Where growing, making & good living come together

Kate from Living the Frugal Life’s Desert Island Dinners

Posted by on Thursday 27 January 2011 in desert island dinners | 2 comments

I mentioned earlier that I had a bit of a wacky idea a few days ago – “Desert Island Dinners”. Basically Desert Island Discs but with a frugal/simple living theme instead of music.

I picked Kate from Living the Frugal Life to be one of the first castaways – since she’s got such a great, inspiring blog and I wanted to get my hands on some of her simple living secrets!

First up, the premise:

You’re about to become a castaway on a desert island. The desert island will provide you with misc edible vegetation/wildlife and items that can be fashioned into basic pots/pans/utensils — but just before you’re whisked away, you have enough time to grab a herb or spice from your store cupboard; a special kitchen gadget/tool/utensil or piece of equipment; a cookbook; and a packet of seeds to grow on your any-climate island paradise. What would you pick to take with you? And which of your simple/frugal living skills do you think would be the most valuable while you’re there, and why?

And here are Kate‘s replies:

Herb or spice: Unequivocally this would have to be fresh garlic. I use it constantly and am galled when the stores of our homegrown start to get sprouty (round about this time of year), which leaves me with the dilemma of either buying store-bought, or making do only with our dehydrated garlic.

When it comes to kitchen gadgets my answer is pretty boring. I’d take a good knife. A good knife in combination with good knife skills will answer so many needs in a kitchen. I’m not much for gadgets, and a good knife would be very hard to improvise. For preference I’d take the Japanese made santoku my husband gave me as a gift a few years back. It pretty much instantly became my most heavily used knife. I’d been skeptical of santokus up to that time.

When it comes to cookbooks, I’m more of a skimmer than a follower. Almost invariably I end up departing from written recipes when it comes to cooking. I trained as a chef, which provides the confidence to do so. But when it comes to baking, in which I lack formal training, that’s a very different story. In baking you must follow fairly strict guidelines, prepare your dough, and then relinquish control to the oven. So perhaps I’d take a baking cookbook. Tough call between Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Dorie Greenspan’s Baking with Julia, and Maggie Glezer’s Artisan Baking. Very tough call. Forced to choose, it would probably come down to the first though, since it’s so comprehensive.

One packet of seeds would be tough to choose. I’d agonize over the choice, but would probably end up picking Tuscan kale. It’s reliable, healthy, tasty, versatile, and has a very long season.

Most valuable skill – I probably couldn’t predict which of my skills would turn out to be most most valuable. Whether well founded or not, I have a pretty high confidence in my ability to do most things at least passably well, so I’m willing to try anything once and unlikely to give up in despair. I think I’ve learned to improvise fairly well, which would surely be a useful skill on a desert island. I consider myself a decent observer of the natural world, which would also be useful. I can garden and cook and am quite content with solitude. Again if forced to choose, the first skill, confidence, would be the one I’d predict to be most valuable. On the other hand, I have absolutely no sense of direction, so my exploration of the island would be very slow and cautious.

Thanks so much to Kate for taking part – I’m really interested in learning about santokus now so I’m really glad I asked! I also can’t believe I forgot garlic when I was having my cumin or chilli conundrum! How could I cook without garlic?!!?

Anyone else want to join in the mirth and merriment? :)

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Quick bread: no-rising-time soda bread recipe

Posted by on Friday 7 January 2011 in cooking, recipes | 17 comments

The other week, I asked about how people manage with baking when the weather is cooler – when it’s hard to maintain a yeast-friendly heat for bread to rise (especially if you’re going for a 12-18hr slow rise bread).

In the comments, Karen M said:

In my rural living days without electricity or central heating, we ate a lot of bannock and other unleavened breads in the cold times.

A smack-the-forehead moment for me. Unleavened bread, of course!

I hadn’t heard of bannock but John loves its Irish cousin, soda bread so I decided to give that a go. After trying his first slice of my first soda bread, John declared we’re never buying shop-bought bread again. We will, of course, but I liked his sentiment ;) I’ve made it a few times now and it’s been a hit each time.

Soda bread is super quick to make. Most bread relies on yeast “breathing” to create carbon dioxide bubbles but soda bread uses the chemical reaction between the alkaline bicarbonate of soda and something acidic (like vinegar, lemon juice or cream of tartar) to make the gas instead. It’s an instant reaction rather than something that has to build up over time – so no need for rising time or proving time.

Want an easy bread without soda?

Our slow rise no knead bread only takes 5 minutes to make – then just leave it overnight before baking.

And extending kneading is a no-no too – the reaction works best if it’s happening in a warm environment so it needs to be mixed, shaped and bam! straight into the oven. Super fast.

It’s a dense bread – no big yeasty air bubbles like in good yeast-based bread – but the sponge is soft and a touch sweet. Possibly because of the slight sweet milkiness or possibly because of the texture, there is something scone-like about it for me – but it’s considerably lower fat than actual scones.

Like scones though, it’s fantastic with butter and jam. Or dipped in a hearty soup.

Quick Soda Bread recipe

Yield: One slightly-more-than-1lb loaf
Time: Less than 5 mins preparation, no rising time, 30-40mins in the oven.

1lb of flour – I use a malthouse type mix with malted flakes & rye flour as well as wheat flour.
1tsp of sugar
1tsp of salt
1tsp of bicarbonate of soda
250ml (ish) of soured/acidified milk*

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Baking bread in the winter – how do you do it?

