Saturday 28 June 2014

Utterly simple wholemeal bread recipe for breadmakers

As promised earlier today on Google+, this is the second in a slew of recipe posts I'm
The best wholemeal bread 
publishing this weekend. Dave will be pleased! (That's sarcasm by the way!)

About six weeks ago, I blogged my first bread attempt in years. It was successful enough, in that we ate most of the loaf before it got too dry, but it wasn't perfect. Today's attempt was based on a much simpler recipe which has only five ingredients - or six if you count each of the flours. I had tried this one a couple of weeks ago but didn't put all the salt in as I was trying to be healthier. This was an error. It needs all the salt.

1 cup of lukewarm water
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
3 cups strong flour (I used 1.5 cups each of plain white and wholemeal)
1 sachet dried yeast (I used the Co-op's own brand)

I put everything in our Morphy Richards Breadmaker in the order stated above, then set it for a 1.5lb loaf of white bread with a light crust. The whole time taken was 2 hours and 53 minutes if that helps to identify a similar setting on your machine.

The bread was delicious! Absolutely perfect!

Steamed porridge recipe

I am being quite the domestic goddess this morning! The breadmaker is whirring away
Steamed porridge with jam 
creating a different version of wholemeal bread to this previously blogged one. There's a saucepan of soup simmering on the hob. And I've eaten a surprisingly good bowl of porridge for breakfast - I say surprising, not because it tasted of anything other than porridge, but because I experimented by cooking it in the steamer.

We have taken the microwave oven out of Bailey because, despite having learned how to microwave pasta and rice, this wasn't particularly successful or convenient and we didn't use it for much else while travelling. At 11kg, removing it frees up weight and space for other hopefully more useful gadgets - which is where our compact Russell Hobbs Steamer comes in.

Another recent post was this steamed saffron turkey and I saw porridge in the same excellent little book, Steaming! by Annette Yates. One of Dave's regular breakfasts is Quaker Oatsos but they're not sold in Spain so he had to do without last winter and I've been vaguely hoping to stumble across an equally easy alternative. Annette's recipe is for two portions so I just made up half for me today.

25g porridge oats
150ml dairy or plantbased milk
1tsp sugar
1tbsp jam

Place the oats, milk and sugar into the bowl you plan to eat from and place the bowl, uncovered, into the steamer.
Steam for 15 - 20 minutes, stirring half way through.
When porridge has thickened, Remove bowl from steamer, stir again and then stir in jam (or syrup etc) if liked.

Annette said to steam for 15 minutes and perhaps this would be fine with the plastic bowl that does rice in the steamer. However as I used a cold ceramic bowl and milk from the fridge, mine took 20 minutes. The porridge doesn't dry out so doesn't stick to the bowl like it would to a saucepan and the steamer baskets just need a quick rinse. Easy!

By the by, the jam pictured is homemade (not by me!) Strawberry and Lavender which is delicious and came from the Renee White Community Garden in Eastbourne.

P.S. (edited 28/4/15) In trying to use up storecupboard pots getting close to their use-by dates I discovered that adding a sprinkle of Waitrose orange and lemon peel to the porridge at the beginning of steaming or saucepan cooking gives a delicious citrusy flavour to my breakfast. And I haven't needed to add any sugar with it!

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Oedipus The King by Sophocles / Ishmael by Mary Elizabeth Braddon / The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain

Ishmael by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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My copy of Ishmael was another of the books I downloaded from ForgottenBooks, recommended in their daily email. It was highly praised and rightly so.

Set mostly in Paris from the 1840s to the 1860s, Ishmael primarily tells the story of Sebastien Caradec who is born to a woman of failing circumstances and strives to make his place in the world under his own steam. The novel includes lots of detail of both society living and extreme poverty of the period. Fascinating descriptions and several grotesque characters bring the seedier aspects of Paris to life. The complicated political situations are also vital to the story as the city undergoes a major change during the decades.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed Ishmael. The writing is dated in its style but fits with the period of the novel so this adds to the atmosphere. Sebastien is a perfect romantic leading man and I was intrigued to discover the lives of the people surrounding him. Perhaps Ishmael's only fault would be that it began to feel overlong with about a hundred pages to go, but then picked up pace again towards the satisfying conclusion.

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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My version of The Postman Always Rings Twice was an Audible download read by Stanley Tucci whose style very much reminded me of Matt Dillon's reading of On The Road. TPART is a crime novella so there isn't a great deal of character development. Frank is a drifter who stumbles into a casual job and takes a shine to the owner's wife. Said wife, Cora, married to escape her previous life but doesn't like the one she's ended up in either. I didn't find them sympathetic at all until the point where Cora starts believing that she can make a go of the diner.

The intricate plotting of TPART is great fun to unravel so I mostly enjoyed the story for this reason. I wasn't convinced by Frank and Cora's frequent declarations of love though and this resulted in an interesting conundrum. Did either really care about the other or were they confusing need and want for deeper emotion?

View all my reviews on Stephanie Jane or on Goodreads

Monday 23 June 2014

I went to an Oxford College

Only for an afternoon, but I thought it would make an eye-catching post title!
Sculpture at Balliol College, Oxford,
 commemorating 30 years of
women's inclusion. 

We visited Dave's family in Bristol over the weekend, taking the opportunity to stop off in Oxford on the way. I'd not been to the city before and it certainly is impressive. The many grand buildings are made of yellow coloured stone and their facades are beautifully preserved. As well as wandering around the streets, we also saw the Martyr's Memorial to Thomas Cranmer and the Protestant Bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, put to death at the stake by the Catholic Queen Mary. Having read about this period of history recently in Monarchy and Elizabeth, both by David Starkey, it was fascinating to see where the event actually took place.

