I’m in my new house and I thought I’d do a quick photo tour. These are the “before” pics — I have a lot of unpacking and organising yet to do! I wanted to document what it looks like right now, though.
Let’s begin out front, approaching from the street…
( Read the rest of this entry » )
Over the next couple of days I’m really truly moving to Ballarat. Since at least the mid 1990s, I’ve been saying that I’d move to the country when they have good enough Internet to do my work from there; Ballarat’s not quite “country” but it’s definitely a step closer, and it feels good to have such a long-standing plan/intention start to come together.
Every house-move throws me into a nesting frenzy, but this time it feels more serious, and it’s leading me to be a bit more introspective about what I want from a home, and how I want to live in it. I thought I’d write some of my thoughts down to give them a bit more shape.
The first question is why I care about living a certain way. What are my values, and how do they affect my home life?
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had this post sitting in draft form and right at the top of it I’ve had the words, “Sustainability? — not really.” Sustainability’s a hot topic and I’ll admit I toss the word around quite a bit myself, but when I think about it realistically, it just doesn’t grab me as a goal.
For one thing, I don’t think it’s really feasible for me, as a participant in Western culture, a renter, and a small business operator, to live entirely sustainably — zero carbon emissions, recycling water, self-sufficient or 100% renewable in food and the other necessities of life, and all that. I could make an attempt, but it’ll be a very long-term goal at best, and pale in comparison to the effort that’s needed on larger scale. Shorter showers won’t help if we don’t see massive industrial and political change worldwide.
Of course I’ll be taking shorter showers. Reducing, re-using, recycling. Using energy-efficient lightbulbs, buying stuff secondhand, and choosing more sustainable food options. But I’m doing a lot of those things already, and I don’t particularly expect a cookie for it.
So no, sustainability on a day-to-day level is not a “why” for me — it’s the least I can do. If I want to actually make an impact, I’m going to have to do more: be more vocal, engage in politics, and take it beyond the four walls of my own home. That feels scary, because I don’t feel all that confident on the subject, but I think it’s worth doing.
Meanwhile: a couple of years ago I came across the term “resilience” via the Transition movement and this has more resonance for me. It’s unlikely that we’ll be able to bring ourselves into a state of sustainability in time to deal with the crises barrelling toward us. When those crises arrive, we’ll have to deal with them somehow. Resilience looks a lot like sustainability on the surface, but it feels different to me. Maybe sustainability is aspirational, whereas resilience is practical? Whatever it is, it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot.
If fuel became unbearably expensive, how would I stay warm, cook, travel? If the industrial food supply collapsed, what would I eat? How would I survive if I lost my source of income, if the telecommunications infrastructure stopped working, if there was a natural disaster or pandemic? It starts to sound a bit like the zombie apocalypse, which Milkwood Permaculture have justly criticised, but as my friend Emilly said the other day, the people she knows who are preparing for the zombie apocalypse and those who are preparing for peak oil and climate collapse are all doing the same things on a day to day level.
For me, resilience has meaning on a number of levels, from the everyday (always being able to make a meal from the pantry) to the long-term (choosing a lifestyle that is more affordable on less money, meaning I’m less financially fragile). In the past, I’ve often thought of resilience in terms of independence and being able to look after myself, but these days I’m starting to come around to the idea of resilience in community. Just as a computer network is more resilient with redundant topology, a community gains resilience the more connections there are between its members. So this is something I want to work on more in future.
Apart from that, another big motivator for me is knowledge. Skills. Being able to do stuff. I’m fascinated with traditional, human-scale, everyday stuff that people would have known a hundred or a thousand years ago. Baking, spinning, growing food, building a house, dealing with minor illnesses, anything like that. I’m a history nerd, but I’m especially a social history nerd. I want to know how people lived, and when I find out, I want to try it for myself.
So far, I’ve found that I tend to prefer a lot of the old ways of doing things to the modern ones, even if they take some learning and practice. There’s a sense of accomplishment in preserving the harvest or making a pair of shoes or mixing up a cleaning concoction that’s better and cheaper than the packaged kind, and I want to experience that as often as I can.
Next, I want to maximise my quality of life. That’s a broad term, but for me it includes health (both physical and mental), leisure, and feeling good about the physical things that surround me.
On health: I’m lucky to be in generally good health, my only notable issue being a long-standing eating disorder, for which I’m finally seeking help. I won’t go on about that in detail (if I ever do, I’ll place a warning at the top of the post for those who might be triggered by it), but my slow recovery and my changing relationship with food is a big part of my life these days. It’s important to my physical and mental health that I eat regularly and mindfully, so that ties in closely with how I arrange my domestic life.
When it comes to leisure, the core of it is about choosing a lifestyle that lets me have enough time to enjoy it. Moving to Ballarat’s part of that: I can afford the sort of living arrangements I want, without having to work for so many hours that I’m too exhausted to enjoy them, or on projects that suck more goodness out of my life than my leisure time can put back in. (The book Your Money or Your Life was pretty influential in my thinking around this — and I see there’s a new edition ca. 2008, which saves me having to warn you about how dated it was.)
When it comes to using my leisure time, it seems that over the past couple of years two of my biggest interests are learning and practicing traditional skills (as above), and hospitality. Okay, well, that and hanging around on Twitter and watching otter videos. But really — I get a lot of pleasure from domesticity at present, and I want to continue with that. But I’d also like to broaden my horizons a little, and find some more leisure activities outside the home and outside the Internet. So that’ll be something to keep in mind.
As for the physical stuff of life: stuff isn’t happiness, but in my experience, if you have the opportunity to carefully choose things that you love, and use them in your daily life, they can be a small but constant source of pleasure. It might be something you bought — I have a fabulous jar-opener that makes me happy every time I use it and it just works — or something you made or something that was given as a gift. Everyone’s has their own stuff that they love; I’m really only interested in optimising my own stuff, so I’m not trying to be prescriptive here. But I always thought William Morris was being a bit half-assed when he said:
Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.
Embrace the power of “and”, William! I’d like to have both, where possible. My ideal house would be furnished by things that are both useful and beautiful, and nothing else. That means not just careful selection, but also carefully weeding out the things that don’t make me happy, until I reach some kind of state of having just what I need and every single thing delighting me. Now there’s a stretch goal!
Finally, there’s a principle that seems to crop up over and over again for me: polyculture. The opposite of monoculture, polyculture is what you get when you have a variety of different things all growing together, as in a natural ecosystem, or in a permaculture garden. Polyculture is more resilient than monoculture, and — many people would say — more beautiful.
