On H&S or When you’re Officially Grown Up

Our 14 year old teenager got himself a big 58” frame bike: he and the bike are very tall – runs in the paternal side of the family. Being tall I mean.

Becoming a new owner to a second hand Boardman bike was a bit of palaver. Since Saturday he managed to strangely lock in a chain into a wheel (professional repair required) and got super puncture in the (puncture proof) kevlar tyre. We start to think he should play a lottery with his peculiar luck!

Having learn to repair punctures for a good while now and doing that for the whole family already, he went off on foot (no bike) tagging along his younger brother, to the nearest Halford shop to purchase a repair kit. We already ran out of tube patches for this month – that luck again!

Halford sells tube repair patches, we all know it. Well, Big Son returned home empty handed: I thought they were out of tube repair kits as well, what a bummer!

“The kit contains a solvent, Mommy, and they didn’t sell it to me because I’m too young”. Apart from him being obviously vexed and still with no bike to ride, I was gobsmacked. “What??” I asked.  True: because the kit contains a solvent, he was not allowed to buy it. Too dangerous. Yup, repairing the tube puncture is dangerous business, you parents!

I am, really; when did we allow some ridiculous regulations to take over the commons sense instead?!

I was once quite baffled by a notice in a local gymnastics club’s kitchen: no under 16s are allowed to make themselves a cup of tea from a hot water machine. Most of teenagers are quite capable of doing it without suffering any burns. I found it silly: being overly protective and treating nearly adults like babies.

Shaking my head. Making our task of bringing up independent and responsible young men, who are learning life skills, like small DIY jobs, so much more difficult.

Am I alone in thinking that it is one absurd rule?!

 

Back Home to the Watery Skies of England…

It is been a few weeks since the last post because we were away in France and we experienced technical troubles. Anyway, holidays is the time to let things loose, to unwind and let stories unravel. We returned enriched by experiences, nicely bleached by sea, sun and wind, and brought along plenty of memos to rejoice when the weather turns skies grey.

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Although I am hankering to feel a sea breeze again, I am thrilled with the most exciting thing we brought back: we met with a couple of local French salt producers. Moreover, we secured our first batch of the fleur de sel de Guerande along with the sea salt called Sel Gris. The boxes of salts travelled back with us to the UK and are ready to get posted to the connoisseurs of salt. How wicked is that?!

At the moment we are gearing up towards an opening of our online shop, and in the free time I am flipping through the photos, sorting out the treasure trove of sea shells and glass shards, and recalling even more precious gems: stories and people we came across there. It was a privilege, pleasure and such an inspiration to meet welcoming French, Breton and German Paludiers for a good measure. There is not a bad memory I have came away with and that unique wild piece of coast of Brittany definitely get a hold of my heart. I shall be back soon!

I am anxious to see how things will unfold while I am planning and working on the new ideas. You could never guess where one chance visit and discovery could lead you. We spent a week in Sarzeau a couple years ago and definitely wanted to return. The house was a new house with all the mod cons but unfortunately that was taken off the rental market. That though turned out to be a turn of luck.

Michel Roux Jr presented the Craftman’s Dinner series and in it highlighted a smoked salmon that was done with Fleur de Sel de Guerande. When we researched the area it turned out to be just down the road from Sarzeau and houses were available for short term rentals. We took a beautiful place right on the cliff top and spent the first vacation there getting to know the rugged coast and enjoying the taste of the local natural salt in almost everything from pastries to watermelons.

When we tried it on scrambled eggs, we were hooked. Scrambled eggs never tasted so good. Since then we have been cooking with that initial stock we brought back and for a few lucky friends, the taste of food salted with Fleur de Sel is now a must-have.

This year we returned for more and plan to bring this extraordinary taste back to the UK for more friends and hopefully new customers.

Merci Beaucoup Cote Sauvage, Batz sur Mer et Guerande! Tres tres belle presquile!

Summer Solstice 2017

Over the years we grew our own family tradition to mark and celebrate the passing of the Summer Solstice. On this longest day of the year, our bunch will get out of our beds very early to catch the sunrise, wherever we happen to be.

It is the promise of Summer and its long warm days and evenings and adventures ahead, but for us it is also the start of the new family year. We do look back and total the 12 months that passed: all good happenings and misadventures; things we planned and accomplished; the plans that got changed – as they do; life’s lessons; shortcomings and ageing.

While time is relentless and the calendar makes a full circle, life keeps on going: just looking at the pace our children are growing brings home the truth that there is lots of noise around and so keeping the bunch tight together and straight and narrow is paramount.

