Saturday, July 31, 2010

Second Hand Stuff WIN!

Look what I picked up at one of our local Red Cross stores the other day...

 ...a lovely green hoodie, a pretty flowered scarfy thing (it will probably end up being a tablecloth) and a dark-yellow flowered shirt. I can't tell you what a miracle finding this shirt was; not only did it fit, but it is almost EXACTLY the shirt that (for some unknown reason) popped into my head as The Shirt I Really Wanted To Have But Could Not Find. I have no idea why I suddenly developed a private obsession with having a yellow-flowered shirt. It paid off though.

And this week I also bought two second-hand activity tables for Pippin to play with... for a grand total of $27. Score. Here he is playing with the musical one:


Friday, July 30, 2010

Something Lovely

...and very special! Tonight my husband and I are going out for dinner to The Restaurant at Grossi Florentino on Bourke St.

It's a tradition; except for the couple of years we were in Canberra, we have dinner at Florentino once a year to celebrate our 'date-iversary' of when we started going out. We just celebrated our 7th year together!

I am looking forward very much to a lovely romantic dinner, baby-free (thanks mum!).

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Some thoughts on different bread styles

I am loving my sourdough baking, but the bread really is very different to the Kneadlessly Simple ones I was previously baking almost every week. The sourdough breads are much leaner; unless it's a fruit bread there is no added sugar/honey/molasses and although some oil gets worked into the dough from my oiled bench and hands (to stop it sticking) there is usually no added fat either.

The sourdough breads consequently don't keep anywhere near as well. In the Kneadlessly Simple book the author Nancy Baggett generally recommends only keeping the bread at room temperature for a couple of days, but I find that the breads keep perfectly well in our bread bin for nearly a whole week (we do mostly toast them though). Of course they don't always last that long! But I find that the sourdough breads are only good for a couple of days and then you really are better off to freeze the remainder.

Now that my sourdough starter is vital and healthy I am keeping it in the fridge, taking out what I need and refreshing it as I go, rather than tending to it everyday. I also use the 'dough retardation' method as often as possible, whereby you rest the dough in the fridge overnight before baking it after a slower second rise. That said it is still a bit more complicated to make the sourdough breads compared with the no-knead ones. With the latter you seriously only need a couple of periods of about 10 minutes each for mixing and the rest of the time the dough is just sitting around either in the fridge or on your kitchen bench doing its thing without any help from you. Consequently it's easier to fit breadmaking into your life. With the sourdough you really do need an hour or two at home to get the bread ready for its first rise. Things get a bit easier after that.

The other thing about making the sourdough though, is it is FUN! You get to air-knead the bread by grabbing it and throwing it in the air! Then whacking it on the bench! It's great and even more cathartic than regular kneading. So if you feel that you have stuff to get out of your system... this is a most productive way to do it. You let off steam, and then you have nice bread. This is called a win-win situation.

Do you have a method of breadmaking you prefer? My friend Anne was also posting about these sorts of issues on her blog Pins and Thimbles... check it out!

This Week's Baking: Semolina Sourdough and Orange, Currant & Fennel Loaf

This week I decided to try the orange, currant and fennel fruit loaf and the semolina sourdough from Wild Sourdough. Actually, I'd already made the semolina sourdough the week before (as bread rolls to have with some burgers) and it was that nice I thought I would make it again.

I even managed to take some photos while I was making the batches of dough. (They might be a bit fuzzy owing to the difficulty of using a camera without getting it coated in doughy gunk.)

The currant loaf recipe was rather vague about the point at which the orange marmalade should be added. Like, didn't mention it at all. So I thought I would layer it on as I was folding in the currants and fennel seeds. It worked a treat:


This bread is SO delicious. Screw you Dench bakers and your orange fruit loaf that costs $7 a pop. This is better.


And the finished loaf:

Here's some action shots from the semolina sourdough. This is another one that uses lots of starter - I fed my rye starter with white flour so it is only a little bit rye-y, but definitely 100% dense tangy goodness.

Honestly, not quite sure where that funny pointy bit that's sticking up at the side there came from, but no matter.

I'm thinking I might do a couple of no-knead breads next though, for a bit of a change. I also have a post scheduled that compares the two different kinds of bread techniques - just a few thoughts.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Herb and Yoghurt Scrub Mask

My sister would be appalled at my lack of high maintenance chickness since Pippin's birth.

