Monday, 24 February 2020

Real Bread Week and baking with a friend’s flour

We enjoyed the sourdough spelt loaf so much last week that I am repeating it this weekend. This time I am using a spelt flour produced by a friend who farms with her husband in Herefordshire. Lydia sings in Powick Community choir which I belong to. She has the most wonderful alto singing voice with a lovely tone. At practice last night she was asked to sing a solo from Les Miserables, “I dreamed a dream” It was amazing.
Lydia and her husband Toby produce the most beautiful pale cream coloured silky spelt flour. I’ve included a photo of both the spelt and Waitrose strong white flour to show the difference in colour of the two grains.

Strong white flour on left

Lydia and her husband have started to diversify with a pop up restaurant with pizzas for festivals, weddings and other events.

Farming is hard at the best of times and the wet weather which has gone on and on is just an extra worry for the farming community.

I’m excited to be trying this new to me flour that is grown just 16.5 miles away. I’ve just done the first mix so hope to bake tomorrow afternoon.


I found a bowl of beautifully risen dough this morning so I gently knocked it back slightly into s ball and placed in the wooden basket (banneton) and into the fridge where the flavour will develop for a few hours. The dough does not rise in the banneton. All the rise comes in the oven. (oven spring). Slightly translucent bubbles are just visible on the top of the dough.

I baked the loaf on Saturday afternoon and could not resist cutting into it.

This was the tastiest loaf imaginable. It was moist and soft inside with a very crispy crumb and only very slightly sour but nutty taste. I’m a convert to using spelt now.

I have saved this post as from February 22nd it is Real Bread Week.
I am a very proud baker and supporter of our farming community who produce the most amazing flours and seeds for us to cook with.

I encourage everyone to have a go at making bread whether it is an easy, no fuss soda bread, a traditional bread made with yeast or sourdough. Once you get into the habit of baking bread there is no going back. If you haven’t time to bake please do try to buy from traditional bakeries when you can. All these businesses need our support these days.

I have knocked up a crusty topped bloomer or Tiger bread this morning. The recipe was taken from Nancy Birtwhistle’s website. She was the winner of Great British Baker in 2014.
My tiger crust caught slightly so I will reduce the temperature in the recipe next time. An easy recipe that just took 10 minutes kneading, time to prove, 5 minutes shaping, a rest and then 30 minutes in the oven. It’s feasible to start this loaf after breakfast and have it for a late lunch.

So, while we are confined to our homes with the bad weather and floods.....Get Baking! Or building an Ark!

Catherine x

Friday, 21 February 2020

Thirty Q &A’s

I really enjoyed Sue’s post and all those who also did a post on this theme. Yes, it is a bit of a joke but individual bits of character poked through the answers and it gave more insight into the bloggers. 
So, here goes.....

1. Who are you named after?

No one in the family but when I started to do family history I found the name Catherine in a couple of ancestors. It is strange seeing someone else with the same name. My surname was an unusual Irish one (Mangan) and so when I see references to Stephen Mangan, the actor, it makes me think of my brother Stephen who died in 2015.

2. Last time you cried?

D.I.Y. SOS on tv last week. Much more likely to cry these days. Last night at choir practice a young alto sang “I dreamed a dream” from Les Miserables and I got tears in my eyes as she had such a beautiful tone. Very moving.

3. Do you like your handwriting?

Yes. It is not copperplate or anything like but I remember all the practice we did at junior school. Making loops between the rules lines with a dippy pen and ink. It seems almost Victorian now doesn’t it?

4. What is your favourite meat?

really beautifully cooked belly pork. Not the most expensive cut but fabulous flavour and lovely crackling. What’s not to like?

5. Longest relationship?

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Bit and bobs and nothing in particular

It is that kind of day. Slow to get started and waiting for water to subside. Please excuse the poor quality of the video snippet. I was stuck in traffic, listening to ClassicFM!

Have you ever got something out of the freezer and planned it into your weekly meal plan? We had the game pie filling last night all baked in a pie. So far, so good. I had also defrosted what I thought was chilli for tonight’s supper only to take a peek this morning and find it is the extra stuffing made for the goose at Christmas.

