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It’s beginning to feel very festive at our place!

The Christmas Elves have set up the tree – as always, Small Man dragged the tree up from under the house, assembled it, then added all the lights, before asking Big Boy and his girlfriend Monkey Girl to help him with the decorations. I think they did a wonderful job!

I’ve pulled out my Christmas sunnies

…and paired them this year with red Indian happy pants. Yes, I went walking in this outfit. If elastic waisted, hand printed cotton pants are your thing, I can highly recommend buying them from Parvez on Ebay. He’s been excellent to deal with and ships directly (for free!) from Jaipur, but you need to buy ten pairs at a time (I gave five away as early Christmas presents). Here’s the link.

My Chatbooks have arrived and they’re awesome

I made two Christmas cakes and gave one to my mum…

This year’s Christmas spirit is Drambuie 15, made with aged malt whisky…

…and a batch of homemade Chivas Regal irish cream (or “Mummy’s Little Helper”, as my girlfriends call it…)

Last week, chef Steve Manfredi offered me some of his gorgeous stone ground Italian flour to bake with. Molino Quaglia Petra flours are the secret behind the amazing pizzas being produced at his restaurant Pizzaperta at The Star Sydney. The Petra 3 is stone ground and wholemeal…

I took him a furoshiki full of cime di rapa and purslane from our garden as a thank you…

The flour was sheer joy to work with, producing a bouncy, pillowy dough that baked to perfection…

I’ve always found local stone ground flours heavy and unresponsive, but the Petra loaf was light and crispy with an elastic, open crumb. Thanks Steve! ♥

Speaking of bread…I’ve been baking like a madwoman.

Yesterday, I had three batches on the bench before 9am. The baguettes were straight from Emilie’s book, and the chocolate sourdough was a variation of her recipe as well, with two types of Belgian chocolate and added cacao nibs…

The three loaves at the top left are filled with walnuts and Lebanese fig paste. If you’re a bread baker, the paste is well worth seeking out (you should be able to get it at Arabic grocers). Each jar has a mountain of figs, sesame seeds and a hint of anise, and it works brilliantly in a filled focaccia or walnut loaf. Good for just eating with cheese as well.

The 800g jars at Harkola were just $5.50 – my preferred brand is the Salloum Bros. one on the left. Here’s the formula I used for my three loaves:

  • 100g bubbly starter
  • 1kg bread/bakers’ flour
  • 200g walnut halves
  • 200g Lebanese fig paste
  • 750g water
  • 18g fine sea salt

Our garden is full of leafy greens at the moment! We’ve planted shiso for the first time…

…and we’re harvesting this much cime di rapa every day for dinner…

We have a seasonal dinner with close friends every three months. The final one for 2017 had this amazing entree of bought and garden greens (purslane, shiso, basil and mint) on a green mole sauce…

The recipe came from Bread is Gold, a wonderful book by the amazing Massimo Bottura. All the recipes in the book were created by internationally renowned chefs who cooked at the Refettorio soup kitchen that Bottura created to use up waste food from Expo 2015 in Milan. There is a documentary about it on Netflix called “Theater of Life” – well worth watching if you get a chance…

My gorgeous neighbour Jane went on holidays to the Northern Territory and brought me back a grab bag of beautiful scrap fabric designed and printed by indigenous artists and craftswomen at the Bábbarra Women’s Centre in Arnhem Land. My friends know me so well!

The scanning of old photos continues. This one of Pete and Big Boy is priceless…love is letting your wife dress you and your toddler in matching homemade jungle print shorts…

Our hydrangeas have been stunning this year…

…and our daily walks have been blessed with views like this…

I hope you’re all enjoying the festive season as much as we are!

Much love from our house to yours! ♥

My friend Al laughed at me recently.

“You’re always figuring out how much everything costs!”, she said.

I had to laugh with her – I’ve been doing it for so long now that I don’t even notice. It was ironic too, because while I was telling her about buying broken bags of salt at bargain prices, we were busy eating at Anason in Barangaroo. The food was excellent, but certainly not cheap…

You see, whilst the adding up and counting costs began out of necessity, a lot of time has passed since then. It was important when Small Man was sick in hospital and Pete had been retrenched, but that was decades ago. And although we live a fairly moderate lifestyle now, we certainly aren’t stingy on ourselves.

So it’s intriguing that I still find so much joy in scrimping and saving. Is it that my Asian genes love a bargain? Maybe that plays a part. But after giving it more thought, I’ve decided that it also has to do with empowerment. I find it very reassuring to know that if the time ever came again that we had to survive on very little, we could.

Actually, survive isn’t the right word. I reckon we could thrive. We would eat our homemade sourdough at 60c a loaf, turn chicken bones into hearty meals, bake cakes with discounted tinned fruit, and cook up nourishing pasta soups.

