Totally terrific terrariums

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Everything granny is back.

And some of these things I embrace whole heartedly. Like tea from a teapot with a crocheted cosy. And gilt-edged mirrors. And making my own bread.

Other things I take longer to accept (and even then…). Like flying-duck wall ornaments. And crocheted jewellery.

And some things are simply not me. Like horn rimmed glasses. And drinking out of jars (seriously people…)

Terrariums come under the second category. Annoying at first glance, and then kinda cool, and at last totally fabulous. I have succumbed to the enchantment of these little worlds in a jar, these edens atop the mantle or bookshelf, these daintily contained echos of the wilderness. Etc etc.

So I made some.

It’s not quite as straightforward as throwing some dirt from the garden into a jar and sticking in a sprig, but that’s the general idea.

 

Here’s what to do:

1. Raid op shops and the far recesses of your/your parents/your grandparents (depending on your age!) cupboards for sturdy, unique glass jars/vases/bottles, with or without lids.

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Make sure you wash them thoroughly with hot soapy water (even use antibacterial soap) to prevent mould from growing in your terrarium.

 

2. Buy these necessary ingredients (garden/hardware centres should have them):

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  • Gravel/pebbles (drainage)
  • Activated charcoal (freshens the soil)
  • Netting (like nylon fly screen – prevents soil from falling into gravel. Note this is optional as the moss may be sufficient)
  • Sheet moss (aerates the soil)
  • High quality potting soil (should be sterile so no unwanted bacteria can grow)

 

3. Get plants. Make sure they can tolerate being indoors, low light, and humidity.

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  • succulents
  • cacti
  • indoor plants
  • ferns
  • tropical plants

You can buy them or raid the gardens/pots of everyone you know. I’m always on the look out for a succulent I can pinch a bit of.

 

4. Layer your ingredients into your jar in order:

  1. pebbles/gravel
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  2. a thin layer of charcoal
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  3. netting (make it smaller than the layer below so you can’t see it against the edge of the glass.
  4. moss
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  5. soil – needs to be thick enough to plant roots into (min 3cm/1inch)
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5. Plant your plants.

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You might want to use a pop stick or wooden skewer to help make holes and gently poke down the roots. It can help to give the soil a light sprinkling of water first. Make sure you don’t over water – there shouldn’t be any water pooling in the bottom of the terrarium, as this can cause roots to rot (more on how terrarium care below).

 

6. Find the perfect place for your terrarium and let it fill your life with oxygenated pleasure.

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Click here for detailed info on how to care for your terrarium.

And here for another lovely illustrated ‘how to’.


Baths just got a whole lot better!

All of a sudden I’ve found myself in the midst of a making whirlwind. And it feels wonderful!

My mother recently bought a Thermomix and seeing the things she’s making has reminded me of all the things I used to make but haven’t for ages. Like bread. And peanut butter. And curry powder.

home made ciabatta bread

Delicious light and airy ciabatta

And also things I’ve always wanted to make but haven’t, until now. Like yoghurt. And butter (thanks Anthea for the lesson!!) And cheese.

home made ricotta

Rich and creamy ricotta cheese – heavenly!

 

And this whirlwind has resulted in many triumphs, that have spurred me on to more creating. No creative-mood-spoiling stuff ups or failures or this-is-harder-than-I-thought-it-would-be’s to burst my bubble – divine energy has smiled on me this week and everything I touch turns to figurative gold. Sigh. Such felicity!

But this making frenzy hasn’t been limited to the kitchen – oh no no no. So here comes one non-food related post and another will follow close on its heels.

Baths.

I love a bath. So much more of an occasion than a shower. An under-the-radar indulgence that’s all the more wonderful for being free and in my home. But there’s always the risk of the book (or iPad) taking an unwanted swimming lesson. Or the cup of tea/glass of wine toppling over as I try to place it back on the floor.

And then I discovered bath trays/shelves/caddies. Oh how I yearned for one but never seemed to discover their mystical source.

And then gosh darn it I remembered that I’m a maker. I would make one myself!

A visit to the scrap woodpile (thanks husband for rescuing wood from road side verges, friends’ demolitions, etc.), a forage through the shed for tools, a few trips into the bathroom for measurements, a bit of sawing and hammering, and viola – my very own, up-cycled bath tray!

