Adventures in sourdough

I’ve been interested in sourdough breadmaking for a while and have tried making it a few times, but have never been very happy with the result, so I decided I needed some professional help.

A couple of years ago a friend told me about sourdough workshops that Kate Flint runs out of the Garden Shed and Pantry in Cygnet.  Lil Sis and I had talked about going ever since, and were going to gift a ticket to each other for Christmas in 2015. It never really happened, and I kept getting the emails about the workshops and never got around to organising to go. This time I said to Lil Sis that we were going, we booked, organised some accommodation for the night and on Friday afternoon we set off.

The workshop was run in two sessions. The first one on Friday night, was where Kate introduced us to sourdough and we made our dough using Kate’s starter. We then had to leave it overnight for an 8.30 start the next morning. Before we left for the night, Kate showed us how to make cultured butter.

The next morning, we went to the second part of the workshop, which was basically pulling the dough out of the proofing bowl, shaping it and getting it ready to cook, which was meant to happen about 1.5 hours later.

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Dough at the beginning of Day 2.

After we’d done that, Kate demonstrated how to get the dough into the oven, and her three demo loaves cooked while we were there.

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These look great! I need to get one of those cast iron pots.

Lil Sis and I put our dough into the fridge until we were ready to go, because Kate had said not to leave it out for much more than 1.5 hours before baking it, and we had a longer trip home than most of the other participants.

We got to try a selection of Kate’s breads for breakfast, which she had given us recipes for as well, and were able to stock up on supplies from Kate’s shop before heading home with our dough.

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Breakfast

It took about an hour from Kate’s place to my place, maybe a bit less, and I kept the dough on the bench while I heated the oven, so it was out of the fridge about 90 minutes all up.

The instruction was to heat the oven and baking stone or pot to 240 degrees initially. Now what you need to know is that one of the many quirks of this house is that the temperature on the oven dial is not the temperature that the oven actually is – so there is a baking thermometer in there to monitor that actual temperature.

I heated the oven and the pizza stone to 240. All good. Possibly put too much flour on the pizza stone, as I set the smoke alarm off.

At least I know it works.

Tipped out the dough (forgot to slash it, never mind), filled the bottom tray with boiling water and put the dough in. Got my water sprayer and sprayed water into the oven as Kate had suggested to do if you didn’t have a pot with a lid to create steam. The temperature dropped to 150 or thereabouts.

I expected it to go back up to 240 or so.

It didn’t.

I sat in front of the over for 35 minutes despairing as the temperature sat solidly on the 130-150 degree mark, depending on whether I believed the thermometer or the oven dial. Completely panicking! Slabs suggested I had interfered with the oven fan with the water spray as it’s a fan forced oven. I don’t know. Does steam work in a fan forced oven? I hadn’t even thought to ask this.

By this point I’m fretting that I’ve broken the oven. (You might say it was already broken, and I’d just advanced the case for getting a new one.)

Then finally about 35 minutes in, the temperature started to go up again. I had no idea what to do at this point, because according to the directions Kate gave us, after 35 minutes at 240 degrees, I was supposed to reduce the heat to 180. But it hadn’t even got to 240, let alone 180.

I decided I had nothing to lose, so I let it go for 25 minutes in the increasing heat. According to the thermometer, it got to about 220 in that 25 minutes. By that time it was starting to burn on the outside so I had to stop and hope it had cooked on the inside.

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And now we wait . . .

So then there was the anxious wait for two hours to cut it and see what it was like on the inside. One of my baking friends asked if it sounded hollow when I tapped on it, which it did, so that was apparently good.

And when I did cut it, it looked pretty good, much to my surprise. In fact I’d go as far as to say that it’s the best loaf I have ever made, so something went right somewhere!

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Not bad at all

So I was happy with the result and now that I know what I’m doing (I think) I’m going to try this again.

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30 days of crosswords: wrapup

I made it through 30 days of cryptic crosswords! The final tally is:

  • 43 crosswords started
  • 32 crosswords completed (22 of the 25 easy ones and 10 of the 18 not-so-easy ones)

That’s pretty good, I think.

