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Birthday Treats

I had a birthday last month.

It was meant to be a low key affair, as I’d been up at the crack of dawn to do a 6am airport run, but my friends decided otherwise. They arrived at our door at 5pm with champagne and homebaked cake. I felt very loved…

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My gorgeous mother, always the optimist, gave me birthday money to buy a dress. And as I do every year, much to her dismay, I bought myself a new fossil. This ammonite is a doozy, weighing in at 1.63 kilos (3.6lbs)…

Dating from the Cretaceous period (65-145 million years ago), it’s covered in gloriously intricate suture patterns…

It’s not a perfect specimen, which meant I actually could afford it. The back has a beautiful translucent agatised section (often incorrectly referred to as “jade”)…

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Returning from a visit to Singapore (and arriving at 6am on my birthday), Big Boy brought back treasures from my bae-by sister. I thought salted egg fish skin crisps would be an acquired taste, but everyone I’ve served them to has loved them. They’re highly addictive…

This beautiful Turkish tea pot and copper plate were a gift from Cynthia as well, and a perfect match to our dining room decor…

Big Boy and Monkey Girl gave me these adorable sake cups with tiny goldfish in them…

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During the week of my birthday, I got to meet two of my oldest online friends in person!

On the Monday, I walked the Bay Run with lovely Nancy from Tokyo (who used to blog at Plus Ate Six). We had delicious bacon and egg rolls by the water and chatted non-stop for a couple of hours…

Bless her, she brought me Clover crochet hooks and a shopping bag she’d made. Oh, and a floating pig, which I tried to wear as a fascinator (it’s actually designed to hold soaking or boiling vegetables under water)…

The following Sunday, I met up (finally) with darling Emilie of The Clever Carrot fame! We had such a good time running around the city that we completely forgot to take photos, so I’ll share a funny story with you instead.

Em caught a bus into Central to meet us, but it turned out that there were three bus stops called “Central Station” and the bus driver told her to get off at the wrong one. She didn’t have wifi or mobile coverage and, slightly concerned, I went looking for her. Pete was with me, so I made him sit at the Broadway bus stop holding Em’s book (which I’d brought with me to get her to sign) in case she walked past. We found each other in the end, and oh how we laughed when we did…

Emilie brought me a gorgeous crystal bracelet, a bar of lavender and honey goat soap, and a crazy tin of putty, which you can actually draw on with an enclosed UV light. The boys have been having a field day with it…

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Finally, let me show you the gift from our friend and neighbour, Maude. Like Nancy, she’s also a mad crocheter, and you might recall how she crocheted covers for the armrests of our car a couple of years ago.

This year, she decided they needed replacing, so she made a new set for my birthday. Over the course of a few weeks, she would walk across the road, pick up our keys, and sit in our stationary car, crocheting away. The new covers are made from heavy duty cotton which Maude tried to colour match to the seats, and they fit snuggly.

“You can wash the other ones now..” she told me.

Seriously, I have the best (and bossiest) friends in the world. ♥

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I caught up with my friend Allison recently at the fabulous Steam Engine in Chatswood. Not only do they make great coffee, they also encourage folks to bring their own reusable cups by showing them exactly how much goes to landfill from one takeaway coffee a day…

Inspired, I decided to add to my KeepCup set.

After eight months and over 150 uses, my baby 4oz cup is still as good as new. This week I added a large cup for herbal teas and a 6oz cup for iced piccolos. I toyed with the idea of just buying a large one, but my baby cup has a permanent coffee aroma, and I was keen to have a dedicated one for tea.

If you’re in Sydney’s Inner West, Caffe Bianchi in Leichhardt has the full range on offer (it can be hard to find the smaller sizes in coffee shops), or you can order directly from KeepCup. Doing the latter lets you choose your own colours as well…

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Our beeswax wraps are going strong!

