Thursday, March 26, 2009

Care Packages

It has been over a week since my last post which is not a habit that I want to slip into. Our family is getting a little burnt out by end of winter illness so my Mum's care package to me is just what the doctor ordered. The package is a late birthday gift. It was a late because the main gift is home-made and my mother has also had more than her share of illness this winter. Of course I benefited by its lateness because I received a book gift-card in time for my actual birthday so I have been very blessed this year. Its contents include organic cotton napkins(with decorative stitching added by my Mum), napkins made by my Mum, a pasta maker, newly made(my Mum) linen/cotton blend tea towels, Bon Ami cleanser,Junk Style Magazine (with DVD),ClothPaperScissors Studio Magazine(Fall) and Quilting Arts Stitch Magazine and the following items from her local thrift store: a white linen damask tablecloth, a full,wrap-style apron and a book on the Cathedrals of England. I will write more about the pasta maker and the thrifted items in a future post.
The household cleanser I grew up using does not seem to be available in my part of Canada. This product is effective,environmentally safe and generally pleasant to use but I need to ask my Mum to send me a regular supply. I find new linen tea towels impossible to find and thrifted ones are almost as scarce. Linen is far better for drying glassware so I really appreciate my Mum's gift. The tablecloth in the background is also linen with embroidery done by Mum ( and her magic sewing machine).

I grew up using cloth napkins including with my bag lunches at school. We actually wear out our cloth napkins so I am always happy to replenish our collection. Mum found the organic napkins and embellished them to match the blue of the wall in the kitchen and red handles of some of my vintage kitchen tools. The others are edged with a simple blue rolled hem.

I love magazines but cannot possibly buy all that I would like to read. I like to share my library of favourites and my Mum is generous with hers. The Studios is especially appreciated and timely as we have almost completed the sewing studio makeover.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Modern Love, Vintage Love

Like most people, my loves may contrast but I hope show a little balance. Even though vintage domestica appeals to me on many levels, in order to have the time to do all that I need and want to do I require some very efficient modern equipment. Our Kitchen Aid Blender is one of my favourites in my kitchen arsenal. We are not really a smoothie or milkshake family (although those treats are sometimes enjoyed) nor do we have any more babies (and me pouting when my computer skills do not meet my expectations does not count) so why have a blender? Well number 1 has multiple disabilities that including chewing and swallowing and requires a pureed diet that is gluten and dairy free. Often we make ahead multiple (teen aged size) portions and use our Braun 400w hand blender but occasionally the foodie and sometimes disorganized/over-booked Mummie needs to just give him some of the family's Lamb Vindaloo with rice and veggies pureed in. He also loves fruit: bananas and whatever other fruit or juice we have on hand are a daily use for the blender. I love this particular blender because it beautiful, works perfectly, is quiet, is very well made (we have had a few of another brand die on us) and because it is last years model I bought it on sale.

In the same room we have a vintage kitchen tool that replaces several modern versions that have failed over the years. Like many people, we love our coffee! We are also more than a little particular about how it is made. We have and use a french press but find it is best for after dinner coffee (with dessert). We also have an espresso maker that we like (it was a gift) but it does not make the quantity we want in the morning. For many years we had a series of automatic drip coffee makers that ultimately have been a disappointment: the quality of coffee produced tends to deteriorate over the life of the machine, our last one leaked water (so you could not use the timer) just after the warranty expired and I had concerns about the plastics in contact with hot water and acidic coffee and a little bit with the fire hazard potential (I like to unplug the toaster, for instance). I have memories of making coffee for my parents back in the 70's (when they were about to come back in the house from working out in the garden) in a manual, ceramic Melita Coffee Maker. My Mum still has the coffee maker but was unwilling to part with it. So after scouring eBay and being unwilling to spend $30 on something that might break in shipping, I wished to the thrift fairies to find one in the thrift stores. Within a few weeks I found the cone and at another store I found the pot (not Melitta, but it fits). I could not believe my luck and was thrilled because it really makes the best coffee and all for under $7. It takes a little time and attention to pour the boiling water but the process smells great and makes the coffee that much more enjoyable; no worries about plastics and no planned obsolescence. The pot fits on our stove's warming element or we can put the extra in a thermal carafe. It even pours better than any automatic coffee maker I have ever used so it is nice to serve guests. I wonder if Melitta will bring back this coffee maker?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Irish Soda Bread, better late than....

