Thursday, April 30, 2009

My Creative Space: someone's in the kitchen

On the kitchen window sill a gerbera is blooming again and suggesting the promise that is starting to occur outside. It is too early here to put out bedding plants and not all the grass is green and only some trees are in bud. The early bulbs are up and some I have even seen the odd magnolia in bloom. The will to put finishing touches on my WIPs is experiencing some sort of spring fever. We have had some wild extremes in our weather which has inspired me to cook food from two seasons in the same week. I suppose that it is quite old-fashioned to plan your meals by the season but it is an idea that comes naturally and seems to be embraced by many. Seasonally can be taken to mean what fresh food is in season or what the season inspires us to eat. We have jumped from chilly to hot days for more than a week and it has made meal planning interesting. Last Saturday was a lovely day and called for something grilled outside. My daughter was with me at the grocery store and made the request for pork brochettes, green beans and foil potatoes. If the side burner of our gas barbeque was still working, everything could have been cooked outside. The pork was marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and oregano and threaded on skewars to grill. The potaoes were thinly sliced and tossed in olive oil and then wrapped in foil packets and grilled mostly on the upper rack. A third of the packets had the addition of chopped garlic and the family decided that we should do more garlic next time it is made. It was the first dinner to be eaten in our three season sunroom/screened porch.

Later that evening, I prepared dozens of meatballs for the freezer and and meatloaf for the next day. I also used the thrifted stoneware mini-bundt pan to bake some gluten and egg-free banana cakes. This is what it looked like the next morning when I got up. Count the cakes! Number 3 admitted later that day that he had picked at it and that looked very obvious and he ate the whole mini-bundt but it was very good.

It was a rather chilly day so the meatloaf was perfect along with steamed broccoli and mashed potatoes. We had strawberries and whipped cream for dessert with coffee from our not often enough used espresso maker (I have placed it on an eye-level shelf in one of the kitchen cupboards so it will not be a hassle to use). I do not usually serve out of season non-organic strawberries but I did have number 2 with me at the grocery store the day before; her interest in helping to plan and prepare the food persauded me.

Monday we ate an Indian meal with a meat recipe from one of my favourite modern cookbooks with rice,cauliflower and broccoli. While my children happily eat a spiced meat dish they tend to prefer their vegetables steamed just to tender. We repeated the previous nights dessert but without the coffee as we only had enough coffee for the next morning. Tuesday was busy with everyone on a slightly different schedule, so some of the meatballs were pulled from the freezer, spaghetti was boiled and jarred sauce was heated for those that like sauce accompanied by a store-bought crusty loaf toasted with garlic butter and served with green peas (frozen) and no dessert.

Wednesday it was warm again and I was inspired to make a simple coleslaw in a recently found pyrex bowl. I love this shade of yellow and find the square-round shape interesting. Apparently it came with a square lid with tab handles so I will keep my eyes open for a lid and may join the pyrex love flicker group in hopes of finding a trade. It is sitting on one of my vintage tableclothes which also feels spring-like.

Here is a new vintage cookbook that fills a hole in my library as my only barbeque cookbook is the Presidnt's Choice one which means it is full of recipes suggesting their prepared sauces and marinades. I have yet to cook from it but it helped to inspire Wednesday's menu.

I needed to go to the store for other reasons and was pleased to see a family package of wing steaks marked down before they expired. That was perfect served with rice and more broccoli. It also gave me the opportunity to use the steak knife set that my parents bought early in their marriage. I have always liked the look and feel of these knives and enjoy our relatively infrequent use of them. Steak for a family of six is not an everyday occurance and everyone enjoyed this meal. It was warm but windy, so we ate indoors.
The whole family seems excited to be switching into a more summer-like menu plan although we are still likely to have some cool days, I think the stews and heavier casseroles are over for this season. If anyone wants details of any recipes and how I alter traditional recipes to make them egg and gluten free let me know in the comments and I will happy to provide them. Link to Kristy's blog to what inspires others in their creative spaces.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Thrifty week and where it takes me

