Friday, August 26, 2016

A Homespun Year....1 minute projects....Dancing Ribbons...

Here's a quick and easy project for you to make for the 3-8 year old in your life.
All you need is thrifted bangles, or ones rescued from the depths of your own jewellery box, and several spools of brightly coloured double satin craft ribbon.
Cut lengths from your spools of ribbon that are about your arms length.
Tie them to the bangles in contrasting strips.
That's it.
Let your little sweethearts pretend to be Olympic Gymnasts. Fun!
A reminder that Five Star Frou-Frou is now a never ending linkup, with a featured blogger and post each and every time I post!
You can find the linkup here.
Todays feature is my namesake, the 'other' Mimi, who has a fabulous blog on fashion for we 'more lovely for longer' ladies. I love her posts at In My Prime Time and this one on colours for the coming season, is a goodie.
I do love those elegant neutrals at the bottom right hand corner, but confess that the pinks on the top row caught my eye too!
To everyone who has been linking, stay tuned for your features over the next few days!
Love to all!
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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Motherly Advice....A few of my favourite things....

I must still be a kid at heart.
The Winter colds and chills, and evil wind here, have got the better of me and I'm feeling less than chipper. You know the one. Sandpaper throat, scratchy eyes, heavy eyelids and the need to alternately snuggle under covers, and lay cool cloths on ones forehead for relief. Gotta love Winter in the Tropics. We sunlovers are never really ready for it!
Funny thing though, when I'm under the weather, I'm stupidly comforted by my trinkets and treasures, much as I was soothed by a cherished doll and a blanket as a child. Perhaps it's about caring for ourselves when we're not feeling the best. What do you think?
I wear my Three Graces cameo, seen above, with my comfiest woollies and a pair of pearl earrings, and curl up with a French Earl Grey tea and a book that allows me to nod off easily.

My daughter brings me my vintage hand mirror and matching clothes brush, so that I do not have to move for tending to dry lips, nor to whisk toast crumbs from my lap. She's so sweet and thoughtful.

When I do have to venture outdoors, as I will very shortly for the after school pickup, my vintage Aurora Borealis brooch, as big as the palm of my hand, will prevent my warm scarf from being whipped from my neck in the wind.

And the simple fact that these delightful oversized Chrysanthemums, are the exact hue of my iPod on my desk, makes me smile. Silly, I know.
What are your favourite things? How do you cheer yourself when the sniffles strike?
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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Insourcing #33....Eating well and healthfully on a budget....

I've heard it said often that it's hard to eat healthily on a budget. One is forced to purchase less expensive cuts of meat, and make lesser protein choices, to meet the constraints of the portion of family income allocated to groceries. This can be even more difficult when food allergies are involved.
Well, first off, let me say that we eat gluten free in our household. We don't have any other restrictions however, so this post is not for families who are dealing with multiple allergies or dietary restrictions.
We do however, loosely follow the menu plans of a well known weight loss guru here in Australia, primarily because we find the menu choices are well suited to our preferences. The plan focuses on quality protein, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and very little in the way of convenience foods and sugary treats. We love it, but for a family, it can be a pricier way to eat.
Over a period of time though, we've found ways to slash our food budget even when following this plan, and incorporate some of our previously 'less healthy' choices, seriously modified, so that they too, can be included.
An interesting point for the budget conscious, is that we've found that often, weight for weight, it is actually less expensive to buy fresh, than tinned or pre-packaged foods, that we'd always considered 'healthy'. That was a revelation.
For example, let's take spicy salami like Chorizo, sliced deli meats like Pepperoni, and mince based meals like rissoles, burgers and sausages.
These are all considered inexpensive family foods as you either need little of them to make a meal, as in Pepperoni on a pizza, putting a patty in a bun for a burger, or tossing Chorizo through a salad or pasta dish. The fact that they're high in fat and salt, is what makes them so tasty, but these factors mean they're also not that good for you. Weight for weight, they are also not always that budget friendly if you do the maths. In terms of filling hungry tummies, protein wins hands down too.
I make my own sausage/spicy meat patties, seen here below, and served on a slice of gluten free bread that's been lightly sprayed with olive oil, pan fried, and settled on a leafy salad, they're as good as any fatty, over salted, unhealthy salami. I hasten to add, that this is not genuine home made salami, which is a far more complex item to replicate. This is simply little rounds of well spiced and seasoned meat, that are a very acceptable replacement when salami is called for.  Here's the recipe, Nanna style, in four sentences....
Home made Spicy Sausage (Salami replacement)
Combine leanest beef or turkey mince, with 1/2 teaspoon each Smoky Paprika, dried garlic granules, dried onion flakes, dried Thyme, dried red chilli, a pinch of Cayenne Pepper, and a pinch of salt. Add a generous grind of black pepper. Place the seasoned mince between two sheets of Baking Paper, and roll very thinly with a rolling pin. Dip a round scone (biscuit for my U.S. friends) cutter in flour and removing the top sheet of baking paper first, cut the mince into little rounds. Re-roll the leftover mince as you go, or simply flatten with clean hands, and keep cutting.
This yields an astounding number of these little thin patties (at least as many as you'd slice from a knob of salami or chorizo), and they can be frozen between the sheets of baking paper, then tipped into a ziplock bag for easy storage once frozen. To use, you simply remove them from the freezer, and pan fry them from frozen, as you would Chorizo, salami or any other deli meat. They are less expensive, infinitely healthier, and moist, flavoursome and succulent over a salad, topping pasta, between slices of bread, or atop a salad as seen below. They're also excellent served as Burger chain style cheeseburgers on a small bun with pickle and tomato relish. Scrumptious!
A healthier choice and a further great budget saving on deli meats, can also be made with my poached chicken or Annabels meatloaves.