I learned a whole lot of new words. Here’s a few:

  • Dacha = Russian summer house/cottage (like a shack in Australia I imagine)
  • Damson = a plum cultivar
  • Acme = pinnacle of achievement, something at its best or most highly developed
  • Ascetic = austere, harsh
  • Aver = maintain, affirm, assert, state
And here are a couple of clues I was pleased to have worked out all by myself!
  • Letter to south-eastern doctor on the French musical group (8) = ENSEMBLE. Letter (EN) to south-eastern (SE) doctor (MB) on ‘the’ in French (LE) all come together to form ENSEMBLE, a musical group.
  • Liquefies and mixes metals without an adult (5) = MELTS. It’s an anagram of ‘metals’ without an adult (A) that means liquefies.
  • Stalwart one in Paris, with Charlie, gets into turned up hats (7) = STAUNCH, ‘Into turned up hats’ means that the remaining 3 letters of the clue slot between ‘hats’ in reverse (I.e. STAH). ‘One in Paris’ is the French word for one, UN, and ‘Charlie’ means C. So we have to fit UNC into STAH.

And that’s the end of my crossword lessons. I’ve enjoyed this very much. I’ve learned a lot – not just new words but also how cryptic crossword clues are structured. Obviously this has just been scratching the surface, so I still have a lot to learn before I get anywhere near confident with these puzzles. I intend to continue doing them, and have to remember to put the book in my bag whenever I go anywhere that’s likely to include waiting time.

I have another project in mind for the next 30 days but, in recognition of my need for downtime, I’m going to have a rest for a bit. Also the other person I need to help me with this isn’t quite ready yet, so I can’t start anyway.

It might be a good idea to get back onto my ‘perfect day’ exercise, which is a lot of fun. I just have to get over the reluctance to do it because I keep thinking if I write it down I’m committed to pursuing that for the rest of my life.

But that’s another post for another time.

I don’t have a lovely photo from this week, so here’s a dodgy pic of the supermoon from earlier in the week taken on my phone:

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Challenge 6 – Clarity -it continues

I am really struggling with the “clarity” project.

I think I’m finding it hard to lock things like my values and purpose into writing, because I think once they’re committed in writing they’ll be locked in and I’ll never be able to change them. It’s an issue I’ve struggled with my whole life. If I commit to something, it rules everything else out – so rather than make a conscious choice (because that implies a forever commitment) I’ve gone along with whatever has come up at the time. Because somehow making a not-choice-which-still-commits-you-to-something has less power than an actual choice.

I know.

Looking back, this hasn’t been a good strategy, and is probably the reason I’ve stayed in the same career path for as long as I have.

I’m trying really hard to do this exercise as a “work in progress” activity rather than a “once it’s written it’s set in stone and can never change” thing. But I still have this reluctance to commit anything to writing.

And I have made progress. See!

Listen to the Asian Efficiency Podcast on creating a manifesto  and start to write these 5 documents

  • I listened to it and I made a start on the “perfect day” document
Make a start on the last three “easy peasy” crosswords in my crossword book.
  • I totally did this, and I started three of the more difficult ones.
Write a blog post on where I’m up to with the “clarity” challenge (i.e. actually do it this week).
  • This is it.
Write a blog post on what I learned this week.
  • Done. It’s here.

And I saw the most amazing clouds the other day

Goals for this week:

Finish the “perfect day” document.

Start three more crosswords. Finish at least one.

Write a blog post on what I learned this week.

30 days of crosswords – Day 22

A recent tweet (10.41 pm a few days ago) will tell you how this is going:

Tomorrow me: Go to bed!

Now me: But crosswords . . .

I have finished the first of the “Challenging” crosswords in my book. Like the “Easy Peasy” ones, they are 13×13 squares rather than 15×15, and have fewer anagram clues than the easy ones (which had a lot). I’ve now completed 18 of the 25 easy crosswords and most of the ones I have left have only two or three clues that I can’t get.

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I’ve cheated on a couple and peeked at the solution to make sure the intersecting words are correct and in a couple of cases they haven’t been, which has been why I haven’t been able to solve the clues. I’m also finding an online thesaurus to be invaluable.

Here’s a couple of clues I’m pleased with myself for working out this week:

  • “Credit in bus, going north to the bush (5)” = SCRUB – Bus going north = ‘bus’ reversed (sub); credit = CR inserted into ‘sub’ meaning “bush”.
  • And in a similar vein: “Backwards elf gets around sailor’s moral tale (5)” = FABLE – the letters of ‘elf’ spelled backwards (fle) around a symbol for sailor, which in this case is AB (Able Seaman).
  • “Whiskey, as well as a magic stick (4)” = WAND – whiskey (W) + as well as (AND) = a magic stick (WAND).

It’s like learning another language, where words don’t always mean what you might initially think they do. I’m sometimes getting frustrated because I’m not familiar with many of the tricks used in the clues and end up looking at them in blank despair, ready to throw my pencil across the room. I have to keep reminding myself that I’m a beginner and this is all new to me and I’m not supposed to be able to get everything right first time. It’s a real challenge to my perfectionist thinking.

