Saturday, February 26, 2011

Weekend cooking - english muffins

The weekend's a time when I sometimes get the opportunity to cook something different or fun, a change from the quick and easy routine of weeknights. Come and see what I've been up to this weekend...

My big girl is a difficult one to cook breakfast for. As in every family household, weekday mornings are all rush rush, toast, cereal etc, but one of the mornings on the weekends I like to cook something a bit more substantial if we have time.

However, as she is allergic to eggs (sorry big girl, must be bad genes ;-) that rules out a heap of things I like, and enjoy cooking. Like scrambled eggs with pesto, poached eggs, and fried eggs with dahl and flatbread.

She also doesn't like mushrooms or tomatoes and I won't cook bacon (sorry again - bad luck having a vegetarian mama ;-) And although she'll occasionally ask for pancakes - egg-free recipe here - like me she really is a savoury girl in the mornings... vegemite on toast anyone?

And so I am always looking for other things I can cook that she'll enjoy. I suddenly thought about English Muffins the other day and found this recipe which stated that it had been used by someone for 29 years! That's got to count for something, right?

I did a bit of experimenting with the ingredients, and they were a bit of a novelty to cook: a bread dough but cooked in a frying pan on the stove, a bit like crumpets. Next time I might try some wholemeal flour and maybe make a half batch - though they supposedly stay fresh for a couple of days they really were best still warm with some butter and cheese thrown on.

The Mr obligingly cooked some bacon for all but me and afterwards the big girl commented on how full her tummy felt, which was music to my ears :-) I had a nice poached egg with mine, though my energy and inclination didn't spread to hollandaise sauce and spinach unfortunatley!

Not particularly photogenic, the old muffins. But then I guess as they say, "A good tradesman never blames his tools"!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Copy cat skirt

When I worked as a graphic designer I was most affronted if anyone suggested that I may have stolen an idea from somewhere else. Certainly in any creative field you're affected by things you see and subconciously maybe you rehash an image you've seen before, but to blatantly copy someone else's idea just doesn't seem fair to me and also would suggest I'm not capable of having a creative thought myself, which is insulting.

But I seem to have broken my rule recently: when I saw this post by Tania from the gorgeous blog Myrtle and Eunice, I recognised some fabric. I remembered that I'd bought a piece from Ikea ages ago, meaning to go home and make a skirt out of it, straight away! Of course that hadn't happened and consequently it's been stuck in the depths of my stash ever since. When I commented on it to Tania she pointed me to this post of hers and I was smitten. The A-line style was what I also had in mind but her placement of the fabric's pattern was superb. So I copied. Shamelessly. Tania, I hope you consider it flattery, coz it is :-)

Being excited, the first version I whipped up in one evening and it was rubbish (no pics, too shameful). I'd cut a pattern from an old A-line skirt and hastily put a zip in the side. The fit was not quite right, I hadn't done the waist properly etc etc. Too much haste!

So after wearing it once I pulled it apart and started again. This time I tried to be patient, take each step carefully and sew slowly. So often I just rush through something and it doesn't turn out that well.

I added a yoke (not sure if that's what it's called on a skirt?) and some pockets (inside out pic above). For these I guessed what size might be good (bigger would have been better!) and put them coming off the yoke so that they were not too high up. Then I moved the zip to the back.

I lined the pockets in a mid blue soft cotton to decrease the bulk of the layers and top-stitched everything carefully. Which makes a change from my usual slap-dash sewing! Unlike the first version it's actually nice to wear. Maybe I should change my old ways for good :-)

It seems to have approval from a small boy too :-) Have a lovely weekend everyone.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My creative space

I'm playing along with Kootoyou's Thursday 'My Creative Space' this week. Lots more creativity over there to check out.

Feeding my new print addiction, today I stole a bit of time while no. 2 was at preschool and no.3 was having his nap (no.1 at school) to print some more tea towels. Next up I'm hoping to try a table runner in a mix of linen, burlap from a coffee sack, printing and stitching.

Hmm... now if only I could get my ideas to pop out of my head and materialise without having to spend lots of time on them! Still, I'm trying to teach myself to slow down and to enjoy the journey as much as the end point :-) It's just that when new ideas pop into my head I want to make them. Do you feel that way too? Or are you the patient and meticulous type who finishes one project properly before starting another (in which case I'm extremely jealous and want to know your secret ;-)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Another Shearwater Kaftan

I've been mostly doing 'sewing for me' lately - sorry kids! Each time I finish something I think of something else I'd like to make. The other day I realised I was wearing a full outfit (2 pieces) that I'd made myself and it kind of amused me, just like it does when I wear a full op shop outfit. I think the feeling of resourcefulness is satisfying, and not something that I get elsewhere as I don't work outside of the home these days. Hmm, anyway...

