Foot²Freestyle: July round-up

Once again, it’s been a great month for fabulous F²F blocks.

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 7.32.54 pmTwo of our members have found life overtaking sewing time a little, and will be a day or so late mailing out their July blocks, but as I’ve said to them, a day or two is neither here nor there when the blocks are all travelling so far. Their photos will go up as soon as I receive them.

For a look at the rest of them, check out the gallery at the end of the F²F page, here. The variety is amazing!

I’m hugely enjoying the process so far. Admittedly there’s a fair bit more admin than I think Sue and I originally envisaged, but it’s not arduous, and so long as I keep the spreadsheet updated, all is well. But I think the most fun is had by each month’s lucky recipient, as the squishy envelopes from all round the world keep arriving.

Next month, it’s the turn of Susan of Desert Sky Quilts, who wants blocks in any combination of red and white or blue and white, or a bit of all three. This should be fun!

Gerbera Bag

Never has a bag been slammed together with so little idea of what was going on…

A while ago, I bought a pack of fabrics on impulse.  I’ve always been a sucker for the black/brights combination, and this one yelled loudly from several metres away that it wanted to come home with me. And it was on special, so I buckled. No plan for it, no real idea how much was in the pack, just ‘oooh-pretty-buy’!

When I got it home I unfolded some quite small and not very usefully shaped pieces. There was a 14″ WoF piece, the main outer fabric of the bag. The other 6 were 10″ WoF pieces. So, not enough to make anything with, except perhaps a bag. So that’s what I did. Once I’d decided which fabric would go where, I went and bought some bright pink webbing for the handles and I already had a couple of pink zips the right size.

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 3.46.47 pmI launched in without a plan, and made it up as I went along. First, I made a padded, quilted rectangular outer base, and sewed this to the bag sides, which I stiffened with heavy duty interfacing. The only side seam falls in the centre back of the back, black to black, where it doesn’t show. Then I cut three different fabrics into strips to make the lining, and sewed them together offset for a bit of interest. I made a fully lined zippered pocket for the inside, which I stitched on round the sides and bottom only, so it formed another open top pocket behind the zippered section. Then I made a stiff base for the inside by glueing fabric to a stiff vinyl sheet (the sort you get inside those reusable green shopping bags from supermarkets).

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 3.47.45 pm Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 3.47.16 pmI made a button loop, sewed on a button, attached the handles, and then it was time to put in the lining and bind the top edge. Under the inner edge of the binding I attached a cord made from scrap, with a ring at the end, onto which I can clip my keys, which are on a carabiner. It’ll save me cursing and rummaging in the very bottom of my handbag every single time I want my keys. Next to that I sewed in one of my new ‘Made by Kate Chiconi’ labels, very swanky, hemmed down the inner edge of the binding, and that was the bag done.

I still had a couple of scraps and another spare zipper, so I made myself a little pouch for comb, hankie, lip salve, etc. That’s it!  I have one piece of fabric left, a 10″ x 2.5″ strip of the pink binding. Every single other piece was used up. So it wasn’t a waste of money, I had fun working everything out, and now I have a handy bag/tote for hauling round the rat’s nest which is the contents of my handbag.

The fabric range is Fun Flower Charmers by Holly Holderman from Lakehouse Drygoods. And yes, it is very, very bright.

Mishmesh

No, you read that right. I did mean Mishmesh.

It’s what the Arabic word for apricot sounds like. And the reason for this will become clear shortly.

It’s been a kitchen day, baking for the coffee shop. Many of my regular cakes and pastries were on the order, including the very, very popular sticky date cake with toffee sauce. Well, what’s not to like? But while I baked I was thinking of ways to make this perennial favourite a bit less, shall we say, hackneyed? And here’s my answer.

Mishmesh & syrup

A Brown Cake. Boooooring… Er, no.

Mishmesh

200g/7oz dried apricots, chopped and steeped in 1 cup of boiling water with a 1/2 tsp bicarb soda.
40g/1.5oz softened butter
80g/3oz by weight of vegetable oil
1 cup soft dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
¾ cup cup almond meal
1 cup gluten free self-raising flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cardamom

Syrup
Juice of 5 or 6 mandarins, equal to 1 cup/25oml/8.5floz of juice
1 cup caster sugar
1/2 tsp ground cardamom (or you can crush pods and infuse them, retrieving them at the end)

Beat the softened butter, oil and brown sugar till pale and smooth. You can use all oil, but I happen to like the buttery flavour. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix the flour, almond meal and spices, and fold into the mixture. Add the steeped apricots, which will have swelled and softened, and fold these through as well. Pour into a greased and lined 28cm/11″ square cake tin, and bake at 180°C for 30 minutes.

While the cake is baking, juice your mandarins, and measure out 1 cupful. Put this into a small pan together with the sugar and ground cardamom. (You can use oranges here if mandarins are not in season, but they’re not as fragrant so the flavour’s a little different). Heat, stirring often, over a moderate heat till the sugar has dissolved and the mixture comes to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes to thicken the syrup. Decant into a heatproof jug.

Once the cake is out of the oven and you have removed the pan and baking paper, put the cake into a dish at least as deep as the cake, and ideally fairly close fitting. Slowly pour the warm syrup over the warm cake, and all around the edges, stopping from time to time to let the cake absorb the syrup.

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I used a big plate and a big fork to make you think this was a small slice. I confess… it wasn’t. Nor was the next one.

Wait as long as you can before tucking in. I managed to avoid burning my mouth… just. It’s a delicious combination of tender spiced cake crumb, sticky top, spicy tart apricots and gooey syrup with a hint of orange blossom. There’s a definite Middle Eastern flavour vibe – if I’d been feeling more adventurous I’d have added some sumac as well, but the poor Husband’s got to eat this too, and I’m not sure how he feels about sumac in cakes as opposed to a tagine, for example.

It doesn’t look exciting, it’s basically a brown cake with a sticky top, but my taste buds were doing a little fandango, and only writing this post is stopping me marching off to the kitchen for another slice. Maybe a bit of Greek yoghurt with it next time, or a dollop of labneh?

Hmm. I’ll need another slice to help me decide.

Booking a slot

Yet another quilt is jumping the queue on my To Do list, but for the nicest possible reason, so it’s something to celebrate.

My brother’s second daughter is coming to Australia. Originally it was going to be a 3-month visit on a visitor’s visa; she’s doing a yoga-teaching course in Manly, and was going to come and stay with us for a week before it started. Now, she’s getting a working visa, and will stay for a year, which means we’ll see a bit more of her!

As well as her interest in yoga, she’s extremely keen to work in the publishing industry, is a huge reader, and has a book review blog which began when she took on the BBC’s Big Read challenge (which she has almost completed). She travels very light, and will be short of home comforts for quite a long time, so I’m going to make her something homey. A quilt, of course – but not just any sort. She’s getting a book case quilt. In case you’re wondering what that is, take a look here – a great example. There are some lovely ones out there, of all different shapes, sizes, layouts and colours.

bookcase quilt designI’ll be using bright colours, a black background and white sashing for the book case, and it’ll be about 60″ square, a nice snuggling-up size. I’m not linking to her blog, because I want it to be a surprise, but if you want to take a look, the link to her blog is on the left, about halfway down, the one called The Unlikely Bookworm, with the ‘selfie avatar’ in a Geek t-shirt, near the Snail of Happiness.

She’s arriving at the beginning of September, so that’s how long I’ve got to make it. However, it shouldn’t be too taxing, since the whole thing is strip-pieced. I’m debating a few bits of appliqué to add some shelf ornaments/souvenirs/postcards, etc. You know: all that stuff that collects in front of the books on your book cases… The quilting will, as always with me, will be simple, straight lines and mostly invisible. I’m also going to make the whole quilt top from fabric I have on hand, except possibly for the back, which will be kept as simple as possible. I’d like to make it from stash, but may end up buying wideback if I run short of time.

I’m loving the idea that my favourite hobby is about to cross over to embrace hers!

Boxing Clever

A while ago, Lynn of Tialys asked if I’d test a pattern for her.

It was for a rather gorgeous hexagonal sewing box, with a separate lid and sides that dropped open to reveal the contents. So I jumped at it. I made a good start, but then it had to be put aside while all sorts of other things intervened.

Top

Detail of lid band Sides 1 Sides 2 Interior empty Interior filledBut at last I’ve finished it. And it’s fabulous.

For the most part, the pattern and instructions were clear and pretty foolproof. In a couple of places I made silly mistakes, partly due to my own idiocy, and partly because Lynn is so experienced at making these things that she has built-in knowledge of how they go together, and the instructions need a little more detail.

She’s had two of us testing, so hopefully this has produced a definitive set of instructions and a refinement of the pattern. It didn’t require any unusual skills, just the ability to wield a pair of scissors and a pencil, a glue stick and a bottle of fabric glue, and finally, a bit of hand stitching.

The outer fabric is from Amy Butler’s Cameo collection for Westminster Fibers, the design called Josephine’s Bouquet in the dark grey and pink colourway. The lining fabric is an anonymous freebie from a while ago, and there was no selvedge to help me identify it.

So if you fancy one of these lovelies for yourself, hop over to Tialys and take a look in her online shop. She’s told me that if you quote BOXCLEVER, you will receive a $2 discount. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

The Breakfast Crew

Pretty much every morning, we have to run the gauntlet of dozens of beady eyes.

We’ve got into the habit of feeding our local birds. There are loads of them, of a good dozen different species. Birdie Breakie consists of a wild bird seed and fruit block, fruit peelings and scraps, bread scraps, a few handfuls of coarse oatmeal and occasionally some meat scraps.

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You’ve seen lorikeet frenzy already, but the ducks have become regular and endearing visitors.

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 9.24.04 pmThe ibis are a little less welcome; they’re pushy and do lots of noisy honking and flapping around, but they do eat a lot of bugs, so they’re tolerated. The ducks take no nonsense from them, and will swiftly move along any ibis trying to move in on their breakfast.

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 9.23.34 pmThe newcomers are the Spangled Drongos. I love these guys. Not only do they have the coolest name, but they’re stunt flyers. Their natural food is insects, caught on the wing, and we’ve learned that if we toss meat or bread scraps into the air, they’ll swoop and dive, and not a crumb will reach the ground.

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 9.55.37 pmIt’s impossible to capture on camera (unless I get out the camera handbook and learn how to use the movie function properly), but it’s spectacular to watch, and they’ve learned that we’re a regular supply of easy food, so there’s a crowd of them on the washing line every morning. They’e surprisingly bold, but given what skilled flyers they are, perhaps it’s not so very surprising…

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Go on, zoom in on me!

They’re pretty, too. They have a brilliant scarlet eye, a black velvet head and ‘cape’, and iridescent glossy satin back, tail and wings.  Their head has a sort of ridge or tuft on either side, which gives the effect of a flat top haircut, and when they’re displaying, they can ruffle this up so they get a sort of crest. They’re talkative, as well, not a pretty song but it’s a pleasant background noise, even with twenty of them all at it at once.

How can I resist a lineup of slightly nervous beady eyes at the edge of the patio, wondering what’s for breakfast today, and would I please hurry up and serve…?

The Gardens of Chiconia 38: An orange sort of day…

A theme is emerging here, people.

Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 1.02.26 pmFirstly, the Truck Quilt is finished. The quilting is spectacularly ordinary, but it does the job of holding everything together, and boy, is it cosy. I finished stitching down the binding last night, and the Husband will be taking it to work on night shift tonight. I regret not being able to get it done last night, as the temperature went down to 2°C/35°F and was certainly chilly enough to make it very welcome. But at least he’ll be cosy tonight.

And now for the rest of the orange.

Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 1.00.21 pmScreen Shot 2015-07-18 at 1.01.29 pmI have harvested the last of the mandarins, beating the bloody thieving lorikeets to it. They have gobbled up a lot of them, getting to the fruit before they were fully ripe, and leaving evidence of their marauding on the ground. The fruit smells wonderful, and some of them will be going into a mandarin syrup cake, some will be juiced for the freezer. The remainder will be scoffed pretty quickly.

 

Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 1.03.02 pmElsewhere, the garden is doing its best, considering it’s winter. The tomatoes are flowering very enthusiastically, but we’re having to move fast to save them from the birds and bugs, and are picking the fruit half ripe to finish off inside. My zucchini have given up in the bout of cold weather we’re having – cold for the tropics, that is. The yellow dendrobium orchid on the palm tree, however, is sending out flower shoots, as are my white and purple phalaenopsis orchids in the sun porch. I have some potting on to do: some of my custard apple seeds have germinated, and the angel trumpet cuttings have long, long roots. Time to give them a pot to play in!

The sun is shining, there’s a fresh, cool breeze, and in Europe, I’d call this a lovely spring day!