Use your loaf


Use your loaf

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

I always make my own bread but one of my contacts on Flickr-Falling Sky- posted his results of using a recipe from the Guardian. I tried it out and was impressed by the taste and airy nature of the final loaf. It uses the sponge method of soaking half the flour in the water and yeast for several hours. By a strange coincidence there was a TV programme on just this topic last night- The Hairy Bakers.
I have adapted my own recipe to make a batch of 3 loaves using the Kenwood mixer with dough hook.
Ingredients

For the sponge:
1 1/2 Ibs of strong white flour.
2-3 level teaspoons of dried yeast.
1 1/2 pints of warm water

For the dough
1 1/2 Ibs of strong wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon of salt
2 oz of butter.
Put the water in the large mixing bowl and add the yeast. Add the flour and give it a quick blitz with the dough hook to stir it up. Leave for several hours with a tea towel over the top. This is the sponge and it will rise up as the yeast gets to work.
When ready, rub the butter into the second half of the flour – I like some wholemeal mixed in but you can use all white. Mix into the sponge and it may be necessary to add a little more water to create a sticky mix. Leave again and give it a quick knead with the dough hook 30 minutes later. Leave for another 30 minutes and then take out and knead on a surface until its nice and smooth. Don’t add too much flour to stop it sticking. You can oil the board if you want. Then shape and put in to the bread tins. Leave again until they have doubled in size in the tins. Brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Bake in a hot oven – 200C in my fan assisted oven for 30 minutes does the trick. Tap the bottoms and they should sound hollow.

RememBird Digital Audio Recorder – Review


Pale Chanting Goshawk

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

The Ravenous Rambler is a keen bird watcher so I feel a review of this device fits into place here among the recipes and walks.
Have you been out walking and wondered what that bird song was? Maybe you have been looking for the first chiffchaff of the season but can’t quite remember what the call is like after a long winter? Well, the RememBird device is exactly what you need to ‘remember bird’ calls.
I was thrilled to find this new invention at the British Bird Fair this year. It is a small device that is easy to hand hold but can fit with velcro attachments to the underside of your binoculars. It has two buttons. Press one to make audio notes about the birds you are watching. Then press the other button to record the birds’ call with a built in microphone. All the audio is digital and can be down-loaded to the computer later using the special program.
The details have been meticulously thought about. It has simple buttons and light displays and runs on one AAA battery. Also once you have made an audio note, the device records on a 4 second loop waiting for you to press the call button. So if a bird flies past singing, you will re-capture the last 4 seconds worth of the call. All the settings can be altered in the preferences.
But how does this teach you the calls? Well, I bought the European library of calls that comes on an SD card. Using the ear piece, you can search through the calls and listen to the library. There are calls and songs for most of the species, allowing you to compare your own recordings. You can even create your own library.
Back at the computer, the program downloads your own recordings and puts them in a database with date, place and your comments. It’s brilliant and great fun.

British Bird Fair, Rutland Water, August 2008


eye
Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

“Excuse me, can you tell us why there are so many cars here”? The bewildered couple were getting out of their van expecting a quiet stroll around Rutland Water bird watching. But they had chosen the very weekend that thousands of exhibitors and people descend on the place for the British Bird Fair.
It’s the biggest, best exhibition for twitchers and anyone interested in bird watching. Taking place every year at Rutland water there is something for everyone. Thinking of buying a new ‘scope? Maybe investing in a tripod or a camera? Planning a bird watching holiday? This is the place to find out and talk to people who love their work. Ideally placed on the edge of the RSPB Reserve there are plenty of subjects to test out those cameras and telescopes. I jostled my way to the front of the crowds trying out the new HD leica binoculars. Have you noticed that everything is HD these days? I might rename my blog – The Ravenous HD Rambler! We moved on to the Canon stall where we tried out a lens so big that they would make the paparazzi jealous.
There were several marquees each dedicated to different aspects of birding. There was the art tent, the holidays tent, the optics tent and so on. But that could wait, we needed a bacon sandwich and coffee at the refreshment tent! Anyway, people watching is all part of the fun and there are interesting types here at the show. Some are so dedicated to birding that they walk round with their bins round their necks in case a lesser whitethroat should pass by.
Suitably refreshed we headed to the stands. The technique to really enjoy yourself is to talk to as many people as possible and maybe ask for some freebies! They are all friendly and keen to persuade you to accompany them to perhaps central Panama to take tea in an observatory and tick off all the species that you might find. As we went round, we kept an eye open for celebrities. Bill Oddie – the British TV guru of birdwatchers walked past chatting away merrily. Simon King – another TV great was on his own stand signing autographs and generally being available so we took the opportunity to shake his hand and ask him if he was supporting ‘Survival International’ (for the Kalahari Bushmen). I am sorry to report he wasn’t.
There are many gadgets to look at and I was tempted by the RememBird device for recording and listening to bird calls in the field. I shall write a separate blog about this though.
The camera stands are excellent as it is such a good opportunity to try out kit and get advice. We weighed up all the tripod options and bought the Manfrotto 190CXPro3. A useful thing for any camera mad rambler as it is light weight but sturdy and the arm folds over so you can get down low.
So we have come away with lots of ideas – Costa Rica, Uganda, Panama, Orkney and Skomer. Maybe see you in a hide somewhere – you will recognise me with my impressive tripod!

