Monthly Archives: April 2011

Spelt Pita Bread on the Grill

Spelt Pita Bread

I short while ago I spied a recipe for Perfect Pita Pockets from @DomesticJules on Twitter. Ever since I’ve been looking for an excuse to make a batch. The presence of hummus in my fridge was reason enough, but the fine weather upped the ante, challenging me to cook these puppies (er, pitas) on the outdoor grill.

It had never before occurred to me to make pita bread at home. Their pockety nature  seemed a thing of magic to me. But as I’ve discovered, pita bread is actually much simpler than most yeast breads. There’s no need to let the dough rise, and there’s no delicate transfer of risen dough-ball to hot hot oven.

Making pitas is a lot like making a pizza base: you roll out a disk of dough and bake it, simple as that. And even simpler on the grill, where it’s easy to monitor the doneness of the pitas as they puff and blister on the hot grill plate (a process that takes less than a minute on both sides).

Just add hummus

Jules’ recipe uses strong white bread flour, but I decided to be daring and subbed half the white flour for wholegrain spelt flour. All other ingredients remained the same. Jules rolled hers into four large, long ovals, but I made mine into six smaller, round disks. You could just as easily make little mini pitas. The choice is yours.

I also found it’s good to experiment with the thickness a bit. If you roll the pitas too thin, they don’t puff up as well, and the resulting pockets don’t have good structural integrity. No worries though; you can use these round flatbreads as wraps rather than pockets.

Spelt Pita Bread

Adapted from Jules’ Perfect Pita Pockets recipe. I describe how to make them on a grill but also give Jules’ directions for baking in an oven below.

Ingredients

  • 150 ml warm water
  • 1 tsp dried yeast
  • pinch of sugar
  • 125g strong white bread flour
  • 125g spelt flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 15g butter, softened

Method

  1. In a jug mix warm water, yeast and sugar together. Leave for 15min for a froth to form on the top.
  2. . In a bowl mix together flour, salt and butter. Gradually stir in the yeasty water until you have a nice dough. Knead for 10 min by hand or 2 min in the mixer.
  3. Turn on the grill as high as it can go.  Meanwhile, split the dough into 6 pieces and roll each into a ball. Flatten each piece of dough with a rolling pin, until it is about 5mm thick. Give each a dusting of flour and layer them on a plate.
  4. Take your pitas to the grill and lay them on (as many as will fit) and pay attention.  They’ll start to bubble and puff within seconds.  Once the whole pita starts bubbling, use a spatula to flip the pita over (you can use tongs but be careful as they might pierce the pita bubble!).  The pita should puff up like a balloon.  Flip over again and cook until they’re as done as you like (I like mine with lots of burny black bits on it).
  5. When done, remove the pita to a plate and cover with a towel to keep warm.

Makes 6 pitas.

To cook in an oven: Preheat oven to 220c. In step 3., place rolled out disks on a floured baking tray. Dust with flour and bake for 8-10 until puffed and golden.

I’m in The Foodie Bugle

TheFoodieBugle 1

The Foodie Bugle is a relatively new online magazine devoted to good food and drink. I like it because it’s a bit different from the usual chef worship and recipe extravaganza that most food blogs go for. Instead, The Foodie Bugle has a more diverse range of articles about food producers, gourmet travel, cookbooks and cookery schools.

I was thrilled this week that The Foodie Bugle chose not one, but two of my submissions to be included in their latest issue, along with some of my food photography. Both pieces are about cookery schools I’ve attended with Rachel Demuth’s Vegetarian Cookery School, one in Bath, the other in France. Please check them out and leave comments if you’re so inclined:

Spiced White Beans and Swiss Chard

White beans and chard

The esteemed WeGrowOurOwn blog is currently running a seasonal food recipe contest and I was chuffed to learn that my spiced white bean and swiss chard recipe made it to the final round.

The dish was adapted from a recipe my mom inherited from the owner of her local Indian grocery. The original recipe called for chickpeas and spinach, but I discovered that cannellini beans and chard turn this into an unlikely fusion of Italian and Indian cuisine, a marriage that works surprisingly well (the ultimate royal wedding?).

Consequentially, Choclette (also a finalist in the competition) informed me that this dish does very well with nettles, too!

Please visit WeGrowOurOwn to see the recipe and vote on my awesome dish…

Finalists for April’s Cultivate, Cook & Click Competition [wegrowourown.co.uk]

Wildflower Days

Sunshine morning

I feel privileged to live on a farm surrounded by native wildflower meadows. I’ve never been into flowers before, but now that they’re all around me, I find myself noticing the seasons more as the flowers come and go. I’m told this season is unusually warm, and as a result, the Snakeshead Fritillaries were both abundant and brief. They’re all a bit shrivelled and sad now, but I got a few good walks in to take some pictures and enjoy their brief visit.

