Monthly Archives: May 2012

Goal: Learn to sew


SEW Hip! Strips & Bricks © by Sewing Daisies

I know goals are important, from both a business and a personal perspective, but I’ve always had a hard time setting them for myself.

Before Shake and I decided to move to France, we would spend time thinking about how we wanted to live our lives, what our days would look like. This felt easy and I could really picture our future together. Most of my goals relate to day-to-day skills I would like to learn and one day share with our son.

Learning to sew

I would love to be able to create something new, as well as mend what we already have. We would love to be as self-sufficient as possible and I see this as a very small step towards this. Obviously I don’t yet have the skills to create fabrics or thread, but if I could use what is around us, that would be great!

I think I have an old sewing machine from my Great-Aunt in France and once we are settled I will dig it out and see what I can do with it. I imagine I will be watching many youtube tutorials and asking lots of people for help!

It would also be wonderful to sew by hand, and maybe this would be the best place to start?

There have been two Soule Mama posts recently which have inspired me to sew even more.

How proud would I be (in many years’ time!) if I had taught my son such skills that he could simply run off and create something practical to fulfill a need of his!?

In the short term, I really want to make a similar book to this for him for his first birthday – just over 9 months to go!

If you can recommend any good books, videos or websites to help me to learn to sew, I’d be really grateful if you would leave a comment!


Sourdough à la Tartine (and a review of the book)

A week after starting my starter I’ve baked my first sourdough loaf with the help of Tartine Bread.

On the whole I’m really pleased with this. The crust is a beautiful colour and the crumb is exactly what I was looking for. Most importantly it tasted great. The only issue I had was that using bowls lined with towels rather than proper proving baskets, the dough stuck and tore apart as I transferred these for baking. This meant the outside of the loaf was lacking aesthetically and the some the structure of the dough was lost. Nothing major though, and definitely something I can work on.

With our last few weekends in the UK looking busy, I probably won’t be baking like this again until we get to France, but it was a rewarding way to spend this Sunday and well worth a week of feeding my starter.

A review of Tartine Bread

Based on the result of this first attempt at baking I can only sing my praise of the Tartine recipe. I have a few gripes with the book, but still highly recommend buying it. The photos are stunning and the book is well written, but it’s seriously confusing trying to follow the basic country bread recipe. I had to read it three times and transcribe my own version of the instructions into a step-by-step guide for the actual baking event. There’s a theory in games design about needing to make something difficult enough that it feels like an achievement, but I’m not sure that applies here!

If you’re considering the book, you might like this video they made to promote it:

Steam and crust

I’d always read and heard that the importance of steam in baking was to help form a crust. This book presented a case for steam I hadn’t heard before but which sounds plausible to me. The purpose of the steam is not to form a crust, but the opposite: the steam keeps the outside of the dough wet to prevents a crust from forming at the start of the bake. In doing so, it allows the bread to better rise. Then when the steam is removed the crust can form.

Tartine in a Tagine

Finally, if you’re struggling to find a dutch oven combo cooker as recommended in Tartine – I found a Tagine works perfectly well. It can withstand the heat and has a suitably shallow base for transferring the loaf into when it’s baking hot.

Goal: Carving spoons and other useful things

In our new life, I plan to make more time for spoon carving.

I’ve done a bit in the past, but my tools are now in France so I’m itching to get back to them.

Shoehorns I carved for Christmas presents last year (Lime and Hazel)

Spoon carving is not and never will be a job for me. It’s a craft, or maybe a hobby; an alternative to television that’s infinitely more engaging and rewarding. It’s a great way to pass a winter evening by the fire, or a summer evening in the garden.

With a small hatchet and a couple of knives that I’ve learnt to sharpen myself, I can turn a branch into a tool. And in doing so, I can show my son something of the real value of human time. The pure economic madness of carving your own utensils is itself a challenge to the madness of ‘pure’ economics. Because time is not valued only in terms of money. In carving spoons (or other utensils for that matter) there is experience, history, skill, resilience, self-satisfaction, art, relaxation, meditation, utility, exercise (mental and physical) and the ever present chance of cutting off your opposable thumb if you don’t pay the job enough respect. I concentrate when I’m coding websites, but never like I do when I’m swinging an axe to carve a spoon.

One day I hope to be as good as this:

This learning is not to be rushed.

Shake out.

Goal: Building a brick oven

Following my review of Your Brick Oven, I thought I’d write a little on my plans for building an oven once we get to France.

The smallish clay oven I built previously.

The in-laws have already asked me to build a big clay oven in the courtyard of their group gite (holiday home), but I’ll put the idea of the brick oven to them instead on the grounds of its longevity. Clay ovens are best suited to communities with lots of clay, not many bricks and enough skills across the generations to maintain and patch them up year after year. While building with clay is a wonderful (but knackering) process a well built brick oven could last decades rather than years.

There are plans to renovate another of the empty buildings as a sort-of restaurant dining room where big groups can cook and eat together, so that feels like a sensible site for the oven. Though it will be built outside, I’d like an oven door to be accessible from inside the building for baking during the winter. While my previous clay oven worked well enough at Christmas time in the rain, it wasn’t so much fun running in and out the house with the dough.

I’m picturing using the oven in a couple of scenarios.

Here's a crude sketch I did on my phone to illustrate

Firstly, I want a big oven that’s suitable for cooking dinner for a group of twenty or more guests at any one time – good enough for a small restaurant or a big dinner party. This would take a lot of wood to heat up so you once it’s lit you use the heat for cooking a whole load of meals for the week ahead. Basically spending a whole day cooking food and using the changing temperatures of the oven as it slowly cools, like they did in the old days. Pizza, bread, roasts, cakes, drying herbs etc.

I’d also like the option of baking bread during the week without using all the fuel needed to soak (that’s wood oven lingo) the big party sized oven. So I’m thinking of building a double oven. One big and one small right next to each other.


Goal: Building a shaving horse

This goal is nice and simple; build one of these:

19th century knowledge carpentry and woodworking shaving horse 1

This has been on my todo list for a while, but it wasn’t worth starting once we began planning our move to France.

After I’ve knocked one of these together, I’m looking forward to working with the draw knife that came with my Erik Frost carving set. It’s been untouched until now as no modern clamps or tools do quite the job quite as well as an old fashioned shaving horse.

And if I recall, I think there were shaving horse plans in my favourite book, William Copperthwaite’s ‘A Handmade Life‘, so this feels like a good time for a quote:

“I want to live in a society where people are intoxicated with the joy of making things.” -William Coperthwaite

Shake out.

Starting a sourdough starter à la Tartine

A super birthday book

Though sourdough is an art for the patient and I wasn’t planning to experiment with it again until we were in France, I started reading Tartine and simply couldn’t help myself. This book is a late addition to the lovely birthday books for simple living I posted about recently. The stunning pictures of bread are so tempting it reminded me of this: ‘Jim loved your card so much he ate it‘.

I’ve toyed half-heartedly with sourdough in the past, but never quite worked it into a 9-5 lifestyle, so I’ve mostly been baking with yeast. I’m looking forward to our new simpler way of life that deliberately makes time for good food like this. Food made the way it was meant to be made. Though it’s another example of simpler not being the same as easier.

Mixing the flours - note: black and white photo, à la Tartine :)

I have a feeling this book may play a formative role in my quest for the perfect sourdough.

Shake out.

Oatmeal cookies

Are you seeing a pattern here? I promise I do cook savoury things too…

These cookies are for a friend of mine who is poorly at the moment. That’s an understatement to be honest, but I don’t really want to talk about it.

Instead, I’ll just do what comes to mind – bake something for her.

The recipe comes from Rachel Allen’s Bake and I love it. It’s so simple and the cookies come together in no time. I made half with raisins and half with dark chocolate chips.

I made a few adjustments. I used less sugar (200g rather than 220g) but I think they could cope with even less. I also didn’t use a mixer as I am lazy (sometimes) and prefer to mix by hand. I like the process, it relaxes me :)

I don’t have much else to say at the moment. It’s been a bit of a blah week with sicknesses, baby jabs, bad dreams which stick around too long and miserable weather. I promise I will perk up soon!

Next week should be fun – my best friend is getting married and I am a bridesmaid!

My mum is coming over from France for a few days. She hasn’t seen the boy since he was one week old. My how he has changed…

I found a great mum/baby group this week with like-minded people and will enjoy meeting up with them until we leave.

What are your plans for the next week?

Oh, and before I forget, I saw this which made me smile!

Book Review: Your Brick Oven – Building it and baking in it

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It’s a great mix of good food and simple living, so it’s right on topic for a review on this blog. It’s light on text, but it feels like this was the intention of the author rather than any lacking of content, so I’m not faulting it for that.

The book is split pretty equally between the topics of building and using a brick oven. And leans slightly more towards inspiring you to build and use an oven rather than detailing the exact steps in how to do it. I’d love to know if this was intentional, but I can only speculate. In many ways, I imagine the lack of precise detailed steps makes the process less intimidating and may encourage a few more people to have a go. Which is a good thing in my eyes, and fits with how we hope this blog of ours can inspire others.

For context, I read the book as someone who has previously built a clay oven, and was already planning to build a brick oven. So I know the process roughly, and just needed to learn about the specific differences between the clay and brick approach. It did that well, offered a few innovative ideas for oven design (a built in ash box for one!) and some inspiring photos and stories about their restaurant and options for using an oven beyond the basic pizza party.

This felt like the right level of detail to me but it’s not a step-by-step guide in the sense of how to mix mortar or how to cut a brick. It simply mentions that you need to do those things at various points in the process. So if you’ve never done anything like this before you might want to read a little more around the subject but I’d still highly recommend this book as a resource.

I should repeat that this review is based only on reading the book. I’ll feedback again when I’ve put it into action.

Finally, here’s a photo to give you a feel for the content, and to demonstrate how this book goes beyond a few plans for laying bricks to offer something really inspiring:

Your brick oven

Wise words on food

Shake out.

Carrot and pistachio muffins

Carrot and pistachio muffins

I had some pistachios leftover from Shake’s birthday layer cake and a few carrots from our vegetable box that were turning a little squishy, so the most obvious thing to do (for me) was bake something :)

Baby boy is a lot more settled during the day so I was able to spare an hour or so creating these muffins, which is lovely!

Carrot and pistachio muffins

Approximately 12


150ml vegetable oil
150g caster sugar
3 eggs
170g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
50g sultanas
2 handfulls of shelled pistachios, smashed a little – reserve some for the tops
200g grated peeled and grated carrots


Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius/Gas mark 4

Mix the sugar, oil and eggs together in a large bowl

Combine the flour, ginger and cinnamon in a separate bowl (I used the scales!) and stir until spices are distributed evenly.

Add the flour mixture, the sultanas and the pistachios (reserving about half for the tops, if you like) to the large bowl of sugar/eggs/oil and stir well.

Lastly, stir the grated carrots in until just combined.

Spoon the mixture into prepared cases/muffin trays and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until browned and a skewer comes out clean after being inserted.

I’d like to adapt my recipes to use less refined sugar, meaning I’d rather use natural sweeteners like agave syrup or honey. If you have any suggestions, do leave a comment!





Patio vegetables (and keeping my hand in)

While we’re camped out at my parents home getting ready for the big move, I was feeling a bit tetchy that a growing season was underway and I was without seedlings, my greenhouse or any soil to call my own.

So I’ve rounded up a few empty pots, nabbed some space on the patio and bought a few plants from the local garden centre. This isn’t exactly self-sufficiency, but it’s a token effort in the right direction and it makes me feel a whole load better.

We’re looking forward to a few courgettes, tomatoes, peas, chilli, strawberries and leeks.

Shake out.