Sunday, November 27, 2011

Make, Bake, and Grow

Make

The kids did some painting today. Ben wanted to do a forest so we printed some animals onto fabric and glued them on after he'd finished the background.


Bake

I said a while ago that I hate baking, and I stand by that statement. Despite not liking it, baking is in my future for the next few years so my mission is to make it as easy as I possibly can.



Here's my recipe for a super healthy, super yummy, gluten free + vegan carrot cake.

Mix together:

1 C GF self raising flour
1/2 C brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp mixed spice
1 C LSA mix (ground almond, flaxseed, and sunflower seeds)
1 handful of currents

Then add:


1 large carrot (grated)
juice and zest of 1 orange
1/4 - 1/2 C soy milk - enough to make a thick batter

Bake in a small loaf tin at 180 degrees centigrade for 50 - 60 minutes.
I hope you give this one a try, it's really yum and doesn't use any eggs or butter so it's good on the pocket too.  You won't taste that it's GF or vegan and it's packed full of goodness with the carrot and LSA mix.

Grow

Today I rescued my seedlings from the green house and planted them out in the garden.  My peas and lettuce all drowned in the week of rain we've just had so I had to pull them all out. I'm hoping to have a catch up day out there soon!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Adventures in Preserving

I was out at my local thrift shops yesterday looking for retro fabrics (and having no luck) when I stumbled across what appeared to be a gigantic stock pot.  It caught my eye because it had a $50 price tag on it and I've got a bit of a bee in my bonnet about the ridiculous prices in some second hand stores. Take old sheets for example. I happen to need a lot of retro patterned sheets for a project I'm working on, and I can't tell you how many are sitting there for months with a $10 ticket on them. Seriously people, it's an old sheet. Some unknown person slept on it. And probably did other things on it too. Sometimes I hear the elderly volunteers out the back of the shop deciding what price to put on donations that come in, and there is absolutely no logic. It's worth whatever they say it's worth. I've even heard them getting quiet feisty when opinions differ on how valuable something is perceived to be.

Anyway, back to the big pot. As I got down to have a look at it, I saw a little label on the outside with the words 'Preserver' on it. Heart rate went up a notch. I peeled off a bit of the tape holding the big brown lid on, and saw - oh be still my beating heart - piles of old jars, lids, rings, and covers. This was not just any preserver, it was a Fowler's Vacola. Suddenly that $50 price tag was looking mighty good. I knew that these sets went for well over $150 on ebay and the jars alone are really rare and costly.




So I trotted out of the thift store - OK, actually I waddled out, because the Vacola was really heavy. When I got home and unpacked it all I realised there was a slight hiccup. No instruction manual. Never mind, google is my friend. I spent a happy few hours reading everything I could find on bottling, Fowler's, incorrect seals, and food safety guidelines.

The plan was that Jemima and I would go to Bilpin in the summer to buy some boxes of fruit to preserve. But then, patience has never been my strong point. I made a trip to the local markets today and spotted some cherries and nectarines for $3 a bucket, and this afternoon I got that Vacola cranking.


First we washed them and then we took out all of the stalks.  I asked Jemima to separate out any yucky ones but she was so ruthless that we hardly had any to bottle. I had to rescue some of the rejects when she wasn't looking. Maybe she has a future in quality control.


Once they were all done I put them in one of my nice old mixing bowls because well, you know.

Then they went into my sterilised jars and some hot sugar syrup was poured on top. This was the moment I realised I should have put on the tricky rubber rings before filling the jar with boiling hot liquid. Once on, I placed a glass lid on top, and got out the clips which are meant to hold the lid down. They were trickier than the rubber rings and I wasn't sure if the lid was still meant to wobble or not. Suddenly my Internet research wasn't so reassuring.

Onwards and upwards!

Into the enormous pot they went along with two jars of nectarines.  I should have had a thermometer but I don't.. so I guessed. I read somewhere that a rolling boil for 20 minutes should do the trick. So that's what I did.

One thing I do know is that you're meant to take the jars out of the hot water straight away after the time is up.  Actually doing it was near on impossible. We don't have any fancy tongs for jars and it was hot in there. I ended up scooping out the hot water with a jug before Jeremy carefully pulled them out for me.


So here they are post preserving pot in all their glory.  I have to wait for a 12 - 24 hours before I remove the clips and only then will I discover if my jars have sealed. If not, all is not lost. I'll just pop them in the fridge and  make them into puddings like this GF nectarine and cherry crumble that I made with the leftovers:


And it was good!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Make, Bake, and Grow

When the weather looks like this


the only reasonable thing to do is enjoy spending the whole day at home pottering about, making stuff, and eating.



