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My hands and wrists don’t do well in cold weather.

I try to look after them, but as my mum pointed out recently, they do quite a lot of work. Lately I’ve had some RSI in my wrists, my knuckles are a bit swollen, and because it’s winter, my skin has started to dry and crack. I guess it’s just part of getting older.

Bread baking, however, must continue! Lately I’ve been making my friend Emilie’s twisty baguettes because I can prep the dough with a spatula, which means I don’t have to keep washing my hands in cold water. The only tricky part is shaping the baguettes – the high hydration dough can be sticky to handle. The secret is lots of fine semolina, a gentle touch and…learning to appreciate the wonkiness.

Here’s my spin on the formula, which substitutes a mix of plain and bakers flour for the American all-purpose that Em recommends (our local plain flour is lower in protein than the US equivalent).

  • 100g ripe sourdough starter
  • 720g cool water
  • 440g plain flour
  • 440g baker/bread flour
  • 18g fine sea salt
  • fine semolina for dusting

1. The night before: combine all the ingredients except the semolina in a large wide mixing bowl. Stir them together with a silicon spatula until all the dry ingredients are incorporated and you’re left with a shaggy dough. Cover and leave to rest for an hour.

2. Uncover and using your spatula, scrape down the side of the bowl, lift up some of the dough and fold it into the centre. Turn the bowl a little and repeat until you’ve formed a smooth ball. Cover and allow to prove overnight. Coat your hands with barrier cream, pop on some cotton gloves, and go to bed. (Ok, that bit is optional.)

3. When the dough has doubled in size (it can take 12 – 18 hours, depending on how warm your kitchen is), dust a clean bench with a generous amount of fine semolina. Line two oven trays with teflon sheets or parchment paper, and dust them with semolina. Preheat your oven to 220C with fan.

4. Scrape the dough on to the bench and using a scraper and a gentle touch, fold it in half so that both the top and bottom are coated in semolina (“like a book”, Em says). Using your scraper, cut the dough in half, and then into three short logs.

5. Now this bit can be a little tricky – roll each log over in fine semolina, stretching and extending it as you go. Gentle gentle – you just want to get it well coated and roughly baguette shaped. Transfer the log, stretching a bit more as you go, to the dusted oven tray and repeat with the remaining five logs.

6. Starting in the middle of each log, gently twist the dough – first to one end, then to the other. Cover the shaped dough with clean tea towels and let them prove briefly while the oven heats up.

7. Spritz the top of the baguettes with water (no need to slash), then bake them in the preheated oven for a total of 25 – 30 minutes, rotating halfway through. Allow to cool on a wire rack before eating.

Em’s clever twisting technique produces the lovely holey crumb of a traditional baguette, without the detailed shaping and slashing. I’ve found that these keep well for up to three days if tightly wrapped in a large beeswax wrap – any leftovers make wonderful croutons and garlic bread.

This recipe comes from Emilie’s fabulous book, Artisan Sourdough Made Simple. If you haven’t already bought a copy, you’re missing out on some amazing bakes!

Sometimes it’s hard to keep up the green momentum, especially when life gets hectic.

Does it really make a difference if we turn the heating down by a couple of degrees or take shorter showers? I had an answer to that question today.

As I was decluttering and shredding old papers, I found our bill notices from the second quarter of 2005.

It was interesting to see how much our USAGE has dropped since then – water has come down by 38.5%, electricity by 32% and gas by a whopping 40.5%. We now use the gas equivalent of a one and a half person household (there are four adults living here).

It’s simultaneously rewarding and cringe-inducing – it’s hard to believe that we used to consume so much power and water, but rewarding to see all the small changes adding up a whole lot over 14 years. I’ve tried to figure it out before, but utility prices have more than doubled over the past decade, making it difficult to really track how we’re doing from one quarter to the next.

I always have a moment’s hesitation before posting something like this because without fail, someone will leave me a comment saying that I’ve made them feel guilty. Please understand that it’s never my intention to make anyone feel bad – I’m acutely aware that we all have complicated lives and that we can only do what our circumstances permit. And believe me, our household still has a long way to go, particularly on the electricity front.

What I hope is that this post will encourage you (and ourselves) to keep going! Small changes and tweaks are definitely worth the effort – switching to energy saving light bulbs and using the eco setting on the dishwasher might seem trivial, but they really do make a difference! ♥

“It is not a plastic bag under the black sedan parked outside your house! It’s a pair of discarded denim jeans…”

My old friend Maude, who lives across the road, texted me on her way to pick up The Artist Formerly Known as Pinkabelle from school.

Sure enough, the jeans were still there when Big Boy and I went walking the next morning. They were badly ripped and had possibly been run over.

“What. Are. You. Doing..?” asked my son, as I gingerly picked them up and brought them into the house.

