Monthly Archives: May 2013

10 easy ways to improve your photography skills

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War Museum statue

War Museum statue

In preparation for when I eventually get the beast, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about photography in general and DSLR photography in particular. For someone who’s been snapping pics since her dad first relinquished the family point-and-shoot film camera, I had no idea how little I knew about photography!

But after delving into rich resources such as the NPhoto magazine and the Getting Started in Digital Photography magbook, my brain is overflowing with technical details and practical rules and useful tips. I may be a late starter, but I make up for that in enthusiasm :mrgreen: So this morning I jotted down ten ideas I’m going to try to put into practice with my own photography going forward. Maybe they’ll help you too.

10 ways to take better photos

  1. Start with the rule of thirds as a default (instead of amateurish centred subjects) and experiment from there. I can’t believe I’d never heard of this rule until I began researching ‘proper’ cameras. The rule of thirds has been around for a long time though – since or even before 1797! And it still works.
  2. Train your eye to see in pictures. While I’m driving (when it’s safe to do so!), walking around or at home, I’m going to start observing the scene and asking myself “How would I snap this scene in an unusual or interesting way?” In this way I hope to keep an eye out for interesting lighting and compositions in everyday situations.
  3. Get to know your camera. Don’t wait till you have a fancy camera before you start learning the ropes. For example, I’ve been astounded to discover the full features of my current Fujifilm FinePix recently. Now I’m doing awesome stuff like shooting in manual and using my little prosumer to its full potential.
  4. Study great photos. Read photography magazines and browse websites, make a note of your favourite shots and compositions, and try to replicate them (in your own style) for practice. It helps if you learn to decipher the EXIF data, too!
  5. Shoot a variety of genres until you find your niche. Don’t expect to know from the outset what type of photography will become your exclusive passion. And on that note, don’t negatively compare yourself to the pros. They, too, started off with the basics.
  6. Share your pics and welcome feedback. And I don’t mean just showing off to supportive friends and family members 😉 There are plenty of photo sites, blogs and forums where amateur and enthusiast photographers gather to share their work and give each other advice.
  7. Learn to do some post-processing. The web offers several freeware packages that will teach you how to get the best results with your pics. This is something I definitely want to look into (especially when I have more free time when I’m back at home). I’m thinking GIMP is a good place to start…
  8. Develop an eye for colour, shape, patterns and textures. You’d be surprised at the cool compositions you can create with everyday items if you take these aspects into account. I’ve started noticing how advertisers use these details to striking effect.
  9. Take LOTS of photos! Practice really is the key to success here, although of course you’ll only gain something from all that happy snapping if you take time to consider what went wrong with the pics that need improvement. I’ve been driving Ninja batty with my latest habit of examining each pic after I’ve taken it and muttering to myself things such as, ‘Hmmm, clearly the shutter speed is too low on that one… I’d better increase the ISO to help out in the low light…’ 😀
  10. Embrace the challenge. If photography is a hobby you want to actively pursue, set yourself goals and challenge yourself to keep learning. You’ll know once you’re ready for a camera upgrade or skilled enough to enter a photo competition.

Hope that helps 🙂 Happy shooting!

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Sasol Bird Fair 2013

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Recently Ninja and I attended a Bird Fair at the Johannesburg Zoo. My main reason for attending was the three-hour workshop they offered for beginner and advanced avian photography, so unfortunately I didn’t spend too much time perusing the stalls at the Bird Fair itself. Still, it was a great day and I took a few pics during our stroll around the zoo.

I’m not going to post in too much depth about it now, though, as Ninja and I have plans to take a trip to the Pretoria Zoo soon, which is rather more impressive (from what I recall). So for now I’ll let the pictures do the talking 🙂

Kori bustard

Kori bustard

Friendly spider monkey

Friendly spider monkey

Ninja greeting the monkey

Ninja greeting the monkey

Puma

Puma

Such a beautiful big cat

Such a beautiful big cat

Autumn afternoon at the zoo

Autumn afternoon at the zoo

A pacing polar bear

A pacing polar bear

Endless, ceaseless pacing…

‘Argh, so many people staring at me!’

Lounging lioness

Have itch, will scratch

Southern reedbuck at rest

Adorable squirrels were everywhere

Adorable squirrels were everywhere

A thirsty gemsbok calf, a patient mother and a curious Egyptian goose

A thirsty gemsbok calf, a patient mother and a curious Egyptian goose

An old one-eyed zebra

An old one-eyed zebra

A very well camouflaged dikkop (spotted thick-knee)

A very well camouflaged dikkop (spotted thick-knee)

The endangered northern bald ibis

The endangered northern bald ibis

Always stunning: the peacock

Crunchy oat and cereal bars

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Remember how my first attempt at making cereal bars turned out? Well, if at first you don’t succeed… right? 🙂

I was determined to figure out a good recipe for homemade bars that ticked the following boxes:

  • They had to be egg-free, because I need them to keep well (unfridged) for a whole week
  • They had to be easy to vary, because I just don’t do monotony :mrgreen:
  • They had to dry into a hard, crunchy form – and stay that way
  • They had to be as healthy as possible
  • And of course, they had to taste great

Cereal bars

Here’s the first recipe I came up with after trying to balance the wet and dry ingredients so the bars wouldn’t fall apart:

Ingredients

2 C cereal (I used Kellogg’s rice-and-wheat cereal flakes that I crushed a little)

1 C puffed brown rice

1 C desiccated coconut

1/4 C syrup

1/4 C peanut butter

1/4 C honey

1 t vanilla essence

40 g butter

Method

1. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Step 1

2. Melt together the syrup, peanut butter, honey, butter and vanilla essence.

Step 2

3. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry and stir well.

4. Press the mixture into a lined baking tray.

Step 4

Step 4

5. Bake at 190 °C for 15–20 minutes, until golden and toasty.

6. Carefully cut into slices as soon as they’re out the oven, then leave to cool completely.

Step 6

Step 6

Note: Don’t be like me, thinking you can squeeze in a game (or three) of Plants vs Zombies while these bake! Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn. Mine were a teensy bit too toasted, though still edible.

Crunchy cereal bars

Crunchy cereal bars

Verdict

  • These weren’t bad for a thumb-sucked recipe, but they were a bit too peanut buttery for my liking.
  • They held together very well and stayed crunchy all week (I wrapped them individually in clingwrap and stored them in an airtight biscuit tin).
  • This recipe would really benefit from using rice paper to line the baking tray. I had a tough time getting the bars off the baking paper and vice versa.
  • The wet ingredient mix was just a tiny bit short, so at the last moment of mixing I had to add a further blob of melted butter so that all the wet and dry ingredients would form a proper mixture.

Healthy lunchbox snacks

After we’d eaten up that first batch, I made the recipe again for the next week, but with the following tweaks:

Ingredients

1 C puffed brown rice

1 C cereal

1 C rolled oats

3/4 C desiccated coconut

1/4 C filled with pumpkin seeds, flax seeds (linseeds) and sesame seeds

1/4 C syrup

1/8 C honey

1/8 C peanut butter

1 t vanilla essence

50 g butter

1 small carob chunk

Method

The method is the same as above, except that I melted a carob chunk with the rest of the wet ingredients.

Verdict

These refinements to the recipe made it even better. I preferred the bars with less peanut butter, and the carob added a pleasant chocolatey flavour. The bars were slightly soft though, so I’m thinking of reducing the butter to 40 g next time so that the bars aren’t too moist. They lasted well for a whole week, although by Friday they were starting to feel a bit soft.

I’ll keep tweaking an experimenting until I find the perfect concoction! 🙂

In memory of my granny

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Friday this week marks one year since the passing of my precious little German granny.

Googie

My granny

We called her Googie, and she was my penpal, my friend, my role model and my strongest link to my German heritage. In honour of her, here’s a short memorial (my German is a bit rusty, sorry for any errors).

Googie war ein liebevoller Mensch, und ich bin sehr dankbar daß sie meine Großmutter war. Ich vermisse sie sehr. Aber ich bin froh, daß ich sie im 2011 besuchen konnte. Googie war sehr schwach und gebrechlich zu dieser Zeit, aber sie wußte noch, wer ich war. Wir hatten ein Paar Stunden zusammen die von unschätzbarem Wert waren. Wir saßen zusammen im Sonnenschein und redeten langsam über unsre Zeit in Österreich, als wir dort vor zehn Jahren eine Cousine Googies besuchten. Ich hatte auch die Gelegenheit, sie zu sagen, wie sehr ich sie liebte und wie dankbar ich immer sein wäre, daß sie ein Teil meines Lebens war.

For Googie

For Googie

My dear granny reached out to more people than anyone I know. She could strike up a conversation with anyone, and made a point of learning a few words of as many languages as possible so she could engage with people from different backgrounds. She was endlessly writing to, visiting or telephoning people she knew and loved.

As a young woman she had been a school teacher, and I remember being amazed that some of her pupils still kept in touch with her over six decades later! She had that effect on people: she could get along with shy little kids and grumpy old men; she could bring out a smile on the toughest face.

I gained many blessings from being one of Googie’s granddaughters. Although we lived with the length of the whole country between us for most of my life, we kept in touch with letters from the moment I could hold a pen. In this way she also introduced me to other relatives and friends of hers that I began to correspond with. Even though I only spent time with Googie in person a handful of times, she was one of the people I felt closest to; I could pour out my heart in my letters and she would always respond in kind.

One of my favourite memories of my relationship with Googie centres around my birthdays. I must have inherited my love of birthdays and gifts and giving from her. When I was younger, the anticipation for my birthday was always heightened by the arrival of a large parcel from my gran, wrapped in brown paper, tied with string and sealed with red wax. Inside there’d be a collection of interesting items… cards, stickers, stationery, dried fruit, trinkets… and usually themed around whatever I was ‘into’ at that stage of my life (such as kittens, or horses, or collecting old perfume bottles).

My granny never forgot a birthday (or any other special occassion) because she had a thick notebook filled with peoples’ names, numbers and important dates. I remember being impressed with that and wanting to make people a priority in my own life too. We also shared a love of reading and of languages.

One of the loveliest things about Googie was that she rarely complained. I love the story of how my gran touched the heart of one of the doctors who was caring for her towards the end. She was very frail and ill then and could barely see, but when he asked her how she was doing she sweetly replied, ‘Life is beautiful, doctor.’ And if you knew Googie, you’d know she meant it.

It’s hard to think about the gap left behind by this very special person. I know there are dozens of people in countries around the world who will miss her letters and phonecalls and presence. I am so grateful to have had her in my life, and I pray that I will take the good from her example and continue her legacy of living life with her arms wide open, welcoming other people and looking for the best in them.

There’s so much more I could say, and then there’s only this:

I miss you terribly, meine kleine Großmutti.

Banana bread / banana muffins recipe

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I know there are a million gazillion banana bread and banana muffin recipes on the net, but permit me to add just one more 😉 Everyone needs a go-to banana bread recipe for when those lovely yellow fruit go ripe before you can eat them all.

I’ve been trying to bake a few homemade treats for Ninja’s and my work lunchboxes, and these banana muffins, made from my mom’s banana bread recipe, worked wonderfully. They lasted a whole week (due to rationing and self-control – not because we didn’t want to eat them all in one go!) and kept well in an airtight tin.

Banana muffins

Banana muffins

Ingredients

125 g butter

3/4 C sugar

2 eggs

4 ripe bananas

2 C flour

1/4 t salt

2 t baking powder

1/4 t bicarb

1/2 C milk

1/2 t vanilla essence

1/2 C pecan nuts, chopped (I didn’t have any though, so I just left these out)

 

Method

1. Grease and line a loaf tin, or line a muffin tray with muffin papers.

2. Cream butter and sugar.

3. Add eggs, beating thoroughly after each.

4. Mash bananas and add.

5. Sift in flour, salt and baking powder.

6. Mix bicarb with a little of the milk and add.

7. Gradually add rest of milk and vanilla essence.

8. Fold in nuts (if using) and pour into loaf tin or into muffin papers.

9. Bake at 180 °C for 1 hour or until knife inserted comes out clean.

Yum!

Yum!

Because they’re made from a bread recipe, these muffins do take a while to bake… but the results are fantastic: a crispy golden-brown crust with a soft cakey centre. Mmmmm 🙂

The Super Sweet Blogging Award

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Ahh 🙂 The Sunshine Scrapbook was just honoured with two more blog award nominations!

Thanks to Steve at Around the World with Blade for picking me for the Versatile Blogger award. I really appreciate the nomination, although I’ve received this award before so I hope you don’t mind if I don’t do the whole thing again 🙂 But check out Steve’s blog for amazing travel stories!

And many thanks to Jane at Talk Kindess To Me for nominating me for the Super Sweet Blogging Award 🙂 It means a lot! For thoughtful spiritual encouragement, Talk Kindness To Me is one of my favourite places to turn.

super-sweet-blogging-award

So here are the Super Sweet rules:

  1. Thank your nominator – Thanks so much Jane! :mrgreen:
  2. Answer the 5 Super Sweet questions – See below
  3. Include the Super Sweet logo in this post – Above and on my wall
  4. Nominate other bloggers for this award – See below
  5. Notify my nominees on their blogs – Will do 🙂

Super Sweet questions:

  • Cookies or cake? – Cookies, I think. They keep for longer, they’re easier to bake, they come in more variations, and they look smaller so you can fool yourself into thinking you can safely have a few more 😀
  • Chocolate or vanilla? – Vanilla should be my middle name…
  • Favourite sweet treat? – Warm pancakes (crepes) filled with crunchy sugar that cracks between my teeth, spicy cinnamon that teases my tongue and fresh lemon juice that turns the cinnamon sugar into a zesty, sticky syrup. Oh, wow. I could eat pancakes every day of my life!
  • When do you crave sweets? – Wayyyyy too often. I think I eat something sweet every day, even if it’s a healthy sweet treat such as fresh or dried fruit. And I always crave unhealthy sweet treats in cold weather.
  • Sweet nickname? – Ninja has called me his little sugarbird because of my sweet tooth 🙂

Super Sweet nominations:

I decided to go with blogs that are mainly foodie-related:

  1. http://thehungryartist.wordpress.com/
  2. http://feedingyourappetite.wordpress.com/
  3. http://thehealthyflavor.com/
  4. http://gercakes.wordpress.com/
  5. http://hannahbakesit.wordpress.com/

Have a beautiful day!

Zest

Soldier boy poses

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As promised, here are pics of some of our toy soldier’s poses over the years. I think they show the playful spirit that’s always been part of this marriage 🙂

This one of him peeking into the microwave was set up by a hungry Ninja:

"What's for dinner?"

“What’s for dinner?”

This is one of my favourites, a funny way for Ninja to let me know that he was too tired to tackle dishes that day!

"Argh, so many dishes!"

“Argh, so many dishes!”

This pic was a cheeky way for Ninja to ask for more fruit juice (at a time when I was trying to ration our supplies):

"Juice please!"

“Juice please!”

Here the soldier is scratching his head, trying to figure out where to store my bandana (he’d been helping Ninja to pack away the laundry, of course).

"Where does this go?"

“Where does this go?”

In this pic he’s reading a card I’d tied to a friend’s wedding gift:

"Don't mind me prying..."

“Don’t mind me prying…”

Nap time! Clearly the end of a long day for our soldier boy.

"Zzz..."

“Zzz…”

The soldier shows off Ninja’s handiwork in fixing up my broken umbrella.

"There, I fixed it."

“There, I fixed it.”

How kind of our soldier to help us set up our first rat cage…

"Need a hand here?"

“Need a hand here?”

… and afterwards he sat swinging in the ratty chew toy 🙂

"Job's done."

“Job’s done.”

This one was funny: at our busiest times when Ninja got home before me, he’d leave me a small fruit juice or some other treat on my desk to welcome me home. But on this day, the soldier drank my juice!

*slurp*

*slurp*

And in the height of summer when Ninja got boiled alive from commuting in full bike gear, our soldier made sure a cool glass of juice was waiting for Ninja.

"It's sweltering hot today."

“It’s sweltering hot today.”

That’s just a handful of the pictures. Ninja and I have had such fun with this guy over the years. Our soldier has also lugged Christmas stockings, held love notes, welcomed guests, hidden objects and invaded cupboards. Who knows what he’ll get up to next? 😉

My top 10 unusual possessions

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For a while now I’ve wanted to write this fun post about 10 of my favourite and most interesting, unusual and special possessions. So here they are, in no particular order. Hope you enjoy! 🙂

Item #1: 3D-printed coaster and fridge magnet

Item #1 is a plastic coaster and fridge magnet. These are unusual because one of my friends designed and printed these himself using his own 3D printer. Quite impressive!

Item #2: Limited edition painted plate

Item #2 is a special W. S. George fine china plate that I received as a gift many years ago from my aunt in Austria. It comes with a certificate of authenticity and depicts a painting of kittens by Henriette Ronner. It’s a beautiful collector’s item and has special meaning for me because of my relationship with my aunt.

Item #3: Swarovski crystal duck

Item #3 is a tiny Swarovski crystal duckie. It’s precious and unusual for me because this is the first and only Valentine’s Day gift I’ve ever received! Ninja warned me from the start that he didn’t believe in Valentine’s Day, so he’d only be getting me something special for our very first one together 🙂

Item #4: A homemade shell necklace

Item #4, a homemade shell necklace, is unusual mainly because I didn’t need to put a single hole in those shells when I made this. They all already had tiny holes in them when I collected them on the beach! This item is also special because I used shells collected during our honeymoon.

Item #5: Cloud Strife earrings

Item #5 is my pair of Cloud Strife Cloudy Wolf/Fenrir errings. Need I say more 🙂

Item #6: Earrings from my man

Item #6 is more jewellery: a set of earrings and a necklace pendant. The thing that makes them unusual is that Ninja made these for me himself! He was watching me work with some of my beading kits when he decided to make me this set.

Item #7: Toy soldier

Item #7 isn’t technically mine: Ninja brought it with into the marriage and now I’ve adopted it too. This toy soldier has brought us loads of laughs as we’ve used it to suprise each other. It’s a fully articulating model, so we can make it cling to shelves, hold love notes, hide in cupboards and support items. In fact, we’ve used him in such a variety of poses and situations that I think he deserves a blog post of his own. Watch this space 😉

Item #8: Hat with badges

Perhaps there’s not too much that’s unusual about Item #8 – after all, it’s just a hat with badges. But in my circle of friends it’s very unusual, and one of these badges even started my romance with Ninja! The very first time I met Ninja I was wearing this hat. He shook my hand in greeting and proceeded to read my interesting badges. Once he saw this one…

… he promptly dashed off in search of a sticker. When he came back, he covered the ‘Don’t’ on the badge, so that it read ‘Assume I Cook’. Hah! That was one way to strike up a conversation 😛

Item #9: A small trophy

There’d be nothing unusual about Item #9 if it wasn’t for what it represented. I received this small trophy at an awards ceremony for my Hindi language class. I was the only non-Indian participant and I passed the exam with a distinction. OK, it was only at first-grader level… but it’s still an unusual achievement 🙂

Item #10: Wooden carving

I’ve saved the best for last. Item #10 is a beautiful and intricate wooden carving of old ships at sea. I absolutely love old-world things like this. I’m astounded by the detail and the time it must have taken the artist to carve this.

Look at the tiny details of the figures on the ship. It blows my mind. Here are some more close-ups:

Unusual items 15

Great detail on the rigging above, and on the ship’s cannons below:

Unusual items 16

I also like the rope surrounding the title of this creation. The Drommedaris and the Reijger were two actual ships that travelled to the Cape of Good Hope in 1652. On board was Jan van Riebeeck – the dude who helped begin the European colonisation of South Africa.

Unusual items 17

Unbelievably, I bought this for the price of your average hamburger at a ‘kitsch’ store that sold all manner of second-hand ‘junk’. I think it’s a treasure 🙂 I’d love to know the history of this carving. The signature says it was crafted by Chris in 1975. Who was the man who carved it? Did he sell it for a good profit or was it handed down as a keepsake in his family? How did it end up on sale for 30 bucks in a junk store?

I guess I’ll never know, but I’m very glad it found its way to me.

The Sunshine Blog Award

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Now here’s an award that’s just made for the Sunshine Scrapbook :mrgreen:

Dear Lou from the beautiful and popular Lou’s Labyrinth generously nominated my little blog for the Sunshine Blog Award! Thank you so much, Lou 🙂

The Sunshine Blog Award

The Sunshine Blog Award

The rules of the game are as follows:
1. Link back to your nominator.
2. Add the award image to your page.
3. Share 7 facts about yourself.
4. Nominate 5–10 other blogs (and let them know).

 

Seven random facts about me

  1. I love dogs but am not overly fond of Rottweilers; probably because I was bitten by one as a kid.
  2. I absolutely adore my birthday 😀
  3. My dream home is a log cabin in a forest clearing.
  4. As a kid my favourite series was Farthing Wood Friends.
  5. I’ve recently developed a miserable allergic reaction to caffeine: my upper lip gets itchy and flaky 😕
  6. My favourite Bollywood movie is Kal Ho Naa Ho.
  7. Yesterday I slammed my fingers in a closing magnetic door. Owwww!

 

Some sunny blogs I can recommend

  1. http://talkkindnesstome.com/
  2. http://themarriedtravellers.wordpress.com/
  3. http://arielinkawaiiland.wordpress.com/
  4. http://chezcateylou.com/
  5. http://huongie.wordpress.com/

 

Well, the sun has long since set where I am, so off I go 🙂

How to ‘green clean’ your oven

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Oh, I tried chemical oven cleaner once. Never again.

Although I thought I’d rinsed the oven thoroughly, some oven cleaner residue was lurking still… and it nearly killed us 😯

So these days I use the natural method of oven cleaning, which requires nothing more than some bicarbonate of soda and white vinegar, and a bit of elbow grease!

For those who would also like to steer clear of dangerous chemicals and have a spotless oven, here’s a quick pictorial.

This is what my oven looked like beforehand. It’s not as bad as it could be, but still speckled with baked-on dirt. Yuck!

My oven before

My oven before

A closer look

A closer look

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I only clean my oven roughly every six months (hey, stop judging me!). It’s a lot of work and I doubt anyone enjoys the task, but it has to be done.

A last look at the dirt inside

A last look at the dirt inside

Cleaning the oven with bicarb and vinegar is a two-part process, because you need to leave it overnight (same as with some chemical oven cleaners).

Step 1: Liberally sprinkle bicarb in the oven

Step 1: Liberally sprinkle bicarb in the oven

For the first step, try to get the bicarb up on the top of the oven and in all the hard-to-reach corners too. You could also make a paste with bicarb and water to get it to stick if needed.

Step 2: Spray the bicarb with white vinegar

Step 2: Spray the bicarb with white vinegar

Be warned: Step 2 releases some caustic fumes, though nothing compared to the dangerous fumes from chemical cleaners. I spritz the vinegar onto the soda with a spray bottle, which helps to reach odd spots.

The bicarb and vinegar immediately react with a hiss

The bicarb and vinegar immediately react with a hiss

Now you can leave the mixture to do the hard work overnight while you sleep 🙂 I take out all the trays and racks and treat them separately and leave them in the bath. Our oven’s door also detaches easily, which makes the job simpler.

Step 3: The overnight work

In the morning you should see that much of the mixture has dried. Often it will have turned brown in spots, which is how you know that it’s been eating away at the dirt on that surface.

Step 4: The hard work begins

Step 4: The hard work begins

Now it’s time to put on your gloves, grab a scouring pad and start scrubbing. If you did a thorough job on the first two steps, the mixture of bicarb and vinegar will have lifted off a lot of dirt and grease that can just be wiped away. In the pic above you can see a circular area I’ve scrubbed clean without much effort.

A helpful tool: the partitioned bucket

I recently bought a cleaning bucket with two separate sections for clean and dirty water. This was a great help and is a worthwhile investment (although I can’t help wishing it came with wheels too).

Step 5: Scrubbing, rinsing and drying

Step 5: Scrubbing, rinsing and drying

There’s no secret to the rest of the job: it’s just scrubbing, rinsing and drying. I lay newspaper on the floor to catch the inevitable spills, and wipe up the excess bicarb with paper towels. The roof of the oven is my least favourite part because of the awkward access, but with persistence it comes clean as well.

It’s a tedious job that took me just over an hour (maybe because of all the interruptions for photos?), but you can make good use of the time by listening to music or audio books in the background as you work. The great thing about using ‘green cleaners’ such as bicarb and vinegar is that if for some reason you don’t rinse them off properly, they won’t harm you or the food you cook in the oven afterwards.

And the results are just as good as with any chemical cleaner! 🙂

Sparkling clean again