I bought this doily from a market for $1.50 a while back and today I made this yellow cushion for our armchair. The yellow fabric was $2 a metre from a Spotlight sale.



Jeremy made a GF loaf of bread and a GF Banana bread, and I made some normal cheese scones.

I spent a couple of hours looking at craft on the Internet.

Ben made a "Car Parade" on the window sill:


and Jeremy played the guitar.


Sometimes a day inside is just about perfect.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Karma


When I was seven I burst out of the school gates one sunny afternoon to find a strange woman with tight red curls and big glasses beckoning to me. I glanced over my shoulder to see if she was looking at someone else but all of the other children were already moving towards their parents.  My older sister Claire came up along side me and gave my school bag a little shove with her elbow as she walked past.  I started to ask, "Claire.. who is...." but she had run ahead to talk to her friend Sasha, the girl who lived in the cool house by the beach with portholes in the walls.

The woman was still staring at me and I began to feel a little afraid. I was old enough to know that you didn't talk to strangers and you most definitely did not go home with someone you didn't know after school. I looked around for my mum and our beat up silver Nissan Sunny but I couldn't see either of them anywhere. The woman began to wave at me, and then she did something odd. She rolled her eyes.

As she walked closer I stopped with a start. This woman looked like my mum. She had the same big glasses and navy blue handbag. Hang on, she WAS my mum! But what on earth had happened to her hair?? Her lovely soft blond locks were coloured an angry red and her curls were as tight as a telephone cord. I felt tears sting my eyes and my bottom lip start to quiver. Someone had ruined my mother.

As it turns out, my poor old mum had been experimenting with a new look. With the perspective of being a mum in my 30s now myself I can imagine her being bored with her clothes and her hair and wanting to do something different. She had little money so she would have bought a cheap bottle of red hair dye and some curling tongs thinking she could perform a mini makeover in the bathroom, and all within school hours.

The seven year old me didn't appreciate any of that. I wanted my old mum back, and fast. Who was this woman with the hair the colour of tomato sauce? She was a version of my mother, but she was all wrong somehow and I desperately needed the familiar mum back again.

Mum didn't keep the red hair for long. I think even she realised that it wasn't her best look. Having three daughters gripe and criticise and complain probably didn't help either.

And so it was that karma came recently to my house to bite me on the behind. I'd been growing increasingly sick of my long dark hair and one day I decided to cut it short. I talked to the kids about it the night before and Jemima cried real tears. Please don't cut your hair mummy! People at school will think my mum is a boy! she said with all the logic of a seven year old. Ben shook his head sadly. I don't want you to cut your hair mum.

I cut it anyway while they were at school. It's my hair I thought, I'll do what I like with it. They'll soon get used to it the hairdresser said as she sawed through my ponytail.  I walked out of the salon feeling like I was a new version of myself. A better, more fashionable version. I got home and immediately posted some photos on Facebook to see what people thought. Reports were favourable. When my husband got home from work he approved.

So with quiet confidence I walked into school that afternoon with my new hair do.  Ben took one look at me and his face fell. Tears welled in his big chocolate eyes and he said, I want you to be normal.

Jemima did little better. She didn't spot me at first and when she did, she went bright red. I could tell she was trying hard to hide her emotions in front of her friends but she say Why did you do that? while giggling nervously and pointing at me.

Ben spent the whole drive home with his hat over his face. He refused to look at the strange woman in the front seat who sounded just like mum but who wasn't quite right.

Poor kid. I knew just how he felt.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Top Secret

I know things have been very quiet on the blog lately, but believe it or not I've been busier than ever! The problem is that I am in full Xmas present making mode at the moment, and since my family read this blog I haven't been able to post about anything I've been making.

I can't wait to show you all what I've been working on, but it will have to wait until after Christmas!

Becs.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Never Admit Defeat


Let me begin by saying that I’m not a coffee drinker. I prefer a cup of strong tea over coffee any day, but there are some mornings when nothing but coffee will do. The other morning was such a one.  I’d just endured three nights of little sleep thanks to the combined powers of Mr J snoring, Miss J coming into our room in the small hours announcing her inability to sleep, and Mr B wanting his nose blown at 4am.  I can cope with one bad night but two or three in a row turns me into a bleary eyed angry woman.

