Friday, 30 March 2018

Tea Time : Gewürzhaus Easter Bun Tea

Today's Tea: Organic Easter Bun Tea from Gewürzhaus
What is it?: a black tea spiced with cinnamon and orange, blended to drink as an accompaniment to hot cross buns at Easter time.
Recommendations: 1.5 teaspoons per cup, brew for 4 minutes. Drink with or without milk.

The Tea and Me:
Gewürzhaus is a local Melbourne shop specialising in spice blends from around the world. I love to go there a couple of times a year to stock up on spices for Christmas and other festive times. I always make sure to get some of their Easter Bun tea as it's one of my favourites. This year however, the flavour is different! It's no longer a sweet, subtle floral tea, but a spicy orange blend. After some initial confusion, I decided to give it a try, and thought, why not use it as an opportunity to start a tea review series?

So here we go.

The dry tea has a very strong orange aroma, with a hint of cinnamon behind it. It was appealing enough to make me decide to purchase some, despite it being different from what I was familiar with in the past. The brewing recommendation of 1.5 teaspoons per cup seemed quite a lot for such a strong-smelling tea. As the instructions say Easter Bun Tea can be drunk with or without milk, I poured it both ways to compare.

After brewing, the orange scent draws back, leaving a spicy cinnamon scent with just a hint of fruit. This is reflected in the flavour, too. I have to admit, I was a little surprised when I read that cinnamon is the only spice in this tea. Gewürzhaus is known for its spice blends, so I would have expected a more sophisticated blend. There's a slight astringent note on the tongue along with the spice.

Once the spicy punch subsided, the tea was much sweeter than I expected. This balanced out the cinnamon quite well. Adding milk tones down the spice and compliments the sweetness nicely. I preferred the milk version. As to whether the tea goes well with Easter Buns? Unfortunately, I didn't have any buns to hand (hence the pumpkin for decoration instead!) but I think the tea would go well with them. A drink to accompany a spicy, fruity bun would need to be strong in flavour to work, and this tea fits the bill.

Ingredients: organic Ceylon and China black tea, cinnamon, orange peel, natural cinnamon flavouring, natural orange flavouring (from the Gewürzhaus website)
Available: Gewürzhaus shops in Melbourne and online, only during Easter time.

I hope you liked my first tea review! If there's anything I left out that I could include next time, please let me know. I was also trying out a new photography set-up. It isn't perfect yet (I need more lighting!) but it's something I want to work on this year.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

March Unfinished Objects Report

My rate of finishing craft projects has been dismally low in the last few years. I keep a spreadsheet of all my UFOs (Unfinished Objects) which records what date I started them, approximate finished percentage, how many of each type, etc. I also have a tab for keeping track of future project ideas. It reminds me of what I've got in progress, and helps me decide which project/s to work on when I'm feeling overwhelmed.

I tend not to post projects to my blog unless they're finished, and with such a slow completion rate, it means that this so-called craft and hobby blog has very little craft! I wanted to try and change that a little bit, and maybe motivate myself at the same time. So, inspired by Hedgefairy's regular UFOs blog posts, I decided to start my own monthly series. I currently have 41 UFOs on my spreadsheet, which is quite a lot any way you look at it! Especially considering I've just realised that somehow none of my clothes sewing projects ever made it onto the list.

So hopefully the act of pulling UFOs out of the cupboard and photographing them for this series will encourage me to start actually working on them, and maybe even finish them. And, well, to be honest, some of them are so old that perhaps a process of 'naming and shaming' might help to move things along...

Project: Grannyland Blanket
Craft: crochet
Started: March 2014
This project is well underway. I've crocheted 34 squares so far. I haven't decided on the final dimensions just yet. A 7 x 5 square blanket would be nice, but a 7 x 6 would be even bigger and cosier. I think I prefer a squarer shape. Then there's the question of how to attach the squares together -- sewing them, or using a crocheted joining method? I haven't decided yet.
This is the project I usually take with me on car trips as a single square and one ball of wool is very portable.

Project: 70s-Style Cushion
Craft: crochet / sewing
Started: April 2014
I decided to create a colourful, 70s-inspired cushion with a crocheted cover. The crocheted part was over relatively quickly. I need to sew a backing and a custom-sized cushion to fit inside it, and that's where the project stalled. My sewing machine has been packed away for a very long time. I draped the square over the back of my couch so that I could still display it in some way while it was waiting to be finished. It got lost down the back of the couch for a while but I dug it out for this post.
I'm planning on unpacking my sewing machine again very soon, and this project would be a good simple one to give me some sewing practice.

Project: Bracelet
Craft: kumihimo braiding
Started: Mid-2014
I first discovered the craft of kumihimo when I visited Japan ten years ago. I was very enthusiastic about it but only managed to complete one bracelet and half-finish this second one. The repetitive action of braiding on the wheel is quite soothing, but it's a little tricky to remember the sequence if you're trying to pick it up again after a break. Perhaps that's why I never finished this bracelet. I really do love this craft though and I'd like to make more braids.

