Monday, 20 August 2012

A walk round the hills and Bernard of Clairvaux

“What I know of the divine sciences and the Holy Scriptures, I have learned in woods and fields. I have no other masters than the beeches and the oaks.” 

 I am in Clairvaux house at school, the Patron of which, unsurprisingly, is Bernard. This writing of his, among the pages of what else can be found or sought out, means the most to me. I am used to hearing 'Clairvaux! Clairvaux!' chanted on the sports field and in assembly, but perhaps I should try more often to hear it in the breeze.

I went for a great walk with my twin sister Gemma today. It is a walk I know and have been around often, but every time I see something new. Today there were skylarks, a muntjac deer, bees, bright purple thistles, pyramid orchids, a daunting field of calving cows, handsome horses, spiders, fields of corn and wheat, a man building his house, a couple reminiscing having been to the same spot years ago, a baby in a pram, excited and happy dogs running free, a biker escaping exhaust fumes - seeking a moment of peace, a grandmother and grand daughter having a picnic, the tombs of people who lived in the same spot more than 5000 years ago, the site of a castle and ancient battle ground: birth and death, life and marriage; all life exhibited for all to see.

Walking is a bit of a passion of mine. There is nothing better than getting up with the dawn and heading out for miles and miles until exhausted, taking in every breath, every sight, every sound of the hills, fields, woodlands, mountains, seas, lakes, rivers, trees, plants, animals - every sensory experience to be had - before retiring to the 'sleep of the just', a long deep dream brought about through a fine meal and some well deserved wine.

Like Bernard, I learn more from days like that than I do from other more 'scholarly' pursuits. That's why the Duke of Edinburgh award is so important to me.

It is the summer holidays. I love them. I love the time to cook and dream. On the Feast of St Bernard, Monday 20th August, the hottest day of the year, I was learning to make flatbreads with the help of my twin sister, Gemma.

I was in the kitchen, Gemma was in the front room watching television. I was measuring out the ingredients. Periodically I shout out questions and she shouts the answer:

250g plain flour
250g strong white flour
1 1/2 level teaspoons fine sea salt
1 teaspoon dried easy blend yeast
1 tablespoon rapeseed or olive oil, plus a little extra for oiling
325ml warm water 

"Do I just bung everything in together?"
*measures and pours two flours into the bowl"
"Don't put the yeast on top of the salt, you'll kill it"
*makes well and inserts salt*
*makes another well and inserts yeast*
*mixes up with spoon*
"Now what?"
"Warm water! Not too hot!"

*checks recipe* 

I add oil, and then 325ml of water and mix it up to form a rough dough. I flour my hands and tip the dough onto the work surface in an attempt to knead it rhythmically for 5 - 10 minutes. In seconds I am a sticky mess.

*Gemma pads into the kitchen, points and laughs*
*Gemma oils her hands with olive oil, takes the dough out of my hands, pulls it into shape and lifts it high before slamming it, folded onto the worktop. She repeats the process. Nothing sticks to her*
"How did you do that?'
"Ivan taught me to knead bread."
"Cool." *thankful prayers for Ivan*
"Lift, stretch, fold - get plenty of air in"
"My turn"

*I oil my hands, like a pro*
*sticky mess ensues*

"Let me show you again"

*lift, stretch, fold, lift, stretch, fold*

"You go."

*lift, stretch fold, lift stretch fold* x10mins

Gemma washed the mixing bowl for me and lined it with a little oil. I place the dough in there, and cover it with a cloth. On this, the hottest day of the year, 'a warm place' to proove the bread seemed ironic. We let it rest in the kitchen, the oven on to preheat.

After nearly 2 hours our dough has trebled. I knock it out and separate it into 8 even sections. I roll each section into flat rounds about 3mm thick. Some of them I stretch out as evenly as I can, to get a 'rustic' look, others I roll.

On a HOT dry pan we place each flat bread for about a minute each side. They rise up, puff, brown, are turned, puff and brown. We remove them from the heat and place them on a tea towel covered plate.

Yummy humble food. Make it for your friends.

“There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is Curiosity. There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others; that is Vanity. There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve; that is Love.” 
 Bernard of Clairvaux

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