Which is, in fact, how we eat now – not because we have to, but because we enjoy it. It feels like an important life lesson to pass on to Big Boy and Small Man – work hard, enjoy yourselves, but understand that if times ever get tough, you can always survive thrive on very little. I know too many people who equate contentment with a certain level of income, but life has shown us the hard way that it’s not something we always have control over. By practising frugality even when we don’t need to, we hope to model a mindset to our sons that will not just prepare them for, but allow them to embrace, the unpredictability of life.

. . . . .

On our last trip to Costco, baby barramundi from Humpty-Doo (it’s a real place, google it!) was discounted by 50%. We brought home two fish, cut off the heads, then filleted them. The four fillets (skin on) and the bones were dusted in seasoned flour and simply pan fried, then I microwaved the heads with black beans and spring onions.

Accompanied by stir fried garden vegetables and steamed rice, this was a delicious meal for four adults using just $10 worth of fresh local fish. See, I’m still adding up! Do you do it too? ♥

This guy…is going to be annoyed with me when he sees these photos…

It’s his own fault, of course, because he found this cool app that scans old photos very easily using a smartphone. Which means you all get to see what a hottie he was at nineteen…

I can’t tell you how well he looks after me. Or how grateful I am that he’s still in my life 35 years after we met, and that occasionally, he looks at me like this…

…and this…

As some of you already know, he’s had a rough time health-wise these past few years. Please don’t ask about it, as it’s not really my story to tell. But sometimes watching him in pain overwhelms me. I remember asking him years ago, in a weak moment, why so much stuff was happening to our family. Just as we were coming up for air after Small Man’s cancer and other health issues, Pete’s illness pulled us back under again.

My zen, philosophical husband was genuinely puzzled by the question.

“Babe, I think we’re very lucky. Our lives are perfect..” he said.

“You and I are closer than we’ve ever been, our sons love us and are still at home and want to spend time with us. We have a place to live, good friends and food to eat. What more could you ask for?”

I cried and cried, because he was, as always, completely right.

And I remembered that this was what I’d fallen madly in love with. It wasn’t just that he looked like a rock star at nineteen, or wielded a razor sharp wit that made me laugh and cry at the same time. It was his incredible mental discipline that appealed to my scattered, anxious, melodramatic nature. His strength under fire, his almost unfailingly positive outlook on the world, and his willingness to accept whatever life throws our way.

Over the years, we’ve faced our fair share of adversity together. I frequently quote that line from the final episode of M.A.S.H. where BJ tells Hawkeye…”I can’t imagine what this place would have been like if I hadn’t found you here”. Because whenever things have become too big for me to deal with, Pete has always been there. He was the one who held our screaming baby down inside nuclear imaging machines; he was the one who sat with my dad in hospital when Mum and I couldn’t cope anymore.

Then there’s this photo…

Big Boy was only six months old at the time and Pete was completely smitten. He used to come home from work at 7pm every night and wake him up to play – it drove me mental, but how could I say no? He’d missed a whole day’s worth of father-son time.

I’ve never known any boys to adore their father as much as mine do. They don’t actually need to say anything, because they’ve both tried so hard to be him. Which is great for me, because it means that they treat me as Pete does, with gentle teasing and great affection. And as you can see from the pic below, I appear to be nothing more than a cloning chamber…

So as I sit here, looking at all the old photos we’ve been scanning, I keep asking myself… how did this great and amazing thing happen? How did I meet this gorgeous man at eighteen, get to spend a lifetime with him, and still be completely besotted with him all these years later? It had to have been a miracle. ♥

. . . . .

Westley: Hear this now: I will always come for you.
Buttercup: But how can you be sure?
Westley: This is true love, you think this happens every day?

The Princess Bride, 1987

 

I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned this here before, but I’m a big fan of a company called Chatbooks.

They offer a really affordable way to print out the squillions of phone pics we all take. There are a couple of options – the most economical being a subscription (US$10 per 60 photos, one per page) or you can create custom books for a bit more (US$15 per 60 photos, plus $1 per 6 photos thereafter).

I put together three volumes from our recent trip to San Francisco. The 15cm/6″ square format is small, but the quality is high, and it’s an easy way to have holiday snaps on hand…

Chatbooks currently have a sale on until 3nd December (it’s just been extended by a day!)…

…so I’ve ordered a photo book of my morning walks as a Christmas present to myself. It was fun going through the iPhone camera roll and picking out my favourites…

The Chatbooks app works well on both my iPhone and iPad. The software is highly flexible – if you do decide to make a book, take your time to edit carefully to ensure that you get exactly what you want. You have the option to add or remove captions and dates, resize, add  in photos from other sources, and move items around within the book.

