Thursday, November 29, 2007

Big Green Gathering is Saved

big green gathering pink girlGreat news from the Big Green Gathering AGM report:
Shareholders meeting in Glastonbury Assembly Rooms on Saturday November 24th voted to keep the Big Green Gathering company in business after the dramatic appearance of a ‘White Knight’ businessman who promised to put new capital into the company.

I said that if they saved it, then I'd attend this year. So that's a date then. See you there.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Big Green Gathering Update

I have written before about the financial crisis at the Big Green Gathering, Europe's biggest green festival. Green Radio, "a community radio station which broadcasts green politics and lifestyle to summer festivals and to the world at large", has created a short radio article about it. In it, the presenter interviews Brig Oubridge and Roger Smith of The Big Green Gathering, Margaret Robinson of Mendip District Council, and representatives of other festivals affected by the same legislation . You can listen to it using the little doodad - just press play (that's the button with a triangle, dad).

I'm still trying to find out what happened at the AGM on November 24th. There is nothing about it on the BGG website, the Save the BGG Facebook group, or anywhere else I can discover. If anyone knows what happened, please email me.

Weed of the Week - Cleavers

Cleavers are every child's favourite weed. Pick up a handful and gently touch it against someone's clothing and it will stick there like velcro. See how much you can hang off mum or dad before they notice. They're covered in tiny little hooks, which is what gives them this power. There are some amazing microscope images of the hooks at the microscopy UK website.

They're known by dozens of common names, including clivers, goosegrass, stickywilly, Stickyweed, catchweed, and bedstraw (lots of plants are called bedstraw). What did you call them when you were kids? We called them "stickybuds", but we made that up ourselves and I don't know anyone else who calls them that. Maybe that's how they acquired so many names - from children.

You can get some thick patches of cleavers in new or neglected ground, but they're very easy to dig out. You don't even need a spade, you can just pull them out with your bare hands. The roots are very shallow and not extensive. Their big propagational trick is the sticky seeds, which stick to birds' feathers and animals' fur just as easily as dad's jumper, and get everywhere. They'll also be in any consignment of fresh manure you bring to your plot (I'm told horses are very fond of eating cleavers, and I know my chickens love them), and probably in any compost you use as well. Just hoik the seedlings out when you see them. Cleavers are no big deal. Not like couch grass, bindweed or ground elder. Those are the weeds you lose sleep over.

According to

The dried or fresh herb is said to have anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, astringent, diaphoretic, stimulant, laxative and diuretic properties.

I've read in several different places that the seeds can be roasted and ground, and used like coffee, but I've never tried it. And The Really Wild Food Guide has two recipes for the leaves (not the stems, though, which are very tough): Spicy Chicken and Goosegrass, and Birch Sap and Cleavers Risotto.

Cleavers get my vote. They're not much trouble in the garden, and they gave me so much mischievous fun as a child. I'd have to say that cleavers have probably enriched my life as much as any vegetable. They're my favourite weed.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Top Ten Inspiring Books about Self Sufficiency

1. John Seymour's The New Complete Guide to Self-Sufficiency. The self-sufficiency bible, stuffed with practical advice and instructions you can use as well as inspiring images and texts that make me yearn for 5 acres of my own.

2. Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie. As a child I watched the TV show that was loosely based upon it, and even then I wanted to be Laura and have her life.

3. Linda Cockburn's Living The Good Life is the true account of an Australian family's year without spending - they gained their electricity from solar panels, their water from rainfall catchment (during a year of severe drought), and their food from the garden and a rather cranky goat. It's an easy and engaging read, and inspiring, too.

4. The Reader's Digest's Food From Your Garden. Now out of print, I've had this book for years. I used to make the recipes from it, but mostly I looked at the drawings of vegetable plots, chicken houses, beehives, and wish I could have all those things. And now I do.

5. Chas Griffin's Scenes From A Smallholding. This is Chas's account of his family's adventures buying a smallholding in Wales and trying to live off the land. Most chapters are laugh-out loud funny, and a few are laugh-till-you-cry funny. Buy it even if you have no interest in self-sufficiency at all. Just buy it because it's so good.

6. Louisa May Alcott's Little Women isn't about growing veg or milking cows, but it has always inspired me. Although she describes clearly the hardship her family experienced, she also tells of the closeness between her sisters and mother, their creative and enthusiastic solutions to their deprivation, and the great love that suffuses the book.

