Starting a new Starter and other early year activities

Hello there! I just wanted to pop in before this years blog content continues apace to say Happy New Year.

I hope everyone got through the end of the year in good spirits and the new year has started well. I never know quite where the first weeks of the year go and this year is no different. We were in the UK for Christmas and France for New Year, with family in both places. It was great to see people and be able to catch up in person, the novelty still hasn’t worn off post-pandemic lockdowns. We ate lots, talked and laughed lots too. We had reason to reflect and look back and remember fondly those we lost.

Like so many others this year, some of us fell foul of various illnesses, as did the car who’s battery died while in France and which was also broken into on our last night. While I avoided illness myself, the extra cooking and driving I took on while others were stricken meant that when I got back I had a lazy 2 days where I did little, other than settling back in.

Then it hit. I got this strange bout of something that made me want to turn the house upside down. I suspect that all the driving time meant too much thinking time, and what started as a case of moving the bookcases away from the outside wall that gets a bit damp, turned into a moving large pieces of furniture from room to room, rebuilding shelving and reorganising all the contents in several rooms, reorganising the walk-in storage cupboard under the eaves completely, and adding extra storage to the dining area. It became somewhat all consuming and today, finally, I finished up and vacuumed the entire house and started to breathe again.

The late night picture I sent to my Mum to show her the added shelving, not quite tidy, but getting there

We are now ready for the visitors we hope to welcome this year. The sofa bed in the study will now fold out without having to take a table apart first. In the dining area we have more room so we can all sit around the table and still move about to serve and clear etc. The bunk beads in the small room are no longer storage for ‘whatever’ we can’t think where else it should go.

Having moved in just before the pandemic hit and we weren’t able to have visitors meant we didn’t have to worry too much that despite having downsized hugely to come here, we still had more ‘stuff’ than space. Last summer we had a fair few visitors but they very considerately came in small groups and we were able to shift things into the study and close the door.

So, we are now ‘ready’. I have to say I feel an immense amount of relief, I feel a little more in control of things. I will make things untidy and not put things back where they should go in the meantime, but the basic structure of things is there and once the weather improves I’ll be able to head out into the garden again.

As well as a new look house, I also have a new sourdough starter for the new year. I know some people have starters with a great lineage that can be traced back through generations, friendship groups, different houses and kitchens etc. but I have learnt the hard way not to be too sentimental about my starter.

The first starter I ‘grew’ (?) got a little too energetic during our first hot summer here and burst out of the glass jar I had it it. Obviously the seal was too airtight for it. The second I obviously kept in a jar with an insufficient seal to keep out those tiny fruit flies that appear in the summer, and one day I took off the lid to make bread and found it alive with tiny larvae.

So I’m now on my third generation of starter. In between I use fresh yeast from the supermarket which means that if I start a loaf before 10am I can have it on the table for lunch. I do prefer sourdough and feel it’s worth the extra planning and longer process but I always have fresh yeast as back up or for a batch of last minute pittas, focaccia etc.

If you’ve not tried baking bread but enjoy a good loaf, I would recommend giving it a try. I started with James Morton’s Brilliant Bread. It speaks to my way of learning. I like to understand not just what you do but also why. From there I find it’s easier to know what elements of the process you can play around with and which are best left alone.

The first sourdough loaf of the year and the new starter, served on the bread board made by my brother

I’m not a highly technical or scientific bread baker. 3 years in and I have the experience to be able to put between 300 and 400g of flour in a bowl, fill my blue 1970s melamine jug to the right level depending on how much flour I chose, and to know how to vary that for different types of flour, from plain to wholemeal, to spelt or rye. I can judge the hydration levels pretty well by appearance and know that well hydrated (wetter) dough may be more difficult to handle but is better to rise. Also I don’t knead my everyday breads, it’s not necessary. I do knead some speciality breads but on an every other day basis, no. My bread making has to fit into my schedule, rather than my schedule work around it.

As for knitting this year, I’m emabarking on my 4th stashless year. This is an initiative started back in 2020 by Anushka of The Crimson Stitchery. The aim is to engage with your stash and make with yarn you have. Whether this is a complete ‘stash only’, or ‘stash mainly’ is up to each individual. My aim was stash mainly. The yarn brought from the UK to Italy was all yarn I either wanted to work with or was too scrappy to give away. Over the last 3 years my stash has reduced by over 53, 000m. Don’t worry though, there’s still plenty there!

I have pretty effectively worked through a lot of my scraps in a whole range of scrap projects, personal, for charity and even some designs forthcoming this year. Also a sizeable proportion of my stash is now undyed yarn for natural dyeing so as well as shrinking, the character of my stash has changed significantly too. Over the holiday period I mainly worked my mum’s scraps into the beginnings of a crochet granny rectangle blanket and while travelling worked on a sample for a forthcoming pattern and am about to embark on my first sample knit in my own naturally dyed yarn.

So what’s to come on the blog as we move into 2023 proper?

I have the final post in my end of year series on local to me Italian artisanal yarn. I also want to write about flour, Italian pasta and travelling in the south of Italy. I really must share something of the knitting traditions of the Balkans that we encountered in the summer. There will be posts for International Women’s Day, Mend March and Fashion Revolution Week. Of course there will be more posts on natural dyeing and announcing new designs. I’m still working on legacy designs, those that were in progress before we moved, alongside new ideas and hope to launch my first garment pattern in the autumn.

I’m going to say it here to try to and make sure it happens, but I also hope to get the audio podcast going. I did all the prep of getting to know the tech and then ran away and hid again. This year I really want to speak up, and regularly.

I hope you’ll join me for the adventure that 2023 is sure to be if the last few decades have taught me anything.

Take care and speak soon,


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