Sourdough ciabatta

There is nothing quite as satisfying as baking bread by hand (fortunately, my family loves bread, in particular, my focaccia). You can find my recipe for a very simple focaccia here.

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But today I am going to give you my recipe of sourdough ciabatta.  It’s rather different in taste and also in methodology. I prefer the ciabatta, actually, because it’s chewy with that sourdough taste which I love.  It’s just sooooo good!

But warning, don’t attempt this if you get freaked out by sticky dough….it difficult to wash off!

First, you have to make the biga, the starter.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 teaspoon, dry yeast, but make sure that it is still alive, which means it should get frothy after standing in warm water;
  • 1/4 cup warm water;
  • 3/4 cup water at room temperature;
  • 350g unbleached all-purpose flour.

DIRECTIONS for the biga

Mix the yeast in the warm water and let it stand for about 10-15 minutes. It should get frothy and creamy.

Stir in the flour and the remaining water into the yeast mixture. Use a wooden spoon and stir for about 5 minutes until a sticky dough forms.

Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 24 hours (and more!).

Ingredients

  • 500g biga (what you made above yields that);
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast;
  • 5 tablespoons warm milk;
  • 1 cup water at room temperature;
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 500g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • pinch of salt

 

DIRECTIONS for the ciabatta

Mix the yeast and milk together, and let the mixture stand for about 10-15 minutes.

When it is frothy and creamy, mix it with the biga, oil and water.

Add the flour and the salt.  Knead in the mixing bowl. Note: the dough will be sticky, but DO NOT add more flour. Then knead in a floured surface for a few minutes.

Put in an oiled bowl, cover with a warm towel and let it rise for 1 hour 30 minutes or thereabouts.

Then knead again until the dough is elastic (it’s OK if it is still a bit sticky).

Divide into four, knead again and let it rise for another 1 hour 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350degrees.

Pull dough into rectangular shapes (shown below).

 

Bake in a heavy baking try lined with parchment paper.

Bake for about 30 minutes, opening the door after 10 minutes to spray the oven with cold water. Do this a couple of times.

You may wish to add chopped olives, sun-dried tomatoes and/or pesto to make a really delicious Italian bread.

Quinoa and dates energy balls

Quinoa is one of those amazing food that is gluten-free, high in protein and is also one of the few plant foods that contain all nine essential amino acids. I normally cook a pot and use it as salad base.

Photo: quinoa with sugarsnap peas and garlic roasted courgettes in a light balsamic dressing.

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But last week, I decided to make energy balls with my red quinoa.

Ingredients:

1 cup cooked quinoa (cook according to packet instructions)
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup sliced almonds and 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
5 teaspoons honey
10 pitted dates
¼ cup almond butter
1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon sea salt
A handful of raisins
1 tablespoon chia seeds

Method:

Heat the oven to 350°. Mix together the quinoa, oats and sunflower seeds with the honey, coating them evenly. Pour into a baking tray lined with parchment paper and bake until brown and crunchy (around 20 minutes), stirring once or twice so that they brown all over.  Cool.

Toast the almonds.

Combine the dates, almond butter, coconut oil, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a large bowl. Add the almonds, chia seeds, and toasted quinoa and oats. Mix well with your hands and shape into balls (this recipe makes about 24).

Store in an airtight container for up to one week.

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Note: they are also tasty as granola.

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Environmentally friendly educational toys

When my children were tiny, I caused some bad feelings amongst family members because I banned plastic toys: I politely refused to accept those noisy, battery-operated, garish plastic monstrosity, especially those with flashing lights!

My parents-in-law used to make toys for my children: almost 30 years later, we still have some of those precious toys (Photo: Harry Helium, made by my mother-in-law based on a story I wrote).

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My parents, who weren’t so good with the sewing machine or saw, entertained the children with nature (Photo: drawing from 30 years ago!)

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No, they did not suffer not owning any plastic toys. They made their own with discarded packaging and stuff they find around the house (Photo: the two sisters making something).