7. Jan McHarry's Reuse, Repair, Recycle always fills me with ideas about how to get the most of out my possessions. "Thrift" is often associated with deprivation, but in fact the opposite is true. If you are thrifty you can get twice as much stuff for half as much money. This book shows you how.

8. Johanna Spyri's Heidi is another childhood favourite that sowed a seed in me. I found the descriptions of Heidi's life in the mountains with Alm-Grandfather and Peter the goat-herd much more apealling than her time in a fine house in the city of Frankfurt. Did I love these children's books I've mentioned because even at that age I already yearned for a simple life? Or do I yearn for a simple life because I loved these books when I was young? Who knows.

9. Craft books. Any and all craft books. My mum had a few of these when I was young, and I used to love looking at them and wishing for the toys and clothes and other things in the photos. I never got the same feeling from mum's home shopping catalogues.

10. Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. No, just kidding.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ethical Frugality

I believe in living frugally. But I have some ethical principles I won't bend to save money. I wouldn't steal from a shop to get goods for free. That goes without saying. But some cheap goods are only cheap because the producer has been robbed by the retailer. That's why I insist on Fair Trade products such as coffee and chocolate. I refuse to save my family money by robbing the families of coffee growers who have less than we do. And I won't get my milk from the supermarket even though it is much cheaper than getting it from my milkman. The supermarkets rob the dairy farmers by paying them less than the cost of production, and a dairy farmer goes out of business every week because of it. I want my family to save money, but I won't do it by benefiting from the suffering of others.

Cartoon from Climate Cartoons. Click to enlarge.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Out of the Mouths of Babes...

Ellie asked me what I was reading.
"It's my new book. It's called The Complete Tightwad Gazette and it's full of tips and advice about how to spend less" I said.
"And you spent money on it? Ha! How silly is that!" she replied, and walked away, shaking her head and cackling.

I have to admit, she's got a point.

Fulfillment Curve

On Buy Nothing Day, I'd like to tell you about the fulfillment curve, or why money doesn't buy happiness.

The curve shows how much fulfillment you get for the money you spend. According to Joe Dominguez, the originator of this idea, when you're just starting out you spend money on things you need. For example, if you lack the basic necessities of life, then every few pennies you spend on food, warmth, shelter, gives you maximum fulfillment. How refreshing is a glass of iced water when you're truly parched?

But once all your basic needs are met, it requires more and more extra money to get just a little bit of extra fulfillment. In The Tightwad Gazette, Amy Dacyczyn gives as an example:
...the fulfillment received from the first $200 car as a teenager versus the $20,000 car bought 10 years later. The new car was nice ... but not 100 times as nice.

What's the message? The adverts lie (well, duh!). You can't buy happiness. Unless you're buying food when you're starving or shelter when you're cold, the things you buy are never quite as satisfying as you hoped they'd be. You know it's true. So save your money for when you really need it, and seek fulfillment in ways that money can't buy.

Friday, November 23, 2007


I have a terrible ethical dilemma. Perhaps you can help me out.

Tomorrow (Saturday 24th November 2007) is Buy Nothing Day.

It's a day where you challenge yourself, your family and friends to switch off from shopping and tune into life. The rules are simple, for 24 hours you will detox from consumerism and live without shopping. Anyone can take part provided they spend a day without spending!

It's organised by the awesome culture-jamming organisation, Adbusters. You can send an e-postcard, download a computer desktop or a poster, join a BND Facebook group, participate in an event near you, or do anything at all except shopping.

So where's the dilemma?

Well on that same day, and that day only, The Guardian newspaper is giving away a 100 page baking guide by bread guru Dan Lepard. To get the free guide you have to buy the newspaper.

Do you see my problem?

I've decided to be loyal to Buy Nothing Day, and not go out and buy The Guardian that day. But I'll ask in my local Freecycle group if anyone got the paper and didn't want the guide. I'll ask on Freeconomy as well. And I'm asking you chaps, is anyone prepared to post me an unwanted baking guide (I'll refund your postage, of course)? Don't go out and buy The Guardian just for me. That would defeat the point. But if you get it delivered anyway, and you didn't want the baking guide yourself, that would be great.

