our (not so) daily bread :: 1

white loafI have been making bread on and off for many years; since I was a teenager, in fact. Sometimes I bake a lone loaf, made on the spur of the moment, just because; at other times, I fall into the rhythm of regular bread-making and happily turn out a couple of loaves a week for several months (more often than not I make a smug vow that I will never again buy my bread). And then, for no particular reason, I find that the shop-bought bagels, bread rolls, pittas and loaves have made their way back into our lives once more. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to it.

But last month, as I started bottling the first of this year’s jam, the home-baked loaves began to appear with increasing frequency and I realised that there is a cycle to my bread-baking: it follows the seasonal spikes in my jam and marmalade-making. A batch of homemade marmalade prompts a home-baked loaf. And then, as the novelty of marmalade wears off, homemade bread disappears from the menu until I start turning summer fruit into jam.

sliced whiteOver the years it has occurred to me that investing in a breadmaker might be the solution to a more reliable supply of homemade bread. I have many friends who swear by them, and certainly the bread they make with their machines tastes wonderful. Machines are convenient too: a daily loaf, hot and delicious, first thing in the morning with minimal fuss and planning — who could argue with that? But a bread machine would deny me the part of the process I really enjoy. I like to feel the dough change texture: gloopy, resistant and impossible one minute, smooth and elastic the next.

No matter how often I make bread, it never ceases to amaze me that such humble ingredients (flour, water, yeast and salt) can be combined to create something so delicious. And this sense of alchemy is never more powerful than in those first moments when the water is added to the flour to create a sticky, shaggy mess — how, one wonders, will this ever turn into a loaf of bread?

P1250633Last year, having baked my way through those jammy summer summer months, I decided to add sourdough to my repertoire — I love its flavour and texture and thought the challenge might sustain my bread-making through the winter months. I had long wanted to try my hand at making a sourdough starter but couldn’t quite muster the courage or energy to get my head around the process.

As with all such things, it really wasn’t very difficult at all, more a matter of planning than skill. And so last winter we enjoyed an unusually long period during which homemade bread was a daily fixture. But although my sourdough tasted good, I didn’t manage to achieve the rise, the lift, I had hoped for. And then, just as my loaves began to improve, I found an uninvited guest in my starter: a fruit fly. Although there was just the one fruit fly, the thought that many more might be lurking beneath the bubbly surface put me off. I lost my nerve and ditched the starter. And as I watched it swirl away down the plug hole I decided not to bother with another starter until I had enlisted a little professional help. I cleaned out the Kilner jar (aesthetically pleasing, but a decidedly wrong-headed choice of storage for my starter as it turns out), and put my name on the waiting list for Laura Hart’s Bread and Breakfast Workshop. The joys of which I will share in my next post.

read all about it…

P1290493Back in February I mentioned a shoot that James Balston and I were working on in Peckham, South East London. I couldn’t say much about it at the time — beyond sharing a shot, here, of James balanced rather precariously on the edge of the bath — but it’s in today’s Guardian magazine, with a few extra shots here at the Guardian online. But for the full set of photographs (magazines never have room for everything) take a look here.

IMG_2664The house belongs to textile and lighting designer, Rachael Causer (who you can see above, reflected in two mirrors in her bathroom), and her husband Henry Ward, and it is filled with interesting details, many of which are the result of years and years of reconfiguring the spaces as their needs have changed.

It’s exactly the sort of interiors story I love: all about creative lateral thinking rather than an exercise in how to spend vast amounts of money. Do take a look, if you have the chance.

I’m aware that the blog has been a little neglected recently — a combination of lots of work, lots of DIY (will it ever end?) lots of gardening and a lot of jam making, all of which I hope to share in the coming weeks, though it’s all on Instagram to which I have become rather addicted.

 

fleeting

P1290135I don’t suppose these will last more than a day, as I find woody plants don’t seem to fare very well in the vase. But it seemed a shame to consign these stems to the compost alongside the other deadheads, stalks and general pruning I amassed this morning.

P1290142Since planting them three years ago, my two Cistus plants have grown so enormous that they now meet as one in the centre of the bed. Fortunately their relatively scraggy habit allows similarly thug-like plants, such as hardy geraniums, to co-habit: the geraniums use the cistus as a climbing frame.

I like the contrast between the tiny geranium flowers and the floppy, showy pink of the Cistus. Although each flower only lasts a day or two, buds keep appearing and the flowers will keep the garden colourful until late in the year; my house too, no doubt.

snip, snip

P1290050At last! Flowers to cut for the house.

P1290079Not quite enough to fill a large vase (yet), but three small ones clustered together will do.

Linking with Little Green Shed’s Nature in the Home round up, as it’s always inspiring to see what other people are gathering from their gardens around the world.

nesting

nestThis nest fell out of our next door neighbour’s hedge back in February. They noticed that it was lined with our cat’s very distinctive white fur and so they gave it to us. Since it’s arrival in the house we’ve been wondering how the fur was harvested — the most popular (and outlandish) theory being that poor Spooky is regularly plucked by thrill-seeking robins, sparrows, blue tits and goldfinches.

spookyThe truth, however, is far less exciting: over the last month we have noticed that the local sparrows have become very interested in the the mat by our back door. A few days ago we spotted one with a tufty white bundle in its beak and realised that the sparrows have been busy gathering cat hairs. It’s very sweet to watch.

I’ve tried to catch the sparrows in action with my camera, but they are far too quick — the slightest movement from the house and they’re off. Their activities made me think of this poem by Edward Lear, but instead of buying hats and bonnets, our Mr and Mrs Spikky Sparrow are investing in cavity wall insulation. Very sensible.

nest 2For those who are interested in such things, this last image, which is so like the first, is just to give you some idea of the size of the nest — the hands belong to Bea, so are child size.

spring cheats

P1280141Spring has most definitely sprung since my last post. And when away from my desk I have been enjoying the few bulbs I managed to plant last autumn — though I must confess that these grape hyacinths, like the Narcissus in this post, are something of a cheat.

About a month ago I bought a tray of potted bulbs going cheap at the market, the green shoots were just up, and I planted them in a trough. Since then I’ve been digging them up, a clump at a time, and bringing them into the house to enjoy whilst working.

Even though the weather has been fine their growth is fairly slow outside, but once in the house you can almost see their stalks moving as they take off. I’m quite enjoying this slightly cheaty approach to gardening — more on the path of least resistance for gardeners soon.

done!

P1280058A few weeks ago I finished Martha’s quilt. But work, the garden and a lot of DIY have meant that I’ve had no time to blog about it (or anything else, for that matter).

P1280054But here it is. And it was a doddle to make. I say that not as someone who lives to sew, but as someone who is largely ill at ease with a sewing machine. I made it over the course of about three days, working at it as time allowed.

Having all the fabrics washed, ironed and ready to go certainly speeded things up. As did the new approach to cutting …

P1280053thirty minutes with the rotary cutter and the pieces were ready. The random layout took another half an hour and by the end of Sunday afternoon I had finished the central patchwork panel. I added the borders that evening, and the next day I made the back panel and pinned the layers together.

P1280057The actual quilting took an afternoon and evening — I used a long needle in order to load as many stitches as I could — and then the final edging, with the tiny eye-straining stitches was the work of another evening in front of the television.

The finished quilt is a little smaller than a single bed and is the perfect size to wrap around a small child — by which I mean a nine-year-old like Martha, who is not especially tall for her age. She likes to ‘wear’ it to watch telly, and has it on her bed as well.

quiltThe whole thing was a real pleasure to make. Style-wise it’s quite a step away from the rather washed-out vintage fabrics of the first two quilts, and far brighter than the quilt I made at Jane Brocket’s workshop at Ray Stitch.

I feel I’ve come a long way: I really must emphasise that I am not a natural at this. Sewing is NOT my forte. I am confounded by patterns; all fingers and thumbs when cutting and pinning. And so, for all would-be quilters out there, I say in all honesty: if I can make a quilt then you can too. Just don’t kill the fun of it by getting hung up on it being right. And maybe begin by mucking about with a bunch of clothes you are planning to give to charity, that way there’ll be no heartache if it all goes wrong.