Friday, 10 September 2010

Let's bake bread ~ a sound basic recipe!

Article updated 12th September 2012 ~ see dated insert below
Baking bread is easy and satisfying.  We started to bake our own bread last year for economic reasons: it is cheaper to bake your own good quality bread than to buy the equivalent, and we prefer it.  Also,  we know better what the bread contains and where the ingredients are from.

We are repeatedly asked if we have a bread-maker.  The answer is: we are the bread-makers!  Please note that this recipe is not suitable for making with these mechanical devices as the quantity of liquid required varies depending on the absorbency of the flour and other ingredients used. 

A fresh batch of our own bread - the smell, flavour and satisfaction can't be beaten.

I share here a basic recipe, the result of our own experimentation, which may provide a good starting point for those who want to have a go and don't know where to start.  If this works for us anyone can do it!

There really is no mystery to it.  For years I put off any attempt because it seemed to require a whole lot of things I didn't have: specific skills, ingredients, implements and a lot of time.  Furthermore, I didn't seem to have a suitable place to put bread to rise.  Recipe books seemed only to emphasize these obstacles!  However, with the encouragement of an experienced sister and an excellent no-fuss bread book I decided to take the plunge.

To my surprise I found it's not difficult at all.  You do not need a lot of specialised gear or a special environment.  What you need is some flexible time so that you can be around while the bread is rising and a few basic ingredients and implements.  Like any new undertaking it takes practice to gain a consistent result and experimentation may be helpful in arriving at what you like.

The main difference between baking with yeast and other baking is that firstly, yeast dough is handled considerably and the kneading process demands this, whereas other baking is handled as little as possible.  Secondly, the mixture does almost all it's rising before it goes into the oven.  Once it's in the oven it will rise a little more giving it what is called 'oven spring' until it reaches a certain temperature when the yeast dies.  It's important that dough has risen adequately before the heat is turned up.

I have given the quantities for what we use to make a single loaf, so that it's easy to multiply to make the number you want without fussy calculations.  Bread-making, although simple enough, does take a reasonable chunk of time so I make three loaves at a time which is what fits easily in the oven.  Measurements are given in standard measuring cups so that one need not use kitchen scales unless desired.  It also makes it easy for various grains to be exchanged for others.

Ingredients for one loaf:
  • Yeast granules - 1 and 1/2 tsp
  • Sugar - 1 tsp
  • Warm milk - about ½ cup
  • Flour - 4 cups.  The ratio we use is approximately 2 to 1 of white high grade flour to wholemeal flour or alternative grain(s).  Applied to the measure of 4 cups of flour I suggest 2 and 1/2 cups of white flour and 1 and 1/2 cups of wholemeal.  I'm sure that 3 cups of white to one of wholemeal could work out just as well. 
  • 2 teaspoons of gluten, if desired
  • Salt - 1 tsp
  • Vegetable oil - 1 Tbsp
  • Warm water to mix - start with a cupful and continue to add it until the dough holds together well and is somewhat sticky. The total water I use is 1 and half cups.  It may be a little more or less depending on the flour used - the absorbency of flour varies considerably.
  • Sunflower seeds - if desired.  We like a tablespoon or two of these in each loaf.
Notes updated 2nd May 2013:
We are currently using the following measures.  They are not greatly different from those noted previously.  The only new ingredient is a small amount of gluten flour.  This is not strictly necessary, but will help bread be lighter and a little springier.
For four loaves:
  • Yeast granules - 7 teaspoons
  • Sugar - 3 teaspoons
  • Warm milk - 1 cup
  • Flour - 18 cups:
    • 5 of these being wholemeal, 
    • 12 of high grade white flour
    • 1 or so further cups of white flour reserved for sprinkling while kneading
  • Gluten flour - 2 Tablespoons
  • Salt - 3 to 4 teaspoons
  • Vegetable oil - 3 Tablespoons
  • Warm water to mix - 1.2 litres. (amount amended again 8th December 2012!)
Regarding kneading we have found that once the dough as a whole has been fully kneaded and divided into loaf-sized portions best results are obtained by the further kneading of each portion until these have good individual texture and form.

At present we are rising our dough only once which does simplify the remaining steps as once loaf-sized portions are kneaded they are placed directly into their oiled loaf tins.  These are put to rise in the oven which is set to the lowest possible setting.  Rising takes about 45 minutes, after which the temperature is turned up to 180 degrees Celsius.  Baking takes 40 minutes from that point, which allows extra time for the oven to heat.
The rest of this article remains largely unchanged.

