Back to the future with chooks (or how not to buy a hen house)

IMG_2772 (6)Over the last year I have been focusing on little changes that make our home feel a little more ‘homely’. I wish I could say that this has resulted in a massive decluttering and streamlining of our living areas, surfaces and bookshelves. Alas, this would be a big fat lie. Instead I am preparing the way for chooks.

When I was a very small child our family had two chooks, a large black orpington called Blackstack and Honey a bantam. They were charming and lived in an a-frame hutch at the bottle of our suburban garden. They would allow themselves to be held and to sit on the handlebars of our bikes to be wheeled quietly about. We would feed them warm mash in winter and sprinkle wheat about to their great hopping and darting excitement.

They taught me how to keep a hen quiet when lifting the sweet heavy heft of a fat bottomed chook.  I learned to take responsibility for looking after their food and water.  They were endlessly amusing to watch, and I have always associated the sound of their slow contented clucks and murmurs with a particularly happy time.  They were also productive, a warm, fresh egg in the hand straight from under the chicken was a child sized miracle, especially when one was a tiny banty sized egg.  And as a budding gardener it always seemed to be to complete a satisfying circle to be able to use their bedding and poo to make plants grow better.

Later, as a teen in lifestyle block land we had a flock of brown shavers.  Some of these hens were rescued layers with mutilated beaks who had to be taught to use the perch and to forage. This, more than anything, illustrated for us the great cruelty which is factory farming, and since then I have always paid above the odds for ethically farmed eggs.

While our brown shavers had less in the way of identifiable personalities, they had spirit. They would escape their pretty orchard occasionally and do their best to lay anywhere other than the warm dry, purpose designed shed provided for them. By the time a rogue clutch was discovered ( the biggest contained 22 eggs), it was often too late for the eggs. The smell of a recently broken rotten egg is physical confrontation with the fullest extent of stink.

Now for health, fertiliser and probably sentimental reasons I am looking to reintroduce hens to the back of our section. My mother-in-law and her siblings remember when they had to cart the household scraps up to the chooks in our backyard in central Auckland some seventy years ago. A meal of chicken was a rare treat then, with zero food miles on it.

Local bylaws now permit us to have as many as six hens. For sanity and neighbourly relations, perhaps it is a good thing that roosters are no longer an option.

So, housing was our first priority. A search on TradeMe showed there was very little between cheap and nasty Chinese manufactured hutches in poor thin fir wood and $800 palaces. So my first very idealistic idea was for the boys to build the hen house as a jolly togetherness project (hey, I never pretended to be clearsighted!). I even paid for and downloaded some plans from the net to take to Bunnings for pricing up.   After two weeks’ mucking around I was feeling like I should change my relationship status to ‘in a relationship with the nice but ineffectual guy at Bunnings Trade Desk”.   The eventual outcome was that it would cost me $1500 to build our own house and even Mr Bunnings recommended I head back to TradeMe.

Back at TradeMe I just happened upon a very nice little used plywood house which I bid for and won for $375 (worth about $900). All that remained was to take a trailer out to Karaka to pick it up which my beloved and my Dad very kindly consented to do.

IMG_2780 (2)A piece of advice to anybody looking to import a large structure for their back yard? Um, measure it. It had looked about right. Unfortunately the space through which it had to travel was approximately 10cm too narrow when you took the nesting boxes into account. My very kind and capable Dad then took it apart. Showers of ants, slaters and white tailed spiders jumped ship as he worked. We carried the pieces through, and then he nailed it back together. This was some distance above and beyond the call of duty. To his very great credit, not a single word of reproach was uttered. I think I owe him one for that alone.

Next:  Decorating the decile 10 chook house.

 

 

 

Best Hot Cross Buns ever

140509 Baked Hotcross bunsJ’accuse! A small storm rocked the fragrant world of hot cross bun making a few years ago when nationally beloved cook Jo Seagar called out the Edmonds Cookbook over the poor quality of its recipe.  Shockingly, this staple Kiwi household recipe bible had proven unreliable!  Many people, myself included, had tried using this recipe and come to the conclusion that hot cross buns were too difficult and we lacked the secret to make them work.  Of course that was bollocks.

