Friday, September 28, 2012

Another journey

One journey I have been taking over the past few years has been that of learning to eat a diet and prepare food that is gluten free, having discovered the hard way that I am sensitive to gluten.  I'm not sure when this realization took place: maybe ten years ago?  I've not been definitively diagnosed as coeliac because I never wanted to go back on the gluten in order to test its effect on my body, and when I had a blood test, I had already been gluten-free for quite some time.

Gluten-free food has improved no end since the early days of my need for it.  Back then, the bread resembled Madeira cake more than bread and was really hard to swallow as it seemed to swell in the mouth, while gluten free pasta was inclined to disintegrate into a starch paste in its cooking water.  More recently it has been possible to cook gluten free penne al dente and the breads are much more palatable, although still prone to disintegrating into crumbs or transpiring to contain such large air holes that the slice falls apart and the filling of a sandwich is not contained.  I have had spells of trying to make my own bread, with and without a breadmaking machine.  I had a long love affair with spelt pastas and flours until those too seemed to cause my symptoms of sensitivity and I had to stop using them.

Earlier this summer I discovered a gluten-free baking course at the Waitrose Cookery School where Adriana Rabinovich taught a heartening session on making gluten-free pastry and bread.  She uses Dove's Farm Gluten Free White Flour for most of her recipes, and this is increasingly widely available in most supermarkets (though sadly not in our local Co-op).  I have been making my own bread, quiches and sweet fruit tarts since then, not often as I don't want to put on all the weight I have lost over the past 15 months, but enough to stay in practice and to feed visitors!  Earlier this month I attended a second of her workshops on Pizza and Pasta making, this time in Abingdon.  Today I have made some Buckwheat Lasagne, which I intend to serve for dinner tomorrow, but it's looking good.  Adriana has given me a lot more confidence in preparing good, gluten-free food which does not feel like a compromise and which will be willingly eaten by the rest of the family (because cooking "normal" food for everyone and something different for me is too much faff).  I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to benefit from her excellent teaching and hope I'll have future opportunities to learn more from her.

I recently visited a friend who gave me a Herman (Friendship Cake Starter), which was not gluten free, but by feeding this sourdough starter with gluten free flours, the gluten content should soon become infinitesimal, or maybe homeopathic...  My thoughts were not of using my Herman to make cake (lovely article here) but as a sourdough bread starter: other friends have been raving about theirs.

Today seemed the right day to proceed in my endeavour.  My Herman had reached critical mass, I had found a recipe (here) and had eaten all of my last loaf of bread, and the ingredients were all present in sufficient quantity in my larder.  

Well, when I say the ingredients, I did my own twist on the recipe and used 8oz of Buckwheat Flour and 7oz of Doves Farm Gluten Free Plain White Flour in place of what the recipe specified.  I used most of my Herman mix, so my friends can rest easy, safe in the knowledge I will not be trying to pass on pots of the stuff (though it could probably be arranged, if anyone is desperate) - in fact, I may have to build up my Herman supply to keep up with my breadmaking requirements!

This recipe calls for baking the slowly risen bread in a Dutch Oven - which seems to be American for cast-iron casserole, and thus my trusty orange Le Creuset pot was called into service and preheated in the oven once the dough had risen.  Then the whole package was transferred from bowl to pot, still wrapped in a couple of tefal baking sheets (we'd run out of baking parchment) and put in the oven for an hour - it didn't seem quite there when I looked after the specified 45 minutes.

Look at that texture!  Isn't it beautiful?  And the flavour is really, really good.  My best beloved described it as having a slight tang of treacle, in a good way.

Now, the challenge is to eke it out rather than wolfing it down - I may well slice and freeze a good part of it, to be defrosted as required.  I am looking forward to sandwiches and toast from this loaf.  Herman certainly came up trumps for me on this occasion!

I'd love to know if anyone has a recipe for making their own starter/Herman/mother from scratch.
Oh, the satisfaction in making a loaf like this!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

May in an English Garden

The wet weather which greyed out most of this month has allowed a lush abundance to greet the warm (sometimes hot) sun at May's end.

The wisteria on the archway has this year been absolutely gorgeous, like a glorious lace pelmet at the top of this viewpoint into the garden.

I'm glad the sunshine allowed us time to enjoy the flowers and the winds did not rip them untimely from their vines.  The scent, too, has been glorious, mixing with that of the Philadelphus and Choisya ternata.