I keep coming back to the idea of polyculture when I think about my goals. Do I want to make everything myself? No! But I want to be able to make things myself, or to purchase them from local artisans, independent retailers, or larger corporations if necessary. I’m pretty unhappy about the excesses of 21st century capitalism, but I don’t think opting out of it has to be an all-or-nothing proposition. If we can have a healthy polyculture in everything we do and buy and consume — whether it’s groceries or gadgets or media — then we claw some of the riches and power away from the 1% and spread them around to all kinds of people, fostering diversity and redundancy and those strong webs of interconnection that will help us survive whatever is thrown our way.
What and how
In practical terms, what does this mean for me? I made a lot of notes but they’re just bullet points for now, and I expect I’ll flesh them out over time.
- Live well:
- Regularly eat delicious food and eat it mindfully.
- Spend time outdoors: walk, ride, explore.
- Spend time in my body, doing physical things for pleasure.
- Keep my house nice, so I enjoy being in it, and others enjoy it too.
- Be hospitable (but balance it with meeting people on their own ground as well).
- Get to know my neighbourhood and environment (history, nature, etc).
- Grow my own food — attempt to become semi-self-sufficient in fruit/veg.
- Make food and household supplies from basic ingredients, depend less on packaged products.
- Make my own clothes and textile goods as much as possible.
- Learn more hardware skills (home repairs etc).
- Get to know my neighbours and others nearby: share, swap, collaborate.
- Be active in community groups that support this way of life (eg. permaculture, CWA).
- Shop local where possible: farmers markets, local producers, small and independent vendors.
- Modify consumption to prefer local or at least Australian goods (eg. grains, dried fruits, nuts, oils, etc).
- Prefer fair-trade and ethical goods where available. Where not available, buy simpler items (eg. cloth instead of garments, basic ingredients instead of packaged food) and less of them to reduce my spending on unethical products.
- Get my First Aid certificate back up to date.
- Make sure my home has a good emergency kit and realistic supplies.
- Look into local disaster volunteering (CFA? SES?)
- Buy less — do I really need it? Can I use something I already have?
- Avoid food waste: plan, preserve, etc.
- Choose high quality, long-lasting, repairable goods.
- Choose things that delight me, so I don’t want to replace them.
- Buy/acquire secondhand where possible.
- Minimise packaging, especially plastic.
- Be more mindful of energy and water use.
- Get involved with the local Greens party.
- Take part in campaigns: write letters, protest, etc (but be smart about what’s effective).
- Donate to causes/charity in accordance with my values. Actually plan this, don’t just pick things at random.
- Learn more: economics, politics, ecology, agriculture, sociology, history, whatever will give me a framework to understand this stuff.
- Share: write, teach, talk about what I learn and what I’m doing. Not just to like-minded friends, but outside my bubble as well.
- Consciously extend this to my work/business as well as my personal/domestic life.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Whether I’ll be able to do many of these, who knows? It’s a lot, but it’s something to aim for.
Tomorrow a friend and I are taking a van-load of plants, and my worm farm, up to Ballarat, then on Tuesday the truck comes for my furniture. So much to do! I’ll have limited Internet for my first few weeks, until the NBN is connected (fingers crossed!), but I hope that’ll give me more time, not less, to blog more about my new house as I settle.
I haven’t mentioned it here yet on Chez Skud, but I’m moving house. (If you follow my various other feeds, you’ll probably know already. What can I say, I have too many blogs.)
I currently live in an urban share-house with two housemates and a small yard where we have some vegies and herbs in a container garden. I’m right by the tram stop that takes me to Melbourne’s central business district, via the hip shopping-and-dining strip of Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.
From tomorrow, I’ll be moving to Ballarat, a regional city of about 80-something thousand people an hour or so west of Melbourne. I’ll be living by myself, in a moderately sized California bungalow in central Ballarat, just a few blocks from the main drag.
I’ve been saying for literally decades that when country areas got good enough Internet for me to telecommute from there, I’d move to the country. Now Ballarat is getting NBN — the national broadband network, bringing high-speed fibre direct to each house, at least in some areas — this is the first step.
I’m taking this opportunity to re-evaluate a lot of my domestic habits and focus on what sort of life I want to be living. I hope to be posting more about that as I go, and you may see some rearrangements to how this blog is laid out as a result.
Tomorrow I’m picking up the keys and taking possession of the new place. Expect photos!
I’ve written a longish followup to my earlier post on why it’s so difficult and expensive to make your own clothes, talking about how to avoid those problems, but I’m going to have a quick interlude before I post it. In both the original post and the followup, I talk a lot about “traditional” clothing, so I thought I’d post this interlude to describe/illustrate what I mean by that in a modern context.
It’s picture heavy, so for those of you reading via Dreamwidth or RSS, here’s a cut. ( Read the rest of this entry » )
Earlier today I retweeted a link to this article about recycling clothes and wound up in a few different discussions about fast and slow fashion, and the options available to people who don’t want to buy into fast fashion, or who aren’t well served by the industrial fashion industry.
Coming out of that, I promised Mary (@puzzlement) that I’d blog some thoughts about making one’s own clothes, or having them custom-made.
If you aren’t interested in fast fashion, or have needs related to your body shape or size, or other requirements that aren’t met by retail fashion, you’ll often hear people suggest to “make your own” or “have it tailored”. Unfortunately, making your own clothing or having it custom made for you are expensive, time-consuming propositions, and outside most of our budgets.
I wanted to explore that a bit, and think how we can reduce the expense of home-made or tailored clothes. I’m afraid this is going to be a bit abstract, but I hope it will give people (especially those who aren’t familiar with clothing production) something to think about, and if I can manage it I’ll try and post some practical links and worked examples later.
So. Making your own clothes is expensive, compared to buying off the rack. Take a t-shirt. You can probably buy a ready-made one for $10 or less, but to make the same you’ll need to buy fabric which will cost at least that (and probably more), have a lot of equipment on hand (from pins and good scissors to a sewing machine or overlocker/serger), and spend a lot of time not only on making the garment itself but also on learning how to do that — possibly decades of practice. Even if you already know how to sew and have all the equipment and have heaps of time on your hands, the cost of raw materials for that one garment is usually more than the equivalent garment’s retail price.
If you stop and think about it, you’ll probably figure out that this is because of economies of scale in the fashion industry, and possibly also that the craft of home-sewing is considered a luxury/leisure activity in our culture and the materials are priced accordingly. Both those things are true, but it goes a lot deeper.
