2013

Last year was one of flood and drought, when it came to creating and craft. Mostly that was because I also had intensive periods of work and travel that left little time for crafting, then relaxed stretches where I could dedicate weekends and evenings to creativity.

January:
The year started with Bagapalooza, a big bag review and refashion project.

I also made a whole lot of plans to sort out my photo collection… and that’s as far as that went.

February:
The AKL got a bit of action, as I wove up a few things out of oddments of yarn:

And snuck in a little forbidden knitting with rocket needles and velvet fabric cut into a long strip:

And whipped up some jewellery:

March:
Time to dust off the Bond Sweater Machine:

After picking up a free old Bond machine I made The Mega Bond:

April:
More Bonding:

Until I had to clear the table for some sewing:

May:
I made map coasters:

And tried out a few more methods in the inkle book:

And tried some embroidery:

And started the Fast Diet.

June:
The beginning of a new obsession, perhaps:

I made an envelope clutch for a themed party:

July:
I dabbled in cross-stitch:

But for most of July I was in the crafty doldrums.

August:
Got my act together. Started tackling the problem of the back of the house falling off. Solution: better engineered verandah. Bonus shade panels and new balustrade. (Completed in November.)
I finished a portrait:

And decided to tackle six to-do list categories over six weekends, and some projects I could do while watching tv.
I started with jewellery:

Moved on to tackle accessories and clothing refasions:

Plus dyeing:

September:
Some simple quilting:

I made a bag out of a painting and another out of an upholstery sample:

I tried solar dyeing, and made gifts to take overseas:

I finished weaving a scarf and wove another, and did more inkling:

It was also the month for learning I had a small heart condition, osteopenia and confirmation I’ve reached menopause. Or peri-menopause. Whatever. But I’d lost 4kg on the Fast Diet, so I was feeling pretty healthy.

October:
I spent most of October overseas.

November:
Craft Day on the first weekend back kick-started my crafty brain.
I made a necklace:

Badges:

And framed some cats I’d stitched over the winter:

I got the cards done early:

Though we only used a few, as we didn’t find the time for the write & mail part.

December:
I ended the year stitching:

I also went camping and painted ‘in plein air’:

I made a cover for the day bed:

And made a door mat for Dad:

And I finally finished weaving the paua shell ruanna after a year and a half on the loom:

I stitched a heart, and a pair of eyes:

Then we went to Japan!

All in all a good creative year. The craft category challenge proved very effective, so I might do that again in future. Half of the garments I made on the Bond I’ve decided need frogging or adjustment, however, and it wasn’t a great year for weaving. But I seem to have found a replacement for knitting with embroidery. I’m not as obsessed, though. Yet.

The Fast Diet

I’m a great believer in avoiding fad diets, mostly because I’m extremely skeptical of anything recommended by someone who gets paid to do it – magazine editors, celebrities and self-help gurus. Except a doctor, but not some doctor cited on the dieting product.

So I’m fully aware that I’m breaking all my own rules about diets at the moment. Well, sort of. Paul and I saw a doco by Dr. Michael Mosley about longevity and how people who eat a low calorie diet tend to live longer. One of the methods of achieving this that he investigated was intermittent fasting, where you reduce your calorie intake to a quarter on some days and eat as you please on others. On ‘feed’ days people don’t tend to make up for all the calories they reduced on the ‘fast’ days, and the fasting triggers some interesting beneficial changes in the body. Dr. Mosley settled on a 2:5 day ratio and called it the Fast Diet.

It sounded doable to both of us. I could do with losing a few kilos and I like the idea of not having to give up foods I love – instead rewarding myself with them after getting through a fast day. Paul looked into it further, bought the book and we both read it and decided to try the diet.

We’ve been doing it for five weeks or so. At first the fast to feed days were more of a 1:4 ratio as we worked out which days of the week better suited to fasting and there was one fast day I skipped because I was ill, but we’ve got into the swing of it now. We’ve had fun searching for and trying different low-cal recipes. Our bodies are adapting to the fasting so that we’re not so hungry (and cranky, in my case) on fast days. I’ve also noticed that on feed days I’ve gone back to preferring smaller meal sizes, as I did before I moved in with Paul.

Paul has lost a few kilos. Until last week I’d lost nothing. Nadda. Zilch.

