The Seventh Week

We are about to enter our seventh week of lockdown.

I’m getting quite used to our new normality. Of course I miss restaurants, galleries and live music a little, but the truth is that we didn’t used to do these things that often.

I find myself baking and cooking much more than normal with four hungry adults in the house. We’re going to roll out of lockdown, I suspect, based on the trays of brownies, shortbreads and breads that we’ve been eating. Whether it’s comfort eating or what, we’re certainly eating a lot.

Where I’d normally do a supplementary shop each week to top up on bread and fresh vegetables, I can’t do that now, restricted to one delivery slot a week by the online supermarkets and not wanting to send anyone out on an inessential journey.

I have to plan ahead meticulously to ensure I don’t forget anything essential. It’s made me more careful and certainly more creative, substituting ingredients where I don’t have exactly what I need.

I made a malt loaf last week, my first ever, and couldn’t get black treacle for love nor money for some reason. Baking goods such as flour, yeast, eggs and sugar have all been really tough to get. So I substituted a few tablespoons of pomegranate molasses instead and it tasted delicious. The smugness at my own ingenuity was not pretty to see.

Bread baking skills have been essential, so I’ve been baking rolls, baguettes and loaves, finding some brilliant basic recipes. The offspring aren’t fans of sourdough so there’s been less of that.

In the first few weeks of lockdown I couldn’t get a supermarket shop at all, and resorted to midnight trawling of websites to see who would deliver what. As a consequence we’ve found the worlds best sausages from a farm shop in Lincolnshire (seriously good), and a South East London butcher whose beef is to die for. Small producers, both, with care for their animals at the heart of their production.

The experience has been so good that from now on that’s where my pork, beef and sausages will come from. I think that anything that we can do to help support small farms or producers at this time is a good thing. Once up in Skye we’ll source local equivalents and eat them less often to make it affordable.

It’s heartbreaking to think of how many small makers and companies will go to the wall in these tough times.

Stay safe, and I hope that you are all managing to survive this new reality, however temporary it may be.

Week four of lockdown

We are just going into week four of lockdown. We are all well, for which I remain eternally thankful.

Our small London townhouse houses us all plus Bertie the ancient spaniel, who seems perpetually confused by the presence of his tribe around him.

We are managing, despite the absence of outdoor space which is the biggest hardship. Evenings are Cards for Humanity games doing our absolute best to gross each other out. I bake bread when we run out. The kids are starting to go stir-crazy. There’s only so much Xbox a body can play.

Sleep patterns are totally screwed and new routines need to be forged before peace can return. All are trying their best, but grumpiness and flare-ups are happening, which is normal, I guess. The Easter eggs that I ordered didn’t make it in time.

I learned to make Waterford Blaa rolls, which seemed to go down well. I’ll be making another batch of these today as they’re relatively quick and easy to turn out.

The blossom is out. We have sunshine during our days and we are all well. In these times of extremity, there are a lot of people doing a lot worse. We have food. We have each other. I am grateful.

Once lockdown is over, our Skye life beckons, and seems tangibly close. Despite the news that no work could start and is delayed until people can move freely again, Francis emailed a photo of the house sign that he’s been able to carve whilst the island is in lockdown. It was a wonderful and unexpected boost to our spirits.

We will get through this.

Nuts, seeds and malted grains

Whilst we wait for the architects to draw up house plans in readiness for the planning permission application, life goes on.

It’s a blustery, cold March Saturday in London and I am experimenting with my sourdough baking.

I love the crunch of nuts and seeds in my bread, so I’ve added hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds and a few handfuls of malted grains to my dough this morning.

I’m tending towards the “stretch and fold” method of making sourdough rather than regular heavy pummelling of the dough. It seems to trap more air and gives a better crumb texture. I could probably do with the workout, but I’ll sacrifice my fitness for a great loaf…

There’s something very satisfying about a long, slow dough proving. Every time I pass the bowl I can’t help taking a quick peek under the tea towel, and I confess that it’s really gratifying to watch it double in size in a matter of a few hours.

But the real joy is eating big, crusty slabs of warm, freshly baked bread with salted butter, and the satisfaction of knowing that you made this with your own hands. And that you know exactly what has gone into it.

Bread is a very life-affirming thing.

Wild yeast bread

I’ve been baking bread for years but have only recently decided to experiment with sourdough, bread made with wild yeast in the form of a starter, or “mother”.

My “mother” is feisty and active, and I’ve called her Fran after a certain lady I once knew of the same temperament. I started her several weeks ago. She sits in a jar in my fridge gradually maturing and is starting to provide the most wonderful bread.

My hope is that by the time we’re on the island and a fair hop away from the local shops that we won’t have to rely on them for fresh bread, especially if the weather is bad, but that Fran will be turning out a loaf every few days.

Sourdough is an ancient form of bread and is easy to make (starter, flour, salt and water) although there is a bewildering amount of conflicting advice out there on t’interweb.

As with all things, this will take patience and a gradual coming into what works for my oven and me over time. I’ve made five sourdough loaves so far, two rye, three with stoneground wheat flour, and I’m still working through the best way to do this. The latest attempt, shown above, was from a baking in a pot in the oven and looks the most successful so far ☺️.

I’m off to slice this for breakfast now. Have a wonderful Sunday!