I threw them into a sink with Napisan for several hours, then hot water washed them with laundry detergent in the machine. They came out nice and clean…

Serendipitously, I’d just been watching all the happenings of Fashion Revolution Week and reading some of their excellent publications. If you’re interested, you can read them for free online at Issuu – here’s a link to their second Fanzine titled Loved Clothes Last

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Inspired, I thought it might be interesting to see how many things I could make from our roadkill jeans. It was such a fun challenge! Here’s what I ended up with…

One denim apron with a large double pocket

I unpicked the label and reattached it to cover up an oil stain that didn’t come out in the wash (unsurprising given that the jeans had been under a car on the street for at least two days). Here’s the pattern if you’d like to have a go at making one.

One denim placemat

I was so happy with how this piece turned out – it’s made from the flat-felled seams and waistband, cut to size and zigzagged together with matching thread. We use these all the time – the double layer of denim provides reasonable heat protection…

One useful bread bag

This was assembled from the leftover leg fabric and assorted scraps. If you’d like to try making this, have a look at our tutorial here (they’re very easy)…

Two zippered useful bags

As the scraps got smaller, I started stitching them together crazy quilt fashion. They’re perfectly imperfect! We have a tutorial for making these as well if you’d like to have a go…

One denim coaster and four denim rings

This post is starting to sound like a Christmas carol! The coaster was dead easy – I simply cut around the remaining back pocket and zigzagged around the edge to stop it fraying. A single line of white embroidery was added to make it a bit more interesting. These work really well for hot drinks – they don’t have an edge for mugs to fall off, they’re easy to wash and quite heat resistant.

The rings are an old favourite of mine – I made one from a belt loop and three from the stitching around the zipper. Sadly, I couldn’t find a clever way to reuse the zipper itself…

Two wraparound bracelets

I’m completely in love with these! They’re certainly not most people’s style, but I find them incredibly comfortable to wear and they keep my wrists warm. Pete likes them too – he says they’re “a bit biker chick without being hardcore”. Ahh men…

At the end of the challenge, only a small amount of scrap was leftover…and it went into the rubbish bin. Yes, I could have saved it for pillow stuffing, but once I start thinking like that, my house is going to overflow…

I’ve learnt so much from this exercise!

As always, I’m blown away by the resilience of denim – despite being heavily worn, left outside under a car for several days and possibly run over, most of the fabric was still in excellent condition. And it feels wonderful to give materials that would have ended up in landfill (or worse, the waterways) a second lease of life!

Have you been upcycling?

I’d love to know about any projects you’re working on! ♥

Hello folks, how are you all? It’s been a long time between drinks, as we Aussies might say!

My apologies for the radio silence. I’ve been writing this blog for over ten years, and there’s so much content here now that I really only have the urge to put virtual pen to paper when I have something new to share.

Life though, has been grand.

Very hectic, to the point of frantic, but happy. And we do have exciting news…Big Boy and Monkey Girl are engaged!

They’ve been together now for nearly eight years – since the start of university – and we’re all incredibly excited for them! Here’s my very favourite photo of the young couple, taken three years ago…

Ok, so when I say “we’re all incredibly excited for them”, I really do mean the women in my family. Men, we’ve decided, are boring. They’re all very happy for Big Boy and Monkey Girl, of course, but they haven’t really lost their minds like we have.

I got so excited that I pulled out my wedding dress from 30 years ago to reminisce. It..um..doesn’t fit anymore. That didn’t stop me trying it on and taking a photo and sending it to the kids…

When I opened the box, after 30 years of careful storage in archive safe blue paper, expecting the silk to have faded to a gentle sepia, I suddenly realised that it wasn’t silk at all. I’d picked it up off a bargain rack in 1988 and it was 100% polyester. It shone with the brilliance of John Travolta’s white suit in Saturday Night Fever. I laughed and laughed until I had to sit down on the floor.

Pete, bless his heart, was impressed that I could get the dress on at all, but couldn’t resist teasing…

Pete: “Babe, I don’t think it’s Monkey Girl’s style…”

Me: “No, I think it’s more Muriel’s style. Ha! Maybe it’s a reflection of our marriage – I’ve thought all these years that I was married in silk, but it was actually polyester..”

Pete: “I think what you mean … is that it’s eternal and will never lose its shine and that our relationship will always be as fresh as the day we were married…”

Gotta love the man. He may not be as excited as I am, but he’s still as charming as ever!

The veil was very simple as well. I’m threatening to cut it up for vegetable bags. Waste not, want not, right? (Don’t worry, I’m only half serious)

It’s promising to be an interesting year! ♥

A few bits and pieces from the last month…

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We’ve recently discovered Faheem Fast Food on Enmore Road. It’s surprisingly good and very well priced, although the service can be a bit aloof at times.