Here is the soda bread I made earlier today. Given the Irish heritage on both sides of the family, the kids wanted me to do something for St. Patrick's Day. While I find the whole green beer and everyone "being" Irish a bit ridiculous, I do like the opportunity for people to reflect on their heritage and appreciate the traditions of our immigrant society. I used my Mum's family recipe adapted for gluten and egg-free requirements but in the end, they kids did not want to eat the bread. My husband and I are enjoying the soda bread very much; for me, it was pure comfort food. I placed the cooling rack over a Irish linen tea towel that I thrifted. I have often wondered why such items end up at the thrift store: why would you not use such a useful item that is also beautiful? Of course I am just as happy that they do especially as new linen tea towels are nearly impossible to find. Here are some Irish facts about me: my middle name is Irish for Mary, I have grey eyes, I play the flute (which after the harp ties with violin as the national instrument of Eire), fish and chips would be my favourite comfort food if I could still eat it (anaphylactic to seafood, fish and eggs), I have been told that I can tell a story, my beautiful sister looks like she is a cast member of Riverdance (I missed out on the red hair) but I hate drinking beer!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Birthday Gifts part 2

Yesterday's post about gifts missed three essential elements: The first is the gratuitous cute kitten photo seen here. The second is the video clip of her on her first evening in our home which I still cannot get to work. The third is photographic evidence of number 4's fabulously awesome birthday gift: a brand new bike. Being the youngest of four he gets a lot of hand me downs but we do not get too many complaints so we did not mind making a new purchase of something that would not be handed down to a younger sibling. His new bike is of better quality than the one we had for his siblings and will be passed on to someone when he grows out of it. We also purchased it at an independent (family-owned, I think)store rather than a big box outlet. The sales staff were far more informed, the bike was properly assembled, we have complementary servicing for the next two years and we are supporting our local economy more directly. The process is certainly more like how our grandparents approached it yet the impact is positively modern.

Upcycled Felt Handbag

Regular thrifting started for me with the desire to try needle felting and make a purse from an old sweater that I would felt or fell. As I am a lady who wears cashmere, I had no sweaters that I was willing to sacrifice to the cause. A trip to the closest Salvation Army and a new thrifting habit was formed. I find the colour,textures and designs highly inspiring and the challenge of finding suitable candidates exciting. The first purse took a little while to be started as I loved the felt so much, I was reticent to cut into it. Ultimately I came up with a simple design that I hope suits the stripes and colours of the felt. The flower is made from the same felt and has a little needle felting in the centre. The stem is needle felted using the yarn from the unpicked seams of the original sweater.

The lining is from scraps left over from an unfinished dress. The dress did not work out as planned and I still need to redesign it but I love the fabric. The handle was given to me by my Mother who has made me some beautiful cloth bags and the buttons are natural shell. I finished it about a year and a half ago and have received positive comments whenever I carry the bag. I have gone on to make more including special orders and hope to have more for sale soon.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Birthday Gifts

You may have seen this face before(check out my profile photo) and while our family is still in birthday mode I thought that I might make a comment about gifts. The feline face belongs to Clara who is by far the best gift ever. Three years ago, my wonderful husband surprised me with a trip to choose and purchase a Himalayan kitten. Although there were siblings, it was instant bonding with this little girl. She has delighted the whole family with her curiosity, playfulness and beauty, her most important quality has been her commitment to keeping me company as I go about my day. The general advice is to never give pets as birthday gifts but that must apply mostly to young children and not a mother of four who knows a thing or two about responsibility for others. I have received many practical and wanted gifts (this year my lap top, my Pfaff sewing machine at 21 and my Husquavarna 17 years later) but Clara has been a gift of pure pleasure for which I happily and frequently thank my husband.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Yellow and Chocolate Polka-dot Birthday Cake

