25 July 2014

slow bread, fast cakes

A certain fondness has developed between me and my sourdough starters. Four jars, each with varying degrees of acidity, are still alive and kicking. Just like babies, they each smell slightly different and I'm not averse to a quick sniff just for the pleasure of catching the scent. It's all quite addictive in a slow, relaxed way. I've yet to perfect the technique though. My first attempts using Dan Lepard's method (his book Short and Sweet is more detailed) made a chewy crumb with a pronounced flavour, but would not rise very much and hardened up very quickly. My latest trial, using Hugh Fearnley-Whitenstall's "sponge" method" but Dan Lepard's "folding" technique is much softer, less strongly flavoured, but a better keeping loaf - and a little burnt. Waiting for the sponge to bubble and the dough to rise and re-prove takes up the best part of a day - making a good sourdough it seems is as much about the pleasure of deferred gratification as it is about the all round sensual experience of delivering a tasty loaf. I can't help thinking it's good for the soul. And when it happens, all in good time, my perfect loaf will be bigger, crustier, with a slightly waxy, open texture. Patience, patience.

I only wish cake making was quite as fulfilling just now, for we are in cake stall season and this means hygiene, volume, efficiency. The joy of making cakes is fading fast for I find I am in a baking rut, relying on the old favourites that I know I can bake in batches and rely on very time - rock cakes for big hands, fairy cakes for little ones, banana bread or carrot cake for those who see these as the healthy option, cup cakes for those with a sweet tooth, apple cake for the fruity. It has to be quick, able to travel well, easy to cut, cream-free, affordable for those who can't pay Broadway Market prices because cakes for all is our motto. So Delia is my bible, Nigella my comfort, Rachel Allen a distraction, Mary Berry my penance, and inspiration my prayer.

I'm reaching the point that I can't look at let alone eat a cake for pleasure. Help is clearly required.

24 July 2014


The vis insita, or innate force of matter, is a power of resisting by which every body, as much as in it lies, endeavours to preserve its present state, whether it be of rest or of moving uniformly forward in a straight line. (Isaac Newton, Principia Mathematica)

For those of you who may have paid attention during physics or applied maths lessons, this is a description of intertia, with thanks to Sir Isaac.

I don't quite know how it happened. It's something I'd been conscious of for a while, but this time it just sort of crept up - an inability to get going, a positive desire to lay low, an avoidance of commitment of any sort whatsoever. And in this case there was even very little moving forward in a straight line unless you include getting out of bed in the morning and eating porridge for breakfast, made by someone else.

Then the stars moved into a different alignment, or something like that, and things started to shift. My quiz-team chum offered two spare tickets for Glastonbury late on the Friday afternoon - would my son like them? Well, yes, but how would he get there in such short order? Bucket lists were mentioned - I don't have one - maybe I should. I had never, ever been to a "festival" other than those in the local parks. Yes, I said. let's go.

The road to Glastonbury, at least  once you get past the Hammersmith Flyover, the M4 and M5, is a pleasure. That first glimpse of Stonehenge is magic. And the red kite swooping down to feast on some roadkill at close range was rather amazing. Then you twist and turn around A road this and A road that sans satnav and it's all a delightful adventure. And that's how, once we arrived, I got to fall over a guy rope into the mud about 5 minutes after arriving while looking up at the buzzards circling the site, walk for miles, and see Dolly.

And things have been on the up ever since, albeit in a modest mid-lifeish way. But that's another story or two.