Hand book journal


Hand book journal

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

hand*book journal co.
The ravenous rambler was taking a ramble around Oxford today and of course I went into the ‘the little gallery’ (Broad Street) to stock up on some art supplies. At the counter I made an exciting discovery! There they were just sitting on the counter as though waiting for me to call in. Green, blue and red in their cellophane wrappers. How could I resist some hand*book journals! I bought some small 3.5” x 5.5” pocket size versions and some larger 5.5” x 8.25 “ books. They both have 128 pages of 100% acid free heavyweight paper. I have the landscape ediition but there were portrait and square versions as well.
The small books are like the moleskines except the covers are a rather lovely clothe texture with an elastic enclosure and pretty ribbon bookmark. There is a little envelope in the back (like the moleskin) although it is not as classy as the moleskine version.
I prefer the paper to the moleskines. It has a better tooth so the water colour goes on well. I have tried out pen and ink using my Staedtler 0.05 pens and this works very well. So we shall have to wait for some more testing in the field to see how it operates. The books are thicker than moleskines and this might be the limiting factor for travelling.
Do leave a comment if you are using these stylish sketch books and if you prefer them to the legendary moleskines.

Blackcurrant sorbet


Blackcurrants

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

It is a shame that redcurrants and blackcurrants come to fruition at the same time! This weekend has been a frantic cooking time.
The blackcurrants are difficult to pick. They hide away beneath the leaves but we got two huge bowls full. There are various methods for making sorbet but this is mine.
Ingredients
Blackcurrants 1 large bowl
1 pint water
12 oz castor sugar
Lemon juice and zest.

I wash the berries first. To release the juices, I put them – berries and stalks in the preserving pan with a little water and heat. This helps get some of the juices going but there is nothing for it. You have to put the lot through the sieve and mash the juices out. This is hard work and you have to be careful otherwise the kitchen looks like a chain-saw masacre. The juices can get everywhere! Just do a little at a time.
I make up a syrup with 1 pint of water and 12 oz castor sugar, add the lemon juice and zest and boil for a few minutes. Cool.
Mix the blackcurrant juice and syrup. I use half and half and then taste. It is a fine balance between having the sorbet too tart or too sugary.
Put in the fridge to cool and then pour into the ice -cream maker for about 15 minutes until slushy. If you haven’t got an ice-cream maker then put in a container into the freezer and stir the mixture up every 1/2 hour or so to stop ice crystals forming.

The effort is worth it. This is one of the best sorbets with an intense flavour.

Redcurrant Jelly Recipe


Redcurrant jelly

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

I love to use redcurrant jelly as an accompaniment to lamb and pheasant and this is the time of the year to make it.
Picking the redcurrants is quite a job because they hide away under the leaves. You can strip them off easily once you find them, stalks and all. You need quite a lot and we managed about 4 bowls of currants and ended up with – well, you will have to see.
Ingredients
Redcurrants this recipe is for 4 large bowls about 4 lb.
Castor sugar
Water
Wash the redcurrants and put them in a large preserving pan with about a 1 pint of water. Heat gently to release the juice and stir frequently. Cool. Pour everything into a jelly bag and hang it up over a bowl overnight. In them morning, make yourself a strong cup of tea and inspect the bowl. It doesn’t look much but you should have a lovely deep red juice. Measure it. I got 1 1/4 pints. I added 1 1/4 lbs of sugar. In other words – the same amount of sugar in lbs weight.
Put back into the preserving pan and stir with the sugar and boil. I tested the set by keeping some saucers in the freezer. I then put a drop on the saucer and put back in the freezer to cool for a moment or tro. Run your finger through and it should be jelly like. If not – keep boiling. Finally, cool and add to warmed jars.
How much did I make? From 4 large bowls of redcurrants we made 5 small jars of jelly. It seems a lot of effort for a small amount but it goes a long way and is delicious.

Millau Viaduct


Millau Viaduct

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

Its shadow crawls across the golden fields of the valley deep below, curving its ways across the tractor lines of the cut hay. Its seven columns are giant’s legs striding across the landscape. This is the Millau bridge.

The tallest bridge in the world, it crosses the Tarn valley using seven elegant concrete piers and a cable stay structure to hold the curvaceous bridge deck up 270m above the ground.
It is an extraordinary feat of engineering by our very own English architect, Norman Foster. It cost 400 million Euro and completes the last link in the A75 Clermont – Ferrand – Beziers motorway. I know how important this is because I have travelled on the motorway before the bridge was opened. The traffic jams in Millau town were terrible. They must be very pleased not to have the traffic invading them. Although if it is too windy, they shut the bridge and they revert to traffic jams down in the town once again.
This is not a bridge. Oh no. This is a viaduct. On a par with any of the Roman viaducts. Driving across it, is an experience. The tall piers stretch up above you and the cables make interesting patterns that change as you make the traverse. You do not get feelings of vertigo, even though the deck is 270m above the valley below because of the shuttering on the sides. You can catch tantalising glimpses of the countryside though and the views are wonderful.
At the north end there is a car park and various viewing points. There is an exhibition, cafe and loos. So all needs are catered for. The best viewing point is a bit of a walk up a zig-zag path but well worth it. It is a good time to watch other people as well and see their reaction to this magnificent feat of engineering.