I like this bit in ‘English Bread and Yeast Cookery’ by Elizabeth David. It reminds me that a good loaf (or beer) is something to say thanks for, a gift of grace.

“In Chaucer’s England one of the names for yeast or barm was goddisgoode ‘bicause it cometh of the grete grace of God.’These words imply a blessing. To me that is just what it is.It is also mysterious, magical.No matter how familiar its action may become nor how successful the attempts to explain it in terms of chemistry and to manufacture it by the ton, yeast still to a certain extent retains its mystery.”

use only one hand for kneading..


I’m on a bit of a Penguin book grabbing frenzy at the moment and managed to pick up a grubby copy of ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol 2’ by Simone Beck and Julia Child. I’m not sure if I would have been aware of the book if not for sneakily watching ‘Julia and Julia once when it was on at home but I love it already because it is full of diagrams and lines like this:-

‘Use one hand only for kneading and keep the other clean to hold a pastry scraper, to dip out extra flour, to answer the telephone, and so forth’

I’m not sure why that line attracts me to the book, but it seems almost joyful to me. Of course you need to keep the hand free to answer the phone, life is still going on when you make a loaf of bread, you can talk to people and bake bread as well.
Maybe I’m influenced by Meryl Streep’s performance as Julia Child in the film but there seems to be a sense of joy in the writing of the book. I’ve an old grubby copy of Elizabeth David’s classic ‘French Provincial Cooking’ that I’ve flicked through over the last few years but it just seems to be missing something. I think it’s a sense of joy or enjoyment, or just having a bit of light-hearted banter

I think that is why I enjoy my Hugh Fearnley Whats-his-face books as there is a sense of joy in his writing whereas Delia Smith seems a bit less joyful in her cookery books. Perhaps the missing ingredient between cookery books I find useful and ones I love is a sense of joy.

In a larger sense, I wish I was more joyful sometimes, or enjoyed things a bit more. To often I let myself whinge or moan, find fault and be cynical about life. I don’t enjoy things and let others know that I didn’t enjoy it. I need to recover a sense of enjoyment about life because it’s life affirming, things aren’t all bad out there.

monastery oat bread

H___ was hanging out with Benedictine monks for few days so I decided to try and enter into the spirit of things and bake a monastery oat bread, four rises and 1hr’s worth of cooking later this slab appeared from the oven,a heavy and dense bread, like a nutty wheaten.
It doesn’t taste bad but I probably wouldn’t bake it again. Unless I ended up in a monastery or something.

easy rye loaf

I have been feeling a bit low the last couple of days and sometimes when I feel like that baking bread cheers me up and so I decided that I would try an easy rye loaf recipe from Elizabeth David.

A few things

1 It is like only a 1/6th rye, the rest is strong white flour. Should that even count as rye bread?
2 It was really hard to knead, like tough. On the plus side it didn’t stick to my sideboard which usually puts me in a grumpy mood
3 After I baked it the loaf had the hardest crust in the world, somewhere between cement and brittle granite. Although the recipe did say to put it in a tin, and because I am without tin I just put it on a baking tray. Maybe in a bread tin the crust might have been softer?

4 Elizabeth David just doesn’t agree with me as a cookery writer. I’m not sure why that is. Is it because she seems like a bit of a snob or lacking in humour?

So what we learned from all this was that we won’t be making the easy rye loaf again.The crust was hard (I like my teeth) and it didn’t taste that tasty.

Muesli Loaf

I’m not sure I’ve ever lived in a house that didn’t have a half empty bag of muesli sitting in a cupboard, dry and unloved in it’s dust. Nobody seems capable of eating an entire box or bag of muesli and so it lies forgotten about until one day you think ‘I’m never going to eat that bag of Alpen so I might as well bin it
This has been my experience of muesli.

Then this weekend I flicked through a book on bread making and stumbled across a recipe for muesli bread and thought ‘I’m going to redeem you  unloved muesli in my cupboard

Mix a sachet of quick action yeast with one teaspoon of honey and 150ml of warm, body temperature-ish water and leave for 10 mins.  Or leave for a few hours as I did after forgetting and going out of the house.

Mix 650g of strong white flour, 90g wholemeal flour and 2 teaspoons of salt. Add the yeast mixture and 300 ml of water (the recipe in the book said 250ml but added 300ml by accident). Knead for 7mins and leave to rise until doubled in bulk (whatever that means)

Work in 125g of muesli and knead for a few more minutes, seperate dough and shape into rounds on baking tray. Leave for 1hr.

Bake in an oven for 30mins or so at 230 c.

Well that’s what I did and I got a nice little brown loaf. It was maybe not as light as it should have been but I just had a slice a few days later toasted and it tastes grand to me. Plus the bag of muesli in the corner has been tamed.

There is also a recipe in this book for Weetabix and it just so happens that there is a packet of unloved Weetabix in the cupboard as well so I must give that a go next time.

‘You must not eat alone’

We had a little party on Wednesday for Mrs Canalways which involved some cooking and preparation of food, of making tortillas and baking bread, whirling up some pesto and dips, cleaning and washing up afterwards.
This might sound like hard work or a lot of effort (why not just go to M&S and buy a few bits and bobs?…which we did do) but I enjoyed doing it. And it seems like a good thing to do.

If there is one truth that I’ve learned about Christianity over the last decade or so, and if there is one setting where it seems to make sense it is around a few olives or a beer or two. Around a table there is a bit of give and take, you can enter long and lazy conversations, you can get to know your neighbour and it seems like an equal relationship.
I’m not talking about over the top, best china and dressing up type of hospitality, but the casual gathering with a few bits and bobs. |

I was reading this in Mediterranean Cookery by Claudia Roden.