Lots of people lack confidence in using yeast, which is a shame as it’s really not that hard as long as your yeast is active (i.e. working and not too old) and you give it sufficient time to prove (or ‘rise’).

Happily Jo Seagar came out front and centre with her own glorious recipe which you can find via the link at the bottom of this post.  Thanks to Jo and a wet Easter weekend, I restored my hot cross bun mojo.  A couple of hours and some hands on dough time and I had thirty substantial and delicious hot cross buns.  They were brown and glossy, with a lovely yeasty, spicy flavour.  Thumbs up – would trade again!

140509 Hit cross buns before cooking

Buns pre baking after final rise

Next time I think I would just ice the crosses rather than using the recommended flour and water mix which was lumpy and not easy to apply.

And lets just say that again: thirty buns. One of the things I like most about Jo Seagar’s recipes is that the quantities are always very generous.  This is a major consideration when you have a tribe of hungry boys to feed and still want a little to freeze for lunches.

Weirdly, hot cross buns have been appearing in the local supermarket from February this year in the same venal sort of seasonal creep we’ve seen with Easter eggs.  Generally those hot cross buns are pretty disappointing too, soft pale flabby things with an unpleasant aftertaste.  I guess someone’s buying them, but I find it devalues the tradition when seasonal trappings are available all year around.  Surely the way to maintain the special nature of our traditions is to respect them and not to exploit them.  One way to do this is to make them yourself.  It’s just once a year after all, and thanks to Jo Seagar they’re not only achieveable but rewarding.

You can find Jo Seagar’s hot cross bun recipe along with many other truly delicious and reliable edibles here: http://joseagar.com/recipes/category:baking-and-treats/seagars-hot-cross-buns/

The secret to super easy flower arrangements – five ways

131116 glass bottles and PierreHow to make perfect flower arrangements with whatever you have in your garden, using one simple tool

Happily we don’t have to be florists, or have a Sissinghurst style picking garden. The prettiest arrangements are perfectly within reach.  All you really need are need are some simple little glass bottles.

You can buy bottles like this cheaply from homeware stores or Trademe. However, there are plenty of small bottles which can be recycled into new life.  It still makes me laugh that mine started life as IV paracetamol bottles.  Well cleaned, and with labels scraped away, they have been pressed into a new and more decorative life

Right now in our part of the world the burgeoning, budding spring loveliness is all around us.  Even if you don’t have a garden it isn’t hard to find a few buds or blooms.  This type or arrangement is marvellously non-discerning.  Here are five ways you can use bottles like this to satisfying effect:

131116 Pierre bud vase1. One perfect bloom in a bud vase

Meet Pierre (de Ronsard).  I get ridiculously excited when M. de Ronsard decides to pop out a few fat, heavy buds, the petals of which open gradually into this lovely old fashioned quatrefoil arrangement.  It speaks for itself and doesn’t need any further embellishment.

 

131116 burgundy sweet peas

2. The tiny, fragrant bouquet

I wish I could link you through to the amazing old fashioned scent of these purple sweet peas.  If anything will take you back to your grandmother’s garden, it will be these.  The stems are not always as long as you might like, which is why these little bottles are just perfect.

 

131115 Purple Opium poppy

131116 poppy flower heads close3. the ‘personality’ seed pod arrangement

These glorious purple opium poppies bloom and then give way to these plump upraised seed pod faces.  They seem to have their own comical characters and I like to see them in chatty little groups. My children sometimes draw fierce little faces on them when I am not looking.  It can be quite disconcerting to have a flower arrangement stare back at you!

131116 dinner party flowers

4. The easiest dinner party arrangement ever

I used eleven small glass bottles and whatever I could find in the garden to create this centrepiece for a dinner with friends last night. This is an extremely simple arrangement to create but it brought lovely colour and sparkle to the table creating and a real sense of occasion.  On a practical note, the cakestand makes it easier to remove the arrangement from the table when it came time to put the main dishes on the table.

