Category Archives: Food

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…

Cazabon at Belmont

Belmont is a neighbourhood, just east of Port of Spain in Trinidad, bordering the Queen’s Park Savannah, the large central park located at the north end of the city. Belmont is a collection of tight lanes with houses pressed close to their front gates. It is a great place to live and be close to all that the capital city has to offer including the national Carnival that precedes Lent.

IMG_20160409_213656Belmont House in Kent, England, is the home of the Harris family. The third Lord Harris was the governor of Trinidad and Tobago between 1846 to 1853. In Port of Spain today there is Lord Harris Square and in San Fernando, the second largest city, there is Harris Promenade. He was married to a Trinidadian and their son later became a famous cricket captain of England.

I learned of Belmont House through some research done by Mrs FTF on a painter I mentioned to her some years ago, Jean Michel Cazabon. Cazabon is considered one of Trinidad’s first internationally known artists. I’ve always admired his landscapes and I had a book showcasing his work when I lived in Trinidad. It turns out that Lord Harris was a patron of the artist and owned a sizable collection of his work. Many of those pieces are now kept at Belmont House.

With the daughter in Warsaw for two weeks, we took the four-seater Mito for a round trip through Kent. There was a tour of Belmont House early in the afternoon and we were unusually on time after taking the long way around London on the M25 via Gatwick Airport. It was my silent protest to the Dartcharge and a chance to see rarely visited areas of Kent. The rain made the drive slow but the views were great as many parts of the road ran along high valley sides.

We made an impromptu stop at the Beacon restaurant. Everyone was cramped from being curled up the last two hours. The building is located atop the side of a valley that was at the time of our arrival shrouded in mist. The interior was beautiful and as we had the place to ourselves, we all enjoyed walking around taking in the paintings and other design features. The snack was tasty although it was the smallest machiato I ever had. By the time we left, the skies cleared and the view across the valley was truly restful.IMG_20160409_125140

Belmont House was cold so we kept our coats on and with Little One on my back we followed the group tour around the house. It was a tiny group and the entire exercise had an intimate air. The house is small as stately homes go and we appreciated this because we had had enough after an hour, the length of the tour. The group knew from the start we were there to see the paintings so when we got to the room with the largest collection, everyone stopped and insisted I go in first.

A full set of water colours were on display in the master bedroom. Very delicate, very beautiful. To see these views of the island in the late 19th century always creates a sense of nostalgia, especially when you recognise a location. I was allowed to stay back and take in the collection if I wanted to. I declined as I knew there were more in other rooms and the guide was very knowledgeable. I did not want to miss a tidbit.

Downstairs, just off the main entrance hall where the last Lord Harris was known to have his afternoon tea, was the best piece, View of Port of Spain from the East

March and Winter End

The whole of March we just couldn’t wait for Spring to arrive, it seemed to take ages this year to appear. We had a birthday celebration this month and we marked the beginning of Spring with “Topienie Marzanny”.

IMG_20160305_112637Early March, the daughter turned 7 and for this occasion she asked for a strawberry cake and small gathering of girlfriends. We have a local Polish shop selling very flavoursome frozen strawberries. I mixed them with mascarpone and Big Son sandwiched the cake with it and Daughter decorated the birthday cake herself. Girlie Wirlie was very proud of herself and we all enjoyed a glimpse of summer, but as it’s England, on that day it snowed again!

This year, we’ve made the effort to celebrate Spring Equinox. “Topienie Marzanny” is the Polish pagan tradition of saying farewell to Winter on the Spring Equinox with dropping Marzanna into the rivers, so it carries away Winter with it as it flows to the sea. Traditionally children would make a doll with straw, dress it up with scrap cloth or now tissue paper, make some hairdo or head gear, just letting the children’s creativity speak. Then you’d take the doll to the nearest stream or river. Sometimes the doll is set on fire before being dropped into water, but we gave it a skip due to H&S issues.IMG_20160305_135725

The day was sunny enough, the children quickly assembled the doll and adorned it with quite unruly hair made of golden, glossy tape secured with a staple. Girlie Wirlie threw it into river Lea which flows through a nearby village. It was quite quick affair so we hardly caught any photo of it. So that was it: out first Spring Equinox!IMG_20160320_153056

This month the children continued star gazing, with Big Son finishing an online course on the Night Sky: Orion and we all joined the local astronomical society one evening to observe the Moon and Saturn. We saw a close up of the Moon’s craters and a bit of Saturn’s rings which looked a lot like a small line across the planet.

The new telescope is still a fascinating tool to watch night skies or planes landing at the nearby airport. Big Son became very enthusiastic about astronomy, ticking off from the winter and spring sky maps planets he observed. He gets quite upset when cloudy nights prevent him from gazing the sky.

So here we are now, end of March, Easter done and my mother and sister who were here for Easter have now gone back home. I’m looking forward to the warmer days, more sun, more fun and new projects I’ll be putting my teeth in. I can truly say, we deserve to enjoy the Spring! So do you 🙂IMG_20160329_133425

Christmas Wishes / Wesolych Swiat!

