Thursday, 29 January 2015

Homemade Fermented Sauerkraut

Did you know that the sauerkraut you buy in the shops is definitely not the real thing? Usually it's just cabbage in water and vinegar. Authentic sauerkraut is fermented and contains only cabbage and salt - with maybe some herbs. The lactobacilli bacteria that naturally lives on the surfaces of the cabbage works to create a wonderfully tasty true pickled taste which is very different to vinegar and has a lot of health benefits, too. It becomes a 'probiotic' like the yoghurt products you can buy in the shops, but obviously without all the added sugar! Sometimes you will find true sauerkraut in the shops but it's almost always been pasteurised, which kills all of the beneficial bacteria and thus makes it almost pointless.

In the world of home fermenting, we want to learn to work with, and not against, the naturally occurring beneficial bacteria - it is surprising that we don't sterilise the equipment we are going to use: namely a jar and something to smush-down the cabbage inside the jar (we use a wooden rolling-pin). Instead, we just give them a good clean with normal washing-up liquid and rinse them thoroughly. An interesting thing about lacto-fermentation is that if done correctly, the good bacteria will completely crowd out any small amounts of undesirable bacteria during the fermentation process, and the lactic acid produced by the good bacteria kills putrefying types. Also, we want as much of the lactobacilli as possible to make it all work! Just make sure you buy organic cabbage to prevent chemicals getting in and spoiling the fun. 

Okay - to the method!

Just wash your cabbage. Either colour works well but in my opinion red has a more satisfying texture. And it looks nice. Now cut it in half and cut out the core (very nice to eat raw actually).

Now just take a nice sharp knife and shred the two halves of the cabbage. Cutting the cabbage finely will help it get broken up during the next step which is to knead and crunch it with your hands. 

Next put the shredded cabbage into a big bowl (it will reduce down a lot shortly - don't panic) and add 1 teaspoon of sea salt or other unprocessed salt for each 1kg of your prepared cabbage. It's not too important to be very precise. Now, get in there with your hands and really squeeze and crunch the cabbage until you start to draw out plenty of liquid as pictured below. Do this for as long as you can; the more liquid bought out at this stage the better. 

Once you've got plenty of liquid at the bottom of your bowl, transfer it along with the cabbage into a large jar. Now it's time to get your wooden rolling-pin or other wooden heavy instrument and bash and grind down the cabbage for around another 5-10 minutes until the liquid is sufficient to completely cover the cabbage. This is important as exposed cabbage may get mould in the fermentation processing time and spoil the batch and all your hard work! 


Once that's done, simply cover the jar with its lid and squeeze tightly closed - fermentation is an anaerobic process and too much oxygen might spoil the process.

Now just leave the jar in a room-temperature place for at least two weeks, slightly loosening the lid around every 3-4 days to allow the gases to escape. If you can wait for more than two weeks, your sauerkraut will taste even better, but it will still taste great after two weeks.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Blog developments and... whales

Hello! Now, because as you know photography and art is something we do out of love, it is already very much a part of a wider 'picture' in our lives. Isn't it true that our individual interests whatever they may be are all influenced and augmented by the others, that they stem from a general interest in the world? So we thought it might be nice for our blog posts to include more wide-ranging subjects. Our interests reflect our work, and vice-versa, so it's a natural thing for us to do. 

We've found a way to include tags for our posts that point to subjects or points of interest included in that post, and arranged it so that when you go to our blog homepage, there is a 'cloud' of subjects. The ones that are mentioned most often will be bigger than the others. 

So for example, if one of us or both of us is having a particular interest in science (like now), we might write a little post about that - or about philosophy maybe. The idea is that wherever possible we'll include a picture of ours or a classic picture that sort of expresses these things nicely. Naturally, the overall theme of the blog will be photography, but we hope some of the other subjects will be of interest to you too and it'd be even nicer to get some comments or discussion about what we've mentioned from anyone who wants to. 

Now at the moment both of us are interested in some of the "debate" between evolution and creationism. I put the word debate that way because although people who accept evolution and creationists talk together, I think a real debate can only happen between two parties who have facts, and in this case of course, that isn't happening! For example have a look at this... shocking ignorance. 

This is a pretty scary issue since as you may know, evolution has been repeatedly banned in the US in certain (southern!) states in favour of a literal translation of Genesis, the Bible story. However much the ideas in Genesis might be considered allegorical or symbolic, of course creationists take the story's events literally and in fact believe that the Earth is under 10,000 years old. 

We both find creation myths a fascinating area, and there seem to be commonalities amongst them which point to deeper truths - but most definitely on the symbolic edge of the scale. As a matter of fact, we are planning on our to-do list a fine art piece about Hindu mythology, which we're looking forward to a great deal. 

Talking of evolution, did you know that whales are evolved from hyena-like animals? More than 50 million years ago, these land animals began to become semi-aquatic in what is now northern India and slightly later what is now Pakistan, their hind legs gradually becoming more and more fin-like over millions of years, until they became permanent water-dwellers as today. Apparently even now, the occasional whale will turn up with short, stubby hind legs! If this sounds incredible, have a quick look at this 'geological clock' - a visual representation of the Earth's timeline. Notice that the black line represents the first hominids a mere 2 million years ago and how immensely small that is in comparison to the rest of Earth's history. Isn't it amazing? And all of the transformation from the hyena-like-creature to modern whale happened well within that last light green period on the graphic, the Cenozoic. Marvellous. 

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Scrabble and a little surprise

We're playing Scrabble a lot lately! For both of us it's a game that has quite a bit of nostalgia to it; I (David) used to play it with my grandparents when I was a child, and Ellie did, too. It's just a nice relaxing game, but we have some funny banter at the same time, and like a lot of things we do, it's often played over a coffee (or, rather, the coffee is usually drunk over scrabble) in a favourite coffeehouse or at home in the "Gwynne-Gibbons Café"!

... which was reinstated to its former glory this weekend by a new bag of Monmouth espresso thanks to Lewis' café & deli in Moseley. If you like coffee, hunt down some Monmouth (made in Covent Garden, London). A friend recommended it to me many years ago and I think it's one of the nicest coffees around - though there are a few excellent coffee-roasters in England now. Far more than in France, surprisingly - but that's another blog-post.

Also this week we've been spending quite a bit of time thinking about ethics and philosophy; Ellie has been reading a book by a hero of us both, Alan Watts - and I have come to the end for the third time of The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. By chance, or perhaps not, the philosophical ideas of both books crossed paths and converged at the same time so we've been having lots of in-car and over-coffee philosophical debates!

Oh, and... yes, I knew there was something else! How could I forget?!  Someone has found his way into the GG residence... we're seeing how he settles in with us; we hope it works out! He's about 16 weeks old and his name's Oskar. And he's rather cute. 

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Christmas in France

It's been a few weeks since we've written a post; it's been Christmas (hope you had a lovely one)

The best reason to visit France. This might not look much... but just you try it. 

We've been very much in 'home' mode, and we've also both been busy doing Gwynne-Gibbons and personal work too since we got back. But we thought you might like to hear a little about our trip to France and some other bits and pieces.

An interesting antiquarian bookshop in Saint-Malo
A painter-artist in Dinan
We decided to spend Christmas by ourselves this year, just because we hadn't done so before and we thought it'd be lovely to spend some time in our little flat just cooking, eating and relaxing! We also planned to do a few practical things while we were there too, sort of justifying our trip with those, but mostly they were just excuses for going to France and eating lots of nice bread.

For once, we got our ferry on time in Portsmouth (although we were late back to our car - all the others had boarded the boat and we ended up getting searched by security - getting the boat never goes too smoothly for us!) and arrived safely in France. For the second time, because nothing stays open late in Brittany, we ended up having our first 'meal' in McDonalds! It was really awful, but funny all the same and we needed to eat before the 2-hour drive to Dinan. It was great to walk into the flat though when we got there around 12.30am and see that everything was fine with it - nothing broken or damaged at all which was a relief as we've had some holiday guests in there this year so we didn't know what to expect!

Who says lard is rubbish? 
The first few days were really relaxed just getting ready for Christmas and doing our favourite little walks around the town and the port on the river Rance down the hill. There's a walk we always do down from the flat, through some woods down the hill and along the river to the port - it made us feel really at home and almost like we'd never left. The weather was really warm for the time of year too - about 10 degrees, and it almost felt like spring. We found some nice holly to bring back to the flat to put towards the christmas decorations, which apparently is called 'gui' in Breton and was similarly used spiritually by the celtic peoples as our holly was here and in Wales and Ireland.

We also gave ourselves the mission to visit the two other 'Emmaüs' in the area we hadn't got to before, with the main point being to find some nice old cast iron pots and whatever old random stuff that took our interest! In the first one, near Saint-Malo, we found a beautiful photography book and some other bits, and in the second one on the way to Rennes, we found two fantastic Le Creuset pots for a grand total of 4€... just amazing. We have quite a collection at home now but luckily we love cooking and they all get used a lot. The Emmaüs are such amazing places to just wander around - people give away unbelievably good stuff and it's generally sold for incredibly low prices, particularly in the ones outside the towns. The charity is set up to help adults with various problems relating to social inclusion and in return for helping out working at the depots, they can live on site. There always seems to be a nice community spirit about the places.

In Rennes... 

For our christmas dinner, we actually bought some belly pork - not that traditional, but so much tastier than turkey and a fraction of the price too. We cooked it so that the fat on top was really crispy and tasty, and slow enough for the meat underneath to be melt-int-the-mouth... mmm. It was so nice just getting up, relaxing, eating, opening a few presents, and not having to rush between family places all day like normal christmases! We just stayed in, and had a walk in the afternoon to stretch our legs. It was like a warm spring day in Dinan on the 25th - the sun was shining and it was quiet, warm and still.

We still have never managed to actually send postcards when we've been away - this time we got as far as writing them! Next time...

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A visit to Bradgate Country Park

We've been planning a visit to Bradgate Country Park in Leicestershire for a few weeks; I (David) went to university in Leicester and used to go regularly for a good stretch of the legs and to see the deer that live semi-wild there. There are no fences so they roam completely freely over many miles of moorland and through forest. Ellie and I went once last year but far too late in the day and saw no deer (although we did see a gorgeous sunset) so it was high time to return.

We got very lucky with the weather; it's been so drizzly the last few weeks as we pass into wintertime but the day we went to Bradgate was clear and sunny. Almost embarrassingly, we went a good few miles out of the way before we got to Bradgate to visit... a new Waitrose! Did I say almost embarrassing? But it does have a café, and with our Waitrose cards (oh dear, sorry) we can get a very nice free cup of coffee and sit and have a read. We do this quite often... it really is fun! Especially in the lovely Malvern branch. Anyway, I'll shut up now!

So, caffeined-up, we tipped up at the gates. To find that yet again we had stumbled on a Christmas fayre; a really nice one this time. This happened the week before too in Malvern - but with only a few hours at best of light, we hauled our equipment out of the car and set off.

It was a long time before we saw any deer - and around 45 minutes in, we decided to take a few photos of Ellie through the beautiful long grass which fringes the moorland. I'm very lucky to have a beautiful model on hand everywhere we go! 

Not too long after we saw deer in the distance; Roe deer females. Nice - but I really wanted to find some of the Red deer stags, with their fantastic antlers. We kept walking until eventually we found a good group of them. They're pretty used to people being around so we managed to get within around 20 metres of them - just enough with the 200mm lens. I lay on my stomach and watched as they calmly made their way past, chewing constantly and also very vigilant. Ellie had a really interesting experience as another stag looked directly at her for some time before moving on. I was very struck by the calm grace of these animals, as I always was when I used to go regularly.

Suddenly, it seemed, the light was failing fast - so we walked pretty quickly back along one of the main paths. We'd actually walked quite a bit further than either of us realised, and we were fairly freezing by the time we got back to the car!

Bradgate's main entrance is in Newtown Abbot, some 5 miles outside of Leicester. Definitely a highly-recommended place for a very hearty walk and of course to see the deer.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

An evening walk

With spare time to enjoy before lessons today, I took a stroll with the camera around Lightwoods. The mist was hovering thickly just above the ground, and the moon brightened as the sky darkened - just an atmospheric British late autumn walk. Reminded me of why I love this time of year!

Please click the photos to view on black.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Russian Fine Art Photography

A few weeks ago we discovered the work of some very wonderful Russian fine - art photographers, who shoot in a very natural yet somehow quite formal style that is rarely seen in "western" photographers in our experience. In particular we were drawn to the child photography we saw. It encompassed the innocence of childhood but without straying into all-to-easy saccharine portrayals - often the Russian photographers used very earthy, warm tones rather than the overly-bright, even garish, colours found in some similar work from the UK and America. There is something about many of the work of these photographers which seems to offer more than "just a pretty face" - the children's sense of individuality is portrayed very well; they are shown to have a much wider range of feelings than we normally see.

Ellie remembered a set of photos she had taken some time ago with a girl named Sascha and was inspired to revisit the work in light of what we'd found; here is the finished piece. I think it's wonderful and I'm very proud that it's a new piece in our fine art portfolio! We'll definitely be paying more attention to this very meaningful avenue of our field in the future.