Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Sun, sea, sand, sausages

The sun came out as promised so we hit the beach after school.

The sea was cool.

The sand was sculptural.

The sausages were al fresco.

Bread Bakeathon #6 and #7

I haven't forgotten the Bread Bakeathon, I'm still working my way, recipe by recipe through the River Cottage Bread book.

Number six was a malted and seeded loaf. This uses granary flour and a mix of sunflower, pumpkin, linseed, sesame, poppy and a few fennel seeds both in the dough and as a coating. Packed with seeds, a lovely chewy bread and utterly delicious.

Number seven was breakfast rolls. These are made entirely of wholemeal flour but with the addition of milk as the liquid and butter as the fat in the dough. I used to find wholemeal bread leaden and heavy but (following Daniel Stevens' breadmaking method to the letter) these were soft and light and, yes, perfect for breakfast.

Next: Festival bread.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Diamonds are a girl's best friend

Today the sun came out and the world sparkled with diamonds.

So I took my new camera out for a play...

Monday, 19 September 2011

A wet Preseli walk and a bit of World War II history

On Saturday we headed off for a walk on the Preseli Hills with H9's friend G10 and her mum Lins and their dog Topsy. Scamp led the way with an energetic enthusiasm that remained undimmed for the entire walk.

Rain skirts the hills, heading in our direction.

We were chased along the path by heavy showers interspersed with bright sunshine.

Brian had no choice but to head off into the distance hauled along by a small but determined dog.

The rest of us attempted to keep up. Heavy rain forced cameras into bags at this point. Between showers we had views across to the north Pembrokeshire coastline and to Cardigan and beyond. We ate our sandwiches and drank coffee and hot chocolate perched on Bedd Arthur then decided to head back to the cars.

On the short drive from our home to where we parked for the walk I'd been telling H9 and R7 about the aeroplane that crashed onto the Preselis during World War II. I had vague ideas about where the site of the crash was but had never found it. Of course, when I wasn't looking for it, I fell over it in the rain.

The RAF Coastal Command Liberator EV881 crashed on the slopes of Carn Bica on September 19th 1944. We stumbled upon the site just two days before the 67th anniversary of the crash.

Six crewmen were killed but three survived the crash. This memorial was erected at the site by a local aviation group on the 50th anniversary in 1984. 

Parts of the melted fuselage can still be seen, 67 years later.

R7, G10 and H9 hurtle back to the car in the wake of Brian and the astonishingly still enthusiastic puppy.

Going back down was a fast process. Meanwhile the sun suddenly reappeared and Lins disappeared with her camera (she was taking some fabulous pictures of the clouds and the view).

This shows the steepness of the side of Carn Bica. The Liberator crash site is at the top of this slope. If the aircraft had been able to fly about 50 feet higher it would have cleared the hill.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Just call me Mrs Furious

Yesterday morning I was Mrs Furious on the school run. It's all to do with the resurfacing of the road in Maenclochog which seems to need to be done all at once to the maximum inconvenience of everyone.

It was bad enough on Monday when it started. Stop/Go signs at three ends letting you into chaos and mayhem within. On Tuesday at 3pm they planed the road outside school just as the buses and cars turned up to pick up the children. It's not fun walking with a child in each hand past a machine that is ripping up the road surface and throwing it into a lorry. It was intimidatingly noisy too.

On Thursday I dropped my girls off at school, got back into my car and indicated to pull out. A roadworker arrived in a flat bed truck full of tarmac and one of those jiggedy-jiggedy rat-tat-tat-tat things that digs holes in roads. He carefully parked on my driver's side bumper, blocking me in.

When I did my Furious-Mum-On-the-School-Run-in-a-4x4 face he just smirked. In fact I've never seen anyone look so happy and delighted. Then he walked away with an I'm-digging-the-road-so-the-road-is-MINE-ALL-MINE-ahahahahahahah power-crazed swagger. Bastard.

Furious? I was fuming. Luckily the car behind me moved so I was able to reverse back, do a neat seven-point turn and stomp off. Back at home I said "AARRRGGGHHH!" on Facebook to anyone who would listen.

Then I went on a 7.5 mile run. On a gorgeous September day. Under blue sky, with crisp autumnal air. I ran towards the hills which were looking gorgeous with their slopes of purple heather.

I stopped and took this photograph:

The point at which I remembered I don't have to dig roads for a living.

Then I had a bloody good laugh at myself and ran on, smiling like the mad, idiot long-distance running woman that I am.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

What's your word?

What's your word? I ask because I am currently reading Eat, Pray, Love (One Woman's Search for Everything) by Elizabeth Gilbert.

EPL is one of those books - like One Day - which has sold millions and everybody has read. A copy found me and I interrupted Stuart - A Life Backwards because I was so intrigued. (I'm always doing this. I will read Stuart, eventually. I currently have three books started and not finished but I usually do finish them.)

I've just reach the point where Liz is in Rome and Giulio has asked her what her word is.

"Don't you know the secret to understanding a city and its people is to learn - what is the word of the street?" Giulio says. He affirms that Rome's word is SEX (Liz uses upper case for the words, so I'll follow suit). He goes on to explain that the Vatican's word is POWER and Liz suggests that the word for New York is ACHIEVE and the one for Los Angeles is SUCCEED.

What was the word in Liz's family when she was growing up? FRUGAL and IRREVERENT.

Then Giulio asks her: "What's your word?"

What a fabulous question! Liz cannot answer (if she could there would not have been a book, I presume.)