131116 centrepiece deconstructed

131116 fresh flower ringTo make the arrangement simply, cut the stems to roughly the same height and place them in their bottles on the base of a glass cake stand or plate. This brings them together and give them some height.. Add simple tealights in decorative glasses for a bit of glimmer.

131116 House elf 5.  The birthday party

I had no time, and not many flowers.  But a surprising number of the few blooms went with the froot-loop inspired bunting. Keeping the arrangement on the windowsill took advantage of the sunlight and kept them out of the way of serial small party-hyped elbows.  (You will have to supply your own house-elf though.  This one is ours ;-) ).

There you have it, five ways with everyday flowers, glass bottles and no time.  Do you have any favourite tricks with flowers?

From Scratch – The results of the no-knead bread experiment

bread white boule dark and rye

Regular readers (Hi Ma!) may recall I’ve been playing with no-knead bread recipes, trying to create one of those crusty, artisanal, country style boule loaves you might see at the Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC or,closer to home, up the road at Olaf’s.  The frugal side of me would like to think I can do it for less than the $7.50 market rate for good bread.

And here’s the upshot:: The no knead white bread recipe by Jim Lahey/Sullivan Street Bakery is a definite keeper.  No fluke.  It’s good, really good.  It’s my new go-to bread recipe.

The pros are:

  • It really is the closest you’ll get to making a real ‘artisan’ country style white boule, especially in my kitchen, with my crappy old oven (the Bermuda Triangle of my kitchen renovation)
  • It’s seriously bragworthy in appearance.  If you’re shallow and approval seeking like me, this counts
  • The inside ‘crumb’ is moist and appropriately slightly holey.  It is the bread which disappears from the bench before all others.. It’s delicious and I find it better, more authentic than the artisan bread in five minutes per day method, probably due to the longer fermentation period.
  • The kids like it.  They like to risk dismemberment with the serrated knife and cut it themselves.   The crust is chewy and thick and the minions like to walk around chewing them
  • It’s damned easy with the smallest possible hands on time.  Five minutes to mix, then five minutes shaping plus baking time.
  • While some people will laugh at the idea of a bread which has been left for 12-18 hours to ferment being called easy, or quick, the fact is, it bubbles around in a bowl for 99.8% of that time. If you’re the sort of person who regularly uses a yoghurt maker or remembers to take meat out of the freezer the night before (yeah, sometimes me neither), then you can do it!
  • Makes tasty toast
  • Cheap.  Three cups of flour, 1/4 teaspoon of yeast and some salt aren’t going to break the bank anytime soon.
  • It feels good to make good bread!

The cons are:

  • Sticky business: the fermented dough is quite wet and sticky to handle which takes a little getting used to handling.
  • Burny hot! If you check the method here you’ll see that the loaf’s caramel exterior and moist interior are created by the atmosphere within a lidded metal casserole inside your oven. Getting a red hot metal casserole or ‘dutch oven’ in and out of the oven is a bit tricky.  Those suckers are heavy! If you have removed the knob from the lid, then levering the lid on and off again is trickier still. If your knob is metal, then you’re fine but the black bakelite type ones don’t handle above 240c well, so I have had to remove it and fill the screw hole hole with foil to maintain the seal. As a result, I have been eyeing up those daft silicone non slip oven gloves with a little more serious consideration than usual.
  • It’s a round boule shape, so it’s not conveniently shaped for your lunchbox (that’s a future mission)
  • Not a quick fix.  It’s still bread. If you’re in a hurry, make scones.

I tried three mixes: The white, whole wheat and rye flour.  What I learned (a no brainer really) was that the recipe is designed for the properties of white flour only, the others were difficult to handle, very wet and not entirely successful.   I have Jim Lahey’s book My Bread now, so I’ll take a closer look at how he handles whole wheat recipes.

bread white wholemeal comparisonAs a result of my going off-piste in my non-informed way, the whole wheat was very disappointing (see loaf to the left). It hardly rose, was dry, and quickly went stale.

