Cardboard, Sawdust and Styrofoam

I have had a couple of months of feeling I was some experimental subject being fed gluten-free wheat-substitute baked goods. My mother baked a special cake, some shortbread and some almond bread biscotti at  Christmas, and I felt horribly ungrateful for not finding them delicious. The cake seemed to be made with a fine sawdust, and the biscuits were far too sugary for my taste. I hadn’t really missed eating cakes and such, as I had largely given them up when my son was young and I was keeping refined sugar out of his diet because teething was so painful that he refused to allow a toothbrush in his mouth. (So far, no fillings, the damp face washer rubbed gently over the teeth and the lack of refined sugar was sufficient to protect them, even though he chewed on dried apricots every day.) 

Then there was the toast I ate at a cafe, and I was expected to consider it some gourmet delight, even though I have never liked gluten-free bread (my parents-in-law liked a gluten-free cafe for its egg-rich menu – I hated the cement-filled stomach followed by sudden extreme hunger).The recently tried gluten-free bread resembled slices of a multigrain supermarket loaf of bread, something usually disdained in this house, and tasted the way I expect cardboard would taste. 

After all of that, I had a sudden craving for a pleasant cake to eat. So I baked an orange and poppyseed cake, as these often have a good amount of almond meal in them. I could not be bothered looking up a recipe, and took the attitude that it is usually 60 g of butter per egg, and that the dry ingredients are usually added to create a ‘slop’. So I decided to make it up as I went along, as someone must have done originally in the past. 

The cake keeps its shape better if allowed to cool in the tin. The first time it collapsed when released.  



60 g butter, melted 

1 egg

juice of half an orange (very juicy, 20 – 30 mL)

3 tbsp (1/4 cup) marmalade (lemon & lime, because that is what I have)

1 cup almond meal

1/4 cup poppyseeds

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp cloves

Mix all ingredients together.

Pour into 10 cm square tin.

Bake at 160 C fan, 40 minutes.

*double ingredients to bake in loaf tin, same amount of time, as it will be the same distance to reach the centre of the cake from the outside.

*spice measurements can be adjusted to taste, or omitted, and if the batter seems a bit stiff more juice could be added (marmalades vary in how liquid or solid they are). 

*our tablespoon measure is 20 mL, and 3 tbsp is close enough to 1/4 cup, where a cup is 250 mL.


Note: There are two gluten-free substitute foods I consume regularly. There are the popcorn biscuits that are acceptable with nut butters spread on them. I would not bother with them if I could still eat real bread, but I would rather eat styrofoam than cardboard or sawdust. The other substitute, the most successful I have tried, is the weet-bix made with sorghum instead of wheat. They taste more the way I remember weet-bix tasting when I was a child than weet-bix really taste (my son did not like them when he tried them about six years ago, so I ate all that remained in the box). 

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A few Easter chicks


I have been wanting to make some sort of lavendar bag for months. It has been an insane urge. Maybe a few drawers are a bit musty when opened, but wouldn’t it make more sense to toss the stagnant items? Sigh. There just never seems to be time. But there is time to sew chicks. Huh.

Anyway, several sources of inspiration converged recently.

There was the stench, very slight in this house, that came from the sewer upgrade works (thank goodness the holes in the road near here were open for less than a week – some intersections have been closed for months with huge access holes). I distracted my nose with a small dish containing some chai tea and lavendar (my stomach can’t handle black tea anymore).


There was the library craft blog session, with the suggestion that favourite craft blogs be shared. We did not reach that point in the session, but when looking at old favourites I came across Molly Chicken (, no longer active, but the archive is beautiful and the chicks in the banner seemed to be just what I needed.

And finally, instead of making a pattern, I just cut the first directly from the fabric, then used that as my pattern (but then traced afterwards, just in case…). This is the approach used by my son and my nephew when making anything from paper or fabric (or, let’s face it, Lego). It is the best way of cutting shapes from felt, particularly small circles for making eyes. After cutting, I then sorted them according to size to create pairs, trimming one or two where needed. 


Placement of beak and tail before stitching. (Couple of beak positions used.)


Stitching the bottom with one of my favourite machine feet (the saleswoman seemed uncertain of the wisdom of that purchase with the machine, yet I use it as often as the regular foot).


Steps in production.


Happy Easter!