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When my got older, I softened my stance a bit and allowed Legos into the house. But by then, they had gotten over the idea that toys are fun. They much preferred pets, and at one stage, we had two dogs, two cats and eleven rabbits. That rather large menagerie did not leave them much time for gadgets either!

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Recently, I visited my children’s father’s classroom (he teaches Design & Technology) and saw these Chinese puzzles that his Year 8 students made. It took them only 2 lessons and provided lots of educational fun:

This can be made environmentally friendly by suing softwood. The design is from MYP Design & Technology textbook published by IBID Press.

Here is something you can make simply at home with your children, using paper or even flour tortilla! A hexaflaxagon that my daughter made:

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Here are the instructions. Have fun!!!

 

Here’s an innovative company repurposing plastic toys:

Adaptogens: for your body’s maintenance

I turned 50 last year and people often ask me what I do and eat to keep my youthfulness. Actually, I am quite a naughty girl: I am partial to dairy (milk and cheese!) and to the odd bottle of wine. And though I live an active and healthy lifestyle, my body does need additional nutritional support (especially in the last two months, where I have been stressed out – and in the next few months, when I go back to work!).  Here’s what I take:

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Our body needs so many things, especially if you live a busy, stressful lifestyle in a polluted city.  You’ve heard of co-enzymes, but what about adaptogens? These herbs and mushrooms have been used for centuries in Ayurveda and Chinese medicine.

Though it is not “hard science” yet, there is increasing evidence that these group of nutrients have the effect of normalising the body’s imbalances (adverse effect of stress, pollution and poor nutrition)  and slowing down ageing effects.

Personally, I incorporate adaptogens into my diet to balance out inflammation caused by dairy, alcohol, sugar and stress. I also use very little products on my skin, choosing instead to nourish it from the inside.

The most well-known adaptogen is of course, ginseng.

For women, these are particularly good:

  • Ashwagandha: Soothing.
  • Rhodiola: Calming.
  • Holy Basil: For vitality.
  • Shatavari: The Hormonal Harmoniser, Queen of Women’s Adaptogens.
  • Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng): For brain alertness and stamina.
  • Reishi Mushroom and astragalus: For the immune system.

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Photo: astragalus, licorice root, ginseng and holy basil stems.

I just throw the roots and barks (of what I need) into a slow cooker and boil overnight with some organic chicken carcass and vegetables. Seen here: fresh stalks from the holy basil.

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Living in Asia at the moment, I can get hold of these roots and barks very easily from traditional herbal shops.

Whilst home in the UK, I use the powder form.

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But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. For example, holy basil, which I put in my green smoothies and raw on my spaghetti, is a powerful adaptogen. Turmeric is another powerful one, which functions as an anti-inflammatory.

If you are not feeling 100% but can’t quite put your finger on why, then perhaps adaptogens might be what you need to bring your body back into balance. That’s what people in the olden days do to maintain wellness, instead of pill-popping. So do your research, speak with a few specialists and maybe try this.

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Almond cake with sunflower seed pralines

Wheat forms such a large part of our lives. Once, I had to care for someone who has IBS/coeliac disease and it literally took me a whole day to plan, research and cook the meals.  I didn’t mind actually, as I love spending time with food. Here’s my forays into making something nice for my friend who is trying to adhere to a keto diet:

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My friend Rona likes her sweet treats and she is supposed to be on a keto diet. As my daughter had been staying at her place for the past few days, I feel obliged to try my hand at keto baking (note: I am not an expert baker).

The first few efforts bite the dust. They taste like something from the bottom of a bird cage. Anyway, this one sort of works (thank you, sour cream) and not too bad. Sorry, there is sugar in it, though reduced….. the coffee, nutty bits make it more-ish. But still a long way to go, very amateurish but with lots of heart!

To make a coffee pralines:

  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon coffee granules (NOT instant coffee, or they would dissolve)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Mix all together and put aside.

For the cake:

  • 1 1/2 cups ground almond
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached cake flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cups butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla essence.

