The joy a loaf of bread can bring…

Learning how to make Sourdough bread has been on my baking wish list for some years now.  I’m two months into the process and have just baked my first “fairly” successful loaf!  It has been quite a journey already and I’m amazed how much more I’ve gotten out of this process than the bread – which is delicious by the way.

To get to this first successful loaf has taken at least four or five kilos of flour, many late nights in between kneading and waiting for the dough to rise and more moments than I care to recall of frustration as incredibly sticky dough became inseparable from my hands and impossible to form into anything resembling a loaf shape.  I’ve viewed what feels like five thousand you tube clips of master bakers and amateurs alike creating their sourdough starters and perfect loaves (with relative ease it seemed), read, attempted and failed numerous recipes and thankfully discovered a surprisingly large sourdough community online.  Even with all this though what I realised is that the actual process, the research, the experimenting, the physical act of kneading, coming home from work and going to find my risen ball of joy ready to bake has all become such a joy – and the edible loaf an added bonus!

So as I am no expert (yet!) I will not share my own recipes or methods here but rather some of the sites that I found particularly useful and a few tricks that I’ve found invaluable in getting a sourdough starter going and using it to make delicious and wholesome bread.

First up the starter.  There are so many variations on how to get your starter going.  Some say it can be done in a matter of days with all ingredients straight in at the beginning whilst others suggest six weeks and a process of daily feeding.  I suggest reading widely and then picking a technique and sticking to it for at least the first week.  I used The Sourdough Baker – Warwick Quinton’s 7 day starter which uses pineapple juice and unbleached white flour for the first week.  Pineapple juice as he explains is less likely than water to allow bacteria to breed.  I had no trouble’s with this and think it’s a great guide for beginners.  I started my starter two months ago and in the last two weeks (as Warwick’s blog suggests) it has really reached a proper strength and seems far more indestructible than in the early days.  This is what it looks like – I keep it quite dry compared to other starters i’ve seen online as I think it keeps better and I don’t bake loaves so often (usually a maximum of one loaf per week).  I may at some point switch to a dry “dough starter” but for now am keeping my options open as it seems most recipes online base quantities on wet starters and I’m not yet confident about how wet my dough should be.  Here’s what “it” looks like.. still thinking up a suitable name for my new friend 😉

starter close up starter

I put my starter into the fridge after about two weeks of daily feeding.  It got very full at one point as I wasn’t ready to start baking with it so I had to tip half into the bin.  It was a good decision I realised as it is really important to feed the starter at least every week or two with an amount that is close to half the total volume.  (Rule of thumb is half water half flour – I put a bit less water than flour in mine.)

For a while I did semi leaven loafs using the starter and adding a small amount of instant yeast.  This worked well however since baking a “true” sourdough loaf there’s no turning back 🙂

So here it is – my first decent loaf.  As you can see I unfortunately had the oven up to high at the beginning. It is a challenge as I’m baking out of a very basic toaster oven! (We are currently living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and ovens are not a standard in the kitchen.)  It does have it’s limitations but I’m finding ways to get the most out of it – the biggest problem is the oven is heated by grill elements on the top and bottom so it is challenging to get the heat up without scorching the top and bottom of the loaf.

wholemeal sourdough cross section Wholemeal sourdough

The key I found to getting this loaf right was giving it more time.  Previously I had been using the Sourdough Baker’s Basic White Sourdough recipe which calls for regular additions of flour and I was following the time allocations too strictly I think.  I found it very difficult to knead.  The success with this loaf was that I left it sit for far longer in between kneads and also started keeping a bowl of warm water nearby to keep moistening my hands (oil can also be useful when it’s really sticky).

The recipe I used this last time comes from The Guardians’ Hugh Fearley-Whittingstals’ recipe which allows for making the loaf over 2 days.  I found the recipe right up my ally as it offers a simple solution to fitting the bread production around the working day.  I had to add a bit more water which I think is due to my dry starter but also could be because of the flours used.    All in all this dough was so easy to manage compared to previous attempts.  It was so satisfying to see the dough become soft, malleable and elastic.  (This was definitely not the case for previous attempts.)