We’re late to the party – apparently everyone we know eats there regularly – but we avoided Indian and Pakistani food for years because of Small Man’s nut allergies (which he still has, but he’s much more savvy about what to look out for these days). The tandoori chicken was deliciously spicy and the mixed lentils were to die for. I went back a week later and ordered the “rice with three veg curries for $11” option and refused to share…

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This is the fossil that started the collection…a two kilogram mammoth molar tooth, given to me by my sister Cynthia 15 years ago. To be fair, she actually gave it to the boys, but they weren’t nearly as interested in it as I was…

The tooth still has its root (photo above) and grinding surface (photo below) intact. I’m not sure of its age, but a quick google search suggests that it’s probably  around 12,000 years old. It’s a joy to own partly because it’s not fragile, so I get to play with it a lot…

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I fell out of the meditation habit in the second half of last year, to my personal detriment, so I’m trying to get back into regular practice again this year. So far, so good…

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I returned from our visit to Singapore with this stunning vintage bowl – another gift from Cynthia. It’s a hand painted Baker & Co Ltd piece from England, commissioned for the household (or possibly school) of Haji R. E. Mohamed Kassim – a wealthy Indian businessman and philanthropist who lived in Malaya (as it was then known) in the early 1900s.

The bowl probably dates from the 1920s, making it nearly a century old. Perhaps the “1695” inscription is a catalogue number. I loved knowing the story behind it…

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Pete’s hands have been too sore for him to make jam in the past few years, but this time Small Man hulled all the strawberries for him – all fifteen punnets’ worth. We didn’t have a lot of pectin made, so this batch is very soft set. And not overly sweet, which is Pete’s trademark style…

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My friend Sue gave me this beautiful calendar for Christmas – she and her husband Craig create and publish the Wine Dog book series. If you’re a dog lover, you’ll adore them…

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Me (whinging): “why can’t we go out for dinner?”

Pete: “because we have a bed full of rapini and backyard eggs and just picked cucumbers and freshly baked focaccia and homemade sambal.”

Oh. Fair enough. It was excellent too.

Sometimes I forget how much great food we have at our fingertips. The whole dinner cost us less than $5, and there was enough leftover to feed the neighbours as well…

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We’ve been meeting up with friends at The Carpenter Cafe – a new establishment hidden away in the back of an old factory in Leichhardt.

They do fabulous ice lattes and great simple meals, but I really wanted to show you the gorgeous stoneware they serve their hot drinks in. The cups are made in Sydney’s inner west by Zuko. Sadly, I can’t buy any, because I really don’t need any more cups in the house, plus I’d already asked my friend Steve Sheridan to make me a couple at the end of last year. So I’ll just keep going to The Carpenter for decaf lattes instead…

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I gave two of my upcycled useful bags to Tom and Grace (formerly Baby Grace), and they found a new use for them..

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My latest project-on-the-go was this apron, which I made from an offcut of toile fabric. It has a pocket deep enough to keep an iPhone safe in case of a minor spill…

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I’ve been tempering chocolate again now that the weather is a bit cooler – these Sao Thome 70% dark origin chocolate frogs were set in my contraband Freddo moulds…

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As I’m trying not to buy any clothes (new OR secondhand) for a little while, I thought I should put some effort into upcycling some bits and pieces for winter. I dug out this scrap of badly stained vintage kimono silk, which had previously served as the lining for a child’s coat. I picked it up a few years ago from Cash Palace Emporium. It’s printed with gosho dolls, and I reckon this one looks just like me…

I washed it carefully (sadly the stains didn’t budge), then seamed the front opening closed and turned it into a reversible scarf. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out…

And continuing with the Japanese theme, my tidying up uncovered this old noren (door hanging) that our friends Yuji and Maude bought us over two decades ago. It hung outside Pete’s office for years, slowly fading in the sun and occasionally being set upon by mynah birds. When our friends bought us a replacement, this one was washed and put away…

I tried turning it into a scarf but it was too worn, so I cut patches out of it instead. These were appliqued onto my homemade flares, assembled by merging together two pairs of girl-sized Gap jeans. I loved the super thick denim and they were only $2 each from our local Salvos. The flares were a bit boring though, so I was happy to find a way to jazz them up a bit…

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Lastly, a plug for my friends at Reverse Garbage. They’re having a vintage sale (fabric, haberdashery and collectibles) on Saturday 9th March. I am not going not going not going. If I chant it enough over the new couple of weeks, it might stick.

Reverse Garbage is based in the Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville. And if you pick up a metre of purple wool cashmere at the sale, rest assured that it’s been carefully stored in my camphor chest for over 20 years…

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Life is good! Hope all is well in your universe! ♥

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