Baking temperature and time: 
Loaves are baked at 180 degrees Celcius, for approximately 30 minutes. (if put directly into a fully heated oven.  Rolls will require less time.  Oven's vary to experimentation is important. 

I've given full notes below about all the details that come to mind to make experimentation as straightforward as possible, so although at first glance the length of notes may make it look an arduous process, when you read through it you'll see that it really is very easy indeed.

General notes about the ingredients:
  • For the best results use good quality flour.  In New Zealand this may be either the Champion or Elfin brands. Other brands may be cheaper, but in my experience can produce a significantly different and less desirable flavour and smell.
  • If using standard grade flour, the addition of 1 teaspoon of gluten flour per cup is recommended in other bread recipes, which we regard it as optional.  Although we now add some gluten we use a great deal less: about a tablespoon per loaf.
  • Gluten is the protein part of the wheat which is included in high grade flour.  This is a binding ingredient in the dough and makes it stretchy.  Go easy on any additional gluten as it can  give bread an odd cloying taste.
  • We have found that the proportion of white flour to other flours given above is about right for what is tasty and satisfying for our household.  A higher proportion of white flour to other sorts results in a lighter bread but isn't as filling.
  • With the ratio of four cups of flour to one and a half teaspoons of yeast per loaf ingredients can easily be varied or substituted.   I started using whizzed (in the food processor) rolled oats because I didn't have oat bran and wanted something other than wheat flour, but ordinary rolled oats would do as well, or a mixture of cornmeal, barley flour or soy, and so on.  
  • If using whole grains, seeds, or those which are less finely ground, such as coarse cornmeal or linseed, these are best soaked or partially cooked before adding them to the mix.  
  • Honey, malt or molasses can be used instead of sugar.
  • You may like to try using kelp instead of salt or in addition to it. 
  • Brewers yeast and flaky yeast cannot be substituted for granular yeast. 
  • Sugar is needed to provide the yeast with something to feed on while it's growing.
  • The quantity of oil included is approximate and can be omitted.  
  • The quantity of water and milk used is also approximate and the amount required will vary with the ingredients used.  It's better to add a little too much than not enough, as it's easier to add more flour than more water when you are kneading your dough.
  • Measuring spoons
  • Measuring cup
  • Kitchen scales, if you have them and prefer to weigh things rather than measuring by the cupful
  • A pot in which to heat the milk
  • Something to scrape the yeast mixture out of the pot, such as a plastic scraper.
  • A whisk - useful, but not essential, for combining the dry ingredients as well as for combining the yeast granules with the warmed milk.
  • One very large bowl, depending on the quantity you are making (see note in 'Method')
  • A clean bench on which to knead the bread
  • Oiled loaf or bread tins in which to bake the bread or a large oven tray
  • A sharp knife to divide the dough
  • A small dessert-sized bowl containing a cup or so of white flour and a spoon in it so you can easily flour your hands while kneading without making a mess.
  • Another small dessert-sized plate containing a smallish quantity of vegetable oil, say a third of a cup, for smoothing over the dough before it's set to rise. (Optional step)
  • Something with which to cover the dough while it's rising to keep out draughts and to stop the surface from drying out if you deem it necessary.  I've used a clean piece of waxed paper covered with aluminium foil, the latter of which can be re-used.
  • An oven
  • A good serrated knife for slicing up your yummy bread once baked!
  • Assemble the ingredients and kitchenware.  If the kitchen is at all draughty or cool, close windows and doors to reduce this.
  • Warm the milk until it is very warm but not hot.  It must be warm enough firstly to dissolve the sugar and then to start the yeast working but not kill it.  Books specify lukewarm or blood heat, which I have found insufficient.  This is the only part of bread-making that I initially found troublesome, which it needn't be! 
  • After the sugar has dissolved and the milk is the right temperature, add the yeast by sprinkling it over the surface of the milk.  I like to use a whisk to mix it through.  I find it easiest to pour the milk from the saucepan into a warmed bowl, stand it in hot water in the kitchen sink and then add the yeast to it, leaving it to froth with a plate over the top.  It should take only about ten to fifteen minutes to foam nicely when it will get a head of foam like glass of beer.
  • While the yeast is busy getting to this stage measure the dry ingredients into a large bowl and combine them thoroughly with your fingers - or that nice whisk.
  • Scoop out a hollow in the centre of the floury mixture.  This hollow is called a well.  Pour into it much of the warm water, the oil, then add the yeast mixture.  
