Category Archives: Bread

Honey and oil bread

Yeah we all shine on, like the moon, and the stars, and the sun.
~ John Lennon

Loaf by loaf, life’s riddles are slowly unravelled…

    Ingredients:
    2 cups all purpose flour
    1 tsp salt
    1 tbsp honey
    ¾ cups warm water
    1.5 tbsp yeast
    4 tbsp rice bran oil (the original recipe calls for olive oil)
    extra flour for kneading
    extra oil to brush bowl and bread
    Method:
    In a small bowl combine honey, water, and yeast, stir to combine a bit. Put aside to proof yeast for about 5 minutes, or until yeast begins to foam. In a separate bowl combine the flour and salt. Once the yeast has foamed you can proceed to step 2.
    Make a well in the center of flour bowl. Pour the olive oil, then the water-yeast mixture into the center of flour bowl. Using a wooden spoon stir until a wet dough forms, then switch to your hands for kneading. Depending on how wet the dough is, and the humidity in your kitchen, you will need to add a little bit of flour at a time to form an elastic dough that does not stick to your hands. Continue kneading until a smooth dough is formed, about 10 minutes.
    Remove the dough and set aside, brush or rub a little bit of olive oil inside the bowl. Place the dough back into the bowl, brush with a little oil, cover and leave to rise in a warm place. Leave to rise for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.
    Once doubled, preheat oven to 180°C. and prepare a baking sheet or bread mould. Remove the risen dough from the bowl, gently knead into desired shape or place inside bread mould.
    Leave to rise another 10 minutes. Place bread in center of oven and bake for 30 minutes. Allow to cool before slicing (we ate a few slices whilst they were very warm anyway).

One fine croissant, and other stories

Do you know on this one block you can buy croissants in five different places? There’s one store called Bonjour Croissant. It makes me want to go to Paris and open up a store called Hello Toast.
~ Fran Lebowitz, journalist

So many things affect our experience of food. Who cooks. Who serves. Where we eat it, and with whom. How we eat it. Our mood and hunger levels at the time of our meal. What we eat. How it’s cooked (or not cooked).

Eating is seldom straightforward – even though, on the surface, it is a direct attempt to satisfy hunger. Every eating experience is a delicate dance between tens and possibly hundreds of hidden questions, thoughts, factors and functions all going on at the same time.

Good food, though, is a lot simpler to define: good food nourishes us. On many levels, or all at the same time if you’re exceptionally lucky. I’ll leave “good eating” for another post, shall I, so this doesn’t become a book stuffed into a blog post?

The topic of “good food” has been on my mind a lot this year, mostly in between dreams, plane rides and everything else. Travelling definitely makes me think about good food a lot. From the time you get on the plane, depending on the airline you’re with – you could be very thankful or very revolted looking at that box of stuff that’s meant to tide you over till you land! And, once at your destination, depending on a range of things like budget, availability, who you’re with and whether you’re the kind to dine in style or in hiding when alone – there’s a whole range of possibilities for meals that are different from and better than (you hope) the options at home. If you have dietary needs, then that adds a layer of stuff to consider and all your options under further examination, too.

I flew to sunny Nelson this last weekend – just a bumpy 30-minute plane ride away from Wellington. My belly was surprisingly unresponsive; I subsisted on three meals over two days despite my best attempts to make myself hungry. (Admittedly, one of the meals was had at none other than Burger King since there was nothing else close by and open, and my mind was too engrossed in work to travel much further in search of food).

But something unexpected did happen to me belly-and-food-brain-wise in Nelson; I was surprised by a croissant.

I had just returned to Nelson city from the airport on Saturday afternoon, slightly miffed that flights to Wellington had been disrupted and I was ‘trapped’ for an additional day in Nelson with a lack of clean clothes. This was probably the only moment in Nelson where I was suddenly attacked by hunger pangs… so I googled a place I had walked past the day before to check their opening hours and find their address, and promptly headed to The Swedish Bakery & Cafe – about half an hour before they closed.

As luck would have it, the only likely lunch options left were whole loaves of bread, or a solo croissant sitting in the cabinet. I wasn’t really in the mood for pastry, though this one was very pretty with its brie and chutney stuffing. And alas, this didn’t look nearly capable of killing off Hungry Monster, which was by now causing my belly some distress. Still, the lady there was so nice that before I thought about what I was saying, I bought it and hurried back to the place I was staying at (after casting a longing look at the pretty items on their shelves which I had to leave there since I had no space in my carry-on to bring anything home).

I warmed it slightly in the microwave, took out a pen to keep working and popped a corner of the warm, oozing croissant into my mouth. I thought I’d do the whole eat-and-work thing which I profess to hate but do anyway so as not to disrupt the crucial flow.

Well, I had to hit pause on work because this croissant was too good to be true.

Perhaps I was just overly hungry and everyone knows that food tastes better when you’re hungry… but I’m pretty sure this is one of the yummiest bakery items I’ve eaten in New Zealand. And NZ has a lot of very talented bakers around. But it’s hard to get everything perfect – a croissant, for instance, can be just a little too flaky (so everything falls on you or on the plate); or too soft (meh); or too full of stuffing (so everything falls on you or on the plate); or too salty; or too floury… or something. Not that I can be bothered being so fussy ;-) …… and this croissant was PERFECT. Flaky, without raining flakes on me. Soft, without being limp. Melting cheese. Perfect chutney. Fresh, savoury, flavourful. Yummy! I really enjoyed it. It killed off Hungry Monster, too.

And while it contained neither meat nor veg it really nourished me – sustaining me through an inspirational afternoon at the The World of WearableArt and Classic Cars Museum. :-)

P.S. Not too difficult to see why Lonely Planet put in a good word for them, too!

The Swedish Bakery & Cafe – 54 Bridge Street, Nelson – Phone: 03 546 8685

Basil bread

If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.
~ Robert Browning

When you go home on sick leave, everyone always drowns your ears in an ocean chorus of “go home and lie down! Feel better soon!”… but there are certain kinds of Sick that do not get cured by you lying down for hours. I mean the sort of Sick where panadol and manuka honey do zilch and leave you feeling like a burdened donkey (not well enough to concentrate and do a good job at work, but not sick enough to die yet, either).

I had a good rest at home, chatted on the phone with a friend in Wellington, cooked and ate my breakfast at 4pm:

– Chicken + mustard + garlic + lemon + basil

– Silverbeet + red pepper + oyster mushrooms + muscovado + salt + a pat of butter + sundried tomatoes + anchovy (yes, I had a “creative moment” and just went nuts).

It was a random meal, but I felt better after that.

Then, just ‘cos I could, I decided to try making some basil bread. The scent of basil certainly did my sore head a lot of good.

Sometimes I think that scaling flour mountains helps me think of ways to move the mountains in my own life. I know that sounds ridiculous, but… well, I do it. :-)

The yeast drove me nuts! Four failed attempts later (at making it activate), I got it to foam/bubble at least a little and I think I now have a better idea of what “lukewarm” water should feel like.

If you try making this bread (I adapted this recipe), you may want to use a bowl or make sure you have a very wide bench. The centre of the well has a tendency to gush.

Keep going with those sticky fingers and you’ll get some good-looking, good-smelling dough flecked with green.

It takes some waiting around.. but not too long. Just keep reading and singing while the dough plays its rising game.

I’ve only baked bread a few times in my life, and each time I enjoy it immensely even when parts of the process (read: fussy yeast, flour-showered pants, etc) drive me a little batty.

It fills the house with good smells…

Crusty, soft, warm…

I’m not sure if this violates any informal code of conduct re eating bread, but I really enjoyed having salt and butter and a tiny splash of balsamic vinegar on this bread. I ate a warm roll as the sun gave my window a goodbye hug.

Home is sweet indeed

I didn’t think I would want to hug the first Kiwi I saw upon disembarking from my flight, but I did. I really, really did. Except I didn’t think it would be appropriate etiquette, even in front of very friendly New Zealand airport staff.

(By no means is this a complaint about people I encountered in Spain, Morocco, Portugal, London, Paris and Singapore – I met many lovely folk there too. It’s just this thing called homesickness that hits you even when you have travelled or lived overseas before, that is rather difficult to explain.)

It’s good to be back with my flatmates too – and lookies at what Matt and I had for dinner tonight: makeshift pizza! Good bread with tomato paste, broccoli, ham slices, pineapple cubes, feta cheese, with dollops of freshly grated cheese on top – baked to crisp perfection. Yum yum!

It’s an easy, warm and meltingly delicious thing to make for yourself – all you need is nice bread, toppings of your choice, a tray and a working oven! Make it all pretty and bake at 180 degrees C till it is nicely toasted and the cheese is running helplessly across everything (takes less than half an hour). Serve immediately.

PS. I was slightly aghast to find that I am now so slow with using a simple knife after just four weeks away. Ahh!

PPS. After watching an episode of “Delicious Miss Dahl” on the plane, I found that my heart ached for my kitchen… so we did have a beautiful reunion today. :-)

Oven-baked French Toast (or pudding?)

I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma.
~ Eartha Kitt

Someone I know through work recently emailed me this: “I have just recently come to understand the journey is just as important as the destination.” How I love that. We were discussing the mysteries of life, but I am so reminded of his wise words as I write this post now!

I decided to invite a few friends around for brunch in the weekend – so on Friday, I went to buy ingredients for Oven-Baked French Toast and spent a glorious half hour preparing it.

It was the most beautiful night. Honestly. Listening to the pitter-patter of rain falling outside while slicing bread, zesting an orange, sprinkling raisins and almonds, whisking milk with eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg and a tiny amount of Baileys… It felt like a dream, and I was so looking forward to sharing perfect French Toast with my friends the next morning.