Snakeshead Fritillary

To see some truly amazing photos of fritillaries, bluebells and more (many taken in my own neighborhood in North Wiltshire), visit my Flickr friend Eva’s blogs:

Eva and I stumbled across each other’s photos because we’d both uploaded pics taken on the farm. Now she gives me all kinds of wonderful tips on where to find native wildflowers in my neighborhood to enjoy and take pictures of. I hate to be a social media nerd bot, but it’s stuff like that which really makes social media supremely awesome. Oh but let’s face it – I AM a nerd bot. So be it!

Goodbye sweet Jay

Goodbye sweet Jay

After many months of trial, error, guilt and indecision, I finally decided that Jay would do better with a more experienced dog owner. It was with a heavy heart and a lot of tears that I dropped Jay off at his new home yesterday, but in the end I believe I did what’s best, both for me and the dog.

Going through all of this has been a long process, and I don’t really feel like rehashing all of the emotions from recent weeks. If you wish to read some of the story, you can read my posts / discussions on the pet forums:

As hard as this has been, I do believe Jay is in a better place. He’s gone full circle, from Brecon and Cardiff in South Wales, to me in Wiltshire, to his new home in North Wales.

North Wales Jay's new home

Seeing his new home, a small rescue on a nice farm overlooking the hills, helped put me at ease that I was doing right by this dog. I truly believe that the people there will help Jay overcome is issues and rise to his full potential. They already have an owner lined up for after Jay’s been through his training and rehabilitation.

A while ago I asked if dogs were the secret to lifelong health and happiness. After six months with Jay, I think there might be something to it. But I think there’s also something to choosing the right dog that fits your lifestyle and experience. Jay and I weren’t right for each other, but just like Jay has (hopefully) found a new place that’s right for him, I hope there’s a dog out there that’s right for me.

But first I’m going to take a good long while to get over Jay, focus on my own well-being, and get my life back in order before I consider another dog again.

A few thank-yous to some special people who have helped me deal:

  • To the marvellous marvellous people on dogspages.co.uk and petforums.co.uk. I have never before experienced such kindness and support from such a phenomenal group of total strangers.
  • To Happy Days Animal Rescue for taking in Jay and giving him a new lease on life
  • To Barbara Sykes of Mainline Border Collie Centre for her support in training and rehoming Jay
  • To Rachel from True Canine for her tireless emails and phone calls
  • To my mom and sis for their listening, and sharing their own stories of animal training through their horses
  • To Tim who is always there for me

Garden Update: End of an Era

Clay oven no more

A few months ago, something sad happened on the way to the clay oven: it imploded.

Clay oven implosion

What can I say? It was version one. And it was a wet winter. But this was supposed to be a garden update, so why bring up the sad demise of the clay oven?

Well, after months of letting it languish in a pile in the garden, I finally made peace and relocated the oven to the potholes in the cattle yard. Still, what remained was a table and a whole lotta bricks, so I decided to use them for good.

The bricks went towards putting in a small raised bed against a ne’er used gate along the garden wall.

Garden situation

The clay oven table is now supporting trays for rocket, salad and herbs.

For herbs and such

I’m pleased with the oven’s rebirth. And it really IS a rebirth. Rocket is already sprouting in the trays, as is the perpetual spinach in the raised bed, and I’ve gotta believe the garlic and radishes are making headway beneath the soil in the new brick-lined bed.

Meanwhile, indoors, I’ve got loads of sprouting going on: cucumber, tomatoes, peppers, yellow onions, spring onions, purple sprouting broccoli, lettuces… some are just starting to show signs of their first “true” leaves.

Not all joy

Now, I wait. Everything looks a bit… empty at the moment. I’m looking forward to the beds filling up with greenery and yummy veg.

My Writing Day

Hi folks. I’m trying to build up marketing momentum on my side project, Writer’s Residence, the site that let’s you “create a beautiful writing portfolio with ease”. In doing so, I’ve been blogging a bit on the Writer’s Residence Blog, and Tweeting over at @wrires. I really enjoyed writing this last post, so am cross-posting it here cuz it has lots to do with the whole “smarter fitter” thing, too. But do please visit the original post at WritersResidence.com, and feel free to follow and say hi on Twitter.

Wrires

Linda Jones of Freelancewritingtips.com wrote an entertaining and fascinating post this week called “My writing day”, which basically does what it says on the tin: it describes a day in the life of a freelance writer, editor and mom.

I love posts like these that dive into the nitty gritty of one specific person’s experience. It just goes to show how everyone’s is different. While Linda is dealing with her 12-year-old twins and responding to pitches, others have different responsibilities.