What I have come to realise along the way was that it wasn’t just the bread that I enjoyed about the process (it is possible to purchase good quality bread in Phnom Penh) it was the satisfaction of sticking at it at, learning new tricks but also the routine and the time I get spend with my starter and dough’s.  It sounds crazy perhaps, but settling into a new country and all the struggles that come with that it’s nice to have a starter to come home to 😉  (I don’t mind the added benefit of letting out a few frustrations with the slap and fold kneading method either…)

To be honest, I did almost walk away from the whole process about a week ago and I am so glad I didn’t!  I can’t wait for the next loaf and the one after that and the one after that.  The next challenge will be finding different types of flour and other delicious and nutritious additions in Phnom Penh markets – the adventure continues!

Here is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe:

Sourdough loaf

For the sponge
About 150ml active starter (the recipe is on the link to Hugh’s recipe or you can use the link above for the 7 day starter)
250g strong flour (white, wholemeal or a mixture of the two)

For the loaf
300g strong bread flour (white, wholemeal or a mixture), plus more for dusting
1 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil 
10g fine sea salt

The night before you want to bake your loaf, create a sponge: in a large bowl, combine 150ml of active starter with 250g flour and 275ml warm water. Mix, cover with clingfilm and leave overnight. In the morning it should be clearly fermenting: thick, sticky and bubbly.

To make the dough, add the 300g of flour to the sponge, along with the oil and salt, and incorporate. You should now have a fairly sticky dough. If it seems tight and firm, add a dash more warm water; if it’s unmanageably loose, add more flour, but do leave it fairly wet – you’ll get better bread that way.

Turn out the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and silky – about 10 minutes – then put in a lightly oiled bowl and turn it to coat with the oil. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rise. Sourdough rises slowly and sedately, so it’ll take a few hours in a warm kitchen, and a few more in a cool larder. One good option is to knead it in the morning, then simply leave it all day – perhaps while you’re at work – in a cool, draught-free place until it has more or less doubled in size and feels springy if you push your finger gently into it; alternatively, knead it in the evening and leave to rise overnight.

Deflate the risen dough by punching it down with your knuckles on a lightly floured surface. You now need to prove the dough (give it a second rising). First form it into a neat round, tucking the edges of the dough underneath itself so you have a smooth, round top and a rougher base.

If you have a proper proving basket, dust it liberally with flour. Alternatively, rig up a proving basket by lining a wide, shallow bowl with a clean, floured cloth. Place your round of dough smooth side down in the basket or bowl, cover with oiled clingfilm or a clean plastic bag, and leave to rise, in a warm place this time, for an hour and a half to three hours, until roughly doubled in size again. It’s now ready to bake.

Heat the oven to its highest setting (250C/500F/gas mark 10 is ideal). If possible, have ready a clean spray bottle full of water – you’ll be using this to create a steamy atmosphere in the oven, which helps the bread rise and develop a good crust. (You can achieve the same effect with a roasting tin of boiling water placed on the bottom of the oven just before you put the loaf in.)

Five minutes before you want to put the loaf in, place a baking sheet in the oven to heat up. Take the hot baking sheet from the oven, dust it with flour and carefully tip the risen dough out of the basket/bowl on to it; it will now be the right way up. If you like, slash the top of the loaf a few times with a sharp serrated knife (or snip it with a pair of scissors) to give a pattern. Put the loaf in the oven, give it a few squirts from the spray bottle and leave to bake for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 200C/390F/gas mark 6, give the oven another spray, and bake for a further 25-30 minutes, until the now well-browned loaf vibrates and sounds hollow when you tap its base.

Leave to cool for at least 20 minutes – it’s OK to slice it warm, but not piping hot.

