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Our Urban Village

I came home recently to find teenagers on our back deck, using our wifi.

Don’t worry, they had permission. The internet had gone down at their house, so they’d hot-footed it across the road to use ours. The fact that we weren’t home didn’t make any difference.

And for the umpteenth time since we moved here nearly 30 years ago, I gave thanks for this wonderful urban village that we live in.

We love our house, but it’s just bricks and mortar at the end of the day – what makes it special is the neighbourhood it’s located in. I recently came across a post I wrote six years ago, and it occurred to me that while some of the faces have changed, the essence of our community hasn’t. It’s still a street where folks say hello, share food and conversation, and look out for one other. And it made me wonder – what makes a neighbourhood a village? Why is our little corner of the inner west so magical?

When I was a child, I desperately wanted to live in a village. Perhaps it’s what every new immigrant wants – when my parents arrived in the late 1960s, barely speaking English and the only Chinese family in the area, they left behind all their loved ones. I was only four, but old enough to remember the noise and laughter and camaraderie that filled our house back in Malaysia. We went back for (very) occasional visits as I was growing up, and I have vivid memories of family and friends, gathered around kitchen tables, eating and talking loudly. It seemed to be a wonderful way to live.

So I feel incredibly lucky to have found this neighbourhood.

I love that we’re able to share our food, time and resources in a relaxed, easy way. Mark mows our front lawn, Jane brings me cocktails, and last week, Graeme dropped over sashimi plates and smoked meats. PeteV bought us a fancy bluetooth thermometer for Rosie the Smoker, so that we could sleep through the night rather than getting up three times to check the thermostat. Maude spends early mornings crocheting and drinking tea with me, Margaret made us a jar of her secret family chutney, and on a really good day, June will drop over a plate of her amazing Hungarian cabbage rolls.

In return, we hand out loaves of bread, share our old vintage ports and force feed everyone experimental chocolate. Last weekend, we pulled out an entire bed of perennial leeks from the garden and left them on the back deck so that the neighbours could come and help themselves.

I say “in return”, but in truth, it’s never been a case of quid pro quo. None of us keep track of what we’re giving or receiving, because what’s actually happening is that we’re building a community. Every neighbourly exchange gives us an opportunity to interact, nourish and build relationships, while always respecting each other’s personal space.

It also makes our village a safer place to live – when Pete and I go away, the boys have a dozen numbers to call of folks who will drop everything and run over if they need help (not that it’s such an issue now that they’re both adults). We keep an eye on each other’s houses, chase runaway pets down the road, and text when we think something might be amiss.

Let me give you an example of how well it all works. Darling Norma passed away a couple of months ago at the grand old age of 92. She’d had several strokes and couldn’t remember our names anymore, but she’d been able to keep living at home, on her own, largely because of her neighbours on both sides. They would drive her to doctors’ appointments, take out her rubbish, ring to tell her there was someone at the door (she was quite deaf), and so much more. Norma was born on our street, but it was Jane and Jacinta’s love and care that made it possible for her to spend her final days here.

Over the years, we’ve watched our sons and the other neighbourhood babies grow up and head off into the world, going to university, travelling overseas, starting careers and getting married. I hope that one day, they too will all find villages of their own. ♥

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Chocolatey Things

It’s been a sweet month!

When I picked up my chocolate order from Chefs’ Warehouse recently, Ezra offered me a taste of the new Callebaut Ruby. It’s brand new – Callebaut are calling it the fourth type of chocolate. Made from the Ruby cacao bean, it has a distinct, tangy flavour and the pink colour is completely natural.

Here’s some info about it from the manufacturer’s website…

 

 

Naturally, I had to bring a bag home to play with! My first attempt at tempering it was a bit dodgy, but the second batch was perfect. I found it sets well at 88°F (31.1C), with a similar texture to white chocolate (possibly because of the added milk powders). Isn’t it pretty!

