To Make and Be Merry

 
Pretty Things

Last week was a rough week for the kids, they are missing their dad.  I've been doing so much writing about grief in my published work, that I've tended to focus on all the other happenings when writing in this space.  I do think however, that an update is overdue.  Once we have greeted in the New Year I will set about sharing some of those details with you, since as you know (if you've been visiting awhile) it's a topic I am very comfortable with and I fully believe it is healthy to keep sharing our process.  We are coming up to the two year anniversary since Tuck was killed so perhaps I will plan that blog post to coincide.  For now though, I'll talk about this past weekend.

We had intended to join in on a couple of parties, but after a week filled with many tears and cuddles we decided that laying low and being at home was instead the thing for us to do.  It meant the Christmas songs went onto continuous play, stories were read from our basket of Christmas books - which incidentally is stowed away in the cupboard throughout the rest of the year until December 1st when all things Christmassy emerge around our home.   And in between it all, a delightful amount of gift making unfolded. 

Those that know me are well aware that I am a bonafide packaging flirt!  Give me earth tones and brown paper with string, and my heart starts to go pitty-pat.  Add a little whimsy or a few dried up dead things and I . am . gone!  So, it hardly needs to be said that when it comes to making gifts I like them to look pretty too.  

Generally, I always have a stash of supplies in the cupboard but a few weeks ago I grabbed some extra bits to bump up that stash without any solid plan as to which direction I was heading.  As it turned out, by last week I still had no idea because I kind of felt like playing with all of it.  So, come the weekend, that's just what I did.

** spoiler alert for anyone who may be on the receiving end of these gifts! I hope you like them ;) **

Hand Butter

Small batches of each!  First up was hand butter.  I've made this recipe quite a few times now and not just for gifts.  I make it to use on my own hands and keep a jar atop my bedhead - rubbing a little of it in each night is the very last thing i do before my head hits the pillow.  I love the stuff!  And making it is easy peasy.  Click that link above and it will take you through to an older post from when I made it for the first time.  All recipe details and The Prairie Homestead link-love can be found there. 

Mixing

Then there was bath salts, a calming blend with magnesium flakes, pink Himalayan rock salt and rose petals that I plucked off my mum's heritage bushes a few weeks ago.  It's all been scented with a few drops of essential oils and one of the best bits about making these gifts is that I get to use the leftovers ;)  I know many people who are not bath takers and at various times over the years we've had conversations about why that is so.  Although it still baffles me as to why they feel such ways, they do all have valid reasons, ha, I'm sure they are baffled by many of my habits too.  So anyway, these salts are not for them!  I, on the other hand, and at the risk of over-sharing, am a bath taker.  Not just that, I am a bath lover!  So much so that having a bathroom with a bath ranks within my top three prerequisites when house hunting.  I have actually walked away from perfectly lovely houses over the years simply because they did not have a bath.  There was one house, once, that didn't have a bath and I pined every . single . day!  I think Tuck got so sick of hearing me whine about the lack of bath that he swore we would never live without one again.  All that aside, an evening soak is a constant for me.  It is part of my end-of-day ritual and within that water there is often a mix of whatever I'm feeling like on any given day- salts, oils, bubbles, soap and many times, nothing at all.  Lately it's been the leftovers from this batch of salts.  Win win eh!?  :)

Next on the list was the vanilla extract.  Honestly, if you are taking notes for next year and want a gift that you can pull together in as little time as pouring out a drink, this is your answer!  You don't even need to put a fancy label on it if you don't want to, and you don't need a apothecary bottle either.  For my own stash, I use an old jam jar- a pretty jam jar, because I like all things pretty, but a jam jar nonetheless.  Now I have done vanilla before, but this time I changed up the labels a bit.  I bought a bottle of vodka way back in the middle of the year, added a heap of split vanilla beans to it and left it down in the cellar to do it's thing.  At that point I wasn't sure whether I was going to follow through on decanting vanilla extract for Christmas gifts, but given it's soaking in alcohol, it never goes off so it does no harm to always have some at the ready.

Labeling

And by the way, Avery craft labels and their online templates completely rock!

Flat Lay
Candle

And finally, the candles.  Oh the candles!  I've decided that candle making is a lot harder than I thought it would be, I mean technically it's just a matter of melting the wax down with a double boiler and pouring it in, right?  Well maybe I've missed something but, no, these candles were not quite that straight forward.  I make tea-light candles with beeswax quite regularly as we use them for our nightly verse and 'light ceremony'.  I knew if I wanted to try larger candles then I would have to get some suitable wicks that didn't drown in the thicker melt pool - I've learned that one the hard way before!  Initially everything went to plan and all was well in my happy candle making bubble.  I was even using my own hand-rendered beeswax, given to me ages ago by my friend and permaculture garden designer, Nadja.  She passed it on after harvesting her honey and I then rendered it and have had the blocks in my stash cupboard to use for various projects ever since. 