My children have wonderful imaginations and they’re very creative wee souls. One of their favourite games to play when they wake up in the morning involves Mr B’s toy dogs.  Miss J makes a high pitched whining sort of noise for one of the dog’s “voices” and even though we’ve told her that it sounds more like a tortured cat than a dog, she continues. It’s my least favourite noise in the entire universe. And believe me, with my kids I have a plethora of annoying noises to choose from. About a year ago, after one particularly intense dog-play session we banned “THAT NOISE” from the house. Like most of the things we attempt to ban in a sweep of parental power, it didn’t work.

That morning, after being up at 4 to blow Mr B’s nose because “it has a noise in it” I was treated to little voices just over an hour later. I opened one eye and saw that the first number on the clock was indeed a 5 and said a naughty word into my pillow. Just as I began to hope that they may have gone back to sleep, Miss J started up with the dog noise. Mr B accompanied it with “thunder” by drumming his feet on the wall. Miss J laughed, then shrieked, it got louder as I got more and more annoyed. Eventually I threw back the bed clothes with a huff and stormed in there to tell them to be quiet. I just made it back to bed before I heard the dog noise again.

6.45am and it was almost time to give up and get up when I heard Mr B saying that he needed to go to the toilet. I could hear him asking Miss J to open the door for him because the knob was too high for him to reach. I waited for the pad of her footsteps along the floor but it didn’t come. Instead I heard her laughing and saying “Ha ha ha! You’re weeeeeeeing on the carpet!” Mr B was also amused. I was not.

Yes, bleary eyed angry woman had arrived. I was on hands and knees scrubbing the carpet, whilst showering a 4 year old, scolding a 7 year old, and having a weepy conversation with my absent husband on the phone.

Half an hour later all was calm again. Children were dressed and fed, carpet was clean. I was still bleary eyed but a little less angry.

Which brings me back to the coffee. That morning, if I was going to survive at all, I needed coffee.

No problem –we had coffee in the cupboard and the plunger was on the bench top. Only as I reached for it, it slipped out of my hand and shattered all over the bench,sending tiny shards of glass all over my freshly washed dishes. Oh. Really? Really? I thought as I picked bits of glass from my dishes while shooing barefooted kids from the kitchen.

If there's one thing I hate, it’s defeat.  I grabbed my teapot which has a little mesh insert inside it. Ha! It looks just like the mesh in the plunger I thought to myself smugly. I made the coffee and all seemed to be going well until I poured it through the mesh into the mug and the grains came with it. By this point I was desperate and I was going to have a damn coffee.

I got a clean tea towel and shoved it into the mug then poured the coffee on top, grains and all. A minute later, I had something that looked like coffee in my mug, albeit a bit weak and murky.  And it did the trick. Well, sort of.

Do you ever have mornings that seem to be sent to test you? Not the figurative ‘you’, I mean YOU.  After my horrid morning the other day I was thinking about this very thing. I considered that perhaps mornings where it seems that the kids, and the alarm clock, and the cat, and the weather, are all tag teaming me were one of those little gems that come with motherhood.  You know, like the ‘playing with poos’ stage.  Or kids spitting out food into your hand.

But then I remembered a phone call from my beautiful, successful, very put together sister. My no-kids sister. She was bemoaning her awful start to the day. She had slept in, right through her alarm (I had to bite my tongue at the slept in part – ahem). Something had gone wrong in her office and she missed an important online meeting.  She had a sinus infection. Oh yes indeed, we all have crappy mornings - kids or no kids. Although I have to say, the no kids version doesn't typically involve cleaning up other people's body fluids but we'll let that one slide.

I am becoming quite the expert at bad mornings. I can spot one at a distance. Thankfully they don’t visit too frequently, but when they show up they sure make their presence felt.  My philosophy is that bad mornings are like The Week. They come, they go, you grit your teeth and get through.

And then there are those lovely mornings. Those mornings when the kids climb into my bed at a respectable hour for a cuddle. Mornings when I wake up by myself and have a few seconds to think about the day ahead. Mornings when I think it’s a school day then realise with a smile that it’s the weekend and there will be no school rush for me or anyone else. They far outnumber the awful ones.

And that, my friends, is what you need to remember when you find yourself half asleep picking through glass with hands smelling of urine while straining coffee through a tea towel.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Giving Muffins the Finger


I hate baking. There. I said it. I hate baking.

Despite my loathing of cake mixes and biscuit dough, I love to cook. I read cookbooks for leisure. I shop for weird ingredients at ethnic food shops. I make a mean curry.  So WHY can't I bake?