It looks very good and it is full of chestnuts but it will not make a complete meal on its own so I’m going out to get a couple of pork chops and a chicken to roast. I will also need some apples for apple sauce. That will teach me to label things. I’m trying to use up all the meals I have made for winter for the freezer as I will not fancy them once Spring arrives.
How is the weather with you? We live about 3 miles from Upton on Severn which has a severe weather warning in place which means there is a danger to life from flooding. It was very bad on Monday night but water levels fell slightly but remained high yesterday. There is a rise in water levels expected again this afternoon as huge volumes of water flows down from Ironbridge, Bewdley then Worcester. I nearly got stranded on the wrong side of the Severn when I took an ecg monitor back to Worcester Royal. The bridge I used was closed to traffic a couple of hours after I crossed back.

Yesterday I decided to stay in and FINALLY got back to some proper crafting. In keeping with my Japanese theme from last week I started a foundation paper pieced wall hanging pattern. I had discovered the fabrics all ready together with the pattern in my sewing room. That is one of the benefits of having a tidy up. The pattern is fairly simple but I struggled to start with as it had been so long since I had used this technique.

Lastly, a photo of two amaryllis bulbs that I was given for Christmas. One has multiple blooms and the other just a few strap like leaves. Both from M & S and both started into growth on the same day. Any idea where I went wrong?

So today is a fairly gentle pottering sort of day. A bit of shopping, tidying and maybe some baking.

Wherever you are, stay dry and stay safe.

Catherine x

Sunday, 16 February 2020

A successful night at W.I.

Despite all my worries about the Japanese inspired evening I was running last Thursday it all went really well. There was a goodish turnout of about 30 members even though the weather was not too good.

Fran in the centre

After the official business session I introduced the theme of the evening and Fran demonstrated 3 different wrappings with the furoshiki. This literally translates a ‘bath sheet’. There has been a resurgence in the popularity of this craft since the early 2000s when it was recognised as a more ecologically acceptable way to wrap gifts.

Add caption

The leaf bag from a silk scarf

I helped about 10 members with some sashiko practice with small kits I made up myself. In the last week I had made a simple book bag with Japanese fabric and some basic sashiko stitching on one side.

The sashiko table

Our final table was laid out with origami papers and examples of four easy models, a fall leaf, a minnow, a windmill and a shell. I had printed out the instructions from the books I had. This table became the centre of great concentration and hilarity.
One member came up late to thank me and to say how much she enjoyed these craft sessions as they gave everyone the opportunity to chat and that even the most shy members had been able to join in. We all enjoy the talks by outside speakers but gathering around a table with everyone trying something new is much appreciated.

On the home front we have done what all the country has been doing and hunkered down to see out the storm. I decided to use up bits and bobs in the fridge and freezer left over from Christmas. This year we had goose for Christmas lunch and I had put the two large legs in the freezer. I came across a recipe for Christmas goose dum biryani at this website. I always have a large stock of spices and had all I needed apart from ground fennel so I pounded up some fennel seeds instead with the garlic and ginger. I don’t often spend all afternoon cooking the evening meal but this was really worth it. However I forgot to take a photo but it was not far off the one in the recipe. The biryani was served with lime wedges, raita, red onion rings and scattered with pomegranate seeds and coriander.
Dessert was a baked cheesecake adapted from several recipes and using up cartons of ricotta and marscapone which had escaped notice and were about a week out of date. They smelt fine and looked ok too so they were whisked up with more cream, lemon zest, vanilla essence, eggs and sugar and put on a base of crushed chocolate digestives. The recipe had said ginger biscuits but these were all I had in the cupboard.
One tip I did get from the net was to cook new season rhubarb in a slow cooker. The stems are cut up into short lengths and put on the base of the container and sprinkled with 100gms of castor sugar. The rhubarb takes 45 minutes to cook and the castor sugar melts into the juices to form a syrup. No water is necessary. This slightly sweet rhubarb perfectly offset the creamy cheesecake and I had the satisfaction of using up things that may have been binned.
I decided not to make a traditional Sunday lunch today as it will be just be for the two of us. I came across a largish piece of rump steak in the freezer so we will be enjoying some griddled steak with chips, baked cherry tomatoes and spinach then some more of the cheesecake. I’ll have to watch what I eat at the beginning of the week to make up for all the calories over the weekend!