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Halloween has come and gone for 2018 and as usual, we were left with a mountain of uneaten trick or treat candy. I cut up 350g of Snickers, Mars Bars, Milky Ways and M&Ms and added them to a batch of sourdough (1kg flour) – a riff on Emilie’s chocolate bread from Artisan Sourdough Made Simple. The Halloween loaves are always too sweet for me, but Michi and Jemima love them, so I baked them each a loaf…

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It’s HSC time again in Sydney (final end of school exams) and this year’s care packages were filled with chocolate cane toads. Big Boy and Monkey Girl were roped in to help with the wrapping…

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On the weekend, I revisited an old favourite – our Guinness chocolate cake recipe. I couldn’t find any Irish stout in the pantry, so I raided Big Boy’s beer stash for a couple of bottles of Monteith’s Black Beer. The result was a very dark, not overly sweet and slightly bitter chocolate cake that the kids and neighbours smashed. It has a texture similar to a devil’s food cake and baked perfectly in my 12 cup bundt pan…

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Christmas is coming and the chocolate experimenting has begun! This year’s gifts will include these chocolate thins, made with a 50/50 blend of Callebaut 811 (54% dark) and 823 (milk), mixed with feuilletine flakes and spread out thinly on textured acetate sheets. My mother adored these, and as she isn’t usually a fan of chocolate, I think that’s a good indicator of their universal appeal…

This year we’ll be wrapping them in our rescued food safe paper from Reverse Garbage instead of cellophane bags…

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Finally…and this isn’t a chocolatey thing at all…my lovely friend Margot surprised me with this painted wooden spoon last week. She commissioned clever Australian artist Emma Palmer to create it for me from a photo. This pic was taken by Emma

It’s now hanging on our dining room wall and Small Man is somewhat perturbed by the fact that the eyes seem to follow him around the room (it’s because of the concave shape of the spoon, he tells me).

I absolutely LOVE it…what do you think? Does it look like me?

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Wishing you all a very happy, chocolate-filled week! ♥

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A Long Catch Up

Hello lovelies, how are you all?

Sorry the blog has been so quiet – I’ve been busy making, baking, mending and cooking, which means I’m not online very much these days. But if you have time for a cuppa, I’d love to catch you up on all our latest projects.

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First our big news…we’ve bought ourselves a barbecue smoker! I’ve wanted one for about five years (ever since I first watched BBQ Pittmasters) but Pete took a bit more convincing. In the end, he agreed to a pellet smoker, which enables us to smoke (the American term for cooking low and slow over wood or charcoal) without the need to chop wood or light charcoal.

Our Traeger 34 Pro has electric ignition and a thermostat controlled auger, which feeds the 100% hardwood pellets through as needed. She’s an absolute beauty and the simplest thing to use! It’s our 30th wedding anniversary gift (in advance) and we’ve named her Rosie after the robot maid in The Jetsons. Can you see the resemblance?

We’ve only had her a week, but Rosie has already turned out a delicious six hour blade roast…

…and amazing pork belly, which we finished off on a cast iron griddle…

Stay tuned for more bbq adventures…we’re working our way through this fabulous book by Stephen Raichlen

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The denim mania continues, and the pile of $2 Salvos jeans is slowly growing in my sewing room. On top of that, my friends are now delivering their old jeans directly to our place!

Lovely Diana brought me her husband Ian’s old Wranglers – they’d originally belonged to her son Giles, but Ian had inherited them to wear as farm pants. Unfortunately, huge holes had worn through on the knees, making them unsuitable for hard yakka (that’s downunder speak for “hard work”).

Other than the knees, the denim was in excellent condition and I was loathe to cut them up, so I mended them. I unpicked the side seams and sewed denim patches in place, then reinforced over the top with lines of straight stitching, then restitched the seams closed.

Ian was absolutely delighted! As was I when I received Di’s wonderful photos of him wearing them around their farm..