  • Flour your hands well and combine everything, gradually working the excess moisture off your hands and adding in more warm water as necessary. 
  • When the dough is nice and easy to handle lift it out of the bowl and onto the bench.  Some recipe books suggest you do this combining process directly on a bench or board, which you may wish to try if you don't have a large enough bowl.  If trying this out do add the liquid in small amounts or you may find it runs in all directions!   Yes, I've done it!
  • If you are going to rise your bread in the same large bowl, wash it and put it to one side. 
  • Begin to knead the dough, pushing down into it with the heel of your hand (the base of your palm next to your wrist) and then lift the back of the dough folding it towards yourself and turn it a little.  Keep going for about ten minutes.  
  • When the dough sticks to your hands flour them lightly rather than adding flour directly to the board or dough.
  • When you've finished the dough should be smooth and stretchy, almost silky, and not sticking to your hands or the bench.
  • Place the dough back into the clean bowl.  You may wish to pat some oil onto its upper surface which will help to keep the surface elastic while it expands.  It's common practice to cover the bowl with cling wrap or waxed paper and foil when leaving it to rise but isn't strictly necessary.
  • Leave it to rise in a mild-temperatured place.  We've found it simplest to rise the bread in the oven by setting the temperature gauge to the lowest possible setting.  This is draught proof and the temperature easily controlled.  You can also stand the covered bowl in a sink-full of warm water. The hot water cupboard may be another possible place.  
  • Depending on warmth the dough will rise within 30 to 40 minutes or a number of hours.  As long as the yeast hasn't been over-heated you can't kill it even if it takes all day!  Resist disturbing the dough while it's rising by patting or poking it as this may cause it to temporarily deflate.  Note that dough that rises too fast may taste too yeasty.
  • When the dough has doubled in size gently remove it from the bowl and repeat the ten minutes of kneading which will reduce it to its original size.  
  • Experienced home-bakers may omit a second kneading altogether and instead raise their dough for the first time in the tins in which they will be baked.
  • Have your oiled tins ready.
  • Once you have finished kneading, divide the dough into as many pieces as you wish, and knead each portion further until they have good individual texture and form,  then make them into suitable shapes for your tins or baking tray.  You can handle the dough firmly at this stage.  Pull any 'creases' to the underside and pinch them together to prevent bubbles and cracks in the finished loaves.
  • Place the pieces of shaped dough into the oiled tins.  These should not be filled more than two thirds or the dough may rise over the top and bulge over the sides.  If you would like a loaf that can be pulled apart at the middle, make two round balls per loaf tin and place them side by side. 
  • Set these to rise once more.  If you want to cover them you can re-use the waxed paper and foil or cover of your choice.  
  • When the dough looks about ready, remove the covers from your loaves and turn the oven to 180 degrees Celcius.  Once the oven has heated up place your loaves in their tins into the oven if they are not there already.  
  • Loaves placed into a preheated oven will take about 30 minutes; rolls will be quicker.  Loaves which have been left to rise in a warm oven which is then turned up will take longer, say 40 minutes. 
  • Once baking seems complete test loaves by tapping them.  They should sound hollow, especially the bottoms of them.  
  • Turn the loaves out onto a wire rack to cool.  If the tins have been oiled properly they should tip out easily.   Do not leave loaves upside-down as doing so can damage the soft warm bread.
  • If you want to keep the crust soft, cover the fresh, hot bread with a clean tea towel.  I run mine under the hot tap and then wring it out! 
  • Although bread can be eaten while still warm, it's best to wait until it has cooled at least to some degree as cutting a warm loaf can be difficult and spoil a loaf.  
  • You will need a good serrated knife.  An ordinary kitchen knife is unlikely to slice properly.  Wait until the bread is completely cold before slicing it for storage.  Once the loaves are sliced and bagged they can be stored in the freezer.
One great bonus of home-baked bread is the reduction of rubbish: all those shop bread bags can be completely replaced by a single box of snap-lock bags.  These can so easily be washed, hung to drip-dry and re-used time after time.

The best storage method by far is in home sewn bread bags.  You can read about how I made mine here:
 Bon appetit!

The book I found so helpful was:
“No-bother bread: easy continental yeast baking for New Zealanders”
by Christine Keller Smith,
published by David Bateman, Auckland, NZ, in 1985
ISBN: 0-908610-32-7
Although it appears to be out of print it does come up for sale second hand from time to time.

