Archive for July, 2011

Walking plants

Hello, did everything in this part of the garden get up and leave?

Sort of. They have moved to a happier home, free of black plastic, with good drainage and more shelter.

This part of the garden is my favourite – I built it after I made the other four raised beds, and just layered up vege scraps, grass clippings, dead leaves, seaweed and coffee husks on the sand – someone had made a garden in this bit before so the sand looked a bit richer than most other parts of the garden. The pallets protect things from the southerly, and those broad beans are the happiest in the garden. But the black plastic garden is looking a bit dreary and I want to rip out the plastic and start again – hence these Brussels sprouts, cavolo nero and rainbow chard refugees. And the artichoke, who has been asking for a home for several months now.

But one thing went right in that black plastic desert – this cauliflower was pretty happy! She’ll be dinner this week. I left a broccoli plant next to her to hold her up, and a good thing too, given all the wind we’ve been having lately. Lots of power cuts on Friday built up Rata’s vocabulary some more (“Powers off!”) and broke a lot of brassica leaves.

Brussels sprouts for Louis tea this week too! I picked some a week or two ago and Rata snaffled the lot – raw! I can’t stand them myself, but I did eat one raw the other day and they’re much nicer. In that they don’t taste like Brussels sprouts. These are growing in a raised bed that is not lined, so the compost and topsoil is sitting directly on the sand. And the direct comparison between this bed and the lined one is what compelled me to rip the lining out. Things are flourishing, fruiting, doing all the things they should be while their exact twins sat across the path doing little.

Meanwhile, I take it all back about the red Brussels sprouts – they are not secretly cabbages. Something is finally happening. I’m hoping that moving the ones in the other bed will inspire some panicked fruiting.

This bed also has black plastic lining it, but my garlic is there so I don’t really want to disturb it. Every bulb took, which makes for a very tidy little patch. I’m hoping to plant some more elsewhere, you know, so I can compare how it went in different beds but time is running out.

A winter garden doesn’t have much wow factor, which is probably why seed catalogues are sent out to woo bored gardening eyes with all colours of tomato and chilli. I have been well and truly smitten with several varieties of each, while having to remind myself that we may have to move in January and miss eating the lot! I haven’t grown tomatoes for the last three years for that very reason, but this year I have dastardly plans to tempt fate, plant heaps and throw caution to the wind. And it would only be our landlords moving in anyway, I’m sure they’d be happy to share… right?


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Crafternoon H.Q.

And nearly seven months in to our year-long lease, I think I’ve finally finished organising my sewing room…

We have arrived at this, from this…

Oh, OK, haha, I didn’t take photos of what it looked like before! I was too ashamed! Instead, this is a photo of the infinite space created by my tidy and sort binge last night. See those two boxes in the corner? They are the final two. Three I managed to stuff into the wardrobe in Rata’s room (they were nothing to do with craft supplies anyhow). Then I went through two boxes packed when we moved house in January 2009 – they had been added to and taken from since then, but hadn’t had the rigorous going through they deserved. Some of their contents went into my paper cupboard, some to the Salvation Army, a lot in the recycling bin and some into the pretty boxes in the first photo.

But I wasn’t quite expecting this blast from the past:

My former life as witty cartoonist! (Or “toonette” as I would more often say). I had a sudden pang for my old life of sitting on my bed writing silly cartoons. Some of them are VERY silly. They’re not really for public consumption as they are positively RIDDLED with in-jokes, but I did make them up into zines anyway and sell them at craft fairs. And when craft fair organisers fall prey to infighting, terms like ‘politecraft’ get bandied about in emails between Charlotte and I. A lot of the writing from this time was lifted from our banter, and I’m pretty sure Charlotte came up with ‘Politecraft’. See?

Amen to that.