Being so close by, we chose Balliol College to tour around. Several of the historic colleges are open to us plebians in the afternoons! We saw the chapel, the dining room - complete with full organ just like a church and uncomfortable looking wooden benches. A great education doesn't necessarily mean a pleasant lunch. Three students were playing croquet on the lawn in the sunshine which was amusing to see. The pictured sculpture commemorates thirty years of women being allowed to study at Balliol. A step forwards no doubt, but a bit depressing to learn that this thirtieth anniversary was in 2009 so the first women only arrived there within my lifetime.

Saturday 14 June 2014

Review: Monarchy by David Starkey / The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan

Monarchy: from the Middle Ages to Modernity by David Starkey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I remember reading Monarchy when it first was published and it is cram packed with information. However, there is so much that this second reading seven years later felt like a new book.

I like David Starkey's writing style which is often drily humorous. Having recently also read his book solely about Elizabeth I, much of the early section was familiar. However, he gives plenty of space to the shorter reigned monarchs and I was very interested in how much of the 'divine' hereditary succession was actually the result of political wrangling behind the scenes. The seemingly incessant violent disputes between the opposing Christian factions of Catholics and Protestants was in some respects hard to fathom - they're all supposed to be the same overall faith aren't they?!

As non-fiction books of this topic go, Monarchy is far more accessible than many and, as an overview or to inspire more in depth study, I'd recommend the read. 

The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of my WorldReads from Australia

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The Unknown Terrorist is a fairly standard thriller which employs the mass media and an unscrupulous journalist as its evil. Our supposed heroine, Gina, also named throughout as The Doll, is hounded to madness over the period of just a few days by drummed up hysteria and the cynical machinations of anonymous powerful men in suits.

I was interested in the descriptions of Sydney, having never been to Australia. However, Flanagan's vision of the city is hardly tourist friendly! I liked his frequent mentions of the various immigrant populations, showing a country made up of many layers of cultures, much like Britain, and the way this was set against rampant hostility towards Muslims was also sadly familiar as this attitude is also widespread over here. The main characters never leapt from the page for me though which made it difficult for me to really invest in their story.

I'm not sure this book had decided what it wanted to be. It doesn't have the pace-at-all-costs approach of slick American thrillers, but the occasions where it tries for literary fiction fail too because of their isolation. My audio version was nicely narrated and passed a week of bus journeys, but I had hoped for a deeper novel and was ultimately a bit disappointed.

View all my reviews on Stephanie Jane or on Goodreads

Sunday 8 June 2014

Trying out the new tow bar and failing to walk

Eastbourne and Wealden Walking Festival flyer 
In spite, or perhaps because, of the fabulously hot sunshine today, we completely failed to go for a walk this afternoon. We meant too, but somehow the prospect of lazing in the garden with a good book was far more enticing. I can't imagine why! Dave's now gripped by Precious Thing by Colette McBeth, the thriller I reviewed a while ago, and I tore through Niedermayer and Hart by M J Johnson, a supernatural thriller that I discovered via Twitter. (Full review coming in a few days.)

But while we're not talking about walking, the photo illustrating this post is of a cute card boot flyer advertising Eastbourne and Wealden's Walking Festival at the end of September. There was a bag of them on the noticeboard at work. It's going to be a nine day extravaganza of all things stroll related so make sure you get into training now! I'm pretty sure Dave and I will be long gone by then which is a shame, but we'll be walking in solidarity in Spain, I'm sure!

Yesterday we went to visit Bailey who looked a bit sorry for himself. However, after we'd borrowed the water hose and got out the car shampoo, he was almost as shiny as new. We also hitched up to the new tow bar on the new car to make sure all that works ok. It's a swan neck this time so a bit different but still simple enough to negotiate. EuroTow did a good job - again. Hopefully we won't keep visiting them every year though. Other new toys we tried out were both gas related - a Gaslow connector with a gauge for the Calor gas bottles and a proper fitting for the big Spanish gas bottle so we can now actually use it. Woo hoo!

Current +eBay auctions that might interest you include fishing gear, a tall bookcase and two big books about the Second World War. Auction ticker thing at the end of the post - it's all got to go eventually.

Monday 2 June 2014

Going to see Sam Baker on a school night

Sam Baker in Lewes All Saints Centre
photo by Rebecca Kemp 
What's more, not just any school night but the Sunday night before my first full week's working since September. Some people might almost call such hedonism foolhardy, but it was so worth it! And 'late home' was only just gone 11pm so it's not like we were dancing until dawn. I did have to miss out on my +Horlicks though.

Sam Baker is a fascinating musician. Partially deaf and with a damaged hand as a result of a terrorist bomb, he has a unique vocal delivery and playing style. Both have matured in maybe half a dozen years since we went to our first of his gigs. He's scrubbed up pretty well since then too. Sadly Sam wasn't accompanied by the wonderful pianist Chip Dolan for last night's gig, but he still put in two full sets of beautiful songs. I loved the version of Thursday and he also played my all-time favourite, Boxes. He is a chatterbox and the segues between songs were very funny, a few of them even intentionally so. Sorry, Sam! His humour contrasts with the often stark images in his songs which frequently portray despondent people, defeated by their lives. I always find a Sam Baker gig to be an emotional evening.

Last night was at the All Saints Centre in Lewes and the gig was put on by Union Music Store who get some fantastic Americana musicians to the town. All Saints is a bit of a weird venue, good acoustics but not always great for atmosphere as it's very dependent on the number of people there. Yesterday was practically sold out, seated and intense acoustic music which worked well. When we saw Larkin Poe there last year, it wasn't full enough so the gig didn't really work. I digress. There's only seven dates left on Sam's current UK tour and then your next chances to see him this year are in Canada. I hear tell he'll be back in the UK next summer though. Looking forward to it already!