Tuesday, July 31, 2012

... on an unexpected parcel.

There was a thump outside the front gate yesterday. C stuck his head out the door.
"Are you expecting a parcel?" he asked.
No, I wasn't expecting a parcel, but it was addressed to me, so I opened it up.
Here's what I found.
My friend Beck, who is The Most Excellent Thrifter In The World, had been making a collection of art and craft supplies for me. I laughed, feeling touched, as I know her three-year-old daughter would be able to have a fine old time with all this! Then I was silenced, for how did she know?
How did she know that I've been feeling a bit glum in the creative department? That lately, the lack of any of my usual upbeat and productive-looking 'making stuff' blog posts isn't just because I've been too busy to do them?
How did she know that just that morning I'd had a conversation with C about this very thing, and that he'd suggested just doing something, anything, was better than nothing? 
How did she know that I've been craving colour, but that I've been feeling too creatively lethargic to do anything about it?
How did she know that my brain feels good when my fingers have got paint on them, paint with the sort of rich pigments that stain your nails for weeks?
How did she know that the usual cure for the kind of creative funk I've found myself in is to just sit down and do some no-pressure creating? Not to develop new stuff for sale, not to try and build up stock, but to play and experiment and just See What Happens?
Just how did she know all of that?
I guess the answer is she didn't, but by hell, it's times like these I wonder whether the universe IS in fact all set up to give us exactly what we need when we need it. Freaky.

A thousand million thankyous, Beckster!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

... on 'What's going on?' A garden/chicken/house update.

I was delighted, week before last, to go out to visit the chickens to find not one but two eggs in the nestbox. These are the first ever eggs from these hens and I was rather proud that they laid them in the box rather than willy-nilly in the pen, which can often happen with new layers. Extra happy that two hens laid their first egg on the same day! Since then we've been getting two eggs every two-ish days, and we're having omelettes for dinner.
This afternoon, the ladies are all piled together in a dustbath they've been progressively improving over the weeks. After a rocky start with the magpies, they've settled in fine here - all previous parasites are gone and now that they've started producing eggs I'm feeling like they're making a valuable contribution. Livestock, not pets! (Yeah, right.)
The Stephanie Alexander no-dig garden experiment has definitely been a success, and in fact I have Stage 2 (same again, so doubling the garden area) awaiting planting right now.
It's absolutely bursting with food. The kale and spinaches have ensured we haven't needed to buy greens for ages, and there is a bumper crop of shelling peas coming on at the back there. I have grand hopes for the potatoes, and the red ones (which I found to be called Cranberry Red) appear to be doing much better than the Sebagos. The only disappointment has been the zucchini, who are valiantly producing stacks of little zucchinis which all rot on the stems. I have just cut many of the leaves off to try and dry them out a bit. Hello compost bin!

To date, we have had two figs off this tiny little twig of a tree, which is groaning with fruit. It's a green-skinned variety called 'Adam', and he's in a pot for now.
There's been a lot of flower action - I've had some giant pansies and these sweet little pots of heartsease. (I used to think that was spelt 'heartsy', but I like 'heartsease' much better.)

House news. C built our front gate a while back. Here's what it looked like as soon as he installed it.
Now check it out... this is that 'designed-to-rust' high-copper-content steel. We wanted something that would make a bit of an impact from the street as well as provide privacy to the deck beyond. I am loving this effect, and the surface is going to get even rustier!
Well, you know me. I'm keen on rusty old junk at the best of times, so being able to apply it in an architectural sense? Fab!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

... on making bread.

Someone new came to live with us recently. I say someone rather than something as he has a name, is most definitely alive, and requires almost as much attention as a cat. Almost!
This is Mr Stiffy.

He is a sourdough starter, a ball of dough named for his texture, and I can't take responsibility for his name as it came with him from Phil, gifter of sourdough starter and moonlighting artisan baker.
Now, I'd never made my own bread before. My Ma did, when I was a kid, and I sometimes kneaded it for her, but as far as ingredients go I didn't pay any attention beyond noticing that the yeast came in a packet and sometimes it was too old to make the bread rise.

With the arrival of Mr Stiffy, I learned that a sourdough starter contains all the yeasty fermenting beasties required to make bread rise, with the particular type of beasties giving sourdough bread it's distinctive taste. The beasties eat gluten, and will chew through all of the flour fed to them in about 24 hours at Brisbane winter room temperature. Being fed causes Mr Stiffy to rise - expand and fill with lots of little bubbles. Once all the gluten is eaten, he starts to slump as the bubbles disappear and if he were not fed again, the yeasty beasties would die. So, Mr Stiffy requires maintenance in the form of daily cleaning, feeding and kneading. And to avoid ending up with a ball of dough so large it will engulf your kitchen? Make bread, of course!

The first loaf I made was using white strong (a term meaning it's high in protein) flour, and was surprisingly palatable, if somewhat flat. I left it to rise overnight and the resulting bread was quite sour, but delicious.
Loaf two was a mostly wholemeal affair, with a daring application of seeds to the top. Although it looked quite beautiful, it was extremely dense and it was Indigestion Central around here for the rest of the day!
After these two loaves, I reviewed the recipe. Those first two were recipes from the internet that involved using only part of Mr Stiffy, and adding flour, water and salt. Allowing the loaves to rise overnight did indeed give them a strong sour flavour, but it seemed to me that the dough never got as 'bubbly' as Mr Stiffy did himself, and made for a very dense bread.

So, I just made Mr Stiffy into loaves. I fed him using the ratio given to me by Phil (which is, for the record, 1 part sourdough starter to 1.2 parts water  to 2 parts flour) before bedtime, and by the morning he'd risen enough to fill a small mixmaster bowl. I then divided him in two and fed each piece again, kneading and forming them into loaves. In about 4 hours they'd risen to a respectable loafy size, so I popped them in the oven for about half an hour.

May I add here that I'm finding the process of kneading bread dough a thoroughly wonderful thing to do. It's so... basic. When I do it I feel connected to everyone who's ever made bread since the dawn of time. We've all made the same motions with our hands, and we've all touched a ball of dough with our fingers thinking 'That's enough.' and nothing about that process has changed!

The result was a lovely pair of loaves, slightly sour, bulky enough to make toasted sandwiches from, and with a much lighter texture than the previous two.
Since then I've repeated this process a few times and the results have been uniform, which is very encouraging. I haven't bought shop bread for three weeks, and found that Mr Stiffy is quite happy living in the fridge to slow him down. But you know what the nicest thing is?

The best-smelling kitchen in the world!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

... on a morning full of prettiness!

I've just had the most delightful breakfast, sitting in the winter sun shining through the kitchen window. My pancake had a wonderful frilly edge, it looked like a doily (and tasted jolly good too!).
The light reflecting off my half-finished hammered silver bangle (hello silversmithing night class) looked almost supernatural...
  ... and this bunch of flowering rondelecia that I picked in my grandmother's garden yesterday just... looked... pretty.
 I'm bound to have a good day now, don't you think?