I thought it might be fun to add labels to my denim creations, so I dragged out my Print Gocco set, burnt a screen, and stamped some old twill tape I had stashed away (it occasionally pays to be a bower bird)…

I sewed together the waistbands leftover from apron making and added the labels to the reverse side – they make great placemats…

These decorative feathers were a doddle to make – they’re simply cut from the side seams and fringed…

On Lorraine’s advice, I sewed denim hand towels to use with Rosie the BBQ. I added a little sashiko embroidery just for fun…

Diana loved Ian’s jeans so much that she asked me if I’d mend a small hole in her pair. I was more than happy to, then turned an old t-shirt that she’d given me into a tote bag to send them home in…

There are instructions on how to make a no-sew t-shirt tote bag online, but if you have your sewing machine set up, it’s much easier to just run a seam across the bottom of the shirt. Big Boy has just given me a pile of his old t-shirts to play with!

My young neighbour gave me her Barbie jeans to upcycle…

You know I love a challenge! I turned them into pincushions…

Lastly (on the topic of denim), lovely Steve Sheridan, potter extraordinaire and creator of my favourite tea bowl, asked me to make him an apron. Pottery aprons have two overlapping pieces below the waist to protect the knees while straddling the wheel.  I used a pair of old Hugo Boss jeans donated by my friend Anita and sewed the designer labels back on for fun. It was a perfect fit…

Steve and Trish insisted that I choose a new tea bowl in exchange – I was soooo thrilled to come home with this one. When I was trying to photograph it, Pete suggested I should hold it because “it was made by hand to be held in a hand, not to sit on a shelf.”

If anyone is interested in making a pottery apron, here’s a sketch of the final pattern (and no, I’m not taking orders)…

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I have a small collection of Royal Worcester Evesham Gold pieces, including this water jug that we use every day, a wedding gift from Pete’s Aunt Anna…

So I was thrilled to find these unused vintage egg coddlers at the Salvos Store for just $10 for the pair…

They cooked our backyard eggs to perfection…

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I’ve read and listened to two fabulous books (it’s usually a combination of both these days, thanks to the sync function between Kindle and Audible), the first being The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan…

The second was Mythos by Stephen Fry. Both books were a joy to listen to, if you have access to the Audible versions…

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We spent last Thursday night with our old friends Cliff and Kathy at Handpicked Wines on Kensington Street, tasting the award winning pinot noir…

I’m pretty fussy about wine, but every single one I tried that night was grand. My tasting flight was called “I Need A Vacay”…and it really did feel like a mini-vacation to be out drinking on a Thursday night…

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Finally, I’ve been madly mending.  My friend Granny Annie suggested I investigate “visible mending” and it’s become very addictive. I picked up this Kindle book and started practising…

First I repaired a kitchen scrubber…

Followed by toe socks…

And then an Aldi bag…

…and I was off! I bought a vintage darning mushroom and now my sons hide their clothes from me for fear of having the tiniest holes attacked with brightly coloured yarn. If you’re interested in darning, here’s an old instruction pamphlet – as you can see, the process is more about weaving new fabric than closing up a hole…

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Phew! I’m all talked out! We have a brisket in Rosie at the moment, and Pete’s just come in to tell me that it needs checking, so I’m going to sign off now. What have you all been up to? ♥

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My name is Celia, and I’m a denim addict.

Which is hilarious, because until a month ago, I hadn’t worn a pair of jeans in close to a decade.

You see, to look good, jeans need to be snug and at 53, I no longer do snug. Plus new jeans cost a small fortune, and they’re massively taxing on the environment.

But then I discovered that I could buy secondhand jeans for next to nothing and adjust them to fit. Anything beyond my sewing skills goes to our local tailor, who will run in and hem a thick pair of jeans for just $20. An almost too loose waistband is just as good as an elastic one, and as my mother and sister will attest, style is always optional when it comes to my dress sense.

But I digress..I was going to tell you about my rescued denim.

A couple of weeks ago, lovely Greg, the owner of Vintage @ 313 in Newtown, traded me a large bag of denim offcuts for a couple of loaves of sourdough. All the pieces were legs cut off old jeans, which had been upcycled into those frayed shorts and mini skirts that are so popular at the moment. Greg had pulled them out of the manufacturer’s dumpster (he can’t bear waste any more than we can) and I was keen to find a way to give them a third incarnation.

