Fermenting vegetables at home

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This story started when I read Cooked by American food writer Michael Pollan. This is a really great book for anyone interested in food as it explores the basics of cooking with fire – creating the perfect barbecue; water – cooking stews and other delicious dishes that require cooking in liquid; air – raising bread doughs with yeast; and earth – fermenting with fungi and bacteria. He worked with leading exponents of each type of food preparation and takes the reader along with him as he learns techniques that are as old as the hills, but new to many of us in this age of processed food and ready made meals.

The technique that most interested me was fermentation, as this is something I have never tried before. I’ve certainly made chutney and pickles of various sorts, but I’ve always used vinegar and usually sugar as well as salt and other flavourings to get the end result. Many chutneys are really savoury jams with almost as much sugar as jam, so they can’t be described as healthy foods. Fermented veg contain no sugar, and because they are not boiled they contain many live “good bacteria” – the probiotics people buy in products like Yakult. These apparently have many health benefits and I’d already seen plenty of TV chefs from Jamie Oliver to the Hairy Bikers extol the virtues of eating the Korean pickle, Kimchi, which is made by fermentation. I was ready to try for myself.

My first thought was that I’d need to buy a purpose made fermentation kit, and there are plenty of those on the market at quite startling prices. So I took a quick look at YouTube for information from Sandor Katz, who I had learned from Michael Pollan is the guru of fermentation. His short video told me all I needed to know to get started. All you need is a large, clean container – not metal or plastic as the acids can attack those, spoiling the taste and the fermentation process as well as being potentially unhealthy. I had a large glass jar I could use – perfect!

I decided to use mostly white cabbage, with some red cabbage for colour, plenty of ginger and chilli so I would approximate a version of kimchi, some shallots and some carrot.

1-IMG_1162I quartered and thinly sliced the cabbages and put them in a large bowl adding a little salt as I went. I used three quarters of the white cabbage and half the red cabbage, but could actually have used a little more to fill the jar. Once the veg is prepared it squashes down into a surprisingly small volume.

Then I added grated carrot and grated root ginger with a little more salt and started squeezing and crushing the veg by hand (my husband’s hand, to be honest, so I could take the photo – thanks Al!). This starts to get the vegetable juice flowing. After a few minutes, you find there is all the liquid you need to cover the veg. I added the finely sliced chilli at the end, as I didn’t want to get potentially irritating hot chilli juice on our hands for too long. Then I started pressing the veg into the glass jar. The idea is to squeeze out any air as air pockets could allow moulds and the wrong sort of bacteria to grow.

When all the veg were firmly pressed into the jar I topped it up with all the juices from the bowl. Because you need to keep the veg submerged in the briny juice, you need to weigh down the veg. I found a drinking glass that was a good fit, so I filled it with water to make it heavy enough and used that.

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As the veg ferments it releases Carbon Dioxide, so you don’t seal the jar: just cover with a clean tea towel so nothing gets in. I did need to top up the liquid after a day or so – just mixing a light brine by adding half a spoon of salt to a glass of water worked for me.

As Sandor says in his video, no-one can tell you how long to leave the pickle as it depends on your preference. All I can tell you is that fermentation starts straight away so within a few minutes small bubbles of gas start to appear in the mix. I tasted the liquid after a day, and it was already tasting of pickle – the lactic acid was already building up. You probably realise without me saying that the lactic acid tastes vinegary, but I think it’s less harsh version of vinegar.

After three days the colour was a much more even red. I think you’ll agree from the photo that is looks tastier.

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We had some for lunch today in a toasted cheese sandwich with some extra lettuce for some green.

How delicious! It tasted better than shop-bought pickle: lighter, fresher and more naturally vegetable. I had put a lot of ginger and chilli in but there wasn’t as much heat as you might expect: just a nice background spiciness which worked very well with the cheese.

I decanted the rest of the pickle into smaller, lidded jars which are now in the fridge to slow down the fermentation because I like the taste just as it is.

So now it’s just a question of what combinations of veg to try. I am going to get Sandor Katz’s book The Art of Fermentation because there is so much more to this that I want to understand and to try. I’ll let you know as I get more results!