 

 

 

Bread rye flatHowever the big surprise was the rye bread.  As rye contains very little gluten, I didn’t expect much of a rise, and as you can see here, it’s pretty flat.  However it was delicious, moist, and flavoursome, slightly tangy and chewy.  It also stayed fresh and edible much longer than expected.  Sliced, it was perfect with avocado and a little haloumi or smoked chicken (all conveniently oblong shaped foods!) It also made really yummy toast.  I would definitely make it again, although I will look at some mixes with higher gluten flours for a more ‘high-rise result’.

If you want to have a go yourself  I’d really encourage you.  Clearly, kneading is not necessary and you can surprise yourself with some pretty delicious and impressive results.  Not to mention saving yourself a bill at the bakery.

Check out the recipe here.

Let me know if you’ve had a play around with no knead recipes.  I’d be keen to hear about any old favourites.  And please let me know if you have a good reliable sandwich loaf recipe.

 

The need to knead: How to make fantastic artisan style bread in your own kitchen

bread dough in bowlsFrom scratch: A no-knead bread experiment:

Bread has a reputation for labour intensiveness, however the amount of hands-on time required is actually not that high.  A measure and mix, 10 minutes kneading and popping in and out of the oven is all that’s required for the most part.  In between, you can be getting on with giving the laundry a bump, or finishing your powerpoint presentation. Whatever floats your boat ow!

For a couple of years I have been experimenting with different bread recipes.  I still find it miraculous that you can combine the four simple ingredients of yeast, flour, water and salt to create something everybody needs, likes and eats (we can talk gluten later).  The properties of yeast are downright magical.  The outcome is warm, fragrant and deeply satisfying in a Little House on the Prairie, back-to-basics way.

When I have the time, I enjoy the therapeutic exercise of kneading.  The bread becomes warm, smooth and elastic and is a pleasure to handle. Certainly it is a nicer sensory experience than a trip to the supermarket, though I am certainly grateful to have the choice.

jim lahey my breadAlthough kneading is not hard, it does add an extra step to the process. Enter the ever expanding (geddit?) popularity of no-knead breads.  The king is Jim Lahey’s method, originally profiled in the New York Times dining section (recipe below) and in his book “My Bread”.

The Jim Lahey method below requires less yeast, and a much longer rise, at least 12 hours and preferably 18 hours.  18 hours!! You can see where the extra planning ahead and added dedication to the craft come in.  But his bread looks seriously good, he’s certainly a focussed looking baker and I’m curious.

Artisan bread coverA year or so later after Lahey exploded on to the blogosphere, Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois brought out the slightly more commercial ‘Artisan Bread in five minutes per day”, a seductive promise if ever there was one.

Both recommend baking the bread in a ‘dutch oven’, a lidded cast iron casserole, removing the lid for the final browning stage.  Both also use a very wet sticky dough which can take a bit of getting used to handling.

The ‘Artisan in 5 minutes’ method only requires 2-3 hours to rise before baking.  You can make a huge batch and keep it in a big tub in the fridge for up to two weeks, over which it will develop sourdough-like flavours, although you will see less of a rise the older the dough gets.  When you need it, you can rip off a grapefruit sized chunk,  shape it, rest it and bake it.  It’s convenient, and the hands-on time is very limited.  The results can be very good, a crisp chewy crust and nice fine crumb.  I also often use this for homemade pizza bases.

photo (5)On a recent trip to catering mecca Gilmours, for an entirely different reason, I over-optimistically bought 1.5kg of active dried yeast, thanks to Nico the chef and chief enabler!  Key Nico phrase: “it’s just your money!”.  Time to make good on that investment:

Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread – The reality:

So, in a retrospective attempt to justify that purchase I’m going to be having a bit of a play with the Jim Lahey method over the next two days or so.  We are a pro-bread household with no current gluten issues so I’ve got three doughs on the go: White bread, wholegrain and rye.

bread dough in bowlsAlready the wholegrain seems to need more flour to reach the same consistency as the other mixes, and I added 1/2 a cup more.. I much prefer recipes which ask for weights rather than notoriously inaccurate cup measures.  If I can track down the weights for the recipes below, I’ll post them

I’m also thinking of doing an artisan white bread mix at the same time for direct comparison. Obsessive, moi?