Ok so I was never THAT high maintenance (so I maintain) but I do love nice skincare products, facials, massages... Seriously... Who doesn't?? They don't have to be super expensive (though I think you do get what you pay for to a certain extent)... Just nice. I make a lot of my own treatments; you can see some recipes here.

However, I'm so tired these days that I often don't feel like taking the time to wash my face before I go to bed. Also there are still occasionally days when I don't actually manage to have a shower because of running around like a maniac. I do know, however, that I always feel much, much nicer when I do take the time to wash my face twice a day and nicer still when I make myself a yummy-smelling something extra.

So, I'm going to try to treat my skin nicely more often. And I think this is my favourite mask/scrub to date.

Do you have some spare herbal tea sitting around in your cupboard? (No surprise that I have a lot!) Something flowery that includes chamomile, lavender, that sort of thing, would be best - avoid anything spicy as it may be too irritating. Grab your herbal tea. If it's loose leaf you'll need about a heaped teaspoon - grind it up finely in a mortar and pestle, or if you don't have one of those, you could put it in a small plastic bag, seal it tightly, and crush it up with a rolling pin as fine as you can. If the tea is from teabags, empty out two - you probably won't need to crush it as the pieces will be much finer.

Combine your crushed herbal tea in a small bowl with a heaped teaspoon or so of yoghurt - I used plain, but vanilla would also be delicious. You want a grainy paste of a spreadable consistency.

That's it! Now pop into the bathroom, give your face a gentle wash with warm water and then smooth on the scrub mix. Leave it on for a few minutes while you shower (or even better, take a relaxing bath), then rub gently into the skin and rinse off with warm water. You will feel so lovely!!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Something Lovely

I love the work of Michelle from Wing By Sea so much. I think she has a terrific aesthetic going on with her jewellery pieces, and I'll let a few of my very favourites speak for themselves...


I'm sure you agree... everything is so very, very lovely!! Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Flavour of the Week - Christmas (in July) Pudding

Dear Colleagues,

Congratulations are due to all those loyal ice cream citizens who have continued to anticipate and intercept weekly dessert deliveries, as evidenced by their disappearance from the freezer. This remarkable consumption was maintained despite an appallingly extended period of email silence and the resulting lack of a guarantee of the contents or provenance of the frozen shipments beyond their self-evident deliciousness.  Only now can the true tale behind this icy blackout be told to a hopefully-credulous public!

For the truth is that I was rendered incommunicado by the sinister programmatic specificities of the infamous international public-policy supervillain known as ‘The Diabolical Problem’, alias ‘Le Problème Diabolique’, alias ‘El Cambio Climático’, alias (possibly, pending further investigation and an all-clear from copyright lawyers) ‘Keyser Söze’.  Forced to respond with brutally non-Geneva-Conventions-compliant interrogation of the data in a dangerously unstable partnership with Microsoft Office, there was barely time to produce a litre here or there of Blackberry Swirl, Rhubarb Crumble or Übervanilla, and no chance to adequately publicise them.

Fortunately for those who like to confirm the lack of allergens in their dessert prior to anaphylaxis, the chaos and confusion of the explosively onrushing election has allowed me the breathing space to inform you that this week the freezer downstairs contains not-quite-a-litre of Christmas Pudding Icecream.  Swirled with fruit mince soaked in the sticky-raisiny indulgence of Pedro Ximénez sherry, a small spoonful is all you’ll need for your own personal Christmas In July!

Dietary information: this ice cream contains milk, cream, sugar, vanilla, fruit mince, Pedro Ximénez.

Yours moving forward to real action on ice cream,

The Stressed Chef

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Thirty things that I love

I ♥ my crazy quirky family
I ♥ my crazy quirky friends
I ♥ tea
I ♥ roaming around farmers' markets
I ♥ roaming around handmade markets
I ♥ Twin Peaks
I ♥ The Muppet Show
I ♥ baking my own bread
I ♥ Nigella Lawson recipes
I ♥ living in Melbourne
I ♥ the interwebs
I ♥ The Lord of the Rings
I ♥ Agatha Christie mysteries
I ♥ a sleeping Pippin
I ♥ vintage teacups
I ♥ the smell of roses
I ♥ being asleep
I ♥ cute softie toys
I ♥ long flowy skirts
I ♥ The Dark is Rising books
I ♥ massages and spa treatments
I ♥ chocolate mud cake
I ♥ laughing
I ♥ walking
I ♥ a tidy house
I ♥ fresh sheets on the bed and clean pyjamas
I ♥ thunderstorms (when I'm inside the house!)
I ♥ warm a scented bath
I ♥ steamed broccoli with brown rice and lemon-soy-tahini sauce

