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Hello, my name is Sandy.

Four basic recipes

I love basics. And I have totally no problem with anyone calling me a "basic bitch". I've also been called "annoyingly particular", which I'm fine with too. But that's a story for another day.

Learning how to make basic food is empowering. Which is ironic cos if you were really powerful, you could afford to pay someone to make it for you. But I'm not going to argue with my feels here. The closer I get to the source of the food I eat, the more I feel I could enjoy some quality of life after the zombie apocalypse.

Today, I'm going to share four of my favourite recipes for making basic foods. I hope these websites stay online forever, but I plan to copy these to my kitchen notebook at some point, just in case.

Bread

no-knead sourdough bread

Debbie Drake's Easy No Knead Sourdough bread

I tried this for the first time last week, and it turned out beautiful. Way less work than the Herman sourdough bread. I left my dough to ferment for 36 hours (by accident), but Mum says she does it for 12. Play around with it, see how you go.

Pizza Dough

simple pizza dough

David Tanis' Pizza Dough

Very easy pizza dough. The recipe calls for all-purpose flour but we use Tippo '00' pasta flour to make the dough, and use the cheaper all-purpose for surface work and patting down the outside. I'm not experienced enough with food words to know how to describe the difference, so let's say it's just nicer. :)

Pasta

a buffet of pasta

This recipe we got from a class. Just two ingredients and a little elbow grease, and it makes wonderful pasta every time.

100g Tippo '00' flour
1 large egg
(just double/treble/etc. the ingredients as needed)

Mix and make a dough. Cling wrap and leave in fridge for half an hour. Then put it through the pasta machine, and boil to cook.

Tortilla

homemade tortillas

Taste of Home - Homemade Tortillas Recipe

The recipe says to cook on MED for a minute per side, but I looked on MED-LOW for a bit longer. If you've ever eaten a tortilla before, you can pretty much guess when these are done by the way they look and feel.

Happy eating, everyone!

What's been going on

I've spent the last month meandering through my weeks. I like how things are going lately. Even though my black dog still nips at my heels, he's been less a hound of Baskervilles and more, I dunno, a beagle or something.

So, wots been going on then?

Gaming

some friends need to put more clothes on

Ah... Miitomo. This is a weird, creepy, cute and awkward game built around over-sharing. Above is a picture of a friend who took his clothes off and came over to my virtual apartment. It's why you don't add just any old chum to your friends list.

my dark souls 3 character

Also, Dark Souls 3. What can I say that you haven't already heard? Nothing. But let's celebrate the sentiment. Just thinking about it makes my palms sweat and my heart beat faster. I also feel like shouting swear words at the wall.

Fooding

Herman apple cake

There's been a lot of food in my life. Cakes, breads, cookies. Above is a Herman the German friendship cake - the actual cake, not my bread alternative. It's so very moist and keeps well. We still have some in the freezer, a bit of which went into making the healthier-ish edible terrarium below.

healthier-ish edible terrarium

My terrarium isn't healthy healthy, but I'd take it over the sugary (but pretty) original recipe. For the 'drainage layer' (the rocks you put at the bottom of a normal terrarium), use nuts and seeds and add custard for moisture.

Fresh fruit and cream make great 'plants'. The plan was to extract a natural food colouring (fail) for the cream, then whip it stiff (also fail) and pipe it into little echeveria-style leaves (cbf). But yeah, I was just ready to eat, so... maybe next time. :)

homemade tortillas

Learned how to make tortillas using this Basic Homemade Tortillas recipe. It's easy, tasty, uses only 4 ingredients, but the house reeked of fried oil after, and I can't stand the smell. But I now know I want my dream home to have an outdoor wet kitchen for stuff like this. :3

Best food news: I found a restaurant that serves spicy offal noodle soup! It's a huge, filling serve for just $13 at the place that used to be Beer & Skewer in Northbridge. They've recently changed their name to something else; Mama's something-or-other.

Writing

After powering through weeks and weeks of 30-minute writing sessions on my novel manuscript, I'm getting ready to... start all over again. Dumb dumb dumb. How do you know when to press on with a project, when to reboot it, and when to give up entirely?

