Category Archives: Education

Last Week’s Gallivanting

It is still summer, English way of course! More clouds than sun with occasional rain. It did not stop us from making good of warm months though.

We did some tripping into a countryside and made use of our renewed National Trust membership. We went to Stowe for a Sunday walk. I saw it last time in winter and I got thrilled with its rolling landscapes in the summer with sheep grazing around. The gardens were lush –  we actually found a few mushrooms (edible ones) – it always amazes me here in England, that  the art of mushroom picking is long gone.

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Last week we did a long planned trip to Wimpole Estate – once owned by daughter of Rudyard Kipling and then gifted to National Trust after her death. It consist of the main house, farmyard and parkland with walled gardens. It showcases how such an estate like this was set up and worked. Therefore, you are able to visit the lady and lord of the manor house and how the housekeepers and other staff were living and working. Moreover, you can see some of the animals that were kept on the estate: pigs, mighty Shire horses, cattle or sheep etc.

I was impressed the most by the walled gardens: the abundance of colours, textures and smells. Having a summer in the full swing, there is a plenty of fruits already and the volume of flowering plants was simply stunning. There was a whole array of purples, reds, blues, yellows and air filled with the buzz of bees. Again, I admired skills of gardeners who created espaliered fruits trees: that combination of sculpture and usefulness. With a backdrop of the old red bricked wall, it brings home why British gardens, especially those of Victorian and Edwardian era are so admired and inspiring.

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Wimpole Estate is surrounded by beautiful parkland with a lake and folly ruins thrown in for good measure. Children enjoyed a lot the visit to a farmyard, especially they were keen to learn how to milk a cow and watching piglets feeding with a fascination.

On the rainy day, we  drove to Tring to visit Natural History Museum – it is a branch of the famous London one. This museum was created by Walter Rotschild, whose family lived nearby. His primary interest were natural sciences and studying animals, so he kept on collecting new specimens from all over the world until he dedicated himself completely to this. Eventually the size of the collection required to hire a few dedicated scientist to help to catalogue it. It was the one of the largest collections of that kind in the world and it turned into a private museum by the end of 19th century. It was given to the public on his death in 1937 and became a part of London Natural History Museum.

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Because it was a miserable rainy and windy day, the museum was packed up to the rafters with families and a few artists sketching away animals. The butterflies collection was astonishing along with beetles and odd ensemble of pet dogs. Tring museum has a vast assembly of birds, so all birdwatchers should visit for a valuable lesson.

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Last, but not least on Sunday, we ended up in Kew Gardens. The place my visiting sister wanted to see, so we braved it on the weekend in the perfect weather. Despite the volume of people, the gardens were magical and enchanting: I know it is man arranged setting, but it looks like Nature’s work only. We discovered the Princess of Wales Conservatory with its carnivorous plants, orchid gardens and fruiting bananas trees. We did the Tree Top Walk and it turned out to be nerve wrecking experience for the Big Son. The walkway was bursting with the visitors and that caused the structure to tremble and sway like the ship on the open sea. Experience was funny and bizarre, youngsters enjoyed it, some adults did not.

There you go, we were gallivanting last week.

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?!

 

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…

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.

Buy a Bitcoin

Finally we got around to buying a Bitcoin.

Now it seems like the time lost was money lost too. When the idea was first floated the price of one coin was less than £600, two months later, it’s above £800. Hesitate and lose.

Saying that, I am not going to put the house on Bitcoin. I think of it as a speculative spend and also the best way to get into cryptocurrency.

BigSon did his research and Coinbase came out as the best choice as a place to buy Bitcoins. He registered an account about a week ago. We hit a snag on the ID verification step because neither from the browser application, which we accessed on a Mac and on a PC, nor the mobile app, were we able to upload an ID photo.

I wrote to Support but no reply to date. A search revealed that the ID Verification on Coinbase is an issue and lots of people have gone to other sites as a result. Count us in.

We went back to the drawing board and came up with BitPanda and set about registering an account. It went smoothly. I got Google Authenticator which worked easily on the secure login process. Bitpanda can sell you Bitcoins and also store the record of all your account transactions in what is called a wallet.

Before buying the coin I got advise that it is best to keep a hardware wallet which gives you, the owner, more security than the one kept online by BitPanda or whichever seller you choose. So there was a delay while I ordered a Ledger Nano S from France. It got here after four days and by that time we were ready to buy our first Bitcoin.

Although we had an account registered with BitPanda, we weren’t able to purchase a Bitcoin until the ID Verification was done. BitPanda uses IDnow who get in touch with you via Skype and take photos of you and your ID during the call. We set an appointment time and on the dot, they called us. That did not take long and soon we were able to make the purchase.

Google Authenticator is needed again to verify the Bitcoin buyer. When we tried to pay, the transaction kept failing and the notice on BitPanda is in German. These days that is not so much a problem as you can easily do a search and get a translation so it was more of a laugh than a full stop. We had no clue why it was failing and soon gave up for the evening. Turns out there was a SMS on my phone from my bank asking if I am aware of such a transaction to another country and all I needed to do was reply YES or NO.

Back on the trail that same night, we finally were able to get the Bitcoin. From the BitPanda account you can see the value of the purchase as a credit.

We immediately plugged in the Nano S and transferred that value to the stick which acts as an account in itself. It is plugged into a computer and you can see the details of the account on the screen while navigating the page through buttons on the side of the memory stick.

After a while you can see the value has been transferred to your hardware wallet and when you check back in Bitpanda, the balance is now zero. It acts exactly like a transfer from one account to another. You get to secure your accounts on a private memory stick which is not only in your possession but is also secured with access credentials set by you.

It has been a long winded process with a lot of what looks like a palaver especially for a newbie. Everything looks like a step to undo what you have previously done. Thankfully BigSon was involved and for him this is as easy as a TV remote control.