I'm hoping to continue this series on the last weekend of every month. Maybe I'll even have some Finished Objects to share in future!

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Hello Autumn!

Autumn is one of my favourite seasons. Perhaps a good judge of which seasons are my favourite can be seen in which seasons I've forgotten to write about since starting this series! I remembered Spring, but skipped Summer. All season I've been thinking ahead - pining for Autumn to finally arrive.

Autumn is when the heat of Summer finally subsides and the world comes out of survival mode. The threat of bushfires has passed, and both plants and people alike breathe a sigh of relief. New grass is starting to peep through the crisp brown hay that Summer created. (The homeowners that water their lawns in Summer are conspicuous by the swathes of green amongst the brown.) Some plants -- fuchsias and daisies in my area -- are entering their second growing phase for the year and bloom again before Winter begins. Others, none of them native, are starting to drop their leaves. Our winters are so mild that I almost feel sorry for them for going to the effort. It's only in the mountains that it really gets cold enough to hibernate.

Last year I wrote about the things I'm looking forward to in Autumn -- tea, wearing layers, hot comforting foods -- and that still stands of course. This year I'd like to explore ways to celebrate the seasons.

attend a harvest festival
Celebrating the harvest is perhaps less relevant in the modern world, where fresh food is available year-round. To me, this time of year is more about switching from hot-weather foods to cold-weather foods. It's time to put the salad tongs away and unpack the crockpot. To celebrate the appearance of pumpkins, squash and parsnips, and embrace the cooking of hearty stews and soups. This is what I enjoy most about the harvest festival atmosphere. I also have more of an urge to leave the house now that the weather is cooler. Melbourne has a huge foodie culture, so there are plenty of events to choose from, both city and country.

Momijigari / Autumn leaves viewing
While Australia doesn't have the spectacular displays of leaf-fall that are seen in the Northern Hemisphere, there are still places to go to find some beautiful Autumn colour. The introduced deciduous trees go through their seasonal changes against a backdrop of native evergreens. In some ways, we have the best of both worlds here in Australia.

bake a special bread
One of the things I've been looking forward to the most is firing up the oven again and doing some baking. I've been dreaming of cakes, biscuits and muffins, but bread is the most back-to-basics and yet comforting food of all. To celebrate the abundance of the harvest, perhaps something like this Tsoureki I made back in 2010:

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Movie Review: Paddington

Paddington is a 2014 movie based on the beloved series of children's books by Michael Bond.

After a natural disaster, Paddington decides to move from his homeland of 'Darkest Peru' to London, seeking out an explorer who once promised his family a warm welcome if they ever visited. Not realising that the city is a very different place to the one the explorer described all those years ago, Paddington expects to quickly find someone who will provide him with a home. After waiting at Paddington Station all day, he runs into the Brown family, who have different opinions on whether to help him. They end up taking him back to their townhouse, and agree to help him on his quest to find the explorer and his true home.

Meanwhile, the bad guy (Nicole Kidman) wants to kidnap Paddington and use him for her own nefarious purposes. As she's an employee of the Natural History Museum, there are some beautiful shots of both the exterior and interior of the building. The city of London provides the backdrop to the whole film, and it's a magical place. In fact, the look of the whole film is delightful, from the gorgeously quirky house of the Brown family, to Mrs. Brown's outfits, to Paddington's beehive-shaped childhood home.

There are many funny moments, with the kind of English humour that I enjoy, as well as Paddington's bumbling mistakes. His partial knowledge and misunderstandings lead to some very funny scenes -- he can read but doesn't know what to do with a toothbrush. The scene in the Geographer's Guild is also delightful: with a steampunk-inspired tube system to deliver documents from the archives. If only my work was more like that!

The movie is live-action with CGI Paddington, and I believe the scenes set in 'Darkest Peru' are also CGI. I was highly impressed with the integration, and didn't notice a single jarring moment where Paddington didn't seem real. His voice is done very well by Ben Whishaw -- neither too whiny, too childish nor too growly. While the four actors who play the Brown family were unfamiliar to me, many of the supporting actors were familiar from the Harry Potter series (the number of British actors who weren't in that series of films must be quite small!), which gave the film a cosy feel. The soundtrack is also excellent, with a funky street band and snippets of James Brown and Lionel Ritchie.

Overall, I thought Paddington was a delightful film. I never cry in movies, but I found tears welling up at the ending (tears of happiness, if that's not too much of a spoiler!). There is a sequel and apparently a third film is being made.

Would I see it again? Yes, definitely!

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Gluten-Free Files: Gluteguard .. Does It Work?

Please note: I am not recommending this product for everyone,
only sharing my own experiences. Please think about your own
circumstances and whether it's right for you!

A few months ago I was introduced to a product called Gluteguard. I went to a gluten-free day at the food truck park, and was handed a flyer for it. I had a quick glance and thought, 'hmph, one of those products which doesn't really work', and shoved it in my pocket. Months later, I found it again in a pile of papers at home, and Husband said, why don't we get some and give it a try?

