Thursday, 19 December 2013

A Cosy Yarn Along

Joining in with Ginny and sharing our very cosy knitting and reading this week.

Most of the current knitting is still gift-knitting, and the reading baby-orientated. I have just started this Active Birth book, handed down to me from a generous mum whom I only know through a local natural parenting group. I love that women will come together to support each other in this way, and hope I can pass on good sisterhood in this way too. My copy is from the early nineties or late eighties, and has some fantastic pictures of women in labour, but most especially I like the beards on the husbands! This seems to be a bit of a theme in these sorts of books (have you read the beloved Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth? Some cracking beards!). OK, OK, I know I should be focusing on something else here, but I find it hard to stay serious for too long! The lovely alpaca yarn is aiming to be a set of matching mittens for Sausages and one of his heroes, but I'm really struggling to turn the magic cast on into a row of knitting. Four or five times I have cast on this first mitten! I suspect that my tired, baby-addled brain is more to blame than the complexity of the project. I cannot for the life of me work out why it should be so difficult!

In preparing for Christmas I have dragged out my collection of cake-icing books, some gifted from my Grandmother-in-law, some from the rather fabulous Penn bookshop. This is part of an annual ritual, whereby I get out the books and ingredients, look at them for a while, and then chicken out and use ready-made icing from the supermarket. I seem to have a complete mental block in this area. I love to bake tasty things, but I just don't really engage with their prettification!

Sausages did help me marzipan the cakes

And we made mince pies

He also helped me to make some pretty gift tags using plain tags and my little collection of Christmas tapes. These tapes are seeing a lot of action at the moment! I'm fairly sure there isn't anything they can't cheer up! As you can see above, Sausages' contribution involved building the leaning tower of tires from the Casa Della Tires in the Pixar Cars film. He really will find a way to make ANYTHING about cars!

Today he's a bit under the weather, so he and I are snuggling under his duvet on the sofa, playing with cars and reading from the Advent books box. We had the pre-homebirth visit from the midwife yesterday, and are so close to making it to term with 'Madge. All is calm. All is bright. Not much reading, not enough knitting, but plenty of warmth and love. How are things with you? A last week of crazy before Christmas, or hunkering down like us? Merry Christmas!


Monday, 16 December 2013

Me and my Starter

A friend recently asked me what I do with my sourdough starter, apart from daily bread. The answer, sadly, is not very much!

What is a starter? A starter is a yeast culture that is kept in active or semi-active form, and used in baking instead of commercially available yeasts. Because the yeast culture in a starter is usually wild, harvested from the flour itself, or yeast spores in the air, it tends to be less aggressive than commercial yeasts, so you are not likely to get thrush infections from handling it all the time. There are different ways of creating and caring for a starter, and you can make one fresh for a single bake, or keep one alive for years.

Our starter lives in an ice cream tub with holes stabbed in the lid, in the fridge. It's called Honore, after the patron saint of bread, and because I am the daughter of a great anthropomorphist. Some things take a while to wear off...Ours is an old starter, handed down by my Mother in Law, and full of tasty sourdough flavour. Due to the living nature of the culture, it bakes differently according to the weather, especially temperature, and its flavour has changed over time. If it spends a bit longer in the fridge between feedings the sourdough flavour tends to get stronger. I love it! The living, changing nature of baking in this way really appeals to me.

I spend about a day making our daily bread (I refer to it as daily bread, but what I really mean is everyday bread. We don't eat a loaf a day unless we have company), but it's not a time consuming process; just a slow one. I start the night before, taking Honore out of the fridge and mixing him in a large bowl with 8oz bottled water and 8oz bread flour. I use bottled water because the culture doesn't like the chlorine in tap water. Overnight the starter is "activated," coming to life and respiring, producing lots of bubbles to show it. In the morning I put half of what's in the mixing bowl back into the cleaned ice cream tub, mixing in 4oz each of bottled water and bread flour. With the half left in the bowl, I mix in sugar, salt, oil, any extras I fancy (such as seeds or herbs), and enough bread flour to make a slightly tacky dough. Then I cover and leave to double in size. Round lunch time I knead the dough, and transfer to my loaf tin to prove for a second time. When I'm using the oven to cook dinner, I stick the bread in for around half an hour, and allow to cool in the tin overnight, ready for lunchboxes the next day.

I now use Honore to provide all of our yeast for baking, and usually this involves simply exchanging the yeast in a recipe for a spoonful of starter in a guessing sort of quantity, but there are a couple of exceptions: Pizza; and hot cross buns.

For pizza, I start out as though I am making my regular bread, but when making the dough I use half semolina to bread flour. This gives a base that cooks through well, and goes crispy underneath while still having soft crusts. I don't like hard crusts!

For hot cross buns I follow this recipe. I don't bother with the crosses (I make them beyond Good Friday!), and I swap the sugar glaze for warmed marmalade. Oh, and I steep the dried fruit in tea overnight. We drink leaf tea from a pot, so there's usually some left over to stand duty for this. The hot cross buns are spongy and light and delicious! And because they are not so cakey, they make a very nice breakfast, in the manner of fruit toast. Mmm...

They go quickly! The only thing I really struggle to make well with the starter is nice rolls for hot dogs. Any suggestions? I hope that has pushed someone to have a go with a starter, or maybe to try using it for something new, and I hope someone can come back to me with something new to do with mine! See you Wednesday for Ginny's Yarn Along!


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

A Woolly Wednesday

Well, this is Christmas knitting, but not gift knitting, so I can share with you and Ginny this week!

Last week I got an email from Sausages' playschool telling parents that all of the children were going to be sheep in the joint nativity with the school infant children. While searching for a nice little hat pattern this fell into my lap(top). Soooo...I got a bit carried away, ordered some delicious yarn and broomhandle needles, and they arrived on Saturday morning. Over the weekend, thanks to some enforced "feet up" courtesy of my lovely Outlaws and a girls' night at a friend's, I knitted up the hat (Saturday) and the tunic (Sunday). On Tuesday while Sausages was at playschool I sat outside in the car and did the making-up. Then, on Tuesday night, I had some sort of plot-losing experience when I decided that the costume was SO AWESOME that a stuffed-sock tail would be totally inadequate, and I had to knit one. It took several attempts while I messed around with diameter, stitch pattern and gauge, and thanks to pregnancy insomnia I finished it and sewed it on to the tunic before breakfast. Crazy!

He looks pretty good though! This is it: the pinnacle of my mothering career. Never again will I manage to appear so competent. This year I have produced the best sheep costume in school, thanks to the generous genius of Margot Stevens, who sadly seems no longer to run a blog. Unless Sausages has to be an alpaca next year, it is unlikely to be matched again, since I am no seamstress, but I have enjoyed my day of school-gate glory. It's over now, thank goodness!

Reading-wise I am still plodding through Daiper Free in a slow way, although my free time has been little of late. I agreed with a lot of the first half of this book, but as I progress the later chapters are troubling me a little. I was expecting a more child-led approach, I think, whereas a lot of the accounts from parents practicing "natural infant hygiene" seem to be increasingly about a parent taking the lead by "cuing" the infant to relieve themselves. This makes me worry that if I were to follow this path my child would be responding more to the cues than to their own body sensations, which strikes me as a little unhealthy. As does the preoccupation in the book with regular morning defecation as a healthy objective...I feel like I have wandered into some surreal world with this! It started so well! I might have to indulge in some trashy fiction after this to clear the brain.

Christmas present knitting continues, as do the crafts, although I'm definitely slowing down now towards Madge's birth. Thanks so much to all my cheerleaders, I am now almost two weeks further into this pregnancy than I managed with Sausages, and feel like a term baby (and all the wonderful things that go with it) is within my reach. Sitting in my cosy, Christmassy house knitting and crafting with my lovely son in our last few weeks alone together sounds like a really good way to spend some time. I hope you're enjoying the last two weeks of advent, and are ready to embrace whatever seasonal celebrations you are looking forward to.


P.S. Later this and my starter x

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Sneaking in the Joy

Joining in with Ginny again this week, but I don't have much reading or knitting to show you! I've reached a point where everything I'm knitting is a Christmas present, and since Husband and Sausages have continued to be poorly and need looking after, there hasn't been much time for knitting or reading (or anything else for that matter!). Husband suggested that since I can't show you the lovely Christmas present I have just finished, I show you his ongoing Doctor Who scarf instead, so here it is:

It's now about 7' long, so just over half way. His tension is lovely and regular after all those hundreds of rows of garter stitch! I'm still reading Diaper Free, and still enjoying it, but due to the crazy nature of my time at the moment I've been leaning more towards Christmassy magazines, so I can snatch a moment to fantasise about all the Christmassy things I am just not going to get done this year. Here's a little snatched moment from this week:

A cheeky festive indulgence, complete with cup of tea and Aldi leibkuchen, beautifully decorated with pink glaze and sprinkles. Perfect. As you can see, this moment of peace was sponsored by Sausages' box of crayons. He was colouring in one of his three advent calendars:

This is a fabulous free download from (link not currently working but I'll fix that as soon as possible. In the mean time it's on my pinterest), that I printed on A3 and washi-taped to some foam presentation boards that Bapar found doing nothing in his study. It looks ace, and makes the paper quite sturdy! The bit Sausages likes the most is getting to use "stick glue" rather than "gloopy glue" on each circle. The idea is that on Christmas Eve Father Christmas will have a full beard and be ready to whiz around the world doing his festive best!

Sausages and I have started to move further into festive mode, unsupervised by poorly husband. We've replaced the autumnal decorations around the hall mirror with some battery powered lights, although I think a little something more might be needed here! Due to the nature of Bungalow living, my three-basket laundry system lives under this mirror, as well as a handy shelf. I live in hope that decorating the mirror and putting something pretty on the shelf distracts visitors from the laundry! Soon there will be hyacinths on the shelf, but they are still hibernating.

We're enjoying the big box of advent and Christmas books, collected as and when in charity shops. This is not the complete collection, since I notice that a few have snuck their way into Sausages' everyday library, especially the nativity themed ones. We really enjoy these books. Sausages' current favourites are Harvey Slumfenburger's Christmas Present by John Burningham, and The Christmas Bear, by Axel Scheffler (the illustrator behind The Gruffalo and several other collaborations with the fabulous Julia Donaldson). There is something very delicious about curling up on the sofa with a book about Christmas with a small child who thinks he might be looking forward to it, but can't quite remember enough of last year to really know what's coming!

I'll have some more crafting pictures and ideas for you this week hopefully, but here are some better pictures of Sausages' snow shakers:

I picked up a "jar of Christmas craft activities" in a charity shop recently, and Sausages requested that we have a go at it this morning instead of the outdoor playgroup we have started attending in local woods recently. I'm starting to struggle climbing up the steep sides of the iron age ring ditch, so I couldn't really argue, and we settled down to do some deliciously messy sticking!

Husband is playing with his early Christmas present in the background, shhh!

 Not bad eh? I'm so glad Sausages has got back into crafts recently. I think we're going to have a very lovely and well-decorated winter! What Christmas crafts have you got going on? Are you busily making lovely unique Christmas presents, or are you one of those ruthless crafters who has liberated themselves from the annual torture of giving something you have put hours of love and care into to someone who doesn't really appreciate it? Or, like me, do you simply not have the time?

Wishing you all a happy and holy advent