Not all of my thrifting is done at thrift stores. Garage sales are just starting up although I have yet to go to one this season and I have found some treasures at consignment stores. When I have shopped there I have be lucky to find that what I am planning to purchase is often at final mark down of fifty percent off. I have been looking for a small teapot for the sitting area of our bedroom; one that holds two china mugs worth. This one has a vintage, shabby chic look that works with the other china I have in the room and the painted white found furniture. The small bowl in the photo was also found at my favourite consignment store on the same day last week. I am loving the mid-century modern look to the colours and style of glazing and how it goes with the new cushions in my last post.
Here I have it with a vase that was my Grandmother's. My aunt said that she always remembered it in the house and after a little research I found out when and where it was made. Medalta
Potteries is part of Canadian history that reminds me of how our resource rich society used to use those resources for manufacture of domestic and exported goods. I am pretty sure that the vase dates from the forties. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to ask my Grandmother how she acquired it. The bowl is marked Mel-Bar, Canada and I have yet to figure out much about it. Any ideas?

Of course, like many others I am always on the lookout for Pyrex in appealing colours,patterns and good condition. Unfortunately, the consignment store only had one so-so piece of Fire-King. I was inspired to photograph two pieces found in the last year that make me think of Spring. The yellow piece is from the fifties and the aqua bowl is from the sixties. I belive the table cloth is from the early seventies as its fibre content is cotton and modal and the tag has a date. I use my vintage pieces daily as I do not want to create a museum, but to collect pieces that are both useful and pleasing.
Sometimes I am lucky enough to find vintage cookbooks. Ottawa has fewer used bookstores than in past so I now try to scan the shelves in the thrift stores. I am not just looking for vintage titles but anything that I find interesting and useful. There have been a few titles that I have wished to the thrift fairies and been blessed by a find. Most notable for me has been the Julia Child pictured here; an eighth printing(Dec. 1964) of the original 1962 edition. I have wanted it for a long time but ultimately was not interested in spending the money on a new version. There is something altogether singular about possessing a copy that was in existence as the contents of the book were changing how North Americans cooked or indeed how they thought of food. We certainly would not have the same Martha Stewart, who has so influenced our homes in the last 15+ years, if she had not worked her way through the book. Is any one else anticipating this film? Julia came to my rescue for Easter dinner. I had left the marketing a little late and was only able to buy a boneless leg of lamb. Now most of the recipes in my books suggest
butterflying and grilling such a beast but our barbeque had yet to be tried for the season and I prefer not to broil lamb as it is very smokey. Her book had a few options and I settled on using the Garlic and Herb Stuffing with very satisfying results. While I may not work my way through the whole book, I know that I will continue to consult Julia on a regular basis.
The first book on the right of the photo is the Good Housekeeping Cookbook in the 1949 printing of the 1942 original.
This book I have flipped through and found various helpful bits of information and I am now reading it from the beginning. I have yet to cook from it but there is an emphasis on basic technique and frugal planning and covers just about anything someone new to domestic cooking would need to know. The middle book is a 1958 revised version of the 1942 original called The Modern Family Cook Book. The author Meta Given seems to be well prepared for writing this cookbook which I found out by reading its still present dust jacket! (pretty rare for a 50+ years old cookbook)
I have used a scalloped potato recipe from the book which was very easy to prepare. It seemed simpler than the last time I made them which was a long time ago and I would say the results were not what I expected. I will have to try again but with a little more research. I think scalloped potatoes would look fabulous in this "Horizon Blue" covered casserole.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

My Creative Space: More inspiration and the creative process

As I wrote last week, inspiration can come from many places. I also mentioned how inspiring nature and especially flowers are for me. Pattern on china is something I really enjoy. When I was in my early twenties I was especially drawn to geometric borders on plain white plates. I like the food to be the starring attraction so most dishes are best served by presentation on plain white china. Maybe as a reaction to the long winters in Ottawa or as a throwback to the Bunnykins of my childhood, I now enjoy pattern on my china. A simple cup of tea gives even more reward when I drink from a beautiful cup and saucer like the one here.

A single cookie is more satisfying on a lovely plate. Both china patterns are predominately pink and are beautiful in the sitting area of our bedroom. As I wrote last week, translating flowers to felt benefits from help in seeing artists renderings. It may be obvious by now that I am very inspired by blossoming trees. That love may come from my father's appreciation of Japanese gardens. Many family day trips as a child were spent enjoying the Japanese gardens in and around Victoria, B.C.

Sometimes we were able to visit the world renowned Butchart Gardens. It was expensive to visit even in the seventies so we tended to go only when we brought out of town guests. While many people think of the sunken garden or the Italianate rose garden when referring to Butchart's, I remember the Japanese Garden and the plantings of azaleas and rhododendrons most fondly. While thrifting I came across a souvenir book of the gardens that was published in the mid-seventies. Memories of Butcharts is also a memory in my husbands childhood. His love of gardens did play a small part in the development of our relationship and he is quite delighted that I have inherited some of my skills and love of gardening.
In Ottawa spring takes a long time to really arrive and then suddenly it is summer. In Victoria spring is a long season that gradually unfolds. The cherry blossoms are first and there is one street that sometimes has them blooming in February. Usually the colours and texture of the felted sweaters inspire what sort of surface decoration I create. Possibly because of the faint spring green stripe(between the thick brown stripes) is what suggested the cherry blossoms on this purse. I apologize for the poor quality of the colour in this photo. It was a commissioned bag that I presented to its new owner without taking a digital shot. Another person had a film camera and this is the photo scanned into my computer. The pussy-willows I had in a large pitcher in my dining room when I started this bag likely inspired much of the design.

My domestic surroundings seem to have a huge effect on what I create. Spring seems to suggest little tweaks to refresh our home. The two pieces of pottery are both Denby that I found at the Salvation Army, the ceramic bird is Danish and I bought it at the garage sale of a friend of my grandmother when I was a child. The pillowcase in the background was picked out by my husband (at a great discount) is the only new object in the photo as even the pillow form is an unused Ikea feather pillow form that I thrifted last year.
Be sure to check out what inspires others in there creative space at Kristy's


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day and Thrifting

Earth day is a perfect day for thrifting. You can bring that which you find no longer useful and find something you do. Most thrift stores support charities and without over emphasizing the psychological effect of supporting such causes, feeling good about making a small difference for someone less fortunate can certainly make it easier for us to take on more ways of making a difference in the world. If you are reducing stuff to make a donation you will be reducing the clutter that I believe is at least partially responsible for our desire to buy so much more than we need. It is also possible that lightening the burden felt by the recipients of the charity will also give them enough breathing space to think beyond survival and maybe what they can do for the world. I know that I could be accused of being terribly idealistic but changing our consuming habits and how we regard those facing tough times is something that if done on an individual basis will make a huge difference collectively and it is fairly easy to do.
When I started thrifting, I started to see that there are always many cookbooks available. Of course there are hundreds of cookbooks published every year so that number is not surprising. The books that have interested me most have been those from my childhood or earlier. Nostalgia accounts for some of that fascination as does the design aesthetic from an earlier time. Ultimately it is the content of these books which I find most useful. The recipes presented tend to be tasty, efficient and frugal and easily suited to a family. I do consider myself a "Foodie" and enjoy experimenting with new cuisines but I find that quite a few of today's cookbooks do not offer families enough favourite meals. I do cook from scratch yet
it is not realistic for me to spend hours in the kitchen just to keep the meals interesting. I would guess that many families used to eating out or relying on convenience foods would not know where to start if they chose to change that habit. I find that vintage cookbooks offer a great resource for building a families weekly menu. The Better Homes and Gardens Holiday Cookbook pictured above offers fairly easy variations on this idea and the McCall's Cookie Booklet is a quite complete cookie primer. It is also charming with its feature of the doll Betsy McCall baking as featured in Jane's Apron The tablecloth was also scored the same day and I believe that it is from the late 1950' or early 60's. I remember similar patterns on wall paper in kitchens and restaurants. There are a few stains which I am not sure that I will be able to remove so it may end up as an apron.

I also found some vintage gift wrap and gift cards. If presentation of gifts is part of the overall appeal, I definitely have recipients who will welcome something wrapped in one of these.

I can't visit a thrift store without looking for sewing and craft supplies and did not leave empty-handed on this day. I don't crochet, so maybe I am getting ready for a give away. The embroidery kit is a crewel work kit of a Trillium, Ontario's Provincial flower.

I was planning to do a re purposing project with some of the contents of this laundry basket. It is full of pyjamas, t-shirts and corduroy pants that have holes or tears that cannot be repaired. When I actually get to it I will be making throws for the kids using fabric from the garments. It is a variation of the idea of using baby clothes to do the same. My youngest is very concerned about being environmentally aware and is very excited about this project. Think about the little ways we can make changes every day.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

My Creative Space: Inspiration, WIPs and Results

Inspiration can come in many forms. As with many people, I find much of it in nature and most specifically in flowers. I was fortunate to grow up in a climate that had something flowering most of the year and to be the daughter of a passionate gardener. Living in the climate that I do now has required a lot of readjustment. We have lived in Ottawa for over 18 years and I have learned that I require indoor flowers through the winter and into the spring just to survive. You cannot beat nature for use of colour and design.

When I started making felt purses I thought first of flowers. The nature of the material does not allow for realistic representation like can be achieved with silk but the sculptural qualities of wool can create some surprising results. Graphic design such as this beautiful gift wrap can help translate the suggestion of the flowers more suited to the ability of the wool or maybe just my abilities.

Sometimes my frustration with my work will prompt me to abandon the project. I was attempting to create white lilac on this piece and my dissatisfaction with the result caused me to drop it while still in progress. Last springs weather and the garden beckoned me outside. It is not difficult for a mother of four to be pulled away to other duties. Now that my studio is so well organized and pleasing to be in, I am looking again at some of my WIP's(work in progress) that were temporarily dropped. My critical eye with this piece has softened enough for me to take it up again and I hope to finish it soon. The handle of the bag is being formed by splicing hand rolled felt tubes that are braided so it is an intensive part of the making that can only be done a little at a time.

I have been delighted to see birds used in decorative home accessories and patterns for home decor fabrics. When I first looked at the sweater used here, I thought of a robin even before I taken the garment apart. I used natural roving for the branch and bits of the sweater to create the robin. I dropped it as a project when I was commissioned to make another purse and have yet to figure out the construction of the bag. Usually the size or shape of the original sweater influences my decision along with handle options and the weight of the felt.

The old adage of necessity being the mother of invention is certainly true as shown in this cosy for my cell phone. Using some of the felt leftover from my first purse, I fashioned this with a little needle felting, applied cut-out and shell button. It was such a small project that it was finished before it had a chance to be abandoned. The phone is new (after at least 4 years with the old one) and I hope to keep it happy and new looking for as long as possible with the help of its cosy.

Of course not all projects find themselves abandoned. This purse is one that I have used almost daily since I made it. The process flowed
easily and I do not remember too much questioning along the way. Take a look at the creative process at Kristy's blog.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


My interest in aprons has had some rather wide reaching results. I started to read other peoples blogs with a simple google search of vintage aprons and that has led to me reading and thinking about women's domestic role both now and in the past. I will blog about my first aprons when I figure out how to best photograph them. The apron here is photographed as it is displayed in my home. On the end of the cabinet as you enter my kitchen is a large blank area. I used a 3M command hook to hang up Christmas decorations and realized after the decorations came down that it would be the perfect location to feature my aprons. Doing so brings a little seasonal colour and cheer that does not look incongruous in the kitchen.

This apron has two good sides so I suppose the woman who wore it could turn it around quickly if company showed up. Pockets are an important feature on an apron and a real opportunity for creativity. I had this apron up for most of March and its Spring Freshness made me happy whenever I walked into the kitchen. Which side do you like best?

I put this one up on St. Patrick's Day to share the limelight with the Soda bread. I do wear my aprons but tend to prefer a full apron for everyday. I am a little messy so I tend to save the half aprons for hostess occasions (or when the mood strikes me).

February had this apron on display. It has beautiful embroidery with dimensional appliques. Unfortunately, it has a little fade damage from being exposed to the fluorescent lights in my laundry room. I guess our mistakes are to learn from but I wish it had not been one I love so much.

This sheer hostess number shared the spotlight in February. It is beautifully made and like all the aprons in this post, appears to be handmade. The previous one is behind it to try and highlight the details. I will add these to my flickr soon. If you love these, go to Amy's blog Tie One Onfor some beautiful new and vintage aprons.

Here is a another link to other people's aprons

Monday, April 13, 2009

Thrifty week

I do not thrift everyday or sometimes even everyweek but some weeks the thrifting fairies are on my side. It seems that a lot more people are thrifting or all the good stuff is not being donated. I get more excited about less. I am happy about how I did the week before last. In this photo there is new(tags still on) Echo silk scarf, Fall 2007 MSL, vintage English binoculars, and a unseasoned Pampered Chef mini-multiple bundt stoneware pan. I have been looking for binoculars for a while and the bake ware should be perfect for mini (6 inches across x 6 cakes) pumpkin loaves and especially gluten and egg free baking.

Also found was a lovely for spring silk chiffon blouse in a lovely robin's egg blue. I had to add some new Tag soap that look like duck eggs. A cute satin evening purse was something I was also delighted to find. It reminds me a little of a Faberge Egg in construction and the handle detail is something I would like to try on my purses.

The best find for my family was a new set of vintage dishes. We have been more than a little frustrated by our current set of stone ware as it is chipping and quite heavy to lift. This almost complete service for eight is Noritake's Progression China in the Arunta pattern. It was made between 1966 and 1974 as everyday china and is microwave and dishwasher safe and the serving pieces appear to be atleast somewhat oven-safe. Does any one know more about this range of china? Replacement pieces are available online and I will keep my eyes out in the thrift stores for more. I find it interesting that the plate size today is so much bigger. If you have an older home with an original kitchen you would be unable to store today's dishes in most upper cabinets. We are becoming a more overweight society and plate size will not help that trend if the plates stay bigger or get bigger still. I have read that even in cookbooks the portion sizes are bigger than 50 years ago. One other recent thrifted find (not photographed) was a 1950's Good Housekeeping cookbook. It has sound nutrition advice for feeding your family and interesting practical meal plans for weight reduction that would seem to work far better than most of today's fad diets.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

My Creative Space: Before and After the Sewing Studio Makeover

In all the years I have shared a home with my husband I have had a space to sew. At some times it was just a corner of a room and when we had only one child, it was my own sewing room. Having the space was good and decorating it was not really part of the thought process. The urge (or sometimes need) to make something was stronger than my need to control my environment. Or so I thought...

For the last seven and a half years that we have lived in our house, this has been my sewing space. It is in the basement, the walls are drywalled, there is flooring on the concrete and even a sewing counter left by the previous and original owners. I have blamed my lack of productivity on having four children, working part-time outside of the home and family health/injuries. My husband urged me to improve the room but I always said that we had other areas of our home that really needed our time and money.

I began to realize that the only time I was spending in this room was when I absolutely needed to or when the creative urge was so overwhelming, I did not care what the room was like. I really hated the pinky-beige paint on the walls and the green vinyl tiles on the floor. The storage had potential but was not complete and lacked purpose.

Despite the window providing good light (southern exposure), the life seemed to be sucked out by the colour scheme and the clutter. I think it looked like a candidate for the de-cluttering T.V. shows on HGTV and despite my interest in collecting and thrifting I do not see myself a clutter person. So after months of planning and two weeks of hard work the new studio is ready for viewing.

Of course, the pictures are really the best way to describe the room now but I can say it feels great just to be in the room. It feels like it will be easy to keep it (almost) this clean and amazingly almost all the supplies,etc. in the before pictures came back in the room.

Every notion, bits of trim and threads have a place. We have kept the counter and wall shelves in place but added or reconfigured the storage.

A large (&flattering) full length mirror is on the wall next to the drafting/cutting table. Storage carts are under the table's surface and contain patterns, thread and fabric. The picture rail holds rulers and a metal rail beneath it holds the metre stick and quilting frames.

A wall of Ivar shelving stores most of my fabrics, felted sweaters, books and has desk area for my computer or crafting. Be sure to check out other creative spaces at Kristy's blog.