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Nestling: Part Two

I am on a nourish jag.  Moving house, the death of a friend and some rough slog at work has resulted in me being tired, fretful and not much fun to be around.  The cure? Nourish.  I keep chanting the word to myself like a soothing pulse: norrr-issh; norrr-issh; norrr-issh; and then M tells me to get a grip and I have to go into the other room to keep doing it.

These nourish jags come periodically: I think it’s they’re probably related to the the baking jags I go on from time to time.  When I have a baking jag, I make apple cakes, chocolate biscuits, lemon butter — and then promptly find people to give them away to, usually unsuspecting coworkers.  The baking jags are in no way related to wanting to eat, merely the impulse to cook. I think it stems from a need to be creative, but without having the mental energies to devote to being creative in a knitting/writing/musical way, but I could be overthinking the matter. I usually do.  A nourish jag is much more body-oriented: I seek ways to make myself feel nurtured and fed and nested, in a healthy and wholesome way.  (By curious coincidence, it tends to involve cooking things that are really hard to attractively photograph.)

Nourish Item One:

Yesterday I baked bran, carrot and sultana muffins, which are delicious, moist, chewy and not too sweet.  I like cakes that have a bit more oomphalo-boomph to them: nothing foamy and white-sugared for me, thankyou, I prefer nuts, fruit, vegetables and wholemeal flour.  (This makes me a delight at high tea, as you can imagine.)

Holy cow: my camera has a "food" setting!

Holy cow: my camera has a "food" setting!

This recipe rocks: you mix a cup of unprocessed bran, a cup of milk, a cup of brown sugar and a cup of your flavouring stuff (chopped dried fruit, chopped nuts, stewed fruit, mashed pumpkin, whatever) plus any spices you want and leave to sit for an hour or two to soften it all up.  Then stir in a cup of self-raising flour and you’re good to go: it makes a loaf or a dozen smallish muffins.  Bake at 180°C, an hour for a loaf or twenty minutes or so for muffins. Despite how easy this recipe is, circumstances demanded some alterations. I used only half a cup of sugar, and a cup of homemade yoghurt (about which more shortly) in place of milk, plus a little extra water: since I used sultanas, I knew they’d suck up a bit of the moisture that I wanted the bran to take on, so I compensated.  I also gave the mix a few hours more than it really needed, because we had to go out for a while, but I think that only makes it moister.  Mmmmm, muffins for breakfast.

Nourish Item Two:

The day before yesterday I rediscovered my yoghurt maker, with much greater success than previously, despite — or perhaps because of — losing the instructions and forgetting how to use it.  You’re supposed to scald the milk, then cool it and mix in some live-culture yoghurt and pop it in a jar and then pop the jar in the yoghurt maker to ferment.  Realising that (a) I had broken the jar; and (b) the yoghurt maker was the real hero here and the jar was just an extra, unnecessary layer; I filled the yoghurt maker with my proto-yoghurt and forgot about it for a day or so.  The result was quite thin and lacked the tang I like so much in yoghurt, but it was definitely a vast improvement over previous endeavours in this field which have yielded, uh, sour milk.  The yoghurt maker is basically a squat, glorified thermos flask, which maintains a nice warm, moist environment for the yoghurt culture to do its tangy thang.  The result was, as I say, not perfect, but it was ideal for the muffins I made and it encouraged me to keep trying.  The batch that is currently fermenting used some of the first batch for its starter culture: chain yoghurt making, yo!  That will be the real test: if this batch of yoghurt doesn’t ferment properly, it would suggest that the first batch didn’t really have enough live culture in it, which suggests I need to go back to yoghurt-making school (good grief).  I’m going to give it 24-hours no-touchy time before I check.  I am certainly not going to photograph it.  Imagine warm milk in a thermos and, well, there you go.  You could probably even have a look on Flickr and find something much better than I could come up with if I tried photographing what I’ve got happening.  Go on, I’ll wait.

Nourish Item Three:

Welcome back, Pongo. Pongo, my robust sourdough starter, is alive and well and has completely forgiven me for forgetting about him and leaving him to starve in the back of the fridge.  Even if your starter is in the fridge, sleepy and dormant, you’re still supposed to feed the poor blighter every so often, to keep it going. I’m not a good parent.  I got distracted by a soul-crushing quest to find the perfect pencil sharpener and forgot all about my funky little friend in the pickle jar at the back of the fridge.  I recalled him shortly before we moved house and, with a sense of foreboding, gave him a feed of flour and water and let him sit on the bench for a few hours.  Holy cow, that is one virile starter I’ve got in that pickle jar!  He began foaming up in an hour or two, clearly ready to go and ready to be breadmaking.  There’s a huge batch of 50/50 white/rye bread dough currently rising, fortified with Pongo, as I type.  Later today I’m going to try and transform this dough into some sandwich bread and lunch rolls.  Even though I’ve had a couple of dud batches come out (through no fault of Pongo’s, I emphasise, but my own), I love using sourdough starter.  I love the taste it imparts, but I am also not immune to the smugness that comes from making something completely from scratch.  It’s like magic!  Or maths, which is also magic.  [(flour + water = sourdough starter) + (flour + water + salt + yoghurt/milk/butter = dough)] + time + heat = bread! (Eventually.  This is slow magic.)

This is not an attractive photograph.

This is what my dough currently looks like.  Nourishing is not always a pretty process.

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