I arranged everything in the baking dish, glad-wrapped it and left the bread to soak in custard heaven while I slept…

Nothing could go wrong, right? Nothing. I awoke on Saturday morning with a smile on my face, and the French Toast still looked good as I slipped it into the oven. I even had time to toss 4 plates in the oven to warm them while the French Toast was baking. I had juice and coffee prepared. My friends arrived on time. Cutlery was on the table.

Within minutes, I smelled the awful smell none of us like at all – the odour of something burning. Gah, stupid raisins!! I really should’ve made a double-layered French Toast after all.

Worse still, in my haste to save the raisins, I put a layer of foil on the whole thing and baked it some more.

For Saturday brunch, we had soggy pudding with scorched raisins. My friends finished everything on their plates. A firm reminder of them being WONDERFUL people – and friends.

Well. This wasn’t so fun to eat, but it was a very fun journey (part of it anyway!) and the road to perfecting a delicious brunch continues…!

Things I can think of to make a more pleasurable oven-baked French Toast in future: try a different bread (a soft loaf, perhaps?) and form two layers of it with the raisins hidden in the middle. Aluminium foil should not be allowed to interfere with the cooking process either.

Does anyone have oven-baked French Toast tips to share? ;-)

Tofutastic

Midnight Espresso does these funky tofu burgers…

Midnight Espresso – 178 Cuba Street, Wellington – Phone: 04 384 7014

Surprise banana bread

Hay que destacar bien la melodía [You have to bring out the melody]
~ Emilio Pujol, Catalán guitarist

I have rewritten my first paragraph of this post about 10 times now, and it’s still not coming together. I guess I don’t know what to write. There has been so much going on inside of and around me, and I can’t even tell if I’m happy or if I’m sad… and right now… I’m just tired.

I think I know why babies cry all the time – it’s easier, when you don’t know how to make sense of things. Lately, I’ve been doing so much of that. Crying when I’m happy, tired, inspired, grieving – my feelings have been parading through my being like a carnival, gushing like a fountain from deep within my soul. I’ll admit that right now, as I type this, I’m kind of crying. I know, it’s utterly ridiculous. If I didn’t have a deeper feeling that this is the final burst of heavy rain before the sunshine, I’d be freaking out even more.

Who knows what it really is. I don’t know the answers. I’m just in a process of growing, learning and being stretched, and I don’t want to fight it – I want to learn, discover and sit calm while a million different things stir within and burst out of me, because I have a strange feeling that the season after this crazy time will be clearer and better.

Well, that’s enough for now about feelings. I don’t really want to lose all my readers right now (as you read with fear and suspicion at my apparent craziness, widen your eyes and delete me from your blogroll!), so moving on…

It’s been a busy few days, and I haven’t had the chance to blog about everything I’ve wanted to write about, so the rest of this post will be a little jumbled and random.

1. I miss Nish very much. Not just because she and Claire celebrated my birthday with me at Le Canard the other day… but now that she’s left, she leaves behind an empty Nish-shaped vacuum that can’t be filled by anyone. So I am thoroughly happy & excited for her as she leaves on a jetplane to pursue her dreams & further studies… but still, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll just have to contend with using the phone/email to stay in touch for now. Woe…!

2. One of the sweetest and most memorable giftwraps EVER for me is this one: my dear friend Haidee wrapped my birthday gift in a printout of one of my blog entries! Oh, my…

3. Last night, to celebrate Paul’s visit this weekend – we all had lamb with lemon, mascarpone and herb sauce, with carrots & broccoli roasted with orange juice & spices. THEN we sat next to the heat pump and played Spy Alley, yes a real actual board game… amusement!

4. This morning, Paul & I had our customary breakfast which I don’t really eat with anyone else – indomee! Salty, savoury, spicy, unhealthy instant noodles topped with fried eggs. :-) That, coupled with humorous, snort-inducing conversation is one of my favourite things to do with Paul!

5. In a bit of a spontaneous mood this morning, I made banana bread without much method to my madness… throwing things together without measuring them properly. Fork-mashed bananas, a squeeze of mascarpone, dribbles of cream and milk, some eggs, slivers of leftover chocolate & almonds, a splash of vanilla galliano…

…and to my surprise, it worked!!

This bread had a slightly crispy crust, which gave way to a light yet hearty loaf with just the right amount of sweet chocolate and almond bits scattered throughout. I feel this loaf had balance, combining the sensible nature of bread with the warm, indulgent feel of cake. Very, very good if you ask me – especially with a cup of tea!

(I’m omitting the recipe in this post as I really don’t know the exact quantities of ingredients used!)

6. Paul then patiently attempted to teach me some basic merengue dance steps in the kitchen; oh, it was hilarious! I could hardly move in a straight line from laughing so much. I’m so proud of how far he has come in his dancing though… it was inspirational and fantastic to watch, and that short time of getting up to dance again made me yearn to start dancing regularly again.

It’s joy, to feel the music, sense the rhythms, and yield to it all with movement. I can’t describe it. It’s like a revelation, a beautiful thing, a reason to live.