‘Mediterranean society is family-based and that is where real Mediterranean cooking at its best is to be found. The home cooking of a society with strong family ties, large clans and women at home has none of the rigid rules of haute cuisine. And when dishes are passed down in the family they are fill of the little touches which make them both exquisite and individual.
I once asked a wrought-iron craftsman in Turkish Anatolia who builds pavilions in Seljuk and Ottoman styles, why he thought food in Turkey was regarded as being so important. He replied ‘What we enjoy most in life is being hospitable. That is all we have. You must not eat alone.’

That seems to me like pretty good advice for a church to take on board as well.

we have to farm Eden

‘Today’s global food economy, with its lengthy distribution networks traversing continents and oceans, makes it difficult for eaters to know the places and communities that produce and prepare food. Having so little direct contact with food’s context’s – the fields and waters, livestock crates and pens, the factories and distribution centers, worker communities and restaurants – it is next to impossible for us to act in ways that would promote the good of any place or community’
Norman Wirzba, Food & Faith, A Theology of Eating

It can tie your head in knots to think that each time you eat something there is some specific place somewhere on planet earth that had to grow that food,
(or the things that make up that food)
with very specific fellow human beings doing the farming and either treating creation with respect and love or else treating it badly.
It can tie your head in knots and so why would we even bother thinking about stuff like that? Why not just be thankful you have enough to eat and get on with living life as best you can.

I often do and my default setting is just to consume uncritically, to munch my way through a Mars Bar as I rush from one thing to the next. Yet at other times a sense of unease comes upon me. Because I eat I ‘m involved with agriculture and farming, and so are you. You are responsible for farming.

This can of tinned rice had to be farmed in different nameless places throughout the planet

It’s an incredibly complex journey from farm to my mouth (without even considering the packaging) so I won’t even try or else I might drive myself crazy.
Yet surely few things (if anything) are as fundamental to humanity to eating, which also means that few things are as fundamental as farming to human beings.
This is something which we have completely forgotten in our culture. We know that we have to eat but we don’t seem to realise or have lost sight of the fact that we are dependent on the farmer to grow our food. Right now you are completely dependent on the fact that someone, somewhere is growing your next meal. Farming and agriculture matter, they matter  more than the Man Utd game or ipad 3 or Google or nearly anything else.
And because we eat and depend on the farmer (who depends on grace and things he ultimately can’t control) we also depend on taking care of the earth like we were designed to do in Eden.
If we’re serious about looking after creation we need to support good farmers and those gardeners who use sustainable practices, even if that means much more work on our part in doing research and paying more for our food. We also need to stop supporting those who use destructive practices.

With most of our mass produced food  it’s nearly impossible to know if you have acted in a way that has promoted the good of the communities and places it has come from. So we need to go looking for good farmers who we trust, (or grow as much as we can ourselves) which means more work for us but is the sort of thing we probably should do more off if we’re trying to reflect that idea in Genesis of tending the garden of Eden.



As someone married to a assistant minister and a life long church goer who has sat through many Presbyterian communion services in a mixture of confusion, mystery, respect while at the same time wondering what is going on and why something just doesn’t seem right this passage from ‘Food & Faith‘ struck a chord

The ritualized character of the Eucharist sometimes causes people to forget that the supper was a meal. It was not a nibbling session but the place where the disciples came together to obtain their inspiration, strength, and sustenance. The evidence of the early church suggests that the community of followers ate together regularly and often, and that in their eating they tried to bear witness to Christ’s way of dwelling on earth.
Norman Wirzba, Food & Faith

the mystery of the sourdough

‘Whenever people come to the table they demonstrate with the unmistakable evidence of their stomachs that they are not self-subsisting gods. They are finite and mortal creatures dependent on God’s many gifts….Eating reminds us that we participate in a grace-saturated world, a blessed creation worthy of attention of care, and celebration
Norman Wirzba

So a new book arrived and I started to think once again about the importance of food and eating and how we’ve made a poor show of things. I still wonder how we can pray ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ but not look into the mysteries of how God has actually supplied our daily bread. The question that I always wonder is would God supply our daily bread through injustice?
Like if our tinned tomatoes are being harvested by immigrants who are being abused in the south of Italy and we buy the tin in Tesco for 50p and eat it has God supplied our daily bread?

I’ve been using a nice sourdough recipe the past year and it is a constant source of wonder that only three ingredients can bring forth something as tasty as this loaf of bread. It truly is a miracle.
Simple though those ingredients are I am still far removed from their original sources and unaware as to how they got there.

I have been using the Don Carlos salt brand which according to the website is ‘is sourced from the Atlantic Ocean off Sanlucar de Barrameda in the Donana National Park.’

Strong Bread Flour
According to the packaging the flour was produced in the UK. Being skeptical about these sorts of things when it comes to the supermarket is now my default setting.
Does being produced mean they bring the wheat grain in from other countries  then mill it in the UK?
Well OK then I guess I’ll take them at their word.
A bit of Google action suggests that it might have come from the east of England.
But I’m not sure.
Which highlights the problem of trying to find out where our food comes from. We’re largely clueless about the origins of our food.
I’m not sure where the water is piped from, I’ll hazard a guess and say The Silent Valley up in The Mournes.

Even a quick dip into the origins of my simple loaf shows that it is anything but simple. There are men and machine extrating salt in the south-east of Spain, combines tearing down wheat in east Anglia and men monitoring the water supply from Mournes. Not to mention the wind turbines supplying heat to the oven, the oven and on and on it goes.

But at the end of the day it all comes from gift. The sea gives up its salt, the farmers rely on weather and rains (which are beyond their control) and the rain falls in Co. Down.
The supply chains are so complicated and hard to trace. But I think it is good to do if we care about the planet (which is a loving gift from God and should be treated as such)