Sourdough Starter

Quite a few people have been asking me about Dave recently. This household pet that brings so much joy to my life isn’t a cat or a dog, it’s actually a natural yeast culture, cultivated right here in the Cotswolds. I made him by exposing an organic flour and water mix to the elements to collect the wild yeast spores that blow around on the wind. It really is as simple as that. The crossing of fingers helps a little too, but these dormant spores are even present in the flour itself.

Starters or leavens like this are beautiful things, as they’re unique to their surroundings in terms of their taste and behaviour. They’re also alive, and as such require a degree of husbandry. My sourdough bread is merely a combination of Dave, flour, salt and water. The most vital ingredient in good bread is without doubt, time. All bread used to be made with wild yeast, but mass produced commercial yeast is faster and much easier to store and control.

Now, I skip over the fact that our starter is called ‘Dave’, as I’m quite used to it now, but I must stress that it wasn’t my choice of name. Much akin to Boaty McBoatface and Brexit, be careful when asking children to make important decisions.

Fancy making your own starter? Just follow these basic instructions.

Ingredients:

  • organic flour of your choice (spelt, white, wholemeal, rye)
  • water

Method:

  1. Thoroughly mix together 50g of flour with 50ml of water in a bowl and cover it with a cloth or a shower cap. Leave it at room temperature for about 24 hours. (covering it will prevent a dry crust forming).making a sourdough starter
  2. Feed your starter with another 50g of flour and 50ml water, whisk thoroughly to incorporate plenty of air, cover and leave for another 24 hours.
  3. By this point you should see small air bubbles forming and notice an odour developing. Don’t be alarmed by what it smells like – it will change dramatically as your starter culture matures. fermentation in action
  4. Tip half of your starter away and feed it with another 50g flour and 50ml water, mixing well. Cover and leave for another 24 hours.
  5. Transfer your starter to a large glass jar or Tupperware pot. As your starter becomes more active it will froth up and expand, so make sure your receptacle isn’t too small… otherwise you may find yourself in this position: dave the sourdough starter
  6. Feed your starter each day for a week, discarding half before whisking in another 50g flour and 50ml water.
  7. At this point you’re good to go.
  8. If you’re baking frequently, you’ll want to keep up this daily routine of tipping half away (or using it to make bread, pancakes, whatever) and then feeding your pet with a 50g/50ml flour and water mix, however you might want to pop it in the fridge (with the lid tightly secured) as this will slow the fermentation process down so that you only have to feed it once every week or so. You’ll save plenty of flour this way, but you’ll need a couple of days of feeding at room temperature to get it back up to speed. This is all about yeast farming, and to make really good bread you’ll want your culture to be really active and lively. 

Dave is born

Remember that keeping your starter small (in volume) means that it’ll be easy to manage; the bigger the volume, the more flour it will need at feeding time.

I’ll write a further post covering my favourite bread recipe (at the moment), but please do make good use of your sourdough starter instead of dried yeast in whatever bready adventures you embark on.

Check out: https://foodfitforfelix.com/2018/12/18/sourdough-2-0

Food Education Review

The results are in, and it doesn’t make for happy reading. An expert group including The Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, Food Teachers Centre, British Nutrition Foundation and the University of Sheffield have now completed a commission to undertake a comprehensive review of food education and culture in England’s primary and secondary schools. Thanks to all of you that got involved, filled in surveys and took part.

Jamie Oliver believes that “Every kid in every school no matter their background,
deserves to learn the basics about food – where it comes from, how to cook it and how it affects their bodies. These life skills are as important as reading and writing, but they’ve been lost over the past few generations. We need to bring them back and bring up our kids to be street wise about food.”

Focusing on the curriculum, the whole school approach and behavioural change, the report highlights an alarming disparity in standards, overshadowing the success of the 2013 campaign for compulsory food education.

There’s a stark difference between schools doing a great job at delivering appropriate food education, and others struggling with a lack of time, resources and support. The report also highlights the unhealthy food environment at secondary schools which is in turn compromising pupils’ ability to make good food choices, and interestingly found that teachers, pupils and parents are all calling for a healthier school environment.

The report goes on to make four recommendations to counter these findings and ensure that children receive a better start in life:

  1. Schools should be healthy food zones
  2. More support should be given to the school workforce
  3. Improvements in food education qualifications and resources are needed
  4. Stronger reporting and evaluation needs to be in place

You can read the full report here:

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B6vmekGX5OPfTm9xMzc5VkpCUTg

Something that really struck a cord with me as a parent and a change professional was the opinion of Dr ​Caroline ​Hart ​from ​the ​University ​of ​Sheffield – she referenced the environment in schools and concerns about the ‘cake-culture’. I myself have been flabbergasted by the mixed messages around healthier lifestyles, as schools attempt to implement good practice, but unfortunately contradict themselves in their policies around unhealthy snacks, allowing treats for birthdays, and routinely supporting and enabling regular fundraising through the sale of junk food. It’s a tough one, as it’s always hard to change and move away from things which are ‘easy’.  ​

Dr Hart wrote:
“For ​many ​primary ​schools, ​a ​major ​concern ​is ​the ​prolific ​sale ​of ​cakes, ​sweets, ​cookies
and ​crisps ​as ​part ​of ​fundraising ​efforts. ​In ​many ​secondary ​schools, ​a ​key ​issue ​is ​the
lack ​of ​healthy ​food ​offers ​that ​enable ​pupils ​to ​put ​their ​food ​education ​into ​practice.
Pupils ​told ​us ​that, ​when ​sugary ​drinks, ​super-sized ​cookies ​and ​‘chip ​only’ ​options ​are
available, ​it ​made ​it ​hard ​for ​them ​to ​select ​healthier ​alternatives. ​The ​vast ​majority ​of
parents ​responding ​to ​our ​survey ​supported ​the ​reduction ​of ​unhealthy ​food ​offers ​in
school.”

