This month, I’ve been busy doing some research for the Sourdough Challenge we’ve started at the forum on Easter Monday. The first part — creating the starter — has just ended, although a few of us are yet to finish with the preparations. We are going to start baking together on Monday, the 1st of May and I can tell it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Here’s my reading list for the month of April:
The Millionaire Next Door (2016 ed.) by Thomas Stanley (cited in the latest Barefoot Investor book) was finally available for me at the library, so I’ve been leafing through that too. I find some of the behaviours identified quite interesting. I am not sure, though, if the figures have been updated, and at times the author tends to repeat a point too often.
Risotto with Nettles by Anna del Conte became available at the library again so I am reading through it when I’m resting. Julie and Julia by Julie Powell is waiting in the wings.
Lastly, I have been referencing (again) One Magic Square and Outside the Magic Square by Lolo Houbein for ideas on planting groups this month and next.
What have you been reading this month? I always love to hear about books that people find interesting — I often wish I lived in a house full of wall-to-wall bookcases!
I can’t believe I’m on the eighth week of this challenge! I am really happy I chose to blog about it. I’ve been tempted to be lazy a few times and I’m sure I’d have given in, if I didn’t have to tell you all about it.
Mr Meagre and I got married in Singapore nearly a decade ago now, and one of the things I still miss about that place is the food. I just love the variety — from the multitude of curries (Thai, Indian, Malaysian), to the noodles (Mee Siam and Char Kway Teo are my favourites), and rice dishes (Nasi Goreng and Nasi Lemak). They do have the usual meat-and-three vege of course, but I don’t recall seeing much of it at the hawker’s centres…
And then there is the bread. Soft, fluffy, milky bread that comes plain, or topped with anything from pork floss to sprinkles, and even wrapped around a frankfurt sometimes. I remember grabbing a few from nearly any corner bakery or mall outlet, and the bread would always stay soft for days on end. I never understood how they did it until I discovered baking with tangzhong.
I made a few changes to the recipe, Firstly, I used plain flour with about two teaspoons of gluten flour, or what other American sites call vital wheat gluten. And then there is the amount of eggs (I made do with one egg plus an eggwhite I had left over from another dish). I also substituted cream with milk and a bit of softened butter.
Will I bake this again? Yes, yes, yes! My daughter loves it in her lunchbox and it would compensate for the times I have to force my sourdough loaves on her (LOL). It’s been over two days, and the loaf is still as fresh and soft as it was on the day it was baked. When I sliced the loaf, I realised why it was eerily familiar. It feels just like the dough from the Challah I made a few weeks back, only, this one is a bit lighter and less crumbly after baking.
We’ve sadly come to the end of a long weekend, amd tomorrow is the first day of the school term. Mr Meagre will be back at work, the Little Miss will be back at school, and I will need to declutter the spare room while chasing after the toddler.
Here’s a glimpse of what we’ve been doing the past few days.
We set out shortly after 6am on Thursday for our day trip. The weather forecast wasn’t looking good for the rest of the long weekend, so we decided that this was the best day to do it. We took the long, scenic route to the Twelve Apostles. It was a lovely sight with all the rock formations. I probably will blog about it when I can get organised enough to copy photos from the camera.
Surprisingly, the kids were well-behaved, apart from a few Are-we-there-yet’s and sleepy meltdowns. We took some meat pies, sausage rolls, Danish Spirals, chips, and drinks. I also used the thermal cooker we bought from Aldi to make a beef stew (I highly recommend it, but must remember not to use the top pan unless I am not fussed about its contents spilling). We did have to make a pit stop for food — it was at a Macca’s on the way home, for the obligatory Happy Meal and Frozen McSpider for the Little Miss. She says it was the best trip ever. She obviously doesn’t get a Happy Meal as often as she wants, LOL.
On Friday night, we stayed at home and scoured the internet and local newspapers for used car ads. We have been saving up for a new-to-us car, automatically setting aside some money each payday and parking it in our mortgage to help with the interest (we are able to redraw it without charge). Our goal was to purchase a four-wheel drive in 2018 and we had been planning to buy one with a towbar, ready for when we save enough money for a used caravan. We made the decision to purchase it earlier because our mums (Mr Meagre and mine) will be here on a three-month vacation very soon, and our current car is a five-seater.
Fortunately, we were able to find a suitable one and we will be picking it up next week. Mr Meagre seems happy enough with his 12-year old 4wd — it is not the shiny offroader of his dreams, but at least we were able to resist taking out a loan for that.