Here's the finished Shearwater Kaftan that I blogged about in 'my creative space' last week. I love how each one I've made has it's own individual look.

I read a not so favourable review of the pattern on a blog a while ago that I thought was a bit unfair. The person said she had to alter some measurements, but hey, we're not all made with cookie cutters! And she felt it was not of the calibre of a tailored shirt pattern and obviously designed for beginners. But I think she missed the point, as it's meant to be an unstructured cover-up for the beach or whatever (though I wear it for everyday wear!). Sure it's pretty quick and easy to make, but that doesn't mean it's inferior, in fact it's a positive to me when I'm trying to fit in a bit of time here and there in the evenings. So on the instant gratification scale it's pretty high up there!

Each time I've made this I've altered a few things, which I would on most patterns. This time I did French seams (I think that's what they're called?) for most of the seams so that when the sleeves are rolled up they look nice.

And as usual I did my extremely rough buttonholes by hand. My sewing machine doesn't have a buttonhole feature (it's an oldie passed down from my Granma) so I just muddle my way through with a needle and thread until the hole that I've cut is bound, and it works OK. Wouldn't want to do a tailored shirt that way though ;-)

- - - - - - - -

On an unrelated note, I got to wear socks today - oh the novelty of it! Finally the heat has dropped off a bit and it's a weird feeling to cover my feet again for the first time in ages, which I know must seem worlds away to you Northern hemisphere dwellers at the moment. Now to stop myself from dreaming of all the winter clothes I'd like to make...

Friday, February 18, 2011

This moment

I'm joining Soulemama (and many others) this week with the Friday ritual of 'this moment' - a moment from the week gone by. Happy weekend to you.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My creative space

I'm playing along with Kootoyou's Thursday 'My Creative Space' this week. Lots more creativity over there to check out.

Squeezing in a little sewing when I could today, I started making another Shearwater kaftan. I find the design perfect for this weather - the sun is often very strong and it's the hottest part of the day when the littlies and I walk to pick up the big girl from school. Sleeves are needed as protection but I can't stand anything thick. So this style of shirt, a skirt and a wide brimmed hat (more on that later) provide pretty good protection. I think this will be the fourth one I've made (one here and another here), each with some little details that make them different to the others (apart from the fabric).

I got this printed soft voile at the sale of this shop. Damn the sale, I'm meant to be stash busting, not re-stocking! But at $9 per metre I thought it was a steal, and $9 for a new shirt is great, right?!

Also I guess on the creative front I made a dinner tonight that I was actually a bit enthusiastic about. Normally I love cooking, and even when the daily grind gets me down a bit I can still muster up a bit of enthusiasm, but not lately. Maybe it's the heat? It's hard to have an appetite with this weather. But I had a packet of soba noodles in the cupboard and inspired by a few things I've seen lately, like this salad over at ecoMILF, I thought I'd build the meal around it. I added some tofu and also cooked some fresh salmon for the kids and the Mr. It turned out well so I'll make sure I always have a packet in the cupboard from now on.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Coffee sack art

Inspired by all the coffee sack craft I've noticed around the blogs lately, like this lovely footstool from Kootoyou, I thought I'd show you something I made with them a while ago.

When we renovated our kitchen a few years ago we had a wall that could do with some decoration and I wanted to make something to hang on it. I decided to do a homage to coffee. As the Mr works with coffee, we both like drinking it and a sizable proportion of the new bench space would be taken up with the machine and accessories, I thought this was a fair call!

So I came up with the idea of painting on coffee sacks. I bought them for about $2 each from a great local place called Reverse Garbage who take in donations of packaging and materials from local businesses that are no longer needed and sell them to the public as art materials of whatever. Then I bought a couple of cheap canvases from a local $2 shop, stretched a single layer of coffee sack material ('hessian' or 'burlap') over the front surface and used a staple gun to secure it at the back.

Next I used acrylic paints in shades of green, beige and white (to work in with the kitchen colours) and with a small foam roller I rolled out random geometric shapes until I was happy with the design. The hessian turned out to be a nice surface to paint on, though it's so coarse that I don't think I'd try and intricate design as it would be hard to get much detail in.