Have a happy Buy Nothing Day.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

How to Make Greek Yogurt

If I convinced you that everyone should make yogurt, here's how to do it in ten easy steps (and with no special equipment).

1. Fill a thermos flask with milk (you can choose any kind of milk - skimmed milk, full cream, goats milk - anything at all), then pour it into a microwave-safe container or a pan.

2. Bring the milk to the boil. I used a microwave, but you could heat it on a stove if you prefer. Just watch that it doesn't boil over. This step is to kill off any unwanted microbes that will cause the milk to spoil.

3. Allow the milk to cool to around 50°C (122°F). I've got a new whizzy electronic thermometer so I used that, but you could use any kind of thermometer, or you could stick your clean finger in it. 50°C isn't hot enough to burn you, but it's too hot to comfortably keep your finger in for long. This is the optimum temperature for the yogurt culture beasts to grow.

4. Add some live yogurt to the milk. You can use a little of your last batch, or you can buy some fresh yogurt to start your culture off. This contains some of the yogurt culture microbes that are going to multiply and turn the milk to yogurt. You don't need much. I usually use about a dessertspoon, but in extremis I have swilled the milk in an empty yogurt pot to rinse off the bits of yogurt clinging to the sides, and it worked fine.

5. Pour the proto-yogurt into the thermos flask. Fill it to the top. It won't change in volume at all. Now seal the flask and leave it somewhere it can be undisturbed for 8-14 hours. Overnight will be fine.

6. After 8-14 hours with any luck your flask will be full of yogurt. When you take the lid off, you'll think it has failed, because it has not changed in appearance at all. It gets me every time. But when you try to pour it out, you'll find it is no longer thin and liquid, but has thickened considerably*. But the chances are good that if you followed my instructions, you have made yogurt. Well done!

7. You can put your yogurt in another container and put it in the fridge (warm yogurt is kind of yuk) and eat it just as it is. But if you want to make Greek (strained) yogurt, there is another step to the process. Pour your yogurt into a muslin cloth, and suspend it over a bowl for two hours (I put the cloth in a colander over a bowl).

8. After two hours the colourless liquid whey will have strained into the bowl and the remaining yogurt will be thickened and creamier. You couldn't pour it now. You'll have to scrape it off the muslin cloth.

9. Congratulations, you've made Greek yogurt. It's deliciously thick and creamy, even when made with skimmed milk. It's more stable in cooking than normal yogurt (but did you know that if your yogurt separates when cooking, you can stir in a spoonful of cornflour and stabilise it?). I like it on its own with honey. It also makes wonderful raita.

10. If you leave it straining for longer than 2 hours it becomes thicker and thicker and eventually will have a consistency like cream cheese. Stir in garlic and herbs if you like, and use it like Philadelphia. Delicious.

*Well - sometimes batches fail. It happens to everyone. Here's a troubleshooting list:
  • If the milk was too hot when you added the culture, all the beasts will have been killed. Warm it up to 50°C (122°F), add more culture and try again.
  • If the milk was too cold, the beasts won't have reproduced. Warm it up to 50°C (122°F) but no hotter and try again
  • If the starter was old, it may not have had any live beasts in it to begin with and the milk will still be runny. You'll need to get a fresh starter from the shops. It's up to you what you do with the warm milk. I suggest cocoa.
  • If the milk was old it may have curdled. Pour it away, it's ruined.
  • If the equipment wasn't clean, some spoilage microbes may have got in and spoiled the yogurt. Pour it away, it's ruined.
  • If you didn't leave it long enough, it won't have had time to set (sometimes it seems sort of slimy but not really thick). Make sure it's still warm enough and leave it a bit longer.
  • If you left it too long, it may have separated into yellow whey and white curds. It's fine. You can stir it back together, or use it as it is to make Greek yogurt.

Thank You

Today is Thanksgiving (in the USA - it was last week in Canada, which is why I got into a muddle on Tuesday).

We don't celebrate it here in Britain, but I like the idea of Thanksgiving. A public holiday dedicated to recalling your blessings and giving thanks for them, what a super basis for a holiday. I've decided just for this year to mark the day myself. I won't be roasting a turkey or eating creamed sweet potatoes. But I am going to spend the day looking out for my many blessings and giving prayerful thanks to God for them. I have got in touch with some special people in my life and thanked them, both in person and by post. And I want to thank you.