Thanks Amanda from Calico & Co for the inspiration for this post!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

This Week's Baking: Sourdough Bonanza

This is actually a bit of last week's baking as well. I made fetta and chilli sourdough from Wild Sourdough... except without the fetta because I couldn't get hold of any at the time, so instead I sprinkled the bread with chilli flakes, fennel seeds and dried thyme. You do that when the dough is pressed out into a rectangle and then roll it up tightly. The pinwheel effect was only very minor because the spices were so small; it would have looked more impressive with the fetta. Tasted good; this is a wholemeal bread (using rye starter) and it has a nice texture and medium-dense crumb:

The bottom is all bumpy because I have taken to baking my bread directly on the oven rack with only some baking paper underneath the loaf. I think it looks kind of cool:

I have a bit too much sourdough starter on hand though, so I've been looking for ways to use it up. I came across this helpful recipe for blueberry muffins.

(Sourdough Home, where the recipe is from, is a terrific sourdough resource by the way - much as I love my Wild Sourdough book it leaves out quite a bit of useful information (poor sub-editing I'm afraid, which is disappointing) and so I have had to turn to the internets for additional information. Sourdough Home has been extremely handy for filling in some of the gaps.)

With some alterations, here are the muffins I made:

1 cup sourdough starter (rye, in my case)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup wholemeal self-raising flour
pinch of salt
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup frozen blackberries

1. Prehreat oven to 220C. Grease a 6-hole Texas muffin pan.
2. Mix the starter, oil, egg and vanilla together thoroughly in a medium bowl.
3. Mix the flour, sugar and salt together in a small bowl. Stir in the chocolate chips and blackberries.
4. Working quickly, add the dry ingredients to the wet ones and combine thoroughly. Spoon into muffin cups.
5. Bake at 220C for about 30 minutes or until slightly browned on top and cooked through.

These muffins are not your usual sort of muffins - much chewier and denser (although if you used a plain white starter, rather than rye, they would be lighter I suppose). They're not excessively sweet, either, so are a good breakfasty option; if I'm going to have a muffin for breakfast I like it to be substantial and not super-sweet and fluffy!

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Challenge Begins

Well. Notwithstanding my sister's evocative description of my commitment to The Challenge of the Utmost Kind as 'el lame-o' (thanks sis! I love you too!) I remain resolved to undertake it.

Here are my parameters:

Official start date: 19 July 2010 (that's today folks)
Official finish date: 18 July 2011

The Commitment: all purchases made by me, for myself and (as far as is practicable) the house and family will be either second hand, or handmade, or possibly even both.

Some exceptions:

- Gifts. Obviously I am not going to require that someone who is so delightful as to wish to give me a gift adhere to the Challenge parameters. I will note that antique, vintage estate jewellery, preferably with diamonds, is acceptable from all perspectives. Also if my husband decided to present me with a shiny new dishwasher I would not complain. Subtle hint.

- Shoes. I'm not 100% confident that, should I need a new pair of shoes, it will be possible to get them second hand. Handmade offers possibilities though. But I'm just not sure. That said, I am just not that into shoes so it is not like I am making a tremendous sacrifice by promising not to buy them.

- Underwear. Obviously. This also applies to socks and tights. No point in replacing my holey socks with someone else's. I will try hard to find handmade ones though and if I can justify their cost I will invest in some should I need to.

- Things for Pippin and other family members. I will do my best to source things in accordance with The Challenge but it might not always be possible. Life is unpredictable.

- Work-related items. In the interests of full disclosure I should reveal that I am about to sign up for the Tea Geek Certification course (yes! I know you all thought I was ALREADY a tea geek but within 12 months I shall have a certificate to prove it!) which will involve being sent some specialist (sort of) tea wares that will be new and unlikely to be handmade. However I PROMISE not to buy any other new, non handmade tea wares. Cross my heart. Why, purely in the Spirit of The Challenge I've already been wasting hours of my time drooling over antique tea cups on eBay!

It's going to be an interesting year I think... I'm already facing a few challenges like... I have a bunch of cardigans (including some that I inherited from my sister before she went overseas). Most of them have buttons missing or holes (thanks, jumping, sharp-clawed cat). My sewing skills extend to replacing buttons but do NOT stretch to darning machine knit fabrics, nor am I sure that hand-sewing a split seam on one of them will be of much benefit (I don't have a sewing machine either). So I am tossing up what to do. It's not quite as easy for me to 'make do and mend' as it would be for someone with more skills.