Readers who have got this far down the page may find this website of interest:

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Walnuts ~ autumn treasure and a hearty dinner

Continued reading of my article on pop-top jars for jam and preserves reminds me that it's harvest time in the Northern Hemisphere.  This prompts me to write about the value of walnuts and the importance of storing them suitably so they stay fresh.    

Walnuts are both delicious and nutritious and I find it surprising that so few recipes include them.  If you have your own tree I consider you to have great good fortune.  If you know someone who does, I suggest you cultivate the connection!  Walnuts are expensive to buy and not necessarily fresh.  There is a world of difference between a fresh walnut and one that has passed its best: they lose their natural sweetness and go a bit soft.

The vital point about harvesting them is to get them up off the damp ground and into a place where they can dry properly and keep relatively cool.  If they are left damp you could lose the lot to mould, as I know from experience!

They keep best in their shells.  The ones in the picture came to us months ago from generous relatives who have their own tree.  The nuts are still sweet and fresh.  There's that gorgeous apricot wood bowl again!

If shelling them  after harvesting break them as little as possible as they deteriorate more rapidly after they're broken.  I imagine they would then keep best at a very low temperature, possibly in the fridge.

Most people eat walnuts raw but they are delicious cooked.  One of our favourite recipes is Walnut Balls, based on one by Anna Thomas in her book "The vegetarian epicure, book one".  Here it is:

Walnut balls with a bechamel sauce:
This quantity makes sufficient to feed about four people with relatively hearty appetites if served with potatoes and other vegetables.

Ingredients for the balls: 
These quantities are fairly elastic.
  • 6oz (175 grams) ground walnuts (but not finely ground – they are nicest if there is still a bit of texture to them)
  • 4 oz (125 grams) grated cheese (about a cup)
  • 6 Tablespoons fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs or however much it takes to make the mixture the right consistency.  I use the blender for this.
  • Half an onion, finely chopped
  • Quarter pint of milk (imperial measure) – maybe two thirds of a cup.
  • 2 Tablespoons of parsley or rocket (not essential but nice if you have it)
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • Salt
  • 2 eggs
Combine the ingredients and shape them into balls.  The mixture needs to be a consistency which can be lightly shaped into balls without being too blobby or, on the other hand, too stiff or crumbly.  As you prepare them, place them into an oiled oven dish or tray.  I bake them blind for at least 20 minutes in a moderate oven.  If the mixture is right they will puff slightly.

Ingredients for the sauce:
  • Half an onion
  • A little oil to cook the onion in
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • A pinch of thyme
  • A small bay leaf
  • Salt
  • Plenty of freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 rounded tablespoons of flour – either wholemeal or white
  • About a pint (say, three cups, maybe more) of milk.
Note: This sauce has a relatively long cooking time which means it reduces considerably.  The one problem I've had with it repeatedly is of ending up with insufficient sauce to cover the balls, so it might be worth making half as much again to be sure.  Far better to have too much than not enough! 

If you are accustomed to ‘proper’ cooking methods you may faint with disbelief at my method which is the ultimate in abbreviated technique and therefore not by definition a béchamel sauce at all.  However, the ingredients (with the exception of masses of butter) are identical.  

My method is this:
Sauté the onion until thoroughly cooked, add the herbs and cook a little more.  Now put about half of the milk and then the flour into a container with a lid that seals.  It needs room to shake around so don’t fill it over two thirds full.  Shake it briskly, then pour the liquid into the pan with the other ingredients.  This way there are few or no problems with lumps and fiddly fussing around while stirring with one hand and observing the sauce through a magnifying glass with the other, or the mess and humiliation of having to put it through the blender later to get rid of lumps - easy!!!  :-)  Add the remaining milk as well as the salt and pepper.  For the best flavour cook the sauce gently for a further ten minutes or so. It tends to catch so you will need an eye kept on it, although not too fixedly.  The classical sauce is then strained through a sieve, would you believe.  I never bother, just fish out the bay leaf and enjoy the additional texture of the bits of onion.  The thickness of the sauce needs to be somewhat custardy.

When you're happy with the sauce and the balls are ready, the sauce is then poured over the balls so that it covers them like a blanket.  Put it all back in the oven for a further fifteen or twenty minutes. You’ll see the blanket bubbling a little when it's cooked nicely.  Serve hot.  It's yummy!

Uncooked walnut balls freeze well making it a good nourishing meal-in-a-hurry on standby.

