Thursday, 3 May 2012

Siri for Dummies?

Searching for a book on the Apple iTunes bookstore the other day I was surprised to find that there are books available describing how to use Apple's electronic concierge service Siri, including Siri for Dummies.



Siri is supposed to be this fantastic new user interface that just does stuff you want. It's supposed to be intuitive because you just ask it questions. It seems a little odd, then, that you should need to read a book to work it out.

I guess it's not Apple's fault that people have chosed to write books - a large part of the publishing industry is built around rapidly jumping on bandwagons with the first 50,000 words that spring to mind. But on the other hand, these guys know when there's a market, don't they.

Douglas Adams was right about so many things. Like Wonko the Sane and usage instructions for toothpicks, this makes me want to climb outside the asylum.

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Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Light rye sourdough, take two

I had another go with the pain au levain style bread this weekend, following my hunch from the first time and making a much lighter loaf with more wheat flour and less rye starter. I was very pleased with the result. It rose really nicely and pretty vigorously for a sourdough. The trick of wrapping it in a floured cloth and leaving it to rise in loaf tins to stop it spreading out too much worked well again, although I still haven't quite got the hang of what's required to stop the dough sticking completely.

The recipe this time was:
400g Rye starter
450g Water
800g All-purpose white flour
1tbsp Salt

As before, whisk together the starter with the water. Add the flour and salt and mix to a dough. Knead for 15 secs, leave for 15 mins, knead for 15 secs, leave for 30 mins, knead again, leave for one hour, knead again, leave for a couple of hours.

Divide the dough into two. Knead into balls and form into baton loaves. Place on floured cloths, roll up the cloths and put the loaves into loaf tins. Leave for 3-4 hours until doubled in size.

Heat the oven to 450F. Spray the loaves with water then bake at this temperature for 5 mins before reducing to around 375F for a further 30-40 minutes until done.


See and download the full gallery on posterous

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Scout manure

Walking down Cambie St at the weekend I was amused to see this sign outside a church. One has to commend the entrepreneurial spirit of these young men and women in today's straitened times. But one is left wondering what it is about a Scout's diet that makes the product so effective?
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Sunday, 8 March 2009

Light rye sourdough bread

The traditional French 'Pain au Levain' has always been one of my favourites - a fantastic blend of the lightness and crustiness of a French baguette with a hint of sourness and a background rye roundness of flavour. I also love the caraway flavour that is often associated with rye bread, particularly in North American variations.

This is my homage to both these styles. Like a Pain au Levain it is a wheat-based bread leavened and coloured with a sourdough starter. Unlike traditional pain de levain I've used a rye starter. My rye starter seems to be particuarly vigorous - I believe this is typical of rye starters because there's more readily available sugars in dark rye flour. I was quite pleased with the result - it goes great with cold meats, particularly the eastern european variety - salamis, mettwurst, landjaeger etc.

300g dark rye sourdough starter
200g water
350g all-purpose flour/strong white bread flour
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp salt

Whisk the starter with the water. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix into a dough. Leave for 10 minutes to rest.

Knead for 15 seconds, return to bowl, cover and leave. After 15 minutes, repeat the kneading and put it back in the bowl again. Repeat after 30 minutes and then again after 1 hour. Leave the dough for 1 - 2 hours until doubled in size.

Knead the dough quickly into a ball, flatten then fold into a baton shape. Roll it to smooth the shape and put it seam-up on a floured cloth. To keep the rough shape of the baton, I put the cloth into a large loaf tin - the dough shouldn't fill it, but it helps stop the dough from spreading out. Of course, if you've got nice baskets to put it in, use them.

Leave for another couple of hours until it doubles in size.

Pre-heat the oven to 450F. Turn the loaf out onto a baking sheet, slash the top a couple of times, spray it with water to let the crust expand and then sling it in the oven for about 45 minutes.

I was pretty pleased with the result - it's really tasty and it doesn't take as long to get results as many other sourdough recipes. I'm not sure if that's because of the high proportion of starter to new flour, or because of the vigour of this starter, but I'm happy. I might try it again with more flour - try to make two loaves with the same amount of starter.

See and download the full gallery on posterous

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Thursday, 5 March 2009

Houghton Lock on a winter's evening

This is not about being in Canada as such - it's actually a photo that takes me right back to my childhood. However, if I wanted to make a tenuous thematic link I would say that one of the nice things about living away from the UK is that you can really appreciate the nicer parts of it when you visit as a tourist. And, of course, unlike a real tourist you have all sorts of background and memories to give your holiday that extra meaning.
I lived in Cambridgeshire for the second half of my childhood. This is the lock on the River Great Ouse at Houghton, the favoured twin of the village we moved to in the late 1970s. I spent many happy days playing on and around the river, swimming, boating and exploring the reaches, meadows and islets that are formed by the river and its floods.
The lock itself was a great way to supplement my pocket money. Every fine weekend in the summer it would be in constant operation with boats going up and downstream, carrying the great and good of the district in a gin-fuelled haze. Operation of the lock was manual, requiring the winding up of the large sluice gate you see here and the opening of swing gates and paddles at the other end. I would offer to do this work, borrowing the key required for operation from one of the boats. Nine times out of ten they were more than happy for me to take over while they stayed aboard and stopped their drinks getting warm. For each boat that passed through I would get a few coins and sometimes made five pounds in a day. This seemed like a fortune. My paper round only used to pay 3 pounds a week and involved getting up at 7am, 6 days out of 7, and riding 2 miles round the least densely populated part of the village with a heavy bag full of the daily outpourings of Fleet Street on my shoulder.
I took this photo on a December evening during our most recent visit to the UK. I got to take my sons and show them some of the places I used to play when I was a boy. As I sat and wrote this today, my younger son came into the room and said 'That's where we went for a walk by the river in the dark.' It's nice to know it made an impression.
Several years ago they widened the lock to allow more boats to pass at a time. They also electrified the sluice. I wonder whether Houghton's current generation of 10-year olds are making more or less than I did?
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Monday, 2 March 2009


  The Reifel Bird Sanctuary is one of our family's favourite places to visit any time of the year. Today I went with one of the boys, our family naturalist (he used to be the family naturist too, but has grown out of that).
It was a great visit. A huge flock of Snow Geese was resting on the fields around the sanctuary on their long migration North to their summer grounds in Russia. The hedgerow birds are starting to get frisky and their plumage is taking on a new splendour. The water birds are just starting to shed their winter reserve and the trees and bushes are on the verge of bursting into flower.
But it's not just for the birds. It's a haven for all sorts of wildlife and of course, where there's a free meal there will be squirrels. I know they get everywhere, but I still get excited when I spot one whether it's running up the tree in our back yard, or stealing from one of the dozens of feeding stations at the bird sanctuary.
Amongst the birds we saw today were the amazing technicolor Woodduck, a Hooded Merganser eating a fish it had caught, Northern Harriers making low altitude passes over the reeds looking for unwary snacks and a Bald Eagle soaring high over the lakes like it owned the place. We saw Pintails, Sandhill Cranes, a Cormorant, Moorhens, Canada Geese. We also saw American Robins, bright red House Finches and one of my favourites - the Red-Winged Blackbird with its red and yellow flashes and it's raucous, piercing call.
And at only $40 a year for a family membership, it's the best value in the Lower Mainland.
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Sunday, 1 March 2009

Sourdough with Rye and Corn

This recipe was another one inspired by Dan Lepard. His 'Mill Loaf' recipe, with wheat and rye, sounded nice but I thought I'd try it with a some maize flour as well for a little extra sweetness. The result was, I thought, really good, although I still have to get the right method for proving the loaves long enough without them losing their shape.

The recipe I used was:

400g white wheat sourdough leaven
450g water, with 1tbsp malt syrup (malt extract) dissolved in
500g all-purpose flour
100g wholewheat flour
100g light rye flour
100g maize flour
1.5tsp salt

First, mix the leaven with the water. Add all the dry ingredients and then mix it into a dough. Turn it out onto and oiled work surface, knead for 15 secs or so and then put it back in the bowl. It may be easier if you wash the bowl and lightly oil it before you return the dough to the bowl. Cover the bowl and leave the dough to rest, hydrate and rise.

Repeat this after 15 mins, then 30 mins then an hour. Leave the dough for another hour. This whole process takes around 3 hours.

Now turn out the dough, divide it in two parts. Knead each part into a ball then shape it into short batons - kinda rugby ball shaped. I put each one onto a floured linen cloth, 'top' side down, wrapping the cloth round the sides and rolling the two ends together over the top, leaving room for expansion. I then left the loaves overnight at a cool room temperature (17-18 C) to prove - this was around 6 hours. They spread out more than I hoped but I managed to re-shape them on the tray.

To bake, heat the oven to 425F. Turn the loaves onto baking sheets, slash the tops of the loaves twice. Bake for around 40 minutes.

I realised afterwards that even with this overnight proving, the bread could probably have done with extra proving - it may be that my leaven isn't vigourous enough yet. I was pretty pleased with the results, although it would have been nice to have even more of a holey, open texture. The taste was great - just a hint of rye with the nuttiness of the wholewheat and a hint of sweetness from the corn and malt.

Another one to work on!

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