Giving up is not an option here, but I don't want to press on with a direction that doesn't feel right. But I also worry about the whole thing falling off if I play with it too much. This is the bane of life for everyone working in a creative field. The bane. I has it.

a pensive cat

In the past month, I've written a short story and started two new longer stories. Before the next month is over, I hope to have another two short stories under my belt. Heck, I'd be happy with a couple of 100-word stories. I just want those brainwheels turning smoothly again.

making a mess, making cocktails

A magazine I write for accepted my pitch for a piece on... cocktails! Which meant researching, testing, modifying and drinking. My favourite recipe of all was a Summer Mary, dubbed 'JanuMary' for us in the southern hemisphere. It's a lighter version of the Bloody Mary, using passata and soda water instead of straight-up tomato juice. Pound in a few basil leaves and it tastes like pizza. :) New household favourite.

Full article: 5 Easy-to-Grow Herbs for Fresh Spring Cocktails

Making

an arduino hooked up to a breadboard

I hoped to have something electronically interesting to show you by now, but you know how it is - you go to read up on how something works only to find you need to read up on a million other things before you begin to understand. The other day, I went looking for the right-hand rule. Remember that? I haven't had to use it in nineteen years.

It's amazing how we can use electricity every day and have no idea how it works. I know that's kind of the point - that you don't have to know - but I like knowing. Learning this stuff has been one mindblow after another. I had no idea how much ingenuity went into the tiny things I take for granted. Like transistors. I mean, wow.

Electrical engineers are pretty much amazing. You should shake the hand of the next one you meet. I don't think I could ever be a proper engineer, but pretending for a few hours a week is heaps of fun. I'm a fun-gineer.

What else?

I've been thinking about starting an email newsletter. When I started freelancing, one of my mentors said I needed one, but I was busy and scared and it sounded like marketing fodder so put it out of my mind. Lately, conversations have been coming up around newsletters. Friends have introduced me to some rad ones, and some I had been thinking of unsubscribing from suddenly got good. Is the universe sending me a sign? Or is this just the hot thing everyone's doing right now?

Would you sign up to a newsletter if I started one? I couldn't tell you what you'd see in it yet, but quite likely similar topics to what you see here, or what we'd talk about over tea or a beer, and other random interesting things like these:

And these:

And of course this:

If you're keen, let me know. Who knows, maybe it'll give us a chance to chat on email more, or give you something to chat about with someone you like better. :)

So, what's been going on with you?

Super Simple Herman Bread

cross section, showing crumb

For the last three months, we've been making our own bread. It's gotten to the point where 1kg bags no longer cut it; we bought our first 12kg sack of flour today. Yeah, we're turning into those people.

Without my own science lab, I can't say whether homemade bread is objectively better than bakery stuff or carefully formulated factory bread. But I am loving the process of doing this myself, and making time to think about what goes into an oft-overlooked staple. So, as far as I'm concerned, there's something special about homemade buns and loaves.

We use Herman the German sourdough starter. It's meant for cakes, but we're not big on sweets in our household. Using it for bread is perfect because we are big eaters. The dense and filling end product suits us just fine.

Fancy a super simple sourdough bread recipe?

Feeds 2 people.

500g plain flour  
240ml lukewarm water  
1 tsp salt  
1 cup of Herman

Mix ingredients.

Knead for 10mins.

Leave to rise for at least 2 hours.

Bake @ 230°C for approx. 20 min.

Tap bottom with a spoon. If it sounds hollow, it’s ready.  

That's it. So easy, huh? :)

My best results come from kneading for 10 minutes, leaving for 10 minutes, then kneading again for another 5. The crumb turns out nice and smooth.

This recipe makes a nice loaf, but in my opinion, eats best as 6 little buns.

golden brown outer crust

my loaves always split in the oven

score the dough before you bake it to get cool little patterns

Changing and learning and Christmas

Year's end approaches, and I don't feel like the calendar brings a fresh start this time around. I suppose it's because the last 12 months have been full of fresh starts. So 2016 must be about continuing, learning, experimenting, getting used to life as it is now.

I pushed very hard for the first three months of freelancing, and now in Month Four, I'm in a good place. I like my clients, I'm interested in my work, I reckon I can ease off the accelerator and try a few things out. I don't want to call this a groove, because a groove so easily becomes a rut when you're not looking. This is a pit stop.