Whole flat field mushrooms, oven roasted, are a great vegan or vegetarian option for the same type of meal, and again, a meal like this one, served at a café` (where you've had to wait up to 45 minutes for your food) would relieve you of at least $12-$16 of your hard earned cash. All well and good if you have it, but if not...well....
I allow 8 field mushrooms per serve for this one, as they shrink with roasting. We love this for Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner, and it always leaves the crowds begging for more. Here's that recipe...
Roasted Field Mushrooms with Herby Ciabatta and vegetables
Make a marinade of olive oil, juice and zest of one lemon, one small red chilli deseeded and sliced finely, a pinch of Sumac (a citrusy Middle Eastern Spice), salt and pepper. Marinate the whole field mushrooms for up to 30 minutes, while your oven preheats to 175C fan forced. Roast the marinated mushrooms on a lined tray for 20-30 minutes, then serve atop a salad of rocket (arugula) and tomato wedges. Spray a slice of Ciabatta or other bread lightly with olive oil and pan fry, pressing flat with a spatula to brown well, and serve with the mushrooms, topping with home marinated feta cubes.

Protein is protein, provided you replace a lean protein with a similar one. So when our diet gurus menu plan called for lamb fillets and there were none to be found, they were replaced with easily sourced (and significantly less expensive weight for weight) Pork leg steaks. Similarly, when the menu plan called for Wraps, and we know from long hard experience that the gluten free Wraps are....well....a word that rhymes with Wrap...we replaced that carb with a small quantity of one that is more palatable. Therefore, lamb and salad wraps with minted yoghurt, becomes pork steak and pasta salad with a sprinkling of fresh Parmesan.
Pork, Pasta and Parmesan Salad
For each three persons, allow two lean pork steaks, pan frying these for 6 minutes on one side, 2 on the other, then setting aside to rest for a couple of minutes while you assemble the rest of the salad. Cook pasta spirals (just a small handful per person) to al dente`, and cut up two lettuce leaves and 10 cherry tomatoes per person, slicing the cooked pork into thin slivers while you're at it.  Toss well with fresh parsley and sliced shallots, adding the Parmesan as a garnish. Serve with a fresh lemon wedge on the side. Lip smackin' good, I tell you. 

We eat (and the diet guru recommends) a lot of chicken breast. Fortunately we love chicken breast so this is not a hardship in any way, but finding new and inventive ways to serve it can be challenging. When the guru called for chicken baked in tinned tomatoes and Mozzarella, and we had no tinned tomatoes or Mozzarella, I knew I could do better.
Italian Chicken with Vegetable Medley and Cherry Bocconcini
Cut one chicken breast in half lengthwise to yield two thinner fillets, and allow one fillet per person. Line a baking dish or pie dish with diced vegetables (I used celery, capsicum, and onion), and top with the chicken fillets. Embellish with more capsicum and cherry bocconcini, and dust with Oregano, Thyme and Basil. Bake in a preheated 175C oven for 25 minutes.

