Archive for the ‘Frugal Living’ Category

I know, I know…making juggling balls isn’t your usual Easter craft project, but I’ve had so much fun that I thought I’d share them with you anyway.

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Start with three pieces of scrap fabric, each 10cm wide by 18cm long. Woven or jersey cottons work well.

Fold one piece of fabric in half, right sides together, and stitch along both sides to form a small bag…

Turn it right side out and poke out the corners…

Fill with 75g of rice, lentils or small beans…

Bring the seam lines together at the top to close…

Fold under a small seam allowance and pin…

Now either handstitch the opening closed with a small slip stitch OR carefully machine it closed, making sure not to run over any of the filling (a narrow machine foot helps here, as does making the bag from stretch fabric)…

Make a big bowl of these little pyramid sacks and leave them on the table for folks to play with. Small people love them and they’re relatively painless on impact (I’ve been throwing them at the boys to check).

There’s a lot of research to suggest that learning to juggle is good for your brain – I’m a bit rusty at the moment, but I’ve been practising hard!

Here’s my earlier post on juggling, and my video from 2014…

Have a fun Easter break!

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Daily Walks


As you might recall, I started walking in the second half of last year.

My goal is to get at least 8,000 steps a day – as I mentioned in an earlier post, the recommended number is 10,000, but I’ve given myself 1,000 steps off for every five years over forty.

I’m happy to report that since the 14th August, I haven’t missed a single day! There were a few occasions when my count was a bit short, but overall I’m very happy with the results. To date, I’ve walked 905km and taken over 1.5 million steps. I track them using the Stepz app on my iPhone…


. . . . .

Happily, Big Boy still comes with me most weekday mornings, but I’ve also discovered that I love walking on my own. We’ve now expanded our route from the Inner West Greenway to include the eastern side of the Iron Cove Bay Run. The latter is much more crowded, but the water views are stunning. Let me share a few photos with you…

These colourful dinghies are all locked in place and numbered…


There is a lovely shady area called Giovanazzo Grove, where I found ten minutes to sit and meditate recently…


When I opened my eyes, the rowers were gliding through the water…

. . . . .

One cloudy morning, we discovered a secret beach…

…and watched a white-faced heron being buffeted by the wind…


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Trying to beat the heat on a 40°C day, Big Boy and I headed out before dawn and were rewarded with this beautiful sunrise…


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Sometimes, we just sit on the headland and reflect on how incredibly fortunate we are to have all this beauty, for free, so close to home…




. . . . .

The Bicycle Tree artwork sits near Blackmore Oval…

As we walked past it, I noticed this rainbow lorikeet who was so busy feeding that he completely ignored my camera…


The birds on the Greenway and Bay Run have been a joy to watch. This month, the cormorants have taken up residence, and we’ve seen Little Black, Pied and Little Pied  (photo below) species…


Warwick the pelican attracted a lot of attention when he paddled along the canal recently. I love his reflection in the still waters…

. . . . .

Finally, I couldn’t resist a photo of this perfectly formed web, glistening in the morning sun…


Wishing you all happy days! ♥

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A foodie tip: buy soft cheeses like Brie or Camembert or Fromage D’Affinois whenever they’re on special (the riper the better), wrap them carefully, and stash in the freezer.

They will defrost overnight in the fridge to perfect, non-soggy ooziness for your next dinner party cheese platter. They’re also brilliant on pizzas – D’Affinois makes a particularly decadent topping.

I bought this 1kg wheel of Mon Père from Costco for just $20, cut it into eight wedges and (very carefully) vacuum sealed each piece to prevent freezer burn. I’ve also had great success with just wrapping the cheese tightly in cling film.


Here it is after having been frozen for a week, then defrosted overnight in the fridge…


. . . . .

While I was at Costco, I also spotted pots of Jean Perrin Fromage des Clarines on special for $4.97. These are normally $20 each (and often more for the ones in ceramic bowls) but a friend told me that the importer had brought in too many for Christmas. With an expiry date of 13th January, they were massively marked down for a quick sale…


Knowing that I could freeze them, I bought four tubs! I stashed three in the freezer and baked one, following Tania’s recipe here


It was ridiculously moreish…

. . . . .

And while we’re on the topic…a cheese plate is an integral part of our dinner parties.  If you need help assembling one, have a look at Sally’s comprehensive guide on putting one together.