I left some of the bare coffee sack showing so that you could still tell what it was, and mounted the canvases side by side. It was a fun project to do and I've enjoyed them, but 3 years on I'm a bit tired of the design so I think I'll paint something over the top, maybe trying some different colours this time.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Old skirt = new top

When I have clothes in my wardrobe that don't quite work, it annoys me. You know the type - not quite the right fit, or the colour doesn't quite suit you, the fabric itches or clings in the wrong places... but you persist, then give up, until enough time passes that the memory of the annoyance fades... you try it again, it annoys you again and so on... sound familiar? (or is it just me?!)

I decided to fix one of those during the recent heat wave when I was looking for anything cool to wear. I'd picked up a One Teaspoon skirt on an op shop trawl and loved the fabric, a very soft voile cotton with blue and green print and a little tie detail on the hip. But the cut just wasn't quite right on me and it always felt wrong when I wore it. I'll spare you the 'before' skirt shot that I took - the knees, the cut, the unironed creases, ah, the shame!

Anyway, I decided to make it into a top. I did this by making 2 straps out of a scrap of pale green linen, and sewing them at the front and back. There was already a zip in the side, which now sits under my arm and when open makes it loose enough to put on. I was originally going to make the straps out of the little tie detail, but decided I liked it where it was. And I thought I'd put a bit of shirring in the back if needed, but it was fine as it was.

I'd definitely try this again on another skirt. Even though my method was haphazard and could barely classed as sewing, it's made this garment a whole lot more wearable, and eliminated one of those 'arghh!' wardrobe moments :-)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Egg-free spicy carrot cake

Continuing with my egg-free baking recipes, this time I have carrot cake to share with you...

My first memories of carrot cake are of my mum buying it at the local health food shop in my home town in the 80's. I remember thinking it was unlike anything I'd tasted before with it's delicious flavour and wholesome overtones. It was in the time of the aerobics revolution and I'm sure I was wearing leg warmers and fluoro t-shirts at the time and listening to Madonna, Bananarama and Duran Duran :-)

My mum was later very generously given the recipe for the carrot cake by the lady at the health food shop and we made it many times over the years.

I'm sure my mum still has the recipe but I use a different one these days because of my egg and nut allergic girl. Gone are the tasty walnuts, which I would surely have put in, being vegetarian and a nut lover, but in their place are some lovely spices and still that beautifully moist texture and wholesome flavour. Almost 30 years on my kids love carrot cake too.

I made this one as a quick lunch box filler last week, and I was reminded again of what a forgiving recipe it is: only have plain flour available? No problem, use that. No sultanas in the house? No problem, leave them out. Can't be bothered finding cardamom and nutmeg? No problem, just used mixed spice. Can't be bothered softening the butter? No problem, just use vegetable oil.

One thing I do think is mandatory though is the fresh ginger as it gives a beautifully warm flavour. If you can find the very tender young ginger that grates very easily that's ideal, but even the stringy old one works fine too.

Spicy egg-free carrot cake

1 heaped cup wholemeal flour (or plain)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bi-carb soda
4 tblsp butter softened (or vegetable oil)
1 1/2 cups grated carrot
1/2 cup raw sugar
3/4 cup natural yoghurt
1/4 cup sultanas
1 tsp fresh ginger grated or chopped finely
1/4 tsp nutmeg
large pinch cardamon powder (or replace nutmeg & cardamon with 1/2 tsp mixed spice)

Grease a 6" square pan. Preheat oven to 180c.

Sift flour, powder and soda into a big bowl. Add butter/oil, then yoghurt and sugar and mix. Batter will be very thick.

Add carrots, ginger, spices and sultanas and mix well. The moisture from the carrots should loosen the mixture but if it still feels too stiff add a little more yoghurt. Scrape into pan and smooth top.

Cook for about 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Let sit in tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto wire rack. When cool cut into squares.

* If you want to make this cake a bit more special it's good with a cream cheese frosting like this one.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Household Chores I Despise


As soon as I saw the title of Wondering Willow's latest blog post, caps and all, "Household Chores I Despise", I knew I would enjoy reading it. There's a weird kind of solidarity in people's almost universal hatred of housework, don't you think?

Like WW, as a stay at home mum I do feel that the housework is largely my 'job'. And because I am at home a lot of the time I see it all needing to be done. The mental list of chores sits in my head nagging away at me.

I thought I'd join WW with my top 5 at the moment:

1. The mountainous washing piles.
Arghh. I know that we have it easy compared to our mothers and grandmothers, but the sight of overflowing baskets of clean washing waiting to be folded sometimes makes me want to cry. Seriously. There are 2 across the room from me now, mocking me.