Anyway, back to the sewing room and the purging of old notebooks…

I have put up and taken down this bricky shelf three times now! A good thing too, mices keep playing in it. Those pretty little boxes are up for grabs actually, if the letters L, O or T have any relevance to you…

Ah, buttons. So when does our lease expire? January? Right, better get crafting then. But it’s all so tidy. I don’t want to mess it up. I think I’ll just plot some way to empty those two boxes of books…

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Lotte, Shoe Shop Lady

This was my fabulous work outfit yesterday. The mirror at work is very accomodating to outfit documentation, and I feel that this could become a regular thing. My real reason for the photograph was to show my Peggy-dress turned into a skirt, but obviously this outfit is so much more than that.

Yesterday a lady asked me what colours she could wear red shoes with. As a seasoned everyday red shoe wearer I told her that red was easy – the tricky thing was blue. And as those (beautiful) blue shoes are my only work shoes at present, the trick every work day is to find tidy, un-toddlered clothes that work with blue shoes. With a little help from that lovely merino top from Love, Love Lorelei, this is my third such outfit. Though I think those brown tights are at the end of their life and my mustard tights might be better in warm weather.

But what I really came here to talk about is the skirt. I didn’t have enough fabric originally to make a dress with sleeves (or even a tunic) so ended up with a not-very-well fitted dress with fiddly straps, a la the 90s. Consequently, I never wore it. So after several months of umming and ahhing, possibly on this blog, I have cut off the top. I still haven’t given it a waistband, but nobody can see that! By pure coincidence, another work skirt involves the bottom half of a dress!

Tomorrow! Tomorrow I will do that!

(If I ever shake off this cold. Usually I avert horrible cold hangings on by taking the wonder drug andrographis, but today that cold is well and truly stuck on me. I hope to wake tomorrow to a normal state of health, but I thought that would happen this morning, or that I’d feel better by lunchtime at least…pah!)

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(image via Papercup)

So, as far as my shoe-shop career girl appropriate attire planning goes, I intend to follow the rest of the sewing blogosphere and go all-out scallops. I don’t know what it is about them, but suddenly they are everywhere. And I want some. I want them on everything. I don’t care that they are a bit fiddly. I will use a pattern if I have to. I might even buy something from Swonderful with them. I’m a bit partial to this dress by Papercup, and if they don’t stock them anymore I might just have to whip up my own version. Scallops are everywhere and I want on the bandwagon.

Let me drag you into this tangled web of appealingly rounded edges.


























(image via Tilly and the Buttons)

Yes, I’m a bit of a fan of the old Tilly and her Betty Draper suit was my first exposure to the wonders of the scallop. She actually has some good pointers on creating scallops. Yes, I’ll be looking at those with interest when I take the plunge…

(image via The Sew Weekly)

Okay, I’ll have to keep it brief because all this cutting and pasting is beginning to do my head in. This is what kicked off tonight’s scallopmania: Adey Lim’s lovely outfit for the Sew Weekly blog, and its free pattern. I just printed it out, though the joining symbols are so faint it’ll probably end up a headache for another day.

Tra la la!

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Fort, Danger, Cake!

Oh my, how glad I am that the Rata Parta is over! I was approaching it with a mix of excitement and dread, and gradually the dread overwhelmed the excitement. By Thursday I was ready to cancel it (of course I wasn’t going to follow through with it…) but once I had let go of the idea of some fancy, enormous cake everything went smoothly. Partly it was a lack of inspiration on the cake front – really I wanted to make a fantail again. I flirted briefly with a continuation on the theme, since Rata is quite into our visiting tui in the camelia outside the kitchen window…

(In lieu of a better photo – it’s pretty hard trying to take a photo while holding a toddler who wants to play with the camera)

I learned some things. Stop inviting my friends to Rata’s birthday – yep, that was one. Separate family/little friends parties, maybe. Anything that will keep numbers down. And delegation. Oh yes.