Let’s take it back to basics, and start by considering fabric itself. Fabric can be made of a variety of materials: cotton, polyester, nylon, viscose, linen, wool, silk, and a heap of other things. The ones commonly used in modern fashion, which I’ll shorthand as “industrial fabrics”, are:
- polyester and similar synthetics
- viscose and other cellulosic fibres
Cotton came to prominence in the 18th century, when the Atlantic “triangle trade” was at its peak: slaves from Africa to the Americas, sugar and cotton from the Americas to Europe, and miscellaneous manufactured goods like ironware and guns from Europe to Africa. Without slavery, cotton production wasn’t — and isn’t — anywhere near as cheap. (Much of our modern cheap cotton is still produced with slave labour.)
At the same time, in the north of England, the invention of the Spinning Jenny allowed spinners to produce cloth far more quickly: eight spindles at a time rather than the one spindle on a traditional spinning wheel. Improve on this idea and add an internal combustion engine (as happened late in the 18th century and into the 19th) and you have massive industrial production of cloth, much of it based on slave-produced cotton from the Americas. It was around this time that cotton clothing largely supplanted linen, as it was cheaper to produce under this industrial model.
In the 20th century, the big new invention was synthetic fabric, such as polyester, nylon, acrylic, and the like. Nylon was the first one, in the 1930s, and polyester became popular in the 60s. All of these are made from petrochemicals, which is to say, fossil fuels. During the 20th century so much oil was mined that we used it not just for fuel, but also to produce all kinds of other goods: fertiliser, plastic, and cloth being just a few examples.
In economic terms, a cost borne by someone other than the immediate user is called an “externality”. Some of the externalities of cheap cotton cloth are the personal and social costs of slavery borne by the enslaved; the labour abuses, danger, and health problems suffered by workers in cotton factories; and the pollution caused by those factories. The externalities of cheap polyester fabric, meanwhile, are peak oil, climate change, environmental disasters like the Gulf oil spill, and non-biodegradable landfill. Still, it’s cheap for the producers, so they’re unlikely to stop doing it.
The third popular family of industrial fabric is viscose and its relatives. These include rayon, tencel, modal, lyocell, and some of the new supposedly-eco-fibres like bamboo. Basically these are made by taking something fibre-heavy (wood pulp, for instance) and processing it with a chemical solvent to create long strands of cellulose fibre. The long strands have a silky feeling — rayon used to be sold as “artificial silk” — but they’re cheap to produce. As long as you don’t count the destruction of forests for wood pulp, or the toxic chemicals used to break down the fibre. Cellulosic fibre made from bamboo is often sold as an eco-friendly fibre because the bamboo itself is faster-growing and thus more renewable than wood, but it still doesn’t turn into cheap fabric without the use of a lot of toxic, polluting chemical solvents.
So these are the fibres used to create cheap, mass-produced clothing. Before we had these — and by “we” I mean western European people, from whom I’m mostly descended — we wore very different fibres. Mostly, unless we were rich, we wore wool and linen. Wool, of course, comes from giving sheep regular haircuts; linen is the fibrous stem of the flax plant, pounded and spun into thread. You can produce wool and linen cloth at home with very little equipment, and in fact this is what people used to do before the industrial revolution.
Wool and linen have a number of different properties from modern industrial fabrics. They’re more expensive to produce, for one thing — otherwise industry would be using them. They don’t dye as easily or as brightly, which is a big selling point for modern fashion (think: the 60s, generally, and the 80s neon craze, which relies on industrial dye processes). They have different laundering needs, and wool in particular can be damaged by rough laundering, while linen tends to look wrinkly unless you starch it heavily.
On the other hand, the very qualities of wool that make it shrink in the wash are the same ones that make it highly insulating (i.e. warm) yet breathable. Wool is also semi-waterproof, and doesn’t absorb smells, meaning you can wear wool for longer without it stinking of B.O.
Linen, which is relatively non-colorfast compared to industrial fabrics, is also surprisingly stain-resistant. I’ve personally seen a load of white linen, worn camping by historical re-enactors and covered in mud, soot, grease, and wine, wash up to pristine whiteness with only hand-washing and old-fashioned hard soap (literally made from mutton fat and lye by one of the re-enactors).
Pre-industrial fabric was also more often woven than knitted. There were a bunch of reasons for this, and I’m not going to go into the history of knitting at this point, so I’ll just point out that fine knitted fabric, like the cotton jersey used to make t-shirts for instance, is a purely industrial product. Stretch fabric, prior to this, meant either cutting your cloth on the bias (diagonally) which gives it a little stretch, or hand-knitting an entire garment, like a stocking, stitch by stitch. Generally, pre-industrial clothing was non-stretch.
So what does all this have to do with the cost of making your own clothes?
Well, from the point of view of factory owners, cheap cloth means you can change the way you produce clothes. Take, for example, the way fabric is cut. To cut out a t-shirt or pair of jeans using modern industrial methods, the fabric is laid flat on a surface and the shapes are more or less stamped out of the fabric, using industrial cutters or lasers. The pieces don’t all fit together like a jigsaw, of course, so the scraps of material in the gaps are often wasted. It doesn’t matter though, because fabric is so cheap.
If fabric is cheap and you don’t mind wasting it, you can design clothing in different ways. Curved seams, for instance, mean that pieces are less likely to fit together, but who cares? It’s instructive to look at traditional clothing patterns — from medieval tunics to Japanese kimonos — and note that they are most often based on rectangles, whereas modern patterns have lots of curved edges.
An interesting point about curved edges: they’re relatively easy to sew on an industrial overlocking machine, but quite finicky to manage on an ordinary domestic sewing machine or by hand, as you have to snip and carefully tweak the fabric to go smoothly around the curve.
So, as you may have figured out, there’s a direct line from cheap fabric, to not caring about wasteful cutting, to fashion design that assumes that wasteful cutting is the norm, to making it harder for people to make their own clothes. A pair of tailored modern women’s trousers is a complete pain in the backside to sew at home, but two or three hundred years ago we wouldn’t have been wearing them at all: we’d have been wearing skirts made primarily from rectangular panels, which even a child can do with a little guidance.
Knit fabrics, like jersey, have had a similar effect. You see, mass-production means making a lot of assumptions about people’s size and shape, and mass-produced clothing tends to fit less well than custom-made. Conveniently enough, knit fabrics can be used to make clothes stretchy and more forgiving of minor variations in size. However, knit fabrics are hard to sew by hand, fiddly to sew with a domestic machine, and much easier to sew on an industrial overlocker. So again we have fashions — from t-shirts and trackpants to flowy, slinky evening wear — that are based on an assumption of industrialisation.
