Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Insourcing #34....Look where a little bit of DIY and Thrifting gets you...

Each month I like to do a tally of the many ways in which I've saved my family money. I draw up a three columns, and in one, I list what I've made or found at the thrift store or DIY'd, in the second, I list a value, and in the third, I note ways in which we've been able to then reward ourselves.
This month I'm really proud as we not only saved ourselves a lot of money by Insourcing, but we managed a little getaway for ourselves, a ski trip for our daughter, and some bling for me as rewards! This would not be possible, if we were out wildly flinging money around on swanky gifts for friends or ourselves on a week in-week out basis.
So first of all, I made all meals. And when I say all meals, I mean ALL meals. This alone saves us an enormous amount of money as opposed to eating out, and I'll confidently call that a saving of at least $600 for the month as for the 3 of us to even have a nice lunch at a café` once a week would easily cost $150 each time.  But thankfully, that didn't mean we were in some sort of culinary purgatory. We enjoyed fresh lush salads as seen at the top of my post, café style breakfasts...

...a lavish brunch with family...
...and interesting and tasty gluten free lunches...
Shopping at our lovely local thrift stores yielded a 60s/70s inspired costume for my daughters upcoming Dance Night for under $30, saving over $100...
...and some pretties for me that rival the designer stuff I'd been eyeing off on Net-A-Porter, saved me literally a bare minimum of $600...

...these two pure linen blouses were brand new, still with tags, and set me back just $22 each. I've since returned and bought a third, in a different style again, and it was reduced from the $22 to just $10. These were all originally almost $200. Lucky me!
My daughter and I trimmed each others hair with our CreaClip (available on eBay) and that investment of $35 has saved us thousands in the last three years. We both have long hair, all one length, so trimming it with this little tool is a simple task, but you can engineer quite complex haircuts with this if you are brave enough to try! We were actually going to 'treat' ourselves to a visit to the hairdresser, just for fun, but when we discovered it was going to set us back $45 EACH for a trim, we very quickly changed our minds! I put a toner through my silver grey hair and conditioned it too, saving a further $55.
I finally got around to making some Annabel (The Bluebirds are Nesting Blog) inspired gift ribbon. This is just a thrifted vintage floral sheet, torn into lengths about 7-8cms (2-3 inches) wide. It's then stamped with a black ink pad and a cute stamp (Annabel uses a chandelier but I couldn't find one...I've since found a bird cage though, and will share photos of that result soon), and the image is coated in glitter paint/glue. I will wrap some parcels with it later in the week, to give you an idea of just how cute and adorable this actually looks when used with butchers paper and a bit of panache`.
I now have...well, I don't know, but it must be at least 35 metres of this, rolled around cardboard shapes to use and gift.
That's a saving on gift ribbon alone, of $70, minimum.
I made these cute Dancing Ribbons for my granddaughters out of nothing, saving probably $20 on colouring or other activity books for their recent visit..
 ...and my daughter and I did our own manicures with Jamberry vinyl wraps, saving at least $210 over the course of a month, on salon manicures.
Now just so you know, all this insourcing is not completely thankless or bereft of fun.
This month I got in a mind to have myself an Art Deco inspired Insect Brooch. I found this one on Etsy, and it's on it's way to me now. I think it's very cute with it's Moonstone and Pearl body, garnet eyes, and Plique a Jour wings.
As mentioned, the teen woman-child flitted off on a school supervised ski trip in another state, and while she was away, husband and I were able to escape to this view, five hours drive from home...
Now that's what I call a successful month of insourcing!
What about you? How did you save money? And how did you reward yourself? Tell me all...


Monday, August 29, 2016

50 & Fab....using Google and thrifting to make better sense of your wardrobe...

 Look, not all of us are natural Fashion Divas, are we.
I was fairly accomplished at looking good when I was younger and a size 8-10 (that's a 2-4 U.S.), but I've bemoaned  here and here, as I've grown older, I've found it more difficult to find what suits me and makes me look up-to-date and trendy. This wouldn't matter so much if I didn't still have a teen daughter at school, who constantly urges me not to look 'old'. Ummmm. Thanks Honey.
Quite often, I have the basics on hand as my wardrobe is primarily black, white, neutrals and denim, but I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to put it all together. You too?
I know how I'd like to look though. Just neat, and maybe a little edgy, but not ridiculously so. It doesn't help that at 163cms tall I am a petite Plus size though, so therein is the rub. How to find things that are photographed on slender people, that also suit little, cuddly me. 
So I tend to Google. Even admiring things on Polyvore or Net-A-Porter, isn't necessarily helpful, as I actually need to see the components on a human, to decide if they're worth a try for me.
At the top of my post here, is an image I found on Google, that utilises pieces very similar to those I already have on hand. Yes the models are younger, and slender, but I could tell straight away, that even these looks, can translate suitably to short, cuddly, 50-ish me.
Here are my versions...