I’ll report back on my results.  Wish me luck.

Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread – The recipe form the New York Times:

Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

Made from scratch: Gorgeous lemon sugar handscrub for gardeners

limeI can’t tell you how excited I am by this discovery.  Cheap, effective and smells delicious!

The siren call of Spring and the warmer weather have lured me out into the garden. I’m spending many happy hours out there, redesigning on the hoof and trying out different kinds of garden bed construction (more on that later).  It’s bliss for most of me, but not my hands which have become scratchy and rough with ingrained dirt in skin and nail.  I don’t know about you, but I always forget my gloves, and on the odd occasion I do remember them, they don’t seem to stay on for very long!

The results?  The garden looks pretty but my hands look awful.  Worse, the really rough skin catches constantly and most unpleasantly on delicate and synthetic fabrics such as microfibre cleaning cloths and lingerie (I know, first world problems right, but still).

So it was with great pleasure that I discovered this super quick, super easy and very economical handscrub.  Major bonus?  It works to slough off dry skin and leave your hands smooth and supple and your nails looking great. Even better, you can make this with ingredients you probably already have to hand.

handscrubGardener’s lemon handscrub

  1. Put a cup of sugar into any old jar with a lid, choose a pretty jar if you have one
  2. Pour on sufficient olive oil to moisten the sugar
  3. Mix well, add more olive oil to your preference (I like it slightly on the wet side)
  4. Add a few drops of your favourite essential oil.  I’m a lemonophile so I go for lemon.  Lavender would also be lovely
  5. Keep it by your sink and next time you come in from the garden scoop a generous spoonful, rub between your soil encrusted hands and simply rinse off with warm water
  6. Enjoy your newly smooth and supple paws!

To my delight, this handscrub works every bit as well as the L’Occitane salt version (Lordy that’s pricy!) which my beloved once kindly bought for me.  So if you’re working out where to invest your hard earned cash I’d make this scrub and put the money towards a good shea butter hand moisturiser.  And, maybe come to think of it, I may just need one of these scrubs in the shower for exfoliation as well…

Made from scratch: everyday pleasures

Homemade._SX260_Every now and again I get very excited by a new recipe.  But it’s never one of those Cuisine Magazine extravaganzas with 27 ingredients.  Instead, the recipes which float my boat are those which show how to make something I’d ordinarily be obliged to buy such as crackers, pasta, biscuits, jam and …marshmallows you know, just the essentials.

With this approach to cooking, the pleasure comes from a feeling of self sufficiency, a smidgen of frugality and a soupcon of sticking it to ‘big food’.  In going back to the way our grandmothers used to cook, there’s something of the pioneering spirit about it. If you have relied on preprepared or processed foods (and let’s face it there can’t be too many families with two parents working outside the home who haven’t) is can feel empowering to get back to basics and demystify food. For me it’s satisfying to circumvent the commercial powers that be, and I enjoy knowing what goes in to what we eat.  Some say growing your own food is a political act.  I’d say cooking it is too.

My favourite recipes are based around pantry staples, with the considerable benefit that you don’t need to get dressed to make them (no special trip out for pomegranate molasses!). Generally staples can be bought in bulk, meaning that otherwise pricy Lavosh crackers for example cost virtually nothing to make, and you can make a lot at once.

If a recipe is to make it on to the regular rota of things made in my kitchen they also need to be more delicious than ‘shop bought’. Putting some spectacular failures aside for a moment, this is often shockingly easy.  A wise gardening rule is only to grow what you really like to eat.  This rule applies to cooking and baking as well.  If the kids eat them, and they store or freeze well, consider me sold.

There are certain reliable guides I have found, and I highly recommend them.