A variation of this recipe is to bake the balls entirely without sauce and pour the hot sauce over them directly from the pan when serving.  If you do this you'll see that the balls brown slightly when done.

Another variation is to serve the balls with a hot tomato sauce:
When I've had tomato preserves from the garden I've heated up a jar-full and used this by itself, which is delicious.  When I use canned tomatoes, which aren't nearly so flavoursome, I add a teaspoon of salt and one of sugar, as well as cornflour and water to expand and thicken it.  I bake the walnut balls fully by themselves and pour the hot sauce over them when serving.

I have two other walnut recipes which I'll write up another time.

My other articles about food and cooking can be found by clicking on the link below:

Monday, 6 September 2010

All those helping hands ~ some special people and the ripples spreading out

As I've written these articles I've been aware of the influence of certain people in the background.  Four in particular stand out: they are my sister Rachel, my friends Zoe and Valerie, and my mother.

Rachel has been the source of numerous recipes, techniques and general know-how. She has far greater domestic skill than me, so my thanks to you Rachel, for sharing what you know and providing the inspiration to take it further, not only in my life, but in being able to pass it on to others so that they too can discover for themselves the value of it in their own lives.

When Rachel and I were little, our first sewing was the creation of clothes for our dolls, some of which are still kept and treasured.  It's a great way for children to start even if the only tool used is a pair of scissors!  You can do a lot with that. 

It was Zoe who taught us both to sew, finding time to contribute miniature garments for our dolls as well as a selection for ourselves over the years.  She sewed professionally and encouraged us to learn so  that by the time we were ten and sewing classes began at school we were already confident using a machine and had some sewing skills.  Those classes followed an extremely slow and laborious course.  Zoe snorted about that and pointed out quite rightly that the most important thing to learn was that you could create something yourself and that it wasn't difficult.

Zoe was endlessly patient and immensely generous.  I remember a time when I was a teenager and trying to decide which of two lengths of fabric to buy for a blouse.  I simply couldn't decide.  I asked Zoe for help.  She responded by travelling all the way into town with me where we walked from one shop to the other.  Her verdict: "I think either of them would make up nicely."  So simple, and true!  I wore that blouse for years!

I remember Zoe with great affection.  Always sure of my welcome I often spent days with her, helping her in any small way I could.  We spent happy hours in the garden and from time to time drove inland to the mountains well provisioned with good food and drink.  My memories of her are accompanied by certain motifs: the yellow climbing roses which always seemed to be in flower on the trellis near the back door, gorgeous posies from the multitude of flowers that crowded her garden, tremendous personal style, her habit when leaving the house of commanding in ringing tones "Angels guard our home!", apple pancakes with lemon juice and sugar, a hilarious and highly infectious laugh, and the smell of freesias...  How fortunate I was that we were friends.  

Her recipe for fruit loaf made with tea is one of the most searched and read articles I've written.  For those who choose to try it I can assure you it's a winner!

When I was older and living in quite another part of the country I had the great good fortune to have another such friend, resourceful, lively and generous: this is Valerie.  I lived at Valerie's place when I was in my twenties and not particularly clued up.  

Valerie is the greatest exponent of making do with less of anyone I've ever come across.  I'd look in the kitchen cupboards and find them bare.  She would look in the same cupboards and exclaim "There's enough here to last a siege!"  She always moved at speed and still does. She'd whisk off down the wooden stairs to the garden, pluck some handfuls of things I didn't regard as edible, briskly give everything a one-two-three in the kitchen at a pace that made the whole place rattle, and in less time than it would take for most people to do much more than turn around, she'd have produced a meal not only nutritious and satisfying but also a winner in terms of flavour and presentation.  I learnt to use my imagination better and to improvise!

Valerie's skill at creative improvisation is not limited to food: she is also marvellous at home-making generally, using scraps of this and that to make what is needed and simply getting on with things.  Soon after I moved in a number of my family came to stay.  Valerie showed great generosity in extending her welcome with mine. 

When my mother and my young sister (then aged perhaps ten) came to stay the only spare room where my sister could sleep in was a storeroom the walls and ceiling of which were unlined. Valerie decided we must make what she referred to as a shamiana no less, which is a type of ceremonial Indian tent.  Off we went to Joe's fabric barn in search of suitable material.  What we found was a length of dark blue material covered with what looked like rivulets of gold.  It was gorgeous and rather mysterious looking.  I think it cost a dollar a metre.  There were lots of metres.  Valerie persuaded the proprietor to let us have a couple of empty cardboard fabric tubes and off we went.  Armed with this as well as a considerable amount of dark blue rafia twine and some cup hooks we set off for home.  