Now to return to the question of why it’s so expensive and time consuming to sew your own clothes. The answer, at least in part, is because when people try to do this they’re trying to reproduce an industrial product without the necessary infrastructure, capital, externalities, and so on. To produce a $10 t-shirt requires sweatshop labour conditions, massive machinery, and massive waste. Presumably you aren’t doing this at home, and don’t want to.
Let’s compare industrial clothing, especially “fast fashion”, to what I’ll call “modern home-made”, i.e. clothing sewn to modern industrial patterns, and traditional home-made clothing (particularly from my own cultural traditions, i.e. western Europe; I’m not claiming that these are universal).
Industrial fast fashion:
- Type of fabric: cotton, polyester, viscose, etc.
- Fabric construction: woven, woven with stretch materials (spandex, lycra), or knitted
- Fabric production externalities: high (labour and environmental issues)
- Cost: low
- Wastage: high, but fabric is cheap so it doesn’t matter
- Durability: low (expected to last a season or so)
- Colours: bright, printed, varying with fashion
- Type of fabric: cotton, polyester, viscose, etc.
- Fabric construction: woven, woven with stretch materials (spandex, lycra), or knitted
- Cost: medium (lacks economy of scale, plus leisure/luxury pricing for crafts)
- Fabric production externalities: high (labour and environmental issues)
- Wastage: high (because patterns are based on industrial designs)
- Durability: low to medium (may choose slightly better quality fabrics than industrial producers)
- Colours: bright, printed, varying with fashion
- Type of fabric: wool, linen, or cotton blended with these
- Fabric construction: woven (knitted fabric not produced as yardage)
- Cost: high
- Fabric production externalities: lower (obviously there are still externalities, but lower scale of production helps a lot)
- Wastage: low (because it’s expensive, so you use every bit efficiently)
- Durability: high (expected to last multiple years)
- Colours: somewhat more muted (though some bright colours are also available), yarn dyed (eg. checks/stripes), not changing from year to year with fashion
Industrial fast fashion:
- Cost: low (economies of scale)
- Sizing: multiple, based on averages, may not fit individuals
- Changeability: frequent (multiple times per year, i.e. fast fashion)
- Adaptations for purpose: few (eg. long/short sleeves)
- Curved seams: many
- Stretch fabrics: many (helps alleviate problems with fit)
- Fastenings: many (cheap to produce/install with industrial machinery)
- Embellishments: many (cheap to produce/install with industrial machinery)
- Cost: high ($2-$20 per pattern, can be re-used a bit but not indefinitely due to poor quality of paper patterns and changeability of fashion)
- Sizing: multiple, based on averages, but can be personalised to some extent
- Changeability: moderate (follows industrial fashion a little more slowly, tends to be slightly conservative)
- Adaptations for purpose: some (eg. add pockets, choose fabric/fastenings)
- Curved seams: many (based on industrial fashions)
- Stretch fabrics: some (helps alleviate problems with fit, but harder to sew at home)
- Fastenings: variable (based on industrial fashions, but simplified designs are also available)
- Embellishments: some (based on industrial fashion, but often painstaking to do without specialised machines)
- Cost: low or free (based on simple shapes/measurements, taught by word of mouth)
- Sizing: personalised
- Changeability: low (traditional styles may exist for centuries)
- Adaptations for purpose: many (eg. traditional clothing of various professions: fishermen, butchers, laundresses)
- Curved seams: few
- Stretch fabrics: few (knit garments are made whole, not made from fabric yardage; wool has some natural stretch and bias cutting can be used)
- Fastenings: few/simple (eg. drawstring rather than zipper fly)
- Embellishments: few, except for special occasions
Industrial fast fashion:
- Protection: n/a, instead you wear old/worn out clothes for messy jobs, or throw out damaged clothes and get new ones
- Laundering frequency: after single or a few wears
- Laundering: automated washing machine (dry clean for some items)
- Repairability: low (no spare fabric/fastenings, original construction may not be reproducable without specialised machines)
- Protection: uncommon, but a little more care is usually taken with handmade items
- Laundering frequency: after single or a few wears
- Laundering: modern automated machine (hand wash or dry clean for some items)
- Repairability: moderate (you have leftover fabric/fastenings, and can reproduce original work without industrial machines, but curved seams and fabric choices can repair fiddly.)
Traditional home made:
- Protection: wear layers over/under garment to protect it, eg. dress guards, slips, aprons, smocks
- Laundering frequency: variable depending on item/fibre, ranging from single or few wears to almost never.
- Laundering: hand wash, spot-clean, brush and air
- Repairability: high (design and materials are optimised for this)
Industrial fast fashion:
- Hand-me-downs: sometimes, especially for children, but poor durability limits this
- Secondary markets: some clothes resold through charity shops or in developing countries
- When no longer wearable: recycled/shredded for industrial use, or landfill
Modern home made:
- Hand-me-downs: more common
- Secondary markets: some sold through eBay/Etsy/etc, some resold through charity shops etc
- When no longer wearable: sometimes re-used for other crafts, recycled/shredded for industrial use, or landfill
Traditional home made:
- Hand-me-downs: always (more durable clothing can be handed down multiple times, can be re-made for to fit smaller people)
- Secondary markets: second-hand clothing dealers of various kinds; may also be resold as reusable fabric.
- When no longer wearable: generally re-used for other crafts, household uses, eventually becoming rags, and finally biodegrading (can be composted, etc)
I’ve gone on for a long time already, but you can see that modern home-made clothing has most of the disadvantages of industrial clothing (poor durability, fiddly to make, externalities) and few of its benefits (capital-intensive economies of scale).
Home-made clothing may never be able to compete with industrial clothing based on cost alone, however if you aren’t able to wear industrial clothing, perhaps because you don’t fit their mass-produced sizes, or you want to opt out of the industrial clothing system for whatever reason, there are ways to make your own clothing (or have it made) that are more cost effective than the modern, quasi-industrial methods that are promoted through mainstream craft publications and retailers (Australia: Spotlight and Lincraft; USA: JoAnn’s and similar). Best of all, these are a mix-and-match set of skills, materials, and practices that you can do at whatever scale or level of investment works for you. You don’t actually have to dress like an 18th century peasant to take advantage of them. (Of course, if you want to, I fully support your life choices.)
This is quite enough rambling for one post, though, so I’ll put them in a followup. Stay tuned.
This is something I’ve been eating a lot lately. It makes a good breakfast, bruch, lunch, or light supper, and it uses things I have around the house anyway — including kimchi, which we made about 8L (2 gallons) of during the winter. We’re on our very last jar of the stuff now, and I think this is the way I’ve eaten the most, especially over the last month or so.