Everyday-109x150Sophie Gray of Destitute Gourmet is my go-to for all basic household cooking.  My top five most cooked items, including birthday cakes and everyday baking come from her stable.  These are the cookbooks I wished to replace first after an unfortunate incident with a rogue watermelon.

Sophie is remarkable for her down to earth approach, her sense of humour and her understanding of the pressures involved in feeding a family well and healthily on a budget.

Homemade._SX260_

One indicator of long term value in a cookbook for me is the number of times I have had it out from the library before I buy it.  I just couldn’t let this one go.   Homemade is a gorgeous book by Yvette Van Boven, a Dutch chef with a lot of heart and a fearless ‘why not’ attitude to making hearty, delicious satisfying food, including the mucho moreish Lavosh crackers mentioned above.

 

Homemade pantry TopRight,1,0_SH20_

3. Another reliable indicator is the number of post it notes you stick into a book as you read through it for the first time.  This book, Homemade pantry – 101 foods you can stop buying and start making  looked like a little yellow 3M sponsored hedgehog by the time I had finished with it.  In fact, I’m still not finished with it.

Do you have a go-to cookbook for everyday or do you rely on friends and family for recipes? And what do you find you tend to make over and over again?

Appliance love: Sew, sew your pants up!

Sewing machineThere is a current of love which hums between creative women and their sewing machines.  Unlike appliances such as printers which are universally a source of frustration, unreliability and misery, sewing machines represent potential, self sufficiency, affordable embellishment, satisfaction and accomplishment.

The first sewing machine I ever used was my mother’s old Elna.  From there a relationship began with that brand, a joy which even the nasty old primary school ‘manual’ sewing teacher failed to kill. When I think of that machine, which Mum still owns and uses today, I associate it with creativity, colour, fabric, ball dresses past and the feeling of love channelled through the act of making.

My mother learned to sew from her widowed mother who brought in much needed income for her family of four as a ‘tailoress’.  Maternal family recollections are often based around outfits, fabrics and special occasions distinguished purely by the dressmaking skill which allowed them to feel lovely despite their lack of income.  Even in recent times, when family income is not the problem it once was, one of the most beautifully dressed groups at my wedding was almost entirely outfitted by my Aunty Carol.

Skill with a whirring machine runs through that family.  As a girl, my mother’s cousin Myrla was legendary for not even needing a pattern, but placing her (then) very expensive fabric on the floor and taking to it with her shears to cut out her garment pieces. There’s a definite unsung genius and quite a dash of derring-do in that course of action, which even now makes others draw in their breath and shake their heads.

As a child, late night shopping on a Friday would often feature the fabric shop with Mum, standing at the steeply angled pattern book counters and flipping through line drawings in the heavy Simplicity, Butterick and Vogue catalogues.  Then, the fabric choice which involved wandering around the different fabric types giving each fabric a quick mean squeeze to see how badly it held a crease. We may well have been the scourge of the shop, leaving a trail of crumpled textiles in a behind us.We were regulars in the haberdashery shop, where Mrs Spencer would let me pat her dainty black pomeranian dog.

There’s poetry and history in the names of those fabrics: linen, crepe de chine, georgette, sandwashed silk, faille, grosgrain. And as much as we joke as a family about Mum’s colour fixation (and perfect colour memory), the distinctions between indigo and navy, french and royal blue became clear, evocative and significant. And why just get by with red, when you can revel in cherry or scarlet?

Lacking patience, precision and attention to detail, I can’t claim the dressmaking skills of my mother’s side of the family.   I’m a ‘bog on in, give it a go’ kind of sewer.  But I like to make gifts, home furnishings, uneven bed quilts and and pyjama pants, all which are more forgiving of an uneven seam allowance, and still enormously satisfying.

When I turned forty, my mother bought me an old Elna machine if my own.  It suffered from age and being left in a room with a small boy who loved to twiddle its knobs and try to make it go when I wasn’t looking.  For the past two years it has sat reproachfully in a corner.  Every now and again I would think, ‘I’ll just fix/run up/make a…Oh’.

