Thursday, November 25, 2010

Today I Learnt:

  • How to do a provisional cast-on. It took me about an hour, some tangled yarn and confusion with various guides but in the end Knitty came to my rescue and joy was unconfined.
Yay! See the way I basically cast-on to waste yarn? So clever.
  •  How to make Kipferl. These are seriously good biscuits, I would say I was operating on a 'one for me, one for the oven' ration with the dough. I got the recipe from my W.I Book of Biscuits - a present from my sister years ago which I love. It is one of the great sadness's of my life (along with not being French and 2'' taller) that I will probably never get a chance to join the W.I to make Jam and sing Jerusalem.   
The recipe makes 48. There are now considerably less.

Vanilla Kipferl
 225g butter
225g plain flour
1 tsp vanilla essence
100g ground almonds
100g caster sugar
Pinch of salt
Sifted icing sugar for coating

Rub the butter into the flour and work in the remaining ingredients to make a stiff dough. Chill for 1 hour.
Heat the oven to 160 Celsius / 325 Fahrenheit.
Take walnut-sized pieces of dough and roll into small fat sausages, about 2cm wide and 6cm long. Form into crescent shapes.
Arrange on ungreased non-stick baking sheets and bake for 20 min until golden.
Leave to cool for 3 min and then dip in icing sugar. Cool completely on wire racks.
Apparently they taste even better after a couple of days, if there are any left by then.

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    Tutorial Tuesday: Fragrant Christmas Stars

    One of the main reasons I love to read craft blogs are the tutorials. There are so many talented people out there who are generous enough to share techniques and ideas with the rest of us, I especially like the ones with lots of photos so its hard to go wrong. In the spirit of Christmas and general thanks, here is my little contribution to the Free Internet Tutorial Canon, as it's known (in this house, anyway).

    Fragrant Wax Stars. They smell of vanilla, honestly.
     I love candles, but I hate chucking out the remains of expensive fragrant ones. This is my solution. Obviously this involves sharp knives and hot wax, so all the usual safety precautions apply. Take your time, don't get the kids to help you, you know the drill.

    You will need:

    • The remains of one candle
    • Baking tray lined with tin foil
    • Canola/Sunflower/Vegetable oil (anything with very little colour or scent)
    • Bain-Marie - a heat-proof mixing bowl placed over a barely simmering pan of water
    • Spatula
    • Cookie Cutter
    • Darning needle
    • Letter press set, or whatever you choose to imprint a design on the wax

    Line the baking tray with the tin foil and brush with oil. Make sure you use a tray with sides and that the foil lines these as well, or you will have wax all over the place which is a b****r to clean up, quite honestly.

    Break up the candle. Remove the wick first, you can usually just pull it out from underneath along with its little metal plate.  Now this bit is tedious, but check all the pieces you are going to melt are clean and free of burnt wick and other dirt etc. A quick wipe with a clean linen tea towel is good enough. 

     Melt the wax in the bain-marie, just like chocolate. And just like chocolate, leave it to do its thing and melt down slowly without too much poking and stirring (When cleaning up use a little rubbing alcohol to get rid of waxy residue on your bowl and wash in very hot water).

    When the wax is liquid, pour it carefully onto the prepared baking tray, which you lined and oiled earlier. Did'nt you? It will start to solidify straight away.

     After about 30 seconds or so the wax should have cooled enough for you to work with it. Treat it like cookie dough - use the cutter to get as many shapes as possible and the darning needle to make holes to hang them with. I had initially planned to make a garland out of these, spelling 'Happy Christmas' If you want to use letters too make sure you imprint extra as they break easily when stringing (as I found out later, when I had no extras. Tragedy).

    While the wax is still pliable use the spatula to lift away the excess - just like cookie dough! Instead of getting rolled out again, this can go back into the bain-marie to get re-melted until you have enough shapes for your design.

    Ta-Da! Festive and fragrant, ready to be strung into a  garland or used as individual decorations.

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    It'll be Winter, then

    Today outside looks like this:

    Grey, icy and -12. Brrr.

    What better day to stay inside in the warm with some brandy, cake and a darning needle?

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Chaos Theory

    So the very lovely fabric I ordered from Etsy arrived on Friday. Much excitement all around, in which mood I decided to get going on some Christmas gifts (details here). Shortly, my work table looked like this:

    There has to be a better way...