Watch out...shot coming up of one kitchen bench that has NOT been carefully've been warned....

I top this one with my Roasted Field Mushrooms too. You can never have too many yummy oven roasted mushrooms, I say!

Often a high protein snack is called for, and tinned tuna and tinned or smoked salmon, seem to be a repeating theme for breakfasts, lunches and snacks. Rather than buying the tiny single serve tins of tuna and salmon, you may find as I have, that buying salmon fillets and pan frying them, again weight for weight, is a good option. I regularly snap up fresh salmon when it's marked down, or on special, pan fry it immediately upon getting home, and store it in sealed containers in the fridge, for a ready addition to scrambled eggs, to have on toast or as a snack salad as seen below, where I've combined just one third of a freshly pan fried Salmon filet, with rocket and avocado for a delicious mid afternoon snack that leaves a Tim Tam and a coffee for dead. Well for me, at least.
You might be surprised to know that my two fresh salmon fillets, snapped up at Aldi yesterday for $6.50  for a 500gm tray, work out to be far less expensive than those tiny tins of salmon at $2 for 125gms. Weight for weight, that's $1.62 for 125gms fresh salmon, as opposed to $2-$3 for the tinned. An eye opener, right? And before you get all squeamish about buying marked down salmon (or anything for that matter), what do you think happened? Do you really think that one minute it was 'fresh' and the next minute it was 'off'? Please. These things are dictated by the 'use by' or 'best by' date. To be on the safe side though, it's always good policy to cook or freeze them immediately upon getting them home. Common sense, friends. Common sense.

And of course, when we've been sooooo good all week, and eaten healthfully, exercised and generally behaved ourselves, if we're going to have a treat, it's gonna be a good one. Like my home made berry jam and home made clotted cream, on a piece of gluten free toast. Yum. Lavish and mouthwatering and infinitely better than any bought treat. Sorry. It's the truth.
Now all of this looks like an expensive option, doesn't it? It might surprise you to know that my budget, for all meals and snacks is $65 per person, per week. So if it's my husband and I and our daughter is away (as she is for a week soon), I'll spend around $130. If she's home it's closer to $180. But remember, that's ALL meals and snacks and treats. It's a healthy diet, serving restaurant quality meals (or at least up market café` quality) meals, filled with good quality protein and lashings of fresh fruit and vegetables, AND it keeps us trim (well, trim-er than we've been in the past!), and energetic, rather than slow and sluggish. It's worth spending that smidgen more just for that alone.
This week, I can say that if we'd eaten out for each of the meals I've served, as we would perhaps on an overseas holiday, we'd have been looking at a bare minimum of $135 per day for the three of us, or $945 for the week. And that's a very conservative estimate. When we've been overseas, we've had days where we'd spend twice that depending upon where we were.
If we'd eaten similarly but used convenience foods and processed meats, I'd have spent around $45 per day for the three of us, or $315 for the week, and again, that's a very conservative figure.
By eating at home, replacing one good protein for another, but doing so with an eye to the budget, and as always, preparing as much as possible myself, as well as replacing out of season fresh produce with ones in season, I've spent just $178. No it's not a rock bottom figure, but it's pretty darned good.
That's a saving on an 'eating out' budget of $767, and a saving on a 'convenience food' menu of similar quality, of $137.
It just goes to show what a difference choosing wisely can make to the budget and your health. Certainly comparing a quantity of tinned or processed food, with a similar quantity of a like-for-like fresh food, can be a real eye opener in itself!
Be creative and see what healthier options you can come up with for your family menu and budget. You might surprise yourself!
Just a reminder that Five Star Frou-Frou is now a never ending linkup, with a featured blogger each and every time I post.
Todays featured blogger is Nicki over at Sweet Parrish Place. Nicki is a talented DIY-er and in the spirit of making do and making things your own, I thought it appropriate to feature her fabulous Pallet Bar....
Do pop over and visit Nicki. Her blog is full of clever ideas! Thanks Nicki!
Love Ya,
Mimi xxx

Monday, August 1, 2016

A Homespun Year...Old fashioned Smocking for Beginners...

