Little spring birdies

IMG_9456A few years ago we started decorating our home for spring. Actually, we originally called the decorations ‘Easter decorations’ but who am I kidding? We are often away at Easter so as with all our decorations, they come out early, at the first sign of new leaves coming into bud.

Our decorations are simple – a few polystyrene eggs that have been painted, glittered and held up with ribbon and pins; fluffy chicks and rabbits that have been sent to us over the years and a few crocheted chicks made from this pattern. They hang on some branches that the children found and The Husband whittled so that they fitted into the holes he drilled into a piece of old worktop.

A few weeks ago I felt the urge to do a little sewing and decided to make some birdie decorations, based on the crocheted ones I already had. They are very simple, requiring only the ability to sew on some beads and buttons and do a running stitch. They are also very easily adapted to the materials that you have to hand.

You will need:

A small amount of cotton fabric, this project is ideal for using up scrap bits and pieces, my birdie was 11cm in diameter so that’s the minimum size you need.

A small amount of felt for the wings and beak.

A few beads and buttons for embellishing and making eyes.

Thread to match your fabric and buttons. And a needle and scissors.

A crochet hook, size 3 to 4 will do.

A small amount of double knit yarn to make the legs. You could also use string but I’m guessing that if you own a crochet hook, you own yarn.

A small amount of toy stuffing. If your birdie is a one off, you aren’t going to wash it and you don’t want to buy a whole load of stuffing maybe you could use cotton wool?

Some ribbon to make a hanger. Again, you could use a simple loop of yarn or thread instead.

Pinking shears.

What to do:

IMG_9474Use a small pot or something similar and a pencil to draw a circle onto your fabric, approximately 11 cm in diameter. Cut out the the circle using pinking shears if you have them. Fold your circle of fabric in half and iron it so that you create a crease across the diameter.

IMG_9476

Now cut out a smaller circle from some felt. This will form the wings so choose your template accordingly. Ideally it should be around 5cm in diameter. Cut the felt circle in half to form two wings. Lay out your fabric circle with the wings on top, as shown below. Their straight edges parallel with the crease you made and about 1 cm below it. Fold your birdie in half to get an idea of where they look best, pin one on and then lay it out again and repeat on the other side. You can attach the wings as you see fit but I decided to sew them on in one place only, near the ‘beak end’, by attaching a few buttons or beads on top. If you hate sewing, you could do this step with a glue gun.

IMG_9482

As you can see in the picture, I have also stitched on the button eyes and ribbon hanger at this stage. If you don’t have appropriate buttons, you can stitch an eye with black thread and parallel stitches that form a circle.

To make the legs, crochet a chain of about 30 stitches (or chain until it is twice as long as you want the legs to be). Make sure you leave a tail at either end. Trim the tail ends to about 1.5cm long and tease out the fibres to create the effect of feet. Stitch the middle of the chain to the inside of your fabric circle, close to the edge, so that when you fold it up again, the legs dangle down about halfway between the ‘beak’ and ‘tail’ end of your bird.

Cut a triangle from felt to form the beak of your bird. You can often squeeze this shape out of the offcuts from the wings. Fold your triangle in half, lining up the fold in the triangle beak with the crease in the body. Stitch the beak in place. Almost finished. Continue the stitching from the beak in a simple running stitch along the curved edge of the body. Leave a gap at the end so you can put the stuffing in. You should have something that looks like this.

IMG_9485IMG_9486When the stuffing is in, finish off the stitching up, right to the ‘tail end’. Tie the hanging ribbon in a knot (or stitch it). Your birdie is done. Now you just need somewhere twigs and maybe a few friends for it to hang around with.

IMG_9518If you have a lavender plant, you could harvest the dried seed heads and put some inside these birds to make scented lavender bags.

Recycled paper pots for growing seeds

I am flattered to have been asked to be the School of Thrift’s resident gardening expert. However, I think it would be more than a bit untruthful to describe myself as an expert. I would suggest ‘enthusiast’ is probably a better description. So, in the name of enthusiasm, here is a little post about a thrifty way to grow seeds.

Have you ever seen one of these?