Outfit one:
Distressed jeans from Big W $30
White T-shirt Big W $15
Quilted black sateen jacket Lifeline $25
Prada belt Lifeline $12
Vintage beaded clutch with chain - my own - needs repair...waaaahhh! It's about forty years old!
Outfit two:
Same distressed jeans
Soft denim coat with interesting details Target $80 (a splurge last year)
Black t-shirt Big W $15
Silver Cuff Lifeline $2
Prada sunglasses - a gift

Outfit three:
Black Ponti knit pencil skirt Lifeline $25
White T-shirt Big W $15
Black and White polka dotted double georgette scarf Lifeline $4
Black sateen vest with quilted collar and interesting details Lifeline $25
Vintage leatherette clutch - my own
Outfit four, just to show the difference accessories can make:
Same as above, but with...
H & M scarf in Spring tones Lifeline $4 (brand new still had the tags on it)
Pearlised Baby Pink Louis Vuitton look-a-like tote, purchased in Turkey on our cruise last year for 45 Euros
There's really nothing hard there, is there? It's just a matter of looking at how the elements are combined to yield a certain look. You then of course, keep your eyes peeled at the sales and the thrift shops, to find similar components.
Yesterday I Googled 'over 50 fashion', and found the images above of some 50-ish ladies at London Fashion Week. They sported the sort of look I like. Not too much frou-frou, comfortable, and just a little unusual.
Note the first lady with her hat, tweedy jacket, cross-body bag, and lounge slippers, the second one with a tunic top and a fringed skirt with ankle booties, and the third with my favourite look of cigar thin pants, loose top and great accessories. I even have those shoes, albeit they're not the real deal and they're bright orange (see, I do like orange...just not close to my face!). None of these ideas is difficult for me to replicate.
Over the next few weeks, I'll be returning to my favourite Op Shops, to find what I need to achieve these looks. Here's my list:
Black felt fedora
Grey tweed like jacket
Something with a fringe that I can cut off and use to stitch to a skirt I already have
Black silky blouse with white trim (dang...I had one just like this and recently returned it to Lifeline as I hadn't found a way to wear it!)
That is actually all I need. I have all the other elements.
And next time, I promise I'll ask my daughter to photograph me IN the clothes. That's a difficult task when you're in the house alone...hahaha!
Have fun!
Read more on this topic here.
Remember that Five Star Frou-Frou is now a never ending linkup with a feature each time I post.
Todays feature is this lush Summer Salad from Fabi at Fabi-Fabu, just right for the gently warming temperatures in my part of the world. Thanks for linking Fabi!
Love ya, Mimi xxx

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Motherly Advice...How to tell if someone is wearing thrifted clothing...

