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Life is gentle and mellow at the moment.

After a fairly tumultuous few years, it’s a joy to be able to kick back and take things a bit easier. Big Boy and I have started walking each morning – it’s amazing how interesting and beautiful our neighbourhood is at ground level…

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My aim is to get 8,000 steps a day.

I know it’s supposed to be 10,000, but I’ve decided to give myself 1,000 steps off for every five years over forty. Actually, I worked backwards from eighty, and figured I’d only be up for 2,000 steps a day by then.

I was happily walking in my red Zennis, until I realised that my face was getting a heart-shaped “raccoon eyes” tan. Now I alternate my sunglasses when I walk…

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This sign made me laugh – Big Boy (23) won’t hold my hand any more, but he does stop me from getting run over when we’re crossing roads…

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The bag making craze continues – I’m happily sewing away on my old industrial machine while listening to David Attenborough’s Life on Air on Audible.

I’ve turned an old paella rice bag into an iPhone and house key holder for use when visiting the neighbours…

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A scruffy piece of green leather became a zippered clutch bag (thanks again for the tassel, Nancy!)…

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I found a book of designer dress samples and sewed tetrahedral jewellery bags…

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At dinner with my old school friends Anita and Alison, we decided that these teeny Windstopper pouches were the perfect size for condoms (Anita and I have sons, so “condom” is never a dirty word in our homes)…

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My darling friend BJ’s baby was ten days overdue. I promised to make her a bag for each day – here’s the completed collection, minus the one I’d already given her…

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We’ve been eating microwaved corn. Would you like to know how we cook it? It’s really the easiest thing.

Step 1: Buy super-fresh corn still in the husk…

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Step 2: Don’t wash it, don’t peel it, just stick it onto the turntable plate of your microwave. Set power to high and microwave for 2½ – 3 minutes. We like to turn it over halfway through to ensure even cooking. Peel carefully (it will be very hot) and eat…

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My young friend Luca drove me to Reverse Garbage – it’s been a while since I was last there, but it hasn’t changed much (although everything is massively more expensive than it used to be)…

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I picked up a handful of zippers while I was there – a couple of them were damaged, so I turned the pulls into earrings…

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On Saturday, we held a Japanese themed vegetarian dinner party. For starters, we served miso eggplant, sesame spinach and a dressed salad…

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On Sunday, we had dinner with my mum. She ordered softshell crab in salted egg yolk for me – it’s my favourite!

I love that her local restaurant only has signs in Chinese, but it does make ordering tricky. “Point and chew”, my friend PeteV calls it…

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I don’t have any new bread formulas or techniques to share with you, as I’ve been enjoying the rhythm of baking familiar loaves each week. This was a double batch of our high hydration sourdough – five of the six loaves went to neighbours…

The high hydration focaccias, however, are always eaten by my boys…

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As I said, life is gentle and mellow for us at the moment. I hope it is for you too. ♥

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My fossil and mineral collection is growing.

Mostly I add small pieces to it, like the tiny coiled trilobites in the photo above (just under the mosasaur tooth), or the $15 sand dollar (which is actually the fossilised remains of a sea urchin, even though it looks like a starfish).

A recent addition though is this giant hunk of amethyst, which I found irresistible. My friend Tom had it at his stall in the Rocks Markets, and offered me a price on it that I couldn’t refuse (please don’t ask).

I’d never seen a piece of raw amethyst with such a deep purple colour before! What makes this one particularly special though is that it was cut from three intersecting stalactites – you can see their cores on the top of the specimen. I love how two of them have fused together to form a heart shape.

It comes from Artigas, Uruguay…

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It’s hard to capture just how lovely this is in a photo – under the right lights, purple fire seems to glow from within the rock. My young friends Tom and Grace are convinced it’s a dragonstone! Because amethyst is a form of quartz, it’s translucent…

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Another new piece is this tiny estaingia bilobata trilobite, my first Australian fossil and the oldest piece I own. It comes from Kangaroo Island and it’s a lower Cambrian fossil (520 million years old). Australian trilobites are very rare and expensive compared to those from Morocco, so it’s a huge treat to have this one in my collection. It’s only 15mm long – not nearly as big as the photo below…

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Finally, an early Christmas present from my mum – she saw me lusting over this magnificent specimen and took pity on me. It’s a large piece from Peru, covered in an unusual combination of pyrite (in cube and octahedron form) and points of white quartz. The dark shiny bits are galena, a natural mineral form of lead…

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All these pieces were bought from Tom at the Living Fossil Gallery (Mosman and the Rocks Market). When we last spoke, he asked me if I’d bake him some sourdough – I was, of course, more than happy to do so. Last Friday, he zoomed over on his Harley to pick up a couple of loaves, and gave me these tiny fossilised nautiluses as a gift. Given they’re 160 million years old, I think I got the better end of the deal!

