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In keeping with the sourdough nutter that I am, I mailed packets of dried Priscilla starter to my friend Dan in San Francisco before we flew over. After all, we were staying with them for a month, and the thought of eating bought bread during that time, even in the legendary home of sourdough, never occurred to me.

I sent over three packets – one for us, one for our friend Chris, and one spare.

Obi-dog Kenobi, Dan’s magnadoodle (ok, he’s a labradoodle) got to one of the sachets as it came through the mail slot, and ate it. For 24 hours, he farted rotten egg gas that made the resident skunks run for cover, but he was otherwise completely unharmed.

Here he is, freshly groomed. He’s the best dog in the world, and the only one I’ve ever met with human eyes…

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But I digress.

On Emilie’s advice, we bought King Arthur bread flour from Safeway and woke the starter up. Johnny Cash was born…

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Within a couple of days, Dan had baked her first batch of sourdough…

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The day after that, she made an olive loaf…

dan's first loaf

Then a fruit and nut loaf…

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By the time we left, she was producing two to three loaves every other day, completely on her own. She’s a star…

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Dan uses a slightly modified version of our high hydration overnight tutorial, with all white bakers flour and 700g of water instead of 750g. This makes the dough a bit easier to manage and produces a slightly less holey crumb – ideal for school lunches and snacks.

She commented to me last week that even when she’s weary, it only takes a few minutes to knock up the dough, and then it’s simply left in a covered bowl until after school drop off the following morning. That’s the nice thing about sourdough – once we find a groove that works, it’s pretty easy to fit it into our daily routines. And unlike some other starters, Priscilla is spectacularly resilient – her doughs can prove for the better part of a day and still bounce back for a shaped second rise.

Our old friend Chris brought his gorgeous family to have lunch with us – he took home a little container of Johnny Cash and birthed June Carter Cash at his house. Here are his latest loaves – he’s been going gangbusters as well…

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Sharing the sourdough mania with our friends was one of the highlights of our trip to San Francisco. It’s a joy to see them having so much fun with it, and to know that we’re all baking with the same starter!

It started with these glasses…

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I’ve been short-sighted and “four-eyed” since I was eleven years old.

Five years ago, I needed multifocals (now called progressives) to accommodate my age-related reading difficulties. My optometrist made me the purple titanium specs you see in the photo above. From memory, I was out of pocket $700 after the health fund had paid their contribution.

Two weeks later, I managed to scratch them quite badly, right across the middle of the left lens.

When I asked if it could be polished out, I was told that my only option was to replace the whole lens. I was pretty cranky, but as they’d cost me a fortune, I put up with the annoying line in my vision and the fact that the right arm gave me a throbbing pain behind my ear.

Then last year, my friend Valentina told me about Zenni Optical. These guys are the bomb. If you’re paying a king’s ransom for prescription glasses, then you need to check them out. They’re an online company offering a brilliant service – their products are ludicrously cheap, and you can upload a photo to try on any frame before you buy.

I’ve shown you this pic before, but it’s always good for another laugh…

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I wear my blue progressive specs every day – they’re clear and crisp, and they don’t cause me any ear or temple discomfort. The lenses aren’t as high quality as my über-expensive purple glasses, but then again, they only cost me US$85. Zenni charges just US$10 to mail to Australia (for as many pairs as you order) and they usually arrive within a month.

As one of the main problems with cheaper frames is durability, I’ve also purchased a spare blank (US$13) – that way if the original breaks, I’ll have a back-up. Having said that, my blue stainless steel glasses have been great – I’ve worn them so much that I’ve had to change the nose-pads (which they’ll do for free at Costco if you’re a member), and after a year, they’re still in excellent shape…

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Before our trip to San Francisco, I ordered a pair of red heart prescription sunglasses. These were just US$54 and that was with higher index (thinner) lenses! They’re the perfect shape for my face, as they sit high up on my Asian nose and provide complete sun protection. I loved them so much that when Zenni had a 20% off sale, I bought them in black as well. The second pair cost me just $39…

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I honestly can’t recommend these guys highly enough. My eyes are a -5.00 script, and I can get a basic pair of prescription sunglasses from them for under US$20 (even less for regular glasses).

The only disadvantage is that we can’t use our Australian health fund, but that’s far outweighed by the cost savings. They have excellent online customer service, and if you subscribe to their email newsletter, you’ll get notification of their sales and discount coupons. Yes, I know this all sounds like a paid ad, but I promise you it isn’t – I’m just ridiculously excited to finally have access to funky glasses at affordable prices!

Zenni Optical Website

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The other eyewear supplier we’ve just discovered is Dresden Optics, an Australian company who manufacture all their frames locally. These guys have come up with a truly genius idea – they make just one shape of frame (wayfarer-style), in four different sizes, and design them to be completely modular. So you can choose one front, different coloured arms, and an assortment of lenses.

We popped into their Newtown store with our new prescriptions earlier this week…

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Both Small Man and I chose medium sized frames. They’re made of plastic and come in a rainbow of colours. I needed medium arms, but he had a better fit with the larger ones…

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These are seriously gorgeous, but not ideal for my nose shape. Nonetheless, I’ve bought a pair home to see if I can make them work – I found the translucent blue irresistible…

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For an Australian-made product, Dresden’s pricing is amazing – our two pairs of single vision glasses cost $89 in total, and were completely paid for by our health fund. It gets cheaper if you buy in bulk, and that’s for any combination, not just several pairs of the same glasses. High index lenses cost a bit more, as do bifocals, progressives and polarised lenses, but it’s not exhorbitant – the progressives are $249 a pair, including frames.

The arms are cleverly held in place with a bespoke pin…

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My favourite part of the store was this wall of frames made from recycled products – milk caps, beer keg lids and marine debris.

I was instantly smitten with the grey-green sunnies on the top left, made from salvaged ocean debris. Sadly, they weren’t for me – lovely David, who had already adjusted my blue frames to fit, told us that the recycled marine plastic was too brittle to bend…

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One last thing about Dresden – it really is a modular system. We walked into the store at 3pm, and walked out again at 3.45pm with finished glasses – David simply popped the stock Carl Zeiss lenses into the frames we chose, fitted them to our faces, and swiped our Bupa card through their Hicaps machine. This on-the-spot service is only available for single vision lenses – anything more complicated will take about a week to make.

Dresden Optics Website

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So there you have it, two fabulous and completely different eyewear companies, offering seriously affordable prescription glasses. Hopefully you’ll have as much fun shopping with them as I have!

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10 July 2016: Oh, how I wish you were here! I took this photo from the top of Lombard Street, famous for the way it zigzags down a steep 27% incline (there are eight hairpin turns in the one block). There are tourists everywhere! San Francisco is super hilly, and from the top of the street, you can see all the way out to the water.

Beautiful pink hydrangeas line the street, and there is an orderly queue of cars lined up, waiting for their turn to drive down. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live in one of the houses here – you’d have people in your front yard 24/7!

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4 July 2016: Miss Art Deco!  We’ve found a spot to sit right at the start of the Piedmont Parade. There are vintage cars (proceeding from oldest to youngest), a horse drawn stagecoach, and marching bands of all kinds. The hilarious Balloon Platoon have just gone past – they’ve been taking part in this parade for more than 20 years! 

It’s remarkably well-organised for a neighbourhood parade. Costumed characters (including Uncle Sam) are strolling down the street, handing candy out to the kids. We bought the most American tshirts we could find at Walmart, just to wear for the occasion!

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11 July 2016: I squealed and asked Dan to stop the car when we arrived here! The Palace of Fine Arts is a remnant of a bygone era. It was originally constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Expo, and completely rebuilt in 1965.

It’s an amazing space – the water is teeming with life (swans, turtles, ducks, dragonflies and oodles more) and the grassy areas are full of joggers and families having picnics. It’s such a perfect day – the best one we’ve had since we arrived. The fog (so prevalent in San Francisco city) has lifted and allowed the sun to shine through. The temperature is a very comfortable 24ºC (75°F). Great day!

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14 July 2016: The only thing that could have made Mel’s Diner better would have been waitresses on roller skates! We’re having a proper Happy Days moment – the food was fine and exactly as we expected, except for my huevos rancheros which tasted ok but looked like slop. The staff are very friendly, and the manager just offered me a 10% discount if we eat here again during our stay. Love that about eateries here – nothing is ever too much trouble, and they’re always so keen to get return business!

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12 July 2016: This guy was hilarious – his pitch was “very bad advice for $1, money back if you don’t laugh!’ I asked him if I could take his photo for a dollar, and he was more than happy to oblige! 

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12 July 2016: We’ve spent the morning at the San Francisco Exploratorium, at Pier 15 on the Embarcadero. It’s a wonderful place – two floors filled with interactive science exhibits.

Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests are on display at the moment, much to the excitement of Small Man who has watched several documentaries on them. These intriguing wind powered walking machines are made from piping, wood and fabric. They “live” on beaches and move across the sand in a very organic way. Both Benny and Small Man had a chance to “walk” them!

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13 July 2016: Oh Muir Woods, how we love you! It’s hard to believe such spectacular natural beauty exists less than an hour from the heart of the city. This 550 acre (224 hectare) reserve – half of which is old growth redwood forests – has some of the tallest trees in the world. Not just trees – we’ve seen deer, a red-tailed hawk, and a chipmunk today. Did you know that chipmunks are tiny? Or that a deer has the same face as a kangaroo? I didn’t!

Big Boy and Pete have just announced that this is their favourite place in San Francisco so far. We’re finding it hard to leave! It’s very well managed too – easy walking trails and lots of information signs.

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5 July 2016: We couldn’t come to America and not go to a baseball game! Giants vs Rockies – let’s go, Giants, let’s go!

We’re sitting up in nosebleed seats and freezing – the fog has just rolled in and it’s icy cold. Not at all what we expected from a SF summer…but sooo worth it, because it’s exactly like in the movies. There are guys walking through the stands selling cotton candy, they play the dum dum dum dum music after each hit, everyone sings “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” in between the 6th and 7th innings, and the electronic scoreboard has just flashed up “Judy, I’ll love you forever…Sam”. Next time though, I’m bringing blankets.

PS. Just noticed some locals wearing Giants (orange and black) polarfleece dressing gowns. It’s really cold!

PPS. The Giants lost 3-7. Poor Mitch was devastated!

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My desperate attempts to minimise food wastage are often confounded by my inability to pass up a bargain.

$12 for a 2½ kg box of glacé pears? Normally $20 a kilo? Yep, I’ll take them…

Huge fish heads for $5 a kilo? Don’t throw them out, give me all of them…

Free range chicken carcasses for $1 each? I’m sure I can find room for those…

Sigh.

As a result, I usually have two bulging freezers and a fridge full of supplies that need to be used up. Here are some of our recent emptying-the-fridge/freezer/pantry meals.

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Last week, our friend Johnny passed me a bag of Italian prosciutto offcuts, and the lovely Dot gave me a wedge of very ripe Brie and a ball of mozzarella…

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Before heading off to the wedding last weekend, I’d baked a double batch of sourdough for the boys. As they only ate one loaf, there was quite a lot of stale bread leftover when we got home…

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I turned it all – bread, prosciutto, cheeses and some semi-dried tomatoes – into savoury slices. One for Johnny, one for Dot, one for Luca around the corner who’s in the middle of exams, and one for Big Boy’s lunch.

They’re a doddle to assemble (basic instructions are here) and infinitely adaptable – I skipped the cream this time and used just milk and eggs. Any cured meats, cheeses and antipasti you have in the fridge can go in. My friend Patrick describes this as mac’n’cheese with bread instead of mac; Johnny calls it “bread’n’boc(concini) pudding”.