On a practical front, I have a reasonable system going with 3 laundry baskets on the go to ferry the dirty clothes out of the house, down the stairs and to the laundry, into the machine, out to the clothes line and once dry, back up again to the house. These bits I don't mind, it's the mountainous piles waiting to be folded that kill me. All those different things belonging in different parts of the house. When I do tackle them, sometimes all in one go on one evening dedicated just to folding, they end up in precarious piles waiting to be put away into overflowing cupboards that are only ever neat and tidy for a matter of minutes before some little hands are tugging at the piles and pulling them down again, only to be worn for 5 minutes before having vegemite smeared on them or icy pole spilled down them, taken off and tossed onto the floor (don't get me started on that one!). And so the whole cycle starts again. Sound familiar?

I sometimes daydream that when the littlies are a bit older I'll introduce an incentive scheme where the person who dirties the least clothing in the period of a week (excluding underwear!) wins a prize.

2. The aftermath of my 3 children under 6 eating a meal.
Cold, sticky rice stuck to the wooden floor can only be cleaned by picking each grain up individually, otherwise it gets squashed into the floor, sets like concrete and is almost impossible to remove later. Food is slipped into drink cups when my back is turned, making an awful 'soup' that is apparently highly amusing to youngsters. The most brightly coloured food on the plate ends up mashed into t-shirts (see point 1). Drinks are spilled at almost every meal. Sometimes onto papers or other things that need cleaning. And on and on... Why do they not tell you these things when you're considering having children?!

3. The fridge.
Sticky unidentified substances gathering in small pools, watery remains of vegetables seeping out of bags, ends of bananas going black, and to cap it off, all that guilt at throwing out unused food and unloved leftovers.

4. The bathroom.
Old and shabby, mould in the silicone that never comes out, grout that never comes clean. Grrrr.

5. The oven door.
It doesn't get done. Makes me sad.

What are your most hated household chores? Go on, do play along. I love to hear people apart from me having a whinge :-)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hooray for Etsy!

You may remember that I recently became aware of the 'Built by Wendy' pattern Simplicity 3835. Yes, in sewing terms, I must have been living under a rock to have not seen it before - it seems to have been incredibly popular with sewing bloggers particularly - I think it may have become popular before my blog viewing days. There are some lovely versions here, and as usual, I would probably not have looked twice at the pattern from the images on the front - it's what people have done with it that's impressive.

Anyway... it's out of print, and trying not to spend a small fortune by buying in from the Simplicity site for $35, I finally tracked down a copy on the wonderful Etsy for much much less. Hooray! And thank you, Kristi from Eau de bean, for your helpful, friendly service.

It arrived yesterday and I excitedly looked through my stash for some suitable fabric to try the top out. I'm trying hard not to buy anything new until I reduce it a bit (ha haa!). Here are a few possibilities:

A leftover piece of the fabric I used for my dress late last year - I'd probably have to add a band onto the bottom as there's not quite enough.

This floral, earlier rejected by my big girl as 'not pretty'.

Or this crazy 70's (?) print. Hmm, not sure if I could carry that one off!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Weekend cooking - dolmades

The weekend's a time when I sometimes get the opportunity to cook something different or fun, a change from the quick and easy routine of weeknights. Come and see what I've been up to this weekend...

When I was pregnant with our middle child (little girl) I had a fad on making dolmades. I remember rolling up a batch around her due date and commenting to my mum that this may be the last lot I'd make for quite a while, as they are so time consuming to roll and life would be busier soon...

Three years later, and I finally made them again yesterday. In the heatwave we'd been experiencing (finally over now!) we'd all been lying around the house lethargically, but I was dying to do something a little creative while the baby was napping and the girls were watching a movie. Also, there was a big tub of my thick natural yoghurt sitting in the fridge waiting to be used. It would make a great yoghurt garlic sauce to go with dolmades... I couldn't resist.

If you're not familiar with these strange looking little parcels of goodness, they are basically a rice mixture rolled in cured vine leaves and cooked. They are often served as part of a banquet or feast, as finger finger food, or as an entree. As with many foods, different countries and regions of those countries have their own versions. I think the vegetable version is perfect vegetarian food - fresh, interesting flavours, nourishing and tasty. I'm no expert, but this recipe is to my taste: it includes pine nuts, fresh herbs and lemon. It's got it all.

I used the last of the lovely little home grown shallots given to us by family (a vegetable previously underrated by me).

And after all the preparation of stuffing and rolling, here is my saucepan of goodies. Mmmm. Now the challenge is to not eat them all too quickly!