Lanvin $1500+
Vintage Stella McCartney $180

Vintage Gianni Versace on Etsy $500

My jacket $25
Are you an Op-Shopper? A Goodwill fan? A Vinnies Vogue Bogan?
Shopping for clothing at second hand stores can be thrilling and save you a lot of money, if you go about it the right way. Done slap dash, with beligerence and a bad attitude, it's depressing. But approached with an air of adventure, a good imagination, and a vision of what you want, you can do very well indeed.
I'd like to share some secrets I have learned about dressing Pre` Mode Aime` or in pre-loved fashion. I think I'm something of an expert in this area, to the extent that nowadays, no matter what I need, I check my favourite local Op Shop first. The only exceptions are underwear, swimwear and shoes, all of which I think are better purchased 'new'. My daughter adores vintage shoes though, so we all have our line in the sand, I guess!
It's funny actually. I have one circle of friends who are avid supporters of local thrift stores, or Op Shops as we call them. The term 'Op Shop' stems from the fact that these stores are an Opportunity to score a bargain. And when you look at it that way, Op Shop is kind of a cool name for them!
I have another circle of friends who wouldn't be caught dead in an Op Shop. It's Designer label all the way for them. And when one asked me recently if my fabulous bag was Hermes, I just smiled and said 'what do you think?'. I'm actually not sure whether her decision was yay or nay, but she smiled and nodded knowingly, so what the! I know for a fact, she would have shrivelled up and died, if I'd told her where I'd actually bought it from! Her hand would have recoiled, her nose would have wrinkled, and she would have pulled a face like she'd just stood in something nasty. It does make me laugh!
So the camp, at least where I live, is pretty equally divided. And it has nothing to do with who has cash to splash, and who doesn't. I have friends who are struggling, who still have the latest in everything from Pandora rings to Louis Vuitton bags (perhaps that's why they're struggling??), and friends who have plenty of money, who still love the thrill of a genuine bargain. Go figure.
So here we go....
The first hint is...
Because the fact is, that you cannot tell if someone is wearing thrifted clothing. And anyone who says they can, is fibbing.
You can tell if someone else's taste is not your own, that's for sure. But I have met many a lovely lady dressed in a $2000 outfit, that I wouldn't been seen dead in, and many an even lovelier lady, kitted out for under $50 head-to-toe, who's ensemble I would have killed for.
You can also tell if someone doesn't care how they look. And I guess that's their own business, so we should mind ours. Everyone has different priorities.
But overall, there is no way of knowing that somebody is shopping d'occasion (French for 'second hand', and doesn't the French version of that phrase sound so much nicer!). So don't even go there.
You see, it's about research, knowing what suits you, and maybe even what is perennially stylish. It's a little bit about being 'on trend', to coin an oft used phrase, and a lot of being soignee`, and bien dans sa peau...or 'elegant and well groomed' and 'comfortable in our own skin', for we uninitiated folk.
So here's my second tip..
Don't just buy a dress or a shirt. Really think about how you will wear each piece and try to assemble an entire outfit. Accessories really can make all the difference, from the right little jacket or cardi over a Fit and Flare dress, to a long necklace or pendant to lenthen your silhouette. Shoes are important to get The Look too. I find that taking a pair of nude heels or wedges with me when I shop, gives me a whole different perspective on an outfit or dress. It's a useful tool.
Colours and accessories, as well as bag shapes, jeans colours and styles, jacket shapes, boot heel heights, and fabric prints, are all cyclic.
Animal prints come into and go out of fashion with ridiculous regularity. So much so, that leopard print, for example, is just about considered a perennial neutral these days, and may as well be treated the same as black, white and camel in stylish wardrobes. I have it on good authority from a French friend, that animal prints are best served in moderation though. So think a belt in a leopard print, or a scarf, or a purse. Not head to toe Leopard!
This years slouchy tote bag trend, is next years boxy clutch purse, is the following years Japanese Hobo bag. I find it useful to have one black, one tan, one cream, one nude and one metallic bag. These seem to cover all occasions. Again, what is more important is to have a bag that enhances your outfit, and your body shape.
Following style trends early in the season by window shopping either at your local shopping mall or online, means you can get first dibs at any similar looks at the thrift store or vintage fashion retailers. My favourite to get ideas on what the fashionistas are up to this year, is Net-A-Porter. I've taken screen shots of many a favourite there, and snaffled a look-a-like bargain within days, at my local oppy. Check out my cream satin jacket at the top of my post, and the corresponding designer ones from which I drew inspiration. I wasn't looking for the exact same jacket. I was shopping the look.
1. If orange is the rage, and orange suits you, then let the thrift store be your first port of call to supplement your wardrobe for the new season. If orange (or insert current colour du jour) makes you look ill, then perhaps you inject citrus into your wardrobe in other ways. An amber necklace, real or faux, bright orange sandals and bag, or some fun retro beads over your basic black.
2. If a certain shape of jacket, blouse, jeans or pants is being revived, then check the thrift store for that too. Who would have thought that Bomber jackets would come back into vogue, but there they are all over Net-a-Porter, with many a designer name attached, for all to see.
3. Think creatively when you're looking. Dresses can become blouses, maxis can be shortened to knee length, mens shirts can become dresses, a shirt a little too small to be a shirt for you can become a jacket over a cami. Jeans can become shorts or capri pants or be embellished in new fun ways (distressed, bejewelled, embroidered, bleach dyed), cardigans can be dyed and trimmed with lavish ribbons or lace and French knots or Bullion roses, Fishermans and Argyle sweaters can become vests, bags, iPad covers, cushions and footstool covers.
