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28 July 2015

How to make your own cake flour

I started seeing cake flour being use on TV cooking shows about a year ago and I've seen bulk cake flour once but never bought it because of the additives it had in it. So when I was at the supermarket and saw an additive-free cake flour recently, I decided to try it. Cake flour has less protein (gluten) in it than plain/all purpose flour does so it gives a softer texture. If you over beat cake batter made with plain/all purpose or self-raising flour, the extra beating will develop the gluten and instead of having a softly textured cake, it will be firmer.

The cake flour is the Lighthouse brand, sold at Woolworths and probably Coles as well. It's the Lighthouse Biscuit, Pastry and Cake plain flour and because it's plain flour, it contains no rising agent so you have to add baking powder. I use 1 teaspoon of baking powder per one cup of flour.

I made my usual whole orange cake using cake flour and I have to say the texture was a bit softer, but I didn't think it made enough of a difference to warrant the extra expense. I make my orange cake in a swiss roll tin so it doesn't rise much and spreads out. I cut it into squares. Generally, doing this the cake will last us five or six days but after three or four days the cake is beyond its best. Often I freeze half the cake to get around that.  However, using the cake flour I was surprised to find the cake was soft and fresh until the end. There are no additives, except for niacin, which is vitamin B3, so I don't worry about that.  When I saw the freshness of the cake was extended, I thought I might use cake flour, even at the added cost.  BTW, I used the same flour for the biscuits I made with Jamie but it made no difference to the taste or the freshness.

I did some research into cake flour and found you can make it yourself at home, using plain/all purpose flour and cornflour.  I made a cake with this homemade flour and it's as good as the Lighthouse brand. I'll see over the coming days if it lasts as well as the orange cake did.  

According to, to make your own cake flour at home take one cup of plain/all purpose flour and remove two tablespoons of flour. Then add two tablespoons of cornflour/cornstarch and sift it all together thoroughly.  Don't forget to add your baking powder to the flour before you sift.

It always pays to do your research and if this flour works as I think it will, extending the life of my cakes, I'll make up a jar of it and use that instead of buying Lighthouse flour. Lighthouse flour is $3.95/kilo and I buy Aldi plain flour for under $1 a kilo.  It's a saving of about two dollars for each kilo of flour I buy, so the savings will be there in the long run.

To make up a kilo/2.2lbs of cake flour:
  1. Measure out 4 cups plain/all purpose flour, then remove 8 tablespoons of flour
  2. Add 8 tablespoons of cornflour/cornstarch
  3. Add 4 teaspoons of baking powder
  4. Sift together.
What is your experience of cake flour?

27 July 2015

The ordinary work of the day

We had a lovely weekend here. The sun was shining and it was warmer than it has been so we were outside with Jamie while he rode his new bike and when we came inside, the doors stayed open to let the warm air in. My main work was to sew a few items for my swap partner, moeymichele, but of course, the ordinary work of the day also came into play.

Getting it all together for the swap.

 Searching through my stash for blue and lavender tones.

On the cooking front I made roast lamb and vegetables for us on Saturday, and used the leftovers for a spicy lamb curry on Sunday. Both easy meals and enjoyed by all of us. All of us included Jamie who was here both days, and Sunny who worked in her sushi shop. I made an extra portion packed in a sealed container for her to take home after work. I've experienced the exhaustion of a full day's physical work when I was younger and the thought of cooking a nourishing meal at the end of it still fills me with dread. I also baked jam drop biscuits on Sunday for our week's morning teas and had the added bonus of giving a pack of them to Jamie for his kindy morning teas and for Sunny's morning coffee. Home baked goodies, eaten when you're away from home, are a gentle reminder of the love you carry with you when you're out in the world.

With the butter, sugar and condensed milk whipped up, it was time to add the flour.
Here's my helper - cherry jam in some, apricot jam in the others.

And then morning tea and biscuits on the front verandah.  BTW, Jamie is wearing his Captain America suit.

My sous chef was Jamie who helped make the biscuits by setting up a work station on the table. He made the thumb hole in the biscuit dough and then filled all of them with either cherry jam or apricot jam.  Cooking and baking are great ways of teaching children the various bits and pieces of life. We counted and added, we washed our hands and talked about the reason for that, we talked about amounts and how long things last. I'm sure Jamie will remember that biscuit making even when he doesn't.

And it was Kerry's birthday yesterday so even though he Facetimed with Jamie and us on Saturday, there was a good reason for an extra call yesterday. Kerry's away at work at the moment and Facetime is a great way for all of us, especially Jamie, to keep in touch and to know he not forgotten. It's one of the good aspects of technology that helps us stay together when our circumstances force us to be far apart.

I'm getting through my swap items and have about another day's work before I'm finished. I've really enjoyed the sewing and I hope what I've made is used for many years. I also spent a little time on cleaning up and I repotted the Herb Robert I got from Nannachel at the group meeting last week. After reading about the herb and how it spreads by seeds, I've decided to leave it in various places in the garden, in the hope that it will spread and I'll have small patches of it growing well all through the year. From all accounts it likes the shady cooler weather so I'll make sure I give it a few places in the shade of other plants. It's such a sweet plant - a member of the geranium family and a very welcome addition to my garden.

I'm looking forward to a busy week ahead. I'll probably have the last read through of the book to complete and if it arrives on time, I might not get back here this week. I hope you have some interesting and productive days ahead too. Take care, friends. xx

24 July 2015

Weekend reading

The chooks and the garden this week. 

Can you believe it? Another week done and dusted. I hope you get the chance to put your feet up this weekend. Look after yourself and those you love. See you next week. ♥︎

Do You Really Need to Refrigerate Butter?
The end of capitalism has begun
Great photographs of animals
Creative alternative to retirement living - Radio National podcast
Here Are 5 Small Ways You Might Have Wasted Money Yesterday (and How to Avoid Them Tomorrow)

23 July 2015

My favourite place #3

This is a weekly feature for readers to share their favourite place at home with us. If you want to be involved, send two clear photos of your favourite place in your home or yard. Just one place, but two photos from different angles. Ladies, you know the drill. Photos of sewing rooms, kitchens, patios, gardens, baby's room or wherever you feel comfortable and grateful to be there. I want the men to be involved too, we all know you're out there, so I'm including tool sheds, man caves, gardens, garages, under the bonnet of the car or at the stove or BBQ, if that is your favourite place to be.

Write a short description of what you're sending, tell us the general region you're in, a little bit about your climate and why you love your favourite place. If you have a blog, send a link which I'll include with the photos. I think readers will want to visit you after the photo is up. I'll publish photos from two people each week in the order I receive them. Please size your photos at about 100 - 250kb, or 650 - 1000 pixels and that will allow me to reproduce a quality photo at the size I need for my blog.

If you want to take part, the email address for photos is:

=== ♥︎ ===

Our first favourite place this week comes from Jane in country New South Wales and as it's her canning/preserves cupboard, I think this will be a popular one.

"This is my favourite place at the moment. It is my canning pantry.

We live in central west NSW and have just retired from the coast on to a small 25 acre off grid acreage.. Our house is a bit of a bombsite at the moment as we are undertaking lots of renovations

I have lost control of everything around me, but this room is my small haven of normality. I just love lining the jars up and am continually rearranging as we use jars or i can more. I know,.. I have issues :-) :-) :-)"

Our second set of photos is from Eman in London.

This is our kitchen. The kitchen window is East facing, it is where the first light of day appears. It is our favourite part of the house where weekend breakfasts are made, we have our late night conversations and family discussions or just watch the world go by whilst the busy London commuters make their way home from work. It is where the children wait for our guests to open the front gates or the sound of my husbands car parking after a day's work. It is where I listen to 'motivational' talks whilst cooking/ baking or sitting at the breakfast bar reading the down to earth blog."

Thanks to Jane and Eman for showing us that simple life can be lived anywhere - from the Australian bush to busy London.

22 July 2015

Finding my rhythm again

I've really settled back into my home this week and have been re-establishing routines and trying to find my rhythm again. There was a time when I would have had bread on the rise, cleaned the kitchen, made beds, fed the outdoor animals and tidied up, all before 9am. That's not happening now and I'm not sure if it's because the cold weather is making me slower or if I'm still finding my feet. Either way, I'm enjoying my work and have decided to do things differently now so I'm trying a few things to see how they feel.

I was supposed to be doing one of the final readings of my book now but that's been postponed so this week will be all about routines, tidying up and sewing. I've joined the blue, purple and mauve colour swap at the Down to Earth forum. I've been partnered with moeymichelle in Perth and have some household linens sewing scheduled for her. I'm looking forward to it and when I finish writing this post, I'll be going through my stash to choose fabrics. We can make anything we like as long as it's within the colour range of blue, purple and mauve. I'm sure there'll be a wide variety of crafts travelling back and forth for this swap and I'm looking forward to seeing what the ladies make.

These are my toys - a Steiff dog, bought for me by Hanno when we lived in Germany 35 years ago, and a handmade teddy bear, given to me as a gift. I let Jamie play with the teddy and he lets teddy drive Peppa Pig's car. The iron cat is a copy of an Egyptian artefact found as grave goods in a pyramid. Kerry bought it at the British Museum.

On Monday I cleaned up the bookcase I keep in the kitchen to house my cooking books and some old magazines. Although I've decluttered routinely, I'm far from being a minimalist. It makes me feel comfortable and happy seeing familiar things around me - things I've known for many years. While I was cleaning those shelves, I made a mental note that I have enough cook books. I think the last one I bought was The Thrifty Kitchen and that was a few years ago now. Some of my most loved books were gifts from my family, and my Penguin friends sent me some cookbooks recently as a thank you for meeting all my deadlines. I'll be sharing a recipe from one of those books later in this post. It's the pecan and marmalade slice.
ADDED LATER: I just remembered that the last cook book I bought was The Country Table. I bought two, one for Sunny and one for me, because it's filled with old fashioned Australian cooking. Sunny had just asked me for a recipe for corned beef when I saw it in this cook book, along with a lot of other traditional, well-known food.

I've been asked for this recipe a few times so here it is. You might recall that I rarely stick to recipes and sure enough, while this was a new recipe to me, I did make a few minor adjustments. I'll give you the correct recipe as it appears in the book,  and let you make your own adjustments or stay within the recipe. Either way, I'm sure you'll enjoy it.  It's an unusual slice because it has a pastry base with a cake top. It's delicious and wonderful with a hot cup of tea.

This recipe is published in David Herbert's Best Ever Baking Recipes, published by Viking 2012.

 Marmalade Squares 

Base and part of the filling:

  • 350 plain flour
  • pinch salt
  • 200g unsalted butter, chilled and diced
  • 150g muscovado sugar


  • 1 rounded teaspoon bicarb
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 120 mls double cream
  • 50 g pecans, chopped
  • 50 g mixed candied peel
  • 100 g orange mamalade
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice

Oven @ 180C
30cm x 20 cm baking tin, lined with baking paper

  1. Sift flour and salt into a bowl. Rub the butter into the flour with fingertips, add the sugar and mix until it clumps together.
  2. Spread half that mixture on the bottom of the baking tin and bake for 15 minutes or until light brown. Allow to cool.
  3. Tip the rest of the base mixture into a large bowl and stir in bicarb. Mix in the egg, cream, nuts, mixed peek and half the marmalade. 
  4. Pour over the cooled base and bake for 20 - 25 minutes until golden brown.
  5. Warm the remaining marmalade with the orange juice in a small saucepan. Brush over the top of the squares when they finish baking. Cut into squares and store in an airtight container for up to five days.

Hanno and I had a rare weekend away last weekend when we drove over to Toowoomba for a meeting with the simple living group there. Such a fabulous bunch of women! They all brought along some knitting, cross stitch, crochet or sewing and while we talked, they worked on their crafts. We had hot tea on that cold morning and it felt good to be alive and in the company of like-minded folk.

I'll probably spend most of today sewing and tinkering around in my room. Days when I sew or garden or knit or take time to do that kind of work enrich my spirit and give me hours to think about my tasks, my family, you, me and how it all fits together. It's a small miracle that we gain so much pleasure from fabric and the hours we take to sew it. Part of that miracle is that we connect with our ancestors by using a skill they would have known, that what we do slows us down in the most gentle and gracious way and that what was once a one dimentional piece of fabric, after being worked, becomes part of life. I hope you have a lovely day.  ♥︎

20 July 2015

Pruning the lemon tree

We had some serious pruning to do last week. Our oldest lemon tree, a Eureka which is about 17 years old, had sap seeping from the trunk, numerous insect and fungal problems and was overgrown. The middle of the tree was too lush and one side of it was so out of control and laden with lemons, almost the entire side of the tree was resting on the top of the chicken coop.  Sorry, I didn't take a photo of it before it was pruned.

All these lemons will be juiced this week and the juice frozen in plastic bottles to make cordial in summer. 

Most fruit trees need to have sunlight filtering into the middle of the tree. When the tree is too bushy, it blocks that light and you'll get fewer fruit. We like to keep our trees at a certain height too so we can easily harvest crops every year. But this tree seems to have escaped that treatment and it was suffering. Our tree is about 3 metres high, which is about average for the Eureka, but it's okay to prune down to a more manageable size, and that is what we should have been doing the past few years.

Above: the pruned lemon tree now has three main branches forming a vase shape. If it survives the pruning, next year we'll reduce it in size. After that we should have our healthy tree back producing delicious Eureka lemons for our food and drinks for the next ten years.
This is our two year old backup tree - another Eureka lemon. It's got it's first crop of six lemons on now but in spring and summer, I expect it to put on a lot of growth and to produce at least 20 - 30 lemons next year.

The best time to prune citrus is after fruiting and before the new flowers start forming. It's best to do a small amount or pruning every year so you don't lose too much of the tree at one time and continue getting a harvest.  But we needed drastic action and have a two year old backup tree just in case this tree doesn't survive. I think if we didn't take this drastic action it would have died a slow death anyway.

Hanno harvested the lemons and started by reducing the branches in the middle of the tree. The ones he chose to take out were those that were growing inward, those that touched other branches, and diseased branches. He also looked for the swellings of the gall wasp and cut those out as well. We didn't have time to do it last week, but today the tree will be sprayed with organic horticultural oil and given a bucket of seaweed concentrate.  The oil is to kill of the nymphs of the green shield beetle. The mature beetles have been biting into some of the small forming fruit and and leaving a brown dry patch when the lemon matures.  The seaweed concentrate is to help with the shock of such a drastic pruning.  When we see new growth forming, we'll apply organic fertiliser.

Above is another one of our citrus trees. It's a ten year old Washington Navel orange, one of two in the backyard.  Every year, as regular as clockwork, this tree produces the most delicious oranges I've ever tasted. They're an excellent eating orange and very juicy too. Hanno can't eat too many oranges so in addition to the oranges I ate this year, he squeezed a glass of orange juice for me every morning and brought it in as I was writing the book. :- )

We finished picking these oranges last week and now have the last six sitting in the fruit bowl. This week this tree will be pruned too, but it won't be a drastic prune like the lemon. This tree will have a branch removed in the middle of the tree - it's rubbing up against another branch and it will let more light in. It's a good idea to check the graft too and if there are any shoots below the graft, clip them off. We'll look for the tell-tale deformity the gall wasp leaves behind and cut those out too and finish off by raising the skirt of the tree. That just means that some of the lower branches will be cut off so the tree's lower branches are higher off the ground.  If you can see the top horizontal brace on the timber fence behind it, the lower branches will sit level with that when the pruning is finished. When we do that, it's simply a matter of giving it a bucket of seaweed concentrate, some nitrogen fertiliser, sulphate of potash (all organic) and to mulch around the base of the tree to stop those grass runners robbing the tree of the fertiliser.

Citrus are such a productive tree and all they need is warmish weather, sun, a good feeding program  once a season and some pruning as needed, and you'll have the best organic fruit available. It's a good feeling to be able to walk outside and pick fruit and it doesn't take a lot of work. If you have the climate and space, I encourage you to try growing your favourite citrus.

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