Back in January, when I declared 2016 to be my Homespun Year at A Tray of Bliss, I asked you to imagine what new skills you could adopt that could generate gifts, or even a part time income, and perhaps save money too. Lets face it. The learning of some new skills requires huge investments of money up front, so I was determined that you and I not to fall into that trap. I urged you to contemplate being in January 2017, and being able to look back upon the previous year with satisfaction and pride, at having stretched yourself and your skills to embrace something new and exciting.
So. How are you going with that? I hope you've truly found some fresh and absorbing skills, and accomplished a few wonderful and treasured projects!
Can I share my progress?
To date, there have been a few new skills tried, and a few new recipes and ideas aired, and strangely, many of these were somewhat unplanned, and sort of found me, rather than me searching for them!
I've made Cumquat Marmalade, Wool Wash, Dreamcatchers, Crepe Paper Roses, Lace Rosettes, Satin and Georgette Rosettes, Shortcrust Pastry Roses, a Frozen themed birthday cake, a Rainbow batter birthday cake, and Petit Fours. I've had enormous fun with Fibre Collage for costumes, made Elvish Tiaras, embellished pillow cases, made rice filled Book Weights, hand coloured my own Sugar Glitter, and made Scented Candles in vintage sugar bowls. There have been a few other little projects that weren't the successes I'd hoped for, but overall, I think that's good progress!

The newest skill I'd like to share with you, is Smocking, and I hope you'll become as addicted to this beautiful Heirloom skill as I'm going to be!

Those of us of a 'certain vintage' may recall having nightgowns with smocking on them, and certainly even now, smocking adorns upmarket baby and childrens wear of the kind favoured by celebrities and Royals. Even young Prince George has worn smocked outfits.

Smocking is a method of pleating and embellishing that has adorned clothing since the Middle Ages and it remains highly sought after, and increasingly, very expensive, for the simple reason that it's time consuming. Yet another Heirloom skill, that we too can master, and share proudly with our friends and loved ones!

I'd always shied away from it as it seemed so complicated, but finally, with some gingham in hand from my fabric stash, I gave it a try, and I'm thrilled with the results.

This method is called Honeycomb smocking, due to it's resemblance to honeycomb in a bees hive. It's less complex than the methods that require tiny pleats and lavish embellishment, like young Prince Georges, but no less pretty for it.

The gingham checks make a neat and easy guide for your smocking, and whilst my checks are smallish, you can use a large check, or any other fabric that has a grid pattern that is repeating. In traditional smocking, a series of dot points is transferred to your fabric either by hand, or more recently, by using transfer paper with pre-marked dot grids on them. Your dots are used as markers for your stitching, thus ensuring a straight and even smocked effect. If your dots are crooked, so too, will your smocking be out of alignment.

This is where the gingham does all the hard work for you as you already have a neat little grid with which to work.

My project is relatively small, and I recommend that you start small too, if only to get the hang of things before embarking on a more ambitious project. I decided that my first smocking project would be a pocket for an apron for my granddaughter.

I cut a generous length from my gingham, multiplying the desired finished width of my pocket by 2.5, to get my width of fabric with which to work. The smocking gathers the fabric as you go, so you need a generous amount to start with. Mine was going to be a large-ish pocket to be placed in the middle of the apron. I multiplied the desired finished width of 18cms (7 inches) by 2.5, to arrive at a width of fabric to be cut, of 45cms (17.5 inches). I allowed a depth of 40cms (16 inches) to give me a bit of length to play with in case I made a boo-boo! Make sure you use the selvedge edge (the finished side edge of the fabric that doesn't fray) as your width, and the guide for your stitching, or your finished smocking will be out of shape. If you don't know what I mean, pull on your fabric vertically, horizontally and diagonally, as if to stretch it. One way will have a little more give than the other. The selvedge edge has less 'give' and will be more stable for your smocking. For a clearer explanation of 'weft and warp' and 'selvedge', see here.

I looked at many tutorials before I found one that made sense to me here. Even then, I had to actually start stitching before some of the instructions were clear.

So, here's my interpretation.

If you are right handed, start at the right hand side of your fabric. If you are left handed, start at the left. Many tutorials mentioned this and I think it's because it's easier to see where you're going, than it is to be looking at where you've! When you get started, you'll see what I mean.

Now I decided to work with the darkest square on my gingham as my reference point. I also chose to work from top right hand point of that square, to the top right hand point of the next dark square along. Remember, I'm right handed, so I'm working from right to left, not left to right as you would with handwriting. You need to choose a point and remain consistent with that throughout, to ensure your smocking is nice and straight and even.