I was so busy trying to greet/thank/farewell people that I completely forgot that it was a birthday party and our young guests wanted cake. So a lot of them left without cake, and it wasn’t until 4.30 that I remembered we hadn’t done pass-the-parcel (or cake). So I gathered together… about seven children. For about 20 layers of parcel. It was such a long game. We had to convince the kids to keep playing. Each of them got four or five lollies each, so by the time we got to the free-for-all of prettily iced gingerbread hearts (anything to avoid buying lollipops…) they were well and truly over it. Except for one boy, who was about five. He remained very into the game, and probably would have been happy if the rest had wandered back into the fort and he could just unwrap all himself. If things were moving too slowly he’d simply grab the parcel and keep it moving.

So delegation. Find an MC, and find someone to monitor the food. Having made a fine selection of hummus and other dips, I failed to top up all the dipping things, so I was left with lots of uneaten dip and lots of loaves of bread. Kath’s delicious savoury tarts went down a treat, but they didn’t even make it to a plate – people discovered them waiting to be heated and raided the roasting dish, lifting the layers of tin foil and trying the different kinds of filling. STAMPEDE! At least the dishes kind of just did themselves (and thank you little two drawer dishwasher for helping out!).

So, around 5pm we did the cake… and while singing ‘happy birthday’ and holding it I managed to blow out the candles! While I went back to get the matches, some very eager little fingers made their mark in the icing….

Fortunately for all involved, the cake was delicious. But passing it around I discovered the true extent of my tardiness – there weren’t many people left at the party! The same thing happened last year with the cake, and I think by Rata’s third birthday I will get it right – cake at 3pm! Games before!

At least I got to talk to everyone who came this time, some of them more than once. And those who came without children – although a little shell-shocked by the experience – seemed to cope remarkably well. Only one couple ran screaming, fearing a riot during the pass the parcel. Some of those non-breeders even hung out in the fort! A bold move indeed.

In its complete state, the party fort took up the entire playroom, with a fabric ceiling, fort-within-a-fort tent, fridge box tunnel and was screened off from the kitchen by a few pieces of fabric pinned up.

Yep, those pieces of fabric (seen here before the fridge box was added) didn’t last long, though judging by the number of pinholes in the wall someone made a valiant effort to keep them in place. After their demise, I happened to look into the fort just in time to see a few older kids toppling the fridge box, then stamping it flat. What are older kids for but to destroy all in their path? The ceiling stayed intact, as did the fairy lights – a good thing, since I’d borrowed them.

What I hadn’t told our guests was that earlier in the week I’d nearly burned the fort (and house) down. The fabric in the ceiling was all tied to the light fitting in the centre of the room – this crappy fake chandelier thing, with, it turned out, very hot lightbulbs. I turned on the lights in the fort when Rata wanted to play in there, then couldn’t work out what this funny smell was.

Oh that? It’s just some fabric, melting to the lightbulb…

LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES, fellow fort builders… even when you think it’s just a natural fibre, it might not be. The corduroy just quietly smouldered but the green stuff I thought was wool actually melted, which leads me to believe there was something else in there too. In any case, I won’t be turning lights on in forts, however pretty it might look.

Lucky for me, we’re having a family birthday for Rata at her grandma’s house on her actual birthday, so I won’t have to clean up afterwards (though I’m sure I will anyway, as a polite guest) and I won’t have to flit about playing hostess. Sweet life for Rata with two birthday parties.

Meanwhile, I have been and will be working more at my fabulous shoe-shop job and cataloguing photographs for my dad, which I see as funding for futurecrafternoons. I’ve been running a little low on supplies, which means all available crafternoon time has been foiled by lack of resources. But once all the work dries up I will have every Friday free to craft because I have finally set up a nanny-type for Rata once a week. YUSSSSS. In theory, this is to free me up to potentially turn crafting into some kind of an earner, but I have a bit of catching up to do first. With a career comes the need for career-worthy clothing…

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Last year I went all gaga over the recipe for Spicy Speculaas in none other than Ladies, A Plate. I spent a lot of time blanching and grinding almonds myself for the filling, and I seem to remember the business of grating two tablespoons of nutmeg for the spice mix to be a more labourious task than it was this year. Practice? Perhaps. The whole business was quite straightforward this time, though I mentioned in last year’s post that I went to the Karori opshop in the middle of making it… yes, that can take up a bit of your afternoon…

Well, true to my idea way back when I wrote that first post, I went the traditional biscuit making method of butter and sugar, egg, then dry ingredients, rather than the rubbing of butter into flour as is in the book. The result is a crisper biscuit all round. There were a lot of fine crumbs on the board after I cut it all up, but all the better to lick my fingers and eat you with. Louis put the last of his crumbs on his porridge!  I got a bit lazy and bought ground almonds, and the filling is finer and chewier than last year’s. In all, the speculaas seems more ‘compact’ this time, a little less bread-like, and I don’t really know why the butter is rubbed into the flour but I think I prefer it creamed with the sugar somehow. If you are really into this recipe yourself, I would recommend that you at least try making it this way once.

So this time round, I am going to share the recipe. The ingredients and (most of) their measurements come from Ladies, A Plate but the method has been altered slightly. I’ve gone the imperial weights route, so if you’re after the metrics you’ll have to get yourself a copy of A Second Helping. But really, Alexa Johnston’s instructions are much better than mine, so with the exception of my adjustment you really should just follow her recipe.

Spicy Speculaas (adapted from Ladies, A Plate: A Second Helping and illustrated with my photographs from last year’s batch)


10oz butter

8oz caster sugar

1 egg

2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

1lb 2oz flour

2 heaped Tbsp speculaas spices

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

almond filling:

6oz ground almonds

3oz caster sugar

3oz icing sugar

2 drops rosewater

1 egg, beaten

to finish:

1 egg, beaten

blanched almonds

Soften butter, and make the almond filling while you wait. Combine almonds, sugar and rosewater and mix to a firm paste with the egg. Wrap it in waxed paper and set aside. Sift together the flour, spices, salt and baking powder.

Cream butter and sugar and beat in the egg. Add sifted dry ingredients and mix to form dough. Knead well, divide evenly, then wrap in waxed paper and set aside in a cool place for a couple of hours.

Turn on the oven – 170C/340F.

The process of piecing it all together is a bit fiddly. Roll out one block of your dough on a piece of floured baking paper to fit your baking tray. Ladies, A Plate recommends one 25x35cm, but mine was roughly 31x31cm so I made a square instead of a rectangle. Rolling things out into an actual shape is hard work and it has taken me a while to nut it out. It takes a bit of practice, and some nudging of the dough – that’s really all I’ve learned so far. If at first you don’t succeed, knead and try again. Transfer the dough with its paper underneath onto the baking tray.

Roll out the almond filling to the same size as the dough, then transfer it onto the first layer of dough. The first time I did this, I rolled it out on my plastic tablecloth with flour sprinkled over, cut it into eight and carefully lifted each section with a large fish slice. This year I foolishly thought rolling it out on baking paper and tipping it onto the first layer and peeling off the paper would be better. It wasn’t. Do not be tempted to do this. I spent a good 20 minutes trying to prize the paper away. The almond filling is sticky. It pulls apart easily. It sticks to everything but the first layer of dough. You have been warned.

But then when it comes to the top layer of dough, yes. Rolling it out on baking paper and tipping it onto the almond layer is the way to go. Roll the rolling pin gently over the surface of the dough once it is in place – it just makes sure everything is in place.

Brush with egg, then draw a grid with the back of a knife. Diamonds is a nice way to go. Each diamond should be big enough to fit an almond in. Arrange the almonds inside the grid, then glaze again with the egg.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the tray after 20 minutes. Cool on a rack and cut along the lines using a long knife.


There you go!


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