Monday, 5 December 2016

St. Nikolaus

Christmas always seems to sneak up and surprise me with being much nearer than I thought. It's not like I didn't get enough warning. Decorations in shops are up since the middle of November but I"m good at ignoring it. I always feel the start of December is early enough to start planning for Christmas and of course I'm always wrong. Maybe it's a relic from my childhood when December seemed endless and the little boxes on my Advent calendar were so numerous that I kept losing count. Now that I'm older 24 days are going by in a blast.

But I'm quite happy to report that I finally managed to be a bit more organized this year. For a start I judged more realistically how many presents I would be able to make myself and planned accordingly. Ok, there are still some unfinished projects but I'm not stressing over them.  I've also posted severals parcels and cards this afternoon which I'm really proud of. There's still a few more to write but most of them are done.

We've also baked some gingerbread and christmas cookies. Aidan had a lot of fun kneading the dough and licking the spoon. I was a bit worried letting him stand on the chair but he was a very good boy and was happy as long as he had something to do. Though he's still a bit young, I like to get him involved, especially when it's old German traditions like baking "Weihnachtspl├Ątzchen". I have so many good memories of baking with my mum, sisters and aunt when we were young.

There's so many beautiful traditions around Christmas in Germany. It's something I really love about my home country. As I'm writing this, German children are placing their boots outside their doors for Nikolaus to fill them with gingerbread, nuts and fruits. The tradition can be traced back to a 4th century saint who gave plentifully to the poor. In the end, Santa Claus is none other than St. Nikolaus, though he did go through a few metamorphoses.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Sunny November Days

Winter has arrived! For the last two days we were greeted by this view out of our kitchen window in the morning:

November has been anything but dreary so far this year. The first few days were more like early autumn with mild temperatures and sunny days.

We're out on a walk nearly every day enjoying the autumn sun and until recently sampling the last blackberries which grow in abundance along the roads. I felt a bit guilty giving them to Aidan straight from the bushes without being able to wash them but he loved them and has been fine ever since.

Even though meteorologists tell us that 2016 has been the hottest year on record we haven't felt much of it this summer which was wet and cool. So I'm even happier about this lovely autumn. You hear a lot of complaints about the rain in Ireland and I haven't figured out so far if it's just another example of Irish modesty. I've been asked so many times how I like living in Ireland always followed with the question how I put up with the rain. Though I've never been a fan of hot weather I do sometimes miss a bit of summer and whenever I visit my home in Germany I'm grateful for the heat. On the other hand I do love living in Ireland and the rain is just part of it. There's nothing you can do about it anyway. And while it is sometimes depressing to hear people moan about the rain, there's also the other side to it which is probably an example of Irish optimism: whenever it's not raining you're greeted everywhere with a happy "Isn't it a fine day!!!". No matter how cloudy and cold it is. Such optimism always lifts my mood.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Tutorial: Felt Teddy Bear

Last week I needed a little gift that was quick and easy to make. Looking through some magazines I found instructions for making a teddy filled with rice to use as a heat pad. I liked the look of the teddy but wanted to simplify it as I needed to make three teddies for three kids. That's why I decided to use felt which has the advantage of not fraying at the edges and simply sew front and back parts together with a blanket stitch. It only took me about an hour and a half to make each teddy so I thought it would be nice to make it into a tutorial.

These teddies are an easy beginner's project, requiring only basic sewing skills and a minimum of materials. They make nice little Christmas gifts and are also a great way of using up scraps of fabric.

You will need:
paper pattern (I adapted mine from one I found in a magazine. It's easy to make your own: you won't be turning the teddy inside out after sewing so you don't need to worry about seam allowances)

Felt for the body of the teddy
Scrap of black or grey felt
Scraps of contrasting material ( I used printed cotton, but felt will work as well)
Stuffing material (or some wool yarn; you could even use left over bits of felt)
matching sewing thread
embroidery yarn
sewing needle
embroidery needle

Cut out two identical pieces of felt by pinning your paper pattern on a double layer of felt and carefully cutting around it.

Using contrasting fabric, cut out an oval shape for the belly and two half circles for the inside of the ears.

Pin onto one of the felt pieces and stitch around the edges using blanket stitch. If your contrast fabric is felt you could use running stitch instead of blanket stitch.

Cut the nose out of black or grey felt and stitch onto teddy's face with a few running stitches.

Embroider the eyes and mouth: Make two French knots for the eyes and stitch two little lines for the mouth with another line connecting the mouth to the nose.

Pin the front and back of the teddy wrong sides together and stitch all around the edge using blanket stitch or running stitch. Leave a gap on one side between ear and arm.

Push a little stuffing through the gap and using a pencil push it into the arms and legs. Stuff the rest of the body.

Sew the gap closed.

All done!

They make nice little gifts in their own right or you could use them to spruce up a gift wrap.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Creativity Burst

In the last few days I went through a burst of creativity and what's best, I actually sat down and carried out most of the things that popped into my head. Sometimes it can be hard to find the time for crafting and sometimes when there is time I just feel tired or not in the right mood. When I was pregnant I was worried that the next few years I'd have to stay away from crafting but the funny thing is that I'm doing much more than ever before. I've noticed that before: when there's only a little bit of time you learn to make the best of it. If I had only been that wise when I was younger! All that precious time squandered away!