Many tutorials said to use embroidery floss, but as I had some sewing thread in a deeper teal colour that I thought would be a nice accent on the aqua blue check, I used that, doubled so I had two strands to work with. You can use contrasting colours too of course, which gives an entirely different effect.

So remembering that all we are really doing is creating a series of offset pleats, you start at a point near the top right hand corner of your fabric, and in the top right hand corner of the colour of square you're using as your guide. Knot the end of your thread, and bring the needle from back to front at that corner of the square, and make a tiny backstitch to secure the thread. Remember if you're left handed, you're starting at the left, and using the left hand corners of the squares as your guide.

Here you can see that I'm stitching together the top right hand corner of one dark square, to the top right hand corner of the next. These two lines of stitching, are actually one row of smocking, and you'll see how in a minute.
You can see the joined squares more clearly here below...

First of all, you bring your needle from back to front on the top right hand corner of the square at which you want to start your smocking. Make a little backstitch to secure it.
With your needle brought from back to front, you now take up a tiny, incremental piece of your square (maybe a third of that square), and take your needle across to the top right hand corner of the next corresponding dark square, and do the same, seen here below.

You've now formed two tiny little pleats.
Gently pull your thread to make the two little pleats come together to form your smocked stitch...

...then secure it with a second backstitch as seen below..

Drop down to the top right hand corner of the next dark square, immediately beneath the second square you've just connected with your pleat and stitch.

You've just created the first two stitches of your row of smocking. You'll continue to do this, offsetting each upper and lower stitch, forming the diamond (honeycomb pattern) of your smocking.  Note that I had already finished my first row of smocking before I took these photos, so I'm actually working my second row of smocking here. I apologise if that's confusing.

Time to create your next two stitches, and begin forming that honeycomb look. Put your needle as close to but not actually in, the hole from where it's currently exiting, so that the needle is now at the back of your work. Take the needle back up to the top right hand corner of the darkest square above the square you've just pleated, and bring the needle back to the front at that corner. Again, this will be clearer when you actually have the work in front of you. See, like this, here below...

Pull the thread through gently, but do not tighten it. That will form a gather where one is not needed. Let the thread lay flat on the back of your work like a large tacking stitch. If you look closely at the photograph below, you'll see my 'tacking stitch', two rows of checks above my thumb at the bottom of the photo....nice and flat and not drawn tight.

Back to where we were, and you're bringing your needle back to the front of your work, in the top right hand corner of the darkest square, immediately above the left hand square you've just worked on....see here below...

This means your work will now be offset, or diagonally opposed to your previous stitch. Again, this makes more sense when you're actually stitching.
Make another pair of tiny pleats. Take up a third of your square with the needle, and...

...take your needle across to the next top right hand corner of the darkest square, and do the same, as you did when forming your first pair of pleats..

...gently pull the pleats together firmly, and secure with another backstitch.

Take your needle to the back of the work near the hole you've just exited, and take it down to the corresponding top right hand corner of the darkest square immediately below the one you've just been working on. This should be one dark square over from your previous bottom stitch. You can already see that you're forming your diamond, or honeycomb pattern as you can see here below, where I had completed a few more stitches, going up and down, with my squares as the guide...

...make another pleat, secure, then return the needle to the back of your work, and go up to the square above, and so on....

Keep going till you reach the opposite side of your piece of fabric, ensuring you leave a bit for seam allowance. If you would like another row of smocking (remembering that each pair of diagonally opposed rows of stitching and pleating, forms one row of smocking), you must return to the right hand side of your work (or left for left-handed people), and start over. You cannot work back and forth as the smocking will twist, or so I've! That makes sense though, as smocking existed to allow a bit of 'give' before elastic was invented!

Isn't it pretty?

Honestly, I found it quite difficult to understand the instructions in the link I provided, and that one was the clearest. And I don't pretend mine are any clearer, as I am a novice. But sometimes things written by a novice, make more sense to another novice. As mentioned, I actually found that once I had the fabric and the needle and thread in front of me, and I was sewing, I got the hang of it pretty quickly. I hope you find that's the case too. Between my hokey instructions, and the ones in the link that talks about dots, you'll find that it's not that hard at all.

I'm now embroidering below this to complete my pocket for my Granddaughters apron. I'll share that when it's done.

What do you think? Will you try your hand at smocking?
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