Tag Archives: Catriona

Sourdough Bread

In Chapter 5 of Cat and Mouse, Catriona learns how to bake sourdough bread. It’s been a while since I’d done it myself, but I recently got some sourdough starter from a friend, so I had to give it a try. It turned out great. Here’s what it looked like in my kitchen, with relevant passages from Cat’s process by way of explanation. Of course, my dishes are ordinary boring plastics, not lovely stoneware crockery like Cat’s, and I have to admit to using electric appliances for both the kneading and the baking, but following Cat’s method you should come out with about the same results. (Oh, and don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers for the book in this passage. Other than that Cat learns to bake, but I’ve already told you that.) So here we go:

CAT MAKES SOURDOUGH BREAD

from Cat and Mouse, p. 39-45

IMG_20160614_120951

Sourdough in the jar

“Very well. Sourdough first.”
Ouska picked up a stoneware crock from the shelf above the fireplace, brought it over to the heavy deal table in the middle of the kitchen, and took a large brown mixing bowl from the top of the Welsh dresser. The dish, about twenty inches in diameter at the top and eight or ten inches high, was a heavy pottery piece; Cat smiled as she recognised her husband’s handiwork.
She took a look into the sourdough crock. It contained a slightly bubbly-looking slop that looked not unlike the porridge that she had made too runny that morning. “This smells a bit like beer,” she said.

IMG_20160615_075021

The sponge after rising overnight

“That’s the sourdough working,” said Ouska. “Sometimes I’ve used some of Uncle’s beer leaven if he had any extra; it’s much quicker to make bread with that, it rises faster. But this works, and it’s simple. Usually he needs the leaven for his beer.”
“Leaven? Oh, I think we call it yeast where I’m from. So you don’t use that then? I thought you had to have it for making bread.”
“No, there’s enough leaven in the air. But you have to catch it and feed it before you can use it; I’ll show you later.” Ouska poured some of the sourdough into the bowl, then took the salt cellar from the cupboard and sprinkled a few spoonfuls into the bowl. She pointed Cat to the flour bin that stood in the corner. “We need about two scoops of flour,” she said. Cat opened the bin and saw a large wooden scoop stuck in the top of the wholemeal flour that filled the bin halfway.
“That’s a nice bin,” she said, “is it new?”
“Yes, we just had it built. …” Ouska said as she brought the big mixing bowl over to the bin. Cat dumped a couple of measures of flour in.
[…]
[Ouska] put the mixing bowl back on the table and rolled up the sleeves of her blouse. “Now. This is where the real work begins,” she said as she plunged her hands into the flour in the bowl and began to stir the mess with both hands. “Here, give it a try,” she said, rubbing the sticky dough off her fingers.
Cat stuck her hands in the sticky batter. “Ooh, gooey!” she said, and squished the dough through her fingers. “This is a good workout for the hands!” She mixed and stirred until none of the dry flour was left. Ouska sprinkled in additional flour until the dough was no longer sticky.
“Now, move the bowl over a bit,” said Ouska. She scooped a handful of flour from the bin and sprinkled it on the surface of the table, then took the lump of dough from the bowl and smacked it on the table. “Ever done any kneading before?”

IMG_20160615_081416

The kneaded dough

“A bit,” said Cat. She grasped the dough and started rolling it towards her.
Ouska chuckled. “You’re kneading like a potter’s wife,” she said. “You don’t need to make a nice little roll of it like your man does with his clay; with bread, it doesn’t matter how you handle it, so long as you do it hard.” She tore the lump of dough in half and showed Cat what she meant.
“Oh, I get it!” said Cat, and fell to it with vigour. “Phew, this is hard work,” she said, “but satisfying!” She lifted the dough lump and smacked it on the table so hard the crockery on the dresser rattled.
“Hah, well done,” said Ouska. “It will rise nicely if you keep that up.”
“So the harder you whack it, the better it gets?”
“That’s about the size of it,” replied the older woman.
“So, Aunt,” said Cat, pummeling, squishing, and pounding the dough, “there was something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”
“Yes?” said Ouska, looking up from her kneading.
“You know, being an Unissima—do you sometimes have special dreams?”
“Dreams?” The older woman took Cat’s piece of dough, smacked the two lumps back together, kneaded them into a ball, and put it in a bowl on the warming shelf by the stove. “That’ll need to rise for a few hours now,” she said. “What kind of dreams do you mean?”

