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Bread:The Staff of Life

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” ~ James Beard (1903-1985)

About a month ago I watched a River Cottage cooking episode featuring Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The entire show was about making bread. Mr Munro is a champion bread maker, and while we have homemade bread on occasion, we purchase bread on a weekly basis. After watching the show, I started to wonder. The price of bread in New Zealand has jumped during the last two years. It’s not cheap. What would happen if we made our own bread and didn’t buy any?

I thought about it for a few more days before mentioning the show and my idea to my husband.

“Okay,” he said. “We could try it and see how we go.”

Since there is only two of us, we’ve made bread about twice a week. It’s been a fun project and we both enjoy making bread by hand. The kneading stage is very therapeutic, especially after a crappy day at work.

We make the same basic recipe every time and vary the flavor additions. (nuts, seeds, dried fruit, onion, sundried tomatoes, olives etc) The only limit is our imagination. Sometimes we make focaccia bread while this weekend we made one loaf and half a dozen pull apart rolls. We’re finding the bread is staying fresh. It makes good toast, and it tastes good. Best of all we don’t have all the additives and extras commercially made bread contains.

Pull Apart Rolls & Loaf of Bread

Here’s Hugh’s basic recipe, which is quite similar to ours.

For one loaf or focaccia or to make half a dozen rolls:

1 Tablespoon yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

1 1/3 cups warm water

1 Tablespoon olive oil

Mix these ingredients together and let sit until the yeast starts to froth. This won’t take long if you purchase special bread making yeast from the supermarket.

3 cups flour

1 Tablespoon baking powder

sprinkle of salt

Add the wet yeast mix to the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix until a dough is formed. At this stage we knead the dough then cover with a plastic shower cap and leave to rise in the bowl. When the dough has doubled in size, we remove it from the bowl, knock it back, and place in a greased tin. Leave to rise again before cooking.

The cooking time depends on what we’re making, but we cook a loaf for about 20 – 25 minutes at 200C.

Note – Hubby always uses baking powder, but Hugh’s recipe doesn’t contain it. I’m going to try Hugh’s recipe next time.

Do you like fresh bread? Have you tried making bread before? What is your favorite type of bread?

The One About Afternoon Tea

Thursday Thirteen

Recently my husband took me to a traditional afternoon tea at Cornwell Park in Central Auckland. It’s always fun setting aside the jeans for something a little dressier and enjoying the occasion. Our afternoon tea inspired my TT this week.

Thirteen Things About Afternoon Tea

1. We had our afternoon tea at the Cornwall Park Restaurant. They’ve been selling refreshments and cups of tea since 1908.

Cornwall Park Restaurant

2. Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford is said to have invented afternoon tea. At the time most people ate two meals during the day—breakfast and dinner, which was taken late in the evening (around 8 pm). The Duchess started to have light refreshments and a pot of tea in the afternoon. She invited friends to join her and took the habit with her when she returned to London. Other women liked the habit so much, they started to follow suit. Afternoon tea was born.

Cornwell Park, Afternoon Tea

3. A traditional afternoon tea consists of scones (usually still warm from the oven) served with jam and cream, a selection of sandwiches (usually egg, ham, salmon, cucumber) and finished with a selection of delicious cakes. This is all washed down with lots of cups of tea.

Afternoon Tea selection

4. Tea was first drunk in China and it’s said that Catherine of Braganza, the consort of Charles II first introduced tea to England.

5. The British government placed taxes on tea, which meant smugglers played a big part in bringing tea into the country. They found that churches were excellent places to hide their smuggled goods.

Lapsang Souchong tea

6. I chose Lapsang Souchong tea, which has a very smoky taste, while Mr. Munro chose Nepal Masala Chai tea with cinnamon, ginger and cloves.

7. No one knows where scones originated, but they’ve always been associated with England, Scotland and Ireland. It’s thought that they most likely came from Scotland.

8. Our scones came served with whipped cream and raspberry jam. Personally, I prefer them with clotted cream. Yum!

9. Clotted cream is thick cream, which is obtained by heating milk slowly and allowing it to cool. The cream content rises to the top in coagulated lumps. It’s decadent and delicious and not exactly good for you Who me?

10. John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich is associated with the sandwich. He loved to gamble and didn’t want to leave his game. He ordered his valet to bring him meat placed between two slices of bread. Other men called for meals the same as Sandwich.

11. We had egg, salmon and ham sandwiches, but most British afternoon teas have cucumber sandwiches. Here’s a link to two versions of a cucumber sandwich that look delicious.

12. Cakes. Yummy cakes in small bite sized pieces. We had chocolate cake, lemon meringue pie, sticky date, lemon friands, a flourless nut cake. Chocolate eclairs are also a good addition. Just saying!