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I know, could there be anything better??? Time to get the kit off, add lashings of bubbles, and soak up the joy of a job well done.

 

And if you’d like to make your own, rather than me showing you my very inexpert process, here’s how a professional does it:

http://www.bunnings.com.au/diy-advice/indoor-decorating/bathroom-laundry/storage/how-to-build-a-wooden-bath-shelf
(Note I used nails instead of screws. The drill was flat and I figured it didn’t need to be able to withstand much stress!)

And for inspiration check out these beautiful designs:

http://www.homedit.com/15-bathtub-tray-design-ideas-for-the-bath-enthusiasts-among-us/

 

Happy bathing!

PS – notice the sweet little terrarium happily adorning my bath shelf? That was my project for today and the subject of my next post…


Natural Moisturiser

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After more than a year I finally found the time to replenish my moisturiser pot. While my toddler entertained himself washing dishes (best pass time ever!!) I pulled out my dusty crate of oils and scents and butters and got a-making. It’s a pretty simple process once you have the ingredients, so here’s how you go about it:

 

Basic Moisturiser

Ingredients:
• 2 teaspoons (10ml) grated beeswax
• 1 teaspoon (5ml) vegetable-derived emulsifying wax*
• 5 teaspoons (25ml) almond oil
• 4 tablespoons (60ml) water
• 2 drops citrus seed extract (a natural preservative)
• 3 drops essential/scented oil of choice

Optional:
• jojoba oil
• vitamine e oil
• rosehip oil, etc.

[You can find these ingredients at various healthfood shops. For Adelaideans go to the Honey Shoppe and Soapbox, shop 20 in the Central Markets].
* I’m working on a recipe with an alternative emulsifyer because even the vegetable-derived emulsifying wax is made using a chemical process, and I’m pretty keen to have an entirely natural product. When I ever work it out I’ll write a new post.

Method:

1.Place waxes and almond oil in a bowl (I grate my beeswax with a grater).

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2. Place this bowl in a water bath (another bowl or saucepan of boiling water – I use a saucepan slowly simmering on the stove*. IMPORTANT: make sure no water gets into the waxes/oil at this stage).
* the bowl with ingredients isn’t supposed to touch the bottom of a water bath but I’m afraid I got a little lazy. It still worked fine.

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3.In a separate bowl heat 4tbs water to the same temperature as the water bath (I pretty much just boil some water and use it at that temperature. I’ve never had a problem and it’s easier than bothering with thermometers and such).

 

4. Slowly add the 4tbs of heated water to the melted waxes/oils, stirring all the time. The mixture will instantly turn white.

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5. Remove the mixture from the heat and stir until set (I don’t constantly stir – I stir and leave it for a few minutes and then stir again until set).

6. When cool add any other oils you like and place in jars.

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7. Use straight away or if you’ve made a larger batch keep it in the fridge so it lasts longer.

 

The cream has a slightly oily finish which I don’t mind. And it makes great gifts.

 

Enjoy.


my very own rainbow

Watercolours

No fancy, wordy-smithy introductions necessary for this post – just an exuberant and ever so excited exclamation: “I JUST MADE WATERCOLOURS!!!!!”

Edible. Natural. Easy. Beautiful.

I found the recipe in an ‘eco’ magazine a friend of mine had, and was immediately determined to have a go.

 

What you need:

1/2 cup bicarb soda

1/4 cup corn flour

1/4 cup white vinegar

1 tsp sugar syrup

natural food colourings (make your own with cold-pressed vegetable juices [think carrot, spinach] & spices [turmeric, paprika] or you can buy some here)*

ice cube or paint trays

 

What to do:

 

1. Mix the dry ingredients together

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2. Add sugar syrup and vinegar and stir immediately with a fork
(the mixture will froth but mine didn’t overflow, and quickly settled down as I stirred it)

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3. Mix small amounts of the mixture with natural food colouring for the colours you want.
(The more colouring you use the darker/stronger the paint will be, obviously!)*
(And no matter how much it looks like icing, resist the urge to lick your fingers…it’s not icing, it’s bicarb slurry. And it tastes revolting!!)

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4. Pour into your trays and use them straight away or let them set and use them just like any watercolour you’ve ever used before.
(It took a few days for all the liquid to evaporate, so set them aside in a safe place. In summer they’ll probably set/dry a lot more quickly).

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5. PAINT PAINT PAINT PAINT PAINT!!! And glory in the sheer joy of making something so wonderful from scratch!

 

* Unfortunately I found that the natural red colouring from the bottle reacted with the bicarb and turned grey. I also tried using raspberries but had the same result. (Useful tip for how to get grey paint though). In the end I used ordinary non-natural red food colouring for the red and purple. Some more experimenting is obviously needed…


To market to market…

Well it’s been a bit of a marathon (with winter miseries thrown in to hinder the creative process) but everything is ready at last for the stall at the Port Adelaide Artist’s Festival on the 19th & 20th. If you’re in Adelaide please come along! (I however will be in Cambodia. But that’s another story…)

A core idea of our stall – and all my making – is to re-purpose, re-use and reclaim materials into new creations. I’ve worked with textiles and children’s clothing, and combined 2nd hand with new. As usual I’ve had fun raiding op-shops and people’s sewing cupboards for usable treasures. I enjoy the challenge of having adapt or alter my ideas to fit with what I can find 2nd hand. And I really love that this means that no one item is the same as another.

Here is some of the process and some finished items:

Baby ‘taggy’s’ – fabric comforter with ribbon tags around the edges.

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Mostly new fabrics on the front and pre-loved on the back.

Mostly new fabrics on the front and pre-loved on the back. Mostly pre-loved ribbons too.

Mostly pre-loved ribbons too.

And wee-people clothes decorated using Indian wooden stamps:

Stamps

Stamps

laying out the design with paper and then printing with ink

laying out the design with paper before printing 

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I’m also selling soap. The other ladies involved are selling ceramics and handmade dresses. They would love to see you there.

Until next time,

Happy making!


market of making

I am very excited.

I have just applied to have a stall with two other amazing makers (sunshinegbmarch.blogspot.com.au) at the Port Festival in Port Adelaide in October this year (www.portenf.sa.gov.au/page.aspx?u=1270).

I love a good market, filled with quality, hand made treasures. It’s been a long time since I’ve done one, and I can’t wait to don my embroidered Vietnamese hill-tribe money belt and become a market stall proprietress once more.

Here’s what I’m planning to sell if we are accepted (as modelled by Amos at 3 & 7  months):

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Amos in swing

I bought a whole lot of new stamps and am going to create a ‘range’ of baby wear items.

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I’m hoping to source good quality, 2nd hand clothing to print but may print on new items too.

I’ll post more as I get into the production process.


o is for olive

It’s hard to describe the deep sense of satisfaction I get from making something myself, from scratch, and having it work out as well as, or better than, the version available at a shop. And when it comes to food, knowing exactly what it is that we are putting into our bodies is another definite motivation for home-making. This week my making has been all success and satisfaction. Which is really rather nice!

As I said in my last post, I have beautiful neighbours. Mary and Vic have an olive tree in their front yard, and Mary brought a bowl of olives over for me a few weeks ago.

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I’ve tried pickling olives before, with mixed results, but spurred on by Mary’s encouragement (and a huge stack of paper outlining the complete ‘how to’ of the various pickling methods – see link below) I tried once again, and this time I have finally been successful in making delicious olives myself!

I chose to use the ‘Mediterranean-style cracked olive’ recipe, though I slit my olives rather than ‘cracking’ them. Here’s the process:

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1. Rinse your olives. Slit them down to the pip with a sharp knife. Put them into a food grade bucket/container large enough to hold them when covered with water.

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2. Cover with fresh cold water and soak. Make sure all the olives stay submerged by placing a plate over them and weighing it down. Put the lid on the bucket loosely.

3. Change the water daily for a minimum of 7 days. This removes the bitterness from the olives. The water will discolour and smell olivey and the olives will change colour. If you like your olives less bitter, continue the process for a few more days (I did mine for 11 days).

4.Drain and rinse your de-bittered olives.

5. Next is the brine: this involves salt, water and a bit of vinegar. I adapted the recipe I used to suit the amount of olives I had, figuring that if I had spare it wouldn’t matter – it’s not like salty water doesn’t keep!

So, for 5 kg/10 pounds of olives:
Dissolve 1 1/2 cups of pickling salt into 4 litres/1 gallon of water, and then add 2 cups white wine vinegar.

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6.Now comes the fun bit. Get some jars and some seasoning things – I used lemon, garlic, thyme, chilli and rosemary, all from my own garden!!! The satisfaction grows! Put the olives and herbs etc. into the jars and cover with the (cool) brine.