Yes you.

Thank you, my dear readers. Thank you for reading what I write. Without you I wouldn't bother blogging. Thank you for leaving comments. I am always delighted to receive your comments, it makes my day. Thank you for subscribing to my feed. Thank you for Stumbling, Digging, and social-bookmarking some of my posts. Thank you for linking to me from your own blogs and websites. Thank you.

I wish you a happy and blessed Thanksgiving, if you're celebrating today. And if you're not, I wish you a very happy Thursday.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Tracy from Eco Street brought this website to my attention:

Freeconomy allows people to make the transition from a money based communityless society to more of a community based moneyless society

Sounds very interesting. You can sign up for skillshare, toolshare, spaceshare and landshare. It seems to be a bit like an extension of Freecycle, but instead of offering unwanted used goods for free, people can offer to share their skills, tools, space or land for free.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Make It From Scratch Carnival #40

Bean Sprouts is proud to be hosting the 40th Make It From Scratch carnival. I've decided to include a short quote or a picture from each entry to give you a flavour and hopefully inspire you to follow the link.

Let's start with a bunch of Thanksgiving-related posts. I think we just missed it, didn't we (forgive me, I'm English). But you can bookmark them for next year.

Is pumpkin butter Thanksgiving-y? Amy Allen Clark presents Overcoming My Fears: Canning posted at Amy Allen Clark. Amy was afraid of home canning following a traumatic experience in a home economics class (!), but she says:

The whole process really went smoothly and I ended up with eighteen jars of Pumpkin Butter. I can't wait to give these away as hostess gifts!

Karen Weideman presents Children's Thanksgiving Activities posted at Thrifty Mommy. I'm including a picture for this one rather than a quote, because I loved this jolly turkey. Follow the link to see instructions for this and other activities.

Melanie Ellis presents Pumpkin Bread/Cake posted at Homeschool Help Web. Sounds wonderful. Melanie says:

It's delicious on it's own, or you could bake it as a cake and add a lovely cream cheese frosting to it. Mmmmm......

If you want a main course to go with that, StarXLR8 presents The Leftover Frittata posted at midwest neurotica. Star says:

Would work well with leftover Thanksgiving turkey or ham!

Stephanie presents Homemade Stuffing for Thanksgiving posted at Stop the Ride!. Stephanie says:

There are few food items that I am picky about, but one would be stuffing, especially at Thanksgiving. Serve me the stuff out of the box for a quick dinner, or on a camping trip, I have no problem with that. At Thanksgiving though I am looking forward to something more like my grandma made. The stuffing grandma made was moist and flavorful, and really shouldn't even be compared to the stuff from the box.

I couldn't agree more.

Heidi presents Our not so traditional tradition posted at Butterfly Mama. It's a recipe for Vietnamese salad rolls with peanut chile dressing. Sounds great. Heidi says:

They are so delicious I actually get a craving for them and the peanut sauce is really yummy over rice noodles too!

And here are some recipes that aren't specifically for Thanksgiving.

GP presents Kids can "do lunch" on the farm. posted at Innside Montana-Your Home at the Range. I love this recipe for Montana Muesli, and I just have to include this quote:

I want to see our communities get more and more localized, with more local food produced and consumed, more local goods bought and sold. I want to see local entrepreneurship encouraged. What a win, win, win… our environment, our local economy and… our kids… Yeeha.. eat up

Amen to that.

Teresa presents Corned Beef posted at Changing Seasons. Teresa says:

Our first year here, Daniel and I really wanted corned beef for Saint Patrick's day. However, we are unable to buy it here. So, last year we decided to corn our own beef. It worked well!

Mmmm, I love corned beef.

delilah presents Apples, Apples and more Apples. posted at The Miller Way.... Delilah says:

Here are a few apple recipes that I have tried that turned out fabulous! The Chicken & Apples recipe is TO DIE FOR! I am not kidding it was one of the best things EVER! Everyone in my family gobbled it right up!

Melissa presents Tightwad Wednesday - Stain Recipe & No-Knead Pizza Dough posted at A Penny Closer. Melissa says:

This dough was disturbingly easy to make. ... For the lack of effort/skill/time needed to make this recipe we definitely give it a “thumbs up”.

Now that Thanksgiving is over, we can turn our attention to Christmas.

