From the kitchen: baking with sourdough

Hello all, let me introduce you my experiments around sourdough in my weekly cooking post!

Two weeks ago I went shopping and the baking dry yeast was out of stock, so I decided to try a package of dry sourdough. I baked a bread with half of the package and put the rest in a big glass jar with some water and flour. As expected, it bubbled and grew and developed a nice sour, fruity flavour. (The bread was very good, but I will focus on the sourdough culture.)

This is how it looks today:

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I took this picture after adding a small amount of mature sourdough (around 20g) to a small glass of lukewarm water and an equivalent small glass of flour. I mixed them well, so that the mixture reached a fluid consistency. I read that such watery mixture is the one that is more ready to use, but also more prone to go bad; but as I monitor it every day, and bake once or twice a week, it is not a big risk.

Sourdough maintenance is an art, that however starts very simply. What I gleaned from the Internet and books (especially Das Brotbackbuch n.1) is that you need to periodically “refresh” the sourdough with new water and flour, i.e. food, otherwise the micro-organisms start developing unwanted acidic and alcoholig compounds, that are unsuitable for baking. What I do after four or five days is to take a small amount of the mature sourdough and put it in a new container, with fresh water and flour. With the rest of it I bake my bread. I find it a very convenient arrangement, because I obtain a good amount of sourdough for my baking necessities, while at the same time I reboot the culture every few days.

Baking with sourdough has been a wonderful discovery. The bread gets a fruity, slightly sour flavour that I really love, plus a lovely fine texture of bubbles in the crumb:

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and a crispy crust:

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I hope this inspires you to try baking with sourdough!

 

Drawing streak – ninth week

This week I really had trouble finding ideas for my daily doodles. Most ideas that came to my mind would take too long to be done properly, and would require a bigger paper size. Therefore I decided to explore textures and unfamiliar techniques.

Day 57 is the rendering of the forehead of a horse. You can guess the whirl of short hair in the middle, the darker hair at the sides and the curly forelock on the left. It is quickly done with only one pencil, so most contrast is missing and the result is not so clear.

Day 58 is an aquarelle mosaic, inspired by A Creative Pickle. I like how this technique enables to practice pencil control and colour mixing, without letting freshly coloured areas mix with each other. The result is therefore very clean and rewarding! (Well, it can be clean and rewarding ­čÖé )

Day 59 is a drawing made with a single line with my favourite black gel pen. It represents the front legs of a wolf cub. I started with the outline of the leg on the left, did the fingers with claws, went up the leg, down the other, drew its fingers and claws, went up again, and decided to add some idea of shadows all around.

Day 60 is the visualisation of Montessori’s binomial cube, a sensorial material that let preschool children experience mathematical concepts in form of a puzzle.

Day 61 was just scribbling with all the pens I had in my house, after I read John Muir Law’s post about drawing with simple ballpoint pens. When you don’t have a pencil, or want to use all pages of your sketchbook without worrying that sketches will smear on each other, you can use a ballpoint pen that is capable of making lighter shades when you use less pressure. There are a few caveats but it’s totally worth giving it a try.

Day 62 is a comeback of the minotaur! This time, instead of making a lame selfie or lying hopelessly in a mini-labirinth, he is studying. I like thinking of this minotaur as the part of myself that feels sometimes trapped, sometimes active and enthusiastic, but always sort of unusual.

Day 63 is a long-due optional assignment for the NHI101x course. I tried to make a small preparatory study of a bird, that shows the main skeletal features. You have to know a bit of anatomy to guess where the wings are actually attached, because each species has a different amount of “arm” structure hidden in the muscles and feathers of the body.

See you next week for the tenth summary!

Drawing Sunday: step-by-step pencil drawing

Hello all! Today, for my Sunday’s art post, I wish to retrace the steps of the drawing of the leaping horse I prepared for the final assignment of Natural History Illustration 101 eCourse. I hope it encourages you to draw more!