What a day!  We suspended the tubes from the rafters with twine which allowed us to swag the fabric overhead in three segments.  The sewing machine buzzed busily.  More twine firmly anchored at either side gave us something to throw the flaps over.  After a lot of hard work and a great deal of laughter it was complete.  It was wonderful. My sister loved it and Valerie and I became friends for life!

Valerie also taught me to laugh in the face of adversity, which she does often.  I learnt the even more important lesson of laughing at myself.  I don't hope ever to attain her level of skill and optimism, but I have made important steps in that direction over the years and am a better person for it.

Much of what I've learnt from these women I could have learnt from my mother who is generous and skilled in her own way, but like many young people I hadn't been paying much attention.  We all benefit from having lots of skilled and generous people in our lives. 

Others have contributed to my life in different special ways.  I would like everyone to be as fortunate.  If we each share what we know and can do it can make all the difference in the world, ripples spreading out... 

Meanwhile big bouquets to Rachel, Zoe, Valerie and my mother, and very many thanks indeed.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Sewing, mending and making do ~ looking after the good stuff and making things that work

I don't know what I'd do without my sewing machine.  From what I can find out we are roughly the same age, and I must say its youthful performance and longevity are something Bernina and I can both be proud of: they have built a good machine and intended it to last, and I have looked after it well and maintained it carefully over the years.

"Bernina, Bernina, so easy, simple and versatile!"

My machine and I have been working hard lately catching up on a number of long-deferred sewing projects, making some new things and mending others.  

All my mending and scrap fabrics live in labelled bags in the hall cupboard.  Recently when I was struggling to fit more in I realised that everything had got badly congested and something had to be done!  Sorting it became a priority. My resolve stiffened by determination I dragged it all out and into my workroom and emptied everything onto the floor.  What a heap!

But everything was clean, and while some garment were past the point of no return their materials still had good wear in them.  I considered what I wanted to make and picked through them carefully: a slightly stained pillowslip of good stout polyester became a candidate for prototype vacuum cleaner bags; a thick jersey which was completely unwearable looked suitable for hottie covers, as did an old hoodie and a pair of sweat pants; and tassels from old cushions looked perfect for cat toys.  That seemed like a good start.  So it proved to be.  It also proved to be a lot of work.  But so what!  I could have sat and watched tele or something likely to be similarly unrewarding and been none the better for it. 

Vacuum cleaner bags: buying these expensive paper bags gets right on my wick - they have to be one of the most senseless things in the modern world.  I detest paying for them as they simply shouldn't be necessary, and after I bought the last lot I promised myself I'd have a go at making some.  That pillow slip looked just the thing.  I unpicked it, pressed it and measured it carefully.  At the end of a long afternoon spent fussing with measurements, seam placements and pull-cords I had my product: four neat bags, which can easily be emptied into the compost, washed out, dried and re-used - perfect!  And one bonus I didn't expect - the vacuum cleaner actually sucks better - considerably better in fact!  Oh happy days!

Another afternoon was spent contentedly making half a dozen hottie covers.  I mixed and matched different sorts of fabric as I didn't have enough of any one thing, and now have a very characterful family of them.  Sewing on the domes took at least as long as the rest of the job but I listened to a couple of talks on the radio while I did so and am really pleased with the result. 

The cat toys were made in a trice and immediately became the object of pounces, somersaults and races up and down the stairs.

In addition to these creative adventures I mended a number of things that had been languishing there for ages and it was good to get those things useable once more. 

Some days later I sorted through the remaining bits and pieces.   A few garments that were still good which I decided I no longer wanted went into a bag for the local charity shop, others went into a rubbish bag, and the remaining items were folded neatly and re-bagged.  Back  they went into the cupboard.  That was odd: I had taken out a lot of stuff, but somehow the space didn't seem much less crowded.  Oh well, I was happy with what I'd done and the things I was putting away were worth storing, for a while longer anyway.  

I picked up the rubbish bag to take it downstairs.  And put it down again.  Back out came the faded yellow linen trousers I'd loved so much.  That material still had loads of wear in it.  What if...?  Out came my tape measure and my big sharp scissors! 

