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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Curtain Close for 2013

It's been another cracker of a year; my fourth year of blogging and I'm gratified to still have many old faces turning up in the comments and thrilled every time someone new joins our conversations too.
The tutorial for the waffle crochet stitch still draws a huge crowd daily but aside from the usual popular posts of all time, readers were most interested in seasonal food, herbs and organic growing.

Most popular recipe goes to....

Most popular post of 2013 goes to....

about organic backyard growing and also eliciting the most comments.

The Living Better Group met together every month for another year learning about growing, foraging, preserving, brewing, baking and many other home crafts.

I personally feel that 
was one of my most important stories.

My Tasmanian holiday was my most treasured time of the year, particularly our wooden boat picnic on the Coal River in historic Richmond.

We had a lot of fun with 

I met Tino Carnivale and saw Paul Kelly
Australia had a change of government and our living rooms had a change of colour.
and we even learnt

We have had happy times and avoided controversy.
Next year I anticipate our lives will shift again as we move into the role of grand parents.
I do hope there will be another year of blogging and I hope you will be with me through the next year. Thank you for your kindness and interest throughout the last twelve months.
Wishing you all the very best for the New Year

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"Peace On Earth" 2013

In keeping with this year's theme I've kept it simple with some home made ornaments and a cream lace "garland" (don't know where the red popcorn one is but here is a link to the "how to make")
You may remember these hearts that I made in an acid citrus theme? I used the same template in red accents.
The cute little salt dough bird ornaments were made by Lee's children and the red felt trees by her mum. The tree was grown by Lee herself and lovingly groomed and pruned at her Christmas Tree Farm. Doesn't get much more special than that!

Emma and I had a lovely evening making the gift tags and wrapping the gifts for under the tree.
Again, brown paper, hessian/burlap, string and country red ribbons.

Often I feel a bit squirmy when so many of our Christmas songs sung at Christmas time reflect northern hemisphere sentiments; "sleigh-bells tinkling", "let it snow, let it snow...", "dreaming of a white Christmas" but this year Tasmania seems to be doing it's best to imitate a wintry northern hemisphere Christmas. I can remember a couple of years when there has been snow on the mountains on Christmas Day, perhaps not quite that cold this year fingers crossed. Unlike our mainland Aussies who are sweltering over their dinners we will be very comfortable running the oven and baking a selection of roasted fare.

Wherever you are, north or south, wishing you a simple and beautiful Christmas too.
Happy birthday baby Jesus, we celebrate that you were born and shone your light around and gave us a guiding light to follow.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Cream on White

This year we have themed Christmas simple, naive, country with a pinch of Scandinavian.
We have finally completed painting the dining and lounge room in Wattyl "Sierra Blanca" painting out all the natural timber skirtings and window trims in gloss white.

The result is fresh and light while still maintaining a hint of warmth which is important as most of the year our climate is cool.
It gives a great neutral background for warmer toned timbers and furnishings and art works. It reminds me of cream with wattle seeds whipped through it but without the flecks.

Everything takes on a new hue next to it. We have left the mantle natural  along with the sandstone fireplace but deciding to paint the trims was a big decision. I like to think carefully about making changes for "fashion" sake and though we might think some fittings "daggy" and "old fashioned" someone in generations to come might lament that we ripped out or destroyed key features.
The cream on white has been a joy to decorate for Christmas and we feel fresher and lighter.

Decorating could't have been simpler this year.
The craft wood letters above are not even finished with anything, simply left in their raw state. The wreath is an old one from at least two decades ago. In front the scene on an infinite puzzle block of pictures by colonial artist John Glover reminding me of a snippet from a carol "the cattle are lowing". Two small boxes made from cloves lending Christmas scents every time they are touched and a handy place to store the matches.

I bought 25cm of this printed linen/cotton fabric and have simply used it as is for a runner on the coffee table no hemming or straightening, so simple. A touch of white and a change the bamboo coasters for cut crystal ones looking like perpetually frozen snowflakes.