* If you are looking for vine leaves, I generally buy mine in a glass jar - they are rolled and preserved in brine. They also sometimes come vaccuum sealed in plastic packs and are available from delicatessans or specialty greek or middle eastern shops.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Another artichoke on linen

Sometimes, after I come up with a new design for something, I get tired of it quickly and move onto the next thing. I does drive me mad to a point, always having creative itchy feet, but I guess if I do move on quickly it possibly just means that a design isn't really working. Sometimes I rework it until it does work, other times it just dies a natural death.

My artichoke design is one that I am enjoying. One of the latest things I've done with it is to make an apron and tea towel set as a gift for another friend's 40th birthday (yes, they're 'dropping like flies'!).

I love using different tones of one colour and here I've mixed up 2 different greens in fabric paint and printed them in horizontal rows as a border print.

For the apron I used the simple apron style like this one, using a ribbon for the ties.

And for my cookery loving friend I added in a new wooden spoon to complete the parcel.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

My creative space

I'm playing along with Kootoyou's Thursday 'My Creative Space' this week.

I pulled some fabric out of my stash today to make a case for my new sunglasses. I'm a cheap sunglasses kinda girl (I lose them, kids break them etc) but I'd like to keep this pair scratch-free for more than a week, and also I couldn't bear to leave them in the dreadful thin nylon bag they came in.

The outer fabric is a beautiful japanese cotton that I love. I intend to line it with the pale grey linen and use the grey ribbon for some detail. I think I'll sandwich some felt between the layers for padding, and use velcro on the inside for the closure. I was thinking of using one of these flex frames but I'm too impatient to wait until I get one.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Shortbread animals

My big girl and I made some biscuits together last week when it was actually bearable to have the oven on, unlike the last few days which have been in the high 30c's. When we arrived home from school pick-up yesterday it was 40c (104f)!

Making biscuits is a holiday activity we often do, as it keeps most of us happy and provides more household snacks or something to take on a play date. I find shortbread a good mix for the littlies to cut into shapes and decorate, while being yummy for kids and adults alike. It also seems to handle being rolled and re-rolled quite well, which happens a lot! And it's suitable for egg-allergic people too.


1 3/4 cups plain flour
1/4 cup rice flour
1/4 tsp salt
225g butter, softened
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence

Cream butter and sugar with electric mixer for 1 minute. Add sugar and mix for 2 minutes. Add vanilla to combine and then gently stir in flours and salt til just incorporated (I do this with the mixer on lowest speed).

Then roll out between 2 sheets of baking paper to about 5mm thick. Refrigerate until firm. This will make handling the dough much easier. Take top sheet of baking paper off, cut out the shapes and decorate with chocolate drops or anything else you have on hand. Take off the excess dough and set aside, rather than move the shapes. This helps ensure the shapes don't fall apart. Re-roll the excess dough and use for more shapes, or you can just shape into flattish discs if your precious littlies have had enough!

Slide sheets onto baking trays and bake in 180c oven for about 10 minutes or until light brown.

The cute cookie cutters came from Ikea and we decorated them this time with white chocolate drops.

- - - - - - -

Bizarre kid quote of the day:

3 yr old: "Mum, you got more of these" (pointing to my forearm)
me: "They're moles, darling"
3 yr old: "No, not that, the grass. You got more. You gotta cut them."

The 'grass' was hair and the comment came after watching me recently using an epilator (or "tractor" as a friend calls hers) on my legs.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A product of my mother guilt

Or maybe 'mother anxiety' is a better term...

My little girl was booked in to have her adenoids out yesterday, and it was also the first day of school for the big girl, another anxiety raising situation. So the Mr and I had decided that he should take the day off work and take the littlie to the hospital, while I'd do the school start. Which sounded fine until a couple of days before when I suddenly felt overcome by a feeling that I should be there. Even though it's a very small, routine operation, and she'd be home in a matter of hours, the thought of my baby going through it without me made me feel quite sick. When the idea of making her a new nightie to wear to theatre came to me, it suddenly made me feel a little better, like I'd be there with her in some small way.

I'd been told she'd be allowed to take a toy into theatre with her, so Harriet, the doll I made for her 2nd birthday, also got a new matching nightie.

I used a stretch fabric from my stash, made a simple pattern from an existing nightie and added some pink ribbing for the bands and a little apple pocket for a touch of detail. Harriet didn't get as much detail - I found it challenging enough just sewing the tiny garment without trying to add extra bits. I take my hat off to people who make doll clothes!

The Mr reports that the nightie was worn (and thrown up on - poor little poppet!), and Harriet was taken into theatre. My girl is fighting fit again now and will hopefully breathe and sleep better now. And this mama used some sewing therapy to make things just a little easier :-)
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