4. Most fabrics can be dyed to a colour you prefer, and some garments are worth buying simply for the luxurious fabric, buttons, embroidery or other embellishments. I bought a 60s wedding gown a few years ago. Not because I was particularly enamoured with the style, but because it had several metres of vintage Venetian lace and Silk Shantung in it's construction. I paid $60 for it. The lace alone is easily worth ten times that much in todays prices. I still can't bring myself to pull it apart, but I do ultimately have plans to turn it into a pair of slender evening pants, and a fabulous jacket.
 Similarly I purchased another vintage wedding gown last year, because it had a Bustier top covered in daisy themed Guipure lace, and a frothy Cinderella style skirt made from miles and miles of organza and tulle. Again, the fabric alone in this dress would have hovered around the $600-$700 mark. I made my daughter a knee length tulle skirt from the underskirt of that one. We dyed it baby blue, and she wears it to the theatre or ballet when we go, with a thrifted 60s baby blue cardigan a la Kiera Knightly as seen below. The whole ensemble probably cost us $30 and she turns heads, for all the right reasons, every time she wears it.
When shopping for something similar to a style you've admired online or elsewhere, ask yourself what it is that appeals to you. Is it the colour? The shape? The combination of accessories? The fabric? Try to pin down exactly what it is you like, so that you know where to start your hunt.
And remember that simple separates, made from luxury fabrics, will always be in style.
Which brings me to my third tip....
Seriously. If you're paying 10c in the dollar, on the original retail price of your thrifted goodies, go for the decent stuff. Pass up the chain store items, that others have realised weren't worth the $10 sale price, and learn to recognise good fabric, quality workmanship and natural fibres.
Head to your local haberdashery, and really look at the silks, the linens, the brocades and silk jacquards, and the cool and comfortable rayons. Feel them. Notice the difference between a pure linen and a linen blend. The fine weave and drape of a silk, over a polyester. The weight of a double georgette or silk chiffon, over a less expensive one. Look at the wools and wool blends and see how much classier they look, than polar fleece and flannelette, however comfy those fabrics may be. Check out the Ponti knits and the Microfibre suiting and feel how much thicker, more durable and luxurious they are over lycra and cotton knit fabrics. Take note too, of the colour trends and patterns. Overall, things like gingham and polka dots are fairly perennial if they're the right colour, and floral prints of the right type, can hide a multitude of body faults. Just remember always...dress for your shape. If you don't know your body shape, check out this Body Shape Calculator. Once you realise how dressing for your shape flatters you, you'll never look back! These little nuances are what makes the difference between looking carefully kitted out, and just thrown together.
The only exception I make to this rule, bizarrely, is with handbags and wallets. I know, I know. Everybody says to buy genuine leather. But honestly, my daughter and I are so rough on our handbags and wallets, tossing them on the floor of the car, squishing them under dance bags and grocery bags, and generally disrespecting them, that it would be criminal to bother. Not only that, but we both agree that the cutest bags and wallets, are not necessarily leather. We have leather look-a-like, wicker, fabric and beaded bags that we adore. That said, I do have a few leather bags, and I love them. But not for day to day use. I'm pretty fussy with bags, full stop. They must be neat, structured, and tidy looking. No hobo bags for me! Know thyself. Just because it's a bargain basement, op-shop price, doesn't mean it suits you!
If you're going to talk 'quality', you have to mention Vintage, and well, who says what is vintage these days? Vintage seems to have taken on a life of it's own. Genuine vintage items are happily mixed with modern Boho and Johnny-come-lately designer label Wiggle dresses, and nobody knows, or cares, which is which any more. For sure though, if your vintage dress looks good on you, and it's stood the test of time over 20, 30, 40 years, then I guess it falls under the umbrella of 'quality' in it's own right.
Once you know your linen from your cotton blend, and your rayon from your nylon, you'll start to appreciate that garments made from natural fibres, or quality modern fibre mixes, look better, wear better, and can look more lush and expensive, than their lesser counterparts.
And finally....
Connoisseur: to be an expert judge in matters of taste....for you.
I am at an age, where I know what suits me and what doesn't. I also know what I can carry off in the course of my usual day, and week, and no longer bother too much what everyone else thinks.
For example, I love dresses, and I've come to realise that dresses can be my thing (after years of living in jeans and flowy shirts), IF the dress is right for my Apple shape. So if I see a dress I really love, I have to first ask myself if it will be flattering in shape, silhouette and colour, for my height and build. Just because it looks good on the hanger or on someone else, doesn't mean it's a good look for you.
Thrifting is great, but it's also worth remembering that basic seamstress skills never go astray to add that bit of pizazz to your ensemble. I'm in the process of making myself a Summer jacket, similar to one by Dolce & Gabbana (a favourite of mine). Here it is...
I spotted the fabric below, the very morning after admiring this gorgeous little number above, on my Net-a-Porter email, and falling in love with it, but not with the price tag of $3,150.
I think it's close enough, and a simpler little jacket to make, cannot be imagined. I'll line it to give it some body and structure. I know that D&G used tulips too, and this is poppies, but hey...the colourway is so similar, who cares? This fabric is actually a quilters panel, so again, use your imagination, and keep your eyes peeled and your mind open!
What are your preferred wardrobe colours? Do you like prints? If so, do you prefer florals, geometrics, vintage style prints? Do you lean towards the tiny print, or the oversized graphic style like my poppies? Have you worked out what Body Shape you are? That's the sort of silly nuts and bolts stuff you need to know about yourself, whether you're op-shopping or not. That's what prevents you from making mistake purchases that look good on the hanger, but perhaps not on YOU.
I am a connoisseur of what suits ME. Do you know what looks best on you?
Remember, with a bit of research, thought, planning and knowledge, you too, can beat the retailers at their own game, look fabulous and save money.
Have you made any fabulous Op Shop finds lately?