I've added only two new cushions in simple printed calico that I bought for just $5 each at a market in the tiny town of Tunbridge in the midlands one wintry trip to Hobart. So glad I stopped. I've spring cleaned the books and polished all the furniture giving the leather chairs some reviving too.

The dining table has been treated to a new runner from Target (that's tar-shjay) in a linen look fabric, almost like a tame-hessian (burlap) and a polished shell dish and horn bowl for condiments. Very natural, very neutral and very simple.
But talk about simple...

The old wreath that gets decorated and stripped every year has had the easiest makeover ever. 
A vacuum and some hessian/burlap cut into a strip a couple of inches wide, twisted and twirled around and then the battery operated lights on top. A piece of plain wire to suspend the gorgeous heart of tiny, tiny sleigh bells that Tegan bought for me, gosh I think it was way back in April!

And a new find for the entryway.
Again - keeping it simple.
For me, being a Christian is to be someone who tries to live a Christ-like life; someone who uses Christ as a role model. You can read hundreds of texts and translate a million verses but I find the simplest are the best. 
I acknowledge Christ as one of my role models and he directs my path.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
It's the only law we should need.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pulling It Together

There is a dozen reasons why I haven't posted recently, most of them boring and some just ugly so instead I give you the "pretty" reasons...
I have been making and creating over the last few weeks and now it is time to pull it all together with some labelling and packaging.
I am having a love affair with these cute self adhesive labels that give a chalkboard effect. 

In my baskets are;
Vanilla Beans

Throw in a ric-rac trimmed teatowel and some colourful tissue paper and your done!

I also include some recipe ideas for using the ingredients too.

And some smaller bags for the great staff I work with.
And the giving is great.
I had a beautiful day at work today with people popping in and sharing the love, lots of smiley faces and a special surprise visit from Pat of Hooks and Books. So lovely to see you and share you exciting plans and news.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Gardeners Soap

I first made these a couple of years ago and they remain popular gifts. They are basic crocheted string bags that hold a bar of soap and hang from the garden tap. When coming in from the garden just hold the swinging bag under the water and massage it around your grubby hands to remove the worst of the dirt.

I started making my soap batches back in September so they would have about 6 weeks of curing time to harden. As you know I make a tallow/oil soap. Some batches are scented with essential oils which are very popular but I also make large quantities of plain soap for our home use and I have quite a few people with sensitive skin whom I supply. 

The off cuts and odd shapes are perfect for bagging into these gardeners soap bags. They can be crocheted from common string and I favour an all purpose natural string/twine from the hardware store. I use a 5mm hook and start with about 7chain slip stitched into a round. I then make as many trebles (US dc)  in the middle that will fit and again slip stitch the last to the first. Next round chain 3 and continue making tr (US dc) into the tops of the previous stitches but increasing slightly by making 2 tr into the tops of some stitches so that I have increased by about 8tr. Slip stitch the round again and continue in this basic manner. You may or may not need to increase any more stitches as you go. Basically you are just making a very rough tube shape. When you have it to the length you want bind it off and make a very long chained tie that you simply weave in and out of the last row of trebles to create a gathering pull tie.

You can very easily attach a tag and there you go. If you are not a soap maker of course you can just pop in an ordinary bar of commercially made soap but I would recommend the cheap as chips tallowate soap usually marketted as laundry soap bars. They are harder and last longer.
Another gift done
Other gifts for gardeners include:
Pea straw or Bags of cut Lucerne
Seed packets are always appreciated by the seed savers and a great project to do with the kids
just go to Cafe Garden here for some free templates to print and make with tons of different designs.

Monday, November 25, 2013

More Gifts From the Kitchen

So how are your gift preparations going?
My vanilla extract is still macerating away in a dark place but there is plenty still happening in the kitchen.
Elders are in bloom here now and the last of my late winter lemons have gone into the Elderflower cordial. Truly it is the nectar of fairies.

On Sunday I foraged for spray free rose petals of divine fragrance.
It's that time of year again for making rose petal jam.
I have previously posted here.