Custom covers (both hard and soft) are available, as are a variety of upgrade options. Customer service is efficient and helpful, and cheerfully provided by stay at home mums and dads across the US (how great is that?). Finally, they’ve recently rejigged their postage rates and international shipping is now ridiculously affordable – I paid just US$4 on  my last order.

This isn’t a paid promotion, nor do I have any affiliation with the company – I’m just a very happy customer and thought I’d tell you about them while the sale was still on!

I know, I know. I bang on about this all the time.

The very best part of sourdough baking (for me) is being able to share bread with others.

And as my friends on the Bay Run found out recently, if you stand still long enough, I’m likely to hand you a loaf. In turn, Sue and Mel shared their warm baguettes with our favourite barista Samira, and when I popped in for a coffee the following day, she asked me if I’d bake a fruit loaf for her.

I don’t normally bake to order, but I couldn’t refuse Sami – after all, she’s been cheerfully making brilliant decaf piccolos for me for over a year. So I took the box of dried fruit she gave me and baked three sourdough fruit loaves for her the next morning…

She was excited, but didn’t want to take all three loaves. I figured she could share one and take two home, which is exactly what she did. By the time Mel and Sue had made their way over for coffee, Sami had already cut up and handed out a whole loaf to customers. How cool is that!

Big Boy and I shared a hot buttered slice as we walked, and it was divine

I came home, fed up Priscilla, and made another batch. Here’s the formula I used:

  • 100g bubbly sourdough starter (see note)
  • 1kg bread/bakers flour
  • 700g – 750g water (the flour I’m currently using is very thirsty, so adjust the water quantity as needed)
  • 18g fine sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 100g dried dates, chopped
  • 50g dried apple, finely chopped
  • 50g dried apricots, chopped
  • 100g walnut pieces

Note: Over the past couple of years, I’ve adopted the current trend of using less starter in my sourdoughs, and the results have been very pleasing. You could, however, simply add the dried fruit and cinnamon to the basic overnight sourdough recipe and it should work fine.

1. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the starter, water, cinnamon and dried fruit.

2. Add the flour and salt, and squelch everything together with a clean hand. Cover and allow the dough to rest for about half an hour.

3. Uncover the dough and give it a brief knead in the bowl (less than a minute), then cover it again and allow to prove overnight.

4. The following morning, the dough should be well risen and puffy. Dust the bench with flour or fine semolina (my preference) and scrape out the dough. Stretch and fold it onto itself so that all sides are coated in flour – this makes it easier to work with. There are photos of this process in our earlier tutorial.

5. Divide the dough into two or three even pieces. I bake three smaller loaves in my ginormous oven, but you could just as easily bake two larger ones. If you have a tiny oven, just halve the quantities and bake a single loaf. Shape each piece into a ball, then let it sit on the bench for 15 minutes, covered in a tea towel. This short rest will make shaping the loaves much easier.

6. Shape each ball into a round or oval loaf, trying to keep as much fruit inside the loaf as possible. Sit each loaf on a sheet of parchment, or nestle it seam-side up in a tea-towel lined banneton. If you’re going to use bannetons, I suggest rolling the shaped dough in fine semolina first, which will help prevent sticking. Preheat the oven to 220C with fan. Allow the dough to prove until puffed up – about 30 minutes to an hour.

I line my bannetons with Tenegui (coarse weave cotton hand towels) from Daiso. They work brilliantly!

. . . . .

7. If using bannetons, carefully turn the loaves onto sheets of parchment and slash a long cut on the top, either in the middle or offset to one side. Try to avoid any bits of fruit.  Place each loaf into an enamel roaster and cover with lid. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

My grotty enamel roasters. I never bother to wash them!

8. Remove the lid and bake for a further 20 minutes (you might need a bit more time if you’re baking larger loaves). I like to reduce the temperature to 210C with fan at this point, as the sugars in the fruit can cause the top to burn a bit. Bake until well browned and hollow sounding.

. . . . .

In theory, you should let the loaves cool before slicing, but this bread was so delicious hot and smothered in butter that all I can really recommend is letting it rest for half an hour or so before cutting into it.

This is hands down my favourite fruit and nut sourdough so far! It doesn’t have raisins or sultanas in it, nor is there any added sugar, yet the dates, apples and apricots add rich sweetness and depth of flavour. The walnuts turn the dough a gorgeous purpley-grey which carries through to the finished bread.

I took a leaf out of Sami’s book and invited all the neighbours over for a slice…

. . . . .

Break bread with others, folks. Share the sourdough love as often as you can! ♥

PS. If you’re just starting out, you might enjoy our earlier sourdough tutorials:

Overnight Sourdough Tutorial

Overnight High Hydration Sourdough Tutorial

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