I am a sourdough bread baker through and through, a virulent wild-fermentator, and an occupational cook—as inspired from the tenets of occupational therapy, what would be referred elsewhere as a slow-food enthusiast but could sometimes be called, in my case, a long-winded cook : extensive recipe research, multiple tasks, exponential picking/preparing/rolling/marinating time, repetitive gestures. However, there is a quick bread that I sometimes cook here, a fall-back plan generally the night before school when the usual loaf lends itself to toasting rather than sandwiching.
The initial recipe came from one of my favourite bread books, Dan Leppard’s The Handmade Loaf (see ‘Waterford Soda Bread’ on page 69), I have dropped a few ingredients (the fat, the sugar) substituted or added others. You could call it a soda bread but it would be more accurate to call it a kefir bread as that is actually the main ingredient in weight. I could call it a kitchen sink bread as I have over-the-years thrown in all kinds of leftovers in.
THROW-IT-ALL-IN (easy) BREAD
oven to 200 degree celsius/400 degree farenheit/gas mark 4
oil and flour/dust with flakes a 17 or 18 cm square cake tin
weigh 300 g of flour (I tend to use organic spelt mostly wholemeal, experiment)
sift with 1 tsp soda + 1/2 tsp sea salt
mix in if you’d like about 70g of flakes and/or about 50g of raisins (the children insist) and/or about 20g of goji berries and/or about 50g of linseed and/or about 50g of chia seeds and/or a cup of leftover rice/quinoa/millet and/or 1/2 cup of oat groats left to soak with boiling water for a couple of days on the counter top (a favourite) and/or about 50g of pumpkin or sunflower seeds and or shredded nettle tops ?????
pour in 400g of kefir (or butter/sour milk) [ the initial recipe called for half buttermilk and half whole milk] wet all ingredients but do not over mix, pour into tin, flatten roughly, sprinkle with whatever flakes or seeds you fancy (chia seeds a current favourite), cover with tin foil, bake for 25 minutes, remove tin foil and bake for another 25 minutes.
Unlike soda breads this (thanks presumably to the presence of kefir) keeps well for over a week, is delicious as a sandwich bread (use soft butter when it is very fresh) and toasts delightfully after a few days, what more can you ask for ?
If you make this adding another interesting ingredient, do pleeeeeze let me know.
“I have no right to call myself one who knows. I was one who seeks, and I still am, but I no longer seek in the stars or in books ; I’m beginning to hear the teachings of my blood pulsing within me. My story isn’t pleasant, it’s not sweet and harmonious like the invented stories ; it tastes of folly and bewilderment, of madness and dream, like the life of all people who no longer want to lie to themselves.”
from Demian by Hermann Hesse
Made a basket on saturday night (with L’s tuition and help) while eating wonderful leftovers from D and R’s wedding, and picked blackberries early this morning to soak into vinegar for comforting winter drinks and dressings. I had been asked what the basket would be for, and today I know, berry- or flower-picking. A friend from Switzerland from long ago had a lovely small fruit-picking basket with hoops to attach to one’s waist with a belt to enable two-armed picking, I aim to reinvent this and make my own version.
Pretty submerged in back-to-school preparations, lists, nervousness, driving into town, driving into town again, last-minute sewing, making quick soda bread for school sandwiches. September seems like an abstraction still although the weather is noticeably autumnal, grey, wet and windy.
The Summer was only a few days ago : walking along the river in Derry city, the wedding, the party… The children and I made (Ikebana-ed?) all the flower arrangements, large and small, from wild or home-grown flowers with a handful stolen from Knockvicar organic garden, my lovely old haunt. Proud as punch (or “as a head lice” as we say in French !) we were (and perhaps still are).
I borrowed three beautiful dresses from D, wore the embroidered one and am now hoping for two more parties to go to before I return them, but parties are pretty rare around my life these days. There are other kinds of excitement aplenty for which I wear my own clothes under my favourite boiler suit : build a new bridge where I once slipped, fell and almost crushed my back, new raised beds to be, hmm, raised, and plotting to plant last year’s garlic that seems to have kept remarkably well. Autumnal pursuits I guess. There are other kinds of less exciting stuff on my plate too like wheelbarrowing all the manure out of the goat sheds to name but one, but I will be up for it in time, I like the Autumn, I do.
Is it because I am a second child and learned from the word go to make do with stuff that had been owned, used and sometime even loved by others before me, or is it that in the seventies my mother taught me to salvage things discarded by rich neighbours, the thing is I have a natural penchant for recycling, I am a natural at giving rusty metal pieces a loving home, or keeping—like my grandmother before me—anything that might prove useful in later life.
I thus made the most of the few days that my children went away on their own pursuits and got myself accepted on a residency up north, working with US craft-artist Boris Bally and discarded road signs in the hope that some public seating for the town of Derry might emerge out of the equation.