The blousy lushness of the red paeonies does not last long but delights the eye, a reminder of the glory of roses still to come along on their heels.

The plants mound up into proud significance in the borders, painting their colours with fresh foliage and flowers.  There will be more, much more to enjoy as each day brings new delights.

Monday, April 30, 2012

I love reading

I really love reading and it is my local library that enables me to indulge this love without becoming bankrupt or running too quickly out of shelf space.  Today I finished a book by a new-to-me author, Deborah Crombie, which I am so happy to have stumbled across on my last library foray.  There were coincidences in the book to what I've been doing lately, and also pause for thought: how we can be divided by the same language.

For the last week, I have been visiting my childhood home in North-East London, staying with my Mum and helping to look after her while she had and recovered from a surgical procedure for a minor complaint.  My Mum is amazingly fit, well and independent in comparison with many of her contemporaries, but I thought she needed a little spoiling and coddling as she's the only parent I have these days and, besides, it was a good excuse to spend some time in her company.

On the way to her home, I made a couple of stops at places I have been longing to visit: Loop in Camden Passage, Islington (a wonderful wool shop I've bought from by internet shopping but never in person) and also The Shop (no web-site) just off Brick Lane, a delight for lovers of vintage clothing, linens, scarves and similar textile-y products.  This meant passing through areas redolent of my past life in London, as I attended university in Islington long, long ago, and then worked in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and also had friends living in the area. so it was quite the trip down memory lane, as well as providing the opportunity for some retail indulgence.

So, once at Mum's, I completed reading an excellent novel by Elly Griffiths (The Janus Stone) and started a new read, "Necessary as Blood" by Deborah Crombie.  The setting of this book was around Brick Lane and mentioned a number of places (eg Columbia Road Flower Market, Spitalfields) familiar to me.  It is a detective novel, the thirteenth in a series about Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, two London Police Detectives.  One of the main characters is a textile artist, which is also close to home.  It was a really goos read and a coincidence that it was set so close to areas I'd been to in the previous couple of days and known so well in the past.  The geographical setting is well researched, since Deborah Crombie, while having lived in the UK for periods in the past, is a Texan who lives there still.  There were a few incidences of dissonance in the text - phrases which did not feel very English, "Sit down, why don't you?" being an example of this.  The term "slipper chair" had me searching for a definition on the internet for all that I have studied upholstery - it does refer to an upholstered chair with a low seat and high back, such as might be used in a bedroom, but I've never heard the term before.  Also, a "pink dress shirt" comes across to a Brit as infinitely grander than the sort of smart shirt to be worn to the work it refers to.  I am nit-picking to mention these instances because it is an excellent book and I will look out for more examples of the writer's work.  It had an excellent plot which kept me guessing and interested, great characters and more depth than many books in the crime genre.  I'm really glad my library has introduced me to this series (and to Elly Griffiths, another great author).

View from the Coffee Shop at Whipps Cross Hospital

I returned home yesterday, as my Mum had much more energy and seemed ready to cope with life on her own again (but with my daughter staying during the week, as normal), but I'm hoping her recovery continues as well as it has started, and that I'll have the opportunity to visit again before long - she'll be working on her list of jobs for me already!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Back to Celebrate Mothering Sunday

I did not mean to take such extended leave from my blogging - but time passed, recovering from my operation, and my mojo was well and truly absent.  Then the usual winter thing happened with my health, and I had a small run of fluey bugs which put me into a state of semi-hibernation.  However, spring is coming and maybe my energy-sapping illness is regressing.  Time to get back into the swing of things: so here are some photos of flowers currently enhancing my life, indoors and out, which I photographed today.

I bought the lilies for painting, but they also take a good picture (they smell delicious, I wish I could share that too).

This is one of the lovely camellias blooming in the garden at the moment, under the still-bare branches of the walnut tree.

I nearly missed noticing these lovely tulips flowering in a couple of pots by the garden door.  I'm so glad to have noticed them because they are so pretty.

It's Mothering Sunday and I so appreciate the love and good wishes of my children, the cards and flowers, and the delicious meal my husband is cooking to celebrate the day.  I sent my Mum some freesias but she has been away at my sister's for the weekend, so she may not yet have received them or my card (which await her return, on her mantelpiece).