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The fish heads were all scaled, de-gilled, vacuum sealed and frozen. As I’m the only person in the house who will eat them, I defrost one every couple of weeks and microwave it, topped with a little jarred black bean sauce, scallions and ginger. It’s ludicrously easy to cook (thanks Auntie Sim!) and I love having one all to myself for dinner…

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A recent freezer excavation turned up 300g of chicken mince and two half packets of dumpling wrappers (they defrost well, so it’s always worth freezing leftover skins).

These became an easy dinner one night

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…and dumpling noodle soup the next, with the addition of noodles and some defrosted homemade stock. I’m always happiest when I have a large stash of stock in the freezer, and the pressure cooker makes that easy

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During International Scone Week, I baked buttermilk scones for Small Man (they’re his favourite). He was out during the day and only managed to eat a couple, so that night, I broke them up and used them to top a mixed berry crumble. I routinely freeze leftover cake or brioche or cookies to throw onto defrosted fruit for an instant dessert…

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Here’s an earlier one we made with leftover tea cake and frozen blueberries…

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Finally, I made fruit and nut cakes with the glacé pears…

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We usually make this simple recipe at Christmas, but it’s good eating at any time of the year, with the added bonus of being both gluten and dairy free. It was also a great way to use up all those nearly empty packets of nuts in the back fridge!

Here’s the basic formula…

  • 250g seedless dates
  • 350g mixed glacé fruit, cut into pieces (cherries, mixed peel, apricots, pears etc)
  • 80g raisins
  • 450g mixed unsalted nuts (works best if you can include brazil nuts in the mix)
  • 100g ground almonds
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 large (59g) eggs
  • 2 tablespoons (40ml) honey
  • 1 teaspoon homemade vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons rum

Instructions, with photos, are here. I baked the cakes in lined loaf tins for an hour at 150C with fan, then allowed them to cool slowly, doused in rum and wrapped in foil and a tea towel. They keep for ages and slice well if stored in the fridge…

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Are you good at resisting a bargain? And what clever recipes do you have to use up your leftover bits and pieces?

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Cousin Jono loves Laura.

We know this because he told us so on Saturday night, in a speech that moved us all to tears. Pete and I have just spent the most glorious weekend in Mudgee, celebrating their wedding with family and friends.

Festivities kicked off with dinner on Friday night and ended with brunch on Sunday. Pete’s family know how to party properly!

The wedding mass was held at the historic St Mary’s Catholic Church in town…

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At 1pm, a chartered bus picked us up from our motels and drove us to The Vinegrove for the reception. The sun was shining and the venue was stunning – elegant and relaxing and charming, all at the same time…

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A large marquee was set up for the sit down meal, but it was hard to drag ourselves away from the huge roaring fire and comfortable lounges outside…

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Gorgeous copper lanterns glowed with reflected sunlight…I loved these so much I wanted to steal them (but I didn’t)…

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The marquee was elegantly adorned with white flowers…

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We partied hard for eight hours (the first return bus didn’t leave until 9pm). The food and wine were superb, and it turns out that I’m an amazing dancer after six glasses of sauvignon blanc.

We caught up with Pete’s cousins, whom we only get to see every few years; made friends with Dave and Andy (Statler and Waldorf), the gorgeous Julia and her wee bubba; got the phone number of Bruce, who is going to be our go-to Uber driver from now on; and fell madly in love with Andrew and Emma’s beautiful children.

Without wishing to gazump the bride with photos from the actual ceremony, here’s a pic of her to-die-for Cinderella shoes…

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On Sunday morning, we drove back to The Vinegrove for a fortifying brunch of bacon and egg rolls, before making our way back to Sydney. Our new cousin Laura gave us a white bouquet off the table to take home…

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All our love to you, Jono and Laura!

Thank you for letting us share in your celebrations!

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