Tomorrow is the school gala. And, well, I'm sure you know what comes next.

A couple of days ago one of the school mums cornered me and said "So, Rebecca, you'll make a cake for Saturday won't you." Not, "Won't you?" No. This wasn't a question to be answered. It was a matter of fact. I kind of admired her at the time for being so direct.

Yesterday I did the weekly shopping and I remembered the gala as I approached the baking aisle. We don't have any wheat flour or eggs because of allergies and intolerances so if I have to bake something, I need to buy a whole pile of ingredients. It rubs me the wrong way, because after I'm done buying everything they end up selling my sad looking slice at a serious loss. So this time, I thought I'd be smart. I bought a 0.67c packet of cake mix and planned to make some muffins with chocolate chips.

This morning as I woke up I remembered that the oven repair guy was coming today. Apparently. This is the third time I've waited at home for him to arrive. The first day was on my birthday. Hmmpf. They don't give you an arrival time either, you just wait all day for the call that's meant to come 30 minutes before he gets here. Apparently. If the oven guy was going to appear at any moment I just knew that he'd come as soon as I put the muffins in the oven.

I bounded out of bed, threw some cereal at the kids, and started making the muffin mix in my pyjamas. I thought if I could get them done early, then I wouldn't have to worry about the oven being hot when the repair guy arrived. I was making lunches, tidying the kitchen, making muffins for the bake sale, getting stuff out to make some bread. It was a school morning Martha Stewart style.

An hour later my muffins were cooling on the bench and I was out the door to do the school run and then some errands afterwards. When I arrived home I thought I'd arrange my beautifully risen golden little muffins on a tray ready for icing. The first extraction from the muffin tin didn't go well. Never mind, I'll eat that one, I told myself merrily as I went to get another one out of the pan. The second one was also stuck. I'd forgotten muffin papers and even though I'd greased the tin well, none of them would budge. And the chocolate chips? They'd all descended to the bottom of each muffin, gluing them down tight.

So. I hate baking. And you know what? Life is too short to be spending time doing something you really hate. There are plenty of other mothers out there who love doing it, and do it well. So I've decided that they can take care of the bake sales from now on. I'll sew you something, bake you some bread, pick up your kids, and make you a meal. But please, oh please, don't ask me to bake.

Muffins were yummy, despite the lack of chocolate chips and the fact that it looked like someone had been gnawing on the underside of all of them. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Vintage Travel Party

What have I been up to? Well, since my own birthday party season is well and truly over for the year I've been helping a friend with a birthday party for her two kids - a brother and sister turning 6 and 4. It's sometimes difficult to do a combined party for young kids because the girls tend to want something very pink, and the boys... well, they don't. 

The party was held at a miniature railway so we decided to do a play on the train theme and do 'travel' with a vintage twist instead. Over the last month I've been busily making things out of old maps and collecting bits and pieces from op shops. This is what  I came up with.




For these Airmail style envelopes I used free downloadable fonts from Dafont.com like 'Dead Letter Office Seventeen' for the airmail stamp and 'stamPete' for the writing. The red and blue border was a free printable that's available here: airmail envelope. After printing them out onto white card on my home inkjet printer I glued an old stamp onto the top of each envelope.

Table set with vintage tablecloths from op shops. Pinwheels are made from maps. Books are memory books for each guest to write the birthday boy or girl a birthday wish.

Pinwheels with dowel from a hardware shop and maps from a map book
bought from an op shop for $3.

Memory Book bought from a craft shop and covered
in map paper.

Memory books - bought for $1.99 each and then decorated.

Main table. $3 sheet for a table cloth with a banner made from felt squares.
Picnic basket was filled with popcorn bags.

Picnic baskets are a great way to decorate a party table!

Paper plates which I decorated with a circle cut from a vintage travel book.


Decorations made from maps and split pins.

For the ladies - a picnic blanket with dress ups and a tea set.

Espresso cups make a cheap alternative to a kids tea set and there are
always loads of them at thrift stores. This set cost me $4.

Dress ups in a $4 picnic basket.

The kids had a fantastic time and the weather was gorgeous. This was a really fun theme to do, and could easily be adapted to a grown ups party or a wedding. If my budget was unlimited I would have liked to add some vintage world globes, binoculars, a compass or two, vintage suitcases, and some old aviator goggles. There is also lots of room to have fun with paper products such as passports and luggage tags.

In total I spent $56 on the styling including the invitations, decorations, the tablecloth, the dress ups, and the popcorn.

Now on to the next party....

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