 Letterpress poster by Print for Love of Wood

My commitment is already bringing up some questions for me about consumption generally. I AM doing The Challenge partly as a way to be more conscious about my consumption. I do love buying nice things (especially unique handmade fun things); I am also very short of personal spending money... Apart from the minimal income I get from my Etsy shop, we are now a single income household. I haven't been financially dependent on anyone for a long time and it's making me a bit uncomfortable I must admit. So I am more confronted than usual by the dichotomy of need versus want. Also slightly ashamed of how easily I am usually able to convince myself that a 'want' is actually a 'need'. I'll probably be posting more about this in the future.

At any rate, let The Challenge of the Utmost Kind begin! I promise to be quite honest about any slips and difficulties and also will do my best to post regular updates about thrifty finds and homemade goodness (I have a plot for some new cushion covers in the works, as soon as I can find some fabric dye).

Friday, July 16, 2010

Something Lovely

Our camellia tree in the backyard is finally in bloom. It doesn't get a lot of sun over by the fence so I think that's why - despite having loads of buds - it's taken quite a while for them to actually burst out.  Most of the other camellia trees in our suburb have been flowering for weeks.

I thought I'd take advantage of the ones that had opened and adorn our kitchen table with them.

There's still a lot waiting to unfurl - in fact perhaps too many. I think I've heard that it's a good idea to remove about half of the buds to encourage the others to open - I shall research and see what I can come up with.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Nice Note Drop

So here it is, my 'Nice Note Drop' to celebrate the 2nd blogiversary of Operation Nice... I secreted a few of these lovely bright notes around the local library...

Hopefully some pleasant surprises there for the people who borrow the various books I stuck them into!

By this stage you may be asking yourself... 'What is up with all this niceness huh...? Has Verity gone completely loopy?'

Well that's a bit of a moot point... but what I will say is that there have been times over the last few months when I have been having a difficult baby day, or just a difficult day all on its own, and been wandering around the park with or without Pippin just wishing and wishing that some random person would come up to me and tell me that everything was going to be all right... or smile at me... or that the universe would somehow wrap me up and give me a great big hug.

And it didn't happen. At least, not just like that. I had to reach out and ask for that love and support and niceness from friends and family... which is just a lesson that I also need to learn I guess, so that's ok.

But I can't help thinking that it would be wonderful if some other person, wandering around my local streets in need of substantial cheering up, found the inspiration and love they were desperately wanting because there is some crazy lady posting funny little notes around the place. Wouldn't that be nice.

This Week's Baking: Nigella Lawson's Brownies

Sometimes you just gotta have chocolate things... like brownies.

These are the ones from How To Be A Domestic Goddess, except without the walnuts (didn't have any; also I have recently been converted to the way of the nut-free brownie thanks to some absolutely delicious ones brought around by a friend of mine one day).

I have trouble achieving the right cooking time for these; I think my pan is not quite the right size, plus our bottom-heating oven is a bit funny (don't get me started) and I worry about burning them, which ironically often leads to them being undercooked.

However, this time I gave them their 25 minutes, then turned the oven off and left them in there (following consultation with the Stressed Chef) for about another 15 minutes. Result: perfection. Squidgy, chocolatey, rich, but - surprisingly - not too sweet. If you are a fan of brownies this is definitely one to try. Along with all the others, of course.

 A treat this yummy deserves a pretty plate, don't you think?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A NICE Assignment

This Thursday marks the second blogiversary of Operation NICE, a blog I have only recently stumbled across but which is ever so... well... NICE. Melissa who writes the blog has requested that readers help her celebrate by participating in a 'nice note drop' - print out some of her free note cards, write a little message, and scatter them around to spread a bit of niceness!

As an added incentive, for each person who emails her photos of their note drop she will donate $1 to The Hunger Project. How NICE* is that?

* My inner naughtiness can't help but feel that NICE should actually be some kind of Orwellianly sinister acronym. It's not though. Pity.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Challenge of the Utmost Kind

I have decided to sign myself up to the Dottie Angel 'Challenge of the Utmost Kind.' You can read about how it all started here. I know, I know; it's almost at the end of the challenge year that Tif set for herself. What can I say? I'm a late bloomer.

But still! Here we go. I am challenging myself to only purchase handmade and second hand goods for my closet and home... I am still working out the nitty-gritty details though, and will post up some more specifics for myself by the end of the week.