The denim was pretty stinky when we brought it home, but a 60°C hot wash in Napisan fixed that pretty quickly. The fabric itself was as sturdy as iron…

I started by opening each piece at the side seams, and then trimming them 16″ (roughly 41cm) wide by as long as the offcut would allow…

Then it was a simple case of overlocking (serging), topstitching and hemming to create this very tactile denim patchwork…

My second project was a denim bucket bag…

Followed by a patchwork version…

Here’s the other side – the strap is the inseam of a huge pair of donated Levi’s…

I added a zippered pocket and lined the bag with 20 year old cotton from my stash (last used to make toddler’s pants)…

Dotti asked me to make her a denim headband, and the mania really started to set in…

Small scraps and leftover pockets became juggling balls…

My friend Maude, who is clearly even more of a Womble than I am, took all the trimmings home to turn into bag handles…

I’ve explored the art of slow mending, Japanese boro style. I started with a large $2 pair of distressed jeans (a fashion trend which annoys me no end) from our local Salvos Store. After patching all the holes, I took the waistband in by two inches, and the hems up by three. I’m seriously chuffed with how they turned out!

It makes me ridiculously happy to have sumos on my butt…

You’re probably wondering how I can afford this extravagant new hobby!

Well, it was actually very simple – I’ve given up my daily coffee routine. On our morning walks, Big Boy and I had fallen into the habit of buying a hot drink (decaf piccolo for me, chai latte for him) as a “reward” for climbing out of bed and getting some exercise. But once I started rescuing denim, it dawned on me that every $4 coffee I had (piccolos are tiny, and I wasn’t even getting a caffeine hit) could buy me two pairs of old jeans from the Salvos. Five little coffees a week? Or ten pairs of old jeans while supporting a charity? The maths wasn’t hard to do.

Of course, I didn’t need to give up the coffees, nor do I need ten pairs of jeans every week (I can hear Pete groaning as I type this). I could easily find the money, but a little perspective always helps to keep life real. And as an added bonus, I find myself appreciating the coffees I still have even more…

Finally, a photo to make you laugh!

Some background first – I was watching these fabulous videos by Junky Styling in the UK, who used to refashion old clothing into funky new pieces. Here’s an example…

I was inspired! So I cut the crotch seam out of an old pair of jeans and slipped them over my head to see if I could turn them into a tabard or poncho. Remember my motto…style is always optional.

I sent a photo to friends, who were mostly kind in their reviews. But thankfully, Pete pointed out that I looked like a nutter, and my darling friend Dale agreed, declaring that someone had to act as wardrobe consultant on the emperor’s new clothes. I laughed until I cried…

I’ve been having heaps of fun! If you have any suggestions on other uses for my rescued denim, I’d love to hear them! ♥

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We’re now entering the sixth month of our waste reduction plan, so it’s a good time to stop and take stock. Some of the changes we’ve made have stuck and become part of our everyday lives, but a few things haven’t worked as well as we’d hoped.

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Perhaps the biggest success to date has been in replacing single use dining and kitchen items with reusable ones. We haven’t used a paper serviette all year, and we’re still on the same roll of paper towels that we started a couple of months ago.

After five months of constant use, our cloth napkins are still going strong (albeit a bit stained), as are our knitted/crocheted dishcloths and waffle weave towels. Everyone enjoys using the napkins so much that I doubt we’d be allowed to go back to paper ones even if I wanted to! I was concerned about the extra washing involved, but our most recent electricity bill wasn’t any higher – in fact, it was a tiny bit lower, probably because we’ve been making an effort to use the ECO setting on the front loader.  It also helps that the Japanese tenegui are so open weave that they line dry very quickly.