 

 

 

 

When a little means a lot in a photograph

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Today I’d like to share the photograph I took early on a sunny April morning of St Andrew’s Church in Clevedon.

This beautiful Romanesque church is a popular subject for local photographers, nestled as it is between Church Hill and Wains Hill, with the Bristol channel and the headlands of the North Somerset coast as a backdrop. I’ve taken many other photos of the church myself in the past, but this one struck me as being very satisfying.

I can’t really take much credit for being in the right place at the right time on a beautiful spring morning, but I am very happy with the natural light that you find in the Golden Hour photographers always talk about. I especially like the way the early morning light catches the single cross against the dark background, and I think this makes all the difference to the effectiveness of the photograph.

A further admission I need to make is that I didn’t notice the cross when I took the photograph, as I was more concerned with getting the right balance in the composition between the wall in the foreground and the sea and sky behind. So a second lesson to those starting in photography is to look at all your shots carefully when you are back home and editing. Sometimes you have created a better photograph than you realise!

The original photograph is available in my RedBubble shop in many formats. Please take a look!

Bristol Old Vic and the Grinning Man

1-img_0389-001It’s shameful really, isn’t it? I’ve lived in Clevedon for over four years and I have only just had my first visit to the Bristol Old Vic… well it won’t be the last!

If you live in or near Bristol, I am sure you are very well aware of the beautiful theatre in King Street – close to Harbourside and many wonderful pubs and restaurants. As you can see from the ticket pack above, the theatre is celebrating 250 years this year, and you get a real sense of that history in the street outside and also inside the venue. It’s a gorgeous traditional space, managing to be  intimate and impressive at the same time. The backstage bar area is large, comfortable and modern. Staff members are friendly and the atmosphere is welcoming and relaxed. Work is underway on improvements to the front of house, but this doesn’t in any way diminish from the pleasure of a visit.

I booked online for the evening performance of The Grinning Man this week and I must say that the booking process was really efficient and a pleasure to use. I chose tickets closer to the top end of the scale than the bottom, to be on the safe side on our first go, but I think next time I’d be more than happy with cheaper options.

The play itself is well worth seeing. It’s a macabre musical, based on the Victor Hugo book L’Homme Qui Rit  – The Laughing Man. Victor Hugo, of course, wrote Les Miserables, and this is from the same stable. So the story has treachery, cruelty and love, brought to the audience through a wonderful production incorporating puppetry, excellent acting, music and singing. The audience loved it and there was a standing ovation and much applause at the end. I’m not going to tell you more however much you ask! I’m sure you’ll easily find detailed reviews online and elsewhere, but I think knowing too much about plots in advance can spoil surprises, so that’s all you are getting from me. If you can get to Bristol before the end of the run on November 13 2016, do so! If the production moves to other theatres near you I hope you manage to see it at a future date!

I’ll leave you with that thought as I’m heading to the website right now to sign up as a Friend of the Bristol Old Vic

 

Why I’m taking so many photos THIS colour

1-_mg_0226-002Here’s a typical example of my recent photographic output. Monochromes, subdued colours…

Why am I drawn to colours and subjects like this? Maybe it’s because of where I live – on the coast near Bristol, where the water is the muddy water of the Bristol Channel. The water is usually brown because of all the silt it contains and hardly ever blue – only if you catch the perfect angle of the sun and the reflection of the sky. And then it is not the blue of the ocean, but a silvery, metallic blue. There are some sand banks in the channel, but the coast is lined with mud flats. It’s often cloudy so skies are quite often grey.

Does that sound depressing? Well I don’t mean it to because the very nature of the colours makes you aware of the variety of subtle shades within the blanket terms “grey”, “brown” or even – dare I say it? – “beige”. The more you look the more you see shades of pink, green, blue and lavender, to name a few.

The colour palette is even more varied when the sunset is spectacular.

The training of your eye doesn’t stop at noticing colour. There is the not insignificant matter of texture too. The mud flats are lined with meandering water channels, gulleys and creases, that bring to mind the image of the skin under a blue whale’s throat. Even a rolling grey sky above a silver grey sea has textures to delight the eye and the soul.