So, first I chose a picture that I wanted to copy, and after a long search, I fell for this one and printed it out:

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English Thoroughbred, by buba_noi (Source: Flickr)

I have been drawing horses since a while, so I am already a bit familiar with their anatomy and proportions. Still, I worked on a preparatory study that shows the main inner structures (not really the bones, but straight lines that are a simplification of the bones):

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In the preparatory study I traced the main structure lines with a pink pencil, to let them stand out more, then I added more lines with a graphite pencil. While doing this study I realised that I made the belly and hind legs too small, so I erased them completely and re-drew them by measuring relative proportions with the other parts of the body that I already drew. The study helped me in the next stages of the drawing, by making me notice proportions, symetries and relations between the different parts of the body of the horse.

Then I took a new piece of paper, went to the window to use it as a tracing table (a transparent surface with a back light, that enables you to overlay two sheets of paper and trace on the top one by following the contours of the picture on the lower one). I have no picture of it, but it was simply the outline and a few more inner lines.

I moved back to my desk with the new sheet and used a 6B pencil to draw the basic tones:

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Sorry for the blurred picture, the camera didn’t get enough light to focus properly. I started with the head and right front leg, then proceeded from left to right (so that I didn’t smear the drawing with my hand). I chose to change how dark to make an area only by looking at neighbouring areas, so when I finished the drawing I noticed that the right hind leg was the darkest area, when on the picture it was not; maybe I should have regularly compared which areas of the whole picture had the same shade.

Then I proceeded with harder pencils (first 3B, then B) and made more definite, crisp, and dark shadows, with care not to cover the very light areas. Again I proceeded from left to right, but in addition I put a piece of paper below my hand, to avoid smearing. I had to catch up with the dark areas of the head, neck and front legs, while comparatively making less tonal adjustements on the back legs.

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The final touch was the rendering of the hair. This horse, and its breed, has very short hair that I could hardly represent in the picture, because I hadn’t any pencil sharp enough to create that texture. So I thought of using my mechanical pencil with HB mines of 0.5mm and made some hatches on the shadows. I refined the shadows of the mane and tail, but am not really happy with them:

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The important things that I learned while making this drawing are:

  • Make breaks when you feel that your concentration level is getting low. You can come back after a few hours or the day after.
  • Get a full mental image of the main tones, so that you have it as a reference when you make shades.
  • Allow yourself to draw a bit and to erase what you don’t like. This is the big advantage of pencils!
  • Make the preparatory study, so that you have the anatomy of your animal in mind, you can guess its three-dimensional shape and consequently lights and shadows. It is also an excellent time to get the outlines right, with as many attempts as you want, before copying them on a fresh sheet of paper.

I hope this explanation encourages you to try drawing your favourite animal! Do also browse the Internet for material and videos about drawing techniques. There are some amazing teachers out there!

Book recommendation – Calligraphie arabe vivante

I have started to post more regularly about the various topics that interest me, and Friday  is book recommendation day!

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Today I wish to present┬áHassan Massoudy‘s “Calligraphie arabe vivante”, a book that I got to know from another book, “La goutte d’or” by Michel Tournier. In Tournier’s novel, the young protagonist Idriss meets a master calligrapher, who teaches him Arabic calligraphy and its abstract, powerful grace. In the post-scriptum, Tournier thanked Massoudy for introducing him to calligraphy, “a traditional art where beauty is weaved to truth and wisdom” (personal translation from French). The citation pointed to Calligraphie arabe vivante. Without hesitation, I bought the book and got fascinated by the plasticity of Arabic writing – sometimes elegantly round, sometimes hatched and mechanical, even expressionist. I am amazed at how much additional information and force can be integrated in the shapes that build up actual words – and how, by not understanding the words as such, I am exposed only to their art.

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You can see many more Massoudy’s creations on his personal website. If you want a high-quality photo book with a great selection of calligraphy works and detailed explanations of traditional techniques, I totally recommend this book!

(Picture credits: islamic-arts.org)

From the kitchen: khichdi

For this week’s cooking post I chose a dish I like a lot: khichdi, a rice and lentils dish, very popular in South Asia. This dish has endless variants and names, according to the region where it is prepared and the ingredients that it contains.

My recipe of today aims to be a sort of blueprint, that you can adapt to the ingredients in your cupboard and to your taste.