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7. Refrigerate for at least 3 days before eating – the salt mellows and permeates the olives. And then ENJOY!
The recipe says they olives will last for a year in the brine in the fridge. That’s great, but in my house they will be devoured well before that!

I gave some to Mary and Vic to try and they gave me their approval. Somehow getting the thumbs up for my olives from an Italian seems like I have passed the ultimate test.

But really, the fact that they are delicious is all I need to know.

http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/Olives/8267.aspx


a prickly pickle

A triffid has taken over my veggie patch.

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It’s an heirloom variety of gherkin and goes by many a name: West Indian Gherkin, Bur Cucumber, and my favourite, Goosberry Gourd, to name but a few. However you choose to address it, it is a hardy, insistent vine that is keen to explore as much of its surrounds as possible (and unlike a triffid-squash I also happen to have, it’s a prolific fruiter). But what is really great about this tenacious plant is its prickly little surprises:

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They are literally so prickly I use gloves when I pick them!

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Now I love a good pickle – makes any boring sandwich a treat – and these little gems are great for such treatment. I am a bit of a ‘make it up/adapt it as I go along’ kinda cook and as such I don’t have an exact recipe. And because my gherkins are continually fruiting I am making jars of pickles as they are ready, rather than in one large batch – usually only one jar at a time. So for what it’s worth my method is as follows:

1. Put cucumbers/gherkins whole or sliced into a jar. Pour vinegar (I used white vinegar but you can use whatever you like) into said jar to measure required quantity, making sure the fruit are completely covered. Pour vinegar out again into a small saucepan. Add a little extra splash to make up for evaporation.

2. Add to the vinegar about a dessert spoon of natural, additive free salt and another of raw sugar (but it’s about taste – add or subtract to get the flavour you like).

3. Add about a teaspoon each of dill seeds and mustard seeds, a sliced clove of garlic, and perhaps some fresh dill, onion and/or chilli to the saucepan.

4. Bring it all to the boil so that the sugar and salt dissolve, and then allow to cool until it’s warm but not hot (some recipes say to pour the vinegar over hot, but I find that this turns the pickles to mush and I like a bit of crispness to my pickles).

5. Pour over cucumbers/gherkins so that they are completely covered, spoon in seeds/herbs etc, seal and store until you can’t wait any longer, and then eat them!

Voila!

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This particular triffid-like plant is welcome in my garden any time!


a quince a day keeps the doctor away

quince paste

But probably not the dentist, if eating quinces in this form: quince paste!

I have amazing neighbours with amazing gardens and priceless old-fashioned know how (said neighbours are retired and from a generation that grew up with making as a way of life – so much to learn from them!) Hardly a month goes by without one or other of them knocking on our door handing over a bowl/bag/plate/bucket of something to eat/plant/cook.

Most recently it was quinces from the neighbours to the north and olives from the neighbours to the south.

I love quinces. They make me think of starched white linen, garden benches and strolls on warm afternoons. Don’t ask me why. Maybe it’s because they seem like an old fashioned fruit – something that requires a bit of work, a bit of know-how, a bit of commitment to really be appreciated – and the sort of thing doesn’t fit with the convenience and perfectly waxed uniformity of modern supermarket fruit sections.

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And perhaps that’s why they are one of those fruits that kind of dwell below the radar (like loquats and feijoas). While they get a bit of press among gourmet cooks and cheese lovers as quince paste, I doubt if many people would know what they look like. I tried to eat one raw like an apple once…not a particularly enjoyable experience. But in their cooked state, as quince jelly, quince honey, quince crumble, quince and chocolate cake, poached quince with spices, (I’ve even found a recipe for quince and lamb stew. That one I haven’t been inspired to try…yet) they are a treat. Their hard yellow flesh transforms to a glorious red-gold hue, and the aroma is luxurious.

So anyway, last week I had some cherished friends, who are also in my neighbourhood, over for a quince paste making day.

Sadly for this blog I was fully engaged in our time together and didn’t think to take photos. But needless to say there was lots of sugar, stirring and laughter involved. Unfortunately we didn’t quite cook it long enough, so it’s rather more sticky than is ideal. But it’s delicious none the less.