Some time later, quite a lot later, I became the proud owner of a new linen shopping bag.  I could now finally toss out my old one the handles of which had become so shabby.  It had been made for me by a dear friend but I had to be decisive - I cut the handles off so I couldn't use it again.  I hesitated.  I looked at that rejected bag one more time.  Without the frayed handles there was absolutely nothing wrong with it and the colours did tone well with the yellow...  I looked at what was left of the linen pants, took up my measuring tape and out came the scissors one more time.  An hour or so later I had two 'new' shopping bags - just the thing and so much nicer than bought ones, and every time I pick them up I'm delighted!

I do like to make my own things when I can.  Sewing is a marvellous skill and not difficult.  It's rewarding, thrifty and very practical.  I have to be clear about one point though: people who are creative in making things often have quite a bit of stuff - collections of things that might be useful.  These do take up space.  This can be a challenge and should not be allowed to run unchecked, but it can  be worthwhile: all the things mentioned here were made out of materials that would otherwise have ended up in a landfill.  They were all no longer suited to their original purpose but are exactly right for their new ones.   

In addition to some used garments and lengths of left-over fabric I keep lots of bits and pieces: from those things that do make it to the rubbish I remove anything that might come in handy for something else: buttons, cords, elastic and zips if they're still good, and so on, so when I do need some oddment or other I've often got something that will do. 

Here is a photograph of items indispensable to my efforts: my basket of threads, a pin cushion stocked with plenty of glass-headed pins, a needle case, a tape measure which is usually draped around my neck, a pair of good sharp small scissors, a button jar the contents of which change gradually over time, and an excellent pair of large dress-making shears.  Many things can be accomplished with these simple tools.

Writing this reminded me of a photograph in an old Geographic magazine: it showed a sign propped in the window of a store run by a group of resourceful women.  It read: "Need a helping hand?  Look on the end of your arm."  Touché!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Christchurch earthquake ~ things that went bump in the night

4th September 2010:
Even here south of Dunedin the earthquake that hit Christchurch gave us a thorough shaking.   We're quite used to earthquakes, and this one wasn't nearly as long or as dramatic as the one we felt from the Te Anau area a year or so ago, but it was a good shaking for all that.  I happened to be awake with the light on, and took note of the time while warily watching the light fitting gyrate above me.  Everyone I spoke to was woken.  Over the hill on the coast the jolt seems to have been much sharper.  I had no idea that Christchurch had been severely hit until I had an early morning toll call.  Truly a wild night for them and fresh shakes and aftershocks keeping it all vivid for its 350,000 residents throughout the day.

For those interested in news coverage here are the links to:
For those interested in the scientific side of it here is the GeoNet link.  Just look how many quakes there have been during the day!  Wild weather is forecast for tomorrow - this time in the form of wind and rain.  Canterbury is getting quite a pounding.

8th September:
There has been another sizeable quake this morning, so structural engineers will be going back over previously inspected buildings yet again, a very busy and disturbing time for everyone.

9th September:
19th September ~ update:
For those with an interest in issues relating to restoration and rebuilding  projects following the earthquake a thought-provoking perspective can be found at the  "Rebuilding Christchurch" site of James Dann.  

For those with scientific interest here is more data about earthquake measurement and liquefaction:
In discussion of the earthquake there has been considerable comparison between the Haiti earthquake and the Christchurch / Canterbury one, and many people have concluded that the difference in terms of the cost of human life and building failure is due to New Zealand's strict building code.  While there is some truth in this, the two earthquakes were quite different in a number of ways, both with regard to population density, time of day, and  earthquake type and intensity.  It would seem that the Richter scale, which is the common point of reference in any public mention of earthquakes, is no longer current in scientific circles, and in any case relates to only one part of any earthquake equation.

Grace Dalley of Rata Design and Rata Weekly has generously supplied the following information:
(1) To summarise about the Richter scale: apparently the Richter scale went out with the ark, and the figure of 7.1 (relating to the Christchurch earthquake) is on the Moment Magnitude scale which is much the same only more accurate. Basically it's the amplitude of displacement, and hence the energy released during the quake. 
     Each step of moment magnitude (eg. from 4-to-5 or 6-to-7) is 10 times the movement and 32 times the energy released of the previous step.
     You can read more here:

Shaking intensity, on the other hand, is measured on the Modified Mercalli scale (as in the USGS chart, see point 2). 
The shaking intensity varies with:
     a) depth of quake, 
     b) distance from epicentre, 
     c) type of ground.

2) The All-geo site has a chart comparing shaking intensity (on the Modified Mercalli scale) and also population, in the Christchurch And Haiti quakes: Look for the coloured chart right at the bottom above the comments.
[They do say they think the USGS (who made that chart) has underestimated the intensity in Christchurch]
The explanation of liquefaction with diagrams is on the left near the top.