My youngest is now eight! The baby years seem so close but far. It is amazing how busy-ness really alters our preception of time. My memories of being eight are fairly clear. I remember what I liked to draw and read. I remember baking cookies and sewing at my Singer Junior Miss sewing machine. I remember the winter skies and the smell of the outdoors.
Making birthday cakes are now a family affair. I made the cake using a standard Moosewood recipe. I used Bob's Red Mill All-purpose Gluten-free Baking Flour(1 cup) and Light buckwheat flour(1/2 cup) in place of all-purpose flour with 3/4 tsp. xanthan gum and 1/4 cup of flax seed-water mix as part of my total liquids. It is a naturally egg-free recipe but I find that it holds together just that little bit better with the flax egg-replacer. Number 4 insisted on doing the decoration, so after smoothering the cake with chocolate frosting, I let him go at it with the M & M's (his sister did the yellow edging around the top). The control freak part of me got to pick out the materials and sugggest not to overdo it with the M & M's. He picked out the spacing and pattern and I think is design sense is pretty good. Numbers 3 & 4 have always been interested in baking and crafts and we plan on creating a baking birthday party for the birthday boy. His parents are not keen on the package birthdays and he is keen to share his interest in baking with his friends.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Spring Book Shelf Make-over

Well its not spring yet, but my Christmas Cactus is blooming again and keeping the Gerberas company and the African Violets are soon to join them. Their vibrancy reminds me that I won't be waiting I had better get to thoses indoor projects! This is a rather sad corner in our family room: the fish tank is empty, the ceiling above needs a patch and the bookshelf is over-stuffed. We need to fix the ceiling before we can bring back fish. We can tackle the shelf. Editing out the books could have been a solution but I keep adding to my collection of cookbooks.

This is a collecting problem that does not often get complaints from other family members; if I am interested in my cookbooks, the results are appreciated. The ultimate solution was to repurpose the bookshelf in another room and order a new bookshelf from Ikea. We put this off for awhile as we live in the opposite end of the city. Fate intervened and we had to go to the store to buy a new floor for the sewing room (stay tuned for that make-over) and because it was such an amazing price we also ordered the bookshelf. The flat-packs arrived at a location much closer to our house and much sooner than expected. As a couple, we have survived over 21 years of Ikea assembly so the shelves were soon ready for dressing. The shelf spaces are adjustable and my vintage cookbooks have their own space with grow room. The DVD's have neat and tidy boxes and a favourite photo invites us to look. I think the result may inspire me to jump into Spring Cleaning.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Vintage Goodies

While I love vintage items of all sorts, I am particularily drawn to all things domestic. That love sings with vintage sewing and needlework supplies. I did my first hand sewing at my Mother's knees when I was about four and have fond memories of sorting through her buttons. When I am in the thrift stores, I always search for buttons, ric-rack, bias tape and anything else from someone's sewing basket. When I bring my new finds home, I take them out of the plastic bags that usually keeps it all together and start to sort what I really have. When I have fully enjoyed wondering what projects the buttons that are off the card were used for or how most of a package of seam binding remains, I collect my treasure onto a tray or other vintage containers to display. The display often remains on the dining room table for a couple of weeks, where I continue to enjoy it and get inspiration for new projects. I enjoy viewing items that I collect but I enjoy them most in changing displays with relatively little clutter around them.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Bake a Cake, part 2

I really think I should give my substitutions to make the cake gluten and egg-free. The original recipe comes from Everyday Foods, October 2004 and can be found here . I use 1/4 cup flax seed water egg replacement (1/4 c. ground flax seed with 1 c. water) to replace and the gluten-free all-purpose baking flour for the flour. I believe you could make your own mix using chick pea flour and rice and potato flours. Don't forget xantham gum you will soon be enjoying a delicious treat.

If I knew you were coming I'd have baked a cake

Why actually I did! In celebration of my new blog, I baked one of my husbands favourite treats: Cornmeal Olive Oil Cake. It is from Martha Stewart's Everyday Foods. It is easy to whip up and adapts easily to my egg-free and gluten-free substitutions. Storage in my glass cake stand only improves its flavour. I wanted the cake stand for the aesthetics but I am most impressed by its functions. I stores baking far better than plastic. Plastic containers seem to encourage too much moisture which hastens spoilage but the dome seems to prevent that while also preventing it from going stale. I also like the idea of moving away from plastic. An old idea with relevence for today.