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The End Of An Era: Tribute to Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

A beautiful piece and tribute to Nelson Mandela by Anne Chia

Anne Chia's Gringingles

It was another school assembly; we stood in long lines on dusty grounds in front of the primary 3 block of classrooms, wearing pristine ironed blue dresses with starched white blouses peeking out from our necklines and arms. This was 1990 in Enugu, I was 7 years old and that morning was different. Our teachers were very excited, clutching each other’s hands, hugging one another and wearing very big smiles. We all knew something was different, was it another coup d’état?

“Good morning boys and girls, today is a special day. Nelson Mandela has been freed”. Our head teacher announced.

As soon as that announcement was made, all hell broke loose. It was as though the teachers had been looking for an opportunity to yell and make a loud raucous. We all followed suit. You see, my parents often spoke about Nelson Mandela, so I knew who he was. I…

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Turning thanks into action; at what price?

A friend said to me recently that I should “just be happy I was born in Australia”.  Put into context it was a fair and heartfelt suggestion directed at easing my stress and tendency to over analysis the incredible need in our world and inevitably find myself too overwhelmed to contribute anything.  I have tried hard since to indulge in the comfort of the thought.  I am finding however that as an isolated notion it is incompatible with my beliefs which are centered on doing more than giving thanks.  Isn’t it (in part) this very ideal of putting ourselves, our country, our resources and our national identity, first that has got us into the huge mess we are in?  Almost everyone I know who is dedicated to the field of human rights and development and plans to commit their lives to working for change, for ending poverty and for justice feels that they are forced to make a decision to choose between doing well for themselves and their families or having to sacrifice the comforts, that generations before worked so hard for their children to have, in order to stay true their values and beliefs.  Why does working to end poverty and to challenge out dated and unjust systems come at such a high price?  (On that topic I recommend a recent TED talk by Dan Pallotta talking about the challenges faced by the nonprofit sector in America http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pallotta_the_way_we_think_about_charity_is_dead_wrong.html)

 

Reflecting on my friend’s words of wisdom my mind tracked back to sitting in a lecture theatre in 2006 as my university professor introduced his course on Sustainable Development.  He told us that the knowledge we would gain in the course and our degrees came with great responsibility.  Once we gained the knowledge and the understanding there was really no going back.  We could not claim ignorance.  His words that afternoon had a profound effect on me and have stuck with me ever since.  As students of international studies we were instilled with a global awareness and an education that allowed us to make a difference, to do something about the structural causes of injustice, inequality and unsustainable development.  Ironically I suppose I agree with what my friend originally said to me – I am thankful to have been born in Australia and that my husband had the opportunity to migrate here from Indonesia as a young person.  We both have benefited hugely from the opportunities and resources Australia has offered us.  I am thankful and I am responsible, as we all are, to do what we can to work towards the best possible future for ourselves and for future generations.

To sit back and choose a path that benefits only me at the expense of so many others is no longer a path I can make out.  That path caused too much anxiety and threatened to break my spirit.  So whilst the comfort of being grateful to be an Australian, to be born in place with so little poverty and so many opportunities is wonderful, I choose to make the most of that luck – because at the end of the day it is luck where you we are born.  The opportunities I have had must be cherished and used well or else I have failed to understand and be thankful for having received them.

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Bio-fuels, Speculation, Land Grabs = Food Crisis

A recent story from the Real News.com interviewed Timothy A wise from the Global Development and Environment Institute and Sophia Murphy from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy authors of the report; Resolving the Food Crisis: Assessing Global Policy Reform Since 2007 .

Wise: African countries, a number of African countries have been very assertive in what they want, and even as a group. They responded to the G-20, actually, with a very decisive statement saying (and I quote this; it comes from the African Union, actually): “African countries are not looking forward to depending continuously on external supplies that will remain uncertain in prices and quantities. Actually, our ultimate and unquestionable ambition is to develop our agriculture and markets. . . . In our opinion, we must rely on our own production to meet our food needs. In fact, importation is not Africa’s goal.”
That is as clear a statement as you could want that there needs to be a change in business as usual, that there needs to be support for the kind of agriculture that developing countries, African countries do that involves smallholders, that involves women, that involves low-input systems, not high-input monoculture systems, that involves the kind of agricultural development that I think can really address the food crisis in the long run and also support poverty alleviation and development in the countries that need it most.