I'm excited! And also rapt to have discovered that this 'challenge of the utmost kind' is not, in fact, about hair-shirting it in a painfully sanctimonious eco- and socially-conscious* manner (unless you want to) but about having fun and being creative... how awesome is that. Stay tuned!

*Note: nothing wrong - far from it - with being eco- and socially-conscious. It's the sanctimony that's the problem.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

This Week's Baking - Wholemeal Oat Yoghurt Bread

A lovely friend came over for dinner the other night, and - having had a very busy day and insufficient time to cook - I served her soup from the freezer. Soup not even made by me; it was my mum's minestrone soup which she had given us a gallon of a week or so before. It is terrific soup; but in order to maintain my self-respect I felt that I needed to actually make something myself.

So I did a bit of a cupboard and fridge hunt... I had wholemeal self-raising flour and yoghurt and a little bit of buttermilk... I figured I had the makings of a soda-type bread, but which recipe to use? Google to the rescue; I searched for 'yoghurt bread' and found this recipe for Whole Wheat Yoghurt Bread. So then I took the plunge and reworked the recipe to incorporate the ingredients that I had on hand:

3 cups wholemeal self-raising flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 tsp salt
2 tsp brown sugar
150ml buttermilk
350ml plain yoghurt

1. Preheat oven to 180C.
2. Mix together the buttermilk and yoghurt.
3. Stir dry ingredients together thoroughly in a large bowl. Add the buttermilk/yoghurt mixture and mix until most of the liquid is incorporated. The dough will be raggedy, not smooth.
4. Turn all the bits out onto a clean work surface and knead together. If the dough still seems a bit dry (mine did), wet your hands and knead it a few times to incorporate a little more water, but don't over moisten.
5. Shape into a round and cut a cross on the top. Place on a sheet of baking paper or a baking tray dusted with flour.
6. Bake at 180C for an hour - should be golden brown all over and sound hollow on the bottom. Best allowed to cool thoroughly before slicing.

We didn't wait though. The bread was very tasty although it seemed a little doughy in the middle - but I think that's because it was still so hot. Another 5 minutes in the oven probably wouldn't have hurt though. Beautiful with the soup  (thanks mum!). It was also excellent toasted the next morning. None left now!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Something Lovely

I came across this gorgeous printable Free Compliments Poster on Kind Over Matter the other day and wanted to share it with you! What a great idea!

I'm printing some out now as I write this and will post up a few of them when I have to pop out a bit later this afternoon... one at the library I think and another at the Post Office if I can. Where will you put yours?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Note to Self... not spend a long time browsing amigurumi on Etsy just before going to sleep. It will induce weird crochet-related dreams.
  (this is Max, by y0omii)

Don't ask.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Something Lovely

I missed my 'Something Lovely' post last Friday due to being so sick - so here's a double shot of loveliness for you today!

I have definitely needed some cheering up with bright colours and cuteness... and I spotted these beautiful tags when I was browsing Treasuries on Etsy last night:

They were in the 'Into the Woods' treasury curated by Kattuna... so then I was checking out her shop and I think this little hippo embroidery is just adorable... don't you agree?

I hope these have made you smile today!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

This Week's Baking, Part Two - Sourdough Rye Sandwich Loaf

I think this might be the best loaf of bread I've made, ever.

waiting to go into the oven...

I don't have time to go into blow by blow detail on the making of it... but I will say that 'air-kneading' (throwing the dough in the air and whacking it on the bench) provided plenty of entertainment for Pippin!

The recipe is from Wild Sourdough. This particular loaf uses approximately equal quantities of starter (rye in this case, though the recipe calls for white) and plain flour, resulting in a loaf that is about 50% starter. This means (apparently) that it rises well, in a shorter time, and has a denser crumb, but a less complex flavour.

looks like a treasure chest!

It is still plenty tasty, though. The texture is incredible, moist, tender. This is the sandwich loaf that supermarket or Bakers Delight loaves can only fantasise about being. I love the flecked look from the rye flour. It's got a nice slightly sour tang. I think it could possibly have done with another 5 minutes or so in the oven to dry it out a touch more... but it's damn good as it is.

Pause for consideration: This bread is, like, a MIRACLE. It is flour, and water, and a little bit of salt, and that's it! Nothing else! And it still rose properly and everything! WOW!!!! I am in awe of the power of sourdough!


Winter Garden

Love the Fitzroy Gardens, anytime of year.