Without fail though, I’m always left with a box of cheesy bits and pieces the following day. I turned leftovers into a cheese pâté recently and it was such a hit that I thought I’d best document it here so that I can find the recipe again next time. It’s basically a riff on the Fromage Fort recipe I posted years ago…

  • 300g assorted leftover cheeses – I had a wedge of Cranberry Wensleydale, some 18-month Comte and a small piece of White Pearl Brie (which incidentally had been in the freezer for months, but had defrosted perfectly). It’s worth tasting the cheeses together first to make sure they don’t clash too much.
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • glug of good white wine
  • splash of Kirsch
  • black pepper
  • walnuts, coarsely chopped

Set up the food processor with the grater blade and grate the hard cheeses into the bowl. Now switch to the chopping blade and add the soft cheeses, peeled and smashed garlic, pepper, wine and Kirsch. Blitz to form a smooth(ish) paste.

Scrape into a bowl and smooth out the top. Cover the surface with chopped walnuts, pressing in gently to stick them on (not shown in photo below, because I got the idea after it was taken).

Serve with crackers or sourdough focaccia.


As I mentioned above, the nuts were a last minute addition, but they made a huge difference to both taste and appearance, and are well worth the extra effort. The addition of the booze seems to help preserve the cheese. I’ve made versions of this with everything from blue to soft, but it might not work with fresh cheeses such as ricotta or mozzarella (because they go off quite quickly).

The pâté should improve with a couple of days’ rest, but I took this to dinner at Kevin and Carol’s place and it was demolished before the night was out!

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Plastic Bread Bags

When I first started baking bread, I went on a quest to find thick plastic bags to store my loaves in.

They’re remarkably difficult to source. Thin supermarket freezer bags tear too easily. Ikea stocks a range of sturdy zip-lock bags, but they’re limited in size, and I was keen to find something with an open top which could double as gift wrapping if needed.

About nine years ago, my search led me to CLC Plastic Bags in Marrickville. This small factory is a hive of polyethylene activity. As they don’t have a shopfront, it took a bit of waving to attract someone’s attention over the click-clack of machinery. This was followed by rummaging through packets of bags in all shapes and sizes until they found something which I thought might work. I took a sample home and tried it out.

The next day I returned with cash and bought the minimum quantity of 500 bags. From memory, they cost me $30 back then.

Now, you’d think 500 would have been enough for a lifetime, but given the speed at which I bake and give away, this quantity only lasted me five years. The bags are an extremely versatile size, and we use them for everything from loaves to flour to large chunks of meat. They hold up well in the freezer, protecting the contents far better than the thin supermarket versions.

A few years ago, I drove back to Marrickville to restock. I was delighted to find CLC still there, and came home with another pile of large, food-safe plastic bags. In the intervening few years, the price had gone up by $5, which I thought more than reasonable, given that the bags were sturdy enough to be reused several times before discarding.


Last week, I thought I should pick up some more before the Christmas rush. It had been several years since I’d last been in, and even though I still had a hundred or so bags left, I was in the area and, on a whim, thought I’d stock up.

The machines were still going click-clack click-clack when I walked in.

“Hi, can I help you?”

“Yes please. I’d like more plastic bags like the ones I bought from you last time.”

“Do you have a sample?”

“Err…no. But I want the ones I bought from you four years ago. They’re a thick plastic and about this big..”  (I held my hands apart like a fisherman describing his catch…)

He looked at me with a sheepish smile. Perhaps he remembered us having the exact same conversation four years before.

“We have a lot of bags here…if you don’t have a sample, I don’t know what to give you..”

“Sure you do! I bought them here, they came in a pack of 500, and they’re about this big..” (I tried again with the hands…)

He was being very patient and I was trying hard not to laugh. I really must put a sample in the car for my next visit in 2020.

Finally, his sister (I’m guessing it was his sister) called out from the office. She knew which ones I wanted, and since I was last in, they’d started keeping these bags as a regular item, specifically for bread. I bought another bundle of 500, turning down her offer of a cheaper price if I bought an entire packet of 2,500. After all, I didn’t want to wait twenty years before coming back to do this again.

. . . . .

As I drove home, it occurred to me that there is so much joy in these small, incidental exchanges with kind people. The smiles, the laughter and the dialogue. Our lives are defined by our interactions with others, and opportunities to engage in pleasant conversation punctuate our days with little blips of cheer and goodwill.

Of course, it helps to be a raging extrovert. I’m more than happy to stand on a table at a party. But interestingly enough, I’ve never found large social gatherings appealing. I don’t go to school trivia nights, or blog-meets, or (shudder) girls’ weekends away. I think it’s because I don’t do well in any setting where I’m expected to behave in a particular way. I’m spectacularly rubbish at putting on a polite face.

