On My Bookshelf

IP - perfume books

I'm so excited about this wonderful pile of books I just borrowed from my local library.  With the cold weather and long winter nights now here, I'm really looking forward to learning more about perfume making and the world of scent.

At the moment I'm dipping into a book here and there.  Reading a fascinating passage about author Celia Lyttelton's travels to unearth the origins, history and culture of the ingredients in her bespoke perfume.  Learning about aldehydes, ketones and esters in the Encyclopaedia of Essential Oil by Julia Lawless.

I'm also on the search for a medieval herbal and Listening to Scent by Jennifer Peace Rind.  Alas, my library doesn't have access to either of these so I may just have to search further afield!

 What are you reading this winter?


Walking Away From Spoon Carving (For a Little While)

Spoon & Knife

{spoon carving knife in leather sheath with coal burn spoon}

For the last month or so I've been obsessed with my new hobby of spoon carving.  It was so much fun to take a log and turn it into a spoon using an axe and a knife.  Since then I've been spoon carving every spare chance I get.  I've even bought myself a special knife and made a leather sheath for it.

One of the lovely things about spoon carving is that I've discovered a whole community of spoon carvers on Instagram who are all about making things using traditional tools and their hands.  Not only do they carve spoons using axes and knives, often the spoons themselves are finished by knife.  That means that no sandpaper touches the wood.  Pretty impressive when you look at some of the spoons! 

When I learnt about knife finishing I was determined to improve my knife skills.  It would be awesome to be so good at carving that I don't even need to use sandpaper.  But I'll settle for getting the spoons symmetrical.  I figured that if I did some carving every day, I would get better at it.  After all, practice makes perfect, right?  At least that what I tell the kids when they don't want to play the piano :o)

IP - Spoon Carving - Curly bits

{really excited to get curly bits on my spoon}

I've managed to do some carving every few days but I've now hit the point of frustration.  I don't know what I need to do to get better.  My spoons are still wonky and asymmetrical and I've run out of wood.  I'm wishing that those spoon carvers on social media were actually my neighbours so I can ask for help and tips.  

Maybe I need to find a branch (there was a big storm last night so may find something in the local park today) and just play around with different knife strokes.  Have some fun and experiment.

Or perhaps it's time to walk away from spoon carving for a while and come back to it when I am feeling refreshed and enthusiastic once more.  Instead of envious and not good enough!  

I think I've hit that point in the creative process when it's time to walk away and take a break.  We're so used to thinking of life as linear that it's hard to remember that creativity is cyclical.  It comes and goes in waves and is it's own master.  No matter how hard you try you just can't boss it around.  And trust me on this one, I've tried!

For some more great insights into the creative process, check out this fantastic article by James Clear.


Misadventures in Making

IP - toffee

I was trying to make chocolate crackles and I made toffee instead.  Chocolate crackles are a staple at kid's birthday parties here in Australia but I have never made them.  I don't think I've eaten them since I was a kid but I got this sudden craving.  You know what it's like.  And no, I'm not pregnant!  

The chocolate crackle recipe called for icing sugar and lots of it.  I'm more of a raw sugar kinda gal.  So I substituted rapadura sugar for the icing sugar.  But I was a bit worried about it being all grainy so I thought that I would melt it in a saucepan along with the coconut oil I was using.  

I often wonder how things get invented.  Like, who on earth came up with custard?  Tasty yes, but how did they figure out how to make it?  Now I know.  They made a mistake and discovered something new.  Just like me adding sugar to coconut oil and heating it.  As I stirred the coconut oil over a low heat, the sugar started to coalesce.  It got all smooth and shiny.  What it didn't do was melt.  As I stirred, I thought, "Hang on a second!  That looks like toffee just like Mother makes in the Milly-Molly-Mandy books by Joyce Lankester Brisley."   

At that stage it was perfect.  But in my excitement I turned up the heat and kept on stirring.  The sugar starred to go brown and lumpy.  I panicked and madly started spooning it out onto a tray lined with baking paper.  It was a little burnt but still yummy.  

So, no chocolate crackles this time - slightly burnt toffee instead. 

When I get the chocolate crackle recipe right, I'll share it with you here!


Spooning On A Winter's Afternoon

IP - Carving Burnt Spoon

The spooning has been continuing!  

On Saturday I jumped in the car for yet another cross town trip. This time to CERES to do the coal burning spoon workshop with Claire Dunn, author of My Year Without Matches.  You'll have to forgive me for more spoon making posts - it's my latest thing :o)

Claire is incredible and inspiring - she has such a deep connection to the mysteries of nature and a willingness to share that connection with others. When she's talking to you, you feel as if you are being listened to by someone who genuinely cares. It's rare to meet someone who is totally present and not distracted by all the noise of daily life. 

Part of the day was introducing yourself and why you were there. Listening to some of the amazing responses got me to thinking again about making and why I do it. It's such a part of me that I can't imagine not making but I find it hard to put into words why it is I love to make. But I'm going to give it a go!

IP - Ember

{coaxing an ember from the fire into life | photo by Claire Dunn}

There's a spark of life inside all of us that longs to create something.  That little spark can be nurtured and coaxed to grow into a flame.  Fan that flame and you get a burning passion.  That's what making is for me.  A burning passion.  

When I am making the things that I need, I get lost in the moment.  I'm in what Sir Ken Robinson, author of The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, calls a state of flow.  Time passes, the cat vomits and I don't notice because I am intent, absorbed, totally immersed in what I am doing.  The house could come crashing down around my ears and I wouldn't notice.

I find it deeply satisfying to use my hands to make something.  It is physical, mental, challenging, stimulating and frustrating.  I go through all the emotions and I feel alive.  

I love working with natural materials and using traditional, slow methods to create things that are not only useful but beautiful.  Making things my way is the ultimate expression and statement of who I am.  Of my unique nature because of course, every maker is different.  

At each stage of the making process there are a multitude of options and choices.  In choosing that particular option on that particular day I am making a statement about who and where I am at that moment in time.  The finished object reflects this statement beautifully.  I can revisit who and where I was when I made my spoon every time I use it to eat my dinner.

IP - Ember on Spoon

{the alchemical fire, burning the bowl of the spoon}

The whole process of making fascinates me but it's the alchemy of turning raw materials into finished objects that has me hooked.  In this alchemical process, it is not just the materials being altered, I am also transformed.   Every time I make something, I am in awe of the magic that comes from working with my hands and I am humbled by the lessons that I learn. Making slow and making by hand gives me time and space to reflect and to think.  To pay attention and to notice what is happening around me and within.

My making journey weaves a portrait of my life and my choices.  I look around my house and I am surrounded by the things I have made and loved.  They all have stories to tell and are woven into my life and my heart.  

IP - Coal Burned Spoons

{The collection of spoons made at the workshop}

There is so much beauty in handmade. All the imperfections are glorious and give a piece character and honesty.  Handmade objects are unique just like their makers.  All the spoons in the above picture started the day as blank pieces of pine.  And they have all turned into unique spoons, just like their carvers.  

We need to celebrate our own unique gifts as much as the unique things we make.  Especially when we live in an age of mass-produced sameness.  All our eating spoons are uniformly the same.  Give me a collection of motley, handmade spoons (and spooners :o)  any day!


Slow Making

  IP - Vest 1

I've known about the Slow Food movement for years.  It's the one where you take time to cook delicious food and eat leisurely meals.  The other night while crafting with friends I heard about the Slow Music movement.  It's where bands play a series of gigs in a town over a period of weeks, getting to know the place and it's people.  It got me to thinking about the way I make.  And guess what?  It's slow!  

The vest I'm wearing in that picture took me over a month to make.  It was a slow process as I returned to it when I had a moment or two to spare and when I had figured out the nest step in the process!

It took time to sort through my fabric stash and find the burgundy wool I had machine felted a couple of years ago for my winter coat.  There wasn't enough for that project so it's been sitting there, waiting patiently for its moment to shine!  It only took a day to create the pattern (tracing around a favourite top) and cut it out.  Fast making for me!

Then I got nervous and left it pinned, ready for sewing.  Always that nagging doubt, "What if it doesn't work?"  Eventually I gathered my courage, dived right in and sewed.  And it didn't quite work.  So it sat there for a bit while I figured out what to do to fix it.  Not too hard in the end - just a nip and a tuck here and there.

And most of it wasn't too hard - I just needed time to mull things over and space to be okay with things not working out as expected.  That's the beauty and the curse of the handmade.  You can make what you want but it doesn't always turn out how you imagined.  Sometimes though, it's better.  Like my gorgeous new vest!

IP - Vest 2

Next, the big question.  How to adorn it?  I wanted something bold, colourful and natural.  Time spent dreaming and searching through my crafting stash came up with some wool roving for needle felting.  The tree was needle felted on the Winter Solstice while beeswax candles burned in the window and my gorgeous girls played happily around me.  That memory and experience are now part of my vest and I'll remember that moment every time I wear it.

Once the tree was done I had to figure out how to finish the front.  I knew I wanted to appliqué leaves to match the tree on the back but wasn't sure what to use.  Once I decided to use what I already had in my stash, it narrowed the choice.  I ended up sewing on a leaf made from vegetable tanned, kangaroo skin on the front.  The buttons are made from a fallen foraged branch of a Red Bloodwood tree comes from a local park.

I really love the mix of crafting skills that went into creating my unique new garment.  It's a great reflection of the the crafts I like to do - sewing, leather craft and woodwork.  It has been machine and needle felted as well as hand and machine sewn.  Traditional and modern techniques, hand and machine.  It's all in there somewhere!

It makes me happy that I used things I already had in my craft stash to make it.  The magic art of making do with what you already have.

And I adore this vest.  It fits me beautifully and is a reflection of the maker that I am.  One who works slowly, in a variety of crafts while using natural materials.  

So here's to the Slow Making movement.  One where we make the things we need, slowly.  Where we enjoy the process along the way.


My Winter Rhythm

IP - pecanz
I’m getting back into my winter rhythm.  At the start of each season, there’s a time when I’m not really sure what I am doing.  I have to check which fruit and veggies are now ripe and ready to eat.  Think about what recipes to cook.  Figure out how my days are going to go.  And then after a little disruption, I get back into the rhythm of the new season.  
 
My winter rhythm is filled with lots of snuggly, warm activities.  The girls and I start each morning with a big giggle and tickle o’clock somewhere in the middle of breakfast.  We play Scrabble in the afternoons.  Drink lots of cups of liquorice tea on the couch while we read books together, out loud and on our own.  This year the girls have discovered Fimo and are busy making things for their dolls.
 
For me, I know when it’s winter when I am dehydrating pecans in the oven.  Once a week I buy 500g of organic Byron Bay Pecans from the local market.  I then soak them overnight in water salted with pink Himalayan salt.  The next morning I drain the pecans which have swelled up nicely and lay them out on trays lined with baking paper.   I then dehydrate them in the oven at a low temp (200 F) for about four hours.
 
The rhythm of dehydrating my own organic pecans grounds me.  The repetitive activity is soothing.  The smell of baking pecans wafts through the house.  It connects me to the earth and to the season.  It brings me home.

Spoon Carving

IP - Spoon 1

I had the best time on Sunday, learning to carve a wooden spoon with Paul Ryle, The Green Woodsmith.  He's a man after my own heart.  Using sustainable natural materials and traditional hand tools to make useful things.  In this case, gorgeous spoons!  

I've wanted to have a crack at green woodworking ever since I saw the show Mastercrafts with Monty Don.  He had an episode on green woodworking and I was hooked!  At the time I thought I had to save my pennies and travel all the way to the UK to learn.  And then at this year's Lost Trades Fair I saw Paul and grabbed a flyer, heart thumping with excitement.

IP - Spoon 3

We started the day with a demonstration from Paul on splitting our timber into two pieces with an axe and removing the pith, again with an axe.  There's a surprising amount of axe work in spoon carving and I really liked that in this workshop we started with a green tree branch and ended up with a finished spoon.  I like to know the whole process so I can go home and do it myself.  Because of course, I'm now all about carving spoons.  It's my latest craft craze :o)  

After Paul's demonstration we then chose our timber - I picked green Alder as I really wanted to work with green wood.  I learnt from Paul that if you have green sections of trees, you should seal the ends with paint or beeswax so they don't dry out and crack before you work on them.