13. My favorite place to have afternoon tea is the Ritz in Picadilly, London. It takes place in the Palm Court, and there’s a dress code. No jeans allowed. This is something that must be booked ahead of time—weeks ahead—but it’s well worth it with relaxing piano music and very attentive waiters. Here’s the menu for the Ritz afternoon tea.  I highly recommend this experience if you’re ever in London.

Are you a fan of afternoon tea? Do you have a favorite afternoon tea spot?

A Day in the Life of Bella

The other day Mr Munro found a dog toy in the cupboard, one we’d purchased and saved for later. Bella was very excited since she is definitely still a puppy at heart.

Bella

 

This is what the toy looked like after about five minutes.

 

Puppy Toy

 

This is what our floor looked like after a few minutes of playing. Exhibit A.

 

Toy Stuffing

 

She had a lot of fun playing with her toy, and over the course of several days I picked up lots of stuffing. It was a magical toy, and the stuffing went forth and multiplied! Trying to separate Bella from her toy—not gonna happen!

 

Bella and her Toy

 

After playing all day Bella was exhausted. She retired to her bean bag for a nap.

 

Bella on her Bean Bag

 

She looks so cute when she’s asleep. No one would ever guess how naughty she can be during her waking hours.

 

What mischievous antics do your pets or children get up to during the day?

Want to Grow a Bonsai Tree?

Yesterday Mr. Munro and I were listening to the radio while driving down the motorway. Hubby listens to a fuddy-duddy station with lots of chat, but it turned out to be interesting when the discussion turned to bonsai trees.

The lady speaking about them made growing bonsais sound very easy. Hubby and I like projects, so this weekend we’ve done some research.

Although bonsai is a Japanese word, bonsai trees were first known in China back in 1000BC. They were grown as gifts to give to the wealthy and were called pun-sai.

Bonsai Tree

Bonsai are grown in shallow pots and usually kept outside. They should be kept out of direct sunlight because there’s not much moisture in the pots. Quite a few varieties of trees are suitable to turn into bonsais, including several New Zealand natives such as the pohutukawa and kowhai. The lady on the radio mentioned Japanese maples are very pretty since their leaves turn color with the seasons. Basically you choose a seedling or small “junior-sized tree” from the plant nursery. Trim one-third of the roots off the tree and also trim the leaves so you gain a nicely shaped tree. The branches can also be wired to attain an attractive shape. Special soil is required – check at your plant nursery – and of course you need your special shallow pot. Once the bonsai are established, they require yearly root trims and shaping.

We have lots of small seedlings underneath our hedge, and we thought we’d try growing a pohutukawa bonsai.

Here’s a video on how to make your own bonsai tree

Do you like bonsai trees? Have you ever grown one?

A Doggie Treat On Hot Days

Bella

During the hotter summer days we make our puppy an iceblock. It not only keeps her cool but also helps keep her amused if we have to leave her alone for a few hours. You have no idea how much mischief one puppy can get up to if they’re left to their own devices!!

To make an ice block you need:

1 x plastic container plus lid.
an assortment of doggy treats.

We use margarine or ice cream containers. For the treats we use meat scraps, chopped sausages, cubes of cheese etc. If we have them on hand we also use meat juices/stock to flavor the water.

Method: chop up treats and place in plastic container. Fill container with water and place in freezer. Once the ice block is frozen, tip it out of the container and give to your dog on a hot day. The treats tend to sink to the bottom so you might like to fill your container up halfway, freeze, then add some more treats and water so you have treats in the middle of the ice block.

Do you make any special treats for your pets?

Meet Me At The Coffice

These days technology allows us to conduct business from anywhere. We can live in different countries and communicate with each other for business purposes. For example, one of my publishers often holds virtual meetings I can attend in the comfort of my lounge.

On the news the other night, there was an item about a new thing called a coffice. The words comes from a combination of coffee plus office. Coffice.

It seems many business owners are running their businesses from coffee shops, conducting appointments and meeting with clients in their favorite coffee shop rather than at the traditional office.

There are loads of advantages to a coffice.

1. It’s cheaper than renting an office.
2. The coffee is good and always hot.
3. The milk doesn’t usually run out.
4. You never have to do the dishes or clean up after everyone else.
5. Many cafes offer free wi-fi these days for people to keep up with their email or surf the Internet.

I’ve written in coffee shops for years, and I have my favorite coffee shops in various towns. There’s even a pub where I sometimes spend a few hours writing. It’s perfect in winter because they have a huge open fire. I find it easy to concentrate on my writing even with the background noise and find I finish my target number of words in a much shorter time than if I stay at home.

Who knew I was ahead of the times? I’d actually mentioned to my husband not long ago that there were always heaps of business meetings at my favorite McDonald’s McCafe. I’ve eavesdropped on interviews and listened to a man organizing temp workers. Some of the local charities also hold their meetings there.

Do you have a coffice?