You start with a good scoop of kimchi and chop it up fine. I suppose it’s about half a cup, but I don’t measure — it’s just a couple of generous forkfuls. Put the mush in a bowl, along with some kimchi juice from the jar if there’s any to spare.
Add some chopped onion. Any kind will do: quarter or half a small brown onion, or some spring onions, or red salad onion, or whatever you’ve got.
Throw in some fish sauce and/or soy sauce for added flavour. If you love chilli, you can add some extra of that too: sriracha or sambal oelek or fresh chopped chillis or whatever you like, I guess. Sambal oelek (minced red chilli with a little vinegar, which sits in a jar in the fridge) is what I usually use if I’m going to.
Add an egg, and give it all a whisk.
Now, add a spoonful or so of self raising flour. You’re looking for a sloppy batter at this point. (If you don’t have self raising flour, you can probably substitute plain flour and a pinch of baking powder, but I haven’t tried it.)
Finally, some chopped greens. I usually use a couple of leaves of mustard greens from the garden, chopped up fairly fine, because I like the spice, but you can use just about any kind of Asian or European greens, from spinach to coriander/cilantro. You can put just enough to give some coloured specks, or a heap to make your pancake really veg-heavy.
You might want to adjust the texture. You can add a bit more flour to make it thicker, or water or kimchi juice to thin it a bit. Anything from runny to spoonable is fine, but you’ll wind up with a different kind of pancake, depending. Experiment!
Today I fried mine all in one big batch. Other days, I sometimes make smaller fritters, maybe 1/4 to 1/6 the size of this one.
Whatever size you make them, it’s not rocket science: heat up some oil in a pan, drop the mix in, fry until brown on one side, then flip and do the other side. It’s pretty hard to go wrong, but if you were going to mess it up it would probably be by making your pancake very thick and then not letting it cook through to the centre. If yours is that way, start with a hot pan then turn the heat down to medium-ish as it cooks. The result may be moist in the middle (especially if you’re using lots of fresh greens, which will wilt as they cook) but it shouldn’t be runny and it should be hot right through.
That was breakfast this morning, just as it was with no extras, and a pretty tasty breakfast it was, too. I’m still looking for the perfect dipping sauce, but something like this or the first one here look promising.
I’m not going to show you a picture of this because it looks disgusting, but I will tell you the recipe.
After a session of tomato re-potting that left my hands feeling raspy and unpleasant, I went looking for a gardener’s hand scrub recipe. A lot of the ones I found were extremely prescriptive — lots of specific ingredients, many of which I don’t have around the house, and finicky measurements — but this one was more my speed. It also reminded me of my friend Marna’s recipe for a scrub she uses in the depths of Canadian winter, so that was another point in its favour.
What I ended up using was:
- The sugar that was in my sugar bowl — probably a bit less than a cup
- Two spoonfuls of honey
- Enough olive oil to make a paste
- Some lemon-scented bits and pieces: a bit of oven-dried peel from earlier in the year, which I pulverised, and the contents of a lemon myrtle teabag.
I mixed them all up, and looked at it skeptically. It was a greenish sludge with lumps and bits in it. But it’s not there to look nice. I took a spoonful of it and scrubbed it into my hands. I recommend you do this over the sink, as I did, because bits kept falling through my fingers. I just picked them up and kept going, particularly scrubbing into the dry, callused parts of my hands. After a minute or so, I rinsed my hands under warm water, no soap, and dried them off.
Result: there’s a thin film of olive oil still on my hands, but in a nice way. My skin feels tingly and nice, and the callused bits are definitely smoother. My hands don’t smell of anything much, just a little kitchen-y, if that makes sense. There are certainly worse things to smell of than olive oil, lemons, and honey.
I’ve put the leftovers in a wide-mouthed jar on the windowsill near the kitchen sink. I expect it’ll keep well for weeks or months, and that the lemony scent will infuse a bit, especially if it gets some sun.
Conclusion: making a hand scrub is far less of a precise science than 99% of the recipes on the interwebs would make you think. I am starting to feel that this is true of almost everyting.
Look, everyone probably already knows this, but I’m only really picking up baking recently after mostly being a stovetop cook (and the occasional casserole) for most of my life.
After too many times greasing a pan and having things stick to it, I started using baking paper for everything. Baking paper, as I learned, is impregnated with silicone, which is what gives it its non-stick properties. It works fine, but it kind of bugged me that I was using this rather expensive, non-recycled, chemical-impregnated paper then throwing it away into landfill.
Then, somewhere in my bread-baking research I learned about greasing AND FLOURING pans. This is the magic trick, it seems. The way I do it is to drizzle a little vegetable oil into the pan (I use grapeseed, but might use butter or something else if i were baking something that used that in the recipe) and smear it around so the whole surface is covered. Then toss in a spoonful of flour (I just use whatever spoon is to hand, or the tip of the flour scoop) and shake it around so it sticks to every oiled surface. I have got quite good at the technique of tipping the pan in every direction to make the flour stick everywhere. Then tip out what’s left loose in the pan (probably just a little bit) into your compost bucket.
I’ve yet to find a loaf or slice or cake that sticks when baked in a greased-and-floured pan. It’s working well for me. It’s obviously not free — and I still throw away a sheet of paper towel or scrap paper that I use to smear the oil — but I feel a bit better about it.
I think next time I replace any baking pans I’m going to get non-nonstick ones (I guess that’s just “stick”, huh?), use this technique, and feel okay about scrubbing them nice and hard to get any remaining crusties off the surface, knowing that there’s no nonstick coating to damage. I’ve been eyeing off these enamel cookie sheets. Anyone got any experience with anything like that?
As usual, a harvest Monday post on Tuesday morning, which is when I wake up and see everyone else’s in my newsfeed. Yay timezones?
I’ve been pretty remiss about tracking my harvests over the last few months, as it’s always been just a handful of this and a sprig of that and the occasional bunch of green things, and it’s hard to remember to keep track, let alone take photos.
But recently with my work on Growstuff, we set up a harvest-tracking feature, so now I just keep the scales handy, weigh everything as it comes in (no matter how small), and enter it as soon as I can.
Therefore I can confidently say that my harvests for the last week were:
- a bunch of parsley
- a couple of salads worth of mizuna (currently my favourite green leafy salad thing — very versatile and quick-growing!)
- a bunch of chard which I scrambled with some eggs
- a bunch of the last non-snail-ravaged kale that ended up in a farro risotto
- and a big bunch of warrigal greens that I sauted with some tomato salsa and had for breakfast with eggs and toast
… or almost a kilo of produce in total. It’s a slow time here, but I’m surprised it was so much!
