One of the things that I miss most about living in Switzerland (apart from the chocolate, the company, and swimming in the lakes) is the bread. I took to the bread and the chocolate much more quickly than it took me to get the hang of swimming in the lakes, mind: it turns out that the time that all the snow on the mountains starts to thaw is not the same time that the lake starts to warm up. Who would have thought it? Yes, alright.
Where were we? Oh yes, the bread. It was quite a revelation, if I’m honest. Don’t get me wrong, I’d been to mainland Europe before, and good bakeries in England – I don’t quite spend all of my time in the bakery aisle of the local Spar, sobbing – so I did know about good bread. I’d just, sort of, temporarily, forgotten. After all, over here we mostly get variations on the theme of plain white, posh white, wholemeal, and seedy (although at least they don’t put bone-ashes in it any more. I presume). I was most definitely not prepared for potato bread with walnuts in (delicious, by the way. As if you needed to ask).
How’s your Easter week-end going? Chances are it’s been more relaxing than mine, I hope. If you’d like to find out, here’s a test: if you close your eyes, can you see bindweed roots? I can. I would have dreamt about them too, if I wasn’t so exhausted from all the digging (seriously, who knew digging was so hard? and why didn’t they tell me? I was woefully underprepared!) and the raking, too. I had no idea I had muscles in those places, but apparently I do, and they are making their presence felt.
On the plus side: I have a new haircut which will allow me to wear lots of eyeliner while pretending I’m Mary Quant (I flatter myself not at all), the sun is out (!), and I have a near-perfect butterzopf stashed in the freezer ready to finish off its baking in time for tomorrow’s breakfast. Perhaps life is not so hard after all.
Butterzopf is one of those things that I ate all the time (quite literally – when you see the ingredients, you’ll realise what a marvel it is that I fitted on the plane back home) while I lived in Switzerland, and miss terribly now I’m back in England – along with dried mango, and M-Budget chocolate. While I am fairly sure I don’t stand the faintest chance of either finding a) mangoes ripe enough to dry and b) some sun in which to dry them, or of setting up as a chocolatier in the utility room, making some bread – that should be a doddle, right? Right?
One of my favourite things about week-ends is the opportunity for a breakfast more leisurely and interesting than my usual – a piece of toast eaten while balancing on one leg, trying to put my shoe on and simultaneously work out where on earth I left the car keys. My most favourite breakfast ever started at around 10am, after a leisurely stroll around the shops to find a jam just the right amount of set, and didn’t finish until early afternoon – and then only because some friends turned up, and it would have been unseemly to continue to sit in the shade of the huge trees in the garden, squeezing oranges for juice and snacking on strawberries and butterzopf when there were people to entertain.
My housekeeping skills are inconsistent at best. I’m not really very sure where the hoover now lives, since we re-jigged the utility room a month ago. I don’t entirely believe in dusting. Guests have used the iron more often than I have, and even they have only used it twice (in fact, come to think of it, I don’t think I know where the iron is now, either). Luckily, I have a high tolerance for fluff, and a boyfriend who has forgotten what flat shirts are for – and who has kept slightly more of an eye on the hoover’s whereabouts.
This is possibly painting a worse picture than I deserve: everything is clean that should be (apart from the windows), and all of the tea towels are beautifully flat and neatly folded (very important), but really, the main area in which I like to think I contribute something to the household is the food. It’s very strenuous, you know – leafing through recipe books, drawing up meal plans, arranging for the veg box to turn up and hunting down delicious things to do with its
radicchio chard (it turns out you can’t do anything nice with radicchio). All of this incredibly hard work means that I do – usually – manage to cook something healthy and tasty for the two of us that isn’t cheese on toast. What? That seems a perfectly fair division of labour to me. I do also make sure the books stay colour co-ordinated, if that helps.
In a continuation of the worrying trend, though, where I fail to remember anything at all and instead waltz through life leaving behind me a wake of very important things, my excellent planning skills (ahem) have failed me recently. I very smugly got some of Nigel’s root vegetable korma out of the freezer before work, and failed miserably to realise that – somehow – we had run out of rice. I certainly don’t remember eating it.
Straight in today, readers: I am a convert, and so should you be. Not only does sourdough make an excellent addition to your table setting, it tastes far more interesting and keeps better than ordinary bread – not that it ever hangs around long enough in my house for that to be very useful.
You could argue that there is no need for me to be baking my own, as the bakery around the corner from my flat sells an excellent version (this being the bakery that I also go to to create change for the car park whenever I drive to work – this looks bad for my waistline, already), and up until I was handed a plastic tub of sourdough starter at the weekend, I would have agreed. However, it turns out that making it is surprisingly easy, and being the kind person that I am, I wanted to share this fact with those of you who don’t live minutes away from a small bakery.
It requires only faith, and patience. You needn’t worry about your faith being mis-placed, either – according to cutting-edge research (by which I mean John’s brother’s school science experiments, ten years ago), the only way to actually kill yeast is to pour bleach on it. Anything else just sort of …slows it down, for a bit. Add this to the fact that any flour prepared from any grain contains easily enough dormant microbial activity to get your starter going (and this I have on rather better authority: Sandor Katz’s Art of Fermentation), and you will find that it’s pretty hard to do wrong.