31 May 2013

Ah hah - test it, trial it

Call me slow, but I had an 'ah hah' moment yesterday. Tuesday night I Googled for knitted hairbands (for holding one's hair off the face, not the long haired, usually very loud variety). I found a lovely (free) pattern from 'Half-Assed Patterns'.

Now, I'm not really a knitter. I have knitted an entire jumper (sweater). If I die in winter, I might leave a request to be buried in it. I'm very proud of my jumper. It is all stocking stitch, with ribbing on the cuffs. It has to be simple the easiest jumper pattern on the planet. And yes, it has a couple of dropped stitches, and a entire row that had to be undone and was put back on the left needle incorrectly. But I don't care. I did it, I did it all by myself. And I've never done another one, because I realise I'm not a knitter. It's way too slow for me.

However, I like the entire concept of knitting. When I saw this hairband, which is labelled "advanced beginner", I thought "I can do that!" Hmmm, sometimes (only sometimes) I'm a little over ambitious. This pattern has several techniques that I've never done before. Now, silly me would reach an unfamiliar term, Google it, Youtube it, and then try it - ON MY REAL WORK! Well, duh Freddy, that's just a recipe for disaster. I have unravelled this thing at least five times.

Then the ah-hah moment - DON'T PRACTISE ON THE REAL WORK! It's really so very simple. And it applies to more than knitting.

- cook a new recipe for your family before offering it to visitors
- quilt a pattern on scrap fabric before stitching it on your quilt
- make a calico dummy of new pattern before cutting up your expensive fabric
- paint a test patch on the wall before buying 10 litres of paint
- keep a dummy patch of knitting on spare needles to try new stitches before working on the real project.

I am now up to about Row 30 of my hairband. Successfully negotiated the first little bit of cable. Think I've worked out yarn over, followed by both knit and purl stitches. And about to tackle the next cable section - after I test run it on my dummy project!

27 May 2013

Not wasting it

For many years I have received an excellent weekly newsletter, written by Philip E. Humbert, called Tips. One of the main reasons I love Philip's newsletter is that he has a broad definition of success. I've signed up (and unsigned) from many newsletters because they define success purely in terms of money or things or stuff. Philip understands that, while that may be Joe and Jane's definition, it's not necessarily everyone's definition, and his newsletters reflect that balanced view of life.

(To sign up for Tips, subscribe at http://www.philiphumbert.com.)

I mention the newsletter because this week there was a sentence or two that resonated with me.

I'm going to make a strong, blunt statement that may offend some, but here goes: I believe too many of us have grown flabby and lazy. We enjoy our freedoms and our wealth and our opportunities, but we also squander them.

If you missed it, some weeks ago I was made redundant . There's not a lot of work on offer in my particular field . On the upside, not having to trudge an hour into the office every morning, work for 5 hours, and then trudge an hour home again, has given me amazing freedom. Several weeks ago I realised that freedom could easily be squandered. In fact I was caught out ;-) I was using my freedom to read in bed in the morning. I love reading. I love reading in bed. I love reading in bed in winter and not getting up until it's warm. This particular morning, just as I was getting up, the phone rang. It was the school, "Could you please come and pick up a sick child?" In my pyjamas? Surely not!

Since then I have tried to keep to a schedule. I have worked hard not to be a grouchy perfectionist about it, but I have routine and I am (I believe) making the most of my freedom. And it's starting to show. Projects are getting done; tasks are being accomplished. My daughter "accused" me of being a "real mum" the other day. If it wasn't for the family budget, I think I could get used to this freedom.

26 May 2013

Biggest Morning Tea

Every year my online quilting group (QDU) run several swaps. One is often the Biggest Morning Tea, in support of cancer research. These 'secret sister' swaps have a fairly standard format. Every one who signs up is sent the details of 'secret sister' to send a package to. The package consists of the items nominated by the swap organiser. The list for this swap was:
1. A pretty mug. The mug must be of a reasonable quality. Make sure it is well protected in bubble wrap so it doesn't break when posted to your secret sister.
2. An fq of your choice (a fat quarter being a measure of fabric)
3. Something tasty
4. Something pretty
5. A small sewing gadget
6. A tea bag or coffee sachet (check your secret sister's information to see which is preferred)
7. Something hand made
8. A cake or patty cake recipe
9. A craft pattern (may be downloaded)
10. Your favourite quilting tip
11. Something useful
12. A mug mat

I made my secret sister a set of related goodies. In the information I received about her, I was told she like purple and pink and preferred coffee to tea.