Not harvested: the first few strawberries, which were eaten by rats and/or birds. Bah! I’ll have to figure out how to protect them better.
I’ve been kind of rubbish about posting life updates over here, so I just thought I should make a note that I’m planning to move to Ballarat by the end of the year. Why? Well, my current housemates are going their separate ways and it was either find two new ones, or get a place by myself. Ballarat has cheap rent (not much more for a full house than it currently costs me for a room in a share house), fast internet, is only an hour or so from Melbourne by public transport (I expect to be back pretty regularly, maybe every week or two), and I can have a proper veggie garden.
For those not from around here: Ballarat is a small city of ~80,000 people near Melbourne, and was at the centre of the Victorian gold rush and also the site of the Eureka Rebellion of miners and others seeking reform (i.e. voting rights). In US terms it’s a “college town”, in that the local university is one of the biggest features. Although only the size of Boca Raton or Yuma it’s not as conservative as a similar-sized US city would be; it has a Labor (centre-left) member of parliament, a decent portion of Green voters, and workable public transit, albeit on a small scale. UK people may like to compare it in size to Chester, Durham, or Bath.
I lived in Ballarat for a semester in the 1990s, on an internship with Mars Confectionery, whose Asia-Pacific HQ is on the edge of town. I found it pleasant apart from the work — Windows 3.1 and Novell support, which involved a lot of crawling under desks and scraping chocolate off the inside of keyboards. I was one of the few civilians in town to have any Internet access, as I managed to beg a 2400 bps dialup off someone at the uni computer centre. At age 19, it was only my dialup connection and weekend trips to Melbourne that managed to offset the boredom of office colleagues talking about football and lawncare; 20 years later, I don’t have to work in an office, pretty much everyone torrents Game of Thrones, and though I don’t much care about lawns people usually find my veggie-garden talk less weird than my obsession with Linux and cyberpunk SF was back then.
To answer a FAQ: yes, Ballarat is colder by Melbourne by a couple of degrees. I’m pretty sure I’ll cope with it, since I lived 4 years in Canada. Bit of frost? Bring it!
To answer another FAQ: yes, I’ll be expecting friends to visit!
More detail to follow once I actually have a house and stuff.
I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I just discovered they have an affiliate program and, well, that’s an excuse to mention it again.
They are basically a drop-in replacement for Google analytics, but run by a company who care more about, you know, analytics than selling ads. Clicky gives me all I need in terms of pretty charts and reports, and I can see where Growstuff’s visitors are coming from and how they’re using the site. Pretty much what you’d expect.
I’ve also paid for a premium account, which gives me two features I really love: “Spy”, which shows me people’s activity in real time (and makes a delightful “DING!” in my browser when we get a new visitor, which can be quite noisy at times, though of course you can turn the sound off if you prefer), and a heatmap overlay for the website that shows where people are actually clicking on the page — great for seeing which parts of your site are getting the most attention.
On top of all that, they’re friendly and responsive and have been really helpful on Twitter when I’ve had questions for them.
Anyway, if you’re looking for an analytics system that’s not run by a kind-of-evil ad company, and you want to support independent software companies and not be a free user, give Clicky a shot. If you use this affiliate link and buy a premium account, it’ll help Growstuff out a little bit, too.
There was some discussion on the Growstuff IRC channel last night, while I was asleep, about the term “spike”. I use it a bit on the Growstuff project but I don’t think everyone knows what I’m getting at, possibly because I picked it up by osmosis from the Extreme Programming community over a decade ago, and the term’s fallen out of favour since then. So here’s a quick definition as I use it:
- A spike is experimental. It’s for writing something you’ve never written before, and don’t quite know how to start.
- A spike is a learning exercise. The goal isn’t to write a new feature. The goal is to get enough knowledge to know that you can write that feature.
- A spike is a conversation-starter. It moves abstract “maybe we could…” conversations into the concrete.
- A spike may not follow coding standards. You don’t even know this thing is possible. It’s pretty hard to write tests first in that situation.
- A spike is thrown away when you’re done. It gives you enough to say “okay, we know this is possible”, and then go and write it properly.
I’ve recently been interviewed by a couple of different blogs, and thought I should link them here:
- The Ada Initiative blog interviewed me about Growstuff, pair programming, and social justice. They’re having a fundraising campaign to support their work with women in open technology and culture, by the way, and if you care about those things you should definitely donate.
- Maciej from Pinboard interviewed me for the Pinboard blog, also about Growstuff, which (as you may recall) he funded to the tune of $37 back in January. It’s good to have such support from our investors ;)
Not much in the way of pics, I’m afraid, because I was not very organised this week. But I want to get back into the Harvest Monday swing of things so I’ll post regardless.
- big bunch of chard, which turned into a quiche along with some roasted butternut and some chevre
- cos lettuce, which went into salad, and was eaten on burgers and alongside veg chili
- herbs for salad: nasturtiums, sorrel, parsley, “winter mix microgreens” which I think are mostly kale/beetroot/mustard
- a bit of rosemary for a farro risotto with more butternut and some shiitake mushrooms
You can see the salad and quiche in this rather ill-lit shot:
I’ll try and remember to take more photos this week as I actually harvest things!
Daphne’s Dandelions hosts Harvest Monday every week. You can see other people’s harvests linked over there.
(An aside: if you’re here via Harvest Monday, take a look at Growstuff — it’s the gardening website I’ve been working on for the last year, and we’re trying to build an active community of food gardeners over there.)
I’ve been pair programming with a lot of different people, with a variety of skill levels, on Growstuff over the last year. One thing I’ve noticed is that some people freeze up when it comes to writing a commit message. They type “git commit” and then sit there for a minute going “uhhhh”.
I understand this. It’s hard to convert maybe an hour’s hard work in code into a short sentence of English. How do you compress such complex ideas? How do you even make words, when your brain has been deep in code?
So here’s the tip I give to my pairing buddies who freeze up when it comes time to commit, and I offer it here for free: Start your commit message with a verb.
The rest usually comes easily. What did you add? What did you fix? What did you refactor? Grammatically, this is the direct object, and starting with a verb works as an effective prompt to figure out what it might be.
Sometimes you need an indirect object as well (“Added planting_count to crops”) or a reason (“Added planting_count to improve performance”) but really, if you can get a verb and a direct object, you’re most of the way there. And it’s certainly better than “WTF!?” or “yay bugfixes!” or “.”, all of which I’ve seen as commit messages.
