Facing My Fear

“Limits, like fear, are often an illusion.” – Michael Jordan

I once had a tragic happening in my kitchen that scarred me for life. Well. Okay. That’s me being overly dramatic but it was a baking fail that I’ve never forgotten or confronted, until now.

Many years ago (and that, actually, isn’t an exaggeration) I attempted to make bread. Not bread machine bread. Real bread. From scratch. I found a recipe for French bread in a long-forgotten cookbook borrowed from the library. It was, apparently, suitable for beginners and that was me!

I don’t remember the process but I do remember that the dough rose okay for the first proofing, almost no second rise, and the result was bread that would have only been suitable for anchoring a small boat. I was so put off by that failure that I never made anything using yeast again.

My personal opinion (or excuse, if you prefer) was that a person needed to have a certain touch to make bread, or pastry for that matter. Then I recently saw “Bake It Better : Sweet Buns & Breads” by Linda Collister on the new book display at the library.

I took a quick flick through. It’s divided into three sections: Easy Does It, Needs a Little Skill, and Up for a Challenge. I immediately saw a number of recipes in the easy section that I’d love to try. So, I took a deep breath, checked the book out and decided to face my fear!

I started off with something that was a bread but didn’t involve yeast: scones. I love scones (and prefer when it is pronounced so that it rhymes with “yawns”, thanks very much) and have a good recipe courtesy of my Mum. The Bake It Better recipe has just 6 ingredients and a basic method. I didn’t have any buttermilk so went with their recommended substitute of a milk and yogurt combination. The scones were fantastic! And just in case you think I’m dissing the family recipe, my Mum tried them as well and concurred. She loved them as much as I did. That recipe is going to become a standard in our home.

IMG_20190406_1955158Then it was time to try…yeast. I liked the look of the Devonshire Splits. They are small rolls with a soft crumb served split in half and filled with cream and jam. How could you not like the look of that? I followed the step-by-step instructions carefully and appreciated the images shared as well as advice on kneading. Imagine my surprise when the dough rose beautifully. I knocked it down with my knuckles, divided the dough, shaped it and, like magic, it rose again. I was ridiculously excited. I think my husband thought I was losing my mind (again). Fifteen minutes later and they were out of the oven and looked exactly like the photo in the book. They tasted divine even without the cream and jam. Soft crumb, lightly sweetened and truly, it was hard to eat just one!

With new found confidence I also made hot cross buns and a milk and honey loaf. Both recipes turned out really well. I was elated and amazed. I am now a happy baker of bread and am looking forward to the day when I graduate to “Needs a Little Skill” and “Up for a Challenge”!

I will note that one minor downfall of this little British cookbook is the measurements being listed in grams and millilitres. A previous borrower had actually penned the conversions to cups right in the margin, a practice we don’t support here at the library of course but unfortunately it does happen. My suggestion: just use an online converter on your favourite device. No pen required.

  • Sandi H.

Devonshire Splits

400 grams strong white bread flour plus extra for dusting
6 grams salt
1 tsp sugar
60 grams butter, at room temperature, diced small
1 – 7 gram sachet fast-action dried yeast
250 ml lukewarm milk
Vegetable oil for dusting
Icing sugar for dusting

To serve: clotted or whipped cream and raspberry jam or preserves

DIRECTIONS

Put the flour, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the pieces of butter and rub in with the tips of your fingers until the mixture looks like fine crumbs. Sprinkle the yeast into the bowl and thoroughly mix in. Make a well in the centre.

Pour the lukewarm milk into the flour mixture. Work in with your hands until you have a soft dough. If it feels at all dry or crumbly, add in milk (just a tablespoon at a time). If the dough sticks to your hands or the sides of the bowl, add more flour.

Rub a little oil on the worktop. Don’t sprinkle it with flour. Scrape out the dough and knead until very pliable and satiny smooth (10 minutes). Return the dough to bowl. Cover with clingfilm or a snap-on lid. Leave to rise on worktop for 60 minutes or until double in size.

Punch down to deflate dough. Lightly dust work service with flour. Knead once or twice. Divide dough into 12 equal portions. Cover with dry tea towel to rest for 5 minutes.