So here’s my writing day, written based on today. Of course, this changes every day, but such is the life of a freelancer – always changing, never predictable, but always free.

My writing day

Home office

I wake up at 5:15am because I’m a morning person. As soon as I’m awake I think of all the things I have to do. This is both exciting and annoying.

I get out of bed, turn on the kettle and prop my laptop on the kitchen counter. There I stand for the next hour drinking a cup of tea and finishing whatever it was I started the night before. Today it was a short blog post on composting. I do my best writing in the morning.

After my tea I’m feeling a little more energetic, so head to the gym to lift some weights. I’m tired today. Sore. Could have used more sleep. But I push on, and feel good for having done something (one is better than zero).

Then I come home and have a smoothie and a cup of decaf coffee. By now it’s 8:15am and the dog is giving me that “is it time to go for a walk yet?” look, so I give in and take him for a half hour romp in the fields.

Home again. The need to start working is nagging at me. But toast with almond butter and tea sound nice. So I get that all set up, and as the clouds descent on what was a sunny day, I decide this is a good day to work from bed.

It’s just past 9am. Right. In my mind I list three things I’ve been meaning to do – follow up with an editor on an unpaid invoice, email one of my clients with some edits to some marketing material, and write a proposal for another client for a bit of social media writing I want to do. I tell myself “get it done in an hour”. And I push.

I make the 1-hour deadline, and it’s on to the next thing: a blog post due Wednesday for another client. This one requires some research. I both love and hate research. It’s fun searching Google and reading about things, but it always feels like fake work for me. Nevermind, I can charge for it. Life is good.

Research is exhausting, even when done in bed. So I stretch my legs with another dog walk, and decide it’s time for lunch. Or rather, brunch. It’s only 11:30am, but I’m famished. Over the weekend I made some salsa and sauteed a bunch of onion, potato and green pepper. This made brunch a simple matter of heating up the potato mixture, adding egg and salsa, and viola: a mexican scrambled egg concoction that really hit the spot.

Mexican super scramble

Quick but nutritious lunches are essential for the busy freelancer – I often get the nutritious part right, but not so much the “quick” part. Such is the joy of working from home – ultimate freedom to make involved lunches of fresh baked breads, complicated soups and endless salads with homemade vinaigrettes. But then – whoops! – the day is gone, and nothing got done.

I did not fall into that trap today.

Back to work (and back to bed). There’s an instant message from a client. He’s got two requests: one for a bit of copywriting for his website, the other a blog post. I say “I’ll have this done by 3pm” because I like to set myself deadlines. This keeps me busy for a couple of hours. Then I have a call with another client whose blog I write for to discuss content for the week. It’s getting late in the afternoon, and my creativity starts to wane. Time for another dog walk.

Back at home I’m not in the mood for much writing, so I do some networking instead. I check in on Twitter where I am once again overwhelmed by the numerous online presences I’ve created for myself and promise to make time to consolidate it all at some point. But not right now, because we’re approaching the dinner hour. Time to relax with some Radio 6 and a vegetable-chopping session.

I feed the dog and feed myself then clean up and turn on the kettle. It’s the home stretch and I like to use my evenings to work on fun projects like photography or SmarterFitter. Today, it’s Writer’s Residence. So I wrote this. But I probably won’t publish it until the morning, so I can give it once last look with fresh eyes. Then again, I’m feeling sassy tonight – maybe I’ll just go for it.

Unfortunately, getting up at 5:15am means I’m pretty wiped by about 8:30pm… which was 13 minutes ago. So I make myself a cup of tea, and then tell Jay dog that “it’s time for sleep”. Dog gets a floor cuddle before the end of the day, so I sit on the floor with him and tell him he’s a good boy until he gets over excited and I say “fine, be that way.” Then I get into bed with my tea and a book – Margaret Atwood’s “Blind Assassin” at the moment. But I usually only get through a few pages before I pass out like a lump.

Please visit the original post at WritersResidence.com and come say hi on Twitter.

I’ve never been so excited about food waste

New compost bin

I just installed my first ever compost bin. And then I mowed the lawn.

How thrilling it was to throw my first haul of grass clippings into the bin! Add to that some twigs and soil, and my composter is ready for its real meal: food waste!

For a long time I thought composting would be too problematic – I live in a marshy area that’s prone to rats and other rodents. But then my neighbour told me that the council sells discounted compost bins. A little interweb research uncovered the allegedly “rodent proof” Green Johanna, sold by Wiltshire council for a bargain £24 delivered.

I’m not exactly thrilled about having a big hunk of plastic on my lawn. And my, what a big hunk of plastic it is – the Green Johanna is massive. And massively ugly. I’m going to have to get creative with the shrubbery to hide it from view.