If you are interested in sourdough baking, I invite you to join us at the The Home Maker’s. We will be making our sourdough starters today, and the sourdough bake-alongs will begin in May. I am pretty excited at having so many people to bake sourdough with! The internet is awesome.
In my twenties, I had promised myself that I would go on a trip to Paris when I turned 30. Such is my love for patisserie that I was willing to go on a solitary trip to see the sights and eat French pastry at a cafe everyday! Unfortunately, life had other plans for me — I met Mr Meagre the year I turned 29, and we were married shortly before I turned 31. Somewhere in between those years, life got a little busy with us changing jobs, moving countries, and of course my silly little Paris dream had slowly faded into the distance. I still love French pastry though. If there is one thing I desperately want to learn to bake, it will definitely be that.
So, without digressing even further, here is my (futile?) attempt at learning patisserie at home.
I shoved the butter sheet into the fridge, quite chuffed at myself for having thought of doing that in advance. Woke up the next day, and bleary-eyed me decided I didn’t have the time to knead the brioche dough by hand. So I measured the ingredients before breakfast and even did some washing on the side…
By this time, my mind was racing through all the new ingredients I had tried today… Is it the yeast they sent me? Or did I add way too much gluten flour into my plain flour? Was my bread machine acting up again? (I felt that it was a little warmer than it should have been as I picked the tin up). I was pacing through the kitchen with the dough in my hands, wondering if I can still rescue it… but knowing that it had already undergone first rise, I just closed my eyes, held my breath, and chucked it in the bin. Ah well, back to square one…
After brushing with an egg wash, I popped them into the oven at 200 degrees Celsius. They were buttery and golden brown after about 25 minutes.
Will I bake them again? Quite frankly, I am not sure. I love the crunch of these Danish spirals, and I desperately want to learn this craft. However, the insane amount of butter has put me off baking it for a while. I will definitely not delve into patisserie again unless I can give it my full attention.
Next week: Hokkaido Milk Toast (Tangzhong Method), from one of my favourite Aussie food bloggers, Christine Ho.
Here are some photos from our warm temperate garden this month.
Has anyone else noticed how spring-blooming flowers and fruit are coming up so early? We just saw some new asparagus spears popping up, and the muscari have been sending out shoots as well. It worries me that they might not have enough energy left when springtime comes around for real.
What are you doing in the garden this week? I have some saffron bulbs cooling in the fridge crisper and I can’t wait to plant them!
As some of you may remember, I am the only sourdough fan in this household. Mr Meagre often wonders why the bread sometimes tastes “sour”; of course, Little Miss Meagre is even worse — she expects bread to be made out of white flour, and crust-less, as many young children do.
I don’t often make no-knead breads and sourdough breads consecutively, however, this time around I really wanted to see what their reaction might be to this white flour-lookalike loaf.
200 grams rye starter, ready to bake with, and fed according to her instructions*
800 grams plain (all-purpose) flour. She suggests unbleached white wheat or spelt, both of which I ran out of.
480 grams filtered tap water, or just tap water left to stand a few hours
2 teaspoons non-iodised cooking salt
*Yoke feeds her rye starter with a ratio of 150 grams water for every 100 grams rye flour.
My rye starter is fed in equal parts by weight, or 100 grams water for every 100 grams rye flour. It lives in the fridge, so I knew it was going to take longer than she specifies in her recipe. With her instructions, a ripe starter is assumed, so the dough is mixed the previous day. I added a few more days to that, so to bake a loaf on Thursday, I started feeding the starter two days before. Tuesday, 10am
Take starter out of the fridge. Take 70 grams of starter and dump in a big mixing bowl. Add 105 grams of filtered water and stir. Mix in 70 grams of rye flour. This will be our sourdough sponge, or levain. I leave the mixing bowl on the countertop, covered with a plate.
To the starter jar, add in 35 grams of filtered water and stir. Mix in 35 grams of rye flour and put back in the fridge. It will not need to be fed again until we take starter out, or after one week from last feed.
I observe my starter and see if it is bubbly. If it needs a little more help, I feed it again by taking out 100 grams of starter, and adding 60 grams of filtered water and 40 grams rye flour.
I observe my starter again and feed as per Tuesday night.
I could have prepared my dough at this time; however it was a little cold so the starter is less bubbly than I would like. I decide to feed it again and have a go tomorrow morning.
