Sunday, August 27, 2017

Motherly Advice...How being prepared saved me big time..

This was a challenging and stressful week. Had I not been the prepared type, we could have had budget blow-outs all over the place to add to our stress. Can I say, that everyone thinks these things won't happen to them....until they do.
Here's what happened.
The Diva Child-Woman is in her final year of schooling. Actually her final 50 days of schooling. Like, ever. She has assessments up to her ears, and then some. Our life revolves around getting her through the next 50 days, whilst also supporting her while she prepares for 5 different auditions for her longed for Performing Arts Tertiary Entry. It's a madhouse I tell you.
We started the week with a call saying Mother-in-Law had been hospitalised. She lives three hours away. Husband decided he would visit her while The Diva studied for her upcoming Maths and Chemistry exams in the ensuing days. Mother-in-Law stabilised but at the age of 86, her recovery is slow.
Monday went okay, except that The Diva had a nasty encounter with her very own Bully, someone who has haunted and taunted her for nigh on fifteen years now. She was understandably distressed.
Tuesday she wasn't feeling so well, but went to school anyway, not wanting to miss a vital Dance assessment. The Dance assessment was postponed as virtually nobody else in the class was prepared except her. This was unfortunate due to What Happened Next.

Meanwhile, as part of my normal weekly routine, I was baking little fruit cakes for snacks and lunches, poaching chicken breast to sear quickly and sit atop a planned risotto for later in the week...

...topping up the pantry staples like noodles and spices for soups, because the weather here still cannot decide if it's Winter or Spring...

...making crepes for later in the week...

...using some milk that was near it's use-by date to make fresh ricotta, snipping some fresh herbs into it...
....and making Pumpkin Soup in the slow cooker.
I shopped at my favourite fruit market, and filled the refrigerator with fresh fruit and vegetables, cheeses, and little cornichons, to make for some easy lunches for Husband and I...
...and looked forward to the week ahead, with The Diva getting some all important exams out of the way, and being on the downhill run to finishing school.
Here's What Happened Next.
On Tuesday night, she woke at 1am, pale and clammy, complaining of severe abdominal pain, and nausea. Vomiting episodes ensued, and a decision was made to take her to the hospital.
She was quickly assessed, and within three hours, was diagnosed with Appendicitis, and we were advised that she would be prepped for surgery. That was at 4am.
By 4pm, she had been moved three times to different wards, and was still awaiting surgery. More urgent cases were taking her place in the queue each time, and whilst with appropriate care, her symptoms had subsided, she and we, were exhausted having only had three hours sleep the night before, and she was hungry, and could not eat due to the impending surgery.

What to do?
Well you know, being prepared helps.

Husband was despatched to home turf, to collect the bag we have packed for such emergencies, and it was just under a year ago, that I mentioned such emergencies here at A Tray of Bliss, in this post here. Little was I to know that The Diva would need her bag, before I would need mine! Again, thanks to preparedness, she had all she needed in one small bag, sitting on a shelf in the garage.
While he was there, he was able to pack two small fruit cakes for him and I, and grabbed two of the readymade salad jars, that were sitting in the refrigerator for the lunch we'd missed that day. I didn't photograph them as I didn't think I'd be blogging but they looked like this....
...and I used this recipe here to make them...thanks to Cinnamon, Spice and Everything nice for the recipe, and for this image.
On our way out of the hospital later that evening, we passed a vending machine containing very similar salads-in-a-jar (yes, really...a vending machine!), priced at $16.95 each! As we were eating at the hospital for two days straight, our salad jars alone saved us over $100. Fruit cakes and other snacks and thermoses of tea sourced from home, saved us at least another $100.
The blankets I keep in my car boot, came in handy....

....keeping us warm in the Emergency Room and later in the ward.
The cookies you see at the top of my post? Well they were portioned into cellophane candy bags, and gifted to the wardsmen and nursing staff who cared for our daughter, and for my Mother-in-Law at a different hospital. These people deserve thanks too.
And my bottles of water, mints, and multiple use power bank for recharging our phones, came in mighty handy as well. I keep those in the boot of my car at all times, as a year or two ago, we had such a terrible storm here, that traffic was at a standstill for nearly 7 hours.
You see, mostly we all think of Preparedness as being prepared for financial emergencies, or natural disasters. But here was a simple illness in the family, where being prepared led to calmer Mum and Dad, calmer ill and incapacitated teen, calmer ill Mother-in-Law, and little financial stress other than what we had to pay for parking, which whilst outrageous (that's a whole other topic!), was not financially crippling.
So, yes, being prepared saved me BIG time this week.
How was your week?

Friday, August 18, 2017

Dressing the Petite Plus Sized Apple Shape #8...The Dress...

Here is the tale of the perfect dress for the Apple shape. If you have a figure like my gorgeous daughter, pictured here ready for her Senior Formal, this is not for! Isn't she fabulous?
It has been years since I wore a dress that was anything but what might be kindly called 'floaty'.
I actually prefer the lean look bestowed upon my small, curvy, squishy frame, that wearing slender pants and a shirt gives.
Thanks to my French Chic Academy course however, I am learning to reassess my obsession with pants, and re-evaluating my aversion to dresses and skirts. After all, those French ladies know how to rock a flirty skirt and heels!
I've been digesting information on how to use stripes and diagonals, to guide the eye away from your least favourite features, and towards those that make the most of your shape, much as an arrow would.
The dress in these photographs, purchased to wear to my daughters Senior Formal Parent Meet & Greet, is just about perfect for me, and will be for you too.
 Here is why:
1.  The black section in the centre, disguises a round tummy
2. The three quarter sleeves cover less-than-toned upper arms. I have a real 'thing' about my upper arms. Silliness really. I had a real 'thing' about my upper arms when they were stick thin too!
3. The stripes on the sleeve cuffs, attract the eye to slender wrists, and away from the aforementioned upper arms.
4. The asymmetrical neckline, draws attention to the face, hair, neck and chest, without being unnecessarily revealing.
5. The bands of thin black and white diagonal stripes, form a solid V shape or arrow, pointing first to the neckline, then to the waist, then away from the mid-section to the hemline, where another asymmetrical feature, takes the eye to the knees and ankles. Neckline-Waistline-Hemline is a great visual trick for we Apple shapes.
6. The paler coloured sections advance, drawing the eye, and the darker colour recedes, making the eye ignore those areas.
7. The point of the asymmetrical hemline is black underneath the diagonal band, so attracts the eye, and literally points to the feet to show off ankles and pretty shoes. I don't know about you, but I have another obsession....pretty shoes! So this is a great strategy for me!
8. This dress has no excess voluminous fabric, the usual trick for clothing manufactured for we more curvy types. More fabric, just makes us look more curvy. And not in a good way. That's a lesson that's taken me years to learn! This fabric is a thick stretch with a bit of substance, so that it skims the curves, making you look taller and leaner. It doesn't buckle or crinkle, or go out of shape when worn either.
9. The length of this dress is perfect for a Petite Apple Shape. The shorter part of the hemline is just on the knee, with the asymmetrical point, taking it to just below.
10. The addition of low cut silver pumps with a peeptoe, adds further length to the leg. The nude sandals shown in the top photograph achieve the same effect, but not quite as prettily. On the website from which I purchased the dress, it was styled with similar pumps (court shoes) but in black. I prefer the sleek look that metallic or nude shoes give to the foot. Either way, adding a 'low cut' shoe in a metallic or nude shade, gives the illusion of longer legs and height. If choosing a nude, tan or skin toned shoe, straps across the foot are okay. If choosing a colour, stick with a low cut pump so as not to cut your leg length off, making you look shorter.
11. A matching bag, means that accessories merge and compliment one another, rather than being an additional feature in themselves, allowing the dress to take centre stage. I chose both shoes and bag in a silver faux snakeskin.
12. The overall effect of this dress, with it's arrow type asymmetrical details, is to make the wearer look taller and more slender (at least till I stand next to my statuesque daughter!), and it achieves this goal admirably.