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Broken Rules and Resolutions

160303 casesonwardrobe Sometimes I feel smug when reading of other people’s yarn stashes. Mine is under control, confined to three small cases on top of my wardrobe. The smugness then diminishes when I remember the considerable stash of mohair in the ‘craft cupboard’ in the front room. Oh well, at least there was space in some of the cases, and I was not gaining any more yarn. Until Christmas, when I received two lots of yarn for making blankets, my own request… 160303 cottonforhexagons

160303 hexagonsamplesAnd I was so good at keeping the works-in-progress to a sensible number – just one major work in each craft at the most, with the occasional small project on the side. But then I would remember the alpaca jumper languishing in the front room while some cotton creation was in progress elsewhere in the house. Oh dear. But at least the cotton projects are now complete (a plain jumper and a plain cardigan, both very dull but exactly what we wanted) and I am working on the alpaca (another plain jumper).

Then I read of people declaring how they do not make New Year’s Resolutions. Oh, neither do I, I’d think, I just list projects I would like to work on some time in the future, and tick them off as they are made, and while I aim to unclutter the house during the first term of school, it is not an actual resolution. Given my current sense of let-down and self-disgust, I think the uncluttering was a resolution, or at least an unachievable goal, and I am deriving satisfaction from ticking off completed craft projects (green crochet cat, cotton cardigan, modification of a bag…). I have temporarily abandoned the front room, pruned a couple of plants, and cleaned out a bathroom cupboard, so there is progress, just not what I imagined.

160303 greensbirthdayThe most sensible aim for the year is to knit my nephew a mohair throw to give him for his 21st birthday in November. There are too many browns in the stash, so there is a strong brown element in the blanket, but I have added other colours to keep it from looking dead. I have made a lot of throws in a related feather-and-fan pattern, but decided I preferred a more zig-zaggy look for this one. Maybe it is also due to laziness – fewer holes per row in this pattern. 

160303 mohairthrowstartOne tip, for anyone interested in knitting anything striped in mohair blend yarns: Mohair is very ‘grippy’, so when changing colours it is sufficient to twist 10 to 20 cm of yarn (up to 4 inches) at the site of colour change, then just knit it into the piece. It is not noticeable, and saves a lot of time later. 

The pattern I am knitting (after 3 rows of garter stitch):

rw 1: knit

rw 2: k1, purl to last st, k1

rw 3: k1, yfwd, k4, sl1, k2tog, psso, k4, yfwd; repeat to end, k1

I have 133 sts, and I am using size 8 mm needles. The pattern requires a multiple of 12 sts + 1 for the end.

I change colour after rw 3, and I usually knit about 200 rows for these throws, and finish the ends with fringe. 

And this throw will be finished by November, as I will knit a minimum of 2 stripes (6 rows) per week, and that requires very little time.

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walnuts and jigsaws


We had a brief holiday in Tasmania, and while there I bought some walnuts, in their shells. Back at the apartment I realised that I had neither nutcracker nor meat tenderiser. An image of Antonio Carluccio entered my mind, and I thought of him wandering about in the woods, eating anything, using his pocket knife when necessary. So I tried opening the walnut shells with a knife, and it worked! At home, I wanted to repeat the experiment, but did not want to risk ruining any of my few sharp knives, so I tried an ordinary bread and butter knife, quite blunt. It worked. And since then only one walnut has required that I resort to the hammer equivalent.


Life has been busy. I am making an effort to get more junk out of the house. When I made the huge effort five years ago, I began at the back of the house and worked my way forwards. This time I am beginning at the front, and I am still in the front room. I have reduced the space occupied by jigsaw puzzles simply by making puzzles share boxes. The largest boxes have left the house, minus their pictures, which I have taped to the shared box, larger pictures accommodated inside. 


This is something I could not have done a few years ago – it would have seemed wrong to cut up a jigsaw box, to disregard the feelings of the people involved in its design and manufacture, and then of the person who might own it next. Huh. Today it is mine. And it only took so much space so that it might be noticed in the shop.


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cats at year’s end


I often carry around a bag of cats. Last year there were five of them travelling to the zoo each week. Some people make a rod for their own back, I stick to crochet cats. 


Pyewacket joined us at Christmas. If the name is ringing a faint bell, perhaps you have enjoyed “Bell, Book and Candle”. It is the movie my son first saw when he was around 15 months old, and it instantly became the movie he had to watch. I don’t know if it happens with all children, or just with most of the children in my family, but it seems that at that crucial age they suddenly become obsessed with a single movie, and have to watch it repeatedly. I felt I was lucky. The more we watched this movie, the more I loved it. I love the soundtrack, which is very important in a movie that is watched daily, sometimes twice, as a loathed soundtrack can drive a person crazy. (An evil family member tried to create an attachment to Mama Mia, that ABBA movie, and I cannot adequately express my dislike for that soundtrack. My sister’s children were introduced, by the same person, to ‘Dirty Dancing’, another movie I am happy to never see nor hear again.) I also like the people in “Bell, Book and Candle”, many unattached adults who lead interesting lives and don’t seem to be bothered about having romances. Anyway, for years it was known as ‘The Meow Movie’, and there are still times when I find myself thinking of it that way. The movie begins on Christmas eve, so it seemed an appropriate time for our own Pyewacket to enter our lives. 


Then came the birthday, just a week later. I was told in the middle of the year that the blankets I make are too dreary. Even the eye-watering blanket my grandmother had made was not bright enough, I assume due to the inclusion of a black border. So I ordered so bright wool from the Bendigo woollen mills, and this blanket seemed to make itself. It was a lot of fun. I also had a ball of brightly coloured random-dyed wool in the stash, so a cat was made to accompany the blanket. Absolutely insane, yet fun.


And now I can carry seven cats everywhere we go.



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cracking walnuts



I bought some new season walnuts, in their shells. I remembered my sister saying how delicious they were last year, while her children were cracking nuts open at Christmas (one of the family Christmas dinner traditions, which seems a bit crazy given the amount of food already consumed before the nuts appear). 

I searched through the utensil drawer. As I suspected, we don’t own a nutcracker. However, we do own a meat tenderiser, a bewildering utensil in our kitchen. I don’t know where it came from – had it been my grandmother’s, or was it already in the house before I came here? Anyway, it turned out to be a very effective tool for opening walnuts. One sharp tap and the shell is broken sufficiently to be removed. I seem to be far more skilled in its use than I have ever been with the myriad of nutcrackers that have appeared at Christmas. 

And the walnuts do taste good!


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sorting lego



School holidaysare almost over again. Time passes quickly, with little time for the computer. We are staying home for the two weeks. My son needs a good play with his toys, and I think it is good for children to experience mundane everyday life occasionally. I belong with the grandparents who moan about how overstimulated children are these days, with the constant succession of activities after school and on weekends. I even know of a grandmother who is denied access to her child because the only day he is home is on Sundays, and that is ‘family time’, not to be interupted by a grandmother. Another suspects that her granddaughters are cranky when they come around for family dinner on Thursdays because they have been exhausted by the number of activities crammed into their week. Just the time in the car would have me cranky.

Anyway, we are having a relaxing time, with bits of origami, painting, walks to the local shops and such. And there has been a good chunk of Lego time every day. 

My way of playing with Lego these days is to provide voices while putting away loose pieces. It sounds insane, but that is the way it has evolved, and we are satisfied enough. I tend to be clumsy with Lego, and the more I try to avoid breaking it, the more it dissolves into pieces in my hands. I think the connections work themselves loose over time, which makes sense in terms of high school physics lessons, with inanimate objects subjecting each other to forces just by fitting tightly together – there they are, trying to get a bit more space around them, pushing each other apart. So I sit on a footstool, plastic containers around me, piling pieces of Lego onto a dusting cloth, giving them a quick wipe, then dispensing them a handful at a time into the appropriate container. Our Lego storage has gone through a few stages. There was the single tub, but it was difficult to find anything. Then there were the cat litter trays, and large flat pieces were kept separate from the others. Soon I learned to keep tiny pieces in their own container too, those with a single hole in them, or those special pieces such as tools and accessories. The people now have their own box that they share with the animals. Train track has a container. Wheels go in the container with the browns and oranges, as there are few pieces of that colour in my son’s collection. At some stage I realised that it was best to keep contrasting colours together, and a little later the accumulated fluff annoyed me, so cat litter trays were replaced by containers with lids.


For all of that, most of the Lego is on the floor, made up into buildings, vehicles and goodness knows what else. Occasionally I gather up loose pieces in a plastic container (one of those litter trays), and that might sit around for a week before the pieces are recycled into another creation, or before I get around to sorting them into their containers. One day my son will do this, but not yet. I used to be the one finding the pieces when they were wanted, but that service is no longer required. It is a relief that my role and his capabilities keep changing.

I used to frantically ask other mothers in the school yard about how they stored Lego, and received some peculiar looks. In some houses, once the model is built, it goes on a shelf, sometimes behind glass doors. Others have a single large tub for loose pieces. They do not assist in the building, and never did. A few mothers put the sets away in containers with many compartments, sorting according to size and shape, and keeping sets isolated. Their peculiar looks were returned. 

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