Baking day! I weigh the starter and keep only what I need (200 grams for this recipe). I then proceed to add the water, flour, and salt. I mix it just until the ingredients come together.
After waiting roughly 20 minutes for the dough to autolyse (a fancy baker’s term for resting the dough to let the flours absorb the water), I knead it by lifting and slapping the dough against the bowl. Ordinarily, I would have brought out my wooden kneading board. However, today I had to run around the house chasing after a particularly naughty toddler. So I took the dough with me and stretched it with my two hands while walking; twisting, turning and folding the dough back onto itself. I simply imagine playing a heavy accordion and keep going until the dough is smooth and elastic.
9am: Let the dough rise until roughly doubled.
11am. First rise done. I partition the dough into two loaves and let them proof.
3pm. The loaves have finished proving. I preheat the oven to 235 degrees Celsius, brush the top of the loaves with milk, and sprinkle some sesame seeds.
The verdict: It is a good recipe for a sourdough loaf; however, not what I was after as a white loaf replacement. I will bake this again soon, but will increase the sourdough starter amount so it will rise faster and taste less “sourdough-y”.
I will also be using two 1-lb tins rather than the 1-1/2lb tins I used, to get a higher loaf. Lastly, I will be baking it at a lower temperature (probably 180-190 degrees Celsius) to give a softer crust.
Next week: Danish Spirals from Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen.
The recent storms in Queensland and unseasonal snowfall in Japan, among others, have encouraged us to revisit our plans and identify weaknesses in our emergency preparedness. Living close enough to the city means that big shopping centres with 24-hour shops are within our walking distance; however it also means that the food and supplies that they sell are very highly dependent on freight trucks and good road access.
We aren’t extreme “preppers” ready for a doomsday scenario, although if you ask Mr Meagre he will probably say he is preparing for a zombie apocalypse. He has also been known to mention the need for cigarettes and wine in our arsenal — it will be useful for bartering, he says. All jokes aside, however, emergency preparedness is a very serious matter around here and we aim to continually improve our readiness.
Here are the things that we currently have in place:
Drinking water. Many sources recommend 10 litres of water per person, to last three days at a minimum. At the moment, we stock spring water in 10-litre plastic casks with a spout — these are sold at all supermarkets for about $4. There is currently enough to meet the minimum, however I am considering setting aside $4 every month to purchase some more to last us seven days.
Food stockpile. I remember someone telling me about the survival rules of 3… A person can last 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food. Our stockpile will probably last us a month at the moment. I will need to go around the pantry again; I think we are running a bit low on the tinned meats, beans, and long-life/powdered milk because we have been so focused on extra mortgage repayments recently.
Personal care stockpile. Toilet paper, soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste and the like.
Radio. We have an old-fashioned radio beside the kitchen — I listen to the news or some music while loading the dishwasher some days. It is powered from the mains for daily use, but in emergencies we can top it up with batteries. We also have walkie-talkies and extra mobile phones (old-school keypad ones) and chargers.
Lamps, torches, and candles. We have about four small LED lamps loaded with batteries in the event of a power outage. We also have torches on our bedside and in our bags, and candles under the bathroom sink.
Alternative cooking sources. In the shed, we have a charcoal bbq, some briquettes and fire starters. A big pack of matches is always under the kitchen sink. We also bought a thermal cooker from Aldi recently. We can take it with us on long drives or when camping, but as a bonus we can use it for prolonged emergencies when gas supply is limited.
Medicines. We always have a first aid kit at home, along with roughly a months’ supply of prescription and over-the-counter medicines that we might need.
Clean blankets and towels. We keep clean towels and blankets in each bedroom and in the ensuite. In the event of a flood, they would hopefully keep us warm and dry, and prevent smoke inhalation in case of a fire. We also check our fire extinguisher yearly, and ensure that a fire blanket is accessible in the kitchen at all times.
On-the-go bags. This is a throwback from when we used to live in a mid-rise apartment. We realised then how necessary it was to have our important documents safe and sound in a backpack in case we needed to evacuate in haste (we did, more than once). It has proven so useful that we have expanded the contents and now have them in two separate backpacks, one for each adult. What is sorely lacking in these bags is a bit of spare cash, so I will need to make a note of that.
In the car, we have a picnic mat and a full picnic basket, a jumpstarter with torch, a first aid kit, water, and some more muesli bars. We also bought a jerry can for petrol, although we haven’t really used it yet.