    To my shame the picture above illustrates my usual working environment, with all my notions and threads in a zip-lock bag and fabric over chairs, etc. At least there is tea, I'm not a savage.
    After more tea and some Ginger Nuts my brain started working again and I realised the solution to my problem was staring me in the face (or, more accurately, languishing on a shelf in the basement).

    The Ginger Nut: No 6 in my Biscuit Top Ten, above the Custard Cream but below Digestives

    Ta Da! I give you, My Work Box!

    That's proper Irish mud on there, you know (and yes, I have scrubbed it)

    I bought this little work box for 5 euro seven years ago in Lidl, when I was working as an archaeologist in Ireland. It's spent many long, cold, windy and wet hours on various hillsides waiting for something exciting to happen, getting filled with random bits of string, rusty nails and pens jammed with mud.
    I like to think I am giving it the cushy retirement it deserves.

    Happy to serve once more, alongside my rather natty sewing machine cover.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    I Heart ReadyMade

    The biggest perk about working in a library is getting to see so very many books, magazines, DVD's and CD's - all of which you can take home. The joy! I am currently averaging about 20 items out, and each day I promise I will not take anything else and then I find something fab while shelving a.k.a 'browsing with a cart'. My latest find is ReadyMade Magazine. How did I not know about this before? It totally rocks.

    ReadyMade: It rocks
    I came for the $500 Etsy giveaway - how can you not love that? and stayed for the great projects and writing inside. Its New York based and assumes that most people are renting and on a budget, which is a refreshing change from a lot of magazines, whose readers think nothing of spending $1000 on a shelf.

    After reading a whole bunch of back issues, my To Do list runs as follows:
    1. Bake some Pear and Rosemary Polenta Bread
    2. Attempt to make Ricotta
    3. Organize my kitchen with some fancy labeled jars
    4. Raid The Husband's childhood stamp collection to make these little pieces of fabulousness
    5. Whip up some dry martini's using nothing but a ball of string and some double-sided sticky tape...or maybe just a mason jar.

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    Crafty Christmas Club

    Oooo, I am super-excited, and its only 9am! While perusing Tilly and the Buttons yesterday I came across the Crafty Christmas Club, a brilliant idea where you can show off your Christmas projects without spoiling the surprise for the recipient (unless of course they get sneaky and have a peek). I love this idea as I've not told a lot of people about this little blog as for the next month or so its all going to focus on their presents. Problem solved!
    So if you are not going to be getting a gift from me this year, check out all my ideas and progress at the club.

    Friday, November 5, 2010

    Mmmm, Christmas Cake

    It's that time of year again, the air is cold and smells of bonfires so it must be time to make the Christmas Cake. I'm very British and my Christmas is mainly to do with dried fruit and brandy, both of which my Canuck husband dislikes intensely. Despite this every year I make my cake and I am the only one to eat it, which means half of it goes into the freezer and I'm still eating it at Easter, running out just in time to make the Simnel Cake (more dried fruit, no brandy but  - quel horreur - marzipan).
    The cake is supposed to take two days to make - but as I am pushed for time this week I am going to cut corners and only soak the fruit in brandy for 8 hours instead of twelve, hopefully get it all in the oven this evening and cooked by bedtime (it takes 4 hours in the oven!). This is a post which will run and run as the cake gets wrapped up and put away for at least a month, getting  a regular brandy feed once a week (lucky cake).

    Sultana's, raisins, glace cherries, mixed peel and brandy....mmmmm

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    From Meh.... to Yeah!

    I have been AWOL for a while due to a new job at the library (the books, so many books!), and this:

    who, while she is very good, is only 6 months old and a ball of wriggling chaos.

    But I have had time to give my nightstand a quick makeover. Indeed, I have taken it from Yeah!
    We were given it by my Mother in Law ages ago when she was clearing out her basement and in a very ill-considered move I spray-painted it bright red. Not terribly relaxing for the bedroom, and a bit cheap-looking I think.


     So, using my beloved modge-podge, some Debbie Travis Antique Blue Paint and some fab Amy Butler papers from Vida Designs I got something rather good.


    Double Yeah!

    Just love these papers