IMG_9408The wooden pieces on the right are a little device used to make paper pots for seeds. I like the idea of starting seeds off in individual pots but I don’t like the idea of transplanting them. I’m not sure that the seedlings like it much either. It can’t be nice, having their delicate roots disturbed. Lots of gardening gurus recommend using small coir pots (made of coconut husks) that simply decompose when the seedling is eventually planted into the ground. These little paper pots do the same thing but you can make them for free and recycle your newspaper at the same time. Unfortunately I can’t tell you how effective they are because this is the first time I’ve tried them.

paperpotsYou simply roll a strip of newspaper around the cylinder part (not too tight) then starting at the seam, fold the bottom over. I found that three folds were enough to neatly close the gap. Next you press the bottom of your pot into the other part of the wooden former and twist. Finally, remove the pot from the wooden cylinder (this is sometimes a bit tricky and requires a bit of wriggling) and hey presto, you have a pot. Call me sad but I found making these little pots really addictive.

IMG_9511The next problem is how to store the pots once you have planted them up. Their very nature means that they are a bit floppy, especially after they have been watered. They also become slightly mouldy after a while, which is probably a good thing and all part of the decomposing process. I hunted around our shed for a suitable tray to put them in but all the proper seed trays had holes in the bottom. Not ideal for keeping leaky pots on a clean windowsill. Fortunately for me we had several old ice cream tubs out in our garage, waiting to be re-used. They turned out to be the perfect size for 12 little paper pots. Very satisfying.

My mind also skipped back to an image I had seen on Pinterest (you can take a look at my gardening board here) of a drinks carton being used as a plant pot. Rooting around in the recycling bag I found two empty cartons and chopped off one of the larger sides of each.

IMG_9510Bingo – just the right size for 8 little pots and the cartons themselves sit together on a windowsill or greenhouse shelf in a pleasingly snug sort of way.

So far I have sown sunflowers, leeks, sweetcorn, sweet peas, oregano and rosemary in these little pots and they are all germinating (well, except the rosemary, but that takes a notoriously long time).

Have you noticed my plant labels? I have been making these for a long time. I cut up old plastic containers, anything from margarine tubs to milk cartons and use them. They are probably not as durable as shop bought ones but they are free and I *think* the plastic in milk cartons is biodegradable.

Now, what I’d really like to see is someone ingenious enough to create a paper pot maker from recycled materials. Surely all you would need is a pipe to wrap the paper around and, erm, hmm, something to form the base. And that is where my creativity ends. Happy seed sowing everyone.

Simple, leeky, cheesy risotto

In the interests of getting the allotment ready for spring, all our leeks have now been pulled up. Some of them were reasonably sized but mostly they were on the slim side. However, as with many things in life, size is not everything and our leeks were full of flavour. I have been enjoying them in various forms since the turn of the year (lemon, goats cheese and leek tart was my highlight) but last week I turned them into a cheesy risotto. What I really wanted was some pasta in a cheese sauce with sautéed leeks but having given up wheat for Lent, that was off the menu…

IMG_9311Here is my recipe. I ate this quantity all by myself (in my defence I have been running a lot further lately and that makes for hunger) but it would be enough for two if accompanied by a chunky salad.

150g leek

1 clove of garlic

5g butter

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

100g arborio risotto rice

125ml of white wine (optional – just add 125ml more stock if you don’t have any wine)

200ml of vegetable stock (I just use basic stock cubes)

50g mature cheddar cheese, finely grated (or whatever cheese you fancy, parmesan would likely work)

a few chopped walnuts to garnish

The first thing you must do with leeks is wash them very carefully. This means splitting them lengthwise from a few cm into the white part right through the leafier, green part. Put them, upside down, under cold, running water and gently clean the inner parts of the leaves, making sure there is no dirt or grit remaining. Shake the leeks to get rid of excess water then slice them. I like mine about half to one cm wide and I use the whole leek, white and green.

IMG_9535

Melt the butter in the vegetable oil and gently fry the leeks and garlic with the lid on the pan, lifting it now and again to stir.

When the leeks are softened, add the rice and stir well for a minute or two.

Add the wine and cook everything gently, stirring regularly so that the rice doesn’t stick. As the mixture becomes drier add more hot stock. Keep stirring and adding stock until the rice is cooked. It should be soft but still retain some bite. About the time that you add the last bit of stock, add the grated cheese too. It doesn’t matter if you put it in at the end, it will melt with the heat of the cooked rice.