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Homespun Year....1 minute projects....Dancing Ribbons...

Here's a quick and easy project for you to make for the 3-8 year old in your life.
All you need is thrifted bangles, or ones rescued from the depths of your own jewellery box, and several spools of brightly coloured double satin craft ribbon.
Cut lengths from your spools of ribbon that are about your arms length.
Tie them to the bangles in contrasting strips.
That's it.
Let your little sweethearts pretend to be Olympic Gymnasts. Fun!
A reminder that Five Star Frou-Frou is now a never ending linkup, with a featured blogger and post each and every time I post!
You can find the linkup here.
Todays feature is my namesake, the 'other' Mimi, who has a fabulous blog on fashion for we 'more lovely for longer' ladies. I love her posts at In My Prime Time and this one on colours for the coming season, is a goodie.
I do love those elegant neutrals at the bottom right hand corner, but confess that the pinks on the top row caught my eye too!
To everyone who has been linking, stay tuned for your features over the next few days!
Love to all!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Motherly Advice....A few of my favourite things....

I must still be a kid at heart.
The Winter colds and chills, and evil wind here, have got the better of me and I'm feeling less than chipper. You know the one. Sandpaper throat, scratchy eyes, heavy eyelids and the need to alternately snuggle under covers, and lay cool cloths on ones forehead for relief. Gotta love Winter in the Tropics. We sunlovers are never really ready for it!
Funny thing though, when I'm under the weather, I'm stupidly comforted by my trinkets and treasures, much as I was soothed by a cherished doll and a blanket as a child. Perhaps it's about caring for ourselves when we're not feeling the best. What do you think?
I wear my Three Graces cameo, seen above, with my comfiest woollies and a pair of pearl earrings, and curl up with a French Earl Grey tea and a book that allows me to nod off easily.

My daughter brings me my vintage hand mirror and matching clothes brush, so that I do not have to move for tending to dry lips, nor to whisk toast crumbs from my lap. She's so sweet and thoughtful.

When I do have to venture outdoors, as I will very shortly for the after school pickup, my vintage Aurora Borealis brooch, as big as the palm of my hand, will prevent my warm scarf from being whipped from my neck in the wind.

And the simple fact that these delightful oversized Chrysanthemums, are the exact hue of my iPod on my desk, makes me smile. Silly, I know.
What are your favourite things? How do you cheer yourself when the sniffles strike?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Motherly Advice...Eating well and healthfully on a budget....

I've heard it said often that it's hard to eat healthily on a budget. One is forced to purchase less expensive cuts of meat, and make lesser protein choices, to meet the constraints of the portion of family income allocated to groceries. This can be even more difficult when food allergies are involved.
Well, first off, let me say that we eat gluten free in our household. We don't have any other restrictions however, so this post is not for families who are dealing with multiple allergies or dietary restrictions.
We do however, loosely follow the menu plans of a well known weight loss guru here in Australia, primarily because we find the menu choices are well suited to our preferences. The plan focuses on quality protein, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and very little in the way of convenience foods and sugary treats. We love it, but for a family, it can be a pricier way to eat.
Over a period of time though, we've found ways to slash our food budget even when following this plan, and incorporate some of our previously 'less healthy' choices, seriously modified, so that they too, can be included.
An interesting point for the budget conscious, is that we've found that often, weight for weight, it is actually less expensive to buy fresh, than tinned or pre-packaged foods, that we'd always considered 'healthy'. That was a revelation.
For example, let's take spicy salami like Chorizo, sliced deli meats like Pepperoni, and mince based meals like rissoles, burgers and sausages.
These are all considered inexpensive family foods as you either need little of them to make a meal, as in Pepperoni on a pizza, putting a patty in a bun for a burger, or tossing Chorizo through a salad or pasta dish. The fact that they're high in fat and salt, is what makes them so tasty, but these factors mean they're also not that good for you. Weight for weight, they are also not always that budget friendly if you do the maths. In terms of filling hungry tummies, protein wins hands down too.
I make my own sausage/spicy meat patties, seen here below, and served on a slice of gluten free bread that's been lightly sprayed with olive oil, pan fried, and settled on a leafy salad, they're as good as any fatty, over salted, unhealthy salami. I hasten to add, that this is not genuine home made salami, which is a far more complex item to replicate. This is simply little rounds of well spiced and seasoned meat, that are a very acceptable replacement when salami is called for.  Here's the recipe, Nanna style, in four sentences....
Home made Spicy Sausage (Salami replacement)
Combine leanest beef or turkey mince, with 1/2 teaspoon each Smoky Paprika, dried garlic granules, dried onion flakes, dried Thyme, dried red chilli, a pinch of Cayenne Pepper, and a pinch of salt. Add a generous grind of black pepper. Place the seasoned mince between two sheets of Baking Paper, and roll very thinly with a rolling pin. Dip a round scone (biscuit for my U.S. friends) cutter in flour and removing the top sheet of baking paper first, cut the mince into little rounds. Re-roll the leftover mince as you go, or simply flatten with clean hands, and keep cutting.
This yields an astounding number of these little thin patties (at least as many as you'd slice from a knob of salami or chorizo), and they can be frozen between the sheets of baking paper, then tipped into a ziplock bag for easy storage once frozen. To use, you simply remove them from the freezer, and pan fry them from frozen, as you would Chorizo, salami or any other deli meat. They are less expensive, infinitely healthier, and moist, flavoursome and succulent over a salad, topping pasta, between slices of bread, or atop a salad as seen below. They're also excellent served as Burger chain style cheeseburgers on a small bun with pickle and tomato relish. Scrumptious!
A healthier choice and a further great budget saving on deli meats, can also be made with my poached chicken or Annabels meatloaves.