But let me chat to the lovely guys at the car service centre, or grab a cup of coffee with a close friend, or discuss nesting herons with friendly joggers on the Greenway, and I’m as happy as a pig in mud.

So…let me end this ramble with a plug – if you’re a baker in Sydney and you’d like to buy good plastic bags for your loaves or cakes (and you’re happy to buy 500 at a time for $40), pop into CLC Plastic Bags in Marrickville. Please do mention that I’ve written about them – they won’t know who I am, but it’s always nice to let folks know that their friendly service has been appreciated.

Oh, and tell them that the bags you’re after are the 300mm x 450mm ones, or they might ask you if you’ve brought a sample…


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Small Man…is an elf.

He’s always had an adorkably quirky mind, but we didn’t realise until he finished puberty (and stopped growing) that there was something magical about him.

You see, his clothes never seem to wear out. Jeans and t-shirts might fade in the wash, but they never get holes in them. He’s worn the same jacket for years. His Crumpler bag is clean and unstained, despite a daily commute on public transport.

We first noticed this phenomenon in his footwear. Our youngest son treads very lightly on the earth – innately rather than deliberately. Once he stopped growing out of school shoes, we no longer had to replace them – he wore the same pair every day from years 10 to 12, and they’re still going strong.

Unfortunately, having a light touch doesn’t mean he’s been spared foot problems, and from quite a young age, he’s had to wear orthotics for his collapsed arches. He complained of sore feet while we were in San Francisco, so when we got back to Sydney, I made a time for him to see our podiatrist Richard.

As an aside, I realised when I was booking the appointment that we’ve happily built up a network of support people whom we trust completely. At 51, I don’t need charm or obsequiousness – I just want highly competent, honest service providers who won’t rip me off. We have Richard, Tim the dentist (who talked us out of braces), Andy the Miele repairman, Allan the plumber – the list goes on. It’s a nice feeling to know that they’ve got our backs.

Off we chooffed to the Institute of Sport in Homebush.

We adore Richard, and he was delighted to see our son, whom he’s known since primary school. We were all astonished to discover that Small Man’s orthotics were seven years old.

In a way it makes sense – his feet stopped growing when he was 13, and because he’s an elf, the orthotics never wore out. Richard couldn’t believe it – they were still in excellent shape despite being folded up and transferred from one pair of shoes to another on a regular basis. But it was time for new ones – Small Man’s feet weren’t any longer, but over the past seven years, they had grown wider.

Richard pulled out a special stripey sock, put it on Small Man’s foot, scanned it with his computer, then repeated the process with the other foot.

Then he threw the sock in the rubbish bin.

I squealed in protest.

Our podiatrist explained…the socks couldn’t be washed and used again, as laundering blurred the stripes and made them too fuzzy for the computer to scan. His patients didn’t want to take one half of a pair home with them. Local charities will only accept new socks (they’re classified as “underwear”). There is a man in Perth who will collect, wash and send the socks to Africa for distribution to kids in need…but that adds a lot of air miles and isn’t necessarily the best option environmentally.

I asked him if I could have the ones he had in the bin. He looked at me as if I’d lost my mind (you’d be surprised how many times a week that happens to me), then pulled out four singles and gave them to me in a plastic bag.

You see, I’m desperate for good socks. Unlike Small Man, I’m appallingly hard on footwear – $200 orthotic-friendly boots last a year if I’m lucky, and all my socks have holes in the toes or broken elastic. I blame it on my Hobbit feet.


I took Richard’s stripey pairs home, washed them, wore them, and loved them.

Then I emailed my ever patient podiatrist and made him an offer. If he kept all his used socks for me, I would pick them up at our next appointment and trade him sourdough and chocolate for them.

To cut a long story short, I gave him two loaves of sourdough, a box of dark chocolate dragons and dipped ginger, and a box of milk chocolate feuilletine bark in exchange for all of these…


Now, even though I brought home used socks (I’m so hoping my mother won’t read this post), I was still too Asian to just throw them in the washing machine.

So I put on latex gloves, turned them all inside out, and drowned them in a hot Napisan soak for a couple of hours. Then they went into a 60C hot wash. Then the dryer. They came out perfectly clean…


I’ve arranged to pick up another lot before Christmas – you can imagine Pete’s reaction to the prospect of a house full of socks. If you’re a neighbour and would like a pair of very lightly used stripey socks, let me know (but you’ll have to pop over, as I’m not posting them anywhere)!

Edit 2/12/16: A happy ending to our story – the surplus socks are now being distributed to the homeless via the lovely folks at the Mustard Seed Op Shop in Ultimo. Read more about it here!

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