I'll not lie to you. It took me a couple of hours to collect the petals and then FOUR hours of sorting, cleaning (read: de-bugging) and snipping before allowing the mass to macerate in sugar overnight.
I then had the crazy idea that I could whip this jam up before work this morning....
54 jars later....
not really but almost....
8litres of jam people!!!
What was I thinking. Before work. Really?
Just finding lids to match that many jars took forever let alone the sterilising.
But it's done.
Food of the fairies

Can't you just imagine fairies sipping elder flower nectar from acorn cups and licking rose petal jam from velvety petal bowls.

I've already made my preserved peel last month. This year I also used orange peel and I have bought some special couverture chocolate from the famous Tasmanian House of Anvers and I'm going to half dip those. The bitter orange peel and rich chocolate will be a divine Christmas treat.

So get to gathering and foraging and cooking to make some unique and magical gifts from the kitchen. You still have four weeks to go.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Gifts for Knitters

Gifting yarn to a knitter is always loved and appreciated but chances are their stash is already overwhelming. There are plenty of other ideas for knitters that I bet you haven't thought of....
Like these adorable hand made needle books. Knitters need sewing and darning needles too and it's wonderful to have their own dedicated safe space in the work box.

(back view)

These beauties were custom made for me by Sweet Birdy Love. To see more of this charming work check out Claire's blog here and her facebook page here. 

Unique buttons are another great gift for knitters. They dress up scarves and cowls as well as being used for cardys and capelets.

These gift tags are another idea to give a knitter. These came from Jellywares now trading solely on line. Jodie used to have a shop in outback NSW but with three little ones now commitments mean it is easier to work from home. Every time I order she always pops a little gift in. She also has a facebook page here.

Other ideas also include project tote bags for knitting on the go. Storage for needles. Some options are decorative wine bottle holders, you know, the ones made from carved wood for single or double bottles. Multi-layer/drawer toolboxes are another. These are handy for knitters who have straight needles, double pointed needles and circular needles.

But the piece de resistance for a sock knitter is.....

A wooden sock darning mushroom.
This magnificent present was made for me by my dear friend Cliff from Tasmanian Blackwood and makes darning hand knitted socks a dream.
If you are a wood worker or know one, see if you can cajole one of these old fashioned beauties.
So there are a few ideas for knitters.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tub Teas, Herbal Teas and Cupboard Sachets - Free Talk

I'm harvesting calendula for many projects. When it's dried it looks like sunshine in a jar.
I've made a batch of soap with some of the petals and will put some aside for salve but I am also requiring it for a talk I am doing at ut si market this Saturday (weather permitting) from 10-10.30.

Jasmine is flourishing too and I am plucking rose petals.
These will be dried also and be added to a mix for herbal tub teas.
I'm also drying raspberry leaf and chamomile and peppermint for home made herbal teas.
I'll also be talking about these on Saturday.

I'm harvesting artemisia absinthium more commonly known as wormwood which has great insect repelling properties. I'll be demonstrating how to make insect repelling sachets for your cupboards to protect linens and clothing using dried wormwood, huon pine shavings, lavender and cloves.

So if you live locally in Tasmania, pop down to the growers market at ut si cafe, Main Rd Perth (Tas). The market goes from 8-12 and I'll be doing a talk 10-10.30 on harvesting flowers and herbs and what to do with them. There will be some great ideas for  home made Christmas gifts too.
And it's free

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Beef Jerky, Book Reviews and a Seedling Scramble

Last Thursday we had another exciting, informative and abundant meet up of the "Living Better With Less" group. Here is what you missed....
One of our group is from Zimbabwe and comes from a family who loved to cook. Her father taught her how to make biltong, also known in other areas as beef jerky and is a way of preserving meat using dehydration and salt. Traditionally it is dried in a biltong box but you can also do this in an electric dehydrator.
Not only did we get a taste test and a recipe sheet but everyone also went home with a generous scoop of the spice mix and a take home piece of biltong. Thanks Cindy for your generous sharing and family secret recipe.

Spice Mix
 150g Coriander seeds
100g ground coriander
50g milled black pepper
1 tabs black pepper powder
1/4 teas ground cloves
25g ground nutmeg
2 oxo/bullion stock cubes

This amount of spice mix is enough to do about 10kg meat which when dry will yield about 5kg of biltong.