On a personal note Sophia Murphy actually came to deliver a lecture to my Masters class (Law, Rights and Development) back in 2009 and had a huge influence on me.  She is an amazing advocate for the right to food.  Without food – fuel to think and the energy to be productive, to benefit from access to education and health care, development efforts are futile.

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Falafel


My partner and I recently hosted a New Year’s feast for friends. We cooked Moroccan and Lebanese food.  Lebanese cuisine is easily my favourite to eat and I also love cooking it.  I like the simplicity of it and the use of heaps of fresh herbs.  It is incredibly healthy food, most of the time, and is very well suited to a plant-based diet, i.e great when cooking for vegetarians or if you are trying to decrease the amount of meat in your diet.  With an assortment of herbs and spices, dried legumes and fresh produce you can make a banquet of delicious and moorish food.  I find there are a few staples worth getting good at if you want to cook Lebanese.

Technically making falafel is simple but there are many ingredients and it does take time to prepare and also to fry them all.  But it is worth the effort! I made a double batch at our recent dinner party… secretly hoping there would be some left over for lunch the next day… but they were the first thing finished on the table.  What more can I say?

This recipe comes from Nada Saleh, New Flavours of the Lebanese Table, I have a number of books on Lebanese cooking and hers is by far the best – the flavours are always spot on and her introductions to recipes (consisting of memories and a little history of the food) add a nice touch.

Ingredients

175g chick peas, soaked overnight, drained and rinsed

85g dried, skinned broad (fava) beans, soaked overnight and drained – I buy mine with skin on and peel off after soaked and drained

2 large sprigs of coriander, leaves only

large handful of parsley leaves

1/4 medium onion

1 large spring onion

4 cloves of garlic

1 small green pepper, cored, deseeded and quartered

1 small red pepper, cored, deseeded and quartered

1 red chilli

1 1/2 teaspoons salt or to taste

2 – 3 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

freshly ground black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste

4-5 teaspoons sesame seeds

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

groundnut oil  (I use vegetable oil)

Method

Place the chickpeas and broad beans in a blender with the coriander leaves, parsley, onion, garlic, green and red peppers, and chilli.  Season with the salt and add the cumin, ground coriander, and black and cayenne peppers.  Puree until smooth.  (This can take a long time, it will always be grainy but you want everything to be very well incorporated).  Place the moist dough in a bowl and mix with sesame seeds (other recipes suggest rolling falafel in sesame seeds before frying, which is also nice.  Cover with a cloth and leave to rest for 30 mins.  I sometimes prepare the day before I want to fry them, which works fine.

Just before frying thoroughly incorporate the baking soda. (This helps to soften the chickpeas – i forget to add once and didn’t notice a big difference).  Heat the oil in a small pan.  While it is heating up make the falafel patties.  For each one, take a small piece of dough and press lightly between the palms of your hands to form a patty 2.5cm in diameter.  Gently drop a many patties as your pan can hold into the hot oil and leave them to fry until golden brown.  Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

Nada Saleh recommends serving with tahini Sauce (I will add this recipe soon, as well as hummus), Lebanese bread and a mixture of finely chopped spring onions, chopped tomatoes and sliced radishes, and if desired, a dish of pickled cucumber.  I usually serve falafel as part of a mezze – with hummus, tabbouleh or fattouche, bread, garlic dip, tahini sauce and sometimes some hand-made lamb sausages.

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Lemon Cheesecake – My grandmother’s recipe (No baking required)

This is one of the first sweet things I remember watching my mother make (although the recipie is actually from my dad’s mum).  When I was young we made this using either a biscuit base or sometimes using slices of raspberry swiss rolls (the little pre-made ones that can be bought from supermarkets).  This was an invention of my grandmothers and although the image of those swiss rolls with the deep red swirls sticks in my mind as something very special, the biscuit base is the only way to go for this recipe.

