Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Winter harvest

After the excesses of christmas, it's good to turn to more simple fare. I never want to see mincemeat again, at least, not for the next eleven months :-)

These vegetables came from our winter garden: brussels sprouts top (the sprouts themselves are still on the small side) and baby turnips. I cooked them in a warming winter stew, with braising steak, organic carrots and onions (from our delivered box). Just the ticket for a palate ever so slightly jaded from rich food.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Deck the halls...

...and other seasonal preparations:

Decorated fir tree - check.

Glitzy glittery stuff - check.

Angel chimes (annual tradition) - check.

Snow topped spice cake - check.

Other festive tea-time treats - check.

All done (except the present-wrapping).

Merry Christmas to all my readers!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Apple Strudel Cardigan

After months of procrastination, I have now finished knitting the Apple Strudel cardigan I first cast on for back in February - even before I had started writing this blog! It had a long period (seven months!) sitting in my UFOs basket, but I picked it up again about three weeks ago, and since then have knitted both sleeves and button bands.

The pattern was in Yarn Forward magazine issue 7.

I can't recommend this pattern wholeheartedly, as there were errors in it. The sleeve decreases are wrong - if you followed them, you'd end up with sleeves hanging down near your knees. The number of stitches at the cuffs do not work for 2-2 rib in the non-cable sleeve. The pattern instructions for the button bands are the wrong way round (since the buttonholes must go in the left hand overlap, to be on the cable side of the front).

The finished item is, however, really lovely. Even my hard-to-please 14 y.o remarked it looked like something you would buy in Topshop. Now that really is praise, as it's her favourite clothes shop.

I especially love my buttons, which I bought at vast expense in John Lewis:

I could, optionally, add facings to the button bands. I bought some embellished organza expressly for this purpose, but now I'm wondering whether it will be easy to sew button holes in sequinned and embroidered fabric? Also, I think it might make the garment a bit too seasonally festive, which is OK right now, but probably not so good in January. So I'll have to think of something else to do with this:

I have half a metre. If anyone has any suggestions, do let me know.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Biscuit batch

Ds and I enjoyed a little biscuit-making for christmas, over the last couple of evenings. (For the benefit of my American readers, in UK English, a biscuit is a hard, crunchy object - maybe what you might call a cookie, or perhaps a cracker?)

The recipe is very easy: sugar, butter, self-raising flour, cinnamon, ginger and grated orange rind, all mixed together to make a dough.

We used our assorted festive cookie-cutters to cut out various stars, christmas trees and bells, plus round cutters to make snowmen shapes. I thought they looked rather nice plain, but ds had other ideas.

The decorating is ds's favourite part. The snowmen biscuits, on the right below, are destined to be gifts for his teachers.

Term ends tomorrow, so we're bang on schedule.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Snow globes

I've always admired those little glass globes you can buy, with a christmas scene inside, and a whirling snowstorm when you shake them. However, since they have no real use - merely decorative is all they are - I find it hard to justify spending my hard-earned cash on them. So this year, I decided to see if we could craft an equivalent at home.

It was hard to photograph them with the snowstorms in full swirl!

Ds and I made these together, using small, clean glass jam-jars with screw-top lids, plastic christmas cake decoration figures, plasticine, glitter, waterproof glue (we used UHU plastics glue) and glycerine - which you can buy in small bottles in shops which sell cake-decorating supplies. (Ours came from the wonderful kitchenware specialist that is Lakeland).

Tips for making your own snowglobes:

  1. Make sure you start with clean jars. If you can't wash them in a dishwasher, try sterilising them by boiling.
  2. To raise the figure inside the jar for maximum visibility, use a folded piece of plasticine inside the jar lid.

  3. Glue the plasticine to the inside of the jar lid, and glue the plastic christmas figure on top of the plasticine. Giving the glue sufficient time to set is important, as the glued figure will eventually be immmersed in water.

  4. Put a spoonful of glycerine in the bottom of the glass jar. The glycerine slows the fall of glitter within the water making for a more satisfying snowstorm effect. Pour the glitter into the glycerine.