10kg of silverside/rump (or any cheap cut of meat trimmed)
1 cup salt
1-1 1/2 cups of malt vinegar

Trim all excess fat off the meat
Slice the meat thickly across the grain (so the slivers have short fibres)
Slice these into long strips
Place the strips into a non-metallic dish or bowl in layers sprinkling the spice mix, salt and vinegar between each layer.
Mix together until well combined and all the meat is covered in the mixture
Leave for at least 12-24 hours in the fridge turning every so often
Place in the dehydrator or drying box. It will take 12-48hrs in the dehydrator and 3-4 days in a biltong cupboard.

Traditionally biltong is made from the African game meats like springbok, wildebeest, antelope etc by the Boers during the Boer War. Here in Tasmania venison and wallaby are readily available and this method would be especially good for these meats too.

Cindy also brought in the above book for us to peruse too. It is called "Odd Bits" by Jennifer McLagan and has information and recipes for using other parts of the animals besides the traditional muscle cuts. It is a beautiful book and quite comprehensive, if I had a criticism it would only be that I would have loved more photos but it is a sizeable book as is. Beautifully produced and recommended.

We also extended our talks on bread and sour doughs with some quick cheater/simple starters. Thsi book is called "The Universal Loaf" by Tamara Milstein 

This book "World Breads" by Paul Gayler totally stole my heart though with it's simple format that methodically covered all the different types of bread from many cultures.

Here is a snap of the contents page which belies the breadth and depth of range the book covers and the photography is superb and beguiling. 

Recently this order arrived at my house and this book had everyone just a little excited. It is a simple sharing of ideas and I say this with absolute respect, a backyarder of a book with naive drawings and short anecdotes.

For instance, how to make simple seed packets....

Strawberry growing for common gardens (not an imitation of commercial mono-cropping farms)

Keeping alive the art of home made fertilisers and soil conditions rather than chemical band-aids.

The text is conversational and full of common sense and old fashioned labour saving devices. The author, Herrick Kimball, has a blog called "The Deliberate Agrarian" and you can get to know him better here
He has coined the phrase "Whizbang" for his many inventions and this segues nicely to the next book that got everyone excited....also by Herrick....

And if this book doesn't make your toes tingle then you have obviously never plucked a quantity of chickens before. The last bird processing Craig and I did was seven between us and we were well and truly over it simply because the plucking is such a time taker. Brad who also attends our group admitted that he more often than not just skins his fowls simply because of the time it takes. Here is a video of the machine in action and you have got to see this...

So after pouring over books and learning about meat drying we talked about artichoke recipes and seasonal plantings. We were lucky to have David with us again from Inspiration Seeds 

He had a packet of free seeds for everyone and Asian Greens were certainly flavour of the month.
Next month we will have as our guest Lee from Killiecrankie Farm Nursery and Christmas Tree Farm and ahead of her visit she sent along a taster of the lesser known seedlings that you won't find in the chain store nurseries. We had punnets of  senposai, kai lan, khol rabi and a type of perpetual spinach.
Martin also had seedlings to give away that he had started. He had the lovely "Santa" tomatoes that David had brought along for us to taste test at the end of last summer. They are a perfectly round tomato the size of about a large walnut and they have that old fashioned tomatoey-tomato flavour.
Brad and Elisha brought in excess lemons which also added to the take home piles.

Katherine had done some bread recipes out for us also so with our spice mix, biltong, seedlings, seeds and lemons......
It was a very exciting, informative and abundant meeting indeed.
It's free and we do it on the last Thursday of every month except December from 7-9 upstairs at the Launceston Workers Club and everyone is welcome.
On the 28th of November as I said we will welcome the knowledge of Lee from Killiecrankie Farm as she takes us on the next step of herbs beyond the parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme....
January is not booked yet but in February we have a naturopath Inge Kaiser coming along to talk about alternative therapies and home remedies.
Are you still with me? It was a long post and I wish you could have been with us but I hope this was the next best thing for you.
Till next time, take care

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