Loop goes to Loaf (Part 1)

A couple of weeks ago I (Andy) took the train over to Bourneville in South Birmingham to visit the social enterprise LOAF. As well as running cookery courses, running a local food directory and blogging about real food in Birmingham, they also run a community-supported bakery.

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Every Friday LOAF director Tom bakes loaves in his kitchen for 15 subscribers. These folk invest a certain amount each month and get a loaf baked for them which they collect in the afternoon. This benefits the small baker as they get a guaranteed income to buy the ingredients for the month and the investor gets a fabulous loaf each week. Tom bakes sourdough with a choice between a white or a rye loaf as well the appearance of an occasional guest bread .

I arrived on the Thursday afternoon for the start of my mini baking apprenticeship. I have been baking bread myself for the last year or so (before that it was with the aid of a bread machine) and feel like I have made progress from the first heavy loaves that came out of the oven as I have become more proficient with the bread making process. There is a real art to each stage; from choosing the best flour, measuring quantities, kneading, proving and baking. Things can go wrong (and have done) at every stage of the process and I’m only making a couple of loaves. Mistakes only make you stronger though and you don’t make the same mistake in a hurry.

So coming to LOAF would give me a chance to see a slightly larger operation at work, being run from home with conventional kitchen equipment, with a view to possibly replicated the scheme in Llanidloes.

The evening was spent talking about bread (I think myself and Tom will readily admit to our bread-geekery), looking through bread books and chatting about the state of bread in the UK (generally bad but with a smattering of incredible stuff happening) and how it could be improved (first steps are taking a look at what the Real Bread Campaign is up to).

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We also took a look at the wood-fired oven he has built in his back garden whilst Tom chopped a bit of wood in preparation for Friday morning. Finally we made a list for the plan of events the next morning. It seemed like military precision was going to be needed to bake 40 loaves.

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Tom keeps his rye and wheat sourdoughs in the fridge all week and takes them out on a Wednesday to allow them to get to room temperature and allow them to bulk them up in time for making the dough on late Thursday. Having calculated how many of each type of bread he is going to bake, he works out how much starter he is going to need using a spreadsheet with all the baker’s percentages programmed in. A nice way of keeping track of everything. So late on we were able to bulk up the last of the rye sourdough ready for the next day and also just before we went to bed, we mixed the wheat dough, kneaded it and placed it into large boxes to prove overnight.

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I’m not used to being up that late or having to get up at 5.30am either. So by midnight I was asleep, dreaming of light fluffy ciabattas and fields of wheat blowing gently in the breeze.

Before I knew it the alarm went off and it was time to get up to bake lots of bread! It was a dark drizzly morning outside but we got the fire going, had a cuppa, folded the sourdough into thirds, made a ciabatta dough (for lunch) and mixed the borodinksy rye mix up. All before 6.30am…

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Over the next couple of hours we gave the Ciabatta dough a couple of folds in thirds to stretch out the gluten and make it more airy before moving onto the rye mix. I’ve made a couple of ryes before but here we were making it in batches of 4kg! The spreadsheet was used to get the correct consistency. As Rye is a wet dough there isn’t any kneading involved but this means it is a tricky thing to handle. You have to get everything wet and shape it into a loaf. Bit like handling a wet fish I expect.

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By 9am we had done 3 batches of rye and shaped the Ciabatta. When you are doing this much bread in a small space you really need to be organised, there is a lot going on at once. The check-list was very very important. And it worked really well. We even had time to have a few cups of tea and some bread and butter (of course!)

The oven was warmed (with a big chunk of marble inside to keep the radiant temperature warm) and we started loading it with rye loaves, 6 at a time, not something my oven at home could handle. Whilst doing this we were busy shaping the wheat sourdoughs and placing them into bannetons. Doing each 4kg batch with 30 minute breads meant that we could stagger the proving and put them into the ovens at this time difference later on. The ciabatta also came out the oven looking lovely and light.

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The smell of all this freshly baked bread was too much by 11.30am, hunger had struck hard. So we had an early lunch with the still slightly warm Ciabattas and fried eggs from Tom’s chickens outside. Simply devine.

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I’ll write more in part 2 about the afternoon bake in the outside oven and more about how community bakeries work later in the week.

TLP 10 – Get Digging!

The first of a series of posters designed to raise awareness of our current reliance on oil and oil based products.

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As cheap fuel begins to disappear and prices rise our dependence on fossil fuels will become more and more obvious. All areas of our lives will have to change.

The changes that need to be made, rather than being sacrifices, could greatly enhance our lives. We have the potential to create a much more rewarding way of life.

People will soon need to become more self reliant, the work that was done by the oil may need to be done by you.

To give you a real example, and put this all into perspective, here’s a picture of me preparing a bed for planting in the spring. It took the best part of a day to dig this bed over and remove all the weeds.

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Here’s a tractor doing the same thing in seconds…

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And remember, later in the year the tractor will be round again, spraying (oil based) fertiliser, pesticides and the like, and I will be round again, on my knees for hours, individually pulling out weeds and making brews of comfry and nettle tea to feed my plants. I can’t wait! Honest!

Learn some skills, get to know the people around you, grow some food. Get digging.

Download the full sized poster to print out and stick up here

Loop is slowly coming out of hibernation

It’s the 1st of February and slowly but surely the days are becoming a little longer; the light peeps timidly through the curtains when we wake and spring feels almost within reach. Almost but not quite. The ground is still hard and thoughts of home grown vegetables and warm summer evenings are still but a mere thought in the back of our mind.

The loop project team have been hard at work during our winter hibernation. We may be sleeping a lot and using the long nights to restore our mental and spiritual energy but we have had the fire stoked day and night, the seed catalogues have been read and re-read and preparations are being made for an allotment onslaught once the frosty fingers of winter are pulled away.

We have also been busy in the kitchen making breads. The oven has been full of Apple Cider Vinegar muffins, maize baguettes, white milk loaves, borodinksy rye and scottish morning rolls. Soups with seasonal vegetables from the organic shop in Llanidloes such as Borscht and other warming soups have kept us going during the harsh winter of 2009/2010.

Fermenting is the most exciting thing that is happening food-wise in Loop HQ. We have been busy reading a great book by Sandor Ellis Katz called Wild Fermentation. In it he has detailed fermentation processes from across the world, bringing back processes and techniques that have long been forgotten in some cultures. We started out with a simple sour beet recipe and have also made yoghurt, kefir, kombucha and there are dozens of other things we can’t wait to do. It seems like culture and society were built on fermented foods. Without them humans couldn’t store and process food – nowadays we just stick food and drink into the fridge or freeze. However I really think knowing a little about fermentation could benefit us all. Just think about what is fermented in your normal daily diet…

Plans are also being made for the Summer months. We have bought tickets for our first festival, The Dark Mountain Festival up in North Wales. Then there are plans to help at Sunrise Celebration at the end of May.

We are also starting to realise just how much goes on around Llanidloes. The Loop Project have found a very good place to call home.

TLP 8 – Website for Artisan Chocolatier

Liverpool based artisan chocolatier, The Chocolate Cellar needed to update their website. A brand new website was created which was more consistent with their branding, and included lots more information on the products and services they offer. Visit www.thechocolatecellar.co.uk to see the full site.

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Once the main website was complete we then set to work on an online store meaning their customers could get their Christmas treats sent direct to their home.

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The client was very happy with the work and we now work closely with them each month to develop the website and create new marketing materials.

The next project for the Chocolate Cellar, “We Care” is a leaflet which raises awareness about how they help local businesses and charities as well as outlining what steps they are taking to minimise their impact on the environment.

TLP 9 – Pisco “World of Tomorrow”

The third in a series of posters designed to advertise nights ran by Sheffield music promoters “Pisco Presents”. It was to be a “Retro-Future” night taking its inspiration from the likes of 80s TV series, “Tomorrow’s World”.

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The Loop Project is go!

After many months of planning, thinking (maybe almost too much thinking!), designing, writing and general web site designing, we are pleased to announce the launch of theloopproject.co.uk.