Taste your risotto and add any salt or pepper you think necessary, or indeed, more cheese.

Serve with a sprinkling of chopped walnuts. Or a great big handful, like I did, if you prefer.IMG_9537

 

 

 

School of Thrift

Blogging is a great way to be more mindful. In the same way that writing a diary makes you reflect on your life, writing a blog gives you a nudge to think just that little bit more about what is important to you and recently, I have been nudged into thinking about the word thrift.

This all started when I noticed that the organisers of the Festival of Thrift in Darlington were looking for bloggers to join their ‘School of Thrift’. I had heard from a friend (thank you Susie Cottonsocks) that last year’s inaugural festival was a fabulous event so I was keen to get involved. But then I wondered about my lifestyle. Could I call myself thrifty? I had to look up a definition of the word to check. This is what my computer’s dictionary had to say on the matter.

Thrift: the quality of using money and other resources carefully and not wastefully.

That seemed reasonable to me. As a family we do try not to waste things. I still wondered if I could qualify as thrifty while owning a new iPhone and a car that is less than two years old. Perhaps it’s because I associate thrift with my Grandparents era of rationing and post-war austerity that I’m finding it hard to unpick exactly what thrift means to me. These days, when we choose to be thrifty, we are perhaps thinking more about separating ourselves from mass-production and our throw-away, disposable culture than our Grandparents, whose thriftiness was an essential skill rather than a lifestyle choice.

My computer also tells me that the opposite of thrift is extravagance and I don’t think that is a word that could be used in connection with my family.  After all, the sofa I am sitting on is over 20 years old and next to it are two chairs that belonged to our grandparents. I have no desire to replace any of them yet because they are good quality and comfortable.  So I think thrift is fairly integral to the way I make my purchases and live my life. Maybe it’s just that thrift is such an everyday occurrence in my household that it doesn’t feel like anything special.

So, this year, I will be contributing to the School of Thrift by adding as many thrifty posts as I can and I will be looking back over my previous posts to flag up any that I think qualify with a ‘thrift’ tag. Look out for recipes, gardening and crafty ideas. There will be lots of other thrifty goings on at the main School of Thrift pages over at Google+ (which is a whole new world for me) so head over there if you want to find out more.

Happy Thrifting!

Cunchy, nutty, oaty, wheat free treats

Lent has never really meant much to me. I’ve never been one for ‘giving up’ but a few years ago I decided to give up wheat. The experience was an interesting one, interesting enough for me to repeat it last year and again this year. Although I can give up bread, biscuits and cake, it’s nice to have a little treat now and again. I have been playing around with this recipe for a while now. The original version is from ‘Yoga Mind and Body’ by the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre who also publish a yoga cookbook. It started life containing wholewheat flour and peanuts but they have gone now. If you are looking for a wheat free, egg free, dairy free recipe these flapjack style  biscuits are perfect.

flapjack mixture

Ingredients

250g oats

100g ground almonds

100g chopped nuts  - any you like, I have used pecan, brazil, hazel in various ratios

100g brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp mixed spice

1 1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

150ml vegetable oil

50ml milk,soya etc is fine if you want dairy free or water is fine.

Method

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C and lightly grease a swiss roll tin. Mix all the dry ingredients well. Add the oil and stir. Add the milk or water a little at a time, checking as you add it to see how well the mixture is sticking. It should be able to hold together reasonably well (see picture above). Press it into the tin, squashing it flat with the back of a spoon. Bake until it is golden brown, probably for 15 to 20 minutes. When the flapjacks come out of the oven they will still be soft. Mark them into appropriately sized pieces with a round bladed knife. Remove from the tin when they have cooled and hardened. Enjoy!

Note

You can play around with the proportions and types of spices that you use. Personally, I like quite a lot of ginger and not too much cinnamon.

flapjack in tin baked flapjack cut flapjack

Granny Square Crochet Cushion Cover: Ta-da

This cushion cover was my New Year project. I needed something to replace the very old and threadbare original cover.

IMG_9053To my surprise, I realised that very few of my previous projects have required joining so I had to think quite carefully about how I was going to do it. I don’t really like sewing crochet together, I think it probably has a greater tendency to work loose and this cushion is going to get some rough treatment from my children. In the end I decided to make four strips of four squares and then join each strip together. I placed the squares right sides together and used a slip stitch through the back loops only to join everything together. Although this creates a slight ridge, it’s barely noticeable once the front and back are joined.