Whatever you are doing I hope you have an enjoyable weekend. I’m off to Manchester to see Mum tomorrow so that will mean an early start.

Catherine x

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Relaxing weekend, enforced by Ciara

Good afternoon everyone, I hope you are all safe and warm as storm Ciara passes over the UK.
We travelled up to Cheshire on Friday for my aunts funeral. She was my mother’s last surviving sibling and passed away on New Years Day. Mum was remarkably composed but obviously this was a very sad occasion for everyone in the family. My Mum is nearly 89 and she and her sister in law are the last of that generation. My Mums memory is very good and she remembers so much of their childhood in inner city Manchester in the 1930s. I am encouraging her to write it down from time to time otherwise our children will not have any knowledge of the struggles in the family at this time. Every time we all get together Mum  keeps everyone amused and fascinated with her tales of the past. She is a natural storyteller.

From Manchester we travelled north to stay at the Lyzzick Hall hotel in the Lake District. The hotel nestles against Skiddaw, just outside Keswick.

The view from the sitting room in the hotel

We have stayed at this beautiful family run hotel on a number of occasions. It is close to Applethwaite where my stepdaughter used to live and only ten minutes from her new home. This was the first time we had visited to see the house. It is much larger than her original Lakeland cottage but is quite a project. The house would seem to be late Georgian or early Victorian and has generous sized rooms with high ceilings. However it will involve a lot of hard work, new heating system, electrics and making watertight. It is the kind of project that requires vision but the end result could be stunning.
Originally we were only staying two nights but we took one look at the rain blowing sidewards and the trees bending and swaying and decided it might be too dangerous to risk driving home especially over Shap which is so exposed. Still, no hardship! We had a wonderful Sunday lunch and spent the afternoon reading the papers. Mike went for a swim with the family and we are now settled down with sandwiches and a glass of wine to watch the tv.

So tomorrow we will set off fairly early and before the snow promised for this part of the world.

Catherine X

Saturday, 1 February 2020


I have always been a person who puts things off, a serial procrastinator. As a schoolgirl I would put off homework until the night before it was due. As a student pianist I did most of my practice on the day, if not the evening, of the day before a lesson. As an adult, you would think that I had learnt by now that it saves a lot of anxiety if tasks are started and planned in good time. But, oh dear no!

When I moved I started going to the local W.I. group and eventually was co-opted on to the committee. When we were planning this year’s programme way back in September we decided on a number of speakers but were stumped for an idea for the February meeting. I mumbled something about furoshiki as I was planning to do a 2 hour workshop to learn the art of Japanese fabric wrapping in November. The President jumped on this idea as it sounded innovative and before I knew it I was down on the programme as the entertainment for February. Nil desperandum, I thought, it will be a piece of cake.

My friend Fran said she would come with me and help with the WI meeting. She has been my close friend and co-conspirator since I moved here. She is my next door but one neighbour, an ex nurse and loves quilting and other handicrafts. She took to fabric manipulating extremely well. Needless to say I did not.

Fran studiously tying knots

Her beautifully wrapped parcel of books

I started to feel panicky. The end of the session was in sight and my attempts were pathetic. Fran assured me that we could get together and practice in good time. Christmas came and went and we said we would get together but circumstances meant we were unable to in January. By the end of the month I was waking up in the night, tossing and turning and worrying about the forthcoming WI meeting. Even if I mastered the one type of fold it would not fill the hour.

Then another good friend came to the rescue and suggested why not demonstrate several Japanese crafts. For those that followed my previous blog, ditsygranquilts. Jane was one of the Honey Bee friends that used to come to my house on a monthly basis to quilt and have lunch. Why not try sashiko? She had done a simple sample at a class, had a book and a spare kit. I felt myself visibly relax at the suggestion. This was achievable so I ordered some sashiko threads and fabrics and will practice this tomorrow before making up some small kits for members who want to try their hand.

This morning a beautiful package arrived from the woman who had run the furoshiko class. I had ordered two cloths and she had included a booklet with history, and method. Fran and I have a large selection of square scarfs that could also be put to good use.
The package shows the care and attention that is given to the presentation of gifts in Japan. Stunning folded tissue with cherry blossom seals, a folded origami flowers and washi tape. A delight to open.