So I had my jars and I had a nice large square wick cut and positioned for each one.  Once my wax was melted I added some essential oils.  The fragrance of which will never ever be matched again since as I was adding the first couple of oils I decided I wasn't really achieving the "Summertime" scent I was going for, so I grabbed my whole supply box of oils and just kept adding and mixing all kinds of different ones until I liked what I got.  It took a while and it took a lot of oils because the gorgeous sweet scent of honey in the wax kept distracting me.  So then I poured it out and for the most part, things were still going smoothly, but then as the wax cooled it set with weird looking marks on the inside of the glass.  I thought about covering it up with a wrap around label but that was going to be a pain so instead, I got my Fowlers water bath preserving unit out and thought I'd try to remelt the wax inside the jar so it would hopefully set again with more even tone.  But then there was the wick, ah yes I'd forgotten that of course the wick would move about on me with the wax melting so quick smart I grabbed the little holder thingys I had and, all was well again, my plan was working!!  Then crack!  It was the unmistakable crack of glass.  Argh!  There were three jars in there, the water was boiling, the jars were hot and the wax was liquified.  Plus I had those wicks to think about and I didn't want to go spilling wax all over my Fowlers, let alone anywhere else.  So I did what any sensible, responsible person would do in my situation.  I abandoned ship and went AWOL!  I turned the heat off and walked away so they could cool down and reset in their own luxurious time. 

Much later on, I returned and gently lifted the jars out- the wax had cooled and was just about set again by this stage.  My Fowlers was still clean and it was time for me to find the crack - which jar and where was it?  One by one I carried them to the table and on my second trip, plop!  The entire base of the jar I was carrying dropped cleanly away and I was left holding the remainder.  I tipped it upside down and the candle slid out as though the glass had simply been a mold.  Then there was the third candle.  I guess some of the water must have found it's way inside while it was simmering because I noticed the candle rattling within the jar as I moved it.  So I tipped it up and just like candle number two, it plopped out into my hand, only save the broken jar this time.  Humm, so out of three candles, only one is within it's jar as I had intended, but I think the other two are still okay to give as gifts, what do you think?  None of them are perfect but a few little flaws won't matter just as long as they burn properly... (fingers crossed).

Rose Petals
Boxload

It's our last week of school this week and tonight we have Celebration Night.  Summer finally seems to be kicking in with 36'C yesterday and again today.  It's hot, but later on the whole school will gather; kids, parents and teachers, and songs will be sung by each class while the families sit around on picnic rugs or camp chairs with whatever yummies they've brought along in their baskets.  Then just a few more days before a lunchtime break-up on Friday and then we three will welcome in a long Summer break.  Yip yip yippy!!!  The Australian school year is broken up into four terms spanning from late January to mid-December.  For us this means six weeks of family fun in the sun and Christmas kicks it off!!!  Then next year once school returns my littles will begin Grade 3 and Grade 1.  Really?  It's all happening in a blink, but I'm not going to think about that right now.  There's Merry Making to be done!

Before I sign out for 2016, I will be back with one more post.  It's something exciting that I want to share but I have to wait for some international mail first.

Happy days friends xo

The Collection

The Weekend That Was

 
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I know I have mentioned it on Instagram before but I don't think I've spoken of it here..?  I hold a monthly ritual these days, where I step back and unplug around the time of each full moon.  Over this past weekend not only did I unplug, but we three went the extra mile and entered into domestic lock-down mode where no one came in and no one went out!  It was lovely and just what was needed after last week's global events.  Despite all the confusion and uncertainty that has been swirling around since the U.S. election, there is one thing that remains clear; no one can ever take away our Love and Connection.  Be it with our children and families, our friends, our relationship with Mother Nature, or our community.  The value and importance of love and connection holds fast and, I believe, is what gets each and every one of us through the days when everything else seems shaky. 

It's no surprise that creativity- in all it's many forms- is woven thickly into each of my days.  Creating is how I regain and maintain my centre.  It is my fuel and helps to shift my focus away from external (or global) chaos.  It's a guiding light leading me back home to my nest and even though I have at times pondered over whether I should hone my skills into one specific craft, it's times like these that remind me of why I like to explore.  Depending on where I'm at or the influences that have led me there, I will sometimes create through sewing or knitting, sometimes it might be another textile art or a home DIY, and then sometimes it is gardening or cooking.  This past weekend it was all about the later and of course, there's always a bunch of photos taken along the way ;)

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So a couple of weeks ago there was a garden update where I spoke of a potential mid-November garlic harvest.  Well here we are and yep, I probably could get out there and pull up those bulbs.  They would be fine, except out of the blue (and for the first time in my garlic growing experience) I noticed a lovely long tendril growing out of almost every plant.  I feel like those scapes appeared overnight but in truth I think I have been too busy and distracted to see past the leaves and actually notice that they were there.  In my defense they are a bit camouflaged but while searching for a scape pesto recipe* I learned that the appearance of said scapes indicates the bulbs are about two weeks away from being ready.  I guess that means I'm about two weeks away from pulling those babies up.  In the mean time, with walnuts and Parmesan on hand, I snipped the scapes and blended them into a pesto.  Now the plants can spend these coming days putting all their energy back into the bulbs so that they are as best as can be for harvest time. 

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Next on my list was to get making with that sourdough culture and the kombucha scoby I brought home from the Makers Table.  I started the first ferment for the kombucha about a week ago so the weekend was a perfect time to bottle that batch with their flavours.  Once capped I returned them to the cellar for their second ferment and away I went with another fresh batch of tea.  This first lot of bottles I've flavoured with strawberry and ginger, and I'll let you know what it's like in a few days after I transfer them from their shelf in the cellar to a shelf in the fridge.  Cross your fingers for me!

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Now will you allow me a moment to gloat... just for a second?  Because I thought I might have killed that thriving (sourdough) mother culture I came home with the other weekend.  You see, the busy days took over and I kind of forgot what I was suppose to do with it, so for a little too long it sat on my kitchen bench before I shoved it into the fridge.  On Saturday I pulled it out and tried to revive it with a fresh feed (flour and filtered water) before leaving it to sit and then mixing it into a dough later that night.  Then Sunday I got baking and would you have a look at it!?!!!  I am feeling so darn excited (and maybe a little bit chuffed with myself!).  It worked and it is delicious!!!  I fed the remaining starter and am keeping it in the cellar (hopefully a safe enough distance from the kombucha since I've been warned that scoby is a bully and will take over any other fermenting process, eeep!).  I'll go again with another loaf this coming weekend and if it turns out half as good as this first one then I think it could well be the start of a wonderful love affair!!!

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And just because no weekend full of making, baking and creating is complete without a batch of cookies, I have to include a shot of this lot.  They are sultana and dark chocolate chip using rye flour and dark muscovado sugar.  I use a basic biscuit base recipe and change it up with add-ins each time I make them.  The base recipe is the Milkwood Farm House Cookie and although I have usually used the raw (unrefined) sugar they call for in the recipe, this time around I only had dark muscovado so I went with it and I think I'll repeat that variation again because the extra molasses caramelises and makes for a super delicious, crunchy but chewy cookie.

So in between games of Battleship, chapters of Harry Potter book 3 (that's our current family novel), and the washing and vacuuming, there was a fair bit of time in the kitchen and all of it felt just right.  Now the Moon has reached her peak and here down in S.A. we had a clear night so She was as Super as they said she'd be.  A fresh new week has begun and although there is still so much unrest in the world, I feel lucky and grateful that I can still focus on what is most important to me. 

Over the next couple of weeks I've got a deadline to get cracking on so I might fall quiet here but I'll be back to share soon. 

Have a great week friends! xo

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* Ps/ I nearly forgot... the scape pesto recipe I used is from here ;)

 

Makers Table

 

It's been years since I last visited the Barossa Valley but I certainly won't be leaving it that long again.  The Barossa is one of South Australia's award winning wine regions and is about an hours drive north east of Adelaide.  It is of course, incredibly beautiful with vistas of picturesque vineyards at every turn and is absolutely overflowing with artisan talent.  It thrills me no end to realise that these qualities are being recognised by those far and wide and a showcase for the region's finest was enjoyed last Sunday at Langmeil Winery in Tanunda.

Hosted by Country Style magazine as part of their 'Campaign For Country', the Makers Table was a special reader event which included a series of four workshops- each presented by local producers- and a long table lunch fit for royalty.  The day actually included so very much more but I'll get to that as we move through. 

Country Style ambassador and local Barossa producer, Cherie Hausler of Scullery Made ensured we were each greeted on arrival by her warm and contagious smile.  By her side stood Barossa Coffee, dedicated to serving up their fine brew so that our morning was off to the right start ;)  After a bit of chatting and some intros, we were into it.  I'm not entirely sure what the total headcount for the day was but we were placed into four groups to enable a smooth passage throughout.

My workshops began with Will and the making of sourdough bread.  William Wood of Careme Pastry is extraordinary and it's entirely possible that I have a wee crush on this man.  Or a crush on his knowledge, passion and respect for his craft, at the very least. 

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He talked of folding and stretching the dough, and gently coaxing it to roll across the bench by allowing the dough to grab rather than the hand pulling, forcing and kneading.  He says the dough must not be overworked...

in the artisan world, it is disrespectful to the flour

You can see why I have my crush, can't you?!  I shall say no more apart from I now have a jar of the most thriving starter culture you ever did see- so alive that it erupted on me before the day was through! 

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My next workshop had me stepping through the stable door and into a cave of blooms.  Janelle Amos of Self Pollinate immersed us all in the artful practice of nature mandala making.

My work is spontaneous, ephemeral and organic, made and photographed in the natural light of the moment.

Can we just pause here for a moment because I am in love with that word, "ephemeral".  It would have to be the most poetic description for something that only lasts for a short time.  I get stuck on words like that, I think about them while hanging out the washing or clearing the table.  Is that weird?  Am I revealing too much ha?!  Righto, let's move on shall we..?

During her workshop we each created our own mandalas, enjoying the freedom to use whatever whole or fragmented pieces lay before us.  It was a window of joyful meditation in the most divine space imaginable.

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Down the table from Janelle, that divine space continued with a little pop-up shop.  Just three tables celebrating the creative passions of each artisan and displayed with enough beauty to make your heart ache.

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Lunch time!  Prepared by Pete Little and Beck Flavel of Little and Often, and using locally made ingredients, it's fair to say that lunch was exquisite.  Barrels full of fine vintages, the strum of guitar and a goodies bag bursting with a huge collection of 'take home' delights is what greeted us as we found our seats.  Then mouthwatering food, kombucha, wine, fabulous company and the continuation of rich conversation.  The whole day was filled with moments to savour and lunch was no exception.

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I haven't quite got to Cherie's workshop yet but that's her there (pictured below).  I'm jumping in here because it has to be noted that she made those cakes!  Look at them, would you!?!!!  Oh good golly.  I can assure you that they tasted just as amazing.

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After lunch it was a workshop with the tea (and cake) queen herself.  Cherie is delightful and had us each decanting kombucha into our own little bottle, which we then infused with a choice of flavour; dried quandong, quince, rose, cinnamon...?  We then bottled it and skipped merrily away with our own fermented 'elixir of life'.  Plus a healthy glob of scoby, in a separate jar and ready to do it's thing in our own brew at home.

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And now my final workshop for the day.  The making of a copper spoon with my friend and ceramicist, Ilona Glastonbury.  Ilona is the creative force behind Otti Made and The Hundred Mile Home and before you hop into bed tonight, I fully support the hour or so you spend ogling her Instagram feed!  And take it from me, you wouldn't be the first to weep from the sheer beauty of her pics.

Ilona and her buddy, Pete, gave us each a little pack and demonstration to get us started and then away we went.  Hammer hammer, bash bash, file file, polish polish and a little while later, we each had our own shiny copper spoon to take home. 

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Which brings me to the day's end.  I know, I'm sad too.  But before I bid you a lovely weekend to come, there is just one more thing I'd like to mention.  There was a secret ingredient to this day and although I would have enjoyed myself regardless, this day has claimed a place in my "favourite days of all time" Hall of Fame because of that secret ingredient.  It was The People.  I have a conflicted relationship with technology and social media in particular but since the time I apprehensively entered the world of Instagram, I have connected with so many like-minded and incredible people.  It's a space where you find your Tribe and I am certain that many Instagramers would say the same.  It's a virtual land of encouragement, support and inspiration and I have had the greatest of fortune to weave friendships with some true kindred spirits.  One of these women happens to be Ilona and once this event was announced, a couple of us local gals and another from Victoria decided we would go along and seize the opportunity to meet in real life.  With the four of us all together we greeted one another like the reunion of long lost girlfriends and we all stayed on well after our last workshop, neither one of us quite ready to let the day draw to a close.

Eventually, we did have to drag ourselves away.  Though I have this feeling that we have all known each other before.  Who knows where, or how, or even which lifetime?  For now it shall remain as one of those big Universal mysteries but I think these blossoming friendships could well be the sort to last a lifetime.

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