Alison presents Christmas Letters With a Twist posted at This Wasn't in The Plan. Alison says:

I always love reading all the "this is what our family has done this year" letters that we receive in Christmas cards.

Me too, Alison, and I hate all those sad sacks who complain about receiving them. What, you're happy to receive a Christmas card from me but you can't be bothered to read about what I've been doing? If you don't like keeping up with what your friends are doing, you don't deserve to have friends. Cross them off your Christmas list and save a tree, you old Grinch! Anyway...

joanie presents Mini dioramas for Christmas posted at joanie. Got to include a picture of this project. How cute is this?

And finally here are some miscellaneous makes and tips.

Jon Dyer presents Make Your Own Kubb Set For Dirt Cheap - Jon Dyer’s Blog posted at Jon Dyer's Blog. Jon says:

Kubb is a fun Swedish yard game for 2-12 players that is similar to horseshoes or bocce. It always attracts a crowd when we play the game on the beach, and I’ve yet to meet a player that doesn’t want a set of their own after a couple of rounds.

Sounds like a fun project and a fun game.

zamejias presents Bookmark It! posted at Verb. Instead of a quote I'm going to include a photo of Zam's frugal and unique pary invitations:

Laura Williams presents Candlemaking: Making use of those little candle stubs posted at Laura Williams' Musings. Laura says:

Making "new" candles from those little candle stubs is an easy way to use them up and get new life or light from them.

Summer presents Make your own Baby Wipes posted at Summer's Nook. Photo time again:

Tara presents Dry Brushing posted at walkabout. Tara says:

I've noticed benefits that make me miss brushing if I skip more than three days in a row. Plus it meets two of my biggest criteria for anything these days: it's cheap and good for me.


This entry was submitted before the deadline but was somehow missed in the initial release - I blame gremlins. HowToMe presents How To Make a Draft Stopper for a Door or Window Sill posted at HowToMe. HowToMe says:

In the autumn, I begin laying beach towels against the inside of exterior doors to stop drafts. This year, I’ve decided to recycle some material and leave the towels in the cabinet. Would you like to make a draft stopper for a door or window? Here is how I made an Evergreen Draft Stopper and a Sand Draft Stopper.

That's it, hope you enjoyed the carnival. Next week's carnival will be at Stop the Ride. You can submit your stories here.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Now that I can reliably make tasty, well-shaped sourdough boules every day, I decided to try my hand at a different shape - sourdough baguettes. Here is my first attempt. A bit misshapen, and rather short because my oven isn't as big as a commercial bakery, but definitely baguettes nonetheless.

Weed of the Week - Brambles

Brambles, or wild blackberries, are obviously a very useful plant. I used to say I'd never grow cultivated blackberries, as there are plenty of wild ones to be gathered for free, and they're invasive so they can be a bother in the garden. However they're a perfect candidate for my edible vandal-proof hedge, and they were given to me free, so the one in the photo is a cultivated variety.

I don't need to list the uses of blackberry fruit do I? In the last few weeks I have used them to make jam, wine, pies and liqueur. You can make a cordial from it, you can eat them fresh with cream, make ice cream, add them to yogurt. They're a wonderfully versatile berry.

The leaves are also useful. Gather them when they're young, dry them for a week then crumble them and use exactly as tea leaves. Bramble leaf tea tastes good (you'll find it in the ingredients list of most fruit-flavoured herb teas) and is reputedly good for diarrhoea and a long list of other ailments. But I prefer to mash the berries, pour boiling water over them, steep for a few minutes, then strain and serve with a spoonful of honey for a sweet fruity drink full of vitamin C.

Brambles are also very important for wildlife. Apparently they form an important part of the diet of deer. They grow into thickets which provide protection for small animals, as Uncle Remus, traditional author of the Brer Rabbit stories, well knew. Birds eat the berries in autumn, when worms and insects are becoming scarce (then perch in the tree in my drive and crap purple all over my car, damn them). And insects such as honeybees consume the nectar from the flowers in spring, pollinating the plants in return.

They spread by seeds, but if you spot a bramble seedling early enough it's no bother to get it out. The trouble comes from the runners. Brambles put out long straight branches which grow along the ground with amazing rapidity. Where the tip touches the ground, the plant puts out roots and forms a new plant which can survive even if the runner is severed. Cutting the plants off at ground level only encourages more suckers. If you have a large area infested with a bramble thicket, as dad has in Ireland, or as Welsh Girl had when she first took over her allotment, you have a major task on your hands to clear the ground. Do wear protective clothing as the prickles are vicious and the tough stems form natural tripwires that lacerate your ankle as they knock you face-first to the ground.

Like nettles, they're such a useful plant that I'm very glad to see them growing wild where I can easily gather them. But like nettles, I don't tolerate wild ones in my allotment or garden, and I keep the cultivated ones in check.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Good Day on the Allotment

It was my turn to be on duty in the site shed again this morning, and I had an exciting time. We'd had a new portaloo delivered with an actual flushing toilet. It may not seem much, but it's a huge improvement on a draughty shed with a bucket in it. You can imagine how pleased the chap is whose job it used to be to empty the bucket.

I also found some raspberry canes leaned up against my compost heap. They're from my lovely friend Hazel, and I'll be putting them in the ground very soon.

And I was given a bag of apples by a nice chap called Stuart, who got them from a neighbour. He's going to try to get me some more, in exchange for a bottle of home-made cider.

Finally I picked up a free magazine from a chap called Terry. All in all, not a bad haul for a cold and miserable day on the allotment.


I made my Christmas mincemeat yesterday. It's based on Delia Smith's recipe, but with a few changes. I use a bit less of some of the raisins, sultanas and currants, and add some chopped prunes, apricots and glace cherries. I leave out the almonds and use pecans or walnuts instead. And I add a bag of fresh cranberries. Oh, and I use rather more brandy than Delia does (because there are more ingredients in my batch, of course!) I also don't bother with baking it in the oven as Delia says to do. I've never found it goes off as she warns. In fact there's a jar from 2005 on the shelf which is as good as new. I suspect the generous addition of brandy helps - in Delia's recipe all the alcohol must be driven off in the oven, so the only way to preserve it to to heat it and seal it in sterilised jar.

You really should try making your own mincemeat. It's not at all hard. It's not even cooking. It's just weighing out some ingredients and putting them in a bowl. That's it. Mix it up and spoon it into jars and you're all done. And the best thing about it is that you can do this anytime you fancy, because it stores so well. You don't have to wait until the height of the pre-Christmas panic. I like to do it around November, when I'm starting to feel festive but it's really too soon to do much about it.

A few years ago a friend of mine stated proudly that she made her own mince pies, using shop-bought mincemeat and shop-bought pastry. I'm afraid to say I made her feel bad and bragged that I made mine from scratch. I shouldn't have done that. But it isn't hard to make pastry. And it's even easier than that to make mincemeat.

Cartoon from Climate Cartoons.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

10 Reasons Why Everyone Should Make Yogurt

  • it's the easiest culture you'll ever make, easier than ginger beer or sourdough bread
  • it's cheaper than buying it
  • you can have organic yogurt, skimmed milk yogurt, gold top yogurt, goat's milk yogurt, Jersey yogurt - anything you like
  • it's fun to know how things are made
  • you can make it into soft cheese
  • it's delicious
  • it's good for you
  • you can put a dollop in a chili or curry that's too hot and it will cool it right down
  • you can make a quick and low fat salad dressing (just add your favourite seasonings, stor, and use like mayonnaise)
  • you can freeze it and make home-made frozen yogurt - now that really is the good life

Friday, November 16, 2007

Anagram Competition Results

The voting is now closed on our anagram competition. The most popular anagram of "Dill's Atlantic Giant" was "Titillating Scandal", with 55% of the vote.

So Frank Marsland wins the windmill palm seeds. Congratulations Frank. Honourable mention to Hedgewizard whose entry "Gilt-clad Snail Titan" was also very popular.

Fred and Ginger

I've still got a little Ginger beer left (from my yeast culture), although we are moving over to Fred beer production (made with the authentic ginger beer plant). I thought I'd show you this picture of the final brews side by side. the Fred beer is on the right. You can see it has a much redder colour. Ginger on the left is very pale in comparison.

There are other differences besides the culture. Fred is fed on brown sugar whilst Ginger has white sugar. That's 8 teaspoons over a week and presumably contributes to Fred's reddish colour. In both cases the final brew is sweetened with white sugar. Ginger has the juice of a lemon in the final brew, which might bleach out a little of her natural colour.