Posted by on Wednesday 22 December 2010 in cooking, frugal | 11 comments

We’ve got out of the swing of baking bread recently – partly due to general winter lethargy and partly due to the fact that we’d struggle to get yeast do its thing.

It would be very difficult to grow a slow rise bread – one that needs a good 12-18 hours to rise. With our woodburners in the office & living room, we get a room temperature of 16-18C (60-65F) for a few hours during the day but for the rest of the time, it is much lower than that. The kitchen is poorly insulated (it’s an addition away from the main body of the house with lots of windows and a hard-to-insulate flat roof) so has frequently been see-your-breath chilly (especially last week when the central heating was out and it was even colder than normal). Opinions differ on the ideal temperature for yeast activity but it’s typically seen as 25-35C (75-95C) – we don’t even come close to that. (Admittedly we rarely come close to that even at the height of summer but it’s warmer, and more consistently warmer, than it is now.)

I’m loathed to use the (electric) oven as a warming box – not only would it be using energy, it would need a lot of management – turning it on and off – since the temperature setting doesn’t go anywhere near low enough for the oven thermostat to manage it. And 12-18 hours of that sort of management isn’t realistic.

Lethargy aside, we would like to get back into baking bread ASAP – it would save a lot of frozen-faced walks to the shop and, of course, shops are going to be closed over the next couple of weekends anyway/out of stock because of snow issues.

We could possibly manage some shorter rise time breads when a woodburning is running – leaving them for longer to account for it still being a bit cool – or even, if I had to do it, in the oven. That’s not out of the question, I’m just a sucker for slow rise bread: I haven’t perfected a non-slow rise loaf recipe yet and I suspect now might not be the time to work on one!

Are you still baking bread at the moment? How are you managing? Have you got any suggestions for things I could try? Or got a fool proof pretty-quick-rising loaf recipe?

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Week off continues – baking and making, oh my

Posted by on Thursday 28 October 2010 in cooking, making, meta | 2 comments

My week off is racing by and I’m trying to stay off my computer as much as possible because it’s like a black hole for my doing stuff energy…

Yesterday was less productive than Monday & Tuesday – a long-long-long-awaited trip to the hairdressers (which made me feel more detached from mainstream society than ever!) and then into Bradford city centre to go to the wonderful Texere Yarns & around the charity shops at Ivegate. I bought some band-less but otherwise perfect balls of tweedy yarn from their £1 bin – and started to turn it into a pair of slippers last night. I’m about three-quarters of my way through my first one at the moment – can’t wait until they’re finished as they already feel snuggy and warm!

Today I’ve mostly been playing with water and flour – I started making a papier mache chicken shaped moneybox this morning (hopefully will be dry enough for a second layer this evening) and this afternoon, I’ve been baking, including making Atomic Shrimp’s Honey-glazed Fennel Seed crackers. They’re currently resting before baking – another “can’t wait until they’re done”, they smell ace! I’ve had a lot of fun making them too – will definitely make them again and post my own recipe variations here soon.

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Week off fun: apple pressing, egg pickling, bread baking & bean bag making

Posted by on Tuesday 26 October 2010 in charity shopping, cooking, making, preserving | 0 comments

Hurrah! My week off has started well.

Last week was a busy one – working as usual during the day, then in the evenings, Tuesday through to Sunday, I was at Bingley Little Theatre for one reason or another (mostly rehearsals/show nights for the weekend’s studio productions). That ate into my fun making-and-doing time somewhat so I’m glad I’ve got the week off this week to catch up on fun stuff.

When I got back from the theatre at 10:30pm on Friday night, John had just started pressing some apples for cider. We had to give back the borrowed fruit press at lunchtime on Saturday so I was enlisted to help. We pressed until just after midnight then again for a couple of frantic hours on Saturday morning – got through about 40lbs of apples – about half-and-half from John’s Grandma’s apple tree and windfall from John B (who also provided the loan of the press). We’ve got 2 gallons of cider on the go now and there were a few litres left over which John’s drinking as juice.

Sunday was chore day – I cleaned out the chicken coop as normal and let the girls out into the wider (not fenced in) garden for the first time too. Lime and Blue were the only ones interested in exploring and they de-weeded/scratch-scratch peeked the bed nearest to their coop. I’ll definitely use them again for that before planting out time next year!

So to yesterday – my first full day off. It started slowly, stretched out in the sun with the animals and catching up on the weekend papers, but then I pickled some more eggs (this time it was garlic & pepper, recipe to follow) and tried a new bread recipe for the first time, a new dough recipe to make layered rolls. When I’m learning how to bake something new, I like to “grind” it – a video game term for doing a repetitive task over and over again to “level up” – so I’m going to make those at least every other day this week. Mmm, bread rolls.

Later on, after a walk with the Lily dog, I made a giant bean bag for said hound – using a very retro-cool single duvet cover I found in a charity shop in Guiseley on Saturday. It was easy to make but I’ll write a full how-to soon, mostly because I have several comedy photos of the cats and dog “helping”.

Today has had another slow start but I think it’ll continue with some soup making, maybe some biscuit baking, some jamming (since we did our once-every-six-weeks shop last night and had to pull some blackberries out of the freezer to make way for half price ice cream), and since my sewing machine is out, some more stitchery. Woo!

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