Christmas is fast approaching and it’s a special time in a family’s life. Our tight knit pack savours all preparations and traditions we carry with us from childhood or new traditions we started ourselves here in the UK.

IMG_20151209_125458It’s the season to give time and attention to each other, spend time crafting home decorations, putting up the Christmas tree – our case is hopeless as children insist on having a tree once we changed the calendar to December.

We are a mix of traditions and cultures: Polish, Trinidadian and British. We pick and choose the sweetest ones and make it ours. But the most important thing is that Christmas is about the excitement of having a couple of days together that are going to be slow and that we enjoy. Exploring presents amongst a sea of wrapping paper, lots of sofa hugs, indulging in the homemade treats we cooked together, taking a walk or simply snuggling under blankets to watch sun setting across the valley.IMG_20151224_102142

In early December, Big Son starts to pester me to make a list of food we’re going to cook for our big dinner on Christmas Eve – Wigilia. It’s a traditionally Polish night with nine, eleven, twelve or thirteen dishes for good luck. We’ve simplified it over the years, mastering the art of balance, to not overindulge our bodies with pierogis, mushroom soup or millets. In Poland just before the dinner, we traditionally share a blessed wafer bread and Christmas wishes. That’s the Polish part.

We start the dinner with British crackers and hats as we continue feasting on Polish delicacies of Wigilia. Pierogi is definitely the hit and the children every year are taking on a bigger part in preparing them with me. The fun, little spats, all the fuss of the day or two before Christmas.

The Trini part on Christmas Eve is the music, Parang, and the black cake which we order from a Tobago friend.

In my childhood in Poland, we used to get presents right after the Wigilia dinner. Here, our children wait for Santa to drop gifts at night, so on Christmas Day morning we can have the best kind of mess in our living room – full of wrapping paper, toy boxes, surprises, excitement and laughter.

The brunch on Christmas Day is the Trini style: ham with piccalilli and homemade hops rolls and leftovers from Wigilia, rounded up with the rich black cake.

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But the most important thing is that we spend that time together. Christmas is about giving each other love, time, attention and care. We love to catch up with the family, friends far away, watch the children playing with new toys, enjoy presents that were chosen thoughtfully with love or stretch the legs on a brisk walk.

It is quite tranquil and calm in England that day, while people are tucking in the Christmas Day lunch amongst their dear ones. I find it very special and soothing to have the paths, streets or parks to yourself. The true Christmas aura, even if we do not have snow here.

Merry Christmas and Wesolych Swiat!

Van Houten Cacao for sale!

Dutch Cocoa 100% available from Ftfoutlet on eBay

Van Houten Cocoa

I rediscovered an old classic cacao this year. Van Houten cacao was the one we used to make hot cocoas, desserts and cakes in my childhood. It was the 100% of pure goodness in times, when you can hardly find in shops a bar trying to mimic real chocolate – (my childhood was at the end of the communist era in Poland with shortages of nearly everything).

The Van Houten family traditionally made cocoa by a process they invented. Later, they invented the Dutching or Dutch method, where cocoa powder is treated with alkaline salts, making it darker and milder. This made it possible to create a chocolate or hot cocoa, by blending with milk or water easily.

It all makes Van Houten cacao perfect for patisseries, baking or making traditional cocoa drink. It is mild and creates a rich and velvety drink – our family’s favourite treat. I was fortunate to spot the old brand and now I’m sharing the good news with you.

I found it again in the French shop this year and we fell for its dark colour and richness. We decided to bring with us some of this goodness straight from France. We found Van Houten cacao to surpass in taste the chocolate or cacao available here in the UK.

Van Houten 100% Cocoa for Sale

Van Houten 100% Cocoa for Sale

It comes in boxes of 250g, no sugar added, with the traditional Van Houten logo. Just as I remembered it from my childhood. I’ve set up the FTF eBay shop and you can now buy it here.

French Children’s Menu

We visit France every year, either we are just driving through or holidaying there. We enjoy French food and we eat as locals as much as possible and absorb the way the French do it. Including the way families treat their mealtimes in restaurants.

I never was keen on the idea of children’s version of menus in restaurants – all have more or less the same stuff, boring and not healthy. You know what I mean: chicken nuggets, spaghetti, sausages, chips, french fries etc. The kind of food we hardly eat in our home (well most of it anyway), it implies as well that children can eat only limited type of foods and anything outside comfort zone will cause the riots and spoils the family meal.

IMG_20150625_201541I wonder why and when it crept in; is it the way our children eat at homes or schools rather? Why restaurants do not or stopped offering smaller plates of adult meals? Or are we lazy adults who don’t bother to offer kids wider array of foods that could be fun and tasty, because it is work?Children are often branded fussy eaters! Well, they could be, but they’ll warm up to things seeing you trying it out, cooking variety often and being adventurous while eating out.

I admire how French take their cuisine so seriously, the meal is sacred time and it should be real food. So school meals are not the same affair as the school lunches in the UK. And so we found out the French kids menu are not the same story as across the Canal La Manche.