IMG_9128

I felt that it would be a good idea to create an edge to the whole thing so I did a row of treble clusters in the deliciously named ‘pomegranate’ (pink) colour and completed the front with a row of trebles in ‘sherbet’ worked singly.

IMG_9148

Then I had to think about how I was going to make the back. I enjoyed doing the row of single trebles so much that it seemed like a good idea to keep going in the same style. Before long I had decided to work the back in random, stripy rows using the same colours as the front. It also wasn’t long before I realised that I was going to like the back better than the front.

IMG_9256

As much as I don’t like sewing crochet together it was the best option for the edges. I left a tail of yarn at each end of the row and used this to sew the stripy back to the square patterned front. The opening for the cushion pad is about a third of the way down and the flaps are overlapping slightly.

IMG_9261

This picture was taken in artificial light so the colours don’t show up so well but you can see that I was trying to work out how to place my buttons. The final stripy row that I did included some gaps made of chains to use as button holes.

IMG_9271Here is the finished product: the stripy back and the granny square front. Or is that the other way around? A stripy front and a square patterned back.

IMG_9270

So, only another two of these giant covers to create. Maybe I’ll have finished them by next New Year.

Starting to spring

The weather is starting to improve and the days are lengthening. It’s time to get into the garden (or allotment in my case) and do some work. Our allotment really is neglected. It’s a good job it’s on it’s own little plot because if we had neighbours, they’d be complaining. Can you see all the beds, full of weeds and dead plants? The majority of the plot looks like that.

IMG_9308

But now that Babykins is at nursery, my weeks are starting to take on a new shape. I have more time to devote to gardening, something that has been low on my priority list for ooh, about eight years. Although I loved the idea of taking the children to the allotment, the reality of it probably robbed me of a lot of my enthusiasm for gardening. It just wasn’t worth the effort. Not at the preparing and planting stage anyway. They are more distractible when there is a yummy crop to harvest.

Working on our allotment brings me a mixture of feelings. When I arrive, I generally feel dismayed by the amount of work there is to do. I really don’t like looking at the whole plot and thinking about all the tasks that should be done, about how wonderful it could look. There are so many basic things that need sorting out. I am choosing to try and focus on small, achievable targets.

IMG_9161

A couple of weeks ago, on a fabulously sunny, still day, I dug out all the remaining potatoes and cleared the bed that they were in. They are not great potatoes but I’ve been doing my best to be thrifty and use them up, despite the amount of slug damage they’ve got. Babykins actually helped me out on this occasion. He is actually quite happy helping out on our plot. In fact, I should really get him a few new tools, his spade is falling apart. It was such a glorious day that once Babykins was at nursery, I decided to go back for a couple more hours.

IMG_9162The sky really did look like this. Perfect. On days like this, the joy of gardening is easy to find.

IMG_9187I had a clear growing area so I planted a row of broad beans and a row of peas and covered them with horticultural fleece. Who knows if they will grow. The ground is probably too cold and wet and the fleece practically blew away shortly after but it made me feel that I was ahead of the game.

This week, I managed another short spell at my plot. Just an hour in the sunshine with no need for a coat as I dug and weeded. Digging and weeding, satisfying things to do. Tasks that give instant gratification. In a short space of time you can transform a messy looking area into a patch of neat, dark earth.

IMG_9308And no matter how many times I get out my fork and do some digging and weeding, I still enjoy seeing what turns up.

IMG_9306 A parsnip that must have self seeded…

IMG_9300 An extremely bright caterpillar (or grub – I don’t know)…

IMG_9305and earthworms. I never get bored of digging up earthworms, especially the big, fat juicy ones. They should be a reflection of the health of the soil so finding them gives me hope for a good crop later in the year.

There are other things to appreciate on the allotment at the moment.

IMG_9328 Drifts of snowdrops.

IMG_9317A solitary rose.

IMG_9314Rhubarb shooting up, getting bigger by the day.

So although looking at my plot as a whole can make my heart sink, looking at tiny parts of it makes my heart sing. At this time of year, when not much is growing, I can even enjoy the flowering weeds for a short time.

IMG_9321

IMG_9322