Friday, 12 July 2013

How to make soft blocks for young children!

I have a couple of new nephews in the family and wanted to make a birthday present for one of them. I had thought of blocks for a while but wood was too hard for me to"make" them from and since he will more than likely put them in his mouth, they needed to be made of something that could be mouthed and them washed if necessary. I spotted this cool tutorial for cloth covered foam block and thought I'd give it a go...

Here's what I did...

I bought a colourful animal print material from my favorite op shop for $2!

Then I went to the local rubber shop and bought a couple of off cuts for a couple of dollars as well. I bought this shaped piece so that I had as little cutting to do as possible - maths and straight lines are not my specialty!

Once i sat down to cut my squares out I realised my pattern was not on a grid pattern so I couldn't just cut 'em out! I cut a square of card that was the same shape as the front of one of those long pieces of foam and used it as a template.

I centered the animal on the sides... 

And then on the top and bottom...

Giving me a square with the animal centered in it.

You need 6 squares to make each cube. lay them out in a cross shape like this.

And then sew then into this cross shape, front sides together.

Like this.
My Elephant was too big to fit the whole thing in and so parts of him got the chop. I'm sure my 1 year old nephew wont be writing to complain about the missing parts of his elephant! And anyway, these "flaws" are part of the "charm" of the home made gift!

To make the cube up. Fold up two sides, pin and then sew them.

Like this!

Move around to the next side and keep going...

All the way around...

Until you have a box with a lid.

Sew up three sides, back stitching on the edges so they don't come apart when you stuff the foam cube inside.

Turn the cube right side out. Use a chopstick or blunt stick of some sort to poke the corners out. Scissors might poke all the way through unless you are very gentle resulting in having to turn it back inside out and resewing it!

Measure the front of your foam (hopefully you buy a piece that is roughly square) and then use that measurement to mark each side of the long piece to mark out your cube.

I used a decent kitchen knife to cut my cubes. The lady at the foam shop recommended an electric knife - but we don't have one...

Voila - one foam cube!

Squish up the foam and force it through the opening in your material cube and mess around with it until its sitting inside the material nice and snugly.

Like this!

Next - hand sew the cube shut.
Repeat for as many cubes as you want to make! 

Stack and play with them!

I'm not the greatest sewer in the world and I tend to make things up as I go along. I found this wonderful blog with lots of sewing tips for making these block in. If you are new to sewing or just a straight line sewer like I am, this is a great tutorial to have a long look at before you start.

These are great for packing and posting as even though they are a bit bulky, they weigh next to nothing and so my postage is much cheaper than the equivalent wooden version! These can be put into the washing machine to be washed and left in the sun to dry once they have been thoroughly goobed on by the nephew! (I'm sure its a gesture of appreciation to be goobed upon by one so verbally unable to express his pleasure!)

They are nice and soft so if they fall or get thrown, they wont break any one or anything. I thought they were a wonderful idea for young children!

Score card: 
Green-ness: 5/5 for using waste material to make a wonderful new item out of!
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for spending less than $5
Time cost: About 1/2 an hour to cut all the pieces for 6 blocks out (that bit is a bit fiddly) and about 10 minutes each to complete a block.
Skill level: Straight line sewing and needle threadinbg skills needed!
Fun-ness: great fun to create something as a gift for a young 'un! (and to have a play with them before you post them!)

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

What I did with excess eggs!

We host international students, which is great fun. Recently one of them went back to her home country leaving behind three dozen shop bought eggs! We have a rather large number of chickens and so eggs are not in short supply in any case. After we had made mini quiches, a bacon and egg pie and did a bit of baking, I was at a loss at how to get rid of the last dozen before they were no good. I was reading a book about pickling and found a recipe for pickled eggs and decided to give it a go...

Here's what I did...

First, I boiled up the eggs. As you can see these ones are on their last legs. A fresh egg lays on its side when you put it in a pot of water. The older it is, the further it sits up until it finally floats - where most people recommend that you throw them out. have a look at this link for more detailed information about egg freshness.

Then I put traditional pickling spices into the two jars.

Peeled garlic, broken cinnamon sticks, mustard seeds, peppercorns, dill, bay leaves and a few cloves went into this mix.
In a pot on the stove, dissolve 2 teaspoons of pickling salt (fine salt) in 1/2 a cup of water. Add 1 cup of vinegar and let it cool.

Once the eggs had cooled, I peeled them - the older the egg, the easier it is to peel!
Fresh eggs are notoriously hard to peel and often you end up peeling more white than there is left to eat!
I always use my oldest eggs for hard boiling.

Pack the eggs into the jars. I didn't have a big enough jar for all twelve eggs so I did them in two separate jars.

Add the vinegar/salt/water mix that you made earlier to the jars. These jars are, maybe, 400mls and with the 6 eggs in them, it used up the whole 1.5 cups of the mixture. I made up a second lot of salt/vinegar/water (this time with 1/2 white and 1/2 balsamic vinegar) and added that to the second jar - just to see what would happen.

The recipe uses white vinegar so that the eggs stay "natural" looking. It also mentioned that the Pennsylvanian Dutch put in a slice of beetroot to make the eggs go pink and the Brits use malt vinegar which dyes the eggs a tan brown colour.

The eggs are still white in this picture but a week or so later are quite dark!

Make sure the mixture covers the eggs.

Pop the lids on them.

Label them and keep them in the fridge.

The eggs are best after 1-2 weeks and need to be eaten within a few months for the best quality. The longer the eggs stay in the brine, the more rubbery the whites get.

This recipe came from a book called The Pickled Pantry by Andrea Chesman. Its full of all sorts of pickled goodies. Mine are a day or so away from being tasted - I'll let you know how they go!

Score card: 
Green-ness: 5/5 for preserving an excessive harvest or glut!
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for using things I already had!
Time cost: About 1/2 an hour all up.
Skill level: Super basic cooking skills!
Fun-ness: Great fun!

Update 13th July 2013.

I like 'em!
They have a slightly rubbery texture to the outside where the vinegar and salt have got into the outside edges of the egg. Reminds me a bit of processioned cheese slices in texture. Then the inside is just like a normal boiled egg with an outer covering the is a salty vinegar-y taste (which I like!)

The ones in Balsamic vinegar look really scary!!!
Shiny dark brown...

Once you bite into them, you can see that the brown is only skin deep and the rest is just like a normal hard boiled egg.

The ones pickled in white vinegar look more like hard boiled eggs and I found people more willing to try them. I think the white pickled ones would go well in a potato salad. They have pretty much the same sort of taste (salted vinegar) but the brown ones are stronger.

I have started taking these to work as a snack and have found them good to come home and pick out of the fridge when you are hungry and a biscuit seems like a good idea! They fill me up much better than a biscuit and the savoriness of them seems to dull the appetite for anything sweet after one!

Try it and let me know how you went! - Kxx

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Identifying dooner (or duvet) inner sizes without pulling the linen cupboard to pieces!

I know that there are people out there who manage to keep their linen cupboard all neat and tidy, year after year, to the envy of people like me - who don't!

I have a friend who has a linen cupboard that looks like a shop display with it all colour sorted and displayed in categories divided into boys, girls, Mum/Dad and Guest room. - I'm not like that at all.

When we moved rooms a while ago, I had 10 years worth of linen collecting to decide what to do with... I was great at culling the excess donner covers and pillow cases (you'd think I was running a hotel with all the linen I had collected!) and donated a huge amount of them to the local second hand shop.

One of the issues that I have is that when I am looking for a certain size dooner inner I cant tell what size it is until I open it out and then I fold it back up and put it on the top of the pile and, within minutes, I have mixed up my neat piles into a mess.

This needed a solution! Here's what I did...

First I started by storing the covers, sheets and pillow cases in the room they are used in. There is a spare set in each room for each bed now, and that's all. If I really, really need another cover for some reason I can always go down to the second hand shop and pick up another cover set for under $10! I know there is plenty there that go with my decor!

Then I stored all the spare doone inners in the cupboard- we have no need for dooners in the summer, just the covers but need a couple each in the winter, depending on which country you are from and how much you feel the cold!

Of course, a bunch of white inners all folded up nice and neatly look like any size... so I simply marked each corner on each side with the size.

I used a laundry pen so it wont wash off.

Obviously, Q is for Queen, D for Double and S is for single.

This means that if I can see a corner, I know what it is without having to heave it out of its place in the pile to unfold it, discover its not the right size and then to fold it back up and (not) put it neatly back in its place. So far this is working as I am only hauling out the one that I need not the ones that I don't need!

Simple but very effective!

Score card:
Green-ness: Hmmm - cant find a green angle here but anything that saves time and stress is surely a green thing?
 Frugal-ness: Cost me nothing - saves me a huge amount of frustration!
 Time cost: About an hour to empty and sort my whole cupboard and a minute to mark each dooner inner!
 Skill level: Single letter writing!
 Fun -ness: Great fun to know at a glance what I'm looking at in that sea of white!

Monday, 1 July 2013

Slowing Down the Slow Living Essentials way - June 2013

I have been following Christine at Slow Living Essentials for over a year now! And in 2012 she started a monthly round up to record on our blog, how we have "slowed down" under nine categories - I have been doing this since she started it at the beginning of 2012 and really get a lot out of it. 

NOURISH: Make and bake as much as possible from scratch. Ditch over packaged, over processed convenience foods and opt for 'real' food instead. 

Baking a bit and cooking from scratch is the norm still. I'm loving the winter and a chance to get out the crock pot. Lots of soups and stews on the menu with a chunk of home made bread... Mmmmmm! I have my first sour dough loaf proofing on the bench at the moment - lets see how it goes!

Shortbread, cheese and coconut biscuits and basic choc chip!

Oh, and we made a batch of home made peanut butter too - very yummy!

PREPARE: Stockpile and preserve. 
One of our students went back home and left me with three dozen bought eggs that she had stockpiled for some reason. So, after a week of Quiches and the odd fried egg sandwich I had a go at pickling the last dozen!

White vinegar pickled eggs and some balsamic ones - should be ready in a couple of weeks. I'll let you know what they are like. I've never made nor tasted them before!

REDUCECut down on household waste by re-using, re-purposing and repairing. 

I was really pleased with this secondhand find at the markets! The candlestick were green with tarnish and I wasn't sure if they would come up or not. But a bit of google research and a splash of vinegar with a bit of elbow grease - and just look at my $5 purchase!

GREEN: up our lives. Start (or continue!) using homemade products. 
We have been making our own dog food since we got our new dog! She seems to like it. It takes a bit of time, costs around $3 a week and is much much better for her - at least we know what she is getting!

A weeks worth of food for the dog made with pet mince from the 
butcher (about $1 a kilo), veges and rice or pasta!

GROW: plant/harvest. What's growing this month?

Chickens, chicken and more chickens! I promise I will stop buying chickens now... But how hard would it be to resist these ones? The black one is an Aracana cross and should lay olive-y coloured eggs (unless its a boy - she is showing a lot of stroppy behavior and is currently topping the list of "baby chicks most likely to be a rooster...") The grey is a lavender Aracana and will lay the blue eggs (so much fun to find!) and the other two are Speckled Sussexes. They are all about the same age - maybe a fortnights difference in age - so you can see the Sussex's will be very big chooks! They should lay a creamy white egg. because these guys are heritage chooks they will take a lot longer to mature and I wont get eggs out of them for another 3-4 months.

CREATE: to fill a need or feed the soul. Create for ourselves or for others. 

Started making Christmas presents for the new children in the family - I hope their internet skills are not very well developed yet and they don't inadvertently stumble upon their surprise! These are material covered foam washable blocks that I made to the delight of the students who spent the morning watching me sew!

DISCOVER: Feed the mind by reading texts relevant to current interests.

Im a bit of a Michael Pollan fan and his latest book called "Cooked: the natural history of transformation" is having a bit of an impact in the kitchen at the moment! Its the missing link in his books so far. We know where food comes from and we know what we should be eating but he hasn't explored the concept of cooking and what and why we do it. Its divided into four parts with examples; Fire (Whole hog BBQ) Water, (Slow cooking in pots) Air, (Sour dough baking) and Earth (Fermented foods and Brewing) - so, as you can see, I've made pickles and that's his sour dough bread recipe bubbling away in the front and the slow cooker gets an almost daily work out... I'm not sure the husband is going to let me cook a whole hog in the backyard anytime soon - But our yearly Hangi is coming up soon and that's the same principal. I'm going to have to buy a copy of this one I can see!

ENHANCE: Community: The rewards for your time are often returned tenfold.

I spent a couple of days at the LifeLine Book Fest again this year. Gotta love a day spent with book and people who love books! Life Line are wonderful to their volunteers. We get fed, free parking, told how wonderful we are including the odd standing ovation and we get to spend all day chatting, laughing and selling books at incredibly good prices! We raised $720,000 in four days! If you are starting out volunteering and want something small to start with - give Bookfest a go. They are on in Brisbane twice a year (Jan and June) and if you cruise over to their website, I know they have these on a smaller scale all over Queensland!

ENJOYLife! Embrace moments with family and friends!
Lots of celebrations this month - which is nice in the middle of a very wet winter.

Five year old twins birthday afternoon.

Farewell desert at a chocolate dessert place for one of our long term students.

IMPROVEChange or create a habit, work on an aspect of mind, body or soul that needs a wee tweak.

This month I wanted to make Monday my car free day. I used to bike around a lot a while ago and then the floods put a stop to it and I never went back to it. I did ok with it this month, just because I knew I was going to report back here! I managed to stay home for two of them, bike to the shops (and end up talking to half a dozen people while I was attempting to leave!) and swapped the Monday for a Tuesday on the other one. Today I am sitting here hoping that the rain will ease and I can bike down the road for the few bits I need for dinner tonight. Or maybe I should look at the bus time table - but I already know that it will cost me $10 in bus fares. Its not cheap or easy to be green some days. Hmmmm... what to do. Cheaper and quicker to use the car but greener to 
patronise the bus service....

I find these bitsy blog challenges to be really motivating. Cause I know I have to report back here, I tend to stay honest and it stays in my consciousness - or is it because I write it down... Either way its a good way to make some changes for me!

As always I enjoy popping over to see what other slow livers are up to. Some times I cant get past the security things (You know, put in the letters or numbers thingos)  but even if you cant see my comment, know I have been and enjoyed!

Thanks for the opportunity to share again Christine!!! Have a great month everyone! - Kxx xx
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