Here’s how our Korean dinner party prep looked a few weeks ago. My homemade cloths aren’t as sticky as the commercial ones, but it’s nothing a rubber band can’t fix. We haven’t used any clingfilm so far this year…

Being Chinese, I’m probably washing the wraps more often than recommended, and I noticed recently that the wax coating was slowly wearing down. So I rewaxed a pile of them – it took just a couple of minutes and the addition of a small amount of sheet wax – and now they’re as good as new! If you’d like to have a go making some, our tutorial is here.

One last tip – if you have a friend who keeps bees, ask them to buy the beeswax foundation sheets for you. My friend Ian picked some up for me at under $2 each, compared to the $3.50 per sheet charged at candle shops. Having said that, each sheet will wax a piece of fabric up to eight times its size, so it’s still remarkably good value compared to buying them ready made!

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The cloth napkins and crocheted/knitted dishcloths are going well – we haven’t used a paper napkin all year, and we’re still on our first roll of paper towels. There’s more effort involved – a bit more washing and a lot more folding, but it’s well worth it. As I mentioned last time, having a large stack of napkins reduces the need to wash too often.

The tenegui from Daiso that I used to make the napkins have been perfect – they’re pilling a bit after three months, but still holding up otherwise, and they wash and line dry very quickly. Most importantly, I don’t have to iron them!

I’ve cut up an old waffle weave bedspread and turned it into towels – they’re super absorbent for everything from drying vegetables to wiping up spills…

All the towels and dishcloths are stored in a drawstring bag in the kitchen, ready for use at a moment’s notice…

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I’m making scrubbers from acrylic yarn (this ball was $2 at the Reject Shop) and they work brilliantly on pots and dishes. I simply crochet a small square, fold it in half and then crochet around the edges to form a double layer. I’ve found these work quite well in cotton too, providing the stitch is a bit tighter (smaller hook)…

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The furoshiki continue to be a great success.

I don’t take shopping bags anymore as the cloths live permanently in my handbag. They’re surprisingly strong and can hold up to twice as much as a regular plastic shopping bag. At home, we use them to wrap everything from lunch boxes to excess linen to loaves of bread. A couple of my furoshiki have even become fashion accessories, thanks to these snazzy magnetic handles that Kevin and Carol bought me in Japan…

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Finally, the Bokashi has stalled temporarily while we figure out what to do with the broken down waste material.

The system performs well for the most part (there are some things which it can’t seem to process like pork rind and processed meats), and our original thinking was to feed all the waste to the worms after it had fermented. However, we also collect our vegetable scraps for the worms, and they seem to far prefer that to the Bokashi waste.

We’ve just invested in a second worm farm which we plan to keep just for Bokashi scraps. Pete was also mumbling something yesterday about soldier fly larvae (which apparently eat the scraps very quickly) and engineering a device to add to the second worm farm so we can collect pupating larvae for the chickens…and it was all so gross that I switched off. Suffice to say that I’ll just keep sewing cloth napkins and crocheting dishcloths and leave all of that to him…

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So, what can we improve?

We’ve reduced our paper bag usage, but I think we can still do better there. And while I always have my reusable coffee cup, I don’t always remember to take my plastic containers to the deli. We’ve invested in sturdy plastic storage containers for the fridge and freezer (glass would be preferable, but we find it too heavy), but a lot of plastic takeaway containers are still coming into the house.

Parchment paper is an ongoing problem – it’s non-recyclable, but I don’t like the result I get from baking on silicon mats. I’m reusing each sheet twice (three bakes at high heat is all it can take before it starts to crumble apart), but it’s still not ideal.

Being more aware of what we purchase means that our food waste has reduced, so that even with the Bokashi temporarily on hiatus, we’re still managing to keep our  household rubbish down to one kitchen bin bag a week. I’m making the boys eat a lot of leftovers! Unfortunately, the compostable bags we bought are quite flimsy, so we’re occasionally having to use an old fashioned plastic one.

I think the next area of focus will be really looking at how the goods which come into our house are packaged. Whilst a lot of packaging materials can be recycled (the soft plastics can be REDcycled), there are still some items (like polystyrene) that need to go straight into the red bin.