Shape into balls. Set out on lined baking sheet. Slip the sheet into an extra large plastic bag, trapping air inside but making sure that the plastic won’t touch the dough even when it rises again.

Leave the to rise for 45 minutes. The dough will double in size again.

Preheat oven to 425 F. Uncover the buns – they will now be touching – and bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown.

As soon as they are done, set the sheet on a wire rack and sift icing sugar over the top. Carefully slide the rolls onto the cooling rack. Cover them with a dry tea towel and let cool until barely warm.

Uncover and gently pull the buns apart. When ready to serve, slice each ¾ of the way across. Spread with jam and cream. Serve immediately.

Fascinated by Queen Victoria

Good old Queen Victoria was born on May 24, 1819…200 years ago!! Queen Victoria may be long dead and gone, yet in a way she lives on. She lent her name and birthday to the glorious long weekend we are now celebrating. And she lives on in numerous place and street names around the globe as well as inspiration for books and movies.

My daughter and I recently decided we wanted to watch a TV series together, something British. We selected Victoria and steadily worked our way through Seasons 1 and 2. We were enthralled — addicted? — from the get go! Just so you know, this is NOT your stout, dowdy, “we are not amused” Queen Victoria. This is a young, vibrant Victoria (just 18 years of age when she came to the throne), a headstrong Victoria filled with steely determination to do things her own way. Viewers are treated to pomp and circumstance, romance (both royal and below stairs variety), juicy scandal, and plenty of scheming and intrigue.

The cast is superb. Jenna Coleman plays Queen Victoria, Tom Hughes is her husband, Prince Albert, and Rufus Sewell portrays Lord Melbourne, the prime minister. I have to confess to a secret hankering after the Prince Ernst character (David Oakes), the oh-so-handsome and charming but badly-behaved older brother of Prince Albert.

Season 3 of Victoria comes out on DVD later this month. Cannot wait!

As we watched the series, I also read the companion book, Victoria by Daisy Goodwin, the creator and writer of the TV series. Highly enjoyable. Looking for more Victoria-inspired reading or viewing? Here are a couple of newish offerings I would recommend: Victoria & Abdul (DVD) and Queen Victoria: twenty four days that changed her life (book) by Lucy Worsley.

I have become quite fascinated with Queen Victoria, so I will leave you with two facts I bet you did not know. First, when Victoria was born the chances of her ever becoming queen were extremely remote as she was the daughter of the fourth son of the old King. Also, when Queen Victoria died (in 1901) she was the longest reigning monarch in British history (at 63 years) … though that record has recently been surpassed by her great-great granddaughter, the present Queen, at 67 years, and counting.

Happy Victoria Day!

— Penny D.

My Unexpected Encounter with Father Brown

As a young millennial, I never thought I’d find myself watching period-drama mysteries. Miss Marple, Midsomer Murders and the like–those were TV shows for other people of a more *ahem* mature lifestyle to enjoy. I was in for a big surprise when on a whim I borrowed Season 1 of the BBC’s Father Brown.

I originally intended to let this show play in the background, while I worked on other things around my apartment. Before I knew it my housework had been forgotten, and I was fully enthralled in 1950’s era mystery. I had gotten lost in the world of Kembleford and fallen in love with Father Brown and his hodge-podge group of sidekicks.

As I watched through the episodes of Father Brown, I couldn’t quite figure out why I was enjoying it so much. Normally I lose interest in the “one-and-done” crime shows that don’t have any over-arching plot lines and the crimes are contained to one episode, never to be spoken of again. The episodes of Father Brown were of the “one-and-done” variety, but I was addicted.

Somewhere in Season 3, I figured out the Father Brown appeal: escapism. The power of escapism is often overlooked in conversations about the stories we consume. We boast that good stories help us see other people’s point-of-views, inform us of other ways of living and ultimately make us more empathetic human beings. This is all true, but good stories have another role.