Can a single word define a person? I love words, their power is awesome (which is a rubbish word, by the way but it would be a good word for a person - what's your word? AWESOME. I like that but I don't think it's me.)

Of course I put the book down to think what my word would be (I was sitting on the laundry bin in the bathroom assisting my children showering. My role is to adjust the temperamental temperature of the shower and avoid scalding sensitive skin.) At that precise moment my word could have been MOTHER or it could have been EXASPERATED. The two words are inescapably connected but they are too specific.

Would I be a noun or a verb? Sometimes you meet someone and they are so complete that if you cut them in half (you wouldn't, obviously) like a stick of rock they'd have their word running through them in big, pink minty letters. Like ROCKSTAR (Freddie Mercury), POSH BOY (David Cameron) or TOSSER (Tony Blair). The Queen (as opposed to the lead singer of Queen) would be MONARCH. Bankers would all be W... well you get my drift.

My word might be ENIGMATIC. I'm going to try it out for size and see if it fits. Meanwhile, what's your word?

The Big Bread Bakeathon #5: Oaty Wholemeal

These wholemeal rolls were supposed to be rolled in a coating of three different types of oats - pinhead oatmeal, medium oatmeal and oat flakes - which would have meant buying, and then being left with the tail-ends of, three different types of oats. Instead I used rolled oats, linseeds and sesame seeds, which were not strictly correct but made a lovely coating nevertheless. These are my favourite type of rolls; unapologetically wholemeal and crusty with virtuous seeds.

They didn't last long. Their word was: YUMMY!

Next: Malted and seeded loaf.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Anniversary and the Big Bread Bakeathon #4: Spelt

It's our wedding anniversary today. I'm not one for big, soppy displays of affection (I'm the one who forgets our anniversary, not Brian!) but we did buy this bottle of Glengoyne malt whisky on our honeymoon and we've saved it up to drink a tot of it every year.

The level is dropping a bit, so we must have been married a long time (she says, taking off shoes and socks to help with the sums). Thirteen years this year.

There isn't a traditional UK gift for the 13th wedding anniversary, but the US suggests lace (traditional) or textiles or furs (modern). Hmm. I think I'll stick to the single malt, thanks.

Glengoyne is an unpeated malt. We enjoyed a heady day visiting the distillery sticking our heads into vats of fermenting gorgeousness followed by a tasting. Brian was driving so I (apparently) had everything he was given in addition to my own. I suspect I wore a fixed silly grin for the rest of that day. Strangely my memories are slightly hazy.

Anyway we bought this bottle in the shop at the distillery. I don't remember how much it was but it was a bit of a stretch for two journalists' wages. When we've finished it we'll have to go back and get another one.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, I'm on loaf #4 in my bakeathon, cooking my way through the River Cottage Bread handbook. Spelt is a new one for me, but apparently it's an ancient relative of modern wheat and the Romans used it for their bread.

It worried me slightly as a breakmaker. I don't think I have ever baked a loaf using an entirely different kind of flour own its own.

Daniel Stevens reassures in the recipe's intro that you just have to knead it a bit longer - an extra five minutes - and prove it in baskets or make smaller loaves.

I don't have proving baskets, but worked out that a similar container could be a colander lined with a linen tea cloth, sprinkled liberally with rye flour, so that's what I used.

The result was two round flattish loaves. I assumed they'd be heavy, leaden bricks but the crumb itself is surprisingly light. They have a nice flavour too, like a good wholesome wholemeal. My sternest critics tested it and gave it the verdict of (a somewhat surprised) "yum!" so my fears were unfounded.

I have also been playing with my new DSLR and continuing my annual obsession with taking pictures of the fennel seedheads. This is a single floret. I love the way the individual drops of rain each contain a reflection, upside down, of the rest of the fennel plant, the blue sky and the dark hedge behind. This was cropped and a little bit enhanced using Photoshop Elements which I have for a 30 day trial and am loving. Geek? Moi?

Friday, 2 September 2011


Cosmos Dazzler

So it's the dénouement of the summer holidays. We've ground to a halt after weeks of doing things, seeing friends and going places. H9 and R7 are looking forward to going back to school on Monday. I think they miss the routine, the tick tock of the weeks. I'm not sure we have done everything we planned so a bit of mopping up of things - our aborted trip to Folly Farm is one - must happen between now and Christmas the end of the year.

The haylage has been made. It was mown on Tuesday (by a neighbour with his mower-conditioner so it doesn't need turning or rowing up.) Yesterday afternoon it was baled - 22 big round bales in total, nine in one field, 13 from the other. Last night as the sun set H9, R7 and I took the dogs up to see (I forgot my camera). The sky was a hazy lilac, with the pink of sunset on the horizon. When we got to the field about 200 crows were sitting on the electricity wires chatting amongst themselves. As we approached they flew off cawing chased by the ever hopeful but invariably futile dogs.

This morning Brian brought the haylage bales down one by one then our neighbour came back and wrapped them. As a small farm with just the one rickety tractor it is vital to have helpful neighbours with useful machinery. We have tried contractors but they can't get their monster tractors through our little gateways and I don't think our agri-environmental scheme would look kindly on us if we hauled out centuries old slate gateposts to make way.

The 22 haylage bales are now in a neat orderly row in the field by the house and will be stacked when it is convenient (and not raining!)

The sloes are ripening. It looks like a good crop this year. We have blackthorn in every hedge surrounding every field on our 22 acres so there are always a lot of sloes. I still have about 3lbs in the freezer that I picked last year and couldn't quite afford the gin.