As well as a richer colour, Fred has the better taste, too, which is why we've killed off Ginger. The latest batch of Fred beer is extremely peppery, but the kids still drink it, although Sam has taken to getting a glass of water and a glass of Fred beer. He has a drink of Fred and then takes a sip of water to cool it down a bit.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

In the past few weeks I have learned how to make better, tastier bread than I've ever made before. My family like it and are happy to eat it, fresh with butter or toasted for breakfast. But we still weren't not ready to stop buying sliced bread. The kids wouldn't have my bread for their sandwiches at school. I don't blame them - the sandwiches were almost two inches thick. That's a lot of chewing when you just want to finish your packed lunch quickly so you can go out and play.

So today I bought an electric slicing machine from Lakeland. It wasn't cheap, but boy does it do the trick. I sliced a boule of yeasted rye bread I made yesterday and the slices came out thin and even. The kids have had jam sandwiches as an after-school snack, and declare that they're happy to have this bread in their lunch boxes.

I think we've bought our last loaf of Hovis.

Hunting Spare Parts

A while ago I blogged about my 50-year-old food processor. My dad bought it for his mum in 1956, and it has been passed down through the family to me. It's a real workhorse - built before companies realised it was good business to build bad products that would wear out and need replacing every 5 years or less.

A few weeks ago a small but crucial part broke. I fixed it with Araldite (as you can see I have carried out repairs on various bits of the machine), but it broke again repeatedly and eventually was beyond repair.

The Braun service centre said they could not help, as it was just too old and they didn't stock the parts for it anymore. So I took it to a small precision engineer in Macclesfield. He says he is sure they will be able to make me a new part and get my food processor running again. I do hope they can. The motor is strong as an ox. I am sure it has another 50 years to give. It would break my heart to have to throw this lovely old machine out, and all the family history that goes with it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tread Lightly

I've been asked to let you know about a new initiative from The Guardian called "Tread Lightly":

Guardian Tread lightly is a new community site, which aims to encourage online communities into reducing their CO2 emissions through making weekly pledges and recording their actions against their pledges. The idea is that every pledge is simple, straightforward, and something that everyone can do, so that people who are normally put off doing environmental things because it sounds like a lot of effort will find Tread Lightly a good solution to easing their carbon conscience.

I've had a look and there's some interesting stuff on there. For example there's a chance to win an electric car, and if you complete 12 pledges you get a free eco shopping bag. Why not go and check it out, and maybe pledge to make some reductions in your CO2 footprint.

Natural Fly Control

I recently read a tip about fruit flies and knew I had to try it. You pour an inch of cider vinegar in a glass, and a bit of washing up liquid.

I tried it, and within 12 hours there was a layer of dead flies on the bottom of the glass. It's a bit gross, I know, but it's better than catching the damn things in a glass of wine you weren't finished drinking.

Poynton Against Tesco

I took some photos in Poynton yesterday of all the "Poynton Against Tesco" posters I saw. I especially like the shopping bag (bottom centre). I'd have bought one, but the shop was closed, and none of the other shops knew anything about them.

There is certainly an amazing strength of feeling against building a new Tesco in Poynton. There is a "Poynton Against Tesco" website, a "Stop Tesco in Poynton" Facebook group with almost 300 members. Our MP supports the campaign against Tesco in Poynton. Over 6000 people have signed a petition against Tesco in Poynton, which is almost half the population of the village.

We don't want Tesco in Poynton. I hope they get the message. We couldn't be saying it any clearer.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Christmas Cake

I baked the Christmas cake yesterday. I always love they way the house fills with the smell during the long slow baking. When it cooled I stabbed some holes in it with a skewer and poured brandy all over it, then wrapped it up in baking paper and foil and put it away. I'll get it out a few more times for more "feedings" of brandy and by the time I come to decorate it and serve it, you won't be able to have more than a small slice if you're driving.

Happy Birthday, Jill

Jill of Who Could Ask for Anything More is 40 today. Happy birthday, Jill. Hope this will be your best decade yet.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Loaf Baked in Cloche

Here's today's sourdough loaf baked in my poor-man's cloche. I'm going to say no more. The picture says it all.