Quince paste

Here’s the recipe:

1. Take a quantity of quinces (let’s say 8-10), wash them with a veggie brush or soft scourer to remove the fuzz, then quarter and core them.

2. Place them in a large saucepan with the juice of a lemon and a cup of water.

3. Cook them until they are soft.

4. Drain them and pass them through a colander so they get mashed up without the skins and any chunky bits, then pass that pulp through a very fine sieve.
This is where the commitment starts to enter the process – this part can be tedious and time-consuming. Best to have friends around to help out and pass the time of day with.

5. Weigh the resulting pulp, then return it to the saucepan with an equal quantity of sugar (what did I say about the dentist…)

6. Slowly bring to the boil and and cook over a medium heat, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn. The paste is ready when you drag your spoon through the pot and there is a clean line left through the thick mixture. And this is where you commitment is really challenged and the measure of  your friends determined – this can take up to 2 hours.

7. Once cooked, pour into a greased, perhaps cling-film lined tin/tray and leave to set – overnight or so.

8. Then cut into what ever shape you like, buy a gorgeously ripe brie and stuff yourself silly!

It makes great gifts and the rest can be stored wrapped in baking paper/cling film in the fridge for months.

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Now if that’s too much hassle, there’s a much simpler recipe for an equally delicious quince indulgence: quince honey (basically quince jam).

Very similar process: follow steps 1-3 as above, but then at the time-consuming part we diverge.

4. Drain the quinces and pass through a colander so they get mashed up without the skins and any chunky bits.

5. Weigh the resulting mush, then return it to the saucepan with an equal quantity of sugar.

6. Slowly bring to the boil and and cook over a medium heat, stirring very often. Like with any other jam, check after a while (45 mins) to see if it sets on a cold saucer in the fridge. Keep cooking and stirring until it does.

7. Pour into sterilised* jars, seal and store.

See, much simpler!

I just LOVE this on toast.

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*[How to sterilise a jar and get a seal? A few options: one is to rinse them in boiling water just before you use them; another is to put all the full jars into a stock pot, cover with water and bring to the boil until they seal; another is to simply put the hot jam in and then turn the jars upside down until they ‘pop’; and another method involves the oven and I don’t know about that one. I use a combination of the first three and usually all my jars seal.]


recycled fabric heaven

So far I’ve mostly posted about food-related making. But another great love of mine is sewing. I grew up with home made clothes and had my first go on my mother’s machine when I was about 10.

It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that the idea of making my own unique clothes, saving money in the process, and avoiding overpriced sweat-shop-made items really grabbed my attention.

The last piece of the puzzle came a few years ago when I discovered that an abundance of 2nd hand, very inexpensive fabric was available in many op-shops. I am constantly dismayed by the wastefulness of modern society, and recycling/re-making/re-using/re-inventing things is part of my response to this trend. Now my great passion for recycling and making have come together in their most happy symbiosis!

I’m going to let you in on a secret – there’s a place that delights both the sewer (sew-er?) and the recycled-bargain hunter in me. It’s the best source of 2nd-hand fabric I know of and until now I haven’t spread the word.

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This is the craft room at the Goodwill Op Shop on Cavan Rd, Dry Creek. (Apologies to anyone not from Adelaide, South Australia). Wall to wall shelving filled with all manner of fabrics, sorted by type and colour and neatly labelled. I have to admit I get just a tad excited each time I walk in: my mind reels with the possibilities. And not surprisingly I invariably walk out again with more than I intended – and new ideas of what to make. Obviously with recycled materials you can’t be too picky, but I have almost always found something to suit what I’m making, or have adapted my ideas to suit what I find.

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Here are some examples of what I have made with 2nd hand fabric:

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This beautiful little polar fleece jacket will keep my son super duper warm this winter.

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Finding nice fitting long sleeve tees was always a challenge, but this one I made fits perfectly

Using new and recycled fabrics I made a whole stack of bibs in March

Using new and recycled fabrics I made a whole stack of bibs in March

Bonnet, dress and pelisse for a Jane Austen party all made from 2nd hand items.

Bonnet, dress and pelisse for a Jane Austen party all made from 2nd hand materials.

So I issue a challenge to all my sewing compatriots: if you haven’t already, search your local op-shops for the material for your next sewing project.* You never know what treasure you might find!

* The same goes for wool, buttons, zippers, threads, lace etc. And I have found some truly fabulous 2nd hand patterns.