Craft Corner: Decorate a Vase

Better Homes and Gardens is one of my favorite lifestyle shows, and I always tape it to watch when I have time. Sometimes it’s nice to take a break from writing and writing-related stuff and try a new craft. In one of the show segments, they decorated plain glass vases. Right, I thought. This is the project for me.

I saved some jars – most of them contained pasta sauces and soaked the labels off. The jars need to be spotlessly clean and dry so I put them through the dishwasher. I also used Eucalyptus oil on cotton wool to remove the glue left from the label. It worked like a treat.

The next step was to choose some contact paper. I picked some patterned contact in pinks and some plain gold contact.

Vase

I decided to decorate my jars with circles in two different sizes. You could do squares or stars or any shape your heart desires.

Vase

I used two different sized coins as my guide so that all my circles were even. Draw your shapes on the back of the contact then cut them out.

Vase

Stick the shapes (circles in my case) on the jars. I stuck mine on in a random fashion. I found the backing a bit difficult to peel off once I’d cut out the shapes. A tip – use small scraps of contact to pull the backing off. It worked well for me.

Vase

Vase

This is the finished product, filled with flowers from our garden. :smile:

The great thing about these vases is that you can decorate them to go with your home decor. It’s a good project for kids of all ages.

Toys for Bella

Our puppy Bella is a real terror with her toys. She chews them and rips them to shreds until eventually I need to confiscate them for her safety. I decided I’d try to make her a chew toy.

Toy Materials

I cut up this old blanket, using the checks as a cutting guide. I cut the fabric three squares wide and cut down the lines, leaving one end intact. I ended up with long tassel-like pieces, which I plaited and tied with a knot. The photo below is what I ended up with after the plaiting/braiding.

Bella's New Toy

Bella took to it straightaway and had a fine time tearing around the house with her new toy. She ends up chewing it to pieces but has a few hours of entertainment. When she sees me making a new toy for her she’s there trying to chew it as I’m braiding.

Bella and Toy

Bella and Toy

Mr. Munro came home from hospital today. He has his right arm in a plaster and needs to wear a sling. He can’t drive for eight weeks and has four weeks off work. I can’t see the scar but hubby said it looks like a lightning zigzag – sort of Harry Potterish. Bella and I are pleased he’s home, but I can see that frustration and impatience will make tempers flare during the coming weeks. Mr. Munro is not good at sitting around doing nothing.

Bella Graduates From Puppy School

Last night was Bella’s final class at puppy school. The seven weeks have passed really quickly and have been good for all of us. On the run up to the final class we worked hard with training, practicing several times each day. Our training paid off big time last night when the instructor ran a competition. It was a bit like muscial chairs. The puppies walked in a circle and the instructor shouted out commands for them to sit or drop. The last puppy to complete the command each time was eliminated. Bella sat and dropped like a champ and beat out the last puppy to win bragging rights. She was a real little star and both hubby and I were very proud.

Bella received a certificate stating she’d completed basic training.

Bella

At the end of the class we watched a demonstration of obedience and agility training with some older dogs. I’d love to do agility training with Bella but she’s not old enough yet. She needs to be 18 months old but she’s not quite six months yet. That’s something to consider in the future.

Meantime, hubby and I feel like proud parents…

The Week That Was

The months are passing so quickly. We’ll be off on holiday again very soon. This time we’re going on a cruise of another part of the Pacific. We’re visiting Norfolk Island, Vanuatu and Noumea. I’m looking forward to the short ten-day break.

Mr. Munro visited a school or play center recently for his work. They had a worm farm and Mr. Munro arrived home with everything he needed to create his own worm farm. We already recycled all our kitchen waste into the compost bin, but these days I have to separate out the onion and garlic skins and any citrus scraps. I keep forgetting and that means a telling off. I think I’ve got it straight now, although I haven’t worked up the courage to peer inside the farm to see if I can spot the worms.

The garden has also received a bit of a makeover with some lime chips and some solar lights. It’s made a big difference and the garden is looking very pretty. The lime chips should also stop the weeds coming through. Yesterday, Mr. Munro planted some spring bulbs (rununculars and freesias) because he knows how much I like them along with some garden greens and coriander. I get the job of watering.

Bella has been a little horror since I last posted about her training. I’ve been calling her a devil dog and she’s lived up to the name. She will insist on biting when she gets over excited. I know it’s a puppy thing but I wish she’d get over it. At other times she’s so cute I just want to squeeze her. Ah, the trials of owning a puppy!

Cute Bella

In writing, I’m currently working on a short hot historical and I’m also adding a few words to the follow up story to The Bottom Line. The follow up story belongs to Julia. It’s given me real fits. I don’t think I’ve ever started a story so many times before. The current version has me excited and I’m cautiously optimistic that Julia’s story is on its way.

How was your week?