We’re heading in the right direction as momentum builds and media coverage increases, but as a nation trying to overcome rising childhood obesity rates, there’s still a long way to go. I expect that big changes in government policy are on the way as a result (fingers crossed…).

 

Rosehip Syrup

October has brought a distinctive change in the weather, and with it, an influx of sniffles, coughs and colds. We flick the switch on the central heating and the onslaught from the invisible invaders begins; are our immune systems caught off-guard in the ambush?

Our go-to remedy is hot Elderberry Cordial, but I’m not entirely sure what happened to the elderberries this year – whether it was a short season, a poor crop, an influx of birds (or foragers) or just my poor timing, I missed out and had little opportunity to bottle up any of their medicinal goodness.

So here’s another of nature’s hedgerow miracles, the humble rosehip.

wild rose bush

Packed with an insane amount of vitamin C, the little red fruits of the rose family have been used by man for centuries. Commonly used to make tea, I personally recall the bright red hips from my days at primary school in Cheshire, where little hands reached through the fence to harvest them as a remarkably potent source of ‘itching powder’. Every hip is packed full of seeds, each covered in tiny irritant hairs that you really want to avoid. Kids can be pretty cruel to each other at times.

Take care when foraging rosehips as it’s all too easy to shred your hands on the thorny bushes – wear gloves or snip the hips off with secateurs.

Ingredients:

  • 1kg Rosehips, washed
  • 1 ltr Water
  • 500g Granulated sugar

You’ll also need muslin cloth for straining and sterilised jars or bottles for storing.

Method:

I like to trim the hips but it’s not essential.

  1. Roughly chop the rosehips in a food processor and pop them in a large pan with the water.
  2. Bring it to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes.
  3. Strain the hips and their pesky hairs through a double layer of muslin cloth, squeezing out as much liquid as you can.
  4. Strain the liquid again through a couple of layers of muslin cloth into a clean pan and add the sugar.
  5. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and bring the mix back to the boil for 3-4 minutes.

It’s advisable to bottle the syrup in small quantities as it will need refrigerating once opened.

homemade rosehip syrup

The Smalls

I have two smalls. Felix is 8 and Winter is 6. If you’re familiar with my writings or follow me on social media you’ll have seen that they eat pretty damn well. My wife and I put a huge amount of time and effort into feeding them to the best of our ability, and they’re routinely exposed to, if not taking part in, my incessant culinary expeditions and Food Revolution campaigning.  

Felix was in fact the motivation for this very blog; Emma and I strived to give him the very best start in life through ideal nutrition and a focus on real food from the outset. 

BUT, here’s the thing folks – even in our ‘perfect’ little gastronomic household, we still hear Winter saying things like “I’m allergic to pasta” on random occasions or “water is disgusting” and Felix, well …. tomatoes are the devil (although ketchup and anything derived from tomatoes is just fine..). 

Yep, that’s right: It’s not all as rosy as anyone’s Instagram feed appears – sure there’s negatives and difficult times, but who wants to see that right?  

I’m pretty confident that every child follows a similar path, and that every parent certainly struggles at some point with the battle between what we know to be right and the best thing for our children, and simply giving in to an easier life, if only for one peaceful meal.

Here’s my advice:

This will happen. Persevere.  Involve them in selecting, buying and preparing food, go with the ebb and flow, and don’t be hard on yourself. Persist with variety in their diet, and your own – they’re clever little beings and pick up on all of the social cues, reactions and traits, regardless of how tiny or insignificant they may seem to us. Obviously seek professional help via your GP in extreme cases, but don’t give yourself a hard time.  Ask questions of other parents – we’re all in the same boat. If you’re even thinking about these things, then you’re already doing great. 

Godspeed.

Food Fit For Felix and the smalls

The Great Get Together

I’m starting to think that the best barbecues are the impromptu, last minute variety. Is this true?

Plans were in place for a Great Get Together in support of Jo Cox and the ‘more in common’ movement last weekend, but as happens all too frequently in our household, plans change.

However… right on cue, some dear friends invited us round to their house for a last-minute Sunday-night barbecue. Perfect little get-together me thinks. Now, living in an apartment with no garden, I can’t begin to explain how delightful it is to receive such an invitation.

So, what’s in the fridge? Some, I expect, might feel a little daunted by this prospect, however I absolutely love the freedom that an open fire brings – take what you have, and make what you can. Expectations can’t be too high can they? Moreover, you have before you the most devilishly ideal creator of flavour known to mankind, the humble fire.

weber coal starter

I’m fairly certain that a planned barbecue merely leads to anxious over-purchasing in the search of perfection, and ultimately greater food wastage.

Anything goes – as long as you cook everything sufficiently, it’s all good. Think about the garnishes, embellishments and rifts that will transform the ordinary into the extroadinary with a kiss of smokey char.

Classic new potatoes with rosemary from their garden, smashed garlic cloves, olive oil, unwaxed lemon peel, salt and pepper.. I even parboiled them before walking over. Wrap them up in foil and chuck them on the heat for a while to get gnarly.

bbq potatoes

Got a pineapple to hand? A splash of olive oil and a twist of black pepper takes it to a different level once it’s had a few minutes over the waning white coals.

Felix cooking up a storm

Good job little man.

BBQ Pineapple

Get outside and get together folks – make the most of everything you have and celebrate friendship. Jo was right.

Sunday BBQ

The Great Get Together is a campaign of the Jo Cox Foundation and partners, supported by Jamie Oliver and the Food Revolution. The Jo Cox Foundation is a registered charity in England and Wales (no. 1170836). Registered address: 40 Bowling Green Lane, London, EC1R 0NE