Author Archives: seapol

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.

Batz sur Mer St Michel Beach

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.

Batz sur Mer coast

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.

 

Dunes Batz sur Mer

Windmill La Falaise Batz sur Mer

Salt Marshes Batz sur Mer

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…

Warsaw Archeology Museum, Europe in 500 BC

1922 Vintage Fire Engine

Vintage Fire Engine and more Vintage Crew

Vintage Fire Engine Minerva

Warsaw Geology Museum

Perisphinctes Fossils

Sulphur Sample

Dinosaur footprint

Giant Rock Salt Sample

Fearn footprints

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…

Printemps est ici!

I am glad for Winter to be over and the more sun and warm days that have arrived. Again we said our goodbyes with Marzanna and let her take the Winter away down the river waters.

I am excited to see young nettle shoots, I admire this stingy plant for it is so versatile: a herb, a cooking ingredient and source of fibres for fabrics. I am definitely itching to try cooking with them soon, I would like to try a nettle soup and a nettle bread. I happened to find a recipe for a nettle beer, olden days beverage as well. Now I need to put gloves on and go gathering.

I tried my hand at baking sourdough breads and embarked on making my own starter. I am still learning, we got very encouraging results: a rye bread was pretty close to breads I remember from my childhood in Poland with thick crunchy skin, moist dark inside, very aromatic and very moreish. One thing is sure: it requires patience and understanding that a sourdough bread is quite a temperamental creature. I will keep you posted shortly with a journal of our bread journey so far.

Spring is bringing our garden to life – herbs are ready for picking, alpine strawberries are already flowering, though it is too cold to expect any fruits as yet. Bees are busy with lobelia and apple trees are in the bloom as well, even rosemary bush is flowering.

In the autumn, Big Son and I started learning French at a weekly class and I am hoping to be able to speak more while in France over the summer.  The incentive of being able to strike a chat at a market is helping with birthing pains experienced. The feeling of excitement mixed with nervousness, as French holidays are approaching fast. But the class is fun, though work is serious if you want to make a progress.

Easter came and went, this year it was a low profile affair. We did not cook or bake too much as we planned to too see the World Endurance Championship in Silverstone. The race came to Britain to give us a glimpse into the historical 24 hours race that takes place every year in Le Mans, France. Silverstone’s race was six hours only, though even that was feeling long. I enjoyed the start, the roar of all cars taking off together and quickly the cars got split making it not easy to follow the race.

After spending some time on stands right opposite the pitstops, we took on leisurely walk along the track. Weather was kind enough, but hats and gloves were a must. Following the track allows you to experience the race and view the cars in all different angles and turns. While a radio commentary was constantly being broken by cars racing past, we saw many fans turned amateur photographers staking out vantage points to take photos. The day was good, but we cut it short to return home in time to tune into F1 race live broadcast from Bahrain. Lewis did not win this time.

As I said, we took this Easter easy in terms of food extravaganza. We planned and executed a plan of getting Alban Buns form St Albans Cathedral. We meant to try them for some time, but it was so popular that in past years, we were usually left empty handed. As you could see, this hunt was successful and we returned home loaded. Alban buns are said to be the predecessor of hot cross buns, created in the middle ages by the 14th century monk. The recipe is kept secret and every year during Lent until Easter Monday, buns are available at the Cathedral (if you are lucky). Each year different local bakery prepares the buns. These buns are spicy in a very good way, enriched with cardamons and currants and the cross is made with a knife without piping. Serve it warm with butter, it is very filling indeed.

April is the month to go on a bluebells hunt and we did exactly that in our old neck of woods in Hitchwood Lane. The place is fully blue and air is filled with scents of flowers. It is a very magical time of a year and passes quickly, so remember to make time to experience it. The English bluebell is a native species that is being threatened by the Spanish garden bluebells and it is illegal to collect them for sale. Enjoy the spring guys!

Petrie Museum Visit

Over the last weekend we visited the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archeology – it’s a part of London College University. The weather was fabulous, minus a strong wind, sunny streets busy with Londoners and tourists, so we took an enjoyable wander from St Pancras via back streets to Petrie Museum.

The Museum is tucked away in the campus itself and its entrance doors are the only modern addition to this Victorian era building. Once you start climbing up the stairs, you find yourself transported into the old times. It does not seems to change much since the exhibits were brought back from the vault after World War II. I really liked that very much, the scent and the dimmed light and the fact that so many exhibits still carry small hand written descriptions next to them.

The display cabinets were old fashioned too, doing their best to present the plentiful bounty of artefacts. Petrie Museum offers a very different experience of Ancient Egypt to the British Museum and do not think it is its poor cousin. While the British Museum offers you the glimpses of what is best known about Egypt’s past: the monumental architecture and sculptures and of course the Mummies and the exquisite burial goods, Petrie has an abundance of, maybe smaller and not so flashy but quite intimate items. It is one of the world’s top collection of Egyptian artefacts and you are able to view it in more intimate atmosphere as Petrie Museum is not crowded. It is very honest and probably more providing for those with keen interest in Egyptian history. Nevertheless, even those visitors who do not know much about Ancient Egypt will undoubtedly experience its fascinating, ever-changing and abundant story through the artefacts uncovered by archaeologists.