I had a lot of fun with plugged-in big machines, learned to file properly, drooled over some lovely tools, acquired some skills that may even prove useful for my everyday life.
In the age of wall-to-wall advertising, of being told what we want by others so that we all succumb to mass desire of identical industrialised products, it is lovely to be able to find real value in what has been discarded, the gizzards and bones of other peoples’ expensive meals so to speak, and perchance turn “refuse” into very treasurable stuff. In a word, I enjoyed myself enormously.
The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. Albert Einstein
I have 40 bales of organic hay earmarked in someone else’s shed for my goats’ next Winter, the minimum to get it home-delivered and a nice comfortable quantity to meet any length of cold-weather grassgrowthlessness I hope. I have not been in a position to cut hay this year, pretty short-armed, but I now reflect that I perhaps should not aim to cut hay in my 4.8 acres, that if I keep the goats’ manure for the garden I am impoverishing my soil everywhere the goats eat or the hay is cut. I look at the apple trees whose soil have provided me with hay in the past years and they seem to sing some kind of lament to me. I am listening, I will chop all the grass that has grown in the orchard in situ and let it mulch, rot, mould, compost, enrich. On the same note instead of giving myself a hard time over my lack of endurance I am now rejoicing that I lost breath before the last field was fenced, thus keeping it out of the goats rotation and getting a fallow year.
I am writing little but thinking actively outdoors, brushed by spiders’ nest knitted overnight and hazel branches laden with pale growing nuts and—despite being regularly chewed by horseflies—enchanted by the sweet smells of August. I read a lot of Raj Patel’s wonderful book about the whys, hows and wrongs of the global food system, Stuffed and Starved, a couple of years ago, and I was delighted to recently come across his 2011 lecture at UC Berkeley Feeding the World which is wonderfully entertaining and recommended viewing for anyone who likes to eat every day. Skip the first 6 minutes, jump in and enjoy, it is completely inspiring, enlightening and funny (my children aged 12 and 14 agree). This is a man who I think asks the right kind of questions.
[See the last photograph overhead, well this is the plum version of the easy-peasy cake I advised you to make a few posts ago, this is just to add that it worked beautifully with these absolutely tasteless plums]
I might as well admit that I am planning to live to be 100. I have always been fond of old women and I think I’ll make a nice quirky one. That leaves me with 53 more years of cooking and eating, 53 more years of creative work, more physical at this end and more contemplative at the other I guess ; so I have an open list of what I’d like to try my hand at, what I feel I would enjoy. So far I have included making things like ceramic, furniture, big wooden objects, fabric design, clothes, but there are plenty more like getting better at juggling, trying to raise snails, getting a tunnel, writing more, remembering my German and learning Italian.
In the shorter term I am looking at what grows well for me in the soil that I work with, what I can raise happily, and how I can transform what I produce inventively in order to sell it at a price that justifies the work I would have put into it. I look at my decision to live on the land and to produce food first and foremost for my people as a political rather than a lifestyle choice. I like that when I am hoeing my soil I can feel that my gesture echoes so many on the earth’s surface this day and ever since the invention of tools. It is important for me to put as much of my own physical energy in my physical survival and in that to feel included in the side of humanity that I have so much respect for.
Here I am, on a Sunday in July, alive indeed, happy, and dreaming up my hand-made life on the earth’s surface, bobbing on the tide that the universe breathes in and out and tasting the water as I go. Fun.
I have been away leaving G, my neighbour, in charge of feeding the animals : a holiday of sorts for a handful of days, very far away and always closer to me, slow progress, a car, a train, a boat, a lot of sitting down and looking and seeing, a lot of waiting, walking, a drive, a field full of people I had never met before. Wait, remembering to breathe, to make a wish, I am safe. I felt a lot of things I do not necessary have words for, a lot took place outside of my head, farther than the mind, precious. Talked a lot, listened a lot, enjoyed people (and some may become friends), learned a new song, stretched my awareness.
I came back in a little cloud of gratitude, it took a long time to feel I had landed back onto this soil although it feels I always carry it with me, but eh, the renewed perspectives ! A trip that was like a warm hug, and I like hugs. I had packed my tent, clothes and things in a large US postal bag loaded up onto a trolley I had bought when I was in New York in 1997, perhaps all travelling is linked somehow.
M gave me a fencing tool to bring back to my everyday, I did not mention it but he must have guessed that I treasure rusty metal and would not mind the added weight. A tool for cutting metal and stretching wire and remembering our conversations. A tool to hold and remember that when you struggle with your job in your field you are not alone, ever. I aim to send him a little parcel of hand-made things from fruit, leaf, wood or flower from here as barter.
I came back to enjoy steamed new potatoes, with butter and a basil leaf with every bite. Is that a recipe ? Perhaps it is too simple to be called a recipe, but it is indeed a marvel for July.