My set included a mug bag, a coffee cup warmer wrap, a serviette and a mug rug, which satisfied items 4, 7, 11 and 12 from the list. I let the recipient decide which was which :-)

The mug bag pattern came from Red Brolly (http://www.red-brolly.com/red-brolly/2012/09/sew-chic-butterfly-mugbag.html). Very easy pattern to follow and it turned out very pretty. My only comment is that it really only takes smaller cups. I took it with me when I went to buy my mug. The mug I chose didn't have a handle, so it fit quite nicely.

The cup warmer I designed myself. Cups generally have slightly sloping sides, so the warmer needs to be slightly rounded to fit nicely at the top and bottom. I simply wrapped a piece of paper around my mug; sticky-taped it in place; put a rubber band at the top and bottom edge of where I wanted my wrap to fit; and drew a line. When I unstuck my paper I had the outline of a pattern. I added an allowance for seams. I sewed the top and bottom (long) seams and turned the tube in the right way. I cut a piece of bag wadding the same size as the pattern without the seam allowance and pushed it into my tube. To join the ends I considered a button, but as my cup has no handle that could have been in the way. Instead I folded another piece of fabric and wrapped it around the two ends. I really should have taken some photos :-0 Anyway, it worked.

The mug rug just sort of 'evolved'. I had to work out what a mug rug was before I started. There appears to be no 'standard' measurements, but the concept is simply a coaster with room for morning tea on the side, so usually a rectangle.

I had left over fabric from the four fat quarters I'd used for the bag. I sewed the squares first. They're 2inches cut; 1.5 inches finished. I was going to put 'borders' (also 2 inches wide cut) on two sides, but then thought it would look better if I didn't aim for symmetry.

Instead of worrying about binding, I bagged it. With right sides together, sew the front to the back, leaving a small opening. Turn in the right way, through the opening. Top stitch all the way around the edge. To avoid bulk in the seams, I put bag wadding in the middle after I'd turn it in the right way.

I choose a feather stitch and top stitched along the long strips. I then top stitched in the opposite direction on the squares. I can't remember what I used on the underside; I think just a single piece of fabric from one of the four.

The serviette is just two pieces of fabric sewn together, again bagged to avoid hems and so forth.

25 May 2013

Porridge (Oats)

My nana used to make stick-to-your-ribs-all-day porridge. After dinner, she'd put the oats in water a saucepan to soak over night. In the morning, she'd cook it up and you'd get a lovely blob of sticky, gooey porridge.

I've never been able to replicate it. Even "traditional" oats are obviously not as hardy as oats 'back in the day'. Leaving them to soak overnight all but destroys them, turning them into something resembling school paste. A slow cooker recipe I found was (unsurprisingly really) even worse. Microwave porridge, firstly, makes a huge mess and secondly, just wasn't as satisfying; but I think I've nailed it.

The trick is a very large container with straight sides to cook the oats in. For a single serve of porridge (1/3 cup of oats, 2/3 cup of water) I use a 2 litre mixing bowl. I cook, according to the instructions, for 2 minutes, stir, cook for a further minute. For variation, when I stir I add a handful of cranberries. The result - perfect, nana stodge. Love it on a cold winter morning.

Doesn't photograph well, but it sure hits the spot on a cold morning.
The big white lump near my spoon is cream from the top of the milk.
Gotta love unhomogenised milk!

Coffee table make over

Some years ago, a considerable number, friends gifted us with a broken dining room chair. They didn't just turn up and say, "Hey, look what we have for you." They were tossing them out and I bagged one. The chairs were wooden, cheap, and constantly breaking. In design they were similar to these. The problem our friends had was the backs kept breaking. I thought I could use the base for a coffee table in our lounge room.

When I got the chair home I painted it. The intended colour scheme for our house, all those years ago, was a greeny-blue with dusty pink and sky blue highlights. That went out the window with the first room we painted. The current scheme is pale butter yellow with bright lime green and pale sea green accents. The chair, come coffee table, was painted in the original scheme. I tried to be clever and highlight the shaped bits on the legs, but I was never very happy with it.
Coffee table just peaking in the bottom right hand corner.
Temporary covers on the chair being our current scheme.
Today I decided to finally 'fix' the table. Aside from the colour, the biggest issue with the 'table' is that wooden dining room chairs have a "bottom indent" - they're not flat on top! To solve that problem I cut a piece of board slightly bigger than the widest dimension. I also cut a board to sit over the structural supports to provide a second tier of 'table'. And I painted the whole thing bright green - no attempt at fancy highlights.

