Food, foraging & recipes

A time for baking

It’s early.  I’m up before the sun and the air in the cottage is cold after a night below zero.  There is a frost on the ground and through the kitchen window all looks still, bar the occasional blackbird flitting around on the gravel path.

The sky still looks grey so it’s difficult to tell what kind of day it’s going to be.  I don’t always get on with grey days in the middle of winter.  I’m sure I’m not alone.  I once asked my mother how she felt on days like these and her response was one from another generation.  She shrugged and said that when the weather is miserable she looks outside and feels thankful for the warmth of the house, for central heating and modern appliances.  On days like these she said, she likes to bake.

I put the kettle on to boil water for tea and reach down into the cupboard for the large mixing bowl.  I fetch the scales and two bags of flour, one granary and one strong white and measure out a combined 500g into the mixing bowl.  This is my standard recipe and I vary the flour depending how I feel.  One of my favourite mixtures is 80% spelt flour to 20% rye but neither are easy to find round here so I make do with what I have.

I set the bowl aside and gather together yeast, sugar and salt.  One teaspoon of sugar and one of salt go into a small jug to which I add 100ml of hot water from the kettle, making myself a cup of tea at the same time.  When the sugar and salt have dissolved I add another 200ml of cold water from the tap and pour a sachet of dried yeast over the top, giving it a stir and leaving it for a few minutes.  I use fresh yeast when I can get it on account of the smell but the dried seems to work just as well.

Making my tea, I look outside to see a squirrel dart across the yard and up into one of the cedar trees.  Quick, slight movements.  They’re fast, these little red squirrels with their tufted ears and fat fluffy tails.

I take a sip of tea and plunge my left hand into the mound of flour feeling the cool softness against my skin.  I make a well with my fist and pour in the liquid, stirring with a metal spoon.  Just as the dough is coming together I add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, pausing to watch the green oil seep into the mixture.  I use the spoon to push the dough around the bowl, collecting every last speck of flour.  I love it when I can turn the dough out of an almost clean bowl.

The dough plops out onto the floured worktop with a satisfying thud and I start to knead.  This is the part I love the most, losing myself in thought as I work the dough into a lovely smooth, silky ball.

I think about my mother baking in her kitchen in the middle of winter with the rain lashing the windowpanes.  Turning out trays of scones, loaves of bread, biscuits for the grandchildren.  And I think of my grandmother before her doing the same.  Recipes passed down.  My grandmother baked without ever using scales.  Just a spoon and a good eye for measuring.  My mother, my grandmother and all the women before them doing exactly what I am doing now, kneading dough to bake bread to feed their families.  It’s a nice thought that connects me to my past.

After five to ten minutes the dough is ready and I shape it into a fat sausage and place it in a loaf tin which I have greased with butter.  I always use butter for greasing.  I sprinkle the top with flour and cover with a damp tea towel.  I sit it near the heater to rise and put the kettle on for another cup of tea.

I take my tea to my computer to do some writing while I wait for the bread.  I love these mornings.  The simple act of baking bread brings me home to myself, nourishes something deep inside, sets me up for the day.  By the time everyone else is up and around I’m already settled into my day.

I put the oven on to warm up and set the temperature to 200c. After half an hour the bread is ready to go in.  I take a knife, place a couple of slits in the top of the loaf to let it vent, and pop it in the oven, setting the timer for 40 minutes.  I go back to my writing.

Forty minutes later I remove the loaf from the oven, tip it out of the tin and give it a gentle knock on the bottom.  It sounds firm and hollow so is ready.  I set it down to cool and enjoy the smell as it wafts around the cottage.  I’m looking forward to fresh bread and coffee for breakfast.

I glance outside again.  It’s still early but I can see that the sky is turning a deep shade of blue.  Maybe it’s going to be a good day after all ♥

Bread recipe

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Aromatherapy, essential oils & potions, Food, foraging & recipes

Quick creations

Despite the cool misty September mornings it is still incredibly hot here in western France.  A lovely extension to summer.  I’ve been busy in the kitchen today making two of my favourite things.

A blackberry crumble cake with blackberries picked from the hedgerows here.  And a lovely nourishing whipped body butter using my new avocado, mango and olive butters and scented with lavender and sweet orange – almost good enough to eat as well.  I love it when my hands do the thinking and talking for a change.

Hedgerow blackberries

The cake is a variation on a recipe from The Forager’s Kitchen by Fiona Bird and what’s especially nice about it is the addition of ground hazelnuts to the crumble.

whipped body butter

Elizabeth’s whipped Body Butter

  • 50ml vegetable oil (I used a combination of sunflower and sweet almond but the possibilities are endless)
  • 50ml nut/seed butters (I used a combination of mango, olive and avocado – you could use a combination or just one)
  • Essential oils of your choice (I used lavender and sweet orange)
  • Combine both ingredients in a top boiler or bain marie until everything has melted
  • Place in the fridge for an hour or so
  • Remove from the fridge and beat with a hand or electric whisk until light and fluffy
  • Add in your essential oils while beating (using around 30 drops of essential oil per 100ml)
  • Place in a jar and keep in a cool place

Et voilà!  Your very own luxurious body butter.