Sieve together the almond meal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Slowly add the powder mix into the butter-and-sugar mix, alternating with eggs and sour cream.

In a grease-proof baking tray, alternate 1/3 of the cake mix with the pralines.

Bake in a preheated oven (around 350F) for an hour or until firm.

Delicious with coffee 🙂

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Asian steamed rice cakes

In the midst of clearing my kitchen out, I came across a full bag of rice flour. So I googled and experimented, coming up with this simple cake that is familiar in South East Asia, especially Malaysia where I used to live. And to be honest, I got nostalgic about this as this is part of Malaysia that is disappearing….not to soon, I hope!

 

Do watch this video to see what I mean:

To make yeast mixture:

Make sure your yeast is fresh, ie. they make lots of bubbles within 10 minutes. Dissolve 3/4 tsp yeast in 1 TBSP warm water. Leave in a warm place whilst you make the rest of the stuff.

And then, just before use, add 1 TBSP sunflower oil to the mix. Don’t forget!

To make the pandan syrup:

Boil 6 pandan leaves in 150mls water and 100gms sugar for around 10 minutes or until fragrant. Discard the leaves. Make sure you have about 150mls of fluid left.

To make the cake:

  • 140gms rice flour, sieved (make sure there is no lumps!)
  • 150gms water
  • 1/2 tsp salt.

Mix everything together, including the yeast mixture and pandan syrup. Allow to rise in a warm place for 3 hours.

Grease a stainless steel plate. Pour the mixture in. Cover with aluminium foil and steam for 30 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting. I love the texture! (note: I added steamed banana slices for variation.)

Screen Shot 2018-05-24 at 14.30.32.pngServe with Chinese tea.

Most precious of all

If I were ever to have an engagement ring, the stone will be some tiny fossil that my beloved finds.

This is because when I was young, I used to go fossil-hunting with my parents. We live on the fossil-rich coastline of Southern England and you can find some lovely fossils here (especially on the Dorset coast and Isle of Wight).

Later, when I became a mother, I would take my children fossil-hunting. I taught them to love fossils, because isn’t it amazing that we can hold thousands (even millions) years of our history in our hands?

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An old lady went on a long journey, and along the way, she found a beautiful piece of rock. She thought her family would love the rock – it would look lovely on the mantelpiece of their simple home to remind them of her when she is gone.

Later in her journey, she met a man.

The man was hungry and she shared her food with him. When the man saw the rock, he asked if he could have it.

Though it broke her heart to give the rock away, she nodded and handed it to him.

The next day, the man came looking for the old lady. He gave the rock back to her.

“I want something more precious than this beautiful rock from you,” he said. “I want to know what’s in your heart that makes it possible for you to give beautiful things away.”

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For more information on where to go fossil-hunting in Hampshire, click here.  UKAFH organises fossil hunts.

Main photo from Isle of Wight Fossil Museum https://onthewight.com/fossil-enthusiast-donates-collection-to-dinosaur-isle-museum/

Yoga = no ego

I will be running a yoga teacher training programme at my dear friend Marion’s lovely yoga studio in Cap d’Ail in South of France in July this year, and Marion had asked me to send her some up-to-date, high-resolution, nice photographs of myself to promote the course.

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But here’s the problem: I have a bad injury from a kayaking accident that has gone from bad to worse: I have a fractured ankle and split tendons. In fact, the morning these photos were taken, I was in hospital with the orthopaedic surgeon discussing the next step.

 

So the elusive “perfect” posture did not appear to be possible on this Saturday afternoon, though the weather was sunny and just right.

But who am I trying to kid? I am 50 years old and I have given birth to 5 children, ranging from 32 to 18 years old. I am not a girl gymnast anymore. I love food and I have an active, indulgent lifestyle, which means my poor body has deep-set injuries and on many occasions, carried extra pounds.

