique that I learned at a workshop with Mark of Mark's Bread.

Because the dough is rather formless it needs support during its second proving so I sat it in a colander lined with a well floured tea towel. The trick then is to turn it out quickly on to a pre-heated baking tray and slam it into a hot oven before it has a chance to collapse.

This loaf has the more airy uneven texture of artisan bread and a very good flavour.

Monday, 13 February 2012

modelling for the seriously camera-shy

It is well-known that I have a very bad relationship with the camera. The camera doesn’t like me and I’m not at all fond of it being pointed in my direction.

How, then, to illustrate the hat I have just knitted?

Without showing my face, that’s how.

The pattern is Fugue by Kate Davies, knitted in Corriedale yarn by Old Maiden Aunt. It’s an interesting piece of colour-work that needs close attention to the chart, but rewarding, and I really like the Vikkel braid.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

babies and knitting: great conversation starters

Hannah and Felix are temporarily based in London and, making the most of the capital, they also went to visit the Grayson Perry exhibition at the British Museum on Friday evening, taking eight week old daughter (aka the little bear) with them. They stopped off for some food at Wagamama around the corner. Apparently the little bear behaved in exemplary fashion, had a feed herself and smiled nicely. As they were getting up to leave a diner nearby – a man of around 60 – greeted them and, having admired the baby, went on to ask if that was a handknit she was wearing?

She was, of course, wearing the cardigan I had made for her and when Hannah pointed out the cuff-to-cuff construction a knitting conversation ensued.

Turns out this man has recently learned to knit and is a new member of a knitting group in which he is not just the only man, but also the youngest member. He had already clocked the fact that it was knitted crosswise, which was I think the thing that intrigued him. Clearly another obsessive for the cause!

I was delighted to be able to report this adventure to the knitwear designer who blogs as knitsofacto. Who knows what can happen to a design once it is set free in the world.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

down to the sticks, up to the smoke

We’ve been having some very nice times in two separate and contrasting trips.

First we had a weekend trip to Devon, starting last Friday on Steve’s birthday when we went down to visit some special friends. We were joined by another set of friends from Oxford and hooked up with others locally the following day to celebrate two birthdays at the newly-opened River Cottage Canteen in Plymouth.

It was a fab weekend of country walks, generous meals, sea views, laughter, conversation and friendship.

After a brief return to Bristol for Monday childcare fun, we were off again on a very different jaunt in the opposite direction. One thing I miss about our previous location in Oxfordshire is the easy access to London –we just don’t get there very often these days.

Our train journey on Tuesday was very badly delayed by signalling problems, but we did eventually manage to get to the Royal Academy to see David Hockney’s wonderful new exhibition, A Bigger Picture

The blast of colour in these paintings of the Yorkshire landscape is a real feast for the senses. Hockney clearly works very quickly and some of the paintings seem almost slapdash and crude, but then you catch a touch of extraordinary subtlety and grace that renders the landscape totally recognisable. It seems to me that David Hockney has spent his career looking, looking and looking and then showing what he sees so that we in turn are forced to look and see.

Wednesday’s visit to Grayson Perry’s Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman at the British Museum was a last minute addition to the schedule, but as is so often the case, it was the thing that made the trip for me.

It’s funny, thoughtful, touching and extremely skilful - combining work from the BM collection with Perry’s own work. I came away with the hardback catalogue as an early birthday present because I want to be reminded of his words and ideas as much as the artefacts.

Somehow I had managed never to visit the British Museum before and we were very impressed by Foster & Partners’ stunning airy treatment of the Great Court.

All in all a lovely week in the life of the newly retired!

Note: While I have been putting this blog post together, Steve has done a David Hockney on me and blasted out a quick, stream-of-consciousness perfectly judged review of the two shows, which captures them perfectly.

Photo credits: Devon photos - Steve; exhibition photos from RA and BM websites.