However, I AM thrilled about composting. As a vegetarian, indeed, as an eater of food, I throw away a LOT of food waste, from onion skins to apple cores to carrot peels. Throw away no more! I can now compost it! And I’m amazed by all of the things that are suitable for composting:

From the kitchen: Fruit, vegetables, dairy products, fish, shellfish, meat,bones, coffee grounds with filter, teabags, eggshells, bread, sauce, soup,egg cartons and so on.

From the garden: Grass, leaves, twigs and branches.

And no more buying compost at the garden centre, I hope.

Composting is all about the interplay between nitrogen- and carbon-rich matter which allows waste to be broken down into healthy, nutritious compost suitable for feeding plants in the garden. There’s a knack to getting the balance right between nitrogen-rich “green” stuff (veggie scraps, coffee grounds, grass clippings) and carbon-rich “brown” stuff (leaves, straw, shredded paper, etc). We’ll see if I have the knack. (I just hope I don’t have any rats!)

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy

Have I crossed the threshold between logical scientist and smelly hippy?

As some of you know, I’ve been working through some problems with my easily-excited border collie, Jay. It’s been a rough few weeks – you can read the gory details on petforums.co.uk – but among the trials and tribulations have been an amazing amount of support and help from my family, friends and the AMAZINGLY compassionate dog community.

In my ongoing discussions with the Internet-savvy dog lovers of Britain, many folks suggested I try using essential oils, particularly geranium and lavender, to calm Jay down. I dismissed this for a couple weeks as hippy hoo-ha, but after a couple weeks of hyper dog (the long sunny days seem to really wind him up), I finally caved in. Last Tuesday, before my epic ladies lunch at Olive Tree in Bath, I headed to Neal’s Yard Remedies to pick up some oils and this nifty oil burner thing (pictured above).

You know what’s amazing – I think the oils might actually work. Okay, maybe it’s a coincidence, but every time I light up the burner (with a bit of water and a few drops of oil in the bowl), it isn’t long before Jay kicks back and settles down.

Then I think – maybe the oils are doing me a bit of good, too. Perhaps dog and I are both chilling out, and thus, making the environment more calm overall.

At the very least, it smells nice. And I like the way the burner looks. There’s something to be said about fire and clay. Both bring me a sense of peace and tranquility. Add to that a little Calm Your Canine classical music, and we’re almost approaching ultimate chill-out territory. For a little while, at least.

Ladies who lunch… at Olive Tree Restaurant

Salad of vegetables, orange miso and toasted seeds

My most recent commission from Food Magazine took me to Olive Tree Restaurant at the Queensberry Hotel in Bath. I took along Rachel Demuth (of Demuths Restaurant and Vegetarian Cookery School) for a three-course lunch, having no idea what to expect, and feeling a little nervous that it wouldn’t live up to the standards of one of my all-time favourite vegetarian chefs.

As it turned out, Olive Tree Restaurant is one of the poshest restaurants in Bath. I called in advance and told them we were both vegetarians. When we arrived, there was a whole vegetarian menu with options galore.

Crisp tempura of vegetables, honey and wasabi

Every dish was gorgeously presented, with such care and attention to detail. Think paper-thin slices of cucumber, with little decorative holes cut out; a train of gnocchi (the chewiest, most delightful gnocchi I’ve ever had) riding on a track of squash puree and balsamic; tempura carefully arranged to create an explosion of colour and texture on the plate; tagliatelle with the freshest peas and broad beans, wading in the richest gorgonzola cream sauce.

Panfried potato gnocchi, caramelized butternut squash & goats cheese Pea and broad bean tagliatelle, grana parmesan and fine herbs

Needless to say, the desserts were equally impressive. The “blood orange bavarois with exotic fruit salad and blood orange curd” made me smile – do you think they deliberately tried to make it look like a snail?

Blood orange bavarois with exotic fruit salad and blood orange curd

And what words can really be said about the rich “Valrhona dark chocolate delice with raspberries and almonds”?

Valrhona dark chocolate delice with raspberries and almonds

The amazing thing is, they price the veggie set lunch at £18.50 for two courses and £22.50 for three courses, which I think is a real deal. And they said they do a similar deal for veggies at dinnertime, making Olive Tree a great option for vegetarians looking for a flash dinner out in Bath. Word on the street (er, from their bartender) is they have an awesome bar upstairs with loads of interesting whiskeys to try. I will have to go back sometime for dinner, though Rachel and I both agree that the “ladies that lunch” aspect was incredibly appealing. We were there almost three hours, and finished with a civilised spot of tea.

So I guess I’ll need to buy a hat and a handbag, then. (Silly me showed up in ripped jeans and converse all stars!)

One last picture from Bath that really requires no caption:

The Knob Connection