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Ingredients:

  • rice (basmati or jasmine do fine)
  • lentils, dal or small pulses in around the same quantity of rice
  • spices:
    • turmeric powder
    • one or two bay leaves
    • coriander
    • cumin
    • fenugreek (optional)
    • salt
    • chili (optional)
  • a fat: olive oil, or butter, or ghee, or coconut oil
  • coriander leaves, and/or basil, and/or parsley (fresh would be the best)
  • yoghurt (optional)

Preparation (~2h soaking + ~30min cooking):

Soak the lentils if needed (check instructions on the package, or rely on your experience). Wash lentils and rice together, until the water comes out clean. Optionally let both soak in water for 1 or 2 hours before cooking.

Put rice and lentils in a pot (a pressure cooker would speed up cooking, but is not required; any wide pot will do), cover them with warm water, add cumin and bay leaves and let cook until tender but not yet cooked. In the meanwhile, crush coriander, cumin and fenugreek in a mortar. (You can roast them before crushing them, using a small pan and no fat.) Slice some ginger, at your taste. When rice and lentils are halfway cooked, add the spices and let simmer for another 10 minutes or until tender. Add water if needed – more water will make the khichdi more soupy and easier to digest, while less water will make it more firm, risotto-like.

Add salt as the last thing, in the pot or in each dish.

On each dish, add crushed or minced coriander/basil/parsley leaves, your preferred fat, chili if you like, and/or pepper. A touch of yoghurt makes the dish deliciously creamy and enhances the spices’ flavours. Enjoy!

Drawing streak – eighth week

The streak continues! Here are this week’s doodles:

I tried to use more techniques than usual, so I brought back sanguigna pencil (Day 55), used the gel black pen and made dots instead of hatching (Day 52), and tried to use brushes with fountain-pen ink (Day 54, with unimpressive results!). On Day 56 I played the drums, therefore I thought of Animal, Muppets’ wild drummer. On Day 51 I drew Atlas deer at the zoo, as an assignment for the Natural History Illustration course I am taking part in.

 

On managing focus in everyday life

I have been challenged to productively plan my own days since I left my last employee job. It has been hard at the beginning, because I had no experience in integrating sudden inspirations into a structured day program. I had also little conscious feedback about how much to structure the day: meals at fixed times? Timeboxes or do an activity until the planned result is achieved?

After quite a long test phase I settled for a simple planning system, based on a weekly cycle. At the beginning of each week I plan the 4 or 5 goals I want to reach. I pick these goals from a bucket list that I occasionally update. Every day I select maximum 3 activities I want to do and decide a rough outline of the day. I usually don’t put exact times, as I prefer to finish a given activity rather than switch when it is not yet done. If an activity is not completed or not done at all, I shift it to the next available day, or think of which problems are preventing me to complete it.

I find that this loose planning helps me focusing on each activity, because I know that I planned for it, I decided it was important; I can forget other activities and deadlines, because I am confident that each of them has been marked in the planning and will get a dedicated timeslot. It also gives me clear feedback on how productive my week was.

That made me think about the focus of attention of a rider in an obstacle course (it applies in other disciplines and riding moments, but the obstacle course makes it especially clear). The rider has the whole sequence of jumps in mind (that’s my guess!), but not in the immediate focus of attention. Approaching a jump, the focus narrows solely on that obstacle. Right after the obstacle, the attention turns to the next obstacle – and the body faces it too, as a physical message for the horse. Between jumps there are some moments where the focus of attention can embrace a wider part of the jumping course, but they are (should be) usually brief, because the next obstacle approaches fast.

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ABS Horse – from MazetMan on Flickr — I like how rider and horse look straight to the obstacle, even if their bodies are in an unstable, dynamic equilibrium

My difficulty was in finding a good way of planning, that is efficient and not too demanding in terms of time and attention. I felt I was alternatively being the rider, the horse and the instructor. Sometimes I would have loved to be only the rider, or only the horse, but it was never an option (or at least not a good one). I found a lot of inspiration from friends and the wider Internet, who suggested me planning tools, tips and tricks – but the ultimate feedback came from myself. Quite a hard lesson for my obedient side, which prefers to take pride in completing an assigned task, rather than taking responsibility on choosing one task among many.