Make it at least 12 hours before you plan to eat it – there is no gelatine or anything artificial to make it set – I think the lemon juice plays an important role in helping the cake to set – so don’t be afraid to go nuts with the amount of lemon you add – I think I increase the quantity every time…

Ingredients

2 packets (500g) of philadelphia cream cheese (not the spreadable type but the one that comes in a brick shape)

I tin (395g) of sweet and condensed milk

1 cup of thickened cream

rind of 2 lemons

3/4 cup lemon juice

1 packet (about 250g) of plain biscuits (I use Arnott’s marie biscuits – but any sweet, plain biscuit would be fine)

Itsp cinnamon

100g melted butter

Method

1. Crush the biscuits into fine crumbs – you can put them in a bag and bang with a rolling pin (or anything really), chuck them in a food processor – or if you are lucky enough to have manual grinder as I was given when visiting friends in Bitola, Macedonia – you can take your time and grind them by hand.

When visiting Bitola in 2010 the friends we stayed with were using these grinders to grind piles of nuts to make delicious sweets that were eaten at our friend’s wedding.  I thoroughly enjoyed time spent watching these sweets being prepared slowly and with so much joy. Whilst in Bitola I searched for a grinder to buy but could only find plastic versions – they just weren’t the same!  Later before leaving I was presented with this grinder the one you see in the photograph.  The grinder has been in the Eftimova family for some time and I felt very privileged to receive such a gift.  Every time I use it I recall the sweets, joy and laughter from that warm kitchen in Bitola.

Ok back to the recipe….

2. Combine the biscuit crumbs with cinnamon and the melted better, mix well checking that when you squeeze some of the mix into a ball it holds reasonably well, if you can’t form a ball at all then you need to add some more melted butter.  Press the mixture into a round 20cm spring form cake tin (lined with baking paper)

3. Place cubed cream cheese in a mix master or use a hand held whisk/egg beater.  Add the sweet and condensed milk, beat till combined, then add cream, beat till combined, then mix through the lemon juice and rind.

4. Pour the cheese mixture  on top of the biscuit base, sprinkle with extra cinnamon and refrigerate, covered, overnight

Enjoy with some fresh berries or just on its own – delicious!

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Do you ever feel like you are being taken for a ride when it comes to climate change?

This is re-post of a blog that I wrote some time ago on the OXFAM site – A Climate for Change

There are some aspects of climate change that I can comfortably engage with – mostly relating to the realities of international law and global politics, but also at an environmental level. It is clear to me that we are ‘a species in denial’, constantly exploiting the riches of our earth and refusing to protect and care for that which gives us life. There are however, many other things that I know little about and are for me confronting and confusing. Mostly these things have some basis in economics.

Any debate surrounding climate change will always at some point divulge into an economic discussion. It is usually at this point that I begin to digress from the debate. But it is an area I yearn to understand better. To find answers to the big questions; are renewable energies such as solar and wind power really out of the question in terms of finance? Won’t they pay for themselves in years to come? Can the developed world really afford to pay for developing countries to develop using greener technologies?

I am a pretty firm believer in the unfortunate statement, “money makes the world go around”. I don’t like it but I see it as a reality. I wonder why countries like Australia with huge expanses of dessert and an enormous coastline can’t find it viable to invest in solar panels and windmills. The arguments persist; we are a nation rich in coal, it fuels our economy, solar panels and windmills are too expensive. But is this the whole story?

If we can’t commit to our own reductions then how can we possibly assist the developing world in taking up greener avenues in their own development and adaptation efforts? I know there are an abundance of political factors halting global action on climate change, what I would like to know more about is what the economic realities areI feel like I’m being taken for a ride when it comes to the financial realities. To take a quick example – in 2009 the US allocated 44.4% of taxes to military spending and a mere 2.5% to Science, Energy and Environment combined!  I would like to put the question out there to all of you – do you think taking action on climate change is economically viable? Can the developing world actually develop and act on climate change at the same time? Who will pay?

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