Throw in some man-made features for a little extra variety and there is always something to tempt the photographer.

There is interest and beauty everywhere – you just have to look.

[Many of my photographs are available to buy from my RedBubble online shop. Here’s a link to the latest Lines and leaves ]

Masks: art work and inspirations

So, a while ago I was indulging my artistic streak and I created a series of naïve pieces that I really like. In fact the more I look at them, the more I like them!

I was inspired by a number of things – the traditional reversible designs on playing cards (Jack, Queen and King designs), the masks you see in many different cultures world wide, and legends such as the ancient Green Man. Quite a lot of art starts with playing with ideas, so the idea dawned and I doodled, thought and tried out different ways to get what I wanted. After some work developing a style that worked, I completed several takes on the theme, pictured above.

I like them all! If you do too, you can buy the images in several formats on RedBubble and Zippi.

You can also buy some of the originals – on A4 perforated paper, just as they came out of my art book – in my auction on eBay. Here’s where you’ll find the Blue and Blue Masks. As with eBay, the starting prices are crazily low, so there’s a good chance to snap up a bargain and get your Christmas shopping off to a unique start!

#shamlessselfpromotion!

 

 

High tides and roe deer

When you live near the sea and there is a high tide, it’s only natural to head to the coast and take a look. Where we live in Clevedon we are less than five minutes stroll from the sea-front, and although (or should that be ‘because’?) the coast is the Bristol Channel rather than the open ocean it feels very special.

1-img_0306There are so many strong currents in the channel that when you add a stiff breeze and the bouncing of waves off the sea-wall and rocks, you get very intricate movement. Waves travel from different directions to crash into each other, creating ridges, depressions and foams that are overall are quite mesmerising. I know the water is always brown, because of the amount of silt it contains, but I think this adds a textural quality to the water.

The sky was beautiful too: but then it usually is here!

1-img_0304This photo show just how high the water was, and the pier almost looks as though it is floating. This would have been a good time to get into the porthole room underneath the pier, but sadly we were out and about before opening time.

Walking home past Clevedon Hall, something in the trees caught my eye.

1-img_0327-001It’s not the best photo, but who would expect such a view of a roe deer near a busy road at 8:45 am. I snapped fast! Maybe I could have taken my time, as he watched me all the way down the road without moving from the spot.

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When you like nature, photography and writing, days like to day are gifts!

Feeling like a proper photographer…

I consider myself a photographer – amongst other things – but I’m definitely a photographer by artistic inclination rather than technical skill. I have taken many shots that I’ve really liked with nothng more than a basic shoot and snap camera – that’s how low tech my approach has been! However, my Secret Santa gift this year was a Hoya Digital Filter kit for my Canon EOS 500D, so I’m taking my first steps into technical photography by getting out and about trying out the three filters: UV, Circular Polarising Filter and ND8.

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The UV filter is a good lens protector and makes images clearer and crisper: the Polariser cuts down glare for water and is also good for taking photos of clouds and the ND8 will be useful in situations where I want to emphasise movement – wind through a grassy meadow, or a waterfall, for example.

Here’s one of my first batch of trial pics. The water was looking good, bouncing off the sea wall near Clevedon Pier, which I think set up the vibrantions in the water which give the stripey effect. The water is never blue, but it’s silty nature adds to a metallic sheen, which I rather like.

So I’ll have some more experimenting to do to work out how I like to use the filters. There are plenty of manuals to help, but really there is no substitute for trying the filters out for different subjects and in different conditions to find out what works for me.

Certainly my route into photography has been a slow one. I bought my camera second-hand, with a good all-purpose lens, and later bought a wide angle lens too. The filters have come next, and then in a few months I’ll think about how to add to the lens options. This will really be led by decisions on the sort of photographs I want to take more of.

If you got camera equipment for Christmas and are new to photography, my advice would be to try out the simplest options first just to begin to get used to the kit and find out what it can do. As your confidence grows, you can add to your equipment and to the types of shots you get, until you find out what works for you.

Happy snapping!