IMG_20160615_123323

The dough after rising for about three hours

[…]
“There,” she said, handing Cat a jug, “we need to feed the sourdough. Get it about half full of warm water, would you?”
Cat collected the water from the tap in the bathroom behind the kitchen. […]
Ouska mixed the water with some more flour into the remaining sourdough in the crock … [and] put the sourdough crock on the warming shelf beside the mixing bowl. “Now,” she said, “by tomorrow it will have worked through nicely, and we can make another batch of bread if we need to. So that’s all there is to bread making, other than rising and baking it.

IMG_20160615_125402

The shaped bread ready to rise for the second time

[…]
“Okay,” said Cat, “so let me write down the bread recipe. […] About three or four cups of sourdough?”
“Yes, about that. And as much flour to start with, and then however much it takes to make a firm dough. Don’t forget to write down the salt; it’s a mite bland without it.”
Cat copied it out.
“How long does it need to rise?” she asked.
“Oh, a few hours. Until it’s about twice as big as it was.”
Let rise until doubled in bulk, Cat wrote.
“Then what?”
“Then punch it down, shape it, rise it again, and bake it.”

IMG_20160615_180918

Fresh out of the oven

“For how long, and how hot?”
“Well, at middling heat, until it’s ready—”
Cat snorted. “Yeah, right. You sound like my grandmother. I’d ask her how to do something, and she would say ‘Oh, it’s easy, you just do it!’”
Ouska smiled. “Well, then, perhaps half an hour or so. You have to keep turning it in the oven; I’ll show you.”
Cat finished her recipe sheet:
Bake for half an hour at moderate h-
“Drat!” she said, “ink blot! And I was doing so well, too!”

IMG_20160616_074600

Yes, it tastes as good as it looks.

Now, if you want to know what the deal is with those dreams Cat is talking about, you’ll just have to read the book, won’t you?

Life, the Universe, and Sourdough Bread. We had it with French Onion Soup – maybe Cat’s family did too?

7 Comments

Filed under Cat and Mouse, this and that

CHECKMATE!

Aaaaaand – HERE IT IS!! Please welcome:

CHECKMATE!!

Toddle on over to the page, where you can choose from a profusion of links from which to get your very own e- or p-(paper)copy of the newest instalment of the Septimus Series.

Here’s what you’ll find under the snazzy cover:

Rhitha’s life is miserable – but then she meets Bina.

Rhitha’s sister has been bullying her all her life, for no reason that Rhitha can see. But when they move to Ruph, there is a new friend in Rhitha’s life: with the help of Bina and her unique powers Rhitha begins to see that there might be more going on in her family than meets the eye. There is a secret nobody suspected…
Things come to a head between Rhitha and her sister in a clash that draws in everyone around them. Are the peculiar forces at play in Ruph responsible for fanning their conflict? Who is the mysterious stranger that appears at Grandmother’s door in the middle of the storm? And can Bina help Rhitha find the strength to stand up to the bullies and become who she is meant to be?

Read it, and then leave a review! Or just let me know what you think (good or bad) – I want to know!

Life, the Universe, and a New Book Baby. Isn’t it beautiful?

Checkmate_CVR_XSML

6 Comments

Filed under books, Checkmate, The Septimus Series, writing

CHECKMATE has a Due Date!

Checkmate_CVR_XSML

We have a due date! One for the newest book baby. No, it’s not a due-back-at-the-library date, it’s the day Checkmate is going to be officially released: February 19th!

That’s not much more than a week away. Are you excited? Yes, you are, very excited indeed. Because you can’t wait to read about the further adventures of Cat, Guy, and Bibby (who’s now called Bina, seeing as she’s no longer a little kid – if you haven’t yet read “Lavender’s Blue”, go over here to find out about it). And there’s this new kid, Rhitha – what’s going on with her and her family? Why is her sister being so mean to her? You’ll find out soon…

So mark it on your calendar: next week Friday you can go online and get your very own copy of Checkmate. Or, even better, you could hop over to Amazon or Smashwords right now and pre-order the ebook, then you’ll get it delivered the moment it’s released!

Just nine more days!

4 Comments

Filed under books, Checkmate, The Septimus Series, writing

More New Stuff, and a Surprise

You know how I’ve been promising Book 3 in the Septimus Series for quite some time now? Well, it’s getting close – really, really close! And just to whet your appetites, heeeeeere – DRUM ROLL, PLEASE! – is the amazing, snazzy, mysterious and oh-so-promising COVER (once again designed by the great Steven Novak).

May I introduce: CHECKMATE!