  5. Holding the jar over a sink, fill the jar right up to the top with cool boiled water (using boiled water will also help prevent the formation of mould or development of cloudy water). Now invert the lid with the figure attached, and screw it tightly on to the jar. Some water will probably be displaced as you close the jar. Gently shake the jar to test the seal is watertight - if any water escapes, try re-screwing the jar top closed, adding more water first if necessary.
We made two of these little snowglobes, and even though they are obviously home-made, ds absolutely loves them.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Zakka bunny pencil cases

Here's this weekend's sewing: two bunny zippered pouches from Therese Laskey's Zakka Sewing. According to the book, they are for pens or pencils, but I can see them being used to stash hair accessories, or perhaps for other essentials, who knows?

This was a thrifty project, as I already had all the required fabrics in my stash, and was able to use some small pieces.

These are not quite finished, as I'm not satisfied with my first attempt at a fabric tail. I'm going to try making a woollen pompom instead. Also, this was the first time I sewed a zippered pouch, and I had a lot of trouble getting the zip in correctly.

#1 is for dd, who declares she likes it, #2 is a christmas gift, which means I have now almost completed three presents. Already that is three times as many home-made gifts as I achieved last year - not bad at all, and there are still a couple of weeks left to go.
ETA: Both bunnies now have pompom tails and are complete.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Snowflake stencilled gift wrap

A few weeks ago, I blogged about how we usually make our own wrapping paper at christmas. We always base our home-made efforts on recycled paper, and also aim to produce something that is also recyclable afterwards (in our mixed dry recyclables bin).

We have pretty much exhausted potato-printing options in the last couple of years (robins, Santas, christmas trees and snowmen), so this year, we've tried a stencilling alternative, aiming for the effect of snowflakes.

It was very easy - my seven year old did most of it!

For this craft project, I bought a packet of paper doilies in assorted shapes (ours came from the Lakeland kitchenware shop), a roll of recycled brown parcel wrapping paper and some ready-mix white poster paint.

We used assorted doilies as stencils, using a thick children's paint brush to dab white paint through the holes, then lifting the doily away to reveal the pattern. We found a single doily would last for about three stencils before starting to disintegrate.

I'll probably vary my parcels a bit by using plain coloured (recycled) tissue paper and sticking leftover doilies on top for decoration.

If you want to look at more ideas for sustainable gift-wrapping options, take a look at this:

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

A christmas reading list

Every year I have a pre-christmas reading ritual.

I read the whole of these two:

I was a big Rumer Godden fan as a kid. I read The Story of Holly and Ivy to ds for the first time last year. I wasn't sure he would like it, as it's partly about dolls, but he listened spellbound. Readers, if you want your heart to be warmed, this is a good choice.

The Thirteen Days of Christmas is about a possible source of the carol about the partridge in a pear tree. It's historical as well as being funny, and features some old christmas carols too. My copy, which has Shirley Hughes illustrations, is rather old and tattered now - I've had it since I was ten.

I also like to read extracts from some titles, which aren't strictly christmas books, but which have relevant parts:
  1. Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt: where Dicey goes christmas shopping for her brothers and sisters.
  2. What Katy Did at School by Susan Coolidge: chapter 11 - the Misses Carrs' christmas boxes, which were "always quoted in the Nunnery afterwards, as an example of what papas and mammas could accomplish, when they were of the right sort and really wanted to make schoolgirls happy".
  3. End of Term by Antonia Forest: pages about the Shepherd Boy, which forms part of the girls' christmas concert.
  4. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder: when Mr Edwards crosses the Verdigris river to bring presents to the little girls. Although I wonder what my kids would say, if their christmas consisted of a penny, a tin cup, some candy and a little white cake. How times have changed....
After that, I move on to some titles for adults. Yes, it's true: I do also read books for grown-ups!

Once I've worked my way through this list, I'll feel like I'm all mentally prepared for christmas.

Do you have any festive reading in preparation for the winter celebrations? Want to recommend a few more titles for me? I'm sure my list could stand a few additions.