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Have you ever tried a chocolate babka? They’re great fun to eat, and possibly even more fun to make!

Our latest batch came about when I uncovered a half empty jar of Nutella in the pantry. Coupled with Jane’s lovely eggs, Pete and I turned out six loaves to share with the neighbours recently. We used a modified version of our butter-enriched hot cross bun dough

  • 1kg bread flour
  • 20g instant yeast
  • 16g fine sea salt
  • 80g brown sugar
  • 180g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 3 large free range eggs, plus an extra one for the egg wash
  • 500g full cream milk, heated gently and then cooled to blood temperature, or UHT milk, unrefrigerated
  • Nutella
  • chocolate chips
  • caster sugar and water for the glaze

1. Whisk together the dried yeast and bread flour in a large, wide mixing bowl.  Add the salt and sugar and whisk in well.

2. Add 3 eggs, cooled melted butter, and milk, then mix together with a spatula or a clean hand until it forms a shaggy dough.  Cover with a tea towel and allow to rest for 20 minutes.

3. Uncover the bowl and give the dough a brief knead. I usually fold the dough onto itself a few times using a scraper.

4. Cover the bowl and allow to rise until doubled in size. Sweet dough can take longer than most, so don’t rush it.

5. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and using your dough scraper, give it a couple of gentle folds. Divide the dough into three equal portions.

6. Flatten out each portion into a rectangle and smear over Nutella and sprinkle on chocolate chips. Them roll it up to form a long sausage…

7. Cut the sausage in half, and then weave it, cut sides facing up, over and under itself. Photos explain this better than words…

8. Now squish the ends together and pop the loaf, cut sides up, into a loaf pan that’s been lined with a greased paper liner (I usually spray it with a bit of oil). Repeat with the other two portions of dough. Cover and allow to prove until doubled in size…

9. Preheat your oven to 200C with fan. Once risen, brush the loaves with an egg wash (beat the extra egg with a little water) and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until very dark brown but not burnt. You’ll need to keep an eye on it, as the sugar makes this dough brown up very quickly. Turn the heat down a bit if you need to, and rotate the loaves halfway through to ensure even baking.

10. While the dough is baking, prepare a sugar and water glaze by boiling together equal portions of caster sugar and water until thick. I ask Pete to do it as I usually end up burning myself on the hot syrup. You want the glaze to be thick enough to stick. Any leftover works well in cocktails!

11. Take the baked babkas out of the oven and give them a couple of coats of sugar glaze…

These were a huge hit on our street! I made two raspberry jam filled ones as well – one for our neighbour Faye who is nut allergic, and one for Pete who isn’t a fan of Nutella. They were equally as delicious…

Best of all, that night we discovered the perfect way to eat chocolate babka – sliced very thinly and sandwiched around a sheet of crispy feuilletine-filled dark milk chocolate. Definitely worth making these again, if for that reason alone! ♥

 

I’ve been a bit quiet about it of late, but I’m still a closet denim addict.

And I have a suggestion for all menders and craft sewers – rescue old jeans and repurpose them! At our local Salvos Stores, a different coloured tag is reduced to $2 each week, which is what this heavy weight pair of Just Jeans cost me at the end of last year. It’s worth buying the biggest and most out of date pair you can find. Avoid stretch denim at all costs because it’s bollocks (ok, that might just be my rather firmly held opinion, but I don’t like either wearing or sewing it).

Cut the jeans open down the inner leg seam, lose the zip (even Reverse Garbage don’t want those, I’ve asked), and save the waistband for placemats. I ended up with nearly 1m x 75cm (about 40″ x 30″) of usable, beautifully aged, thick denim from this $2 pair of size 33 jeans…

And I use rescued jeans denim for everything from blankets to pincushions to jewellery to bags to mending patches. Oh and aprons of course. I’ve made about thirty so far. Here are a few photos from my denim archive to hopefully inspire you (put “denim” into the search box above to see more)…

I covered my neighbour Bernie’s office chair in a pair of denim jeans and turned the back pockets into matching coasters for him…

Today I cut the remaining pieces into patches in case we ever need to do a repair. All for $2!

But you know what? It’s really, truly not about the money.

I love a bargain, but denim is not a bargain for the planet. It comes with a gigantic environmental footprint, yet folks toss away their jeans once they’re out of style. If we can find ways to upcycle them, we keep these resources out of landfill…

So I urge you to look at used jeans in a different light. See them as an economical fabric resource instead of just old work clothes. Denim is durable, fades beautifully, is comfortable in the hand and against the skin, and to my eyes at least, looks even better when patched and repaired. It’s a very precious commodity, so let’s give it as much life as we possibly can. I’d love to know what you make out of your old jeans! ♥

I’ve been out of sorts over the past couple of weeks.

First I took a tumble at the pub – I missed a step and fell on my tailbone, which still hurts three weeks later, and no, I wasn’t drinking.