Checkmate_CVR_XSML

And of course you want to know what the book is about, don’t  you? Yes, you do. Here’s what:

Rhitha’s life is miserable – but then she meets Bina.

Rhitha’s sister has been bullying her all her life, for no reason that Rhitha can see. But when they move to Ruph, there is a new friend in Rhitha’s life: with the help of Bina and her unique powers Rhitha begins to see that there might be more going on in her family than meets the eye. There is a secret nobody suspected…

Things come to a head between Rhitha and her sister in a clash that draws in everyone around them. Are the peculiar forces at play in Ruph responsible for fanning their conflict? Who is the mysterious stranger that appears at Grandmother’s door in the middle of the storm? And can Bina help Rhitha find the strength to stand up to the bullies and become who she is meant to be?

I know, I know – there’s nothing about Cat or Guy or Bibby in this blurb. Or is there? To find out, you’ll have to wait just a tiny little bit longer, because I have another surprise for you that’ll help explain – and that one is going to be free! A special treat, from me for you, to shorten the wait.

Life, the Universe, New Stories and Surprises.  Just a few more days!

3 Comments

Filed under Checkmate, The Septimus Series, writing

Cat Makes Ink

IMG_201510304_0221I picked black walnuts the other day, and decided to make ink. Just like Catriona does in Chapter 11 of Cat and Mouse. You haven’t read it? Here, that’s how it goes:

[Cat and Nikor, the little old town librarian, are collecting black walnuts husks in the garden behind the library.]
“You don’t mind my taking the nuts, do you?” she asked Nikor, who was busy gathering the husks into a large cast iron pot.
“Nuts? Nuts. Oh no, no no. Take the nuts, make the husks easier to find.”
Cat dropped a handful of the black husks into his pot.
“Too bad the pot is so rusty,” she said. “Won’t that harm the ink?”
“No, no no. Rust is good, makes blacker ink. New pots are no good for ink. Besides, ink spoils the pots, makes stains.”
“Well, yes, I suppose it would—it’s ink, after all, it’s supposed to stain. So how do we do this?”
They carried the pot, now half filled with the black walnut husks, into Nikor’s living space in the back room of the library.IMG_20151031_150145“Stinks, does ink,” said Nikor, “but don’t want to make a fire outside now. Prefer my stove.” He filled the pot with enough water to cover the husks and put it on top of the little potbellied stove in the corner of his room, which already had a nice little fire crackling in it. “Spoon, spoon—where’s the spoon?” he muttered, digging around in a box of cooking implements that stood on a shelf above the wood box.
“You mean this one?” said Cat, extracting a wooden spoon from between several stacks of books on the floor beside a worn leather-covered armchair. The spoon’s bowl was stained a deep mahogany colour, in contrast to the blonde wood of its handle. “What’s it doing between the books?”
“Books? Oh, yes. Mouse, hit at the mouse with it when I was reading. See, ink stains,” he explained, pointing to the discolouration of the spoon.
“Oh, that’s from ink?” Cat said distractedly, not listening to his answer. The top book of one of the stacks had caught her attention. […]
[Cat gets lost in reading the book, which is called The Rats of Chaelia.]
“Where is Chaelia?” she asked Nikor, raising her head to find that the room was much darker than it had been when they brought in the nuts. Nikor was nowhere in sight, and a frightful stink rose from the steaming pot on the stove. Cat felt disoriented. Hadn’t she only just sat down? It could hardly have been more than a few minutes ago, could it? She stood and took a look at the stinking pot. In the bottom of the container, a dark sludge was bubbling away. The walnut husks had mostly disintegrated into smaller pieces now, making the whole mess a deep, brownish black. Cat wrinkled her nose—the stench was quite pronounced, metallic and rotten at the same time.IMG_20151031_141935The door from to the main library room creaked open, and Nikor shuffled back into the room, carrying two more books.
“Found it, found it,” he said, dumping the books into Cat’s arms and picking up the wooden spoon to poke at the black sludge in the pot. “Ah yes, coming along nicely.”
“Found what?” Cat asked.
“Looking for the books of Chaelia, wasn’t I,” he said. He waved a finger at the book Cat had been reading. “The Rats is just one; there are others.”
“Just where is Chaelia? Is it one of the places in Isachang?” Cat asked.
“No, no no. Chaelia is Outland, don’t you know?”
“Outland? My Outland, where I’m from? You mean Earth, or America, or whatever?”
“Yes. No. No no. Not Arthur Pendragon. Other land, other Outland. There are many. Haven’t seen anyone from Outlands here in generations, many many generations, not since Septimissimus last.”
“There are other Outlands? Really? And—what did you just say, about the Septimissimus?”
“Septimissimus?” he repeated, stirring the ink sludge in the bottom of the pot, pulling out a spoonful and dribbling a bit on a piece of paper to test its tinting strength. “A few more hours,” he muttered.IMG_20151103_094006

My ink turned out a bit pale this time – but it works well enough. If you want (slightly) more precise instructions on making walnut ink, check out my blog post on the topic from three years ago.