The last few Summer Solstices, we spent on the Brittany south coast, which is one of our favourite places: tranquil and picturesque with a wild rocky coast. The Atlantic Ocean with its tides in and out, is a perfect illustration of Nature and Life’s rhythms. Even, when there is no sign of sun for the Solstice’s dawn, it may well bless you later. You just need to get up and turn up for the spectacle.

I ponder what changes and challenges lie ahead of us until the next longest day, but with summaries and new plans and hopes taking shape, there is no time to beat yourself about shortcomings. Be aware of all, be robust and vigilant, make your own luck and enjoy the life that sun brings.

Please enjoy some photos of our trip so far.

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Bayeux Tapestry

We are holidaying in France now, blessed with perfect weather. We had a short stopover in Normandy in Caen and went to visit the nearby town of Bayeux to view the famous Bayeux Tapestry.

The town itself is a beautiful place, dotted with picturesque buildings, cafes and an impressive cathedral. The dedicated museum displays the Tapestry, which shows the story of the Norman Conquest of Britain by William the Conqueror. From the winner’s point of view, of course, as it was commissioned by William’s half brother.

It very much is like a medieval movie, it is that good. Plenty of meticulous details, lots of action going on, good and bad guys, plenty of horses and knights, feasts and the build up to the battle. The quality and craftsmanship of embroidery is gobsmacking. With all that action, I almost missed the famous depiction of the King Harold with the arrow in his eye.

While  you browse the Tapestry, you can listen the audio, a very good one in this case. I would highly recommend visiting this place, we were all impressed and amused. I can only imagine what impression it must have given to people centuries ago!

To make the visit more memorable, we had the wonderful petit dejeuner in the Bistro De La Galette. The service and welcome we received was outstanding, definitely recommended and I shall return there if ever I’m in that neck of woods again!

Le nuit des musées / Noc Muzeów

Museums’ Night event or Le Blanc Nuit as it is known as well is organised each year and visitors are able to visit plenty of museums, galleries and places of interest for free in many cities and towns across Europe. Last weekend, on 20 May 2017, it took place in Warsaw, know as Noc Muzeów.

This is not an event in London, maybe because main museums here are mostly free of charge. I find it is a great and thoughtful way to encourage people to come round  and discover what is happening in their neck of woods. I was amazed by the effort put into making everybody welcomed and entertained.

It is a very well known event, so you might have to queue sometimes in more popular places. At times, you need to plan ahead and book an entry if a place is in demand . It is often an unique opportunity to visit establishments usually not open to public.

That weekend, we happened to be in Poland, Warsaw, so we took opportunity and went to Geological Museum of State Geology Institute, Central Fire Station and Archeology Museum. The weather was absolutely marvellous and a late night stroll through the vibrant city was a pure pleasure.

Photo journal below…

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In Pursuit of a Sourdough Starter

Couple of years ago, I had that craving for a traditional rye sourdough bread that I remember devouring, still hot, smeared with a slash of butter. That bread came from our local bakery and the baker was known in the area for doing bread the traditional way with his own sourdough starter. In the bakery, you could buy a borsch starter as well. That was back in the day in Poland, in my childhood.

Since then, buying a good bread even in Poland is a task. Here in the UK, breads are different, made with processed and fortified flour, quite light and without a substantial crust. I stopped eating mass produced breads for a good while now and I feel better for it.

Although craving for childhood treats did not go away. Therefore, I sourced some rye flour, scoured the internet for a rye bread recipe and I made a starter. I nursed it and fussed over the bread dough. The result was a disappointment to say the least. The bread rose, then it sunk and remained raw inside. I was gutted and discouraged from taking on bread baking for a while. I went back to baking quick breads with yeast in the bread machine every now and then.

Since then, artisan breads and bakeries are cropping up and I thought again of sourdough rye bread. I needed a good starter recipe, so I asked around and few people knew roughly how to do itS but it was quite superficial knowledge and each person giving me sometimes contradictory tips. I went online, there is such an abundance of recipes that it could be dizzyingly confusing.

I went through a few and I decided to follow two to see which works better. I used one recipe for wholemeal rye flour and another for all purpose flour but I preferred the mentioned rye flour.
I found organic wholemeal rye flour in a local Polish shop. The wholemeal rye flour is known in Poland as “razowa” flour, meaning it was milled only once and it contains whole grains providing all minerals and vitamins from a grain. It is the best source of yeasts for your starter, as yeasts live freely on grains.

Both recipes were following a similar method, you need to mix roughly the same amount of flour and filtered water with a wooden spoon, leave it to stand for 24 hours covered with a kitchen towel in the stable room temperature. Temperature is important, because when it is too cold the process slows down and when it gets too hot your wild yeasts most likely will produce more alcohol, making the starter unsuitable for a bread making.

