cornbread and butterbeans

What on earth was i thinking?! A week is just not long enough to discover North Carolina.... no way... not even a little bit. I've barely scratched the surface and already i'm utterly hooked. The food, the music, the people, the scenery, I love it all.

Laurel Cottage, NC

Laurel Cottage, NC

To backtrack a little, I am here because of my dad. He turned 70 this year and we decided celebrate with a big family holiday, and through all the discussions and debates and probably rows, the destination materialised. Laurel Cottage, Waynesville, North Carolina.

Why didn't i arrive sooner?!

I arrived late on Sunday night into Atlanta to be picked up by my sister who had spent the last 2 weeks (much to my seething envy) travelling all over the south and is fully in the swing. As we start the drive to NC she is full of tales of amazing meals, of cornbread, grits, fried chicken and green tomatoes and drive thru 32 ounce daiquiris which are positively encouraged in the state of Louisiana, particularly it seems, before you go to check out the lounging alligators.

Apparently I have just the day before missed an epic meal in Atlanta at The Gunshow. Somehow inspired by  a mix of Brazilian churrascaria-style dining and Chinese dim sum, where a selection of chefs create dishes that they bring to you on a wheely hostess trolley to waft under your nose as you pick and chose which dishes take your fancy. The trouble being, once you have seen, smelt and heard all about a dish, it is very hard to say no to to the chef that is presenting it to you, you eat rather a lot more than you intended!

Heaven is a house on Cold Mountain

We finally arrive at Laurel Cottage well past midnight exhausted but buzzing, though that could have been the midnight pit stop at taco bell which was the only thing open having missed all the Five Guys en route. We find my parents drinking wine and eating steak, so it would be rude not to join in! The house is stunning, but that's about all I can see as its pitch black, but I know out there somewhere is a beautiful mountain. I'm lulled to sleep by the sound of crickets and a rushing river

outdoor kitchen and barn at Laurel cottage

outdoor kitchen and barn at Laurel cottage

cold bath   

cold bath

 

I'm woken by the lilting, Dolly Parton-esque tones of a lady called Kendra talking excitedly and welcoming us to North Carolina and urging us to swim in the ice cold mountain river, fish, eat and relax. The view is breathtaking. I love mountains, but these are something else. quietly undulating tree covered and so peaceful.

A swim before breakfast is definitely in order, to say it is cold couldn't possibly do it justice! Crystal clear and icy it blasts away the jet lag far better than any cup of coffee ever could.

I just know i'm going to love it here. I can feel it already. Next to explore... and eat... a lot.

 

sourdough September

This September is all about bread and sourdough in particular. The Good Bread Campaign wants to get us excited about sourdough.  Buying it and eating it (in my case slathered thickly in so much butter you can leave teeth marks) and even better, getting people to give sourdough making a go at home.

Bruce and Reggie in the Alps

Bruce and Reggie in the Alps

I am still very much a novice sourdough maker. For a while (well, about a year)  I had two bubbling  starters. There was Bruce (all the best starters have names), given to me by my good friend and food writer, Rosie Ramsden. Bruce was a robust teenager of a white and rye sourdough starter, and there was Regginaldough, my own pure white sourdough starter creation. Bruce and Reggie were my constant companions, they travelled with me to the Alps on holiday and up and down the UK, people thought i was completely off my trolley but it was fascinating to watch and taste how they changed with every new location.

Sadly however, in a severe case of neglect on my part, the suffered an early and tragic demise. Something, I consoled myself,  that often happens to new sourdough converts. They do both still exist in some hybrid form in my mum's fridge and the new super Br-eggie is still going strong and is making the most amazing bread though that could be something to do with my mum's amazing skills as a baker.

I think it is about time I get back in the sourdough groove, and rather than taking the easy path of taking some well established starter from home i'm going to have another crack at making one from scratch. If you have never tried sourdough making before then give it a go with me and I will be posting my bread successes, failures, tips and recipes.

Sourdough making is a lot of trial and error and finding out what works for you as a bread maker but once you are hooked - and i promise you will be - you will never look back. Even if there are times when you are without a starter you will always come back to it time and time again. Think of your starter as a pet that need love, attention and understanding.

SIMPLE WHITE SOURDOUGH STARTER

Beginning a starter is so simple. Start with measuring 75g of unbleached flour into a container then add 75g of water. It is very important to weight the water as you want a perfect ratio of water to flour. Mix together with your fingers rather than a spoon as you have natural yeasts on your skin that will add to a good starter. Cover loosely with the lid without sealing so that the natural yeasts in the air can get to work on your starter, and leave for 12 hours. If it has started to bubble after 12 hours that is great, but if not, don!t panic, it may take up to 36 hours for your starter to get going. If nothing has happened after 36 hours I would say to start again, trying a different flour or putting it in a different place. 

Once your starter is bubbling it is time to feed. add another 75g each flour and water and mix again. leave fur a further 12 -24 hours until it is bubbling again then feed it again. You should find that your starter grows and expands after it has been fed, doubling in size.

Once you have fed it a good three times you need to start discarding (if you don't you will find your whole kitchen is taken over by large amounts of bubbling starter like some kind of bread monster!)

When you are ready to feed again, discard half the starter before adding your 75g flour and water. It may seem wasteful but once your stater is established you will use this to make the base of your bread. You now need to keep feeding your starter in this way every day, discarding half before every feed, until you have a well established starter. Most people recommend that you don't use a starter that is less than a week old to make bread as it is too unstable. it can take a month or more for your starter to reliably double in size between feedings.

My new little guy is bubbling away, i'm not going to name it yet in case i jinx it. Now all I have to do is wait, feed, and hope it survives a short burst of dormancy in the fridge when I go away on holiday. Fingers are crossed for survival.