Here’s a clip from 8 years ago about my injury (ankle again!):

I have lived fully and joyously, no regrets, and as a consequence, perfection has slipped my body’s vocabulary a long time ago. Instead, I have found deep beauty in small things. No doubt if my ever-so-patient friend Jane and I had spent longer than 2 minutes in the garden, we would have gotten more stunning photos from the session. Some perfect ones even, albeit accidentally 🙂

But is a perfectly posed, perfect posture what I’m trying to sell? Am I trying to say, “Come and learn how to look good doing an asana?”

No.

Over a three-week period in Cap d’Ail, this is what you will be doing:

  1. Learn all about your body, the mechanics, the connections and how they all fit together to create a stunning engineering wonder;
  2. Honouring your body, enjoying the movements that are inherent and personal to you – yoga is a deeply personal relationship between you and your body;
  3. Cultivating gratitude for your body and finding beauty within its imperfections;
  4. Finding peace in Cap d’Ail.

Once you have found that deep passion for your physical being and reestablish your connection with nature, you will radiate. And this is when you become a teacher and pass on the light.

Be the light ~ SUN YOGA.

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Come and join us in Cap d’Ail  on 6-29 July 2018.

For more information please email: wellness@elanda-villa.com

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A Tribute to Mr Clifford Haskins

I was telling my daughter that teachers have the power to shape lives and create destinies….for the better and also for the worse, depending on the teacher.

As I was telling her this, I thought about my chemistry teacher. I googled him, and much to my sadness, I found that there is nothing written about him at all, just announcements of his funeral.  He was such a great but humble man, so I decided to write this, for the world to remember him by.

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Mr Clifford Haskins taught me chemistry. He studied chemistry at Oxford and returned to our lovely county (Hampshire) to teach in the local school.

I was lazy and rebellious. I had come to the school with three meagre O levels. I was also a teenage unwed mum. You couldn’t get a worst combination in a student than what I was.

“You could go up to Oxford you know,” he told to me seriously. “You just need to work a little harder.”

Well, that’s NOT what people have been telling me.

He didn’t get too annoyed when I messed around in his class and didn’t do my homework. “I was in Milan,” I would tell him airily.

“Oh my goodness me, did you have a good time?” He would reply, totally unflustered. I get the feeling he laughed at us behind our backs, or when his back was turned to us.

Towards exam time, he would get a little flustered. “Just listen to me for fifteen minutes, please!” He would beg the class, appealing to our goodwill.  But those 15-minute segments were very effective. He must have stayed up for hours in his cottage on Langstone preparing for the 15 minutes.

We listened to him for 15 minutes as part of the deal, and then spent the rest of the lesson gossiping and messing around with chemicals. But somehow, because of his excellent teaching (hard work behind the scenes, I suspect), we learned more than we thought.

“You could go up to Oxford you know,” he kept on telling me that.

When university application time came, the girl with three O levels (instead of ten) decided to try for Oxford. “Which college?” I asked Mr Haskins. “St John’s?”

“Oh my goodness me, you have to be either very rich or very clever to get into that one,” he joked, pale blue eyes twinkling. “But why not? You just have to work a little harder.”

So my dear Mr Haskins, I wish to tell you this: I got there in the end, because you told me I could. Thank you, Sir, with all my heart.

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Cover photo: St John’s College, Oxford University, my alma mater (wikipedia).

Beetroot brownie from Pinch & Swirl

Two confessions. First, I would never have thought of combining BEETROOT with chocolate. Second, I could never make brownies. They’ve alway gone wrong. I never liked them anyway.

But a few weeks ago, my dear friend Jane Varley (also my partner-in-crime) baked the most heavenly beetroot, walnut and chocolate brownies for the IWA Phuket Bake Off.

Sadly, we didn’t win. Er, we didn’t even get a single vote from the tasters, but don’t let this fool you….this is the best brownies I have ever tasted, and it is so full of goodness, too (yeah, half a pound of beetroots).  Its from the Pinch & Swirl website, and you can access it here.

Note re the recipe: I used more beetroot and less sugar, and added raisins.

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