It is wise to start with a small amount of a starter, if anything goes wrong, you simply discard a batch and start over again. Once the starter is well established, you can keep it in a fridge and feed it a bit more before a planned bread baking. Do remember to retain a small batch of starter after each baking for future use. Simply, you store it in a fridge and feed it every couple of days. In case it fermented too much, discard most of it and feed the starter as that should fix the issue.

The idea sounds simple, so why most people cannot be bothered or if they are bothered, why do things go wrong? Starter is a living animal, reacting to humidity and temperature. It needs wholemeal flour, rye is the best as rye grains are populated with natural wild yeasts and that promotes a good growth. Besides, breads made with such a starter have a taste and quality that baker’s yeasts breads are unable to provide. Baker’s yeasts speed up the process while dough made with a starter needs time to grow. It rewards your patience and perseverance with that unique flavour – I love to open the cupboard and smell that sourish yeasty aroma from the bread. Additionally, sourdough breads keep fresh for longer.

The wholemeal rye flour is the best source of yeast and bacteria to make your starter do the job. The rye flour makes it easy to maintain a starter in between bakings as well – it requires feeding every couple of days and extra feeding ahead baking. Yeasts live on the outside of a grain so the white rye flour might not do as good job as the whole grain. Its smell is pleasant and it stirs easily.

It is important to keep your station clean, use clean utensils and glass jars, wooden spoons preferably and handle things with clean hands. In case you introduced unfriendly bacterias into your starter, you will notice a strong, rancid smell or change in a colour. In such case, you will have to discard all the starter and start all over again.

Returning to my starter palaver, on the second day I noticed few air bubbles in one of the starters, though it did not double as it was mentioned in the recipe. Still, I fed both of them. You feed it equal amount of water and rye flour, stir with wooden spoon and leave it it to rest on your counter, away from direct sun. I give it about 40 grams of water and flour respectively. In case, the starter goes berserk, you will not lose too much ingredients and at the beginning you will be throwing away some of it before feeding it anyway. Besides it is easy to make extra more starter if you plan on baking more breads.

The following day, I saw more action, but starters were still kind of slow, so I discarded about half of each starter and fed them again and I repeated the process the next day. I think a reason behind them being slow, was unusually cold days. You just need to be patient with your “baby” at times.
After six days, it was time for starters to be well established, but the starter which was the most promising, started to produce too much alcohol, so I discarded about 3/4 of it and fed it again. Unfortunately, the next day there was no improvement. However, the other starter matured and became quite lovely with musky smell and plenty of air bubbles. I still tried to save the ailing starter, but the next day I had to discard it. The starter which was slow to begin with, proved to be a winner.

My starter seems to be doing better and better with each baking. I guess I’ve learnt a lot from the whole process too: you cannot follow every recipe to the letter and panic too early. The climate and environment you are able to provide is very important. The whole sourdough business is a slow process and requires planning ahead, perseverance and patience.

Whole rye flour is highly recommended, as it keeps starter well out of trouble even if you forget to feed it for a couple of days: just discard most of it and feed it to give it a boost. Other vital ingredients is filtered water, so no tap water as it could contain chlorine.

When you are setting up a new starter, feeding or some call it refreshing, is an important step to establish healthy starter colony. You will need to throw away a half or 3/4 of a starter before each feeding. This way yeasts will get extra boost to multiply and it also dilutes any alcohol and acid which is byproduct of a fermentation process so the yeasts will not get killed off by it.

You can store the starter in a fridge, just feed it each week, leave it on a counter for few hours or overnight before returning to a fridge. If you keep a starter on a counter, feed it more often. Keep it more thick-paste like, as it slows the process, more water speeds it up.

Last but not least, have fun baking and sampling breads. Do not shy away from experimenting with different flours and recipes. It is very homely to smell a fresh sourdough bread. The flavours it gives away are the ultimate reward for the time and patience it requires.

 

To make a starter you will need:

  • 40g wholemeal rye flour
  • 40ml filtered or bottled water
  • Clean glass jar and kitchen towel to cover
  • Combine water and flour together with a wooden spoon. Leave the jar on the counter away from the sun, in a place with a stable temperature.
  • On a second day, discard a half of mixture and feed the starter again with 40 g of flour and 40 ml of water.
  • Repeat these steps on the 3rd day. You should notice air bubbles in the starter already. You will need to repeat these steps for next 3 to 4 days until you will see your starter alive and well with plenty of air bubbles and smelling musky. It should be ready by then to use in baking.

The next stage is to bake a bread with it, a rye sourdough bread episode will follow shortly…