Remember when Winnie-the-Pooh gave Eeyore a Useful Pot for his birthday?

Well, I’ve been sewing Useful Bags.

I use these all the time, and the ones I’d made ten years ago were finally starting to wear out. So I went rummaging in my sewing room and came across a box of Polartec fleece and Gore Windstopper scraps.

I started off with drawstring glasses cases…

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These are a doddle to make and extremely versatile – I used to pack drink bottles in them for school. As the fleece doesn’t fray, there’s no need to finish the seams. Here are the instructions I sketched in my journal…

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I then moved on to zippered pouches. These really are useful bags…

So far, friends and family have taken them for (yes, I’m keeping a list!)…

  • beanie toys
  • calculators
  • saxophone mouth parts
  • sketchbooks
  • coloured pencils
  • acupuncture needles
  • earphones and headphones
  • cables and phone chargers
  • makeup
  • passports
  • mobile phones
  • epipens
  • sunglasses
  • lollies
  • crystal stones
  • coins
  • medicines
  • tissues
  • journals

These are a bit trickier to assemble, but still pretty easy if you know how to sew in a zip. Here are some basic instructions…

Step 1: Start with a piece of fleece or windstopper a bit wider than your zip. My zips are 7″ long, so I cut my fabric 8″ x 8″…

Step 2: Sew one side of the zip to the edge of the fleece, right sides facing. Offset the needle so that it stitches close to the teeth of the zip. Use a long stitch length and loosen the tension slightly…

Step 3: Fold the zip under and topstitch close to the edge…

Step 4: Repeat on the other side. You might need to sew half way, lift the machine foot, wriggle the zipper pull out of the way, then lower the foot and sew the rest of the seam. Topstitch again carefully (it’s a bit fiddlier this time)…

Step 5: Turn the bag inside out and pin the edges together. I like to position the zipper close to or slightly down from the top edge of the bag…

Step 6: Stitch the sides together. Move the zipper pull out of the way if necessary…

Step 7: Turn the bag right side out and poke the corners out with a point turner or knitting needle. Finished!

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There you have it, two easy ways to sew a Useful Bag. They’re almost as much fun to make as they are to give away!

PS. Just for fun, I also made these pyramid shaped bags. They’re very cute, but not very useful…

In my kitchen…

…is a double batch of our high hydration sourdough, shaped into boules and ciabattas. I bake all the loaves in my enamel roasters…

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In my kitchen…

…was a quarter turkey Römertopf roast, with stale sourdough stuffing. This quantity is always more than enough to feed our family…

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The following day, my clever hubby turned the leftovers – including the stuffing and the cranberry sauce – into a delicious pasta dinner…

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In my kitchen…

…are dark Belgian chocolate rochers

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In my kitchen…

…was a batch of shortbread, made quietly and gently one Sunday morning…

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In my kitchen…

…are cans of sustainable tuna by John West. I was so happy to find these for sale at Costco. If you’re interested in reading more on the topic of sustainability, there is an excellent Choice article here, and John West’s FAQ page here

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In my kitchen…

…is a stuffed sourdough roll, filled with Italian prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes, cheddar cheese and broccoli rabe from the garden…

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In my kitchen…

…is the latest delivery from Cactus Skincare.

Charlie from Hotly Spiced put me on to this company a couple of years ago. Serendipitously, owner Deborah used to live in our neighbourhood!

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m really not very girly, but I find Deb’s products excellent, and I use them daily. They don’t make my skin feel icky like a lot of the big name brands do…

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In my kitchen…

…was a Römertopf roast duck. I’m always so chuffed with the duck fat and concentrated stock leftover – I stash them in the fridge and freezer for later meals…

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In my kitchen…

…are glasses cases, made from scrap fleece. It’s always nice to dust off the sewing machine for a quick project…

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Tell me, what’s happening in your kitchen?

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…

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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!

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