What I'm excited to try over the next few months:

Finishing my manuscript. Forget the thrill of completing a first draft - that's so three weeks ago. Now, it's like someone gave me a new toy for Christmas. One I can fiddle with until it becomes something another person can read without vomiting. It's nice to not be starting from scratch. Even though my first draft is a pile of poo, I am still one first draft ahead of where I would otherwise be. Yay!

Making a product. I spent the last 6 months in prototyping and testing (ie. ruminating over a test piece). Then my prototype failed. Then I found a better way to go about the production. And now I'm waiting on materials so I can make a batch. I'm spending a lot of spoons on the freelance writing side of my life right now, but nowhere near as many spoons as when I was still working an office job. So, hopefully the new materials are legit, and this thing can finally be done.

Trying fermenting and pickling. Since I can't keep furry and feathered livestock yet, I shall start with microscopic ones. A friend gave me a glossy wipe-clean booklet on fermentation, and offered one of her Herman babies when he's ready. That plus a kombucha SCOBY, kefir from Mum, and whatever vinegar mothers I find in our pantry should jumpstart a nice bubbling, smelly kitchen.

Cleaning my typewriter. Did you know one of the best typewriter oils on the market is the same oil you use in a gun? Neither did I. I have an old Olivetti Lettera 22 I've been meaning to get in touch with. As time passes, my fingers grow increasingly itchy to pull it apart, scrub under the folds, and give it a rub down. Today, I made a shopping list of tools and supplies for this project.

my cousin's Christmas ham

This Christmas felt like the least stressful in a long time. Instead of everyone buying gifts for everyone, we played Secret Santa. I used to have doubts about this game, as it's always been associated with office parties and buying for people I hardly know. But it's way less awkward among friends and family. Turning our family gift habits into a game made things fun again. Especially with a low price limit, giving us licence to get creative.

Actually, we tried a couple new Christmas practices in my family this year. The main one being that Mum doesn't shoulder the burden of feeding everyone. She's our local matriarch, and has always assumed responsibility for putting on a banquet. But this year, family lunch was pot luck.

What I observed:

  • Everyone contributed.
  • Every dish was a conversation piece.
  • There was no one person having to worry about everything.
  • There was no reason for anyone to feel like they weren't doing enough.

Best of all, Mum didn't have to spend a day and a half preparing everything.

I've learned I'm sensitive to patterns and repetition. Particularly in the last few years, I've felt at odds with my family's Christmas habits. They're more habits than traditions, as we don't fiercely cling to them as much as fall back on them when the holiday arrives. At times, they've struck me as the perpetuation of activity long after we'd run out of circumstances that made them ideal. Like when people move from mild climates to arid ones, yet still insist on keeping a lawn.

I suspect my growing stress over the years has had something to do with falling back on habits no longer suitable for the climate. I daresay we once found our groove, and somewhere along the way, it became a rut. At least for me. My mum is not old, but older. Us kids - my siblings, cousins and I - are now the adults. We have income and responsibilities, passable cooking skills and a new generation of kids to treat. And as people, we change and grow, and learn new things about each other. Maybe I'm the only one in my family who thinks so, but these new habits seem to me like the right fit for where we are today.

Can I call them "new habits"? Next year could be different still. Hopefully we'll be able to adapt.

We must catch up

a heron taking off from the water

It's been hard to sit and write lately, despite wanting to. I'm tired after work, and at other times preoccupied by little adventures. Tonight was set aside for Prison Architect, but instead I think I'll have tea and tell you what's been happening.

pumpkin soup with Gourdon

So, before we left for the farm, we turned baby Gourdon into food. Here he is as a pumpkin soup. Bland pumpkin soup. It turns out Jarrahdale pumpkins are nutty, almost squash- and zucchini-like in flavour. The pumpkin-ness is mild, so they are better suited to curries. Lesson learned. If you're making pumpkin soup, use Butternut or a fecking Kent (also known as Jap).

pumpkin curry with Gourdon

Gourdon also became a curry, the mild flavour working well with spices and chickpeas. I used too much cumin, which gives me a headache if I don't cook it for long enough, so whatever's left in the freezer will need a long, long re-heat time.

We meant to make pumpkin pie too, but what was left didn't last til we got back from holiday. I think we would have ended up with similar results to the soup. The next pumpkin adventure will need to be a sweeter breed.

electronics button panel

I finished my Arduino course, the projects book that came with the starter kit. This is what an electronics button panel looks like without the actual buttons on top. The little interlocked E shapes are non-touching ends of a circuit. When you press the button, it mashes a conductive material across the two E's, which closes the circuit and transmits the button-press.