Gluteguard contains Caricain, an enzyme derived from pawpaw (papaya). The enzyme is entirely natural and plant-based. The capsule is taken just before eating. When it comes into contact with gluten-containing foods in the upper intestine, it breaks the gluten down into smaller molecules. As the gluten is eliminated, so are the harmful effects on the body. It's an interesting premise, and a very attractive one for a gluten-intolerant foodie!

As the website and packaging warns, these tablets aren't a replacement for a gluten-free diet. They are meant to be used intermittantly when you're unsure if a food is truly gluten-free, or think you may have accidentally eaten something containing gluten. At many restaurants, gluten-free foods are clearly labelled, but cross-contamination can always occur, and there are always places that don't bother to label their offerings.

But does it work?

My first experiments were very cautious -- firstly planning for a day at home and eating one slice of bread. That seemed to be okay. A few weeks later, I tried eating a croissant ... I felt no symptoms after that either. I started to daydream about eating a special treat once a week -- a crusty bread roll, a pastry, Harajuku crepes. New vistas opened up to me.

I became bolder and went out for dumplings. No symptoms! No abdominal cramps, no diarrhoea. In fact, I often feel better than normal after taking a Gluteguard. Of course, it also works for those 'oops' times. Last week I organised a going-away morning tea at work. Between the anxiety of organising a get-together, and the excitement when everyone complimented my choices of foods, I accidentally ate a wheat cracker instead of a rice cracker. But no worries! I took a Gluteguard and didn't feel any ill effects.

It works for me!

Gluteguard was developed in Melbourne, Australia (my home town!), and as far as I'm aware, is only available from the Glutagen website, though they do post worldwide.*

* I purchased the product, did not receive any benefits,
and these are my honest opinions and experiences.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Temperature Scarf : Update #6

It's been some time since my last Temperature Scarf update! Work on it has been very irregular, I have to admit. I was supposed to finish it at the end of February, but I'm about 6 weeks behind. I'm not sure if it was the hot weather, or the insistence of the cat who wants to sit on my lap (and then attack anything fibre-related that I try to do!). Probably a combination of both.

The situation isn't irretrievable because there's a page on the Bureau of Meteorology website with historical top temperatures which I can refer to, so the data isn't lost. It's not as fun as knitting the row on the day, of course. I tell myself, "I'll only have to do 4-5 rows a night and I'll be caught up in no time". But life gets in the way I guess, and what's the point in forcing myself to do it when I don't want to? It'll be finished sooner or later.

We only had one day over 40oC (104oF) this Summer, represented by the bright purple colour near the needles. It was quite surprising really, as we usually have more hot days. I'm not saying it was an unusually cool Summer, it's just that the gauge didn't quite tip over the edge from 30s to 40s. On the other hand, Winter was longer and colder than usual, just my kind of thing! It just goes to show that the weather is a good thing to choose if you need randomness. Well, Melbourne weather is, anyway!

I won't make another Temperature scarf/blanket/whatever, as this one hasn't been an unqualified success, but I would like a way of documenting the temperature somehow. Perhaps a box in my daily diary that I can colour in with an appropriately coloured pencil? I'll think about it and perhaps begin in April. That's the real end of Summer, anyway...

Thursday, 1 March 2018

My January & February

I skipped over my January post as I was too busy with preparations for the Zine Fair, hence this bumper, two-month update. January seems like a world away now, and I can't possibly imagine that I had three whole weeks off work. I did do a few crafty things during this time, though.

I finished two crochet projects, both monsters, and both started in 2013. The first was Mixtro Monster by Stacey Trock. I was up to the stage of stuffing and sewing on the embellishments. His eyes are zanily quirky, though as the eyes come in pairs I have two single mismatched eyes in my stash now. I'm sure they'll come in handy for another zany monster.

The second was one of my own design. It was meant to be a test piece but I really like the way it turned out, particularly the mouth. I had so much fun making him. Choosing the eyes was especially satisfying. Husband and I named him Urgg.

I decided to glue some gems to my earphones so as to more easily tell left from right. I thought I may as well decoden a few other things while I was at it: some makeup brushes and the lid of my foundation pot.

I was also briefly inspired to do some watercolour painting in my Hobonichi. I posted this picture on Instagram, even though I wasn't entirely happy with it, and got quite a bit of encouragement, which was nice. (Parts of it are shiny because the paint was still wet.)

Over the holidays I had time to have fun with my food, too:

There was also work to do, though -- harvesting my fruit trees. There was a lot of everything this year: apricots, plums, then nectarines! We were caught a bit unawares this year, so decided not to make jam, but used the slow cooker to stew nearly everything. We ate the last box of nectarines fresh, and it was lovely!

Last week I got my nails done! For most people perhaps that's no big deal. For me it was a huge step in overcoming my anxiety. I went to Miss Jay's Nails and Beauty, who I highly recommend. What a sweetie! I celebrated by posting it on Instagram with lots of cute graphics:

More selections from Instagram: