merry-making: day five

This year Reu helped me make Christmas cards and wrapping paper with these "sponge stamps". They are very simple to make, fun for the little ones to play with and are easily cleaned (so can be re-used many times). I used small offcuts of timber, a packet of new kitchen sponges and a hot-melt glue gun. Cut out desired shapes in the sponge and glue to the wood. Let dry. Mix up some washable, kid-friendly paint or inking pads and print away on sheets of craft paper or plain brown wrapping paper, cardboard, whatever else you like... wonderfully messy merry making!

merry-making: day four

... make a merry door wreath from cotton yo-yos...

1. Gather your materials: a little vine wreath (I found mine for 50cents at the thrift store), red white and creamy printed cotton scraps, red cotton bias tape or ribbon, scissors, needle and thread.

2. Cut out circles in fabric by tracing first around the rim of a drinking glass or mug.

3. Make yoyos (suffolk puffs) by folding 1/4" hem on the wrong side of the fabric and using your needle and thread make even, loose stitches around. Pull your staring thread and end together so that the circle bunches up into a little rosette shape and tie them together tightly twice. Trim. Repeat until you have enough yoyos to fill the wreath.

4. Wrap bias tape tightly around wreath and secure with a few stitches in needle and thread.

5. Sew yoyos in alternating colours to wreath - using the bias tape as a anchor for your thread.

6. Stitch or glue a small piece of ribbon for the top of the wreath for easy hanging.

7. Hang wreath on a door in need of merriment 

merry-making: day three

A French edition to your Christmas feasting... that utterly lovely butter-rich chicken liver spread: paté.

This one is not too overpowering and just the right hint of herbs, port and onion. Don't be alarmed at the amount of butter needed - it's the way of the French to be liberal with it, and again I remind you gently, butter is good for you. It is fat your body both likes and needs. It is also Christmastime. My twenty-two month old babe eats this on toast that's how moorish it is. I know organ meats aren't to everyone's liking, but I implore any meat-eater to try again. They are  mostly overlooked, nutrient rich sources of protein. This is an especially gentle way to eat liver that even my toddler finds delicious. As a person who does enjoy eating and preparing meat I feel I must be respectful in sourcing and raising animals as much as in minimising wastage of what is harvested. I have much to learn from the French on this matter. And in a strange way, this paté is special to me because the chicken livers I used were a result of what Alex obtained during last week's slaughter of around fifty of the farm's broiler chickens. They humanely killed, drained, gutted and butchered them so that we can have chicken aplenty through the summer months. I count myself blessed to have witnessed some of this process if only just to understand more readily how food comes from pasture into my kitchen.

~ Chicken Liver Paté ~

2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 small brown onions, chopped

2/3 cup fresh sage, chopped roughly
8 bay leaves

600g fresh, trimmed, free-range chicken livers

1/2 cup tawny port
300g good quality butter, chilled, cubed
**extra clarified butter + fresh thyme for optional topping**

In a large cast-iron or heavy-based fry pan gently sauté onions with butter. A few minutes later add garlic, bay leaves and sage. Next toss in trimmed livers and cook for around 40 seconds. Pour over port and cook for a further minute. Take off heat to cool. Transfer liver mixture into a food processor or bowl (with hand-blender) and blend to a paste, slowly adding into cubes of cold butter until you have combined them thoroughly.  Salt and pepper to taste. Strain through a fine mesh sieve with a wooden spoon to help you along. Divide paté into mason jars (for gifts) or glass/ceramic dishes and set in the fridge until serving. 

Optional - top with clarified butter and sprigs of thyme. To make clarified butter gently heat a quantity of butter until it separates. Carefully pour out the top layer of clear-golden liquid and discard the milky bottom. Place a few sprigs of thyme on top of the paté and cover with clarified butter. Set in fridge. 

This can be stored in the fridge for up to a week (or two weeks with an airtight lid). Enjoy with slices of pear, pickled cucumbers, fresh bread or crackers.

merry-making: day two

Last year I shared a recipe for the traditional swiss christmas cookie with dark chocolate and cloves "brunsli bale" which are similar to these beautiful star-shaped "zimtsternes". Both are gluten-free with a deliciously chewy ground-nut base. These are especially lovely with the addition of citrus zest and juice and ground cinnamon. Delicate, fragrant and spicy. They are often covered with white royal icing or meringue but I prefer them adorned simply with a thin brushing of egg white and a sprinkle of raw sugar.

 ~"Zimtsterns" cinnamon stars ~

250 grams or 2 cups ground almond meal
1 pinch sea salt
2 tablespoons rice flour 
1 cup crystallised or raw sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons lemon or orange zest
2 tablespoons lemon or orange juice
2 fresh egg whites, beaten until frothy
1 egg white, beaten and frothy, for brushing on top

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. In a separate bowl beat egg whites until frothy but not stiff. Add egg whites to dry ingredients and mix. Next stir in citrus zest and juice. Using clean hands knead dough into a ball. On a lightly floured surface (lightly sprinkled with crystallised sugar too) roll out dough to 1cm thickness and cut into desired shapes. Arrange cookies on trays lined with baking paper and air dry for 2-4 hours or overnight if possible. Preheat oven to 180'c, brush cookies with egg white and bake cookies for 10 - 15 minutes, careful not to brown them - they will harden as they cool. Store in an airtight container for up to a month. 

merry-making: day one

Try making one of these sweet vertical garlands with ribbon, beads and paper cranes. Simple and lovely. A great activity for older kids who like to craft with paper and are comfortable threading onto a needle too.

You will need:

-thin-to-medium weight paper such a printed wrapping paper cut into 4 or 5 10cm squares
-thin ribbon or thick yarn
-a large-eyed needle
-wooden beads/bells/buttons depending on your taste in colours and size etc.. 

Fold your paper squares into flapping origami cranes. Follow these instructions if you don't know how. Cut a metre of ribbon. Next thread ribbon onto the needle, tie a knot in the end then begin the pattern of small bead / knot / large bead / knot / small bead / knot / crane / knot /** repeat until you have used up all your cranes. Make a loop knot at the top for easy hanging and trim off any excess ribbon. Pin against a door frame, wardrobe or loosely arrange on a Christmas tree... 

a merry week ahead

Today we light the third candle of advent, symbolising the joy we have in Him. A deep resounding place of comfort, not because our lives are perfect or full of materials or that the world is peaceful - but because we have a gift of grace; to be known utterly, and loved entirely. 

Tomorrow I am beginning a week-long blog series on merry-making (as I did last year) - projects to gift, savour, smell, see and use... because there really is something so very soothing and mediative about making from hand things that speak of the sweet celebration of the season.

We give not because we have to, no not just because we are expected to, but because we love to bring joy too.

If you feel like joining in by sharing your festive makings please leave a comment with a link to your blog.

birthday makings

I think I first came across the idea of handmade birthday crowns via Soulemama some time ago - and decided to make one for Reuben as a birthday tradition for as many years as he's willing to put it on! I didn't follow a pattern, just drew and cut a crown shape in three layers; cotton for front and lining and felt for a bit of structural reinforcement in the middle.  I went with nani iro's lovely spotty jersey cotton for the outside and an old grey and white pinstripe cotton for lining - because greeny grey hues look so good with little one's grey eyes and copper hair!  For embellishments I attached bias tape around the bottom with extra length on either side for a tie, different green buttons to the four points and embroidered a simple "R" on the front - I kept it fairly simple because the nani fabric is already busy - and also because I'd like to embroider a different little motif on the crown each year... He seemed fairly nonplussed about wearing it - and it was a wee bit too big - though terribly sweet all the same 

The second thing I made for Reu's birthday - and his main present from us - is a soft busy book which we call a "bits and bobs" book because, well, it is full of different bits and bobs! Again, I improvised without a pattern so it is quite "rustic" so to speak! I am very happy with how its turned out though... the brightness of the felt on every page, the different scraps of printed cotton (including two little playful girls from family pyjamas more than 20 years old) and a myriad of interesting textures and actives like squishy tools filled with plastic bags, bells on an elastic cord, zip, felt shapes to match with embroidered outlines, a pocket from Alex's cowboy shirt, and the top of a pair of Reu's overalls that no longer fit! It was a very enjoyable gift to dream up and thread together... but by far the best part is seeing Reu's curious face as he thumbs over the pages and pulls and tugs at different bits!

merry-making: day one

Today's merry making project was the baking of three french (and swiss) inspired Christmas cookies - brunsli de bale, coeur au chocolat blanc et noir and sable aux noix. The first recipe is from a dear friend and the second two I adapted from a french magazine I picked up recently called "la pâtisserie de Noël de grand-mére"- grandma's christmas baking or granny's baked goods. One day this week Reu and I will go round to our neighbours, and later in the week at church - and deliver bundles of these cookies. Maybe its the old french granny in me, but I really do think there is something so lovely about giving home-baked gifts this time of year...
Brunsli de Bale 
This swiss-french cookie recipe is from my dear friend Anne-Claire. She made these for the Christmas markets I organised a few years back at Newtown Mission. These are so good - and possibly my second favourite cookie (after gingerbread) - these are a wonderful blend of real dark chocolate, chewy nuttiness and fragrance of ground cloves. Also with the addition of frothy egg whites and only two tablespoons of flour (which I am certain you could substitute with rice flour for a gluten-free option) they taste very light.

3/4 cups white crystallised sugar
1 pinch of salt
250g ground almonds or hazelnuts
1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoons of ground cloves
2 tablespoons flour
2 fresh egg whites (70g), lightly beaten until frothy
100g dark chocolate (70%)
**optional - 2 teaspoons kirsch**

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. In a separate bowl beat egg whites until frothy but not stiff. Add egg whites to dry ingredients and mix. Next melt dark chocolate and stir in kirsch if you using it. Add chocolate to other ingredients and mix well. Using clean hands knead dough into a ball. On a lightly floured surface roll out dough to 1cm thickness and cut into desired shapes. Arrange cookies on trays lined with baking paper and air dry for 5-6 hours or overnight if possible. Preheat oven to 220-250'c and bake cookies for 4 - 6 minutes (they will hardern as they cool down).

Coeur au chocolat blanc et noir 
A simple French shortbread that is sure to please chocolate loving friends and relatives - with both flecks of chocolate throughout the cookie and one side dipped in rich, dark chocolate.

2 cups plain flour
1 egg
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup chocolate sprinkles
180g butter
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
pinch of salt
70g dark chocolate (70%) for melting

In a large bowl combine the above ingredients (except dark chocolate for melting) and shape with your hands into a ball. Knead smooth on a lightly floured surface. Wrap dough in foil or plastic-wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Meanwhile preheat oven to 180'c. Roll dough out to 1/2 cm thickness and cut into hearts - arrange on baking-paper lined trays bake until golden for 10-15 minutes. Cool. Melt dark chocolate and taking each heart dip one side into the chocolate, letting any excess chocolate drip off - before placing back onto the baking-paper lined tray to dry. It should take about 1 hour or two for the chocolate to set.

Sables aux noix 
Another simple shortbread but this time using walnuts - which are simply called "noix" (nut) in French because well they (at least here in France) are the quintessential nut. I think these are especially delicious.

2 cups plain flour
1 egg
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup ground almonds or walnuts
180g butter
pinch of salt
100g approximately of walnut halves for topping

In a large bowl combine the above ingredients (except walnut halves) and shape with your hands into a ball. Knead smooth on a lightly floured surface. Wrap dough in foil or plastic-wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Meanwhile preheat oven to 180'c. Roll dough out to 1/2 cm thickness and cut into desired shapes - arrange shapes on baking-paper lined trays and press one walnut-half into each cookie. Bake until golden for 10-15 minutes. Cool and sprinkle with icing sugar.

For the love of the bunt

It is no great secret that I am girl who loves garlands and fabric and when the two meet I am in a perfectly happy place.

I have been busy making buntings for the wedding reception. Both Alex and I loved the idea of hosting our celebratory gathering outdoors and found delightful church grounds to have a picnic. We're really hoping the weather will be fine but there's no knowing what will happen! Still the decorations will be random and whimsical; a variety of paper and fabric decorations, and fairy lights hanging between trees and the marquee. These buntings are really very easy to make and you can whip them up in one sitting:

Step 1 - Starting out -
Choose an array of fabrics (I've used all printed cotton) and make a triangle template out of some cardboard. You can make the triangle as big or as little as you like just keep in mind what will disappear in seams. Cut out plenty of triangles in pairs. Use ribbon or bias tape for the top, you can also make your own bias, but the premade stuff is wonderful.
Step 2 - Make the flags -
Sew up and down the paired triangles (right side of fabric facing each other) with about a 1/4 inch seam, keeping the tops open. Turn flags inside out; I found a paintbrush particularly helpful.
Step 3 - Press and Cut -
Give flags a good pressing and cut away any uneven/shabby looking tops.
Step 4 - Construction -
Choose how far apart you want the flags to hang. I've gone for a 1/2 inch gap. Arrange the flags out over the open bias and carefully pressing as you go pin the flags safe inside the bias. When all flags are pinned sew through bias about a 1/4inch in from the bottom.

And there you have it; easy peasy fabric buntings...

For the wedding I've made two large buntings for outside and one little one to edge the cake table. I love that they use so many beloved fabrics, that they can be easily washed and stored, and will be used again and again in the coming year's markets!