I’m now going to put my feet up and enjoy a slice of cake ♥

What are you creating this week?

Aromatherapy, essential oils & potions, Food, foraging & recipes

Summer recipe ~ Lavender and Ginger cookies

Lavender and Ginger CookiesAs part of my week-long blog to raise awareness of aromatherapy I thought I would go back to the raw ingredients themselves.  And because I felt like baking today, I decided to give you a delicious recipe for Lavender and Ginger cookies!

You will need:

  • 4½oz / 125g butter
  • 4oz / 110g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 6oz / 170g self raising flour
  • 1 level tablespoon dried lavender flowers
  • 1 level tablespoon chopped ginger

Method:

  1. Cream butter and sugar, add egg and beat well.
  2. Add lavender, ginger and flour and mix well.
  3. Roll dough into a sausage shape, wrap in greaseproof paper and freeze for 30 minutes
  4. Slice dough into cookies (should make about 30) and place on a greased baking tray
  5. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 20 minutes (Gas mark 3 / 170C)

Et voila!  A lovely batch of cookies.  Enjoy ♥

Celebrating Aromatherapy Awareness Week 9th-15th June

Aromatherapy, essential oils & potions, Food, foraging & recipes

Sleep easy with lavender hot chocolate

Trust an aromatherapist to be extolling the virtues of lavender yet again but trust me, this is definitely worth trying……

Lavender hot chocolate ~ delicious!
Lavender hot chocolate ~ delicious!

You will need:

  • 200ml of milk (regular or almond is good)
  • a sprinkling of culinary lavender seeds (around 1/2 level tspn)
  • 50g dark chocolate* (mine is 74% cocoa and I would recommend at least 60%)

Method:

  1. Place the milk in a small pan and add the lavender, heating gently.
  2. Once warm turn off the heat and allow the lavender to steep for five to ten minutes.  Stir often to avoid a skin forming.
  3. Add the chocolate and slowly heat again, whisking gently until all the chocolate is melted.
  4. Pour into your favourite cup or mug using a strainer to catch the lavender seeds.

Et voila!  Your very own lavender hot chocolate.

*I have gone with the French style of using pure dark chocolate and have kept the recipe chocolate heavy but this can be decreased according to taste.  You can also use pure cocoa powder and in this case may want to sweeten your hot chocolate with a teaspTea balloon of honey.

**To avoid messing around straining the hot chocolate at the end, you could put the lavender in a stainless steel tea ball and then just whip it out after you’ve steeped it in the milk pan for a while.

I would always use true lavender (lavandula angustifolia) to cook with for both the taste and herbal properties, but there are a number of varieties to choose from.  This webpage is nicely informative for those who are interested in using lavender in the kitchen.

What’s your bedtime drink of choice?  Leave me a comment and let me know.

Food, foraging & recipes

Why spring equinox is the perfect time to bake a tangy lemon cake

Sounds bizarre I know but with it being spring equinox today I did have plans to write a meaningful blog all about finding balance in our lives.  However it was not to be, as when I sat down this morning to write I was overtaken by an extreme case of bloggers block.  I could not construct a meaningful sentence and words failed me as I wrote and rewrote the same line over again.

After struggling for some time with increasing frustration I realised there was only one thing for it.  Abandon my blog and bake!  With an excess of lemons I decided on a “tangy lemon cake” and realised that in abandoning my blogging I had found an activity that required the perfect balancing act.

In order for lemon cake to work and be the wonderful taste sensation it can be, it can’t be too sweet or sour, it can’t be too wet or dry, it can’t be too light or heavy.  You see?  Like spring equinox a good lemon cake is all about balance!

So in pictures this is how I spent my morning……..  (Click on the first photo to open in a slide show)

So where does all this leave me with my mental meanderings?  It probably means another post at some point but in the meantime I’m going to relax a little, go with the flow and stop forcing things.  I’m going to try to do more of what I want and less of what I think I should do.  I’m going to trust my intuition a bit more and see what happens….

And if you were waiting to see the finished product, here it is!  A perfect way to celebrate spring equinox.

Tangy lemon cake

Are you celebrating the change of season?  Let me know how by leaving a comment.

If you are as mad about lemons as me you may also like these posts: Reasons to love lemons and Recipe for lemon curd and if you are interested in the cook book I used for this recipe you can find it here.

Food, foraging & recipes

Slow food Friday

Slow food Friday – beef and fennel slow cooked casserole
Slow food Friday – beef and fennel slow cooked casserole

There’s nothing quite like sitting in front of a roaring woodburner, cosy and protected from the freezing world outside, glass of wine in hand, idly reading a book and watching the dinner cook itself. Continue reading “Slow food Friday”

Food, foraging & recipes

Nettle soup for the soul

Picking stinging nettles and making lovely nettle soup, full of goodness that will give your immune system a boost before winter sets in.
Picking stinging nettles and making lovely nettle soup, full of goodness that will give your immune system a boost before winter sets in.

After recently posting a picture of nettle soup (see above) in Elizabeth’s top ten autumn activities, I’ve been asked for the recipe. Continue reading “Nettle soup for the soul”