This is one of the ways in which we are starting to transition our lives for a low-carbon (or no carbon…) future. Before we were both working 35 hour weeks, spending most of our waking week working for the man (or woman). The little time we did have to ourselves in the evenings was just not long enough! Then during the weekends and holidays we spent the money we had earnt on stuff we probably didn’t really need (well some of it was useful I suppose!).

We realised a while ago that we didn’t want to spend the rest of our lives living this way and slowly we decided to go it alone. The first step was quitting, and perhaps that was the most difficult bit. Once we were out everything seemed different, exciting and liberating. The world still turned and we didn’t end up living on the streets. The last year has been incredibly enlightening and we’ve started to learn new skills which we hope will see us good for the rest of our lives. We’ve also learnt it’s pretty easy to live without 2 salaries especially when you live out of a rucksack. But perhaps it’s just the mental changes that we have made which have simplified things. Strip away the thin capitalist veneer of 21st century living and there is a lot of good simple living to be had on this planet we call home. And luckily for us life is amazingly great fun.

However we realise we still need to earn some hard currency as you can’t barter for much these days. This website is a way for us to use our computer based skills (web and graphic design amongst others) while we learn to do things which don’t require the use of a PC (or a Mac shouts Leanne…)

So take a look around, read about what we’ve been up to and perhaps look at some of the book and web recommendations we’ve carefully selected for you.

And if you do happen to have any work that we might be interested in, get in touch and we’ll get things moving.

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TLP 7 – Pisco Presents, ‘Under The Sea’

A poster for a night of live music in Sheffield promoted by Pisco Sour Hour.

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This was the second of the promoters’ nights to be held in Sheffield and the poster was designed to follow the style of the previous event ‘The Summer Fete’ to help build instant recognition and a house style.

Comment from the promoters,

“One talented young company with a keen mind, eye, nose and hand for design. The event poster produced from our sketchy brief exceeded expectations and did the job brilliantly, leaping out and drawing the eye amidst a multitude of other promotional materials on display. We’ll certainly be using them again”

TLP 6 – Ctrl_Alt_Bleep

Poster and flyers designed for London club night in aid of Amnesty International, ‘Ctrl_Alt_Bleep’ . The night is promoted by Pi.

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From the promoters,

“Having given Leanne some very vague ideas of what we hoped the night to be like, within the space of a week she had come up with another outstanding flyer. Full artistic and creative license was given regarding the design, and our expectations were not only met but were exceeded, again! All in all she came up with a very eye catching flyer that managed to portray what the night was about in a very short space of time.

Clearly the best flyer we saw whilst out flyering in London! Very Professional.”

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TLP 4 – Bread Making Workshop

Not that I’d usually want to spoil the ending of a story, but I couldn’t wait to show this – Rachel’s first loaf of bread, fresh out of the oven at the end her first venture into bread making. Perfect, light and crusty. Wow!

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It was a pretty amazing day really. In the space of an afternoon we managed to make a plain white loaf, a dozen rolls, bread sticks, a focaccia, tortilla wraps and some nachos! All turned out great. Rachel certainly was a natural – she has great baking hands. Watching Rachel and Andy’s synchronised dough kneading it was difficult to tell who was teaching who!

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Even the kids got stuck in. Beth helped cut dough into strips to make bread sticks, which Ellie then did a marvellous job of shaping and adding grated cheese to make them extra tasty.

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Who could have believed that a 4 year old could really play a major part in producing some of the bestest ever bread sticks?

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Those expensive shop-bought tasteless, o-so-straight and boring tubes of tat will never be spotted again in the Cordingley shopping trolley!

The Bread Making Workshop was a great success, everyone learnt a lot, but I think the best thing that was discovered is that you don’t need to be an expert to do this. It doesn’t take years of practice to make something infinitely better than what’s on offer at the supermarket.

Of course the more you bake the better your bread will get, but this really was Rachel and the kids’ first attempts at baking bread and all turned out really well.

Once again, here it is, a thing of beauty – the first loaf from Rachel, Master Baker Extraordinaire (family baker for over 3 hours):

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Anyone who is interested in taking part in a bread making workshop, or having us come to your house to run one for your family and friends please read this for more information or contact us to book a course.

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