Whole flat field mushrooms, oven roasted, are a great vegan or vegetarian option for the same type of meal, and again, a meal like this one, served at a café` (where you've had to wait up to 45 minutes for your food) would relieve you of at least $12-$16 of your hard earned cash. All well and good if you have it, but if not...well....
I allow 8 field mushrooms per serve for this one, as they shrink with roasting. We love this for Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner, and it always leaves the crowds begging for more. Here's that recipe...
Roasted Field Mushrooms with Herby Ciabatta and vegetables
Make a marinade of olive oil, juice and zest of one lemon, one small red chilli deseeded and sliced finely, a pinch of Sumac (a citrusy Middle Eastern Spice), salt and pepper. Marinate the whole field mushrooms for up to 30 minutes, while your oven preheats to 175C fan forced. Roast the marinated mushrooms on a lined tray for 20-30 minutes, then serve atop a salad of rocket (arugula) and tomato wedges. Spray a slice of Ciabatta or other bread lightly with olive oil and pan fry, pressing flat with a spatula to brown well, and serve with the mushrooms, topping with home marinated feta cubes.

Protein is protein, provided you replace a lean protein with a similar one. So when our diet gurus menu plan called for lamb fillets and there were none to be found, they were replaced with easily sourced (and significantly less expensive weight for weight) Pork leg steaks. Similarly, when the menu plan called for Wraps, and we know from long hard experience that the gluten free Wraps are....well....a word that rhymes with Wrap...we replaced that carb with a small quantity of one that is more palatable. Therefore, lamb and salad wraps with minted yoghurt, becomes pork steak and pasta salad with a sprinkling of fresh Parmesan.
Pork, Pasta and Parmesan Salad
For each three persons, allow two lean pork steaks, pan frying these for 6 minutes on one side, 2 on the other, then setting aside to rest for a couple of minutes while you assemble the rest of the salad. Cook pasta spirals (just a small handful per person) to al dente`, and cut up two lettuce leaves and 10 cherry tomatoes per person, slicing the cooked pork into thin slivers while you're at it.  Toss well with fresh parsley and sliced shallots, adding the Parmesan as a garnish. Serve with a fresh lemon wedge on the side. Lip smackin' good, I tell you. 

We eat (and the diet guru recommends) a lot of chicken breast. Fortunately we love chicken breast so this is not a hardship in any way, but finding new and inventive ways to serve it can be challenging. When the guru called for chicken baked in tinned tomatoes and Mozzarella, and we had no tinned tomatoes or Mozzarella, I knew I could do better.
Italian Chicken with Vegetable Medley and Cherry Bocconcini
Cut one chicken breast in half lengthwise to yield two thinner fillets, and allow one fillet per person. Line a baking dish or pie dish with diced vegetables (I used celery, capsicum, and onion), and top with the chicken fillets. Embellish with more capsicum and cherry bocconcini, and dust with Oregano, Thyme and Basil. Bake in a preheated 175C oven for 25 minutes.

Watch out...shot coming up of one kitchen bench that has NOT been carefully've been warned....

I top this one with my Roasted Field Mushrooms too. You can never have too many yummy oven roasted mushrooms, I say!

Often a high protein snack is called for, and tinned tuna and tinned or smoked salmon, seem to be a repeating theme for breakfasts, lunches and snacks. Rather than buying the tiny single serve tins of tuna and salmon, you may find as I have, that buying salmon fillets and pan frying them, again weight for weight, is a good option. I regularly snap up fresh salmon when it's marked down, or on special, pan fry it immediately upon getting home, and store it in sealed containers in the fridge, for a ready addition to scrambled eggs, to have on toast or as a snack salad as seen below, where I've combined just one third of a freshly pan fried Salmon filet, with rocket and avocado for a delicious mid afternoon snack that leaves a Tim Tam and a coffee for dead. Well for me, at least.
You might be surprised to know that my two fresh salmon fillets, snapped up at Aldi yesterday for $6.50  for a 500gm tray, work out to be far less expensive than those tiny tins of salmon at $2 for 125gms. Weight for weight, that's $1.62 for 125gms fresh salmon, as opposed to $2-$3 for the tinned. An eye opener, right? And before you get all squeamish about buying marked down salmon (or anything for that matter), what do you think happened? Do you really think that one minute it was 'fresh' and the next minute it was 'off'? Please. These things are dictated by the 'use by' or 'best by' date. To be on the safe side though, it's always good policy to cook or freeze them immediately upon getting them home. Common sense, friends. Common sense.