Oh, you’re wondering what’s with this Septimissimus thing? You’ll have to read Cat and Mouse to find out, won’t you. You can get it here.

Life, the Universe, and Walnut Ink. Lorem ipsum dolor…IMG_20151105_104508

5 Comments

Filed under Cat and Mouse, The Septimus Series, this and that

Mintbrew, or: Book Birthday Bash, Round 2

IMG_20151017_165534Just thought I’d share a couple of pictures from yesterday’s Book Birthday Party. Apart from eating and drinking, we mostly spent it on the couch, reading – I mean, how else do you celebrate a book birthday?

IMG_20151018_125359Of course, the drink of choice was mintbrew, out of hand-thrown pottery mugs. What’s mintbrew, you ask? Here:

The beginning of Chapter 10:

‘When Cat came back out of the bathroom half an hour later, trying to untangle her hair with her fingers, the kitchen smelled deliciously of hot soup and something tangy and clean that got up into Cat’s nose in a rather pleasant way.

“Would you like a cup of mintbrew?” asked Ouska, gesturing at a round-bellied teapot sitting on the deal table.

“Mintbrew? Like tea, you mean? I’d love some!” Now Cat knew what that lovely sinus-clearing smell was.’

And here’s another bit from later in the book:IMG_20151018_125445

From Chapter 17:

‘The kettle in the fire was starting to make hissing and bubbling noises, and steam was rising from its spout. Guy took the poker and swung the fireplace crane outward with the hook on the end of the tool. One of his squat brown teapots was waiting on the hearth. He threw in a handful of dry crumbly green leaves from a round pottery jar and filled it up with boiling water. Sharp, fragrantly minty steam rose into the air. Cat sniffed.

“Hmm, that smells good.”

Bibby got a mug of milk from the pitcher on the shelf, and the two adults enjoyed their tea. (Mintbrew, Cat mentally corrected herself. Mintbrew, and hedge pig, and—and marriage chain. And wisewoman. She was beginning to speak the language of this place.)’

If you’re wondering what the deal is with a marriage chain or a wisewoman, you’ll just have to read the book. And you can do so all week by getting the ebook on discount – links to vendors are here – or, even better, entering the draw for a print copy! All you have to do for that is follow my blog and let me know about it, so if you subscribed a long time ago, that still qualifies.

I’d share a piece of cake with you, but there isn’t much left. It was buttercream with strawberry filling, I’m afraid – not much of a chance of that staying around long. And the book blew out the candle – honest, it did! I waved it at the candle and that blew out the flame. My family says I’m weird.

Life, the Universe, and a Book Birthday Bash. Would you care for another cup of mintbrew?

4 Comments

Filed under Seventh Son, The Septimus Series, writing

It’s Another Book!!

CatMouse_CVR_XSMLAnd here it is, the moment you’ve been waiting for: IT’S ANOTHER BOOK! CAT AND MOUSE, Book 2 of The Septimus Series, featuring further adventures of Catriona, Guy, Bibby, and Sepp – and introducing Cat’s best friend Nicky! Also introducing a whole lot of mice, a number of cats (one of them with only three legs), and more people who are going to be pretty important – but I’m not telling you too much about them yet because that would be giving things away.

Here’s the official blurb:

A silent young boy, a man like a rat, and a plague of mice—Cat has her work cut out for her.

It’s hard enough for Catriona, an ordinary modern woman, to get used to living in a magical medieval world, even without having mice pop up at every turn. Good thing Cat isn’t as squeamish about rodents as her friend Nicky, who has her own issues to cope with back in the regular world. What does the man with the twitchy nose want with young Ben, Nicky’s ward? And does the mouse plague back in Ruph have anything to do with the new apprentice Cat’s husband has taken on—the boy who won’t speak?

This book is now available:

on Amazon.com and .de for Kindle and in print

Amazon.ca for Kindle (print hopefully coming soon)

Smashwords for all other ebook formats

Createspace in print

CAT AND MOUSE – go get it now!

Leave a comment

Filed under books, Cat and Mouse, Seventh Son, The Septimus Series, writing