I like the result; however, the family insist it's "wrong". The table is supposed to be pink & blue and daggy and mismatching. That's just the way it's supposed to be!

My plan is to make a cover that sits over the top. Maybe I'll incorporate some pink & blue and dagginess in that.

24 May 2013

Corned Beef Hash

Got a couple of recipe type posts coming up. Here's the first one. This was a new, trial recipe for me. The others enjoyed it. Can't say I was much fussed. Sadly, I only have one photo. Taking photos of my food is a little foreign to me.

Corned Beef Hash mix
What was in my hash mix? In the photo the big, bright green 'thing' to the right - that's a spatula. Just in case you were wondering.

Otherwise - left over corned beef, carrot, baby spinach leaves, onion, celery - all put through the food processor. Really, you could put just about anything in these. There could even be some zucchini in this mix. Just put everything through the food processor or grater to ensure it's a fairly even consistency.

Grated raw potato, which isn't yet in this photo. The trick is to dry the potato as thoroughly as possible. My dad's suggestion is to use a potato ricer (pictures on this website). They look a bit like an overgrown garlic press. After pressing the grated potato, dry them on paper towel. I'm thinking another option might be to use a salad spinner (Ikea's version). I don't own either, so I squeeze by hand, and then put the potato into one mesh seize, put another on top and squeeze them together.

I also added an egg (probably needed two, but I didn't have two) and some spices.

Form about a tablespoon or so into a ball, place (don't drop) into hot oil and flatten. That's really all there is to is.

Like I said, I wasn't fussed, but it's an easy way to use up a bunch of left corned beef and veggies.

23 May 2013

Making it work

Our entire kitchen is up for replacement later this year - as soon as I work out what I want and how to make it fit the space and the budget. In the meantime, being a "stay at home mum" (bwahaha) I've been cooking more than usual and the current arrangement has been driving me nuts.

We have two pantries. Big, floor to ceiling deals. One is square; the other a corner unit. Both are an incredible waste of space and not appearing in the new design. The square unit has 5 shelves. The shelves are about 16 inches apart and about 25 inches deep and wide. We use the unit for storing cooking equipment - baking pans, saucepans, bowls, tupperware, that sort of thing. Believe it or not, if you start stacking any of that stuff 16 inches high it becomes nigh on impossible to get at anything.

Just one of the five shelves

As I was staring at the space last Sunday I decided what I needed was half shelf in each space. I wanted a shelf that was the full width of the cabinet, about half the depth and half the height.

However, the worst offender was the bottom shelf, with all the baking pans. The vast majority of my baking equipment is flat. Over the years I've tried a variety of options - dish drainers, plate racks, etc to try and keep the stuff standing upright. So far nothing has worked.

However, on Sunday I remember an old desktop filing box, which wasn't being used for anything important. Oh, yeah. Success! One box isn't enough, so for the short-term, I'm also using an A3 posting box I had on hand. It may be that the short-term lasts until the new kitchen is installed ;-)

This is the "after" of the baking pans.
I don't have a before, but imagine a pick-up-sticks stack of pans and trays.
Back to my half-shelves. Perfectionist Dan, my husband, and Fussy Phil, our handy-man neighbour, will have conniptions when they see them, but I'm happy with them.

On Sunday, as I was ferreting through the workshop looking for suitable bits of wood, Phil offered to make me shelves from melamine, so 'they looked nice', rah-rah-rah. When I mentioned it to hubby, he nodded and said, yes he could knock me up something later.

I like things done the day before I think of them, so today I decided I would "just do it". And it took me about an hour! It's not perfect. According to others, it may not even be finished - but it worked. I cut out three shelves, and six 'legs'. I made the shelves the full width of the pantry. I figure if the legs are supported against the side walls it makes the whole structure more sound. I nailed the legs to the new shelf. No glue, no screws, no fuss. Like I said - I just wanted it done and when the kitchen is replaced they will be relegated to the scrap heap.

My 'plan'
How did it turn out? It turned out just like this:
This is the "after" for the shelf above.
Now, I can get my mixing bowls without knocking half the contents on the floor.

A couple of things were removed from this shelf, but not many.