I’ll keep you posted on how we go!

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A couple of years ago, I attended a fabulous 40th reunion of my year 6 class…

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Somewhat surprisingly for folks who hadn’t seen each other in four decades, we became instant friends all over again and many of us have kept in touch ever since.

One of the best things for me has been reconnecting with my old girlfriends Jenny, Helen, Alison and Anita. Not only do we lunch on a regular basis, but we also cook together! Last Easter we spent a day baking hot cross buns, followed a few months later by a lesson in sourdough, which they all took to like ducks to water. As a result, I recently came home from Southern Cross Supplies with 62.5kg of bakers flour in my boot, having picked up a bag each for the girls…

This Easter Saturday, we got together again for a day in the kitchen.

While the hot cross bun dough was rising, my lovely friend Carol (who was also with us last year) taught everyone how to fold dumplings

We produced a hundred or so dumplings…

…and then ate them all for lunch (Small Man helped)…

After the buns were shaped and left to rise again, I put my friends to work making dark chocolate eggs. Everyone ended up with one to take home, and Pete and I ate the rejects for dessert that night…

After baking, it was time to glaze…

In the end, we produced eight dozen hot cross buns…not a bad day’s work! Best of all, the whole lot fit into my big Smeg oven in one go. We had the perfect number of people for the space and time available…

I stole a few buns for my boys (but by that stage, I’d already baked eleven dozen, so we were pretty bunned out), and my friends took the rest home. As everyone had brought their own containers, we happily didn’t use a single plastic bag. It looked like a meeting of the CWA…

I think Easter Saturday bake day is set to become a tradition at our house! ♥

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Do you have time for a cuppa? I’d love to catch you up on what’s been happening over the past couple of weeks. I should warn you though – this is a loooong post!

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Firstly, an update on our attempts to try and reduce our household waste. It’s been four weeks now, and we’ve filled our first bokashi bin. It will sit on the back deck under cover for a further three weeks, during which time the contents should ferment into a compostable form.

I’ll let you know how it goes, but we’ve been really pleased so far – it does smell a bit, but not nearly as much as I thought it would, especially given the fish heads I put in there a fortnight ago. And the smell is more of a fermenting odour rather than a rotting one. I think the bins that we bought – Maze 12L Indoor Composters – are particularly good as they have a rubber seal which keeps them reasonably airtight. Some of the others (including the larger Maze one) just have a loose flap on top.

Using these for a month has led to a huge reduction in the amount of waste we have to throw out each week…

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We’ve made a concerted effort to reduce our use of paper towels as much as possible. The family are loving the cloth napkins – I’m not sure they’ll ever go back to paper! I’ve found that we needed a lot more than I thought we would – we’ve currently got two dozen on rotation, which means I only need to wash once every five days or so.

I’m also making more cotton dishcloths – not wiping up spills with paper towels means we need more of these as well. I’m trying a crocheted version this time, but it’s been twenty years since I last picked up a hook, so there’s a bit of relearning to do. By the way, if you’re making these, Bendigo Mills has the most gorgeous seasonal colours on sale at the moment (link is here). The 200g balls are $12 and equivalent to four regular balls in weight. I get about ten dishcloths from each one.

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The mesh bags are working a treat! I know it’s not essential to colour match the veg to the bags, but it did make for a lovely photo…

Last night, I plugged in my headphones, listened to a James Herriot audiobook, and whipped up a stack of these for family and friends…

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We’ve repaired our laundry basket for the umpteenth time. Every six months of so, we talk about replacing it, but we can never figure out what to do with the old one…

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I’ve picked up a big batch of socks from Richard the podiatrist – unfortunately the sockless scanning technology didn’t work out, so he still has oodles to get rid of. If you’re new to our blog, you can read the whole story here and here. I’ve washed and sterilised them all, and will donate half to charity this winter.