For the non stitching members I will organise a table for origami. As luck would have it I had purchased a few books before Christmas and one of these had enough origami paper at the back for about 20 people.

So, with the help of friends, we will enjoy some furoshiko, sashiko and origami. I can spend the next week stitching Janes project and cutting fabric for the kits. Fran is coming on Monday to practice the furoshiko.
 I can honestly say I am blessed with my friends and will NEVER procrastinate again ( until the next time!)

Enjoy the weekend.
Catherine x

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Sourdough bread

One of my new hobbies has been renewing an interest in bread making and in particular using a sourdough starter. This is a mix of flour and water that ferments and becomes active with ‘good bacteria’ and yeasts. It is fed twice daily to build up its strength and from then on can be put in the fridge to slow the action and be brought out to use in the baking process.
As with all new hobbies this is a learning curve and my first loaves were like frisbees. A bit close textured and with little rise. However I persevered, read books, articles and blogs, joined Facebook groups and eventually I started to produce what I think is an enjoyable sourdough loaf. The texture is fairly airy and it has a crispy crust. There are many advantages of using a starter like this. The taste is super and not too sour, the bread is more easily digested because of the action of the yeasts and bacteria than standard bread and it has good keeping qualities.
I am going to see a friend in Gloucestershire today for a belated birthday lunch and decided to take her a small boule of my bread and a jar of homemade marmalade. I took photos yesterday of the various stages in the process.

The first photo is of the first mix of strong white flour, water, starter and salt. This is all that goes into making a plain white sourdough boule.It is a rather shaggy mix that is left for an hour to let the process start. This is called ‘autolyse’

For the next couple of hours I performed a series of stretch and folds every thirty minutes or so but timing is not that important at this stage. The dough is grabbed at one side, pulled upwards and stretched over to the other side of the bowl. The bowl is turned and the stretch is repeated about 8-20 times. All the work is done in the bowl and I don’t do a traditional knead.
Afte a couple of hours the bowl is covered and then left to prove, usually overnight at room temperature. I cheated yesterday and proved on the dough setting in my oven to speed up the process so I could bake this morning.

After the overnight prove I would generally shape and place in a wooden basket called a banneton. This is put in the fridge to develop flavour and firm up prior to baking. However last night I had speeded up the process, shaped and put into the bannetons and into the fridge.

This morning I turned out the dough, score the top and baked. I put the dough in an enamel roaster with a lid. This goes into the cold oven which I then set at 240c fan for 30 minutes then reduce to 220cfan. As this was a small boule I baked for 45 minutes but my normal sourdough loaves bake for a total of 60 minutes.

This is the final result which I will wrap in baking paper tied with string. I also have a jar of homemade Merry marmalade (with gin) for her.

So, that’s the start of my day. I’m looking forward to lunch out and then this evening a concert by the King Singers at the Malvern Theatre.


Monday, 27 January 2020

Still got Blogger problems and UPDATE

This post is just to say thank you for all the comments on my last two posts.
I am still having problems with answering the comments individually in Blogger. For those of you who are more expert in these things I did the following.
I went into Blogger settings, then email and comments. When the setting is ‘embedded’ I see the reply button below each comment but if I click this it says comment as Blogger profile but without my photo and my replies just disappear even if I try to log in again ( this does not work!). If I change the setting to ‘full page’ there does not seem to be a reply button. Very frustrating.
So, while I investigate and send off various messages, please bear with me. As they sometimes say on the phone ‘ your call is very important to us...’.
I shall try again this evening.
More in frustration than hope,

Catherine x

4pm. I seem to have fixed the problem on my iPad. I use the default Safari browser normally and after searching the net The answer seemed to be to download another web browser so I installed Chrome from the App Store and voila, I am still logged in on Google and can reply to your comments. I am no expert but it looks like it may be the answer. Thank you for your patience x

Sunday, 26 January 2020


Good morning everyone (anyone?).

I love Sundays! Even though I have been retired for almost 20 years (I gave up working at the age of 47) I still love the weekend feeling. It is a day of possibilities but with fixed points. Generally we enjoy a traditional lunch but there is time for a walk or hobbies and lots of time for reading the Sunday papers.
Sunday now includes choir practice at 4.30pm. I have always loved singing. I suppose I have sung in various choirs since the age of eight when I started in a Primary school choir with the formidable Mrs Ness, a third year teacher. She was not well liked by the children there as she was known to be strict. In the 1950s teachers were still using physical punishments for minor misdemeanours in school. She was fairly keen on a thwack with a wooden ruler on the back of the legs. Luckily I avoided her wrath! However she was a good musician. Isn’t it amazing how details of the past come flooding back when you write about past times? I even remember some of the songs. We sang The Ash Tree and Waltzing Matilda at a competition once. Anyway, I digress.

I lived in Northern Ireland from about 1983 until 1990 where I joined the local Parish church choir in Bangor, Co.Down. The church had a fine musical tradition and it was an honour to sing there. When I moved to Penarth in South Wales and married Mike I joined the Cavatina choir. This was a fairly large SATB choir who sang a varied repertoire.

One of the attractions of the Malvern area is the huge musical tradition. The English composer Elgar was born near here and the Malvern Hills inspired many of his compositions. I joined the Powick Community Choir about eighteen months ago. It is a large SATB choir under the musical directorship of Tom Wells, a local councillor and former teacher of music. We sing a varied repertoire from Mozart to Mercury. Tom is a talented composer himself. Our main concerts are sung every Christmas at Stanbrook Abbey where we sing six concerts over four nights, a mammoth task. Stanbrook is now a hotel but it has retained a large former chapel in its original state and the acoustic is magnificent.
Singing is well known for its positive effects on mental health and well-being. It has been a constant in my life and whatever problems I might have are forgotten for the couple of hours singing with others. I can not recommend it enough.

Sabrina Voices

So, that’s today sorted. The papers, some ironing (hateful), last nights postponed Burns Night supper for lunch then choir practice at 4.30.

Click on this to hear the choir

Christmas at Stanbrook

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Where to start?

There may be a few people reading this who think I simply disappeared in 2015! My brother’s death then a rather protracted house move meant I felt exhausted and just too tired to bother with writing a blog. I feel quite guilty that I have enjoyed reading the blogs I subscribe to and was giving nothing back. Also, selfishly, I realise I have no record of the changes to my life for the last 4 years.
Well, all that is about to change. I have decided to start a new blog as I do less quilting now but I still enjoy some crafting.
Mike and I moved to a beautiful village in Worcestershire. I have new hobbies, new as well as old friends and family changes too. So many changes it is difficult to know where to start so for this first post I will tell you about our new house and the village.
Our house sale took forever which meant we had plenty of time to look around to see where we might like to live. I have two daughters, both with families, and a stepdaughter and family too, so we needed to be able to get to them fairly easily. My parents were living in Manchester too. We decided that somewhere in the Midlands with easy access to the M5/M6 corridor would suit best. At heart we both need the peace and quiet of the countryside but with the chance of making new friends and ntaking up new hobbies. After months of searching we decided that the area of south Worcestershire around Malvern suited us best. Small villages and market towns, a thriving music scene, beautiful countryside and almost equidistant from one daughter in the Lakes and one in Wiltshire with the others in between.
We had very few preconceived ideas about the type of house that would suit us after living at East Barn. We looked at Tudor cottages, converted barns, Arts and Crafts Edwardian houses but finally decided on a fairly standard design modern house in the heart of a popular village. The house purchase left us sufficient funds to do some building work, replace the boiler and make the house that would suit us for the foreseeable future.
Hanley Swan is picturesque. We have a village pub, a village green, a duck pond, a shop/post office, a village hall, a couple of churches and easy access to our nearest small town of Malvern. Many local groups use the village hall and I joined the local W.I. almost as soon as we moved.
So, a few photos.
Firstly, the sitting room before and after a new fireplace and redecoration

The outside looking away from the house in summer and winter.

The garden was totally enclosed at the back by huge evergreens which we had removed in the first year leaving a totally blank canvas so this is an ongoing project.

I’m sure that is quite enough for today. I’ve so much to tell you that this could go on for a long time. I’ll leave you with a sunset from earlier this week.

I hope you will follow along for a bit and please leave a comment so that I know someone has read the post. It feels a bit as if I am sending this out into the dark!

Catherine. xxx