Wednesday, 30 June 2010

CHA CHA CHA - the art of retro and vintage

I have told you once before about my very talented friend Megan (remember the great photography site!). Well, there is no end to Megan's creativity. When I visited her in London two years ago, I discovered that the living room of their very gorgeous Victorian semi was full of...yes you guessed it...STASH!! Fabric, lampshades, vintage retro finds. I think Megan's husband Hugh is a saint to be not even bothered by the loss of a room in the house to eye candy.

The purpose behind the stash (there always is one of course!) is Megan's online shop which sells the most unique and original retro and vintage finds, including lighting, furniture and clothing. Let me give you a little taste...

An original 1950's Lloyd Loom chair re-upholstered in original Alexander Girard fabric.  Is it not a thing of true beauty?

Megan sources original vintage fabric, and can upholster furniture and lampshades as request. Doesn't this just take you right back to the seventies?

The great thing about Megan's store is that she has taken the hard work out of sourcing vintage. She has a fantastic eye, and you can be guaranteed that anything she has chosen will have that stylish "kick".

I am the proud owner of a vintage wallpaper-covered scrapbook, and address book. Isn't this a great idea! Especially if you are not courageous enough to cover a whole wall in it!

Take a look at her shop and be inspired!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

It's official - I'm addicted to bags

It does not happen to me often that I can make something people actually admire. My craft experiences in school were always of the order of "Highly Commended" (in other words, quite nice, but not good enough for a real prize). My mother sent me on a sewing course as a teenager. Unfortunately the project was to make a SUIT out of KNIT fabric. I mean how ridiculous. It was horrible. Once I had finished, I threw it away.

So you can see why I got so excited when I first tried out this bag pattern from Vanessa Christenson, and everyone started commenting on my bag:

Friend: "I love your bag. Where did you buy it?"

Me: (smugly) "I made it."

Friend: (incredulous) "What!"

Me: (faltering slightly, at the fact that my friend couldn't believe I actually made it) "Yes, it turned out well didn't it?"

Friend: (proudly) "If you sold those, I would buy one."

Me: (incredulous) "Really?"

So you see, I have now been encouraged by my stroked ego to make more of the bags that caused a temporary buzz of  fame amongst my social circle. In fact, I have made four in one sitting. I might even open an Esty shop...(one step at a time).

In the meantime I am making them as gifts. This is the one I made for my children's teacher as a goodbye gift.

The pattern was not free, but it has more than made up its value already. You can also buy the flower pattern separately if you have a thing for fabric flowers.

What I love about this bag is that the lining peeps through, and co-ordinates with the flower. It's not too fussy, but just that touch of glamorous.

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Monday, 28 June 2010

Help! I need a girl's birthday gift, now!

This Friday evening I panicked. I suddenly remembered that my daughter had a birthday party to attend the next morning. And we were going out that evening. And I had forgotten to buy a gift.

Yes, in the past, I must confess, I have grabbed the newest looking book off my children's bookshelf and wrapped it. But this party was for my daughter's best friend, and I couldn't get away with something, well, less than the best. Knowing the birthday girl is feminine and loves vintage dresses and hair accessories, I went online and found a great, easy (and free) fabric rosette pattern.

In the morning, I spent twenty minutes over breakfast making the rosettes, and then attached them to one of my daughter's pink headbands. Popped into a pretty gift bag with some tissue paper and sparkly sprinkles, it made a gorgeous, handmade gift (that would have cost a lot of money at an uptown boutique).

So if you have a girl's gift emergency, here is the pattern for the rosettes. If you don't have a headband handy, you could attach them to a hair elastic, or you could sew a little square purse and attach them to that. They make anything fabulous.

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Did I disappear?

So all of you who were ready to cook Biryani on Friday, forgive me. My timetable of packing and getting ready to move ran way ahead of me, and I got myself exhausted. I just didn't have it in me to even turn my computer on. I spent most of yesterday asleep. I will be cooking it today, though so check back tomorrow if you still have your chicken pieces!

In the meantime, I must ask you to be patient with me in the next week. The movers arrive on Thursday and there is always more to do than one estimates, so that today where my to list says "Pack suitcase", I have in truth still to sort through two major rooms of my house, and find a place for the piles and piles of things we aren't taking to America. There is going to be a lot of moving stuff from one place to another. In fact, sometimes I think life is all about moving stuff from one place to another. Money from your work's bank account to yours, money from your bank account to everyone else's, laundry from the washer to the dryer, toys from one room to another etc etc. It is, really isn't it. So I can see why some people become hermits and live in caves.

I am going to ask some friends to do guest posts, so please welcome them and visit their pages.

In the meantime, your thoughts and prayers will be appreciated!!

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Don't you love looking at yummy food?

I cooked this fabulous Italian Meatballs recipe this evening for our dinner, and it was so good I thought, I can't keep this a secret!

Aren't they beautiful? Served with linguine, I could have eaten the whole lot. Luckily I didn't.

The recipe is from my very favourite Italian Cookbook The Food of Italy. If you're wondering what secret ingredients make them so special, they are blanched almonds (or pinenuts), fresh basil, celery seeds and lemon rind!

Cooking with an Empire's Child Week 3 - India

Good day fellow food lovers. I recently visited a new follower of mine. Her blog is called Food Floozy, and this is the definition she gives:

"floo·zie \ˈflü-zē\: a usually young woman of loose morals." Thus a Food Floozie is not a woman who can be seduced by virtually any man, but rather a woman who can be seduced by virtually any food (other than sushi)

Isn't that just great! It is how I feel most of the time. Except I can be seduced by sushi most days too.

Anyway, onto this week's recipe. I found reading about the history of the Indian colonies quite disturbing. It seems in the "old days" if you wanted to make some money, you could just sail over to someone else's land and nick bits of their country. In the long run, after the East India Company messed everything up a lot (not surprising, given their policies were based on greed and corruption) the British Government took over and tried to run the place according to British Morals and Values. 

There is a lot of literature on the British Indian Colony, particularly about the women who went out there with their men folk. A lot of heart-breaking stories, and also a lot of romance and intrigue. I can imagine the British people sitting back home here in the rolling green and tame hills of England thought it was quite an interesting place. Rudyard Kipling, of course, immortalises the era through his children's stories, particularly the Jungle Book.

I digress. The reason I found this week so enjoyable is that I grew up in Natal, South Africa where there was a huge Indian population. They were brought over by the British as indentured workers to farm the sugar, and they liked it there because is was hot and tropical, just like their home. Durban Curry became a well-known South African dish, and is still quite unique in its flavours.

Image: paul v j

I have chosen, though, a firm favourite of mine. This is because it is the typical fast food you can buy on the streets of Natalian towns, usually from seedy looking Indian takeaways, or vans. Coming from within, however, you find a treasure trove of cuisine. Samosas, rotis and masala all made with love and care by Indian mamas with recipes passed down through the generations. My favourite meal to buy for lunch was the chicken biryani. Hot as a roasting brick, full of little chicken bones and heavy with fresh chopped coriander. It was nourishing and delicious. I have never tasted biryani like it again. 

So I am going to attempt this traditional, South African chicken biryani this Friday. Try it with me. I guarantee you will want it again. And again.

Here is your shopping list.

2 onions
4 medium potatoes
1 small piece ginger (fresh)
cooking oil
dried curry leaves
tomato paste
Mild or Hot curry powder
bay leaves
250ml plain yoghurt
whole cloves
star anise
cinnamon sticks
fresh mint
dried thyme
turmeric powder
1 can brown lentils
quick cook basmati rice

This meal is best left overnight before eating, so perhaps plan to cook it on Friday, and eat on Saturday.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

No matter what happens - use great stationery

One of my greatest weakness is my desire to communicate to the world on beautiful paper. With an expensive ink fountain pen. And preferably an original letterhead design.

I can't walk past a stationery shop. I thought I had died and gone to heaven when I discovered Papyrus in the Pacific Place Mall in Seattle. You must remember, America dwellers, that the rest of the world is still discovering stationery.

So, you can imagine that one of my greatest decision, my biggest burdens, in our preparations to emigrate to America has been - what shall I use to notify our change of address?

Should it be a postcard? In fact providence would have it that The Executive Homemaker has free change of address printables this very morning. While these are cute, and probable great for a local move, I didn't think they had the punch, the originality, the clout needed for a final "I'm leaving the country forever".

I had to do some research. I had bought myself a pack of 50 white pressed notecards ready for this project. I needed a printable that inspired me.

What a blessing Google Reader is. I just typed in "printable" and it searched the archives of all my favourite blogs for inspiration. And that is where I found the treasure!

Indiefixx has some gorgeous printable art and it's all free! I chose these two gorgeous little artworks, with birds as the theme. Paste them into word, and plan two cards per A6 postcard note, with a note on the back saying "We're flying away...".

My plan is to have them in my bag to give to family and friends that I see regularly, and pop one into any written correspondence I send. Then I will go through my contact list and post out to anyone left.

Cute, no?

I am looking forward to something else I can design use the Indiefixx art. I am sure there will be some thank you cards coming out of my printer soon...

Monday, 21 June 2010

Monday Morning Mindfulness

Being a woman hasn't changed much.

I am sure you are all disagreeing quietly in the back of your minds. Of course our lives have got easier. Our children are more likely to live till adulthood. We have appliances that do the hard work for us. We have tiled floors, motor cars, the internet connecting us to a community drawn from all nations. We have homes with doors and windows and roofs and security systems. We have hospitals and ambulances and antibiotics. In this world we should never be lonely, tired, dirty, sick or afraid.

This week I was lonely, tired, sick and afraid. I was even dirty (although not for long). Yes, I am in awe of the environment and circumstances that women have had to endure in the centuries before us, not so long ago in fact, and even today in a large part of the world. But having the comforts and benefits of living in a wealthy, stable Western society does not protect me from the fundamental pressures of living. I still have to learn to deal with them in my own way. In fact, the romantic postmodern rural movement would have us believe that life was in fact easier when there was no city rush, no noise pollution, no fragmentation and decimation of the family from the land. I'm not sure I agree with them wholly. I think I would go mad if I had to boil my laundry and spend the day working my knuckles to the bone getting out the grease from a week's worn clothes, or milk the cow every morning just so we could enjoy breakfast.

It's so easy to look at different times and places and compare ourselves to those situations saying, "I ought to be grateful", or, "They had it so much better than me". My aim this week is no longer to compare myself and say, "If only", but rather to consider what others have been through, or are going through, and say, "What can I learn from them?". 

During this time of moving to another country, I am so grateful that I am not moving because of genocide, famine or unrest. My grandmother had to leave Kenya in the 1960s with her five boys, leaving my grandfather behind to fight a guerilla war in the jungle. She went on a ship to England, and lived there on her own for two years. What anxiety she must have suffered, when she would not see her husband for a year, wondering whether he was still alive. How difficult it must have been to move away from her family and the only life she had known to a world of terraced houses, smog, crowding and particularly cold and rain, after the wide plains and warm winds of Africa. My move now to Indiana is like preparing for a vacation in comparison. I can learn from her that homesickness is inevitable, but that we are stronger than our emotions. I can learn that no matter how far we are from our family, the bonds can never be broken. 

Most of all, I am trying to think about how she would have dealt with all the little details of moving a family to an unknown place. She is so practical, has such ingenuity and above all finds such joy in solving the small problems of everyday life. She lives life almost as though in a children's story book. Everyday objects get special names, plants are talked to like old friends, routines become little rituals that rise above the profane and bring a spiritual quality to mundane tasks.

This week, I am going to try to keep the magic, in the midst of forms, boxes and lists. I am going to look for the little things that sparkle. I know they are there. My granny's legacy to me was gently opening my eyes to see them.

My granny, Beth Fey.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Happy Coasters!

I found this great tutorial to make quilted coasters from Mother Lode. The best things about it was that my mother-in-law gave me a bag full of those little fabric swatches you get from interior decor shops. Apparently one had gone bust somewhere and she had picked them all up for a bargain. Frankly, I had no idea what to do with them. The pieces of fabric seemed too small really to make anything of consequence. But in my heart I knew that somehow, somewhere they could be useful.

So when I saw this tutorial, I was super-excited! Little squares of fabric, all co-ordinated for me already, just asking to be made into 5" square quilted coasters!

So here is the first batch I made. They aren't quite the quality to give as gifts, so I kept this set for myself and I will make some more now that I am practiced.

 I used contrasting thread so that the stitching came up clearly.

Very cute!

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Friday, 18 June 2010

Cooking with an Empire's Child - Week 2 The New World

It's time to make the (best) hamburger.

Here are the ingredients you need to make the sauce first. Mix together

1/4 cup salad cream (like Miracle Whip)

1/4 cup mayonnaise

3 tbsp French salad dressing (don't ask why there's a lump in mine. Just don't).

Mix these up nice in a bowl. Then chop 1 dill pickle (gherkin)

until it's really small

Chop up 1 slice fresh onion (keep the rest of the onion for the burgers)

Add it to the bowl with

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp vinegar

1 tsp ketchup

and finally 1/8 tsp salt.

Stir together and microwave on high for 25 seconds. Stir again and put into the fridge till you're ready to eat.

Now get the rest of the bits ready. First I must introduce you to a gadget that I cannot do without.

Is it not a thing of beauty? What is it, you ask?

It is a Tupperware Hamburger Squasher. You take your minced meat, weigh it out carefully to a quarter pound, pop it in the Squasher, and Squash.

This gives you beautifully shaped burgers, even thickness and with nice sharp edges. If you don't have a squasher, the best way to do this is to press your minced beef out on a flat surface to about a half inch thick, then cut out rounds with a glass. Press it down firm so that  it doesn't break up.

You aren't going to add anything to the mince, just sprinkle with salt and pepper after you have formed them. You want to keep that meat nice and pure. That's why it's important to buy good quality minced beef.

Now decide how you are going to cook them. They must either be grilled over a charcoal fire, or char-grilled on a griddle. You have to get that slightly smoky burnt flavour. Get your fire ready now if you need to.

Now slice up the onion as fine as you can.

Pop it in a frying pan with some olive oil on low heat and let it sweat.

Now slice up your dill pickles as fine as you can.

Do the same with the tomatoes.

Wash the lettuce and let it drain and dry.

Put your burgers on the very hot fire or griddle. You want to only turn them once. This is our lovely Weber barbeque. We would not use anything else.

(Yes we actually have two).

Oh yum. There is nothing like meat on the grill. Really. Not even the gooiest chocolatiest creamiest dessert is quite as good.

Back in the kitchen, get your buns toasted. If you don't have a toaster, use the grill.

When the meat is ready you can assemble your masterpiece. Like this.

Mm carbs.

Ooh greens.

Ahh fruit (yes really!)




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