Watching Father Brown — in all of it’s “one-and-done” glory–gave me an escape from the stresses of everyday life, and that’s why I loved it so much. I could turn on the TV and know what to expect. By the end of the episode, the balance would be back in check and I’d have had the opportunity to spend a good 45 minutes with the now-familiar characters. It might sound silly to some, but the episodes were a stable comfort during a chaotic period in my life.

So, if you’re looking for an escape or just enjoy a plain, old-fashioned mystery, I’d definitely recommend trying a season or two (or six!) of Father Brown.

— Jenna H.

The Five

the fiveFrom August 1888 to November 1888, five women were murdered in the Whitechapel area of London by a person (or persons?) known only as Jack the Ripper. There have been countless articles, books and movies of the infamous crimes, with most focusing on the violence and mystery surrounding Jack’s identity.

The Five takes a different view with author Hallie Rubenhold focusing on the five female victims who, for more than 100 years, were labelled as prostitutes. Through tremendously detailed research piecing together the lives of the five – Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane, Rubenhold shows readers how and why these depictions of the victims are gravely false.

The book has five chapters, one for each victim, but doesn’t focus on their brutal and well-publicized deaths. Instead, it focuses on their humble beginnings up until they were murdered because these women were so much more than grisly deaths and the misconstrued labels society gave them.

What struck me the most about The Five was the author’s vivid and unflinching look at the lives of the lower class in the 19th century – lives that were often brutal, uncertain and set within horrific living conditions. Rubenhold also focuses on the limitations imposed upon women of the time, especially those of the lower classes.

With no rights and few options available, most women were at the mercy of the men in their lives and could look forward to working to support their family at a young age, getting married, have numerous children (of whom they’d lose a significant number to disease and malnutrition) and an early death. In general life was hard in the late 19th century but was certainly significantly harder for women.

With this unique focus, Rubenhold shines a light not on the vicious crimes of a notorious mad man, but on the five female victims. And while at times the book was a little info-heavy, I applaud Rubenhold for humanizing the victims of these infamous murders that have captivated the world for over a century, as well as shining a light on the hardships of women in the late 19th century.

— Laurie P.

The Salt Path

If savouring the majesty of the great outdoors is not your thing, you would be well-advised to steer clear of The Salt Path. However, if you are in need of a  meandering hike on Britain’s sea-swept South West Coast Path, you will will find this wilderness romp a satisfying way to spend a winter weekend.

In The Salt Path, Raynor Winn begins this heart-breaking story by revealing that she and her husband Moth are about to lose their home as a result of an investment in a friend’s business having gone awry. After years in financially ruinous litigation to save their beloved home, the court’s final decision is a ruling not in their favour. As they huddle in a cupboard under the stairs while they listen to the bailiffs pounding on the door, they are withered by the reality that their family’s dream life is irrevocably coming to an end.

As if that isn’t enough burden to bear, they also learn that the chronic pain that Moth has been experiencing in his upper back for the last six years is actually the result of a rare disease called corticobasal degeneration which will begin to further destroy Moth’s body and mental acuity resulting in a slow and agonizing death. Losing the love of her life is a burden too onerous for Raynor to bear and she simply believes that the doctors have got it wrong.

Knowing that they have nothing left to lose, they embark on a 630 mile walk of the Southwest Coast Path from Somerset to Dorset. Their decision to wild camp along the way is borne from the fact that they have no money except for the 40 pounds the government will deposit into their account each month. Food wins over comfort and, with only the bare essentials of life in their backpacks, they begin their journey.

a1o3bibuohlTheir constant companion on the trip is a guidebook of the trail hike written by the much fitter and more experienced Paddy Dillon. They quickly come to understand that there is no chance of completing the walk within the same time parameters that Dillon did. This release of their preconceived expectations is just the beginning of the emotional and spiritual journey they both experience as their need to survive ellipses all other previous concerns that have burdened them.  The power of nature is a force that they eventually learn to stop fighting. In letting go they find that their struggle with their financial and emotional impoverishment falls away.

The Salt Path is a story of the power of love and the recognition of the interconnectedness of all things. It is a story of survival in the darkest of times and the joy of opening one’s eyes to seeing the world in a whole new way.

— Nancy C.