On our mobile phones, Mr Meagre and I have our names listed under ICE1 (In Case of Emergency 1). Both of us also have ICE2’s, and they are contact numbers for our relatives interstate. Little Miss Meagre has been taught early on to memorise her name, her parents’ names, address, and mobile numbers. No doubt we will be teaching the little boy too when it is time.
Offsite copies of important documents.
Just listing them down here has helped me realise there are still a few aspects we are not addressing. Hopefully we can list them down and work through it in the coming weeks. There is substantial information in this Red Cross manual. Although there is no one here with a disability, I reckon the document will be a good starting point for our preparedness.
Do you have your own emergency plan? Maybe you can share some of your tips with me?
March has really marked the start of the leaner season for us. Clearly, we have entered that in-between period when the summer plants have finished, and the winter plants are still too young to harvest.
With passata season formally over, the chilli and eggplant have taken centre stage. We have also harvested a few of our less-than-spectacular performers this season, namely, the watermelon and bitter melon.
The lone watermelon vine yielded a single fruit the size of a large grapefruit — it was very sweet and tasty, nonetheless. As for the bitter melon, we could have harvested a lot more than just three. However, we had misjudged the picking day and it had turned orange when we got around to it. I washed the pulp off the seeds and left them to dry; we will be replanting them in the Spring.
We also spent a fair bit this month. The figs were getting too big for their pots, and that meant a trip to the big green shed to buy bigger ones. I also spotted a redcurrant plant which will hopefully be as successful as our blueberries and raspberries in a few years.
Despite the reduced harvest and a bigger-than-usual outlay, we are still running in the black. Hopefully, this will continue well into the winter . We just need to focus on feeding the autumn/winter seedlings and manage the fruit trees well.
How has your garden been this month? Have you been affected by the recent storm?
If you’ve never baked using their method before, you are in for a treat. I bought this book back when it had just been published — way back in 2008. I have been using their method on and off for years, and I reckon it is one of the easiest and fastest ways to bake bread.
The method is easy. Simply mix plain flour, water, salt, and yeast in a big non-airtight container, wait two to three hours (maybe more if the weather’s cooler) for it to rise, then store it in the fridge. It is similar to batch cooking for bread, plus, you really don’t have to knead the dough. On baking day, simply tear off a portion of the prepared dough from the fridge, plop it into a sheet and bake. The prepared dough will store in the fridge for two weeks.
I usually bake with their Master Recipe but this time around, I decided to go with a Light Wholemeal (simply substitute 1 cup of plain flour with wholemeal in the master recipe). I have been using Australian cup measures with no ill effects; however, I convert tablespoons into 3 teaspoons, and use less than 3/4 the amount of salt (I usually have plain cooking salt on hand).
This Olive Fougasse was baked for about 25 minutes in my conventional oven. As I put the cookie sheet in, I throw a cup of cool water into the empty baking tin below to create some steam.
The verdict: I like the light wholemeal dough better than the master recipe, but will have to see what everyone else thinks. Having never eaten a fougasse before, I didn’t what to expect. It makes lovely bread very similar in taste and texture to a foccaccia. The crust isn’t crackling but there is just enough bite in the bread to make it pleasant to eat.
If you are interested in this type of baking, I invite you to join us at The Home Maker’s Forum. We are sharing tips, tricks and photos of No-Knead Breadmaking for the months of March-April.
Next week’s recipe is a Basic “Almost-White” Sourdough from Sourdough: From Pastries to Gluten-Free Wholegrain Breads by Yoke Mardewi.
My soap mould is a baking paper-lined Bamboo Drawer Tidy from Kmart that I previously used to hold individual tea bags. I might see if I can buy another one so I can make a bigger batch. I would love to have those handcrafted soap moulds sold at specialty shops, but I find them too expensive at the moment. To cut the soap, I used a Stainless Steel Vegetable Crinkle Cutter. It is much cheaper than one specially made for soap, although that is probably a lot sturdier and definitely wider.
I do not consider myself a soapmaker, so I will not be posting a tutorial here. If you are interested in soapmaking, Rhonda’s Down to Earth gives a good introduction. I also follow the soapmaking adventures at Going Grey and Slightly Green. If I want to learn a new swirling technique, or find out about oils, I always check the Soap Queen. And finally, the lye calculator I use is SoapCalc.
Do you make your own soap? What new ingredients or techniques have you tried recently?