Fig and walnut bread

Well, this turned out better than expected! I made a Fig and walnut loaf from Leith’s Baking Bible yesterday afternoon and wasn’t really convinced by the recipe. As I had a work do last night, didn’t have time to take a photo or taste until this morning:

 Leith’s recipe called for malted brown flour, which I’ve never used before so I found Doves Farm Malthouse flour – a combination of wheat and rye flours with flaked malted grains. Surprisingly, Sainsbury’s had this. Still not 100% sure this was the right flour to use but the bread is rather good so definitely making this again. I just had the end bit with butter straight from the fridge and it spread well, which is always a good sign. One thing I’d do next time is chop figs into smaller bits and also give the dough a slightly longer 1st rise (that’s two things actually). I was in a bit of a rush yesterday. I did end up with a smallish but rather cute loaf:

 Mind you, I only did half the quantity – recipe was for two 450g loaves. There’s some honey in the bread and walnut oil as well as chopped walnuts and figs, it has a lovely taste. Feel a bit bad now for doubting the recipe – this was mainly because I got so used to making breads from River Cottage and Dan Lepard over the past months that any deviation in method (e.g. slashing the loaf before the final rise) sounds wrong. Anyway, really pleased with the result and glad I’ve found a good loaf to make for the cheese course for our early Christmas family get together.

Talking about Christmas get togethers, I’ve got two more puddings to make, today being Stir up Sunday. One for us to have on Christmas Day and one to take to another family get together a few days later. Was rather looking forward to this right up until this morning as I woke up feeling a bit fragile. Too much booze last night, am such a lightweight. Oh well, at least puddings not very complicated to make.

Signing off with a couple of ‘creative’ shots of Guildhall I took last night. Must plan an evening walk to take more shots of the City being empty and eerie (hopefully), these were just taken with phone and then messed with:

Just read, The Bookshop, Penelope Fitzgerald

 This is a great little book and I am glad I’ve finally read it. Must have had it for at least a couple of years and I’ve no idea why I waited for so long to read it. Penelope Fitzgerald wrote it in 1978 and a lot of people now probably aren’t familiar with her work, which is a shame. I guess that every generation has authors it has grown up with, then with the classics and the new books, some very good authors outside that generation and perhaps not quite deemed ‘classic’ become less well known to readers of a certain age. The Bookshop is a great example how to say a lot with a very few words, there is nothing unnecessary here, certainly no pretentious language, just excellent observation. And the ending, well, I won’t talk about it but it made me think.

I bough Fitzgerald’s Offshore at the same time so am looking forward to reading it soon. However, the one book of hers that I really, really want to read is The Blue Notebook, the one about German Romantic poet and philosopher Novalis. I am super fond of German Romantics, studied them a bit not so long ago, they were a bit tricky to get on with at first, all that talk of artists as priests and art galleries as temples but, in the end, I did get on with them and they served me very well in an exam. I am certain that The Guardian’s list of 1,000 novels everyone should read first told me of Penelope Fitzgerald, it really is a great resource for finding good books I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

So, I am working hard at reducing my ‘pile of shame’ books before another load of titles comes at Christmas. I’m sort of ‘on track’ for my November reading list even though I’ve thrown in a couple of unexpected non-fiction titles into the mix, thinking they’d be helpful with the history course I am doing at the moment. Currently reading Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel and having read his Collapse earlier this year, at least I am familiar with some of his ideas so am getting through it fairly quickly. Next non-study related book is going to be the latest Kate Summerscale, the one about the Victorian divorce scandal.

Just re-read, Empire, Niall Ferguson

This is turning out to be a week of book posts and I am on the way to fulfilling this month’s reading task (self-prescribed), feels like being back at school proper!

 I’ve read Empire: How Britain made the Modern World by Niall Ferguson before, bought it when it first came out in paperback around 8-9 years ago, it was one of the first popular history books I’d bought and I remember finding it hugely interesting at the time. In a way, it helped lead me to study history proper. Coming back to it now (it’s on the background reading list for an imperialism course I’m doing, hence I thought I should read it again), I can see why it was popular in the first place – Ferguson throws in some interesting characters from the history of empire, some mad, bad and dangerous to know, some genuinely fascinating, adds a few key events, some thoughts of other historians (from the period and 20th century), which he doesn’t always credit and makes it all into an enjoyable read. He does tend to fit in events and personalities to his own argument though and sometimes his arguments don’t show the whole picture – and this I’ve only realised on second reading, now that I am a bit more familiar with the subject. I couldn’t help thinking that he is a bit of a preening peacock. Still, it’s a pretty useful book regardless of whether you think empire was a good or bad thing. After I read it the first time, I did buy some of his other books (Colosus and the one about money) but have not read them, the preening peacock impression too strong in my mind… Maybe I will, one day but first, Michael Wood’s Conquistadors. Less than 300 pages that one, perhaps reading plan for November will work and that’s all very exciting.

