What’s on the table?

The kids went back to school today, along with much of the UK’s child population, I guess.  For us as a family however, this is more momentous than usual, as we are not long returned from 6 months travel in India, where mainstream schooling took a back seat to more important things like trekking and rafting in the Himalaya.  For us as parents, we got a chance today to have a prolonged conversation about where we are at and where our values are – fortunately we are both in a very similar place right now on both counts.  More on all of this to follow, surely.

What is on the table for me today is how to make a living in a manner consistent with what is important to me, which brings me on to vegetarianism.  I have been an imperfect vegetarian for years now, with rare vegan patches, served up with fish and the occasional covert chicken wing.  Luckily my overall health is great, and according to the ayurvedic doctor I consulted with in Goa, my constitution is robust enough to manage on a general healthy diet.  So, here, now, I’m committing to staying vegetarian, for reasons of health, sustainability and mostly because I like it more than meat and fish now.  I don’t know if this is the result my rate of yoga practice in the last couple of years.

Perhaps this is not a terribly exciting post, but if you are coming here for food reasons, you will only find vegetarian content!

Pros & Cons of Dating a Yogi

Pros & Cons of Dating a Yogi.

Link

“The science of baking”

“The science of baking”

Snake in the house

I’ve got to get a grip on myself.   In a moment of boldness I have allowed my son to get a corn snake.  We have planned this carefully, done all the research, even devoted a corner of the freezer to dead mice of varying sizes and horrific names (pinkies, fuzzies).  Logically, I know it’s ok for this creature to be in the house, but somehow a legless reptile in the house, safely behind glass as he is, gives me the raging heeby-jeebies.  It takes nearly all my self control to stop me dashing from the room when the snake moves near me, nearly as much as it takes me not to pinch the remnants of the childrens’ Easter eggs. I am trying to be brave about all this for the boy, who is inexperienced with snakes and could use some adult general confidence to help him get started.  Fortunately his dad is remarkably sanguine about the whole thing (mercifully keeping quiet about my daft indulgences vis-a-vis the children and pets), and is turning into a more reliable snake handler than I am.  At least he cleaned up when the snake shat on our bed.

Meanwhile, the snake and I eye one another warily whenever I peer into the vivarium.  From my point of view, he appears to have all the aces up his sleeve – reptilian cunning, great skin, sinuous movement and prejudice against him.  I suppose he’s not thinking much, with a brain possibly the size of a petit-pois, other than that I am big and potentially threatening.   Rationalizing it all is not helping me much at the moment.

And now to the point of all this: getting a grip.  The nice reptile rescuer who matched us with our snake explained that when handling the snake, we shouldn’t grip hard but support gently.  Experience tells me that the more I practice a thing, the better I get at it, supporting myself.  Fear is sometimes rational, but more often is the hanging on to a prior notion, and can be worn down by familiarity, repetition and laughter.  So, having committed to this thing, I’d better stick at it, and be glad that so far the snake hasn’t headed off to dine on my daughter’s cute new gerbils.

My friend’s mum’s cake

Lately my thoughts are returning to cake, especially after being absent from the oven for 6 months.  This one bridges the gap nicely between wintery nutty warmth and summery fruity delight, and if served warm is delicious with good vanilla ice cream, for a cakey dessert.  Many thanks to Rubi’s mum, Binda, for sharing the original recipe, which I’ve adapted slightly for my own tastes.

175g self-raising flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

160g golden caster sugar (for preference, stored with a vanilla pod)

175g margarine / unsalted butter (at room temperature), in smallish chunks

1 teaspoon good quality vanilla essence (optional)

a handful of porridge oats

2 eggs, beaten

half cup of soured milk (just squeeze in some fresh lemon juice and leave it to work for 10 mins)

a good handful of macadamia nuts, roughly chopped, or cashews if you prefer

100g white chocolate, broken into chunks

100g fresh raspberries, washed

Method:  preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 5 (adjust down slightly for fan ovens), and grease a traybake tin.  As this recipe contains fresh fruit, I find it helpful to also line the base of the tin with baking parchment or greaseproof paper.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl, add the sugar, butter, eggs and soured milk.  Beat together – I find I get best results and less arm ache if I use a hand mixer.  Add the porridge oats, nuts (vanilla essence if used) and white chocolate.  Beat in lightly.

Now, pour half the mixture into the traybake tin, and level conscientiously.  Sprinkle in the raspberries so that they are evenly distributed throughout the cake, and gently cover with the remaining cake mix.  You will have to be delicate and determined with this part so that the raspberries don’t get a pasting here – unless you like them bruised! 

Place in the oven, and reduce the temperature to 180C/gas 4.  Bake until golden on top and springy to the touch, about 30 -35 minutes.  Serve the same day.

 

From time to time I change the combination of nuts / fruit / chocolate, depending on the season and the contents of the cupboards.  Tried and tested combinations are: flaked almonds / grated apple / dark chocolate with cinnamon instead of vanilla; the recipe above with dark chocolate instead of white; cashew / blueberry / milk chocolate.

 

Today’s bread.

A wise person I met up a mountain once said that to get the most out of  life it’s advisable to make bread with the ingredients we have now, rather than waiting for perfect conditions.  Here is my preferred recipe, substitute whatever bread flour you have to a total quantity of 1.5lbs.

Ingredients

3/4 lb white spelt flour, or strong white bread flour

3/4 lb wholemeal spelt flour, or strong wholemeal flour

2 level teaspoonfuls quick yeast

1 teaspoonful sea salt

2 tablespoonfuls sunflower/vegetable oil

450 – 500 ml hot (not boiling) water, preferably with a dash or squeeze of lemon juice (yeast works better in slightly acid conditions).

Method

Put all the flour, yeast, salt, oil and hot water into a large bowl.  Mix well, either by hand or with a hand beater and dough hooks, until you have a sticky dough.  Don’t worry if it feels a bit too damp at this point, you can add more flour later.  Cover with a clean tea-towel, and leave in a warmish place until the dough doubles in size (1-2 hours).

When the dough has risen sufficiently, turn it out onto a well floured surface and knock back (knead until it goes back to its original size).  Cut the dough in half and continue to knead until it feels springy.  Be tough with it!  If your dough was a little too sticky before, the flour from this session of kneading should bring it to the correct consistency.

Form the dough into two loaves – no need for tins, and place well apart on a large greased baking sheet.  Cover again with a clean cloth, and leave to rise again whilst your oven preheats to its maximum temperature .   When the oven is at full heat (20-30 mins), remove the cloth from the bread and put into the oven.  Starting at this high temperature helps to form a nice crust.  Immediately turn the temperature down to 220 degrees C / 475 F / gas mark 7  and bake the bread for about 35 mins, or until the base of the loaf sounds hollow when you knock on it.

Remove from the oven, and leave the loaves to cool on a wire rack.  Put into bags or an airtight container once cool as the bread only keeps for up to 3 days.

Enjoy!

Merry Christmas, Mrs Cousin!

I am off to buy (non-compulsively) a new digital camera tomorrow.  I look forward to sharing some new pictures with everyone in the new decade.

Happy New Year!