Anagram Competition Poll

You've got 3 more days to vote in the anagram competition poll. Titillating Scandal pulled ahead to an early lead, but Gilt-clad Snail Titan has surged ahead in the last 24 hours, and the voting is now level. Lit in Lactating Lads and Instant Digital Call are attracting no interest whatsoever. You'd think at least their creators would vote for them, but apparently not.

Vote now for your favourite anagram of "Dill's Atlantic Giant" and choose who will be the lucky winner of two windmill palm tree seeds.

Poor Man's Cloche

I'm becoming obsessed with baking sourdough bread. I've been avidly reading all the information and tips I can find on the internet. One tip which really appealled to me is baking under a cloche.

You can buy a baking cloche for about $50. I can't find a UK supplier, so if I wanted one I'd have to pay international shipping. I imagine it would work out pretty expensive.

Or you can go to your garden centre, buy a 10" plant pot and base, a big nut, a few bolts and washers, and make your own "poor man's cloche". Mine came to less than £10 all told, especially since I got a 10% discount for showing my allotment membership card. The arrangement with the bolt and washers has two purposes - one is to make a sort of handle, helpful for handling oven-hot earthenware. The other purpose is to close the hole at the bottom (top) of the pot, to create a sealed environment. It becomes an oven-within-an-oven (although it can also be used for baking bread on an open fire or barbecue - can't wait to try that).

I gave my poor man's cloche a bit of a clean and then put it in a low oven. I turned the oven up little by little to gradually drive out any residual moisture from the pot. This process took about 3 hours. Then I let it cool slowly, and it was ready for its first use. I'll bake my sourdough boule in it today. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Christmas Cake

I started making my Christmas cake today. I weighed out the dried fruit, chopped the glace cherries and candied peel, and poured over a few slugs of brandy. It will sit overnight so the fruit can soak up the booze, then tomorrow I'll mix and bake the cake.

I use Delia Smith's recipe. I've made it every year for well over a decade now. It's one of the few recipes I use unaltered - I usually make a few "improvements" over the years, and my copy of Delia Smith's Christmas is heavily annotated. But this cake is perfect as it is. No improvement is possible.

M is Musick

My choir, St George's Singers, gave a remarkable concert last night. It was an extremely challenging programme of 20th Century English music, and there were quite a few jitters among the choir. I think we would all have liked a couple more rehearsals at least. But under the leadership of our MD, Neil Taylor, (and with a lot of very hard work on the day) we overcame our insecurity and gave a thrilling concert. For one night choral singing became an extreme sport.

Without doubt the highlight for me was singing Benjamin Britten's cantata "Rejoice in the Lamb". Britten wrote some joyfully bonkers music to accompany the completely bonkers libretto by Christopher Smart. Challenging to sing, yes, but once you "get it", it's enormous fun.

For the flowers are great blessings.
For the flowers have their angels,
Even the words of God's creation.
For the flowers are peculiarly
The poetry of Christ.

Cartoon from Climate Cartoons.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

My Starters Have Arrived

My sourdough starters arrived from Florida today. Each one is just a few grams of dried flakes, but when I mix them with water and flour the yeasty beasties will come back to life and start multiplying. Soon I can make Sanfrancisco sourdough bread, and champagne grape bread (the bread doesn't contain champagne or grapes - the starter was made with champagne grapes).

In return, I have sent some ginger beer plant to the nice lady in Florida who gave me these starters. It's a cross-cultural exchange.


I've had a few people ask where I got the bannetons (proving bowls) that give nice spiral patterns to the bread.

They're from a website called Manufactum. They sell all kinds of strange things, and they seem to be beautifully well-made. For example brass compasses, wooden toys, and their gardening section arouses consumerist feelings in me that I don't normally experience. Have a look. If you can confine yourself to buying only proofing bowls, I'll be very impressed.

Cowpat Bread

If yesterday's sourdough bread was Dali-esque bread, today's bread is cowpat bread. It was even wetter (slacker) than yesterday and just sort of slopped all over the baking sheet when I turned it out. It then rose spectacularly and looks pretty great inside (tastes great too) so we don't mind. But I would like to make bread that looks as good as it tastes.

Someone on The Fresh Loaf suggested dusting the banneton with rice flour to help with sticking. And of course I need to learn to add just the right amount of water to get the light holey loaf I want without the cowpat effect. I'll get there. I'm much happier with this bread than with handome loaves I've made in the past that were dense and chewy.