Then I had an allergic reaction to something and broke out in contact dermatitis all over my face and neck, so I’ve been itching for the past two weeks. (And yes Mum, I did go to the doctor.)

Then I had a sore throat and had to have a COVID19 test. Well, I didn’t have to have one, but in our wonderful state, they’re asking anyone with even the mildest symptoms to be tested. It was very easy to do at the drive through clinic five minutes from home and I had the negative result back that night.

There’s more, but I’ll spare you. Needless to say, I’ve been grumpy and not in the best blogging mindset.

So I thought I’d just show you what I’ve been making. And I’m sorry it’s more quaft, but at the moment, I’m just sitting on my (sore) arse and watching reality tv shows about zoos and Alaskans and old episodes of Top Gear and making things. It’s very therapeutic!

First I made a squillion more pincushions and gave them all to Pauline at the Sewing Basket Balmain. She’s selling them at the counter and all funds raised will go to support Achieve Australia disability services, so if you’d like one, please pop in to visit her…

I made three from some denim jeans pockets leftover from my aprons…

Pauline gave me some hessian to play around with, so I made pumpkins. For no reason whatsoever…

Then I made an entire pumpkin patch…

I’m working on hessian potscrubbers – if they’re successful, I’ll write them up. I’ve been trying to figure out an eco-friendly version for a while now.

As I sit and stitch, I’ve been self-medicating with a cheerful mix of Grand Marnier and Cognac (equal parts), sipped from my little fish cup…

And I’ve been mending pants.

Carol’s son Justin insists on stashing his water bottle in his back pocket, so it’s always tearing. It was easier to mend it by hand than machine, as the repair needed to be as close to invisible as possible…

And my neighbour Robbie somehow managed to put a ten inch split down the back of his otherwise new pants. I machine-stitched the split together (using my favourite feather stitch) and then reinforced it with a piece of cotton lace which we rescued from Norma’s wheely bin after she died, making this a proper in-street repair…

So that’s where I’m at right now, folks. Hopefully I’ll have something more interesting to share with you soon, but I just wanted to touch base and let you know that I’m still here. I hope you’re all staying well and safe and happy! ♥

Sometimes, rescuing small things and giving them a new life is even more rewarding that a larger project, because you get to see the results very quickly!

I picked up the top half of an Indian silk jacket from the $1 bin at Sewing Basket Balmain…

It became a long-strapped tote for my friend Dotti…

This particular set of welding gloves were faulty – the heat went straight through the fingers, making them of limited use as oven mitts. But the leather was glorious and thick, so I’ve been using it for patches and to make safety guards for my thread snips…

The end of a vintage roll of Japanese silk that I picked up from Cash Palace Emporium years ago was printed with manufacturer’s markings. I know from past experience that these wash out, so I couldn’t use the piece for clothing (not that I make clothing). Instead, I made a tiny bag for my crochet hooks. The West German (as it was labelled) satin ribbon was from a roll I picked up from Reverse Garbage…

And finally, I turned some rescued broder embroidery cotton into a dishcloth…

It was nice to have all my baby phoenix projects on the dining table at the one time!  What have you been working on lately? ♥

It seems that every few years, I’ll write the same post about chicken bones.

I can’t help it. I’m always just so blown away by the frugality of them.

If you live in Sydney’s Inner West, let me give you a tip. The chicken shop in Marrickville Metro – the one opposite Service NSW – will sell you a bag of chicken carcasses for $2. Three bags for $5. When Pete was getting his licence renewed recently, I picked some up. It wasn’t until I got home that I realised that each of the bags I’d bought had three carcasses in it, meaning I had nine to play with.

We immediately froze four of them, and then washed the remaining five. I carefully trimmed off all the fat, which went into a small saucepan with a little water to render down. We ended up with nearly a jar of schmaltz (chicken fat)…

The carcasses went into a 180C fan oven until golden brown, then into our giant stock pot with four litres of water, a tablespoon of salt, a chopped onion and a thumb of peeled ginger. The pot was brought to a boil, then covered and reduced to a simmer for 30 minutes. I turned it off after that and let it sit, covered for a further 30 minutes. Surprisingly, that was enough to infuse the stock with oodles of flavour (I think the roasting really helps).

I pulled out the carcasses and carefully stripped any remaining meat off the bones…

We strained the stock and stashed three boxes full in the freezer…

…then Pete turned the remaining stock and all the picked meat into the most delicious chicken noodle soup ever. It fed three of us for dinner, with enough leftover for lunch the following day…

. . . . .

So for about $3 (we used five of the nine carcasses), we ended up with chicken soup for dinner, three boxes of homemade stock and a jar of schmaltz.

I’ve always said that when times are hard, we could thrive on soup bones. Times aren’t hard now, but they have been in the past. And I think it’s wise to practise and hone our frugal life skills so that we’re ready for whatever the universe throws at us! ♥

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