(Of course, if you don’t freeze up when you have to write a commit message, then keep doing what works for you.)
I have a bunch of fiction and non-fiction books and some DVDs, for sale. I've listed them in this spreadsheet and also included a quick list below (formatting's probably awful, sorry -- the spreadsheet is definitive.)
If you'd like any of them, they're a flat $2 each plus postage. Happy to answer questions about them, but broadly speaking you're getting a great deal at that price because some of these books are nice hardbacks and stuff. Of course if you're feeling generous you can tip in a bit more for the rent fund.
You can pickup from my place in Thornbury, VIC, or I can ship anywhere (at your expense) via Australia Post. I take payment in cash, or via paypal or bank transfer.
If you'd like any of these items, just drop a comment here or email email@example.com.
( non-fiction (mostly history, some LGBTQ, technical, etc) )
( fiction (mostly SFF and historical) )
( DVDs )
Again, to claim any of these, just drop a comment here or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Signal boosting/linking very welcome!
I made some really good veggie side dishes recently — both “use up what’s in the fridge” efforts — so I thought I’d note the recipes here.
Tomato kasundi cabbage
We were having dal for dinner last night, and sometimes I find dal kind of dry. Or gritty. Something. Basically, legumes and rice are nice but I need something juicy or creamy to go with them. Yesterday I decided to make something with cabbage (since we had some that needed using) to fill that spot on my plate.
I’d also been thinking I should use our tomato kasundi more often in cooking, so this was a chance to experiment with that. If you’re not familiar with it, kasundi is a spicy chutney type thing, and I’m pretty sure we used this recipe to make ours. I suspect, based on what Google tells me, that it’s a primarily Australian condiment. “Kashundi” means “mustard” in Bengali, so that seems to be the origin, though I can’t find any tomato kasundi recipes outside of Australia. Whatevs. I like it. It keeps forever in the cupboard, and goes with all sorts of things (I like it with eggs).
Anyway, the cabbage:
- Oil for sauteing
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 tblsp ginger/garlic paste (or a couple of teaspoons of each, minced)
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 1 sachet tomato paste
- 1/4 large cabbage, shredded
- a few big spoonfuls of tomato kasundi
- a couple of tablespoons of butter
Saute the onion until golden, add the ginger/garlic and stir a bit more, then add the tomatoes, tomato paste, cabbage, and kasundi. Stir it well then put a lid on it and let it simmer over a low heat for ~15 minutes. If it’s a bit dry, add a slosh of water. Before serving, taste it and add more kasundi if you want it spicier, and add in the butter and let it melt through the cabbage.
This was pretty good last night with the dal, but even better today after a night in the fridge to let the flavours blend. Should serve about 6 as a side veg.
Carrot, chickpea and parsley salad
- 1 can chickpeas or equivalent amount from dry
- 2 large carrots, diced to chickpea size
- 1/2 red onion, diced to chickpea size
- olive oil
- 1 tsp coriander seed, 1 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, all roughly ground up together
- generous pinch of salt
- 1/2 to 1 cup roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
- lemon juice (juice a whole lemon, you’ll use the rest below)
Combine everything except the parsley and lemon juice, spread on a baking tray, and bake at about 200C for about 20 minutes. You want them to be turning a little brown but it’s okay if the carrot’s still a bit crunchy. Remove and allow to partially cool. Then throw them in a bowl with the parsley and lemon juice, mix, and adjust flavours.
While the stuff’s in the oven, you can also prepare a dressing of:
- 1 spoonful tahini
- 3 spoonfuls greek yoghurt
- 2 spoonfuls lemon juice (approx)
Mix them well, to your preferred flavour and a dollop-able consistency. Serve the salad with a dollop of the tahini dressing on top.
Both components should refrigerate well, and I imagine the recipe would also be very easy to multiply if you want more than I made. (My version is about 3 side-salad serves.)
As of right now, there’s not, but there is a good explanation of how you can put some custom code in your LocalSettings.php to integrate any analytics stuff that you like.
Here’s a generic version that will work for any analytics system, hopefully cut-and-pasteable. It works fine on my Mediawiki install right now (version 1.20.x) but is not guaranteed for any future versions. Or, well, it’s not actually guaranteed for this one, now I think about it. Use it at your own risk, is what I’m saying.
Note that you have to paste the analytics code from your provider in around line 16.
Hope that helps.
As a side note: I’m very happy with Clicky, so if you’re looking for an alternative to Google Analytics, you might consider them. Yes, they cost money, but that’s a good thing. Don’t be a free user.
You’ve probably heard the tech startup aphorism “do one thing well”, or a variant on it. “Don’t try to do too many things”. “Focus.” Whatever.
I’m not very good at following it, as is pretty apparent from what I’m working on. Growstuff has several things it’s trying to do (crops database, garden journal, seed sharing, community building), all interlinked.
Every so often someone points me at a website that does just one thing of the set of things we’re trying to do. For instance, the other day I got an email from a Transition Town contact, suggesting I look at RipeNearMe, which offers produce sharing/trading. If you’ve got extra lemons or zucchini or eggs, you can offer them for sale to people nearby. Great! The website looks fantastic, and they’re starting to get people listing stuff. (If you want to see some examples of what they’ve got available for trade, check this neighbourhood near me, which has a few things listed, though it’s sometimes slow to load.)
The Transition contact went on to say that maybe Growstuff should “join forces” with RipeNearMe, so as to avoid duplicating effort.
There are a lot of gardening sites out there that do one thing, often very well indeed: a Q&A forum, a seed swap site, a database of planting times, garden layout tools. But when we talked to people who used them, they said “I used this site for a while, and it was useful for that one thing, but I really wanted $other_thing as well.” Usually there is another site that offers the desired feature, but it doesn’t integrate with the first one. As a gardener, you need to use a dozen disparate sites, re-entering your garden data in each one, and having to check in on each of them regularly to keep them updated. It’s no wonder that so many gardening sites, flourishing at first, start to die down after a season. Before long you can see weeds growing everywhere.
That’s not to say that open data and APIs solve everything — I’ve written before about how importing data is hard — but without them it’s impossible to integrate anything.
I’m reminded of Anil Dash talking about the web we lost: heavily interlinked, easily syndicated, less silo-ed. I’m also reminded of the Unix philosophy and especially of pipelines. Unix commands “do one thing well” — sort a series of lines, count words, spit out the contents of a file — but they don’t work alone. You can chain them together to say things like “show me the wordcounts of all these files in descending order”, or express even more complex ideas, as if building a tower from blocks.
