Friday, August 21, 2009

I just made some gluten-free soda farls...

and thought I should do some jotting.

Mother put me up to this the other day, mentioning that she now exclusively eats her own home-made soda farls instead of buying loaves that she can't finish on her own. It dawned on me that I'd never made soda farls myself, ever. So I went on a quest for a gluten-free version, motivated in part by the imminent demise of my bread machine, which still bakes, but no longer heats during the proving stages. I found some good recipes, among them Living Wheat-lessly, but was hampered by the rundown of the store cupboards before we go off to Sweden on Sunday. Finally desperation drove me to knock something together yesterday lunchtime, when we ran out of bread of all varieties. Hence the following.

The first lot were white, the second "wholewheat" - not really wholewheat, obviously, otherwise I would be in a very bad way atm, but fake gluten-free whole-fibre-ish.

Anyhoo, the flour blend for the first batch was:

8oz Rice Flour
8oz Tapioca Flour
8oz Soy Flour

Sorry about the Imperial units, but this was left over from a blend in a US book, so it's either cups or ounces I'm afraid. And I have learned to my cost (my nummy, nummy cost) that a US cup has nothing whatsoever in common with my coffee mug.

Mix 10.5 oz from this flour blend with 3/4 tsp baking powder, pinch cream of Tartar, and 1/2 tsp salt.
Rub in 3 tbsp cold butter (I use Stork).
Add 1 tbsp sugar (but see next recipe), mix and put a well in the middle.

In another large bowl, beat 2 eggs, mix in 8 fl oz natural yogurt, and add 1/2 tsp baking soda, whisking like mad.

AT THIS POINT YOU NEED TO START MOVING LIKE BUGGERY. The yogurt and baking soda mixture will start fizzing, and you need to combine it with the flour as if the very hounds of Hell were baying at your heels for the lickings.

It will be more like a batter than a bread dough, so just pour it into a preheated griddle pan (I used a wok - a frying pan would do: as long as it's heavy-based and has a lid, it doesn't matter). No oil, no flouring. Keep an eye on it, it should be mostly cooked through in 20mins, but flip it over anyway to finish cooking through. Now, I don't know if this makes any difference, but it's what my tribe does: take it out and wrap it in a dishtowel until it's cool.

It was a bit rubbery - no doubt because I put 2 eggs in instead of one - and too sweet for my liking, although I would consider it as a basis for a fruit soda. There it is on the left - with my home-made blackberry jam in the background, made from berries picked by the Mighty Offspring himself, awww...

The second lot uses this flour blend:

8oz Rice Flour
8oz Tapioca Flour
8oz Quinoa Flour (because I was out of Soy, hah! and quinoa is also a high-protein flour)

The same method - 10.5 oz flour blend with 3/4 tsp baking powder, pinch cream of Tartar, and 1/2 tsp salt, rub in 3 tbsp butter. NO sugar, but instead add a goodly fistful of toasted soya bran, available from Holland & Barrett.

Prepare buttermilk by mixing 8 fl oz milk with 1 tbsp vinegar, then mix in 1 - not 2 - beaten egg, 1/2 tsp baking soda: this will also fizz, but a little slower. You still need to get a wriggle on.

This mix isn't as liquid, and could probably be formed. I didn't, though - straight into the preheated wok and away.

It was a little crumbly when I tried to cut it when still warm, but turned lofty and elastic when cold, just like it should be. The lack of sugar was perfect - it was just the right degree of tangy and savoury. The slight bitterness of the quinoa also works well for this faux wheaten: soy flour would be just a bit too soft and waxy. It's not overly wholewheaty, more like the soft, spongy Ormo wheaten loaves than the nutty bricks of my childhood, but I was going easy on the soya bran for this experiment. Next time, though...

You'll notice neither recipe uses xanthan gum, guar gum, or powdered milk, which would be quite usual in GF baking: they provide the rubbery, gluey sponginess of, well, gluten. It's not actually essential that soda bread has this sponginess, though; it doesn't have that character even when made with wheat. But I did wonder why the second farl wasn't as crumbly as I'd expect. The first obviously got its extreme sponginess from the accidental egg overdose, but that wasn't the case with the second. Then I remembered: milk + vinegar + heat = casein plastic!


Sunday, August 16, 2009

We interrupt the scheduled programme...

...of joyous creativity to announce a tragedy.

At 8.00 this morning, the Clarice bag departed this world.

This beautiful, vibrant - nay, fluorescent creature went into the washing machine last night for felting. Sadly, this morning, it was found in a semifelted condition, almost completely bereft of Kool-Aid colour.