And of course, when we've been sooooo good all week, and eaten healthfully, exercised and generally behaved ourselves, if we're going to have a treat, it's gonna be a good one. Like my home made berry jam and home made clotted cream, on a piece of gluten free toast. Yum. Lavish and mouthwatering and infinitely better than any bought treat. Sorry. It's the truth.
Now all of this looks like an expensive option, doesn't it? It might surprise you to know that my budget, for all meals and snacks is $65 per person, per week. So if it's my husband and I and our daughter is away (as she is for a week soon), I'll spend around $130. If she's home it's closer to $180. But remember, that's ALL meals and snacks and treats. It's a healthy diet, serving restaurant quality meals (or at least up market café` quality) meals, filled with good quality protein and lashings of fresh fruit and vegetables, AND it keeps us trim (well, trim-er than we've been in the past!), and energetic, rather than slow and sluggish. It's worth spending that smidgen more just for that alone.
This week, I can say that if we'd eaten out for each of the meals I've served, as we would perhaps on an overseas holiday, we'd have been looking at a bare minimum of $135 per day for the three of us, or $945 for the week. And that's a very conservative estimate. When we've been overseas, we've had days where we'd spend twice that depending upon where we were.
If we'd eaten similarly but used convenience foods and processed meats, I'd have spent around $45 per day for the three of us, or $315 for the week, and again, that's a very conservative figure.
By eating at home, replacing one good protein for another, but doing so with an eye to the budget, and as always, preparing as much as possible myself, as well as replacing out of season fresh produce with ones in season, I've spent just $178. No it's not a rock bottom figure, but it's pretty darned good.
That's a saving on an 'eating out' budget of $767, and a saving on a 'convenience food' menu of similar quality, of $137.
It just goes to show what a difference choosing wisely can make to the budget and your health. Certainly comparing a quantity of tinned or processed food, with a similar quantity of a like-for-like fresh food, can be a real eye opener in itself!
Be creative and see what healthier options you can come up with for your family menu and budget. You might surprise yourself!
Mimi xxx

Monday, August 1, 2016

A Homespun Year...Old fashioned Smocking for Beginners...

Back in January, when I declared 2016 to be my Homespun Year at A Tray of Bliss, I asked you to imagine what new skills you could adopt that could generate gifts, or even a part time income, and perhaps save money too. Lets face it. The learning of some new skills requires huge investments of money up front, so I was determined that you and I not to fall into that trap. I urged you to contemplate being in January 2017, and being able to look back upon the previous year with satisfaction and pride, at having stretched yourself and your skills to embrace something new and exciting.
So. How are you going with that? I hope you've truly found some fresh and absorbing skills, and accomplished a few wonderful and treasured projects!
Can I share my progress?
To date, there have been a few new skills tried, and a few new recipes and ideas aired, and strangely, many of these were somewhat unplanned, and sort of found me, rather than me searching for them!
I've made Cumquat Marmalade, Wool Wash, Dreamcatchers, Crepe Paper Roses, Lace Rosettes, Satin and Georgette Rosettes, Shortcrust Pastry Roses, a Frozen themed birthday cake, a Rainbow batter birthday cake, and Petit Fours. I've had enormous fun with Fibre Collage for costumes, made Elvish Tiaras, embellished pillow cases, made rice filled Book Weights, hand coloured my own Sugar Glitter, and made Scented Candles in vintage sugar bowls. There have been a few other little projects that weren't the successes I'd hoped for, but overall, I think that's good progress!

The newest skill I'd like to share with you, is Smocking, and I hope you'll become as addicted to this beautiful Heirloom skill as I'm going to be!

Those of us of a 'certain vintage' may recall having nightgowns with smocking on them, and certainly even now, smocking adorns upmarket baby and childrens wear of the kind favoured by celebrities and Royals. Even young Prince George has worn smocked outfits.

Smocking is a method of pleating and embellishing that has adorned clothing since the Middle Ages and it remains highly sought after, and increasingly, very expensive, for the simple reason that it's time consuming. Yet another Heirloom skill, that we too can master, and share proudly with our friends and loved ones!

I'd always shied away from it as it seemed so complicated, but finally, with some gingham in hand from my fabric stash, I gave it a try, and I'm thrilled with the results.

This method is called Honeycomb smocking, due to it's resemblance to honeycomb in a bees hive. It's less complex than the methods that require tiny pleats and lavish embellishment, like young Prince Georges, but no less pretty for it.

The gingham checks make a neat and easy guide for your smocking, and whilst my checks are smallish, you can use a large check, or any other fabric that has a grid pattern that is repeating. In traditional smocking, a series of dot points is transferred to your fabric either by hand, or more recently, by using transfer paper with pre-marked dot grids on them. Your dots are used as markers for your stitching, thus ensuring a straight and even smocked effect. If your dots are crooked, so too, will your smocking be out of alignment.

This is where the gingham does all the hard work for you as you already have a neat little grid with which to work.

My project is relatively small, and I recommend that you start small too, if only to get the hang of things before embarking on a more ambitious project. I decided that my first smocking project would be a pocket for an apron for my granddaughter.

I cut a generous length from my gingham, multiplying the desired finished width of my pocket by 2.5, to get my width of fabric with which to work. The smocking gathers the fabric as you go, so you need a generous amount to start with. Mine was going to be a large-ish pocket to be placed in the middle of the apron. I multiplied the desired finished width of 18cms (7 inches) by 2.5, to arrive at a width of fabric to be cut, of 45cms (17.5 inches). I allowed a depth of 40cms (16 inches) to give me a bit of length to play with in case I made a boo-boo! Make sure you use the selvedge edge (the finished side edge of the fabric that doesn't fray) as your width, and the guide for your stitching, or your finished smocking will be out of shape. If you don't know what I mean, pull on your fabric vertically, horizontally and diagonally, as if to stretch it. One way will have a little more give than the other. The selvedge edge has less 'give' and will be more stable for your smocking. For a clearer explanation of 'weft and warp' and 'selvedge', see here.