IP - Spoon 9

First step, cutting a branch in two followed by removing the pith.  When I started with the axe I was really nervous and hesitant.  I've never wielded an axe before and those things have wickedly sharp blades.  The axes we were using were Scandi grind axes for carving.  That means they're super sharp.  After a while I began to get the hang of things and gained confidence. 

IP - Spoon 4

That's a picture of my wood with the pith removed.  Next step, drawing a sketch of my spoon on the wood.  We had all of Paul's fabulous spoons to use as inspiration.  Incredible to think that he gets them so smooth only using a knife - no sandpaper here, gulp!  I decided to make a ladle for soups and stews.  I've been looking for one with a metal ladle and wooden handle for years and haven't had any luck.  What to do?  Make my own!

IP - Spoon 5

On to more axe work.  This time hewing out the spoon blank with the axe.  At the end of this I had my spoon blank (yay!) and really sore hands from gripping the axe and carefully holding the wood, keeping my fingers well out of the way.  Luckily it was time for lunch in the straw bales house that Paul and Jenny' built.

After lunch it was time to do the knife work and refine the shape of our spoons.  Paul taught us three different strokes for shaping the spoon.  The power stroke (for getting off stock), the push stroke (for shaping the back of the spoon) and the pull stroke (for shaping the handle).  He also taught me another stroke (can't remember what it's called) for making a hook at the tip of my spoon handle.  There are a lot more strokes you can use but these basic ones were safe and simple enough for us beginners.  I really liked doing the knife work.  It was really satisfying and addictive - I could see how you'd spend hours getting it lovely and smooth.  I was tempted to spend all night in the shed, working away on my knife next to the wood stove :o)

  IP - Spoon 6

Last step was carving out the bowl of the spoon with a crook knife - it's the one on the right in the above picture.  The straight knife is a Mora 106 and is the one I used for the knife work.  I loved this step as well.  You get a really satisfying crunch sound as you carve away the wood with the crook knife.  It felt a bit like peeling an apple and we used a stroke that Paul calls the spud peeling stroke.  Although I did wish that I had gone for a smaller spoon as I was carving out the huge bowl of my ladle!

Doing the carving was amazing.  The knife work just felt right.   I've wanted to carve wood for years and it was wonderful to be finally doing it, in such a beautiful setting and with such a wonderful teacher!

IP - Spoons 2

I have serious envy of Paul's awesome workshop and tool collection neatly arranged on the wall.  Organised and functional - sigh!  One of the best things about this workshop was the range of tools from different makers that Paul had on hand to try out.  I've been looking at tools online for a little while now, bewildered by the choices.  Now I know that I like the Wetterlings Wilderness Hatchet for my axe work and the Mora 106 for knife work.  To carve the bowl of the spoon I like the Hans Karlsson and Robin Wood Crook knives.  The Karlsson for small bowls and the Robin Wood for larger bowls.  I know what's on my birthday list this year!

  IP - Spoon 7

This is my almost finished spoon (I have plans to order a straight knife and get rid of those pencil marks) next to it's other half.  The dark green piece is the remainder of the branch that I split in two at the start of the day.

IP - Spoon 8

I've got calluses on my thumbs and palms from the axe and knives.  As well as a feeling of deep satisfaction at making something with my hands and learning a new skill.  I've also got a burning desire to make more spoons.  And do more courses with Paul.  I'm planning on coming back in summer and working in his outdoor shelter which looked amazing.  I'll keep you posted.


Homemade, Fermented Mustard

IP - mustard

It feels so good to be back in the kitchen. It really feels like the heart of my home and I am so happy when I am making delicious and nutritious food for my family to eat. 

I love making things myself. Instead of buying little jars of pesto and bottles of salad dressing at the supermarket, I prefer homemade. No preservatives, the best ingredients I can afford and of course, fresh!  Not to mention all the benefits of using your hands to make the things you need. It really satisfies my hands, head and heart when I make it myself :)

I recently made homemade, fermented mustard. The recipe by Kirsten K Shockey came from Issue 10: Seed, of the fabulous Taproot magazine. I read this article a long time ago and always wanted to make it. I'm so pleased that I finally did!

IP - Mustards

Making mustard was really easy. There was a moment of doubt when I placed all the ingredients in the blender, pressed start and nothing seemed to happen.  Then after a little while, the mixture began to thicken until I had my very own mustard.  I can't believe how simple it was and how much mustard I made with only a couple of cups of ingredients.  I love the alchemy of the kitchen - magically turning raw ingredients into something delicious!  

Then it was just a matter of sealing up my little jars for three days to ferment, adding some vinegar and then done!  As Kirsten says in the article, mustard doesn't need to be fermented but its nice to add some extra-good fermenty goodness to the mix.  I made the three little jars of yellow mustard and the Lovely G made the big jar of horseradish mustard which my oldest girl devours. 

It's so wonderful to have homemade, fermented mustard with our winter Sunday roasts!


Honouring the Seasons and Cycles of Nature

Legato Perfume - Studio
 
This year I’ve been connecting with the seasons and how they effect my energy and creativity.
 
I’m really keen to learn more about the local seasons for where I live - the S.E. corner of Australia.  The Aboriginal people had seven seasons for this part of the world.  Each season is heralded by something happening in nature.  A particular grass flowering or the little brown bats flying.  I love this way of honouring and acknowledging the seasons.  By looking at what is actually happening in nature rather than flipping to a date on the calendar on the wall.  It feels so right and so real.  I don’t know a lot about it yet so for now, I’m still going by the traditional European seasons.
 
Autumn this year was a real time of harvest.  I was very busy doing and making for my Legato Perfumes.  The crisp mornings and warm days filled me with energy after the languid laziness of summer.  I was focussed on getting my perfumes ready for market and my web site up and running.  I was a woman on a mission!
 
I had a sense of urgency, of getting things done before winter set in.  And I am so very glad I did because when winter came, I slowed right down.  I started nesting and organising the house, getting ready for those chilly, rainy days and long, dark winter nights.  My desk has had a lovely makeover and is now warm and inviting.  I've gathered into one place all the things I need for my current passion - perfume making.  It beckons to me on the cold winter evenings to come and sit and draw and write.
 
As well as connecting with the seasons, I have also been connecting with my own menstural cycle.  It’s amazing to me that I have been menstruating for so long without paying any attention to the effect my cycle has on my mood and emotions.  I’m talking about more than cramps and PMT here.  I’m talking about knowing the times when I am fertile and creative; when I am fallow and need rest.  
 
I used to chafe at the urge to sit and rest.  I resented it and just kept pushing through.  Now, I’m so much better at giving in gracefully to the urge to sit on the couch reading books and drinking cups of tea.  I’m not “doing” anything in partiular but I am doing something very important - I am regenerating.  Nature and animals understand this instinctively.  They hibernate in winter; the earth lies fallow.  While it is resting, it is regenerating, preparing for Spring and new life and new growth.  I've come to realise that I am much the same.
 
I need to balance my times of activity with periods of rest in which to regenerate.  I remind myself that this resting period will pass. I will feel like making and writing once more.  I resist the urge to "do", knowing that after resting, I will have so much more energy to do what needs to be done.  Instead of pushing through, getting cranky and making mistakes, I rest.  And when I have rested, I am filled with energy and simply fly through my projects and list of things to do!

A Heart of Green

IP - sprouts

Hello!  It's so nice to be back here, blogging again.  Hope you've been well :)

There's a definite chill in the air. A couple of weeks ago it even got to -1 C here in Melbourne overnight. 

The colder weather has got me making and writing again.  It has even got me back in the kitchen baking and cooking. I'm craving hearty stews, soups and casseroles. Anything that is hot, filling and sticks to the ribs. 

I've also become really excited about sprouting on the kitchen window sill. Takes so little space and hardly any effort. I love the rhythm of rinsing and draining the sprouts each morning and evening. Waiting for the seeds to sprout is very exciting and it's so satisfying when they do. A little bit of green magic in the heart of winter! 

IP - Sprouts recipe

I turned my lentil sprouts (I also sprouted alfalfa) into this delicious stir fry from the excellent cookbook, Hugh's Three Good Things by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. It was delicious!  The only thing I would change is to have less cashews next time. 

What are you cooking this winter?