The remaining half I’m turning into a sock blanket and oil bottle drip savers…

I cut the top band off the socks I’m using for the  blanket, but they were too good to waste, so I zigzagged the raw edges and we now use them in place of rubber bands…

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Our lovely neighbour Ellen gave us a couple of rolls of Who Gives A Crap toilet paper to try. I’m sure they’re a great organisation, and the paper is fine, but after much discussion, Pete and I have decided that we need to buy Australian made.  Pete has concerns about the environmental cost of shipping toilet paper from China, whereas I feel that we have so little manufacturing left in Australia that we need to support locally made wherever possible. Obviously this is a personal choice, and I have a lot of friends buying from Who Gives A Crap who are extremely happy with their service and product…

For what it’s worth, I’ve done a bit of research, and our big producers – Kleenex, Sorbent and Quilton – all source their fibre from FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) accredited forests. They all manufacture here. Quilton is fully Australian owned; Kimberly-Clark (makers of Kleenex) now have the Greenpeace seal of approval and donate to the World Wildlife Fund (this article by the Guardian is particularly interesting).

All of the above come in plastic wrap, but if you buy in bulk, there’s only one piece of plastic packaging to REDcycle every six weeks (as opposed to individually wrapped rolls or two-packs).

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Our rubbish going into the red bin each week is now down to just half a kitchen bin bag. We’ve found these plastic-free Maze bin liners made from starch. They’re expensive, but we only use one a week now, so that’s not a problem…

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Small Man was immediately on board with our waste reduction attempts, but Big Boy has taken a little longer to get his head around it all. So I was very chuffed this week when he packed himself a pita pocket for lunch, wrapped it in a beeswax wrap and then a furoshiki. Success!

And on the topic of the beeswax wraps, they’ve been the bee’s knees (ugh..sorry). We haven’t used a single piece of clingfilm or a new plastic bag in over a month (we have used recycled bags though). If you haven’t made any of these, I’d encourage you to have a go. And for what it’s worth, we tried adding a little jojoba oil to them, but I really can’t notice a difference, so I’d suggest you save the dollars and just use the wax sheets. Our tutorial on making them is here.

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Moving on to other things…

Dianmari left me a comment last post about substituting leftover sourdough starter for yoghurt in cakes. It worked! I tried it in the blueberry coffee cake – our starter Priscilla is never particularly acidic, but the cake was delicious nonetheless. Pete thought it tasted a bit like berry pancakes. Worth experimenting with if you have leftover starter! The tip was originally in this post by Chocolate and Zucchini…

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Our neighbour Mark allowed us to raid his fig tree this year, and Pete turned the surplus crop into amazing fig and nectarine jam…

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We visited Carriageworks a couple of weeks ago to view  the Katharine Grosse installation. It was magnificent, but we were all troubled by the massive amount of fabric used – 8,000 metres of super heavy duty canvas. And given that the work was spray painted after the fabric was hung, it would be impossible to rehang it anywhere else. One of the volunteers told us that the fabric was all going to be unpicked and then shipped (!) back to Germany to the artist. I hope she turns it into something else…

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A cooking class update on lovely Stephen, who nearly set fire to his kitchen baking his first solo loaf of sourdough. His second loaf was rustic but serviceable.

His third loaf was unbelievably good – it looked like the product of a fancy artisan bakery.  He told me he’d “done some reading” and that because he was adding rye to the mix, he’d had to judge the water quantity “by feel”. Watch this space, folks. I’ll let you know when he opens his microbakery…

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I placed my first online order with Harris Farm and was delighted with how my goods arrived. Apart from the carrots and onions (which I’d ordered in bags – obviously I still have a lot to learn) and the half a celery, the remaining veg were all loose in the cardboard box. They’d clearly made an effort to carry through their plastic-free stance to home delivery.

A tip – if you subscribe to the Harris Farm newsletter (at the bottom of this webpage), they’ll email you a barcode that will give you 5% off all vegetable purchases in store. And the first time I used my code, they emailed me a $20 introductory voucher for their online service…

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I finally tried Emilie’s sourdough pita breads, and they’re fabulous! It’s from her book Artisan Sourdough Made Simple – have you picked up your copy yet?