I looked at many tutorials before I found one that made sense to me here. Even then, I had to actually start stitching before some of the instructions were clear.

So, here's my interpretation.

If you are right handed, start at the right hand side of your fabric. If you are left handed, start at the left. Many tutorials mentioned this and I think it's because it's easier to see where you're going, than it is to be looking at where you've! When you get started, you'll see what I mean.

Now I decided to work with the darkest square on my gingham as my reference point. I also chose to work from top right hand point of that square, to the top right hand point of the next dark square along. Remember, I'm right handed, so I'm working from right to left, not left to right as you would with handwriting. You need to choose a point and remain consistent with that throughout, to ensure your smocking is nice and straight and even.

Many tutorials said to use embroidery floss, but as I had some sewing thread in a deeper teal colour that I thought would be a nice accent on the aqua blue check, I used that, doubled so I had two strands to work with. You can use contrasting colours too of course, which gives an entirely different effect.

So remembering that all we are really doing is creating a series of offset pleats, you start at a point near the top right hand corner of your fabric, and in the top right hand corner of the colour of square you're using as your guide. Knot the end of your thread, and bring the needle from back to front at that corner of the square, and make a tiny backstitch to secure the thread. Remember if you're left handed, you're starting at the left, and using the left hand corners of the squares as your guide.

Here you can see that I'm stitching together the top right hand corner of one dark square, to the top right hand corner of the next. These two lines of stitching, are actually one row of smocking, and you'll see how in a minute.
You can see the joined squares more clearly here below...

First of all, you bring your needle from back to front on the top right hand corner of the square at which you want to start your smocking. Make a little backstitch to secure it.
With your needle brought from back to front, you now take up a tiny, incremental piece of your square (maybe a third of that square), and take your needle across to the top right hand corner of the next corresponding dark square, and do the same, seen here below.

You've now formed two tiny little pleats.
Gently pull your thread to make the two little pleats come together to form your smocked stitch...

...then secure it with a second backstitch as seen below..

Drop down to the top right hand corner of the next dark square, immediately beneath the second square you've just connected with your pleat and stitch.

You've just created the first two stitches of your row of smocking. You'll continue to do this, offsetting each upper and lower stitch, forming the diamond (honeycomb pattern) of your smocking.  Note that I had already finished my first row of smocking before I took these photos, so I'm actually working my second row of smocking here. I apologise if that's confusing.

Time to create your next two stitches, and begin forming that honeycomb look. Put your needle as close to but not actually in, the hole from where it's currently exiting, so that the needle is now at the back of your work. Take the needle back up to the top right hand corner of the darkest square above the square you've just pleated, and bring the needle back to the front at that corner. Again, this will be clearer when you actually have the work in front of you. See, like this, here below...

Pull the thread through gently, but do not tighten it. That will form a gather where one is not needed. Let the thread lay flat on the back of your work like a large tacking stitch. If you look closely at the photograph below, you'll see my 'tacking stitch', two rows of checks above my thumb at the bottom of the photo....nice and flat and not drawn tight.

Back to where we were, and you're bringing your needle back to the front of your work, in the top right hand corner of the darkest square, immediately above the left hand square you've just worked on....see here below...

This means your work will now be offset, or diagonally opposed to your previous stitch. Again, this makes more sense when you're actually stitching.
Make another pair of tiny pleats. Take up a third of your square with the needle, and...

...take your needle across to the next top right hand corner of the darkest square, and do the same, as you did when forming your first pair of pleats..

...gently pull the pleats together firmly, and secure with another backstitch.

Take your needle to the back of the work near the hole you've just exited, and take it down to the corresponding top right hand corner of the darkest square immediately below the one you've just been working on. This should be one dark square over from your previous bottom stitch. You can already see that you're forming your diamond, or honeycomb pattern as you can see here below, where I had completed a few more stitches, going up and down, with my squares as the guide...

...make another pleat, secure, then return the needle to the back of your work, and go up to the square above, and so on....

Keep going till you reach the opposite side of your piece of fabric, ensuring you leave a bit for seam allowance. If you would like another row of smocking (remembering that each pair of diagonally opposed rows of stitching and pleating, forms one row of smocking), you must return to the right hand side of your work (or left for left-handed people), and start over. You cannot work back and forth as the smocking will twist, or so I've! That makes sense though, as smocking existed to allow a bit of 'give' before elastic was invented!

Isn't it pretty?

Honestly, I found it quite difficult to understand the instructions in the link I provided, and that one was the clearest. And I don't pretend mine are any clearer, as I am a novice. But sometimes things written by a novice, make more sense to another novice. As mentioned, I actually found that once I had the fabric and the needle and thread in front of me, and I was sewing, I got the hang of it pretty quickly. I hope you find that's the case too. Between my hokey instructions, and the ones in the link that talks about dots, you'll find that it's not that hard at all.

I'm now embroidering below this to complete my pocket for my Granddaughters apron. I'll share that when it's done.

What do you think? Will you try your hand at smocking?