I bought my dress at Birdsnest here. Note that the model pictured, is certainly taller and more slender than I am by far, but I just knew, thanks to Marie-Anne Lecouer and her Academy, that this dress would work for me. These days I am far more adept, at unseeing the model, and looking more closely at the dress to make those decisions.
For my lucky U.S. friends, you could try Dia & Co who offer the most incredible styling service based upon your personal questionnaire. I cannot wait for them to start shipping to Australia!
My shoes were purchased at Styletread here.
My bag was a lucky find on eBay, with a co-operative local seller who speedily posted it in time for it's arrival for the event, but you can find a similar one here.  That one would not have arrived in time for me, but you might be looking further ahead than I was!
I have to say that this is not a style of dress I ever would have chosen left to my own devices. I would have gravitated towards the floaty look dished up to we Apple shaped folk since time immemorial. I would have shopped at the last minute, got frustrated and tearful, and ended up feeling that I had presented myself in a less than favourable light, through sheer lack of choices.
But given a bit of education thanks to the French Chic Academy, a bit more choice thanks to the world wide web, and the luxury of time on my side (except for the little clutch bag!), I was able to research an appropriate style for my shape, source it and get it posted, in plenty of time for my event.
What about you my fellow Petite Plus Apple friend. Would this dress work for you too?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Nannas Recipes....The History of the Dolly Varden Cake...

You thought a Dolly Varden cake was a cake with a doll rising Phoenix like, from it's centre, right?
Nup. A real Dolly Varden cake harks back to a character from a Charles Dickens novel. In the novel series Barnaby Rudge, tributes aplenty describe this fetching creature, seen above, depicted on a Christmas card. Such was her allure that in some countries, she was honoured with Chintz patterns which then adorned ladies vanity tables and wardrobes for years.
Yet others named a (pink and green!) trout after her. Truly.
We in Australia and New Zealand, chose to pay tribute to Dolly Varden by baking a cake.
During a recent declutter of my  hoard  collection of home d├ęcor, gardening and cooking magazines, I actually found a recipe for a true Dolly Varden cake. Mimicking Dolly herself, this was a fanciful confection of three layers. One a fruit cake layer, which then sandwiched itself with layers of red jam, between two layers of butter cake. This was then lovingly decorated with mint green icing and baby pink flowers, to thus commemorate a mode of dress inspired by Dolly, that saw frothy layers and over-embellishments, for years to come. Note Dollys mint green and baby pink outfit, pictured in the card illustration above.
I decided to recreate the Dolly Varden cake, giving it a more modern spin.
I started by baking two Butter Cakes, allowing them to cool, before splitting each in half.

I made a Raspberry Chia seed icing to mimic the jam, by simply making a batch of normal glace` icing (simply icing sugar/powdered sugar, and water), adding 1 cup of thawed frozen raspberries and 1/4 cup of white Chia seeds. This was refrigerated until it formed a nice spreading consistency, thanks to the Chia seeds.

I used this to sandwich my four layers of cake. I could have just used three, to keep things more authentic, but having thrown authenticity out the window, I really couldn't see the point.
My apologies for the lighting in these shots. I do my best cake decorating work at night ;-)

My cake layered with Raspberry Chia Seed Icing, was then refrigerated overnight.
The next morning, I make a batch of Buttercream Frosting, and tinted it palest mint green by using a tootpick, dipped into the food colouring, and adding it bit by bit.
I piled this atop my cake...

...and spread it quickly using a spatula, creating this whipped effect to represent the frothy layers of Dollys skirts...
...I then added pink edible pearls (Cachous), and pale pink pre-purchased flowers.

I thought Dolly's 'dress' needed more colour, so I also added these yellow flowers, reversing the pink ones with yellow centres. To me, Chintz is always yellow...

 I loved my pretty Dolly Varden Cake.
Are you tempted to make one?

Friday, August 4, 2017

Nannas Recipes....Slow Cooked Beef packets!

You don't need complicated recipes and packet mixes to make a fabulous casserole. All you need is flavour, thickener, and stock.
Those you can do yourself. Tomato paste is a great flavour base, cornflour is thickener, and stock, well, any stock cube or home made stock will do. Add herbs and spices to your liking, of course.
Here's how I do mine...
For a casserole that feeds 3-4 people, you'll need:
Casserole steak/Osso Bucco/Lamb shanks (about 800gms/1-2lbs)
1 small carrot per person
1 chopped onion
2 heaped tablespoons Tomato Paste
Stock cube
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup hot water
2 heaped teaspoons Cornflour
Bay leaf
Fresh herbs for serving if you wish
In the bottom of your slow cooker or pan, mix the chopped onion, tomato paste, garlic, crushed stock cube, and bay leaf.
Mix the cornflour with enough cold water to make a paste, and add the hot water to it. Stir till smooth and add to the mixture in the slow cooker.
It will look a bit like lumpy tomato soup.

Cut the steak into large cubes. I don't use lean steak for casseroles. You need a little fat to tenderise the meat. I do trim the meat of any large rounds of fat, however. All things in moderation ;-)
I also keep the chunks fairly large, so that they don't disintegrate into nothing over the long, slow cooking process. If I'm using Osso Bucco, I add the pieces whole, and if it's Lamb Shanks, I make sure I've asked the butcher to trim them so they fit into my original 70s Monier Slow Cooker,

Mix the chunks of meet, with the tomato based sauce in the slow cooker, until it's well coated.

Add your peeled carrots. I add mine whole and cut them up when they're cooked.

Now here is a trick that Nanna taught me to prevent the casserole drying out. Cover the lot with a generous wad of cooking foil. Just sort of crumple it loosely over the top of the contents of the slow cooker. This keeps everything lovely and moist.
The other trick, is to cook your casserole on the High setting for the first two hours. This brings the ingredients up to simmering heat, so that the cooking process gets humming along. Reduce the temperature to Low for 4-6 hours after that if you have a newer slow cooker, as these don't seem to be as 'slow' as the older versions. In my bright orange 70s original, I keep the temperature on High for six hours, and that's perfect.
If you're short on time, a great trick is to start the cooking process in a large pan or wok, to bring the ingredients up to that all important simmering heat, then transfer it all to the slow cooker. This shaves about two hours off your cooking time :)
You can serve this alone with fresh herbs sprinkled on top, or with mashed vegetables, steamed vegetables, rice, or pasta. We like it on it's own, with lots of fresh herbs and even a bit of lemon zest or shaved parmesan.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Orchids on your Budget Christmas Series #12...Christmas 2017...DIY Dolls..

Orchids on Your Budget was a gorgeous little handbook for the financially bereft. Written by Marjorie Hillis back in the 1930's, it gave advice on all manner of ways to remain Societally Respected Whilst Undergoing Financial Changes.
I've mentioned this darling little book before. You can read about it in my Christmas Gifting series here:
The thing about Christmas, is that it's really about getting your mindset around the fact that it's about giving, not necessarily spending.
If you're facing a financially challenging time now, or leading up to Christmas, or in fact any other celebration, getting your mindset right is vital. Otherwise, you're going to make things even more uncomfortable for yourself than they are currently.
Every year, make a point of learning a new skill. Something that you can use to create gifts. Whether that's baking, cooking, mixing marinades, making liqueurs, sewing, candle making, crochet, knitting, embroidering, ceramics, pottery, propagating plants, art, photography, card making...whatever...get good enough at it, to gift that skill proudly.
It goes without saying too, that it really needs to be something you can purchase the materials for, relatively inexpensively. There is no point in spending $300, to save money and make your own gifts, if you don't have $300 to start with.
In my recent post here, I talked about using eBay to purchase the components of lovely individualised gifts. An outlay of just $6 per gift, can mean savings of $30 on a similarly packaged purchased gift. You just have to be clever.
By all means window shop, but do so with the intention of replicating what you see, in some form. Not for buying!
I have two granddaughters, so I've been admiring hand made dolls in specialty shops and on Etsy.
Hand made dolls fetch big dollars, and can range from $65 for something really very simple, up to the hundreds of dollars for the type that are more like pieces of art.
I haven't made dolls before. I had three sons before I had a daughter, and she has lived and breathed dance more than dolls in her 17 1/2 years!
So I'm starting off simple as far as doll making goes. I can work my way up from there. That's the thing you see. Don't make it so difficult for yourself, that the results are less than you'd like and you give up. That's no fun!
When I saw these pre-printed fabric Doll panels on sale for just $6 each panel, with each panel yielding 6 dolls/doll cushions, I knew I'd found my starting point.
These dolls, or doll cushions if you prefer to think of them that way, are 45cms tall (18"), and are super cute. Each one resembles a Princess or Fairy, and you can leave them as is, simply cutting, stitching a front and a back panel together, and filling them with stuffing. I've chosen to use the panel as a base for embellishments of all kinds. You could also cut shapes from toning or contrasting fabrics for the alternate sides, thus getting twice as many dollies from your panel.
You need:
Pre printed Fabric Doll Panels
Polyester stuffing
Embellishments eg buttons, beads, sequins, lace, ribbon
Needle and thread
Sewing machine or patience to hand stitch the front and back together by hand!
Cut out your Doll shapes. This was a little tedious, as I had 12 to cut out. But I just cozied up on the couch and spent a peaceful time, while watching Househunters International, sipping tea, and snipping Dolly shapes.
Here's Dolly before I started embellishing her. See, you can easily leave her as is, or paint her with glitter or pearl paint, or trim her with lace and ribbon too. I used the dots on her gown, the flowers on her belt, the star on her wand and the jewels in her tiara as my embellishment guides.

I had two jars worth of mixed white buttons left over from some costume making, and I wanted to use the existing pattern on the doll as my guide for embellishment. So I  had a grand old time, digging through those to find enough matching buttons in various sizes and shapes. It was actually quite therapeutic finding matching buttons and sequins for those diminishing sized dots. I felt good about using up the buttons too!
If you needed to buy them, about $10 gets you literally 100s of white buttons to play with, so it's still an inexpensive embellishment. I also used sequins (very cost effective) and bugle beads. All of these were sourced from the Clearance table at the Haberdashery on one occasion or another for under $1 a packet.
It takes an hour or two of dedicated stitching to sew the embellishments, but none of it is difficult. I gave my Dolly little bugle bead earrings, and a faux strand of pearls too.

 Once I'd embellished Dolly to my liking, I paired her front with her back, right sides together, and stitched around her outside edge. I made sure I started at the bottom of her hemline, so that when I filled her with Polyfill (stuffing), I could hand stitch the opening, and make it almost unnoticeable. Don't forget this bit. You don't want Dolly's hand stitched opening at the top of her head like some mad Frankenstein!

Turn Dolly right way out, using the opening you've left for the stuffing. Much like turning a freshly washed sock right way out....

Now Dolly will look like this...

It's helpful at this point, to turn the seams of your opening in, and press them with a hot iron. This will assist enormously, when you come to use your Ladder Stitch to stitch her closed. Iron Dolly too, so that she's nice and smooth.
Grab your Fibre Fill (polyester stuffing) and gently push the stuffing into Dolly, ensuring that she is evenly packed all the way through. You might have to wiggle and tug the fibrefill around a fair bit to make this happen.

Stitch Dolly's opening shut, using tiny Ladder stitches.

If Dolly is now a little creased for her adventures, you can hold her (very carefully!), over the steam from the tea kettle, to smooth out any remaining creases, and plump her up.

And you're done.
My Dolly took about three hours all up. But that's mainly because I chose to decorate her with LOTS of buttons and beads. I love the textural finish this gives her. I also popped three little Jingle Bells inside Dolly when I was filling her with fibrefill, so she jingles happily when moved.
It's worth mentioning that these are NOT for children under 3, who might be tempted to put Dolly's buttons and beads into their mouths.
They do however make a super cute doll toy or doll cushion for children from 4-ish and up. You know your children best. Use your own discretion.
I'm off to finish my second little Moppet.
She's clothed in Lavender and mother of pearl buttons and sequins, and is going to be just as pretty as Dolly!
Dolly cost me no more than $3 and some time to create. And I still have 5 more just like her to create, to gift to the children in my family this Christmas.
Start now. Or at least soon. And you too, can have Dolly and Moppet to gift this year.