Plum cobbler with hazelnut and oat crumble topping

 Today’s quick bake, Plum cobbler with hazelnut and oat crumble topping, from Short and Sweet by Dan Lepard. Hate to say it but Instagram does make it look lovely. I went off instagram over summer when sharing photos was made compulsory but now might start using it again. I made the cobbler/crumble hours ago and we actually had it for breakfast, which was rather decadent. Didn’t have time to post earlier as was in a rush. Cobbler/ crumble was lovely, good crunch from hazelnuts.

I was planning a different breakfast, sort of a hash made with leftover salt beef brisket and mash from Hugh FW’s Three Good Things but run out of time as we had tickets to see the new Bond film. I was also making sourdough and had to time the final proving while we were out watching the film. So, today’s been a bit chaotic. Film was OK, think I liked it more than some of the recent Bonds, loved the cinematography but then Roger Deakins is always brilliant and I also liked how it was a return to basics. It was a bit slow though at times and Bond shouldn’t be slow, perhaps I was willing it to get on with it as had sourdough waiting to go into the oven…

Now, back at home, sourdough done and the salt beef hash/cakes are chilling. Back to kitchen, making lasagne with cavolo nero and mushrooms (another River Cottage Veg recipe). Long walk tomorrow planned, must walk off all this food…

Kennet and Avon Canal walk

Yesterday’s walk, along a short, 2 mile stretch of Kennet and Avon Canal between Aldermaston and Woolhampton, then up towards Bucklebury for lunch in a friend’s pub.

Also walked through Carbins Wood but didn’t take any pictures of it as was a bit difficult to  pick out a path through bog and mud and we were running late. Weather was rubbish as usual, canal bit was the nicest part of the walk despite the rain. Lunch was excellent including a pint of great local ale. Would like to return in better weather perhaps and walk through Bucklebury Common – it sounds like it belongs in the Shire/ Hobiton, no? Definitely avoid going on a Saturday when there are races at Newbury as train full of yobs wearing suits and drinking beer. Smelly and loud. Canal walk so peaceful and quiet in contrast.

Photos manipulated and filtered with Pixlromatic – have installed some new filters and effects (paid for them too, which I don’t do very often!). Am going to try and use apps other than Instagram for photos now that Instagram has reinstalled ‘share’ button for all photos. Why can’t you just save and then decide for yourself whether you want to share instead of being forced to?  Am blaming stupid facebook.

Off to Kew today for a walk and lunch with beloved’s family. Meant to be sunny for a change, yay!

Just read

I’ve a mountain of books to read, some have been with me for years, some slightly less and because I’ve so many older books to get through, I tend not to buy new releases or rather I try to control urges to buy, buy, buy more new books. I loved Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall though and of course, could not resist getting the sequel, Bring up the bodies in hardback.

It turned up, a few weeks back and I did despair slightly at the size of it and then, a week or so ago, I just read the cast of characters, nothing more – it felt like meeting up with an old friend I haven’t seen for ages. Despite some reviews, think it was Sunday Times, saying it was very long, it didn’t feel long or laboured. The atmospheric effect of standing above his, Cromwell’s shoulder and following him as he moves and intrigues his way around Henry VIII’s court was still there, drawing you in albeit surrounded by ghosts of Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas More and Cromwell’s family, all of whom died in the first book.

This is a fabulous book, if anything, it felt too short and I could have read on and on. What I particularly liked about it, apart from the atmosphere Hilary Mantel creates, is that two books in, he, Cromwell, still remains such an elusive character – on one hand, the ideas that he campaigned for reforming the government and parliament are hinted at while, on the other, he is unswervingly loyal to Henry. You never know quite what is driving him. This book just really makes me want to read more about Cromwell and the other characters that populated his world. Thankfully, Hilary Mantel hasn’t quite come up to Anne of Cleves so am hoping there will be another book.

 

Chestnut and chocolate cream biscuits

Made these lovely Chestnut and chocolate cream biscuits yesterday to take to a friend from Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet. My friend loves chocolate so I used Valrhona in the chocolate cream for extra deliciousness. Very easy to make and pretty quick – apart from cutting, that took ages as I hadn’t made these before so had no idea how many you’d get. A lot. A lot of very, very tasty biscuits.