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A few bits and pieces from the last month…

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We’ve recently discovered Faheem Fast Food on Enmore Road. It’s surprisingly good and very well priced, although the service can be a bit aloof at times.

We’re late to the party – apparently everyone we know eats there regularly – but we avoided Indian and Pakistani food for years because of Small Man’s nut allergies (which he still has, but he’s much more savvy about what to look out for these days). The tandoori chicken was deliciously spicy and the mixed lentils were to die for. I went back a week later and ordered the “rice with three veg curries for $11” option and refused to share…

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This is the fossil that started the collection…a two kilogram mammoth molar tooth, given to me by my sister Cynthia 15 years ago. To be fair, she actually gave it to the boys, but they weren’t nearly as interested in it as I was…

The tooth still has its root (photo above) and grinding surface (photo below) intact. I’m not sure of its age, but a quick google search suggests that it’s probably  around 12,000 years old. It’s a joy to own partly because it’s not fragile, so I get to play with it a lot…

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I fell out of the meditation habit in the second half of last year, to my personal detriment, so I’m trying to get back into regular practice again this year. So far, so good…

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I returned from our visit to Singapore with this stunning vintage bowl – another gift from Cynthia. It’s a hand painted Baker & Co Ltd piece from England, commissioned for the household (or possibly school) of Haji R. E. Mohamed Kassim – a wealthy Indian businessman and philanthropist who lived in Malaya (as it was then known) in the early 1900s.

The bowl probably dates from the 1920s, making it nearly a century old. Perhaps the “1695” inscription is a catalogue number. I loved knowing the story behind it…

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Pete’s hands have been too sore for him to make jam in the past few years, but this time Small Man hulled all the strawberries for him – all fifteen punnets’ worth. We didn’t have a lot of pectin made, so this batch is very soft set. And not overly sweet, which is Pete’s trademark style…

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My friend Sue gave me this beautiful calendar for Christmas – she and her husband Craig create and publish the Wine Dog book series. If you’re a dog lover, you’ll adore them…

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Me (whinging): “why can’t we go out for dinner?”

Pete: “because we have a bed full of rapini and backyard eggs and just picked cucumbers and freshly baked focaccia and homemade sambal.”

Oh. Fair enough. It was excellent too.

Sometimes I forget how much great food we have at our fingertips. The whole dinner cost us less than $5, and there was enough leftover to feed the neighbours as well…

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We’ve been meeting up with friends at The Carpenter Cafe – a new establishment hidden away in the back of an old factory in Leichhardt.

They do fabulous ice lattes and great simple meals, but I really wanted to show you the gorgeous stoneware they serve their hot drinks in. The cups are made in Sydney’s inner west by Zuko. Sadly, I can’t buy any, because I really don’t need any more cups in the house, plus I’d already asked my friend Steve Sheridan to make me a couple at the end of last year. So I’ll just keep going to The Carpenter for decaf lattes instead…

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I gave two of my upcycled useful bags to Tom and Grace (formerly Baby Grace), and they found a new use for them..

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My latest project-on-the-go was this apron, which I made from an offcut of toile fabric. It has a pocket deep enough to keep an iPhone safe in case of a minor spill…

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I’ve been tempering chocolate again now that the weather is a bit cooler – these Sao Thome 70% dark origin chocolate frogs were set in my contraband Freddo moulds…

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As I’m trying not to buy any clothes (new OR secondhand) for a little while, I thought I should put some effort into upcycling some bits and pieces for winter. I dug out this scrap of badly stained vintage kimono silk, which had previously served as the lining for a child’s coat. I picked it up a few years ago from Cash Palace Emporium. It’s printed with gosho dolls, and I reckon this one looks just like me…

I washed it carefully (sadly the stains didn’t budge), then seamed the front opening closed and turned it into a reversible scarf. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out…

And continuing with the Japanese theme, my tidying up uncovered this old noren (door hanging) that our friends Yuji and Maude bought us over two decades ago. It hung outside Pete’s office for years, slowly fading in the sun and occasionally being set upon by mynah birds. When our friends bought us a replacement, this one was washed and put away…

I tried turning it into a scarf but it was too worn, so I cut patches out of it instead. These were appliqued onto my homemade flares, assembled by merging together two pairs of girl-sized Gap jeans. I loved the super thick denim and they were only $2 each from our local Salvos. The flares were a bit boring though, so I was happy to find a way to jazz them up a bit…

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Lastly, a plug for my friends at Reverse Garbage. They’re having a vintage sale (fabric, haberdashery and collectibles) on Saturday 9th March. I am not going not going not going. If I chant it enough over the new couple of weeks, it might stick.

Reverse Garbage is based in the Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville. And if you pick up a metre of purple wool cashmere at the sale, rest assured that it’s been carefully stored in my camphor chest for over 20 years…

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Life is good! Hope all is well in your universe! ♥

Image source

Legendary tennis great Arthur Ashe famously said…

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

I first read this quote in Katrina Rodabaugh’s Mending Matters, where she uses it to explain her approach to Slow Fashion.

For me, it’s great advice for all of us trying to live a bit greener.

Don’t be overwhelmed by how huge the environmental issues facing the world are. Don’t think that small changes can’t make a difference. Don’t get angry. Just start.

Start at whatever point your life is at. Use whatever skills and resources you have. Do whatever you can, even if it’s just separating your recycling out more carefully, or turning the printer paper over and using the other side, or setting your washing machine to the economy cycle. From experience, I can tell you that it’s like rolling a pebble down a snow-covered hill – once you see how much difference a small change can make, you’ll find it hard to stop.

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As most of you know, we began our waste reduction plan last year. Here’s the end of year review I wrote about our efforts, with links to all the earlier posts if you’d like to catch up on our journey. I’ve also collated them all on one page for easy reference. The most important thing we’ve learnt so far is that while it’s impossible to change everything, it’s easy to change a lot. And every bit helps!

Our waste reduction efforts are an ongoing work in progress, but this year we’ve also turned out attention to reducing what we bring into the house. Coupled with a slow, considered decluttering, it’s starting to make a noticeable difference. Here’s where we’re at, one month into the process.

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Tidying Up (Reduce)

It taking a bit of time to figure out how to get the things we no longer want or need out of the house. I don’t want to just dump it on others – all that does is pass my problem on to someone else, and it eventually ends up in landfill anyway – so I’ve been carefully sorting the wheat from the chaff. My old friend Vicki suggested a strategy of getting one thing out of the house each day, and it’s been working well so far.

Here are a few things I’ve learnt this month:

  • Tidying just one shelf/drawer/file/space per day is enough for me. By going slowly, things are being dealt with thoughtfully rather than simply thrown into the rubbish bin. Some days only one small thing goes out, but I’m reassured that the balance is improving – more is leaving the house than entering it.

  • Officeworks will confidentially shred your unwanted documents for $3 per 500 pages. Don’t worry, they’ll estimate rather than making you count the pages. I’m slowly working up the chi needed to tackle boxes of old statements.
  • Reverse Garbage will take your quirky stuff, providing it’s in a good working condition. I was so happy that they took our old gaming unit, complete with games and joysticks – it would have ended up in e-waste otherwise. Make sure you ring and ask first though, as they’ll only take what they can sell.

  • Fiona posted this great article a couple of years ago, which includes a link to Support the Girls, a charity which collects bras, toiletries and menstrual products for disadvantaged women.
  • Putting the wrong item into recycling can contaminate the entire batch. REDcycle will take a wide range of soft plastics, including used polyethelene shopping bags (the square green ones from supermarkets), but it’s important to only put the correct items in their bins. Here’s a list of what they will and won’t take.

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Use It More Than Once (Reuse)

This is a biggie, I think.

If we reduced the number of single-use items entering and leaving our houses, we’d make a big impact with that one step alone. It takes a bit of thinking ahead to remember to take mesh bags and reusable shopping totes, but it soon becomes a habit. As do KeepCups and refillable water bottles, cloth napkins and metal straws.

Although we bring virtually no plastic shopping bags into the house, it’s been harder to stop other bags coming in. These days, instead of REDcycling the thick plastic bag that the hazelnuts come in, we wash it out and use it to store loaves of sourdough in the freezer instead.

Too often we make the mistake of thinking it’s ok if an item is recyclable or biodegradable, but it’s important to remember that recycling uses a great deal of energy, so reuse is always the preferred option. And just because an item like paper is biodegradable doesn’t take away from the fact that it took energy and resources to make in the first place.

Glass is a confusing one for me. It seems such a high energy product to create and recycle, so we try to reuse it as much as possible. We end up with a squillion washed glass jars on the shelves as a result!

I’d love any suggestions you have for reuse – this is an area that we need to improve on. Thanks!

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Mend and Make Do (Repair and Recycle)

After fourteen years of loyal service, our Miele front loader finally stopped working. It was very expensive to repair it, but even more expensive in earth terms to replace it. So we paid lovely Andy to put it back together again, and now it’s running smoothly, thanks to new shock absorbers and working valves…

The darning continues, and it’s extended beyond clothing.

Small Man’s runners were still in good shape after a couple of years of daily use (he’s an elf, remember), but he caught the side of one shoe on a nail recently. It was easy to darn the hole with strong linen upholstery thread that I found while tidying up…

Have you heard of the marvelous folks at Elvis and Kresse? I find them incredibly inspiring – in 2005, they set up a company in the UK to rescue London’s decommissioned firehoses which were destined for landfill. They have since expanded into rescuing leather, including the 120 tonnes of leather offcuts which Burberry will produce over the next five years. They even make their own packaging materials from recycled paper tea sacks.

This is my favourite video from their website

 

Segueing to another story…

30 years ago, my dad bought me a green Christian Dior satchel. I used it to death and loved it to bits, so much so that he got cross at how tattered it looked and demanded it back so that he could polish it. I haven’t used it in more than 20 years but I’ve never been able to bring myself to throw it out.


Last week, inspired by all the amazing work Elvis and Kresse do, I cut the bag up and turned part of it into a small zippered pouch. A section from the base became a key fob. It was hard going and I’m incredibly grateful for my industrial sewing machine…


The best bit of this story? As I was making it, smudges of green polish stained my fingers, a reminder of how much Dad loved us, but also of how heavy handed he was with things like that. The pouch is now used to store my bone conduction headphones, which means I use it every day. And think of my dad.

When we mend, reuse, upcycle and repair, we give our material things a second life. We save their old stories and give them an opportunity to create new ones. It can be a wonderful thing. ♥

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Reducing The Input (Refuse)

Unsurprisingly, the difficulty we’re having in getting rid of unwanted items is a powerful deterrent to bringing more stuff into the house. Before I buy anything now, I try to ask myself…“does this have an exit plan?” And I remember this lesson from Annie Leonard of The Story of Stuff

In the last month, the only non-food corporeal items we’ve brought into the house are five pairs of new underwear for Small Man (who was down to less than a week’s worth) and ang pao wrappers for Chinese New Year. That’s it.  These items have an exit plan – the underwear will go into the rag collection bin when they’ve done their time, and the wrappers have already been used up to make lanterns for gifts…

There have been several occasions when I’ve been sorely tempted to sneak in an indulgent purchase. The goal isn’t to stop buying things altogether, it’s simply to buy them with consideration and awareness. Do I really need it? Can I use something else instead? How was it made? What happens to it when I’m finished with it? Does it have a story?

I’ve been both surprised and embarrassed by how much “stuff” my decluttering has turned up that I’d forgotten about or misplaced. I haven’t really needed to buy anything new in the last four weeks (apart from the underwear).

I’ll keep you posted on how we go – thank you for being here to keep me on track. I wanted to buy a David Goldblatt catalogue after visiting his exhibition at the MCA (it’s both inspiring and powerful, if you get a chance to see it), but my friend Anne reminded me that I was trying not to buy any new paper books (ebooks and audiobooks are my preferred options). So I sadly (but gratefully) put it back on the shelf.

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I hope you’re all having a great weekend! And I would love any feedback or advice you have to share – I’ve learnt so much from all of you on this journey!  ♥

Some folks go shopping, others read prolifically, but I like to make things.

In fact, I realised long ago that I’m only happy when I have a project on the go. Over the years, my hobbies (just to name a few) have included papercrafts, kitemaking, counted cross stitch, a brief dabble in screen printing, a recurring obsession with jewellery making, and a lifelong love of sewing.

Pete and I made this one metre facet kite and the ten metre snake kite in the background for the Festival of the Winds over two decades ago…

I’m still making vintage Swarovski crystal angels to this day…

And then there’s sourdough baking, of course…

I’ve always enjoyed a fast project, like these little useful bags

Last Saturday, my friend Les, who’s now 82, told me that he still uses the bag I gave him years ago to keep his sunglasses in. “It’s just so useful!” he said…

Over this past year though, I’ve learnt to love a slower paced project. Like this linen shawl I made from one of Pete’s old shirts…

The pieces were machined together and then hand embroidered with sashiko cotton using a basic running stitch..

My focus has also shifted to projects which utilise existing resources, like my upcycled denim aprons. This one was modeled by Monkey Girl under protest…

Placemats made from the seams and waistbands of old jeans cover our dining room table…

Occasionally I’ll sit and crochet dishcloths – it’s not a craft that I particularly enjoy, but my hands don’t like to be still…

My latest adventure into visible mending is still going strong – I’m enjoying it so much that Big Boy and Pete have started hiding their clothes from me.

Small Man though, my beloved eco-warrior, is happy to wear my repaired creations. His jeans had just a little life left in them – the denim was getting thin to the point of translucent – but they still fit, so I quickly hand mended them for him. The small holes were darned and the larger ones patched boro style.

He’s worn them out a few times since, so he must approve…

Ian’s old Wranglers came back for another repair – farmers are hard on their clothes! This time I added heavy duty patches sewn on by machine. They needed to be durable enough for shearing and moving rolls of barbed wire…

Last weekend, I turned a formal kimono into a lined poncho. This was actually my third attempt at upcycling this garment.

If you ever get your hands on one, please let me save you some grief now. Don’t wash it! It’s traditionally hand stitched and if it’s a vintage piece like mine was, the thread might be over 50 years old and very fragile. Also, the lining silk shrinks more than the black layer. The traditional method of cleaning is (are you sitting down?) unpicking the entire garment, washing each piece, and then restitching it.

Anyway, I did handwash it, because it was old and stained and a bit too grotty for me to wear. In the end, after much experimenting and unpicking, I ended up with a very wearable piece…

I sewed a sized-up shopping bag based on my recent Useful Bag pattern, complete with long shoulder strap. It’s made from an old Japanese banner that I picked up from Cash Palace Emporium a couple of years ago…

It carries a surprisingly large load…

Nearly twenty years ago, my wise friend Diana told me, “Celia, my father used to say that one of the most satisfying jobs has to be bricklaying, because at the end of the day, you can stand back and see the wall you’ve built with your own hands.”

In this fast moving digital age where things often seem less real, having a project on the go grounds me. It gives me an opportunity to create, and to enjoy the great satisfaction that comes from having created.

Are you a maker too? If so, thank you for understanding what I’m talking about, because not everyone does. I’d love to know more about the hobbies you enjoy, and what projects you’re working on the moment. ♥

A shout out to the guys at The Steam Engine!

My darling friend Allison works in Chatswood and every few months we meet up in her neck of the woods for lunch and a much needed debrief. The food varies a bit – for such a culturally diverse area, it can be surprisingly ordinary at times – but it doesn’t really matter because we’re actually there for the coffee.

The relief is almost palpable as we plonk ourselves into a couple of the dozen or so seats at The Steam Engine and order our brews – a cold pour over for Al and an iced decaf latte for me…

What makes The Steam Engine special though, isn’t just the coffee (although it’s very, very good). It’s not even the free sparkling water they have on tap.

For me, what’s truly impressive is how hard they work at minimising their eco-footprint. On their shelf sits a stack of 365 coffee cups, a reminder of how much waste ends up in landfill each year from a single takeaway coffee per day…

I’ve seen bags of spent coffee grounds outside the shop for gardeners. They bottle their cold brews in glass jars which folks bring back for washing and reuse. When we were in last week, I asked for sugar and expected a paper sachet. Instead, I was given a spoonful of raw sugar in a tiny metal jug. It’s the attention to small details like this that shows their commitment and mindset.

And here’s their latest clever idea – if you forget your KeepCup, they’ll sell you a $2 glass jar with a neoprene sleeve made from recycled old wetsuits. I think they’ll even lend them to locals who forget their reusable cups…

If we want to minimise our impact on the planet, we have to focus on more than just what we do at home (although that’s obviously the best place to start). We also have to make considered choices and support businesses that are trying to operate thoughtfully and sustainably. So if you’re in the Chatswood area, do pop in for a coffee at The Steam Engine. Just make sure you take your own cup! ♥

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The Steam Engine

Shop 25A, The Interchange
436 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood

Mon – Fri 6am – 4pm
Sat 7am-3pm
Sun CLOSED

Here is my personal checklist of sourdough do’s and don’ts.

Please note that this is MY LIST ONLY – I’m pretty sure most of my fellow bakers will disagree with some, if not all, of my views below. But after 12 years of baking all the bread we eat, this is what I’ve ended up with!

DO use scales

My friend Al assembles her doughs by feel, and always ends up with bread that ranges from edible to outstanding. Even after a decade of baking, I can’t come close to doing that. I am experienced enough now to know how to adjust a bit – if a particular dough seems too dry or wet – but I always start by weighing quantities first.

Some bakers use teaspoon measures for salt, arguing that scales can’t measure small quantities accurately. My scales measure in one gram increments and I’ve never had a problem. And as my neighbour PeteV discovered recently – just a few grams extra can make a loaf too salty to eat!

The other reason to weigh salt is that it varies so much in volume – a teaspoon of fine cooking salt is heavier than flossy salt which in turn is heavier than flaky salt – but by weight, they’re all the same. My tip is to weigh the salt separately before adding it in.

I use scales for all my baking now, not just bread, as I find cup measures notoriously unreliable.

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DON’T pay a fortune for fancy salt

I have a wide selection of expensive gourmet salts, but I don’t use any of them in bread.

When I started my sourdough journey, I was buying boxed sea salt from the UK at $6 for 250g (it was still cheaper than Maldon salt flakes). But when you’re baking six to twelve loaves a week (and giving half of those away), it’s surprising how quickly a box of salt will disappear.

Then I discovered the Olssons cooking salt in little blue packets for under $2 a kilo. If you live in Australia, I’d highly recommend you seek it out. It’s not in the big supermarkets, but almost every Asian grocery store will have it on their shelf. As the packet says, it’s 100% pure sea salt from South Australia, 100% Australian owned, and 100% preservative and anti-caking agent free…

These days, I buy my salt in bulk and I’m always thrilled by how cheap it is.

It started with the broken 25kg bags I bought from Southern Cross Supplies for just $5. I’ve since discovered that the wholesale price is only $10! We use it in all our cooking, curing, breadmaking and skin care products, plus I routinely hand out 2kg bags to friends and new bakers. At full price, it’s just 40c a kilo for pure Australian sea salt.

Please, let me re-iterate. Don’t pay a fortune for fancy salt for breadmaking!

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DO use your hands

Do use your hands…if you can. A few years ago, my hands started to get sore, so I had to adapt my kneading method (I have a sturdy Kenwood mixer as backup, but I don’t like the bread it produces). As a result, I can now bake six loaves of sourdough with just ten minutes of hands-on time – a few minutes to squelch the dough together, a one minute fold after it rests, and then a brief shape before the second prove.

It can still be heavy work manoeuvring four kilos of dough, but it’s a quick process, and I hope to be able to keep baking by hand for years to come. One more thing – I don’t wear gloves unless I have cuts on my hands. I do keep my nails very short though, and my fingers jewellery-free.

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DON’T bake with a flat starter

Just make a rule to never, ever do it. If the starter doesn’t pass the float test, don’t even think about making dough. You might end up with dough that rises a bit, but you’ll still be disappointed with the finished loaf.

My starter Priscilla can be temperamental – she can sulk, bubble over and turn grey – sometimes all on the same day. She’s a diva but I love her, and I probably spoil her more than my children. Some days, she just doesn’t want to play. When that happens, we eat pasta or I grab the instant yeast from the fridge and make a filled focaccia (the fillings help mask the flavour of the bakers yeast)…

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DON’T spend money on an expensive linen couche cloth

I know many (possible most) of my baking friends will disagree with me on this one, but this really didn’t work for me. A few years’ ago, I bought a roll of bakers’ couche from Chefs’ Warehouse. I’m still not sure what I did wrong – maybe I was supposed to season the cloth first – but the first batch of dough I put on it came out covered in fluff. So I tried washing the fabric, which then shrank to an unusable size.  I’m too Chinese to put wet dough onto fabric that can never be washed, so I gave up.

Thankfully, the following year I discovered the cotton tenegui from Daiso. These little towels are thin but strong, machine washable, and dough doesn’t stick to them. They’re now my default shaping cloths and they cost just $2.80 each…

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DON’T use an unlined banneton

In colder climates, leaving bannetons covered in flour and dried dough seems to be fine, but in Sydney, we just end up with bugs crawling all over them. I now line mine with the tenegui (see above) and haven’t had a problem since. I dust everything with fine semolina and even the wettest doughs don’t stick much. The cotton cloths go into the wash every few bakes and dry quickly on the line.

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DO bake in an enamel roaster

If there is one single change that took my bread from good to artisan, it was learning to bake in a pot. My friend Emilie put me on to it, and I’ve never looked back. I’m not sure where the trend started – it was either the original No Knead bread guy, or the folks at Tartine Bakery – but either way, they all recommend using heavy cast iron casserole pots to replicate a closed oven environment.

I tried that and scared myself silly lifting blazing hot, super heavy pots in and out of the oven. Then it occurred to me that we might be able to substitute the thin enamel roasters often used for camping – as far as I knew, no-one had ever done that before, and I can still remember workshopping the idea on Twitter with my friends Joanna and Carl. Here’s the post I wrote about it five years ago.

I ordered one online, and then two more, and now I bake all my loaves in them. They sit three across in my 90cm Smeg oven (thanks for showing me that, Clare!).

There are so many advantages in using these enamel roasters for bread!

Because they’re lightweight, you don’t have to preheat them, as they get hot almost immediately. They’re easy to handle, especially if you have old, sore hands like mine, and you’re much less likely to end up with serious burns (I make sure by using welding gloves). Best of all, they’re cheap, especially compared to cast iron, so it doesn’t matter if they get trashed a bit. I don’t even bother to wash mine!

The only downside is that they leave a ridged bottom on the finished loaf – I know some bakers have a problem with that.

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DO share your bread

I can offer two reasons for this one.

Firstly, baking bread takes a lot of practice.

I can write a tutorial that will teach you how to get a decent result from the get-go, but what turns a good baker into a great one is experience. You need to get a feel for how your starter responds to ambient temperatures, how proving times change with the seasons, how adding a bit more water changes the feel and consistency of the dough, and so on.

The good thing is that, at least in Australia, bread flour is cheap. Even though there was a substantial price rise at the end of last year because of the drought, we’re still paying under $1.50 per kilo in bulk. So you can practice to your heart’s content and it won’t bankrupt you.

The downside is that you end up with a lot of bread. Freezers get full pretty quickly, and in the end, you either have to share it, or beach yourself trying to eat it on your own.

Secondly, more than any other food in human history, bread was made to be shared. So much so that it’s written into our vernacular – we speak of “breaking bread” with friends and loved ones. Sharing bread can create communities, feed those around you, and spread joy. Very few things can build relationships and bring such enormous satisfaction for so little outlay in cost and effort…

I bake so much these days that we’ve started inventing our own vocabulary around it.  A large batch of Emilie’s twisted baguettes came out of the oven yesterday…

Pete: “what’s the collective noun for bread?”
Me: “no idea, maybe we should just make one up…”

Then I sent out this text:

“Neighbours, we have a GRUMBLE of wonky sourdough baguettes. Please come and get one!”

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DON’T sweat the small stuff

Just don’t worry about it!

So long as you don’t set fire to your oven like our friend Stephen nearly did, everything else should be ok. Loaves will vary from bake to bake, and baker to baker.

The way I see it, you have two options: you can either obsess about the holes in your crumb and the colour of your crust OR you can get excited each and every time about the fact that you’re actually BAKING BREAD and feeding those you love. Take my advice and adopt the second approach – you’re much more likely to persist with sourdough if you do.

Very little can’t be salvaged – burnt loaves have a lovely smokiness if you cut the thick crust off first and then toast them in slices. Flat loaves make great croutons or melba toast or breadcrumbs. Almost all mistakes are cheap and edible, either by humans or chickens or worms. Seriously, don’t worry about it!

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That’s really all I can think of right now. Ok, my lovely sourdough peeps, the floor is open – please feel free to disagree noisily with me (or add your own do’s and don’ts) in the comments below! ♥

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