That alone was mindblowing after a lifetime-thus-far of a) not knowing, and b) never even thinking to wonder. Imagine the exhilaration to then hack the buttons to make the device think someone pressed a button when really it was my computer sending a false signal. I felt briefly boss-like with a hint of cyberpunk.

Raspberry Pi 2, unboxed

So, now I am an expert n00b. I'm scared to fall into the trap of just reading a bunch of stuff and thinking it's as good as actually doing it, so my next project will be to set up an LED display board for some kind of computer machine. I'm excited to learn about power ampy volty chargey stuff, cos electricity never made sense to me til now. But bless my gentle, patient physics teacher for trying.

#listersgottalist fav. expressions

In April, I joined the #listersgottalist challenge, but stopped halfway because I wasn't enjoying it. There's nothing inherently wrong with the challenge, but some days - many days - I didn't find it interesting to answer questions.

I felt obliged at first to see it through, but then remembered it's important to be as good at quitting as you are at continuing. My newfound konmari habit kicked in, and I chose to focus all my art energy on #100daysofteacup, which I am really enjoying even though it's hard work.

It's awkward to convey what a difference the konmari approach has made in my life. Whenever anyone asks, I feel like that person you worry about for maybe having joined a cult. Everything making me happy nowadays can be attributed at least in part to this "life-changing magic of tidying up". The joy aspect is what hit home for me, but for a good summary of the practical tidy-up stuff, I quite liked Chisa's blog post on konmari. Go read it. :)

beans and rice at the markets

I've been batch cooking food in advance, and calculating the cost per meal given the total expense. The first batch turned out great. We got 14 meals at about $6.50 each. I'm on my second batch now, which has so far averaged at $7 a meal, with another week's worth of food left to go. This will be my part-time finance's saving grace.

The one downside is eating the same thing over and over. Even with takeaway and ad-hoc meals in between, it's... OK, it's not actually that bad except I made 3 bean-based dishes this time around, and things are not so elegant in the stomach area. Learn from my mistakes.

homemade meal

I was so very happy about this, though - this picture is of a totally homemade meal. Homemade baked beans, homemade (handmade) bread, and homemade ginger beer. And I ate it on a little wooden table Niaal made for me. :D

One day, I hope for this to be a totally homegrown meal too. I want to grow the beans and tomatoes, the flour and the avocado, the ginger and the honey. Maybe even make the plates and bowls they get served in. It's my dream to - not necessarily be totally self-sufficient and live off the grid like a mega-hippie - but to understand how stuff works and be able to provide when I choose to. Even tiny progress like this makes that feel attainable.

fantastically smooth bars of soap

And I did end up making some soap. I took a lot of photos, which I cbf editing now, so I will tell you about that another day. It was heaps fun, and not as scary as I thought, and I'm game to try making some from scratch once we're in a bigger kitchen.

All right, my teacup is empty. Time for a refill. Good night, friends. :)

Simple shakshouka in the oven

baked shakshouka

We usually make shakshouka in a fry pan, then eat with a greasy forehead. This time, since it's #baketober, we made it in the oven.

Cooking patterns here again - similar to the egg bakies, except instead of a solid tart, you eat this like a stew.

Bake at: 180°C

Bake in: Ceramic oven dish - or whatever you don't mind eating out of.

Bake how: Add bite-sized pieces of green capsicum and chorizo. Cover with enough tomato puree to just cover. Dust a layer of cumin and stir through. Crack eggs on top.

Bake for: 15 - 25 mins, depending on your oven and how you like your eggs.

With the chorizo, pick the dry-cured type that doesn't need to be cooked for ages. Feel free to add salty, sour cheese (white cheese, feta, etc.) before the egg, or at the end, once baking is done. We added shredded tasty cheese - not very authentic but it's the best we had.

The awesome flavour comes from the tomato and cumin, but you can add other spices for variety - paprika, mustard and the like. I'd consider coriander and lemon for a lighter flavour over summer, if we bake much at all with the summers here.

This was yummy. Between @niaalist and me, we ate one and a half chorizos, a whole capsicum, most of a bottle of passata and 5 eggs. While dessert was tea and a nibble of brownie. :D This is a well-fed month!

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