Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Moths lured off-track

Dun-bar moth
Dun-bar moth, originally uploaded by mike(toons).

Moths must hate all the lights we burn. Thinking that it must be the moon or a particularly bright star, many moths spiral towards bright lights and completely lose their bearings. If it's the proverbial candle flame they lose their lives.

For several million years moths perfected their navigation system and then clever-clogs humans come along, lighting fires, inventing incandescent bulbs and bedecking the planet with all manner of unnecessary, dazzling and unnatural artificial daylight.

I've just added to their woes. The light on the garage wall which illuminates the back gate and garden path had been unused since the 60 watt bulb had failed several months ago. I'd got fed up of feeding the damn thing with fragile bulbs which only lasted three or four months.

A visit to the DIY megawarehouse in Chippenham provided me with a new high-tech replacement. A light-sensor-activated low-energy bulkhead lamp using only 16 watts of power.

Poor moths. Every morning there are at least four lost souls dotted around the new lamp wondering why they are where they are and trying to blend their brilliant camouflages, acquired by natural selection in a more natural world, against my red brick garage wall.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Rye rubber brick

Rye rubber brick, originally uploaded by mike(toons).

Danger: Steep learning curve ahead. Behold the result of my very first attempt at baking bread. Actually, it's only my third attempt at baking anything.

A few weeks ago, under the watchful eye of my better half, I baked two delicious Irish Tea Loaves from a recipe in a Delia Smith cookbook. Which made me feel very proud. Prior to that I have to go back to my teen years when a swiss roll I baked had an unintentional but distinctly cubist look to it.

I wanted to have a go at baking bread but I especially wanted to try a rye sourdough. I have a digestion intolerance for white bread, especially the soft, damp, fluffy stuff that supermarkets sell.

For some time we've been buying various rye breads by The Village Bakery. It's great bread but a) naturally it's more expensive than normal supermarket bread and b) there are a couple of hundred 'food miles' involved getting the loaves from Melmerby in Cumbria to my table in Wiltshire. (On the plus side we never waste a crumb of it, Gordon Brown please note.)

Learning how to bake bread from a book is hard work. You're in a foreign land and it's difficult to tell how badly you're doing. Following the guidance in the book Bread Matters by The Village Bakery's founder Andrew Whitley, I lovingly prepared the sourdough starter over four days.

But when it came to the proofing stage, well, not much was going on. I could tell it wasn't right before it went into the oven but I wanted to see what would happen anyway.

Result: one rye rubber brick. Completely inedible.

I searched the internet for more guidance and it is probable that my 'starting from scratch' starter didn't have enough active beasties to work properly. It hadn't 'fired'. I had a vision of a Fiat 128 I once owned back in the 1970s. That was a bastard to cold start too, so at home I always parked it facing downhill.

Undaunted, I've saved a little of the original starter and I'm now in the process of adding to that in the hope of better results second time.

Fingers crossed.
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