Monday, September 8

Late summer activities described with pictures.

Mambrino has been performing marvelously, and growing more used to the Italian/American lifestyle by elongating slightly to become comfortably uneven. Already he has assisted the production of several plum cakes, numerous loaves of bread, and even a peach upside-down cake. I have not been doing much else but baking, lately, as mum has been cooking the actual meals. Here is a picture of the bottom of the bowl, which has been marked with an "M" for "Mambrino". The maker of the bowl might assume it to be his signature turned upside down, but we will forgive him his mistake. It is obviously for "Mambrino".

Plums are in season here, too, and at our local restaurant we are presented them for dessert and they are brought out during social visits as a snack with espresso. We have been given them several times in plastic bags and baskets, and I have been conspiring to bake them into things. A moist cake with ground almonds, sour cherry syrup, and honey liqueur has been the most popular so far. Here are some of the plums (the plate is very old beech wood and my father's favourite dish).

At the same restaurant down the street I was invited to a day of sitting around with hot espresso and cold water, interesting conversation, and sorting hazelnuts; altogether an enviable experience. I was particularly interested in the odd-shaped hazelnuts, and as a result was chuckled at and given a handful of them. Here they are in all their glory:

On Sunday we made an impromptu visit to one of our family friends at his home, where we had coffee with him and his parents and sat in their garden listening to stories and recipes and talking about our mutual friends (who have recently had twins!). The father of the family is a botanist and his garden is full of fruitful plants: almonds, figs, pomegranates, and other things I couldn't quite make out--typical of their generosity, though, we left with a tubful of figs and a small container of almonds, and also a huge pumpkiny-squashy vegetable that is not in the picture. The conversation ran mostly about different types of flours and the history of agriculture, so I've promised them some bread (the first loaf is rising presently, with white spelt flour, honey, white wheat, and some of their own almonds, ground small).

My greatest technical accomplishment this summer has been to actually turn the heel of my first knitted sock. This is described as a very difficult task by many knitters but just as my sister says (and she knows things about knitting) it was not too difficult for me to listen to podcasts whilst humming and finishing up the heel. The worst part was picking up the stitches along the side, since my gauge was so tight. And now unfortunately I have broken another needle and must await the return of my sister with more needles and advice. I'm very pleased with it, so far! I do mean them only to be house-slippers, though, with a short cuff rather than a full sock like most patterns would have me knit. That is why it seems slightly disproportional.

Autumn will be here soon and then I will have a fire in the fireplace, bake more hearty things (I expect I shall be making lots of pies), and wear my comfortable knitted socks around the cold tile floors. The cats will be pleasantly chilly enough to come and sit on my lap as I read and study. The air will smell of woodsmoke and clean laundry . . . I wonder what it is like in the States. Can you feel the seasons change, there? I'm a little worried about this.

Monday, September 1

The Inaugural Rising of the Loaf in a New Bowl.

This is my new bowl. The family is tied between naming it Mambrino (after Don Quixote's fabulous helmet) and Garibaldi (the famous Italian general). I am in favour of Mambrino.

The bread (currently presiding over the oven's inner chambers with pomp and propriety) is made with yoghurt, honey, almond flour, and a 12-grain mix (spelt, barley, wheat, oat, &c.) along with the usual staples.

I was worried at first that the rising dough would stick to the sides of the wooden bowl as I normally use quite machine-made plastic and metal bowls which have very smooth sides, but it lifted out just as easily and the dough was actually more moist than I expected it to be with only a damp towel placed over it--a good thing, since my cookbooks warn me of using anything other than plastic bowls and plastic wrap.

Lovely lovely lovely. How prettily it rose. This is near the end of the rise.

And through another rise in the pan, and after baking, we have the finished product! As soon as people get hungry I will know how it tastes. Hopefully Mambrino had a good effect on it.