I find this hilarious, considering how skeptical I’ve always been about fad diets.

To be honest, we were eating a fairly healthy base diet already with occasional treats that were often low-fat anyway. The diet recommends 500 cals for women and 600 for men, but a different cal count is impractical when you’re making meals for two so we’re both aiming for 600. My ‘cycle’, such as it is since menopause started, often gives me water-retention which will add to how much I weigh.

Even so, I’m eating less than I used to overall so I’d have expected some reduction. This last week I finally started to see something other than ’74′ on the scales. It could just be that I’ve managed to get a few walks in on the treadmill.

So it’s slow going. I’m not going to give it up, though. Partly because I want to support Paul, partly because it does have some unexpected benefits. For one thing, I sleep better at the end of a fast day. For another, my digestive system feels a lot happier. It’s easier to avoid alcohol when Paul does too. I like soup but Paul isn’t keen on it, yet will eat it on fast days. When I do eat something hi-cal, I want it to be something nice so I’m not as tempted by crappy food.

Now that we’re in the habit and have worked out which days of the week are best for fasting, it’s surprisingly easy to stick to. And if I do eventually lose some weight I’ll regard it as a bonus.

First Craft Day of 2013

Yesterday the lovely Karen and Michael hosted the first Craft Day of the year. I tried out the crime scene cookie cutters Paul gave me for Christmas the day before so I could contribute to the general sugar intake:

Dead tasty.

There was quilting, stamp carving, cooking and the sewing of 50s dresses:

The first project I tackled is a knee blanket made from swatches from flannelette fabric blind sample book. Yes. That’s right. Flannelette blinds. They are – or more likely were – a thing. I’m sewing them together in the same way as this strip quilt tutorial, but not cutting them into strips.

I also brought some stamp carving supplies, so when the lovely Beky arrived and produced her own, I put aside the blanket so we could work together. After making a very simple demo fish, I decided to try making a bookplate stamp. After several hours of delicate carving, I did a test print. Then started laughing.

So, what’s wrong with this picture?

Anyone for Tea?

I have a little bit of a cookie cutter collecting habit. As a result, I’ve been trying out different cookie recipes and icing techniques for a while now. Usually at the same time.

The cookies above were a combination of a cookie (Tea & Almond Cookies from a recipe book) and icing (Bake at 350′s Royal Icing 102) recipe.

The cookie recipe included almond meal and two teabags worth of English Breakfast tea, which had a lovely flavour but definitely needed the icing to sweeten it up.

The icing was another a refinement of my recipe workaround (some ingredients are hard to find here). I’ve tried whole egg powder before, because I couldn’t find meringue powder, and it worked well enough though the icing had a yellowish tint. Recently I found powdered egg white in the body building section of health food stores so I’ve switched to that. I also using icing ‘mixture’ instead of powdered sugar, as the corn flour in it seems to work fine as a substitute for corn syrup. I also find the eggy flavour of royal icing needs to be masked with some sort of flavouring essence (so far peppermint works well, vanilla not so much, and I’ve yet to try almond). Of course, the US cup measurements are different to Australia, too.

Other cookie experiments I’ve tried include pressing stamps into the cookie dough. But because the cookies swelled up a little during baking the impression all but disappeared. I also bought some food colouring pens, but they tend to break the surface of the icing.

On my list of things to try are white chocolate icing, fondant icing, and stamping with food colouring ink pads. But I prefer to cook when there’s an event I can take cookies to, because after going to all that effort it’s nice to show them off… and then we don’t end up eating them all ourselves.

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The year before last (is it really that long ago?), while on holiday in Canada, we went to an Ethiopian Restaurant and had a fabulous meal. The dish we shared with our travel companions involved a big platter of injera – moist crepe-like flat bread covered in spicy meat and bean sauces that you eat by hand. I decided I had to try making it one day. When I got home I googled some recipes, but a few of the ingredients were going to be hard to find here so the idea slipped to the back of my mind.

Recently some friends of ours have been hosting dinner parties trying out social ways of eating food, like ‘steamboat’. They’ve inspired me to finally try those Ethiopian recipes. A few days ago I bought a spice grinder so I could make Berbere sauce (though the recipe I used is more a spice mix than an actual paste). Yesterday I got out our rarely used slow cooker and made a lamb sauce which included the Berbere spices, and then last night I whipped up the injera and we got nomming.

It went better than I’d expected. The sauce was fabulous. The injera was a bit bland, but I suspect that’s because I used ordinary wheat flour rather than traditional grains – one of the hard ingredients to find. Still, it’s better that than the other way around. The injera is used to mop up the sauce, so the sauce tends to dominate anyway.

Tonight I’m going to try 100% wholemeal flour and see if that makes a difference. In a couple of weeks I’m having one set of friends around to experiment on, and I’ll try two more meat sauces. Yum!

Annual Overeating Day

My family has never been one for the traditional trappings of Christmas, especially when it comes to food. Hot Australian summers weren’t very kind to roast-cooking mothers back in the days before airconditioners, and the cold meat and salad dinner has become the norm.

Well, except that I’m not one for sticking to norms. While I don’t do a roast, I do play a little with the meat and salad idea. And this year I decided to do a ‘disappointment free’ Christmas lunch. It’s roots are in a rather traumatic experience I had as a child…

Relative at Christmas event: Hello child. Do you like mince pies?
Trudi: Yes!
Relative: Here, have one of these.
Trudi: Thank you. (Bite.) YEEEUURRRRRK! They’re not mince pies!
Relative (puzzled, or maybe smug): They’re fruit mince pies. For Christmas.
Trudi: Is this a trick? Because it’s MEAN.

So this year I made mince pies filled with turkey and cranberries, and lamb, spices and dates:

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I also made Waldorf Salad without the celery, sauteed brussell sprouts with soy sauce and pine nuts rather than those squishy grey things, and ‘Mangomisu’ which contained orange and mango and, most importantly for me, no coffee.

It all worked very well apart from the Mangomisu. Once it was released from the springform tin, the sides gradually slumped. We managed to cut slices before the whole thing began to collapse, and eventually tipped it all into a bowl and called it ‘Mango-mess-eww’ – or ‘trifle’.

While disappointing, I have to admit to some smugness that I hadn’t used any recipies for the rest of the food, while the one recipe I did try – which happened to be the cover recipe on a Delicious magazine issue – was the one that failed. As to why it failed… I suspect a combination of not beating the cream enough, the fridge not being cold enough, and it being a warm afternoon.

Even so, it tasted great!

I gave Dad his socks:

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They fit perfectly. And this is how the table setting looked:

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The base was a piece of styrofoam covered in crepe paper, and on top was a length of shredded paper that I’d strung onto lengths of cotton at either end. I took photos of the making of it, but it was a very hot day, the blinds were closed, and the photos came out too grainy.

I even wrapped the presents in old printed paper, glued together, with little triangular windows cut out and celophane stuck behind for colour. This amused my parents no end, and Dad kept trying to work out what the printing on the back of the wrapping and placemats was from.

It was a fun, though exhausting, day.

I’m particularly relieved that it all came together, because we had such a stressful week and there’ll be no lazing about on Boxing Day for me. First the courier that was supposed to deliver some work for me missed us on Monday, didn’t notify us until Tuesday, and didn’t deliver the work until late Wednesday – and then the cat suddenly became ill on Wednesday night so we rushed him to a late-night vet, then had to get him xrayed on Thursday. So now I have four days to proof a manuscript.

But at least there’s lots of yummy leftovers to eat! And the cat should be okay, in the short term. (He’s 15 and it looks like he’s got spinal cord degeneration.)

What’s Cookin’?

Usually I start the mad season baking a bit earlier than this, but this year the bug just wasn’t biting. Then on Wednesday night, at around 8:30pm, it finally caught up with me. I have two favourites:

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Shortbread. The soft, buttery kind that melts in your mouth, with just a touch of rice flour texture.

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Lebkuchen. Spicy German gingerbread with a thumbprint of jam on top, and coated with chocolate on the bottom. I’m not German, and I have no idea if this is a Christmassy treat, but I tried out the recipe in my biscuit book one day and loved it so much I’ve make it almost every year since. This is the book:

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It probably dates from the early 90s, but Women’s Weekly often updates and reprints their books for years so it might still be around.

In other crafty news, I bought a shredder:

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