Yesterday I put my Elna into the care and custody of a sewing machine savant. Paul works out of his garage in Onehunga, his walls lined with old machines, each sporting its own manilla ticket featuring precise handwriting. The place has the tired but cherished feel of a doll’s hospital.  The lady ahead of me was leaving her machine to be repaired.  And although she was considering trading it in for a later model, you could see she really didn’t want to. She kept her hand on it through the whole conversation, and as she left she gave it a little pat, much as you might leave a loved dog with the vet.

When Paul saw my machine he smiled in warm appreciation, as he showed me how to shut the case properly for once. “Your timing is 25% out.  Even if you haven’t broken that plastic gear you’ll still need to replace it with this nylon one.  You’re still going to be sewing on this machine in forty years’ time. You wouldn’t get another like it under a thousand dollars”. I felt proprietorial and oddly proud.

“Just give me a week with it” he said as I left.

I gave my machine a small pat on the way out.

 

On becoming an opshop queen

Dollar coinBeing on a budget is like being on a diet.  Suddenly the world seems chock full of desirable items you might not have looked twice at before.

And there’s really nothing like a bargain is there?  King of these has got to be the prize you’ve been eyeing which you pick up for a fraction of the original price.  It’s that very basic human drive which keeps Trademe humming.  I have to confess I’ve generally found Trademe annoying and lacking that real world thrill of the hunt (although this visual search version Rummage is a bit more fun).

Therefore, my preferred bargain destination for a retail fix on a budget, is the op shop. Even amongst op shops around here, there is a hierarchy. You’ve got to know where to focus your miserly attentions.  The Hospice Shops, for example, have wised up and present their wares in a professional manner.  You pay accordingly, but they tend to attract a higher quality level of goods.  And of course nobody could begrudge a slightly higher price, given the funding goes to such a good cause.

The Salvation Army and the Red Cross, though equally laudable in their aims, generally run a lower price, higher volume game (however see the link above for a clever deal the Red Cross is doing with Country Road clothing). And although well picked over by Trademe resellers, there are still surprising bargains to be had for the frequent and discerning shopper.

For the crafty, such as my super-arty friend Carolyn, there is a treasure trove of repurposable art materials waiting to be transformed into desirable contemporary objets d’art.  If you’re a frequent flyer, quite often the shop will hold items for you, and of course I always try to drop off more than I pick up in my endless Sisyphean (some might say doomed) household decluttering mission.

Woollen blankets are suddenly terribly trendy amongst crafters, and the old Princess and Onehunga blankets are not as thick on the ground as they were.  However I’m looking to make hot water bottles covers and cushions, so I’m happy with fragments and damaged blankets which still go for a couple of dollars considering the amount you’d pay at Centrepoint Fabrics for a similar length of good quality wool.

Braided rugI love me a little handmade charm and the braided rug I made for Mr 12’s room was mostly put together from old denim and cotton duvet covers from the Sallies.  All up, the material cost around $20. The equivalent, even from cheapie Spotlight, would have set me back much more and been of lower quality.  And although I do admire the skill and art of quilting, I can’t help feeling that there’s something slightly counterintuitive about buying brand new fabric to chop into little bits to make into another brand new thing.   Buy at the op shop and you help divert clothing away from landfills. Yes, and all the smugness of recycling can be yours too at no extra cost!

I find the op shop particularly handy for picking up different sized cake tins and other kitchen basics (Six white ramekins for $2 anyone? Designer zester for $3?). I was prepared to splash out six whole dollars on a new shirt today, only to find that there was a half price sale on, so I forked out just $3 on a gently worn shirt.  At other times in my life, I’m slightly embarrassed to say I might have spent up to 100x more for a similar garment which would have looked pretty much the same after two months’ wear.

Although like any addiction, retail will always have its pull for me, I am trying to resist the siren call of the new and choose the wiser path where I can do less damage overall. Wish me luck!

For your thrifty earworm songs today, you have a choice of Thrift Shop by Macklemore, I Need a Dollar By Aloe Black or One Day off Second Hand Planet by Opshop.  You’re welcome!

What’s your favourite recycle boutique? Do tell!