Archive for June, 2011

Damson wobbles

You may recall my efforts to make damson gin* earlier in the year…

The Plum Lady (a lady who grows many lesser known varieties of plumliness near Levin – not her real name of course) kindly sold us four kilos of her own personal damson stash after the season had finished. I had kinda forgotten about damsons until it was too late, but Louis seems to be able to talk people into doing things like that. The plums had been sitting in her fridge for a while, and smelt… well… rather like a certain toddlers’ nappy does if they’ve been eating a lot of plums. I washed them and sorted them very carefully into two bowls – gin grade and jelly grade. There were enough plums for one giant Agee jar of gin, and then about three kilos for jelly.

What I hadn’t quite fathomed was that those three kilos have been occupying at least a quarter of the space in my freezer for the last four months. A full freezer is an efficient freezer, I know, but sometimes you need a bit of room to move without things falling out as you hunt for some cheese. Did you know you can freeze feta? Did you know you can buy Kaimai feta ‘offcuts’ from the Kaimai Cheese Factory shop for a tiny sum?

So… I made some jelly today!

The axe is the strongest handle in the shed. A trick I picked up from none other than Louis’ ma. There was so much liquid that I had to do two batches with the sugar. So this lot dripped all day while the first two litres out of the bag boiled with the sugar.

Part of my slowness in making jelly this year has been to do with jars. Every year we move house, and every year I give all the jars I have been saving to Louis’ mum in a ‘I don’t want to move house with these damned things’ frenzy, only to find, three weeks later, that I want to make jelly. Rather than go raid the boxes I had given Nicola like I did last year, I just started eating Vegemite again. And some of the glasses of past jelly batches worked their way back to me via thoughtful friends.

Colour, clarity, set… well, once I cottoned on to the fact the jelly was setting everywhere (spoon, side of pot, drips on stovetop) except for the chilled plate, I’m sure it will set just fine. I snuck four apples in the fruit boil-up because I seem to remember having the same problem last year – the ‘it not setting on the plate’ bit. Last years’ batch was also fine, though it had a slightly unnerving after taste. Which I put down to the fruit itself. I’m hoping the apple will take the edge off.

Now I’m just off to put the lids on the old Vegemite jars… for some reason I forgot I had lids for those, even though getting the rubber bands on them was a complete pain in the rear. Once I’ve boiled and bottled the second lot of juice I think I’ll have enough jelly for an endless pancake breakfast. Now for that bag of feijoa skins in the freezer… and the quince cores… let us not forget the quince cores…

* As yet unopened. I think it can come out in September. But as the quince and feijoa gins didn’t have a particular timeframe, I think they may be brought out at the Rata Parta. After the toddlers have left, of course.


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In the past nine months or so, Louis’ family has made a lot of gingerbread. His clan has a gingerbread recipe from his Aunty Helen, which comes complete with a quadrupled version: a tin of golden syrup, a bag of flour, a block of butter, and lashings of ground ginger. Thus gingerbread played a big part in the family fundraising effort for Clementine’s Latin class trip to Italy, and if you took part in any strand of the challenge you were sure to get a little bag of gingerbread with your purchase as a thank you.

So, this week, Playcentre is doing a bit of fundraising for itself, and when someone said ‘bake sale’ I immediately put up my hand. Each family brings a tin of something, and a couple of us will be spending tomorrow putting it all into cellophane bags for our ‘Bonanza’ on Saturday. I made the quadrupled version of Helen’s recipe because, with Rata’s birthday coming up and a lot of people in Christchurch needing a bit of Lotte-baking-cheer, I sensed a big batch of dough would come in handy.

For one of the Clementine’s bake sales, Louis’ mum Nicola had produced some packets of ‘solo dad gingerbread’ with a man and baby gingerbread man. They tickled me pink, and since she had borrowed my cookie cutters to make them it was easy for me to recreate the scene at home (and I don’t have a gingerbread lady cutter). Each brightly dressed dad will have two brightly dressed sprog and a little heart. The dads are more casually dressed than Nicola’s, but we live by the beach, you know?

There’s a part of me that is saying ‘but gingerbread don’t really need icing’ and another part that is saying ‘but you told everyone they didn’t need to go to lots of effort with the piping set and now you’ve gone ALL OUT’. And then in the Kapiti Observer today our bake sale was described as a ‘baking competition’. OH NO!

I can hear the other mothers sharpening their claws…

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Glorious food! I picked all of this just as it was getting dark and rainy this afternoon, and it was just too exciting for my little brain. Parsley, land cress, broccoli sprouts, lemons, the first of the silverbeet (it’s still small, I’m picking conservatively), NZ spinach and – obscured from view – a radish! I don’t really like radishes, but they are fun to grow and these ones are white on the outside and pink on the inside. Or supposed to be anyway. So far they’ve just been speckled inside. Picking them one at a time is less stressful than a bunch slowly dying in the crisper drawer. And silverbeet! OH! You might think you don’t like it, but you should grow it and eat it in a salad. With the stalk chopped finely. That prominent leaf in the photograph was a thing of beauty, and no bugs seem to be eating it or living on it this year.

So the only part of tonight’s dinner that I didn’t grow was the potatoes, and that was immensely satisfying. And perhaps this time next year the potatoes will be mine too!

I haven’t been doing much at all the past week or so, since I went to Auckland for a not holiday with Rata. Most of my time was spent preventing her from breaking other people’s belongings. But as I have invited an obscene number of people to her birthday party, and then suddenly found myself working on all days around it, I am soon to be very busy indeed. Will I be too busy to take photographs? I hope not!

Bunting, hummus and cake!

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Well hello, it’s Lotte your Home Ec dork again. It may well be that I am planning to wrap my dorkiness up as a series of household tips. Or perhaps I am just a dork who likes to write dorky posts. About dorky lame things like washing sheepskin rugs.

Rata is nearly two, which means her sheepskin rug is too! She has started sleeping on him this winter, which is kind of a no-no if you listen to all the parenting books, but as my mum will tell you, ‘It’s cosy and warm’. So cleaning ol’ “sheepy” has become more important. Although he spends his time in bed now instead of on the floor, he still needs a wash every month or so, and I think I have perfected the art of it. Maybe.

Many people would tell me how wonderful sheepskin rugs were because you could just throw them in the washing machine and bang! voila! clean! I’ve found this is not the case – even after two trips around the longest cycle they were still dripping with dust and dirt and whathaveyou.

So… a good preparation for their trip around the wash cycle is a nice bath. I might fill the bathtub about a quarter full, plop in a good dollop of laundry liquid and a cup of baking soda and lay the sheepskin face down in the water. I push it about a bit until it is properly wet on top, then leave it for a couple of hours, smooshing it around when I remember to. You can turn it over and have a go at any sticky yuck bits with your hands after it has been soaking for a bit.

Then… I drain the bath, heave the soggy wet thing into a bucket, and arrange it carefully in the washing machine. It’s not quite big enough to go all the way around, and usually I have to rearrange it before it can spin. There are alarming clunking noises. I put a little more detergent in the machine, splash some vinegar over the sheepskin and advance the machine to its first rinse. I set the water level to medium so there’s plenty to get rid of the last of that dust. And I think I also set it to ‘warm’ water.

Once it has done its thing, I hang it on the line in full sun – perfect to kill the dust mites. As it dries, the wool fluffs up again, and my theory is that the vinegar/baking soda combination helps with this. Adding the vinegar to the rinse is my most recent addition to the washing process, and boy is that sheepy fluffy. In all his two years, I’d say this is the closest he looks to his original self. I want him for myself now.

Incidentally, while searching for the above image, I came across this tutorial for the washing of “sheepies”. I’m pretty sure my way is better. At a glance there seems to be a lot less faffing…

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Recently, this crafternoon

Some recent projects with little narration (oh, you know me: I start it simple and start jabbering)

Part of Rata’s birthday invitation. Here I am imitating the Ladybird Second Picture Dictionary, but really Louis did the whole thing because if there is one thing he cannot stand, it is watching me try to use InDesign. I’m actually okay at it once I remember which way is up, but Louis will have snatched the laptop long before that happens. Now for the cake.

Sorting out my stash of crafty paper into my new cupboard. If you need a good cupboard, you should hire Louis to find one for you. Or do I need a third?

I made a skirt the other weekend, and as soon as I cut it out I could tell it wasn’t going to work for me. Here I am officially giving up the dream of a pencil skirt (it was straighter than the picture shown) – it shall be nicely shaped A-lines the whole way, my dear waist and hip measurements. Why work against your real shape? But sensing that what I had started might be a nice present for someone, I summoned the strength to finish the skirt (leaving the hem for later) and sought an owner. And it fit Louis’ mum perfectly! As an added bonus, I now know which pattern to use for future presents.

Today has been a rotten day, but I did somehow manage to make covers for two foam squabs for Rata’s playroom. I made it up as I went along, but by the time it came to making buttonholes, I was well and truly over it. So I sewed a few non-functioning buttons to hold things in place, reasoning that I will cut them off when I need to wash the covers and sew buttonholes then. I started off with plans to sew on all thirteen of those buttons… yeah, I did three on the other cover and one for this one:

They are very wonky, but I’m telling myself that the point of the exercise was the learning of the technique. Rata’s going to trash them anyway, right? Right? Wrong. I’m going to look at these pillows all the time now, and mentally try to right their faults. The fabric is cool though. And I will have a few more squabs soon. They will be excellent for playing ‘Lava’ with.

Now I’m pondering a cape with some olive plaid wool, top left – it’s too ‘school-y’ for a skirt, so I’m thinking my own version of Wilhe and Lucy’s hooded capes, along the lines of a publicity shot in this week’s paper of Rosy Tin Teacaddy, the band across the street with a new album out. Yes, the music is lovely, but Holly’s clothes are very distracting. I want them all.

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