Surprisingly, all our utility bills are down this quarter – gas is down 16%, electricity just 3.2%, and water, somewhat unbelievably given the extra washing we’ve doing, is a whopping 17.6% less than the same period last year.  We’ve put it down to being more conscientious about using the half-flush button on the toilet and the ECO setting on the dishwasher and washing machine – apparently the latter can save up to 30% on electricity and water compared to regular washes. We’ve also made an effort to use appliances less, preheat the oven for a shorter time, take shorter showers – all small things, but obviously they’ve added up over a three month period.

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The reusable teflon BBQ sheets have worked so well that I’m now using parchment paper less than once a fortnight. The thinner ones are brilliant under sourdough loaves and cookies, and the thicker ones are great for roasts and other savoury bakes. They’re easy to wash and store – the trick is to either lay them flat or roll them up, as folding them causes them to crack. I’m forever grateful to Helen and Tanzles for suggesting them…

I bought my thin sheets from Magic Cooking Sheet online but the thicker ones I found on ebay for just a few dollars each. I also saw some for sale at our local Bunnings in the barbecue section.

I made a holder for my bread liners using two toilet roll tubes and a scrap of recycled wrapping paper…

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You’re probably sick of me rabbiting on about the beeswax wraps (my friends certainly are) but honestly, they’re so good! Do have a go at making your own as they can be hideously expensive – our easy tutorial is here. Best of all, if they’re homemade, you can easily touch them up with a bit more wax if they start to get a bit thin.

My latest discovery? The wraps help prevent oxidisation. I wrapped diced potato and sweet potato for half an hour while I prepped other ingredients, and they stayed pristine…

They also stop ginger from going mouldy and slimy – this piece was in the fridge for over a week and a half and it still looked like new…

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We’ve reduced the amount of single-use plastic coming into the house, simply by taking our own mesh bags and furoshiki when shopping, and the difference has been noticeable and significant. But we’ve been unable to go completely plastic-free – how do I buy a box of Weetbix without a plastic bag in it? Or a whole chicken? What about medications, most of which come packaged in foil and plastic?

All we can do is try to handle whatever plastic we end up with as responsibly as possible, by reusing what we can and recycling or REDcycling what we can’t. And the continued effort really does make a difference – I peeked into our red bin last night as it went out and was delighted to see that there was still only one small bag in it.

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Speaking of which, the biodegradable bin liners haven’t worked as well as we’d hoped – they’re thin and flimsy and don’t cope well with the kitchen waste we still produce. We’re wrapping what we can in newspaper while we try and think of other options (the newspaper isn’t ideal with anything damp or soggy).

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The Bokashi bins have been a partial success – we now have two worm farms running, but neither of them will eat the fermented waste product. That’s partly because Big Boy and Small Man are now saving their green kitchen scraps, so there’s always more than enough vegetable leavings to feed both farms and given a choice, the worms won’t eat anything else.  We’re still diligently filling the Bokashi bins though, and then burying the remains once they’ve broken down. It’s working ok, but it’s not perfect yet.

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Big Boy and Small Man both cart their KeepCups with them whenever they go out, and their lunches are always packaged in either a beeswax wrap or a reusable lunch box.

Small Man is a true eco-warrior – he pulled me up the other day when I was being lazy and went to throw a teabag into the bin (our teabags are made of paper, so we can remove the tag and string and Bokashi them). And it occurred to me that perhaps the most important benefit of our waste reduction plan was the example it was setting for our sons.

Thanks for joining us on this journey! I’ll keep you all posted on how we go and as always, I’d love any tips or advice you have to share – I’ve learnt so much from you already! ♥

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Here are the posts so far on our Waste Reduction Plan:

27 Jan 2018  A Waste Reduction Plan

2 Feb 2018  A Long, Rambling Catch Up

15 April 2018  Our Waste Reduction Plan – Progress Report

20 April 2018  Our Waste Reduction Plan – Fine Tuning

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Tips and tutorials for making your own eco-friendly products:

Mesh Bags

Mesh Bags (pattern at the end of the post)

Furoshiki

Knitted Dishcloth

Crocheted Cotton Dishcloth

Crocheted Acrylic Dish Scrubber

Beeswax Wraps

Cloth Napkins (second half of post)

Sewing a Utensil Holder

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