Now think of that in terms of gardening websites. How awesome would it be if you could say “take my garden layout from SmartGardener and import it into my to-do list on Growstuff, then cross-reference it with the planting dates on Gardenate and the weather feed from the Bureau of Meteorology, and tell me when to plant things. Then when I harvest the results, let me post my excess across to RipeNearMe and, heck, why not CraigsList too?”
That’s pretty unlikely to happen, but until it does, I feel pretty justified in not doing “just one thing” with Growstuff. “Just one thing” only works if you can integrate with other things. If you build one amazing feature and put a fence around it so nothing can get in or out, what’s the point?
So, the other week I sought sourdough advice and based on the comments to that post and my own half-assed instincts, I’ve come up with a technique for making my own bread. I’m posting it here for anyone else who’s similarly recipe-averse and doesn’t like messing around with measuring cups, scales, etc.
I got a rye starter from a friend, who got it from a friend, who probably also got it from a friend. I feed it each morning on wholegrain rye flour and filtered water. I keep a half-cup measure in the rye flour container, and half-assedly use it as a scoop, so it’s about half a cup each time. I use a similar amount of water but don’t measure it; I just pour in a slosh, stir it, and aim for something about the consistency of cake batter. If it’s too thick or thin, I add a spoonful of flour or a dribble of water and mix again.
I feed my starter daily and keep it on the counter-top. I bake with it a couple of times a week, which means that occasionally I need to toss out some starter, but it’s easier than having to think an extra day ahead if I want to make bread, as I would if I kept it in the fridge.
Baking a basic loaf
I work from home, so my timeline is based on that. If you aren’t around during the day, then you’ll probably want to adjust to suit your schedule.
Evening of the night before: the starter has risen and is in a happy, bubbly place. I pour a generous cupful out into a large plastic bowl. I don’t measure; I just eyeball what’s in the starter jar and decide that I need, say, half of what’s there, or most of what’s there, or whatever. If I have a lot of starter, I might make two loaves, in which case I can either pour double into one bowl, or into two bowls if I want different kinds of bread that differ at the sponge stage. However, I will proceed with these instructions on the “one loaf” assumption.
I then add about 1 cup plain white flour (we use a relatively strong flour, but not specifically a “bread” flour) to the bowl, measured (again) using the scoop that lives in the flour container, so it’s not exact. (Yeah, we keep scoops in a lot of our containers like this.) Then I add enough water to make it cake-batter thickness again, and leave it to rest overnight, under a tea-towel.
The amount of sponge I have will affect the size of the eventual loaf, so if I want a larger loaf, I am a bit more generous with the starter and flour and, subsequently, the water.
Overnight, the starter will rise and bubble, and when you poke at it with a spoon, it will be stringy/gluteny, a bit like mozzarella cheese.
The next day (i.e. after about 12 hours, roughly) I make the dough. What’s needed: enough flour to make a dough of your preferred stiffness, and some salt. I usually start by adding the flour a half-cup scoop at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon, until it’s getting stiffish. Then I add about a teaspoonful of salt (not a measuring spoon, just a spoon that I’d use to stir my tea — or a couple of generous pinches, whatevs). Then I keep adding flour.
At some point I turn it out onto my well-floured counter. I usually do this when it’s still quite wet, relying on the gluten to hold it together as I gently fold it and incorporate a bit more flour. On the whole, I like my dough to be wettish, as I think it makes a better loaf overall. So you’re not aiming for the sort of dough that you get a good workout kneading; more the sort that you gently fold and push. I generally only knead for about 5 minutes, until it comes together into a nice stretchy, not too dry dough.
At this point, I might optionally let it sit on the floury counter, under a tea-towel, for a bit. Depends on what my schedule looks like. It certainly doesn’t hurt to let it sit an hour or so, maybe giving it a quick fold and push every so often.
Anyway, in the meantime I grease and flour a tin. I use a 9″x5″ loaf tin, the same one I use for quickbreads. The loaves come out kind of rectangular, and quite a good size for our toaster (which is good, because we mostly eat our bread as toast for breakfast). Alternatively I just make a long oval loaf and use a flat tray, but if I’m doing that I want a stiffer dough so it doesn’t flatten out too much. Also if I do this, I usually slash the top.
Assuming I want the tin, however, I flatten my dough ball out into a rectangle a bit smaller than a sheet of paper, then roll it up from one end to the other, then tuck the ends of the sausage neatly underneath. This goes into the tin, and I usually pat it and push it a bit to make it sit evenly.
I then let it rise, under the same tea-towel, until it’s about doubled in size. Maybe not quite doubled. Whatevs. Usually a couple of hours at room temp. Other people have recommended leaving it overnight in the fridge, but I haven’t had success with this (yet).
I bake it at about 200C for 30 minutes, but that’s very much “about”. I know where the sweet spot is on my oven’s dial — about 7 o’clock — so I just do that, rather than actually thinking in numbers. Anyway, it’s done when it sounds hollow when you tap the underneath.
I try and wait about 15 minutes before trying to slice the hot loaf (sometimes that still isn’t enough, but who wants to wait?). We store the loaves whole, in a cloth bag, inside a bread bin. They last about a week before they come unreasonably tough, if we don’t eat them before then.
Here’s the result:
My take on variations is loosely based on the instructions I use for plain yeast bread, which are from Mollie Katzen’s “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest”.
There are basically three stages for varying the bread:
- in the sponge
- straight after the sponge
- right before baking
Sponge: if you want rye bread, use rye flour at this point. Continue with white flour afterwards; you need a combination.
After the sponge: what Katzen calls “the mix”. This is where I usually add flavourings and other goodies. For example, yesterday I made a choc-orange fruit bread by adding:
- zest and juice of 1 orange
- 3 big spoonfuls cocoa powder
- 2 spoonfuls brown sugar
- 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
- 3/4 cup currants
Just put them in before you start incorporating flour, and continue as usual. Yes, the nuts and stuff do make it a little harder to knead, but not much. The orange juice also made it wetter, which meant adding a bit more flour, but that was no big deal.
Another time, I made dark rye bread by starting with a rye sponge, then adding cocoa powder and caraway seeds. There’s lots of other options you could try here.
At the end: if you wanted, you could make a spiral kind of bread by sprinkling flavourings on the flattened dough before you roll it into a loaf. For instance, cinnamon/sugar/butter/fruit/nuts for a cinnamon bun effect, or cheese/herbs, or even two kinds of dough for a marble effect. I haven’t done this yet but it’s pretty clear that it’d work fine.
Anyway, here’s the chocolate fruit sourdough I had for breakfast this morning: