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Friday, December 31, 2010

The Cake 2010 Theme- The Final Chapter

Every year it is Mum's job to make the Christmas Cake and of course she keeps it in theme....
Her mother before her made The Cake.
My mother's side of the family came from a small outback town in the middle of QLD and Nan made most of the cakes for weddings, Christmas, Christenings and such. She wasn't a fancy cook, but a competent plain one. My Grandfather would always deride her scone making and say,
"Tan did you about the poor Brolgas, I threw Jeanies' scones across the dump and killed a couple. The ones that weren't hit broke their beaks trying to eat them!"
She was a very good fruit cake baker though....
So I passed the tradition into Mum's hands and she agonises every year and makes about seven cakes because she is forever cutting them early convinced they are not good enough, or have dried out or some such. Finally, after my many assurances and I dread to think how much money in dried fruit- we do end up with a cake for the buffet.
This year she covered it in Marzipan (I know most people don't eat this but it gives a nice blank canvas) and then placed a tree cookie cutter on top. She painted inside this shape with egg white then sprinkled on cachous and let it set and dry. She then removed the cutter and let the surplus loose ones scatter ALL over the floor (modify that step). Then a beautiful wide ribbon in red of course completed a very simple and elegant cake. Thanks heaps Mum, beautiful as always.

2009 - Yellow

2008 - Pink

I am a traditionalist and I leave Christmas in place until the 5th of January but it really is over bar the shouting.
My youngest has her birthday on the 27th and we always make it as special and un-Christmassy as we can.
This year she turned 21 and I'm proud as punch.
Today I am making canapes for a quiet New Years' Eve celebration on a balcony overlooking Launceston and the Tamar River.
I have sourced recipes from two of my favourite books.

La Technique by Jacques Pepin and
Cordon Bleu Cookbook by Rosemary Hume and Muriel Downes

 Salami Cornucopias, Salmon Pinwheels and throwing in some Devils on Horseback for sheer popularity factor.

Cheers everyone! Hope you had a beautiful Christmas and wish you every happiness for the New Year.
Peace On Earth.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Unexpected Gifts

We had some unexpected gifts arrive last night. A green car pulled up across our drive and a man whom I didn't recognise came up the drive and we thought he was probably lost.
When Craig answered the door he was asked if he was the man who delivered the notices for neighbourhood watch?
"Thank you so much, here is a token of our appreciation, a cap and a little box of chocolates!"
What a lovely surprise!

Craig and I often do random acts of volunteer work. We gain extra skills, have points of interest in our life and it makes us feel part of a community. We fly under the radar most of the time, quietly achieving in the background as the foot soldiers which suits us down to the ground because we are not needed to attend meetings. Every organisation needs it's soldiers but if you are a working person/couple and you decide you really don't have much time then I would urge you to consider that you can still give of some time, even if it is only 30mins once a month.
It is lovely to be appreciated though.

An hour later there was another knock at the door.
It was another man I didn't recognise...
"Is this where the man lives who cuts the grass?"
I almost turned him away but I said "do you mean tractor slashing?"
I then realised he must have wanted Craig. As Craig went to the door the man returned from his car with a HAM!
"This is for you", he said "with my gratitude. Do you remember you helped me out when I was desperate and the council had served me a notice at (a seaside block) to have it cleared and fire safe last January? Well I know I paid you the fee but I also wanted you to have this ham for Christmas and know how grateful I was."

I am a little gob-smacked and I shouldn't be. Sometimes we are too cynical and ready to believe that people are too busy and self absorbed and don't care about each other any more.
I have had a huge restoration in the good in people and their sense of fellow man and community.
Sometimes we pay too much lip service when we would be far better to put things into action.
If I sound a little sanctimonious and sentimental...well I'm allowed to as it's Christmas and I have been blessed with it's spirit.
And now as my family gathers closer together, I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas time.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Carrying the Theme Through

I have continued to use the red and white theme with the present wrapping, keeping the style naive and simple.
Again using the sentiment "Peace On Earth" I stamped in a true red colour onto white card stock and using a ruler cut them into rectangular gift tags. Literally took three minutes.

Failing to find economical white paper I wrapped the presents inside out (xmas print on the inside) or used plain brown carry bags recycled from shopping. The "ribbon" is made by cutting thin strips of the same fabrics that I have used in the hanging hearts on the tree.
The same has been applied to the bon bons.

I purchase these large sheets of heavy paper from an art supply store for about $1.20 a sheet and I can cut six bon bons from one sheet so not only can I create what I want, it is economical too.
I re-use the same template every year.
By using about a 150gsm paper I find it is easy to manipulate and roll etc. These cut diamonds are the secret to the bon bon tearing apart with the pull and snapping so that one person ends up with the greater part of the bon bon and is the winner. You can use cardboard rolls but you don't really get the "winner" effect and they are quite robust.
The snaps for inside the bon bon are sold in packs of twelve and are about $2. Every year I source little presents and tricks in the theme colour. I also make the party hats from tissue or crepe paper.
Then place a joke inside and you have the perfect bon bon to get everyone in the mood for the party. The bon bons are absolutely pot luck and it is a true lucky dip as to what someone will get. Sometimes there is swapping and sharing as boys will negotiate a racing car for a lip gloss. All good fun.  I can't show you what is inside as it is kept a big secret from all the family.
Once everything is packed inside and rolled, tabs slotted and sealed, the place where the diamonds are cut out is where the ribbon tightly cinches the ends in. Again I have used strips of the same fabric and the sentiment to dress it up.

All wrapped up!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Piaggio Vespa - My First Bike

Look what Craig bought for me.
Vespa VBA aged somewhere between 1958 and 1960 according to the vehicle identification number.
Original colour....there is plenty of time to decide whether I'm keeping it but....
I'm thinking red with black and white cow hide seat and white wall tyres....
There is a bit of polishing, some seal replacing and part sourcing yet......
But I love her, right down to her pitted chrome parcel rack.
I wonder if the Italian Motorcycle Club will let me join?!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Gift a Load of Horse (Manure)

You know what I got my boss for Christmas?
A load of $@#!.... AND he was excited about it!

We have collected about five ute loads of stable manure from Longford.
For those gardeners in your life a load of manure is a great gift. We get the manure FREE from the stable and if we dig down to the old part of the pile it is so rich and broken down and is full of worms.
Most stables are only too happy to have people take it away.
Shovelling the manure is a much easier job than you would imagine as it is lighter than soil or gravel.
We find it easier to get in Spring when everything is nice and moist and the weather is cool and between the two of us it only takes about 20mins. (Admittedly Craig is a bit of a machine)
If you don't have a ute or a trailer, even a couple of old feed bags full or a bin full is a boon.
Stable manure, especially from racing stables, is a beautiful substance. These horses are fed a balanced diet of oats and chaff etc and rarely graze on rubbish. There is also beautiful clean sawdust in their stalls which is also mixed with the manure. The heat created in the pile seems to just about kill any weed germination. We've never had a rampant weed problem like you can get from cow and sheep poo.

If you are not convinced that poo for Christmas is a great idea, then take a look at "Dirt - The Movie".
My friend Kat over at The Bobwhites put me onto this along with a couple of other treasurable links today. She is one of my favourite bloggers and I look forward to every bit of zany sense that she pens.
You can watch a trailer here or download and watch the movie for free from here.
It is a wonderful, wonderful documentary (not dry and dusty...get it?...sorry Dad-joke) but very interesting and very "big picture" stuff. It is multi-cultural embracing and must have taken a lot of hours to produce.
It is in praise of the importance of our earth and the effect that super agriculture, GM and environmental destruction is having on the soil.
Not all gloomy though and the story of the hummingbird particularly resonated with me and put me in mind of how my hero, David Suzuki, now sees his role;
"I am only one man...but I am doing what I can, I am doing my best"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rescued Nativity Set

It was a sad day when the tip shop closed in Launceston last year.
This is one of my favourite finds.
I had for a long time wanted a nativity scene but couldn't find one I liked or the ones that I did like were out of my price range.
We found a cardboard box crammed with figures and criss crossed with dusty packaging tape and the words "Nativity Set" inked across it and "$10". It was a bit hard to really see but I thought well it's a start.
I was enchanted when I unpacked the figures. They reminded me of the ones in old churches from my childhood.
They are made from cast plaster I think over a wire structure for strength and support, then hand painted of course. (Note the sad looking donkey in the rear above)

(a real flock of sheep)
They seem to be perhaps from the 1950s from the style and colouring. Quite a bit of damage had been sustained but after researching in my restoration book I found out how to repair using a special two part epoxy putty often used by people who make model trains and planes etc. I also used small pots of enamel from the hobby shop to touch up the figures.
My goal was not to make them like new again but to repair and minimise the signs of damage without taking away the integrity of the pieces. I think the beauty is in the age of the pieces.
This is my favourite figure and he was also the most damaged, as you may have imagined with that beautiful long neck. Can you see where his head was hanging literally by the wire stem inside the plaster? If you click on the photo you should be able to view it larger.
You will also be able to see where I have literally touched up the paint to make the chips less obvious rather than to re-paint the entire figures.
It is still a work in progress and the shepherd's crook is the next repair.
So have you noticed how entwined our traditions are at Christmas? The wreath is a throw back to paganism and the nativity set from my formal Catholic upbringing. I find it impossible to separate the two and in fact it was exactly what the church was trying to achieve with the whole feast and festivities calender when they enmeshed it with paganism rituals. What they had hoped was to obliterate one....but it is still there.
 I celebrate God the Father but also Mother Earth.
Whatever your beliefs, have a blessed Christmas Yuletide.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Following the Theme

It has been a sewing frenzy here lately filling orders of tea towels and hanging hearts. One I hadn't anticipated in fact or really I underestimate my time management....whatever....
I have had the sewing machine up for weeks and have now packed it away and don't want to see it again this side of Christmas.
I imagined I could whip up a wreath in a couple of hours like I normally do but the style I chose really requires a bit of preparation time and planning for the components so I have had to compromise and be minimalist. Lessons learned though.

Using the same scraps of fabric from the hanging hearts, I have attempted to make some fabric flowers and somesuch and sewn them to my vine wreath that I have been using for the past 20+ years, a good investment.
I have found a string of lights with discreet battery pack that are made especially for wreaths (I told you Christmas is my folly) and have simply wound it along with some scrap ric rac. I also hope to crochet some more popcorn garland length to add but we'll see.

For now it's up and off the floor and another mess cleaned up.
I have seen some wreaths made entirely of fabric flowers. Granted most of these are hot glued but I still wonder how many nights of work went into those!
Hmmm yep it definitely needs some more joojshing but....
my wreath is my reminder of life's cycles and as one season leaves another comes.
A year ends and a new one begins.
I should not rail against time or the lack thereof, but flow with the season and learn.
Flow and be in the moments.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Red and White Handmade Theme

This year our theme is red and white handmade. A return to simplistic and heartfelt.
The prevailing use of fabric throughout also gives a soft warm tactile feel to the decorations.
It's a naive style of decorating.
I remember a time when hand made was definitely not charming and a symbol of poverty.
Today for me it is a symbol of love, time and effort.
A return to grass roots. I'm not the only one either.
The garland I crocheted was inspired by Lee over at Killiecrankie Farm
and the felt Christmas tree shown here is one of the decorations made by Lee's mum.
It still has lights and a few simple baubles.
Mostly it's cottage prints and cotton hearts...
Red felt trees hemmed in blanket stitch...
red satin balls...
popcorn crotchet woollen garland in memory of Great Grandma Murray

Monday, November 29, 2010

Red Crotchet Popcorn Garland

I was originally going to thread real popcorn garlands for Christmas this year but I just can't guarantee the safety of them with the dogs.
Lee at Killiecrankie Farm got me thinking with her crotchet leaf garland she has been making for Christmas and I remember my grandmother making me a bedspread when I was a young girl using popcorn stitch.
Using 100% wool also means that the garland will be safe around the lights on the tree and it can be hand washed and stored for many years to come.
I do 12 chain st (the last 2 I count as a treble) then I do 6 trebles into the 10th chain
I do not complete each treble. You yarn over and pull through once and then leave the next sitting on the needle so you end up with seven stitches sitting along the hook
you yarn over and pull through all of them together.....
this forms a popcorn.
Of course you can vary how many chain stitches between and how many trebles to determine the size of your popcorn but this is what I found effective and manageable.

....or if you have neither the time or inclination I am selling garland on etsy for $1/metre just tell me how long you need it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Healing Heart Block

In the previous post I provided details about the Healing Heart quilt project that is being kindly co-ordinated by Shirley Goodwin in New Zealand.
This is my block.
It took about an hour and was made from recycled pillowcase material. I estimate it cost me about 5cents.
This block will be sewn into a quilt for one of the families effected by the mining tragedy in New Zealand this week, becoming an heirloom and a symbol of love and compassion.
Who would have thought 5cents in this day and age could go so far.

I already had the little heart cake pan out as I have been using this for my hanging Christmas decorations.
I often sort through pillowslips at the thrift shop as there is often good quality material barely used and still in good condition for making into aprons and napery. They usually cost me 50cents.
I needed 6.5inch square of cream material for the base as per the instructions (see link in previous post) and a very tiny piece for the heart.
Can you see the fabric marker in the top left of the picture? It is easily one of my most exciting finds and I have used it for so many projects. It writes a lovely fine line on fabric which is perfect for my embroidery designs but best of all, the line disappears in about 2 days after being exposed to the air. Love it!
I made a cardboard template and then traced around the fabric but cut this a little larger allowing for seam allowance/turn under hem. After a couple of snips on the inner curve I used an iron to press the fabric over the heart template, easing the fabric and folding as I went to achieve a nice neat turned under hem edge.
After gently slipping the template out, I then pinned it to the square and using the fabric pen I free-hand drew a rough outline of the map of Tasmania.
I used a straight machine stitch to sew around the heart close to the edge. I then chose a matching blue thread and went around the edge again with an applique stitch.
I also chose some embroidery floss in a matching colour to sew in the map line using a running stem stitch.
A quick press and voila....from Tasmania with love.
If you are also sending blocks for this cause, please post a link in the comments so we can all share.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Our Hearts Go Out Across the Water

Australians have demonstrated time and again their empathy and generosity for others in time of crisis.
We feel a particular affinity for our close neighbours in New Zealand.
New Zealand has suffered terrible natural disasters this year; earth quakes, floods and storms.
Lives have been lost along with agriculture and precious breeding livestock.

The latest calamity has left us on the edge of our seats, we have hoped and prayed along with you all.
We watch helplessly as yet another community mourns the loss of 29 miners.
Please know that we mourn with you and wish you a more safe and prosperous New Year.
I would ask you all to spend a minute in your day silently sending love and positive thoughts to our friends across the ditch.

Edit: Shirley Goodwin, a member of the Kiwiquilters, has made an undertaking to gather donated heart blocks to make "Healing Hearts" quilts to distribute to the families. Please follow the link for the address and instructions. A beautiful idea for a cherished keepsake with common bonds of humanity and empathy.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Christmas Gifts

When Emma was up last week she went through the fabric stash and has decided to make a set of place mats and napkins for some family members for Christmas.
She has chosen some pale yellow with some floral that tones nicely....
but it needed a little....oomph.

Her solution was to handiwork here and there, accenting and highlighting some features and colours, and it really made a difference. A little less washed out looking.
We passed a beautiful afternoon companionably working together.
Hopefully she will be up next weekend and will finish sewing all the pieces together.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Our 1st Growers Market

On Saturday Craig and I got up early and picked for about an hour and harvested lots of mixed greens, scape, some broad beans and lots of leeks. We took along our eggs which weren't many as Craig has been sells them to work colleagues.
The day was perfect and clear and mild. Everything remained fresh and bursting with vitality....

We sold out in about an hour. We also had a couple of jars of rose petal jam and some of my lemon peel (which people should be using now for their Christmas cakes.
It was wonderful to have the opportunity to sell with other like minded people who are passionate about food being local and naturally grown.
It was a joy know that our healthy produce was going into homes within the village.
Here is the link to Collette's blog about her cafe and passions
We hope to be there next fortnight to feed the locals again and I hope you will come along.
Rituel Coffee was there with their fair trade beans that they specifically select and roast.
Also "Edible Landscapes" with trestles of seedlings.
Lot's of scrumptious baking and wood fired naturally leavened breads from Ut si.
But why wait a fortnight, call in to the cafe and meet Collette and Julien and be entranced by the French-style transformation of the little church in Perth (Tas) right in the main street.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rose Petal Jam

Like fairy cups of shimmery magenta and fuscia velvet.
Petal by petal, each hand selected for pureness and perfection.
Heady scent fills the kitchen and makes me smile in a secret kind of way.
A romantic nostalgic kind of way.
Remember when perfumes and talc were simple fragrances like roses or Lily of the valley or sweet pea or violets.
I'm remembering shelf paper and correspondence stationary and bath salts.....
I'm making rose petal jam.
I love the surprise on peoples' faces when they bite into a scone with rose petal jam;
delighted astonishment.
There is nothing quite like it.
It's elegant, exotic and bespeaks of summer.
The recipe is in this post from the past

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Christmas Decorations

Lee at Killiecrankie Farm AKA Christmas Tree Farmer has put out the call for Tasmanian crafters to make Christmas Tree ornaments for the display at the Atrium Cafe.
I have quickly made some fabric heart shapes for Christmas tree ornaments from my fabric stash.
It is no co-incidence that I have chosen red and teal/aqua to co-ordinate with Lee's own scheme that she has passionately been working on. If you haven't visited here is a link to her crocheted leaf garland...inspiring!
"Peace on Earth" is stamped on fine lawn  and hand sewn onto the cotton heart stuffed with new poly fibre fill.
Blue Bird is a screen printed fabric cut motif and ironed on to contrasting woven cotton fabric and poly fibre filled.
These I hope will look very complimentary with Lee's crocheted decs.
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