Firstly, we in our family do not pay any attention to the children’s menu, even when insisted upon by waiters. We usually choose a couple of things to share with children and extra plate if needed, sometimes specifically asking for a smaller version of the chosen dish. In that way, the children eat the real things and develop their own particular preferences. Of course we do take into account what children like or do not like, but we do not shy away from challenging their taste buds. Our offsprings are not perfect, they might moan or be not so happy about the choice but in the end, they are usually happy to eat what’s on offer. And in the most cases, they end up liking it a lot.

On our last trip to France, our big son found us a lovely restaurant situated between fields, by a lake, in an old manor house. We sat out on the lovely terrace basking in the evening sun. Madam who runs the restaurant kindly offered us the children’s menu to consider, which in the first place we rejected.IMG_20150625_201625

Having gone through the menu and specials, I cast my eyes on the children’s menu  and I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. No chicken nuggets, but a real chicken fillet served with seasonal vegetables. It seemed like a good option for the youngest one. And no, no French fries on offer!

What arrived on the plate, was an even lovelier surprise. A proper size, real chicken meat adorned by vegetables mushed and shaped into a vegetable bed, with chunky asparagus, carrot, beetroot, mange tout, pepper and turnip playing the part of plants. It immediately held the children’s attention. All of it was freshly prepared and disappeared in their bellies quickly. I fell in love with the way the meal was served to cater for children’s natural need of play. They would dissemble the vegetable beds, asking what particular pieces were, before sliding them into their mouths.

That dinner was a pleasure and fun, very memorable. Again, French proved to me that family meals are serious matter, where the real food is a must and no one is excluded of a pleasure because of their age. That you cannot expect adults to develop the taste for a variety of dishes and foods if you do not expose their young taste buds to it. Bon appetite!

 

Trip to Poland 2013 – Stuttgart

Trip to Poland 2013 Stuttgart05German B roads are wonderful! They are in good driving condition and on this leg of the trip we accidentally got on one that snakes through the mountains. We followed an old Mercs sedan, probably a 70s model that was purring as it went gently through the turns and up and down the hills. We were lost but for that short time, we were relaxed as this car in front of us seemed to know where he was going and that was assuring.

When he turned off the road and we were left to face our predicament, the tempers boiled again as none of the plans we made for the trip to Stuttgart seem to be working. Luckily we got back mobile coverage and I paid for airtime so we can get the SatNav working. That was the best move of the morning. We found the Autobahn and sailed with Mrs FTF’s high speed into Stuttgart. The Hotel was new and had underground parking. We were excited about what German technology this place will serve up.

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On a previous trip we stopped at a services on the Autobahn and saw automated toilet seat cleaners. Amazing! The facilities were so high tech, you had to swipe a card to get in and everything had no-contact controls, so much so I was unable to get out because that was a simple push of the door. This hotel was modest with a red heat bulb in the bathroom. It was a big comfortable room with a low slung, ground level chair that Zooby had as a fence free playpen with my watch as his only toy.

We three hit the town about 6pm. It was the last of the light and it showed us the grape vines on the hills over the city. This is a wine region. We crossed opposite the main train station which was under repair unto King Street , a wide pedestrianised shopping district. We visited the Tourist Information Centre but we already knew why we came here and the souvenirs, although of a high standard were either too costly or useless.

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There is a major German department store where we shopped for everyone. I like shopping in Germany as the sizes tend to match my height and size. For the last two years we visited a shop in Potsdam which carries one of my favourite brands for suits, Benvenuto. I did not see any outlets in Stuttgart but Mrs FTF and I thought what we got for the family at the single store was enough. Happy with the value.

We expected there’d be an area recognised as the Old Town. A young couple told us otherwise. There is no Old Town just the King Street. We walked to the end of it, ambled left and turned back on ourselves looking for a place to eat. There is restaurant section where you will be spoilt for choice of places but the cuisine seemed pretty much the same among the group.

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It was a magical October evening. We were able to eat on the sidewalk; Zooby enjoyed the walks around the small alleys of this neighbourhood while we waited for our order. We never order kids meal so again he taxed us from our ample dinners. My impression of German food is it’s first and foremost ‘a lot!’ Both dishes tasted good, so good in fact, Mrs FTF did little of our ritual exchange of dish samples, each possibly hoping the other forgot the family’s protocol. I can only talk for myself.

On the walk back to the hotel we had the best opportunity to window shop. The shops were closed, the streets were empty and quiet. Zooby did his usual mix of buggy, steps and arms with some loud crying to signal the need to change the transport mode. The slow walk was enjoyable and showed Stuttgart could be a fine place to visit again, perhaps in the Summer.

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How do you celebrate parenthood? You think you should still be up for it, two people in Stuttgart with the night hour being what was young. No, it’s two people with children and that hour is now the end of a day because tomorrow you have another adventure planned where you have to exhibit all your leadership and care.

The room had a stocked bar for Mrs FTF and I to have our pick and make a toast to us. The whole event was chaperoned by Zooby of course.

More rain at the start of the next day. The plan was to take the train out to the Porsche Museum but with the weather as it is and having the luxury of walking dry to the underground car park and whizzing over to the museum, we opted to take our car.