Thursday, 31 December 2009

A proper homemade Christmas!

I was given this gift for Christmas by my brother-in-law and I think it's the nicest present I received. He made it himself from an old fallen willow tree in their garden.

He commutes to London everyday - a 3 hour round trip on the train with a car trip to the station and a long walk or tube hop at the other end. He also has a pretty pressured job. The fact that he took the trouble to hole up in his shed with his tools and varnish to make this for me makes it a very special present indeed.

I asked on our facebook page who had been given handmade gifts and there was quite a response - although it seems more people made them than received them. Those who were lucky enough to be recipients of some homemade largesse certainly seemed to appreciate it. Here are some of the ideas:

  • A little Christmas bag with sweets and a tiny bottle of wine and home made mince pies. Brilliant!
  • Home made mince pies, gingerbread men and bath stuff. Lovely!
  • Vodka infused with Indian spices & bottled beautifully.
  • 2 jars of chutney...well done sis!
  • My stepdaughter bought a plain T-shirt for me and hand painted a beautiful kingfisher on it! Lovely.
  • My teenage son and daughter made myself and their dad promise books. One promise a month e.g our son promised that he would help his dad on the allotment in june and our daughter promised to cook all the meals for us (each weekend) through feb. So I'm a very lucky mum as I now have 24 different promises from my kids.
  • My friend Fiona knits ipod covers and I received one in a lovely mixed blue cotton.
  • My sister knitted me a lovely necklace, I crocheted her a scarf.
  • I got THE NEATEST pillow and stitch markers from friends.
  • Received fab earrings and made bath bombs, sachets and lavender pillows.
I used to be a bit embarassed about giving homemade gifts - would people think me a cheapskate? Being on the receiving end made me look at it very differently.

Why Kirstie missed the point with her Homemade Christmas

Some insights into the psychology of gift giving

Clare Flynn

Thursday, 17 December 2009

A first crack at making salt dough decorations

Until this year I hadn't even heard of salt dough decorations  but, inspired by my Make it and Mend it colleague Hilary, I decided to have a try at making some. What a satisfying way to spend a morning it was too - and it got me right into the Christmas spirit.

Hilary's step by step instructions are on our website here

My efforts were not as finessed as Hilary's but I am quite proud of them. I decided to stick with 2 basic colours - a deep rose and a cobalt blue - as I have lights on my tree in those colours - and it made a change from my usual shop-bought uniform gold decorations. I've kept some of these on the tree but the new salt dough ones now stand out, looking vibrant and more energetic.

As I didn't have any cookie cutters to hand, I used a glass jar to make circles and the base of a plastic lemon squeezer to make a star indentation, then did the rest free-style, deciding to abandon any attempts at perfect literal shapes. I used acrylic paint and added some bits of mirror glass and some coloured glass beads. I made some small indentations - sometimes in a heart shape, sometimes random and filled these in with gold paint.

Hilary warned in her article about making the hole for the ribbon big enough. I used a metal skewer and wiggled it about a bit to make the hole larger but I had to use a sewing needle to feed the thread through a couple of them as the holes were too small after baking - there's no give in them at all once they are baked hard.

I finished off my decorations with some lacquer spray and a light sprinkling of glitter. I think they look fabulous - and the best thing is that every one is different. Definitely worth having a go. Stick the radio on and get stuck in - there's still plenty of time!

Kirstie's not very Homemade Christmas

I have to admit to being fascinated by Kirstie Allsopp’s latest TV offering. I found myself multitasking: watching with awe at the amount of money she spends, Twittering about how much money she spends and all whilst knitting a hat with horns…(don’t ask).

I love the way the programme, "Kirstie's Homemade Christmas" was shot, the locations and all the inspiration for homemade gifts, decorations,wrapping etc, but I get deeply frustrated by the amount of money she spends and the fact that she always gets the professionals in to do it for her.   As one person on Twitter put it, ‘Kirsty’s Homemade Christmas is for non-crafters’.  Which is a shame because experienced crafters know how to adapt the ideas and make them within a realistic budget, but inexperienced crafters may think they have to spend extortionate amounts of money (£75 a metre for one piece of fabric!) and that they have to have a professional to teach them how to make something. This is simply not the case! Kirstie could put people off having a go for themselves because they think it's out of range of their finances and skills.

As the shows progressed, there were times I thought I was watching “Let’s go Christmas shopping with Kirstie” rather than a Homemade Christmas. Especially when she went to a market – not her local market, but Covent Garden, just to buy mince pies.

That said, I think it was better than her first series (Kirstie's Homemade Home), but how about a programme that uses recycled and upcycled materials and keeps within a realistic price range?

I understand it's meant to be a inspirational Christmas, but in truth it's more of an aspirational Christmas. Many people are struggling this year and can’t afford such luxuries – so come on Channel 4, how about making it more accessible to us mere mortals. Showing us aspirational is fine, but showing us how to do it within a normal budget is better. £30 a meter to guild a pear is not within most people’s budgets…getting top professionals to teach you the techniques and provide you with freebies is definitely not within my budget. (And the last time I ventured into VV Rouleaux for some braid, the owner didn't spring out and give me a master-class in making fabulous gift trimmings - instead I had to jump up and down to grab the attention of the Sloaney sales assistant who had her nose in a novel and didn't want to be inconvenienced by selling me some of their extremely expensive trimming.)

It's great that Kirstie is getting the message about making things ourselves and some of the ideas are truly fantastic, but please a little perspective on costs next time.

>> Check out some of Hilary's own budget ideas for a home made Christmas on our website

If you want to see Hilary's horned hat (which she knitted for her teenage son) >>there's a photo on our Facebook pagebut you might prefer something a bit less extreme - so try our pattern for knitting >> Cheryl Cole's big fat pompom hat 

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Bottling some winter sunshine

I've just enjoyed a week's holiday in glorious sunshine in Morocco so have been feeling the blues since I got back and all it seems to do is rain.

The other day I made some preserved lemons - thanks for the recipe to Alice Barnsdale who lives in Fez. It is so easy and really feels like you're bottling sunshine. For those of you who haven't tried preserved lemons, they are an essential ingredient of many Morrocan dishes - especially tagines and couscous. I have the Moro Cookbook (highly recommended - stick it on your Christmas list!) and have been frustrated by how many recipes need preserved lemons and had never got round to hunting them down (although I think Waitrose sells them).

Anyway making your own is a 5 minute job. Here's how:

Put 2 tablespoons of coarse salt in the bottom of a large sterilised jar. Get about seven or eight fresh lemons and slice them not quite in half, lengthways, leaving the halves still attached at the bottom. Make another slice at right angles to the first - again leaving the quarters attached at the base. Pull the sides apart gently (keeping them still attached at the bases) and cover the insides generously with salt. Rub more salt on the outsides and then squash them down inside a large sterilised jar. Cram in as many as you can fit, letting the juice flow. Top up with a bit more lemon juice to ensure the fruit is covered and a couple more tablespoons of salt. Seal the lid tightly. Turn upside down after a couple of days to get the juices flowing. Leave the lemons for a month or two then they are ready to use. Once opened store in the fridge - they'll last up to six months. When you come to use them rinse the salt off and you're ready to go. 'Easy peasy lemon squeezy!' (first time I've used that expression in a relevant context!).

You can add ingredients to spice it up a bit - for example coriander seeds, cinnamon, peppercorns, bayleaf, chilli - but I decided to go for the unadorned purity of the lemons!

Clare F

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Recycle Now Christmas Competition

We just got this email from Paul at Recycle Now:
"I'm emailing on behalf of Recycle Now, England's national recycling campaign, to let you know about the competition we've just launched as it may be of interest to you and your readers/users.
The Recycle Now campaign is trying to make people aware of the waste
created at Christmas and remind them that most of it can be recycled.

We've built a stunning one-off 6ft Christmas tree sculpture made from recycled cardboard  and are giving it away in a competition >> Enter here. 

We made the tree in three days using over 200 pieces of rejected cardboard stuck together with water based glue so it can still be recycled. >> See video on making the tree

We also commissioned the artist Michelle Reader to upcycle common household waste like aluminium cans, carrier bags and plastic bottles into beautiful Christmas tree decorations. >> Have a look

We've also illustrated some surprising facts about the amount of waste created at Christmas >> Festive Facts.

We hope you like what you see and will encourage people to enter the competition."
Paul Gill of recycle Now

Council orders grandmother to dig up beloved garden to store unsightly wheelie bins

This headline appeared in one of the papers this weekend. Admittedly it was the Daily Mail and so there's always the temptation to take it with a pinch of salt, but it seems that this story is true….or at least according to various news agencies. 
Why didn’t I believe it at first? Because at no point in this story does it make sense!  If it does to you, can you please explain it to me?
I'm all in favour of sensible recycling, but Harlow Council have brought in two large wheelie bins and a collecting box to collect recycling.  Unfortunately for Sandra St John, she has nowhere to store them. At first the council suggested that she keep them out the back and manhandle them through her house on collections days. When she pointed out the impracticality of this, they told her she must pave over her lovingly tended front garden to make room for the two big bins.   Understandably Joan was upset: she's tended the roses and lavenders in her garden for 22 years and was attached to her garden.
A lot of local flooding is being blamed on people paving over their front gardens so that they can park.  This large scale paving of front gardens is apparently displacing the water and causing all sorts of flooding issues as well as destroying wildlife in urban areas. Last year the RHS flower show championed designs for front gardens that allowed for off road parking, whilst still remaining environmentally friendly. 
Moreover, as of October 2008, there are regulations in place to stop people randomly paving over their front gardens and you now have to apply for planning permission. Yet here we have a local council actually advocating this!
What I also don’t understand is why, when Sandra is quite content with the recycling baskets she currently has and feels no need for any more, is the council foisting these giant wheelie bins on her…and god only knows how much the production of these monsters bins puts on our environment.  
Why can’t we just go back to weekly collections and recycling rates might even rise, as already proven by Gedling Borough Council in Nottinghamshire who when, they finally did a U-turn on weekly collections found that their recycling rates rose dramatically.
Even more to the point, why aren’t the government and the local councils encouraging us to reuse things rather than send them to recycling. We really don’t need any more encouragement to throw things away. How about supporting the MIAMI take on life and go back to the old skills. What alternative use can you find for those old curtains, those empty jars, that bubble wrap, all that compost material for your garden?
Come on guys, lets get a little perspective on this whole recycling lark  and think before your throw….because, as we keep saying,
life’s too good to throw away.