The only colour to survive, however slightly, is the one I dyed with Turmeric (yes, the spice. It's pretty good, no need for acid, salt, nasty chemicals - just spice and boiling water. Works for cotton too).

And not one photograph did I take before I put it in the washing machine.

So, what did I do wrong? I did a fair bit of research before going into this, and all of it suggested that Kool-Aid dyed wool felted pretty well. Slight fading but not too serious, more of an advantage given how eye-wateringly bright Kool-Aid can be. A quick whizz though my sources reveals no mention the optimal wash temperature, though: my machine was set for a boil wash, which, in retrospect, was probably too hot. It was stupid o'clock in the morning, I'd stayed up to finish it ready for felting, and I was overcome with the desire to have my widdle baggie-waggie first thing in the morning: not my best chemistry thinking time.

Back to the drawing board, then. I still want to make this, but I'll do some test swatches and try a few different temps first. I'd also like to re-jig the chart: Coss seems to assume square rather than rectangular stitches, and comes out very wide and short when knit up. It produced a lovely oblong shape for the bag, but the flowers were a bit stretched.

So, I return you to your normal scheduled programme with this cautionary bit of advice: don't wash your Kool-Aid dyes at 90deg until further notice.

ETA: When life gives you lemons, stick 'em down your blouse to make your boobs look bigger! I'm going to use the bag to learn to steek! and maybe needle-felt! Not that I see myself making anything that ever requires either skill, but I'd imagine you could do a zombie some damage with a felting needle...

Monday, August 03, 2009

Monster Post III - Rav Rave!

This is me, wearing my February Lady cardi, ensconced in the First Class carriage, crocheting a mobile phone sock, on my way to UK Ravelry Day 2009! It's a bit fuzzy because the train was vibrating with speed, but it's the best of six or eight that I took, including a charmingly smeared one of my bum as a particularly sharp jolt knocked the camera out of my hand. Nonetheless, it is proof, if such were needed, of my attendance.

I abandoned Tiny Husband and the Mighty Offspring at silly o'clock for a Saturday morning, and tore off determined to arrive for the opening. Sadly, it was not to be. The bus to the centre arrived later and took longer to travel than I had allowed for, so all was in full swing when I arrived.

It was actually a little intimidating walking into the hall knowing it was full of fibre enthusiasts. I didn't dare take my rain coat off at first, for fear of people throwing tomatoes at me for my February Lady blasphemy. Or something equally irrational. I got a coffee and sighed over the lovely cakes I daren't even breathe around, and checked out the competition. But despite the tight confines of the entrance hall, everyone seemed quite jolly, pushing and shoving their way round very politely. I risked putting the raincoat in my shopping trolley (for, friends, I was on a mission), sucked in a fortifying breath, and tried a little eye contact. No tomatoes. Oh good. Then I saw Rooknits, who organises the knitting meet-up that I, er, occasionally attend, helping hand out programmes, and wearing - yes! - her own FLS. Completely different to mine, barely skimming her hips in a variegated purple Malabrigo, and just looking so much lighter. Mine is, you know, heavy. Cotton. A quick word, and I went to pick up some goodies, including a Rav badge.

I had not scheduled anything for the morning to give me a chance to wander round and soak up the atmosphere. On my way into the main hall, a couple of people stopped me to look at the FLS, and one took a photo. The Knitter magazine, which was sponsoring the event, had a photographer there taking pictures of individual knitters in their finery. I made sure to walk past slowly and ostentatiously, and they totally ignored my orange and black 60s-inspired take on the world's most popular sweater!! Which didn't improve my misgivings about it... And as if to add insult to injury, on my final  promenade, the photographer's assistant - or the fashion director, who knows - dived shrieking towards me - and grabbed the woman behind me. Who was wearing an ill-fitting, sangria-vomit-coloured... sack thing, that she protested she hadn't even had time to finish seaming or weaving in on (which was very obvious) before coming to the event. It was a shambles, but the PA/FD just would not release the poor woman, dragging her kicking and screaming up on the stage and propping her up with threats and menaces as she tried to hide her face in shame inside the lopsided half-sewn collar... Maybe it was some hellishly expensive yarn - they always seem to look like some variant on puke - or a pattern by some high-flown designer. I clearly don't have good enough taste or fashion sense to tell. Maybe - no, undoubtedly - it would have looked better properly finished and blocked. Who cares - I was miffed, insulted, ready to throw the bloody FLS in the trolley, certain it was every crappy thing I worried it was (tacky, ugly, unflattering, laughable, grannyish...). Sometimes I am a very small person.

The hall was bustling quietly. Someone was doing a demo of spinning in historical costume, on a very large, very homemade looking wheel. I couldn't place the era, and don't know enough about spinning to identify any more than that, and was still feeling too shy to stop her and ask questions. There was a selection of fabulous felted hats, some military, on her stall, but sadly none for sale. The most amazing thing was a set of carders (?) that I didn't even see until I was leaving the hall later. Instead of bristles, they had large burr seeds attached! That just amazed me. Of course, what would you use before manufacturing gave you the option of inserted-bristle brushes? It's so obvious and ingenious.

I wandered about for a bit, looked everything, then headed out into the bucketing rain to wander round the stalls. The first thing to see was this adorable pair of alpacas. There were a few people, as I passed back and forth, who bemoaned the terrible conditions the poor little things were suffering in the rain. I inadvertently sniggered the first time I heard one, earning a glare, but really? They come from the Andes (full of alloo-ARRRR!), which is Spanish for 'some of the most extreme environmental conditions found on this planet': Coventry must be a cake walk for them. They certainly seemed to be coping with the downpour and the crowds with typical camellid insouciance, though of course they may just have been stoned on the comparatively oxygen-rich atmosphere.

I bought some alpaca fibre at another stall, lovely deep black stuff that I will one day pluck up the nerve to spin. However, I was really after Jameson and Smith's stall. I wanted to get a colour card (done, and then some - I think I got every colour card there!) and possibly some yarn. So I picked up 10 skeins in a lovely honey green, which I hope to run up in a Japanese pattern from Hitomi Shida's 250 Couture Knit Stitch Patterns, to which I treated myself on YesAsia. I also somehow accidentally walked off with some 1-ply cobweb in a lace scarf kit. No idea how that happened, or how that huge sack of Shetland spinning fibre came to be in the bag with it - if you've been paying attention, you'll know that lace and I are not mutually compatible. And my first response to thread is to whip out a steel crochet hook visible only under electron microscope - not big fat knitting needles! And it's PINK!!! Gooey, sickly, sugar-pink at that. Nonetheless, I cast on Meg Swansen's talk and did a respectable amount before having to rip back due the inevitable stitch-count issues.

In the afternoon, I attended a natural dyeing workshop, run by Debbie... Barton? Sorry, the name is gone. There, I went a little mental, discovering previously unsuspected enthusiasm for the Madd Colorzz as long as I was in charge of the dye pots. The result is the red and green ball on the right - the ball on the left is some leftover mordanted Jamieson & Smith jumperweight that we were told to take away. I dyed it a lovely deep gold with onion skins - not terribly even but mouthwatering. I mean that btw, I'm dribbling on the keyboard just thinking about it. I call them Rhubarb and Crumble respectively. There might be enough for a faux Fair Isle tam, but I'd probably best knit it from the top/centre down just to be on the safe side.

I also picked up some smaller size KnitPicks (now Knit Pro in the UK) interchangeable tips and longer cables to go with my kit, and some of their multi-coloured Symphonie wooden cable needles - not that I need them, or will ever likely use them, as I think the scoring on them would tear up the yarn, but I can't say no to a cable needle... Tried to get some Soak, but the only bottles left were scented and didn't appeal. Was sorely tempted by Poems of Colour, but it was sold out too apart from the stall copy. I did finally settle on The Opinionated Knitter, and got it signed by Meg Swansen!

Meg's talk was great fun. She read briefly a few extracts from her mother's books - mostly The Opinionated Knitter, which at this point I hadn't bought. I've always liked Elizabeth Zimmerman's tongue-in-cheek humour, and it translated well in the talk. Most of the talk was taken up with answering questions from the floor on any and all topics related to Elizabeth, Meg herself, Schoolhouse Press, etc. I hadn't expected any laugh out loud moments, but there were plenty. At one point, someone asked about the February Lady Sweater, and whether Elizabeth would have approved of this adaptation of the Baby Sweater on Two Needles (Knitter's Almanac). In her reply, Meg asked for all the people in the hall wearing a FLS to stand up - and at least 20, probably more like 30, stood up! I may have lost my stitch count at this point. All different colours and fibres, on all different sizes and shapes. After the talk, when I queued up to get my new copy of The Opinionated Knitter signed, Meg was very complimentary about my fitted FLS, and asked a lot of questions about how I'd done it (yes, I know I have to put something together about that). So, sucks to the The Knitter! Validation from the foal's mouth!