I think I need to make a handy reference chart of all the sneaky little abbreviations and words that are used in other ways to the way I expect.

Here are some new words I learned this week:
  • eft = a newt in its juvenile terrestrial form
  • nacre = mother-of-pearl
  • lucre = money that is sordid or distasteful, or obtained dishonestly
  • sepal = each of the parts of the calyx of a flower, enclosing the petals
  • aver = maintain, assert, state
  • glabella = the the triangle between your eyebrows and nose (this was a quiz show answer, not a crossword)

I also got to use some knowledge I picked up from a quiz show a few weeks ago, that the capital of Latvia is Riga, to solve another clue.

What I’m loving a lot about this challenge is I can do it anywhere, anyhow. If I have a few spare minutes I can simply pick up the book and look for a clue that I can solve. Now all I have to do is force myself to put it back down again when it’s bedtime.

I also retook the photo of my Midori and my new Moleskine book so you can see how nicely they will play together 🙂

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Challenge 8 – Crosswords Day 15

I’m now half way through the crosswords challenge and have started puzzle 22 today. I completed three puzzles this week, one of them I cried out for help on Twitter because there was a clue I just couldn’t get:

“American runners from Alaksa wearing cruel smiles (8)”.

I got that there would be AK (Alaska) in there somewhere but couldn’t put the rest of it together. The answer is “sneakers” – AK in cruel smiles (sneers) = American runners. I was thinking of runners in the sense of athletes, not in the sense of shoes.

Thank you Annie!

I have a long way to go. But I’m enjoying it. I’m especially enjoying wrestling with a clue and then going back to it a couple of days later and immediately seeing the answer.

I’m finding it a lot easier to pull out the crossword book when I have a spare moment or two than I do to pull out the sketch book and try to draw something. So I’m going to give my morning “learning” time back to drawing and use spare moments that crop up during the day to work on my crosswords.

What I learned this week:

  • I need to get back into my evening routine and 10.00 bedtime.
  • I read a fascinating book called Untrain Your Brain by Mike Weeks. One line that stood out for me in the book was: “Even when we seemingly lose all choice over what life presents it’s crucial to remember that our internal response is and always will be ours to choose.”
  • Adélie is a species of penguin
  • If I sleep in and miss my morning routine yoga/meditate/walk/draw/me-time, my day doesn’t go as smoothly as normal.
  • When I’m cutting bread with a sharp knife, I shouldn’t take my eyes off what I’m doing (ouch).

And to round everything off, here’s my progress against my goals for this week:

Get a new yoga mat

  • I looked but I’m not sure exactly what I want, so this is on hold for now.

Get as far as I can on at least 6 more crossword puzzles

  • I’ve started four new puzzles and completed three (two of which I had already started).
Draw two faces
  • I drew one face and several eyes.
Complete steps 5-7 of Living With Intent
  • Completed and I did step 8 and started step 9.
Write a blog post on where I’m up to with the “clarity” challenge
  • It’s all in my head.
Write a blog post on what I learned this week
  • You’re reading it.

Goals for this week:

  1. Listen to the Asian Efficiency Podcast on creating a manifesto and start to write these 5 documents.
  2. Make a start on the last three “easy peasy” crosswords in my crossword book.
  3. Write a blog post on where I’m up to with the “clarity” challenge (i.e. actually do it this week).
  4. Write a blog post on what I learned this week.

Challenge 7 – 30 days of yoga: overview

Friday was Day 30 of 30 days of yoga. I did it! I gave up my morning walks most days to make the time to do yoga in the mornings, and reduced my daily step target to 12,000. I missed reaching it on nine of the 30 days but most of them were weekends or holidays where I don’t have my regular walks to and from work, so I’ve often struggled with reaching my target, even if I do go for a walk in the morning. And of those nine days there were only three that I didn’t reach 10,000 steps, which is my ideal minimum. Those were all days I was home by myself with Kramstable and didn’t get up early enough to do yoga and go for a walk as well.

I’m not too disappointed overall, because I did yoga every morning. Because I hurt my back doing an over-enthusiastic locust pose early on, I’ve been taking it very easy and spend the first five minutes or so of each session doing the exercises my physio set for me when my back was really bad at the end of last year. I do not want to go back there, so I’m being a lot more careful now.

Between the last yoga class of Term 3 and the first class of Term 4, I effectively had three weeks away from formal instruction. I really noticed this at the start of Term 3, but this time, even with a relatively short daily practice, I didn’t have the same issues when we went back to class this term.

