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We have a very prolific lemon tree, and at the moment, it’s completely laden with fruit…

So I adapted a tried and tested recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Simple to work as a tray bake. It made a large batch to share for our weekend neighbourhood bake!

  • 300g unsalted butter, softened
  • 380g castor sugar
  • 4 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 60ml lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I used homemade)
  • 6 large eggs, beaten
  • 180g self-raising flour
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 220g ground almonds
  • 400g frozen mixed berries, defrosted on a plate
  • 140g icing sugar, SIFTED (it’s important to sift it!)

Step 1: line a 23cm x 33cm baking pan with parchment paper, and preheat the oven to 175C with fan.

Step 2: beat together the butter, sugar, zest,  30ml of lemon juice and vanilla extract until smooth, then gradually beat in the eggs. The batter might split, don’t panic. Scrape down the sides.

Step 3: combine the flour, almonds and salt in a bowl and whisk together until combined. Add this to the batter in three batches, beating well after each one.

Step 4: spread half the batter over the base of the prepared pan and scatter over half the defrosted berries. Dollop on the remaining batter and spread it out evenly with a spatula. Bake for 15 minutes.

Step 5: remove the tray from the oven and scatter over the remaining berries and return to the oven for a further 15 minutes.

Step 6: remove the tray from the oven again and cover it loosely with foil. Return the tray to the oven to bake for a further 20 minutes. Test by inserting a skewer into the centre (not through a berry) – if it comes out cleanly, then it’s ready. Allow to cool briefly in the pan, then remove and allow to cool completely on a wire rack…

Step 7: make icing by mixing the SIFTED icing sugar (yes, I know I go on about it, but if you don’t sift you’ll get lumpy icing that can’t be fixed) with the remaining lemon juice to form a smooth icing. Spread it evenly over the top of the cooled cake and allow to set.

This recipe is basically a double batch of Ottolenghi’s Blueberry, Almond and Lemon loaf cake, slightly adapted for sharing. The original recipe has the blueberries folded into the batter, but my defrosted berries were too soft for that to work well, so I added them in between two layers of cake batter instead.

We particularly love this recipe because it doesn’t have extra added dairy – so many berry cake recipes include yoghurt, sour cream or buttermilk – and because it uses lots of lemons. Having said that, we had enough juice from one lemon for the whole cake (the original recipe would have had us using four). Do try this one, it’s delicious! ♥

One of the great joys in my crafting life is finding a way to rescue something that everyone else has given up on.

I refer to them as my Phoenix Projects – firstly because they’re items which are being transformed into something new, and secondly because I’m rescuing things which most people would be happier to burn. I thought it might be fun to share some of these with you over the coming months, in the hope that they might inspire you to look at your discards in a different light. You’ve seen some of them already – like the vermin-eaten 1950s opera coat that nearly made me throw up while I was restoring it last year

…and the roadkill denim apron I made from jeans that I found under a car outside our house…

And of course, there’s my Penny shawl

. . . . .

My latest project has involved this intriguing vintage textile I found at the Sewing Basket in Balmain. It was badly stained and torn, and its length made it hard to photograph. Pauline let me have it for $5 and I brought it home to try to clean it up. If anyone has a suggestion as to what it might have originally been used for, I’d love to hear it – for the life of us, we can’t figure it out. One friend suggested it might have been an altar cloth, but the fringing on just one short end rules that out, as does the lack of any religious symbols.

There is (now broken) pulled thread work down just one long edge and what appears to be shadow embroidery handstitched using rayon thread. We’ve debated whether it’s European or South American or Pacific Islander in origin. In a previous life, it had been used as a curtain, because there were rings sewn into it for hanging (sadly, these destroyed the fabric where they were attached), and although it was in a pretty grotty state, Napisan shifted some of the stains. If you ever need tips on restoring old fabrics, pop in to the Sewing Basket Balmain on a Saturday and chat to the wonderful Mark…

Then…(bear with me, this story gets better)…the following week, lovely Pauline texted me and said “Come back Celia, we’ve found its twin”.

So I went back to the store and there was another one of whatever these are, only in a much worse condition. A much stinkier, more torn, more stained condition. I offered Pauline another $5 but she refused to take it – from the way she was handing it to me at arm’s length, I think she was just happy for it to be out of her shop. I was pretty excited!

I think what I love most about a Phoenix Project is that it comes with absolutely no expectations, so the only possible outcome is a good one. Even if only a small scrap of it can be saved, that’s already better than the whole thing going to landfill. And this old piece, whatever it once was, had been dearly loved, because someone had gone to a great deal of effort to mend it by hand. I followed Mark’s advice and gave it a careful Napisan soaking, which disintegrated some of the fabric (a product of the dirt and water more than the Napisan, I suspect) but removed some of the stains.

Then I cut the fabric into 12 inch panels around the embroidery, using the secondhand quilter’s square I’d also picked up from Balmain. I tried to save as much of the previous mending as I could…

I love, love, love the carefully hand-mended patches…

I ended up with four embroidered panels and enough “clean” white fabric to make a double-sided scarf. I crossed my fingers and removed the rayon fringing, cut it in half and finished the edges, then reattached it to the ends of the scarf. It was still quite badly marked, so the finished piece then had another overnight soak in Napisan – the second round removed almost all the remaining yellow stains.

Voila! I now have a new scarf for winter! One that is completely unique and carries a backstory, even if I don’t know what it is, and a treasured vintage textile has been given a second lease of life. Phoenix Projects really are the best things ever – they cost almost nothing, they challenge me creatively, they respect the history of the textile, they give new life to existing materials, and they keep precious resources out of landfill. They’re a sustainability win! ♥

Last Friday, on a hot tip from my friend and neighbour Nic, Pete and I headed to the Cape Solander Lookout at Kamay Botany Bay National Park. It’s an easy one hour drive from home.

At this time of year (June/July), you can watch humpback whales as they pass by on their annual migration, often coming as close as 200 metres to the coast. We saw a dozen or so out to sea – not close enough for photos, but we spotted tail flukes, and backs breaking the surface, and bushy blow sprays. The official whale watchers told us they’d counted 85 by the time we left, which they were very excited about, as nine years ago they were lucky to see one per day. The recovery in humpback whale numbers in recent years has been phenomenal!

If you’re planning to go, make sure you take binoculars, but leave your pooches at home (no domestic pets allowed). Entry (parking) is $8 for the day and make sure you heed the warnings not to get too close to the cliff edge. In addition to the whales, we also spotted fur seals and a wealth of sea birds – gulls, cormorants and the most amazing diving gannets. Watching them fish was a great treat – they sight their prey under the waves while flying, then pierce the water like arrows shot from a crossbow.

But even without the wildlife, Cape Solander is worth visiting for the sheer majesty of its sandstone formations and rock pools. I don’t have whale photos to share with you, but I hope these make up for it…

The rocks are carved and compressed into the most amazing ridges…

Red iron ore, so characteristic of every part of our Australian landscape, colours the sandstone…

Pete and I spent an hour trying to capture the beautifully serene rock pools in photos…

It’s been years since I’ve been to Kurnell (as we still refer to the area), but as a child, my family often spent weekends there, playing in the rock pools and watching the ocean. It was a joy to revisit, and we’re aiming to get there again before the whale migration ends! ♥

Having two freezers and three pantries takes the concept of a “thrown together” dinner to a whole new level. Add in a reasonably productive veg patch full of leafy greens, and we’re good to go!

Last week, I went excavating in the freezer and found half a kilo of pork mince, some homegrown basil pesto that we’d made in 2018, frozen Parmesan, and a box of fresh rye bread crumbs (not dried). Rather than feeding leftover bread to the chickens and worms, I’ve started blitzing them up in the food processor and stashing the crumbs in the freezer.

The fridge turned up a week-old fennel bulb, in pretty near perfect condition thanks to its beeswax wrap, a carton of Jane’s eggs, a bottle of Lou’s home-made passata, and a jar of Graeme’s dark chilli paste (seriously, my neighbours are the best). In the pantry, we had a tin of Italian tomatoes and a packet of spaghetti. Dinner was sorted!

I made meatballs using the pork mince, breadcrumbs, grated onion and an egg, then bake them in a covered dish on a bed of sliced fennel and onion, topped with the passata, a little chilli paste, and the tinned tomatoes. It was baked with the lid on for 25 minutes, then with the lid off for a further 10 minutes. Pete thickened the sauce a little before serving it on spaghetti. We’ll often cook dinner together, each preparing a different stage of the meal, and it really is the best thing.

The pasta was topped with some parsley from the garden and a spoonful of the pesto. It was seriously so good. And it was wonderful to be able to eat such a simple meal that brought with it such a sense of connection and economy and community. I realised after we’d stuffed ourselves that dishes like this really are the taste of home. ♥

Being in lockdown has been a difficult time for everybody, but it’s also given us an opportunity to reconnect at a deeper level with our wonderful neighbours.

Over the past few months, I’ve been doing a weekend neighbourhood bake and I’m keen to keep it up, even though we’re all starting to get busy again. Each family only gets a small portion, as there are so many people to share with, but it’s a lovely excuse to check in with my neighbours on a Saturday morning to see how everyone is travelling.

Last weekend I baked chocolate chip cookies in a slab. These are the lazy version of Pete’s favourite and boast a wicked 3:2 chocolate to flour ratio. I wrap each cookie square individually, as the oozy chocolate makes quite a mess. It helps to have a mountain of rescued-from-landfill food safe paper from Reverse Garbage

Each packet contained just four cookies, but I’ve learnt that a token of affection doesn’t need to be huge. On the contrary, I’m always happier to give something small – that way no-one feels like they need to reciprocate. There was enough to share with eight households, plus extra for Pete and Small Man. Happy days! ❤️

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