Thank you Grace, for bringing all this to my attention!

10th November 2010
AFTERSHOCKS ~ a visit to Christchurch
The Canterbury earthquake is far from over.  As the ground settles after the initial big earthquake hundreds of aftershocks are occurring.  The Christchurch Quake Map shows over 2,700 at this point, and a number can be expected each day and night: for the 8th November twenty are listed; the 9th was quieter with a mere twelve.  Some of these come in sharp jolts while others are barely felt.  Added together they  certainly give a feeling of instability.  The Quake Map's 'FAQ' and 'About This Site' pages give further useful information.  Aftershocks may continue for weeks or months to come.

I experienced these myself when in Christchurch last week.  The first occurred when I was sitting at dinner with a friend: our conversation ceased abruptly as the house shook and things rattled.  She remarked "That would have been about a 3", and we resumed our meal.  Others were mild, many more like a slight trembling which was not all that noticeable.  One night I even dreamt there was an earthquake: in my dream I crawled from one room to another.  I fancy I came close to waking as I got an impression of things in the house rattling.  Sure enough, there had been a shake in the night, two of them in fact.

'The surfaces of the blocks of land that have moved along a fault are usually irregular, and even after the main movement has occurred, small areas continue to shift and readjust, producing smaller quakes known as aftershocks.'
The explanation is expanded on the page linked to above.  Scroll down towards the bottom of their page to find it.

In a Press article published on 25th September University of Canterbury doctoral student John Holdaway describes the earthquake as a massive release of energy, with the sum of the following aftershocks being very minor by comparison.  In an article published on 15th October Debbie Roome reports Mr Holdaway's points more fully, and describes the stressful effect all the on-going shaking is having on residents.

I must say it got to me a bit, and I was only there for five days.  I'm reasonably relaxed about this sort of thing but by the end of that week I found I was looking forward to being back on firmer ground Otago.  
But how stable is Otago and its city, Dunedin?  The answer is 'not particularly!' Scientific predictions indicate we should expect and prepare for an earthquake at any time at least as large as the one in Christchurch and Canterbury. This is outlined in the ODT article of 18th September 2010: "Quaking in our boots: how prepared is Dunedin?"

In an article "Bigger earthquake predicted to come" published on the 'Stuff" website on 5th September 2010, scientists make this same point, saying that it was not the big one they had been predicting as it was not related to the well known alpine fault line which is overdue to release a known build-up of stress.
26th December 2010 / Boxing day aftershock ~ update:  The big aftershock of magnitude 4.9 shook central Christchurch more violently than the original September quake.  Peak ground acceleration levels recorded reached 48% of gravity compared with 15 to 20% of the September 4th quake, but caused less damage as shaking did not continue for as long.  ODT article published on 29th December 2010

My further article 'New Zealand ~ land of earthquakes and volcanoes' can be found by clicking the link provided.  In it I discuss the relative geological instability of New Zealand's major cities and touch on how we know the history of the planet we live on.  

All my articles about the Christchurch earthquakes and aftermath can be found via the page linked to below, or at the upper right of this screen:

Friday, 3 September 2010

Lemon sour cream cakes from the Steam Cafe ~ cakes to dream of

Article updated: 8th November 2011
I quite often clip recipes from the newspaper but seldom get around to actually making them.  I'm am so glad I did try these out as they have become a much loved feature of my baking repertoire.  They are utterly delectable.  I make them exactly according to the directions except that I usually take them out of the tins before they had fully cooled - can't wait!

Served here with fresh raspberries and my delicious ice cream - superb!

Here is the link to the recipe as it appeared in the Otago Daily Times

I see that the on-line version differs from the print version in the lemon syrup quantities.  I've always used the ratio given in the print version which states half a cup of caster sugar, whereas the on-line version says one cup of it.  The juice of three lemons is about half a cup, so if you use half a cup of sugar it's a one to one ratio; the syrup is really runny and drenches each little cake.  Y-u-m-m-y! 

If you want to be really indulgent, these are festive and even more delicious served hot with whipped cream.  Heat by powering the microwave for ten to fifteen seconds.  The image above shows one served with my own ice cream and the last of the summer's raspberries - an unbeatable combination.  You'll never have any of these cakes left over!

The recipe for my ice cream is here:
Hats off and thanks to Toni McLennan, the owner of Steam Cafe in Thames Street, Oamaru, for generously making this recipe available.