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Last Sunday, I baked three burnished loaves of sourdough…

…and traded them with Tom of Living Fossil Gallery for a $15 discount on this 400 million year old orthoceras plate. If you ever want to get into fossil collecting, orthocerases are a great place to start. They’re very affordable, and highly underrated in my opinion…

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Finally, let me end this long-winded ramble with a couple of photos from yesterday morning’s walk. The sky was filled with the most amazing cotton wool clouds…

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If you’ve made it all the way to the end, thanks for reading! It’s been lovely having a cup of tea with you! ♥

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Marvellous Things

A few of the marvellous things which have made us smile over the past few weeks!

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Pete and I had our 29th wedding anniversary recently. As always, we celebrated with our darling friends Nicholas and Mary, who were married on the same day of the same year. We’ve spent the last 22 anniversaries together and this year we spoiled ourselves with lunch at Cirrus Dining in Barangaroo

After a fabulous meal, Mary and I wandered over to the Rocks Markets while the boys enjoyed a cool drink at the MCA Colour Bar…

At the markets, I bought this glass jellyfish from Argyle Glass. It’s marvellous. Especially as it was handmade by Marc in Sydney and it only cost $25. I picked up the colour-change light stand for an extra $10…

Best of all, it glows in the dark!

Argyle Glass are at the Rocks Markets every weekend – here’s a photo I took of Marc at work in 2015 (from this post)…

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As you know, I think fossils are properly marvellous, and as a collector, I was very chuffed to pick up some gorgeous pieces at great prices from my mate Tom at Living Fossil Gallery today. He also has a stall at the Rocks Markets, as well as a gallery in Mosman.

This cleoniceras ammonite is quite a common fossil, but the carving is very unusual – it’s a fish on one side…

…and a dragon on the other. It’s my first ever carved piece, and I love that it still retains some of its mother-of-pearl lustre…

On the other hand, this specimen is quite rare and collectible. As I now have quite a few, I try to only buy ammonites which are different, and I’d never seen one like this before…

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Until the 18th February, Word: MCA Collection and the Jon Campbell exhibitions are on at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Focusing on art pieces associated with text and language, they’re both marvellous. The Campbell one is colourful, bright and very Australian…

Word includes these great public health posters from the late 70s and 80s…

…and these artworks by Toni Robertson…

My favourite piece was this wall-sized painted canvas by Richard Bell – unfortunately a small photo doesn’t really do it justice…

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Our quest to live greener in 2018 has started quite well.

In an attempt to reduce our paper usage, I decided to make cloth napkins. We actually tried this 20 years ago, but the cotton damask we used at the time wrinkled badly after washing, and I wasn’t keen to spend hours ironing. This time I used coarse weave cotton tenegui (tea towels) that I’d bought from Daiso to make furoshiki

I simply cut each one in half and hemmed the unfinished edge. These wash well, wrinkle very little, and dry in a flash, which makes them ideal for napkins. And being able to use a cloth with a monkey’s arse or mating pandas on it? That’s marvellous

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The morning walks continue – by the water on weekdays, and often in the city on weekends. We’re fortunate to have Shepard Fairey street art on public display in Sydney at the moment – from this mammoth multi-storied mural on George Street…

…to these posters in Spice Alley…

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Big Boy and I are always entranced by the light shows on our morning walks. In winter, the sun reflects off the water onto the pedestrian overpass, but in summer, the patterns appear under the motorway bridge. Glorious, joyous, marvellous…here’s what it looked like at the start of our walk one morning last week…

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…and again as we headed towards home an hour later…

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Finally, anything that makes us laugh is marvellous, right? Well, discovering this sign language symbol made me roar with laughter, so naturally I had to share!

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Wishing you all a fun week ahead, filled with marvellous things! ♥

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