The museum was established in 1892 as a teaching facility to the Egyptian Archeology Department, opened the same year. The first items were donated by Amelia Edwards and its first professor William Flinders Petrie sold his collection, amassed during his excavations in Egypt, to the University college in1913. Then the collection became one of the most important ones in the world. Worth to remember is that only a small fraction of items is on display with the rest being kept in storage but available to view for a research purposes upon arrangement with museum.

Flinders Petrie, after whom the museum is named, was an interesting figure himself. He developed a method for dating excavated pots, but he also pioneered the procedures that became the basis of excavating archeological sites in a more thorough and scientific manner. It was not a hunt  for treasures but a methodological and scientific approach that was not popular before. He studied and recorded finds in the smallest details and trained many egyptologists, among them was Howard Carter who discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb. He also had interest in Palestine and carried out excavations over there as well.

Petrie drew controversies as he held pro-eugenic views and believed that ancient Egypt Pharaonic culture was not a product of people of African origins but was introduced by invading Caucasoic Dynastic Race from Mesopotamia. The theory is now in decline and DNA evidence does not show significant ancestry from Mesopotamia and cultural studies of Predynastic Archeology does not show any significant replacement of native culture. However it is still very sensitive topic carrying heavy emotional and political weight. Despite the polemic, we cannot deny Petrie’s achievements and legacy which greatly improved our knowledge and understanding of Ancient Egypt and allowed the development of modern archeology to the way it is today.

Petrie Museum occupies only one floor with the exhibition displayed throughout three rooms and offers quite an intimate atmosphere. You enter via a small reception and go straight into a corridor with display cabinets on both sides showcasing Egyptian steles with inscribed  texts. It was fascinating to notice how perfectly they were carved in stone, seemingly printed. There were also items used for teaching of the art like pieces of grid charts.

I very much enjoyed browsing the jewellery items like beautifully preserved rings or necklaces. There is a wealth of necklaces on display, all very delicate and intricately made of stones or shells. The finds became even more personal when I noticed a small rag doll adorned with a carved head and real hair with a few garment to dress her – little girls are little girls regardless when they lived, loving to play dressing their dolls.

There was quite a notable item: a pair of woollen socks with partition for toes and weaved from pieces to fit around an ankle comfortably – that item was looking quite modern and it is hard to believe it to be a couple thousands years old.

One reason I jumped at an opportunity to visit the museum was a five thousand years old clothing on display, the oldest from ancient Egypt. The Tarkhan Dress was excavated by Petrie himself in 1913, it was within linen cloth pile and was discovered by conservationists in V&A Museum in 1977 only. The dress was found inside out, probably pulled over the head and was worn as there are creasing at the elbows and around armpits. There is an interpretation that it was placed purposely in the tomb, but it is hard to make definite judgment. The artefact is very impressive, with delicate pleating around neck and on sleeves and it really caught my eye, because of my interest in old traditional clothing. The Tarkhan Dress is the earliest example of a tailored outfit – it was cut and fitted while other early examples of garment were wrapped or draped around. Here you find an article about dating the dress.

In the other cabinet, there were two small pieces of linen on display, small samples to admire the craftsmanship of ancient Egyptians and the quality of woven cloth. It was striking to notice that our traditional linen or ramie cloth is not too far removed from those examples of linen and those traditions are still being preserved.

There is one more famous object to view in Petrie Museum: Bead Dress. It was excavated in 1923-24 and reconstructed in 1994-95. Immediately it fired imagination of researchers who assumed it was worn by a dancer and beads producing a rattling sound with every movement of a wearer. It was assumed that it would fit a girl aged about 12 and was worn on naked body. However, when a clothing consultant made a replica, the theory was crushed: the dress was too heavy to be worn straight on the naked skin. Moreover, it turned out it actually could fit women of all shapes. However, we can still enjoy the tale about King Sneferu, who ordered twenty young women to row a boat, naked and dressed in nets only, the story that inspired the theory in the first place. Though the real Bead Dress appears to be funerary item.

The afternoon spent in Petrie Museum was enjoyable and drew my attention to the fact that through those smaller but not less important artefacts one could better comprehend that Ancient Egypt was not predominantly those monumental pyramids, temples or tombs. It was history weaved through thousand of years by people who hardly left its mark there and left behind small clues of what life there was like. The archeological finds could confuse us at times bringing more questions than answers. But it does not take away the emotional load from the very personal items I saw in the museum, imagining how precious and important they must have been once and now with its owner long gone, they still make me curious about that past world.