So I’m going to keep doing it and maybe mix up the poses that I do a bit more, because I’ve pretty much been doing the same ones every day.

The other thing I did was do my yoga practice before my 12 minute meditation, to try and wake my body up and get out of sleep mode before I meditate. It’s worked most days, except the ones where I went to bed too late and all I wanted to do was go back to sleep.

I think someone needs to review the evening routine challenge right about now.

Anyway I promised myself a new (thicker) yoga mat if I could keep it up for 30 days to encourage me to keep going, so that’s this week’s project.

In the other challenge, I’ve been doing cryptic crossword puzzles in the mornings instead of drawing, though some days I’ve had time to do both. I’ve just started my 18th puzzle on Day 8 of the challenge, and have completed nine of them. Most of the others are sitting there with only one or two clues that I just can’t figure out taunting me. I don’t know whether to look up the answers and work out how they fit the clue or to leave them until I get more experienced and can figure them out.

In the mean time I have learned some interesting things this week:

  • Nubia is a region in southern Egypt and northern Sudan, along the Nile River.
  • The okapi are the only other living members of the giraffe family, aka the Giraffidae, besides the giraffe obviously. They are striped like the zebra but they look like the giraffe without the long neck.
  • Lissom means supple, thin and graceful. I am not lissom.
  • Puttee is a large strip of cloth wound around the leg from ankle to knee. It can be part of a solder’s uniform. Can also be a leather legging. (This wasn’t a crossword clue; it was on the TV quiz show The Chase.)
  • The capital city of the Dominican Republic is Santo Domingo. (This also wasn’t a crossword clue; it was a question at a trivia night.)

In my drawing, I’ve moved onto trying to draw faces, eyes and hands. The results have been somewhat different to the subjects. I keep trying to tell myself that this is early days and I’m not supposed to be good at it at this stage. It’s a challenge I want to persist with.

This week’s goals:

  • Get a new yoga mat
  • Get as far as I can on at least 6 more crossword puzzles
  • Draw two faces
  • Complete steps 5-7 of Living With Intent
  • Write a blog post on where I’m up to with the “clarity” challenge
  • Write a blog post on what I learned this week

Book 30/24: Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8)

I was intrigued enough by the title Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8) when I saw this book in the library to pick it up and scan through it, because I had no idea what the title meant.

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Obviously if you’re a crossword enthusiast, you would have picked up pretty easily that it’s a cryptic crossword clue, which is what this book is about.

Well, partly about. It’s the memoirs of South African-born writer Sandy Balfour, which tells the story of his leaving South Africa with his girlfriend to eventually living in London. The story of how he got deeper into the world of cryptic crosswords is intermingled with tales of his travels, the story of how he and his girlfriend made a home and family in London, and Mr Balfour’s continuous questioning of where he belongs.

It explores how to interpret clues and touches on the compliers of these crosswords from newspapers like the Times and the Guardian. This fascinated me. I had no idea that “setters” operated under pseudonyms and had their own styles and ways of interpreting the rules. Mr Balfour explains how, although crosswords were invented in America (by a British ex-pat, which a previous reader of the library’s copy of the book has gone to great pains to point out on page 103), they were refined by the British to the extent that they are seen as something quintessentially British.

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Throughout the book Mr Balfour uses clues to illustrate the points he’s making – some which he talks through in the text, and others which he leaves for the reader to solve. He also reproduces a puzzle from the Guardian (number 22445), which was about him, set by legendary Guardian setter (the late) Araucaria using words provided by Mr Balfour, for his 40th birthday. That’s a pretty cool gift!

(I love this. Araucaria’s pseudonym was taken from the monkey-puzzle tree (botanical name Araucaria), which is also known as the Chile Pine, anagram of Cinephile, which relates to his love of film, and is the pseudonym under which he set crosswords for the Financial Times.)

All this without even touching on the varied and interesting experiences Mr Balfour has had since he and his girlfriend left South Africa, which would have been great reading even without the crossword references.

I loved how this book was put together, and about half way though I knew that this would be my next 30-days challenge. I have about a week to go with 30 days of yoga, but I’ve just today completed my drawing lessons from You Can Draw in 30 Days – it’s only taken four months! So much as I love my 10-15 minutes drawing each morning, I’m going to replace it with learning to do cryptic crosswords.

I’ve tried this in the past, and I have a basic understanding of some of the clue types, so my challenge is to learn more. I’m not confident enough to attempt anything like the Guardian crosswords, but I have a couple of books designed for beginners, so I’m going to get them out and see how it goes.

By the way – can you work out what the clue in the title of the book is? (I couldn’t.)