Saying all this, I had a lot of help last week as my parents in law minded Aidan for a day, so I was able to get more things done than usually. Three hours undisturbed in my sewing room makes all the difference!

Firstly, I finished the scarf I was making for my friend:

It wasn't very hard as I decided to make it a bit shorter than I originally had in mind. All I had to do then was choosing and sewing on the buttons. I used two fabric covered buttons and a wooden one that has flowers painted on it.

As I needed some small gifts for the kids of a friend I sat down made this little guy:

He is the first of three that I since made as they're really quick and easy to do.

I also carved two pumpkins, made pumpkin bread from the Minimalist Baker Cookbook and did a little last minute Halloween decoration. I'm really bad at decorating the house! My friend is always doing a really great job with the outdoor decoration using just a few well selected items. I always get lost in detail and lose sight of the overall picture. But I managed to get the entrance a little bit decorated at least so the trick or treaters could see that they were welcome.

Apart from that I finished a few knitting projects that I had lying around... and started a few new ones. It's so exciting to start something new! It might make more sense to concentrate on one thing on a time but that's not how I do things. There's always at least two projects lying around.

I'll better publish this now and stop my son chasing the cat!

Friday, 28 October 2016

Recipe: Kale Salad with Chicken, Halloumi and Roast Vegetables

Kale seems to be everywhere at the moment. There are loads of recipes featuring kale on the internet and in recently published cookbooks. My local supermarket has big piles of curly kale in the middle of the vegetable section with blackboards advertising its many merits. It seems to be one of the new superfoods. The first time I consciously came across kale was on my sister's blog and I had to look up the German translation as I didn't know what it was. It doesn't seem to be very popular in Germany, or at least it wasn't a few years ago. I couldn't find it in the supermarket when I wanted to make the kale chips recipe my sister had given me.

There's plenty of it in Ireland though, and after we had moved here I started to use it now and again. But it's only recently that I really began to love kale salad. When I first tried to make it I made the mistake of not chopping the leaves small enough and as a result found the salad very hard to chew. It really makes all the difference to cut the leaves as thin as you can.

Anyway, here is my version of kale salad, inspired by Minimalist Baker (of course) and a lovely chicken kale salad I had at a coffee shop in Dublin. It's very filling thanks to the chicken, halloumi and the roast sweet potato and beetroot and it makes a great dinner. For a vegan version you could leave out the chicken and halloumi  and use more sweet potato and beetroot instead (and use maple syrup instead of honey).

Makes 2-3 portions

1 small sweet potato
1 small beetroot
olive oil and dried rosemary for roasting
2 chicken fillets
4 thick slices of halloumi cheese
2 handfuls of curly kale
1 handful of butterhead lettuce
1 handful of rocket

6 radishes
2 spring onions
2 tblsp sprouts
1 tblsp fresh basil
1 tblsp fresh coriander
6 cherry tomatoes
3 tblsp hummus
2 tblsp lemon juice
1 tsp honey
some almond milk
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F).

Chop the sweet potato and beetroot into small cubes and mix with olive oil and rosemary.

Roast in preheated oven for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile cut the chicken and halloumi into small cubes and fry.

Wash the kale, butterhead lettuce and rocket. Chop the kale thinly making sure to cut out the stalks in the middle. Tear the lettuce and rocket into small pieces. Place into a salad bowl.

Wash and chop the radishes and onions. Add to the leaves.

Wash and chop the basil and coriander and add to the bowl together with the sprouts and tomatoes.

Mix the hummus with the lemon juice and honey and add almond milk to make it pourable. Season with salt and pepper and pour over salad.

Put the warm sweet potato, beetroot, chicken and halloumi on top of everything.

You could add pomegranate seeds if you wanted... But that might be pushing it over the edge...

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Cooking - Chore or Joy

Up to very recently I didn't really enjoy cooking. It's not that I hated it, but cutting up vegetables and doing all the preparations prior to actually starting to cook always felt like a big chore. I was always on the lookout for easy to prepare recipes that didn't take up too much precious time and were still tasty and healthy. So I was delighted when a friend recommended the Minimalist Baker food blog. The recipes are amazing and opened a new world of flavours that I had never tried before. And the best thing is that a lot of the recipes are not only easy but only require 30 minutes or less to make. (Alright, it usually takes me longer because I'm very slow, but it's still quicker than most other recipes.) One of the reasons I instantly loved this food blog is the fact that Dana, who creates the recipes, seems to have an obsession with peanut butter that equals my own. I just have to love a food blog that puts peanut butter in such a prominent position and manages to keep even the most indulgent sweets reasonably healthy! Most of the recipes are also vegan and gluten free. I'm not even a vegetarian, let alone vegan, nor is my husband, and yet three quarters of the meals I've made since are from Minimalist Baker or at least inspired therefrom. It made sense to get the newly published book when it came out and I haven't regretted it.

Sometimes I keep the meals vegan, sometimes I change them and add meat. And sometime last year I discovered that I actually really enjoy preparing a meal. I suppose it also has a lot to do with becoming a stay at home mum. Not that there is a lot of time for developing new hobbies when you have a little child, but I suppose cooking is something you have to do anyway, if you want to provide healthy food for your family. And I think a meal that's lovingly prepared tastes much better than something that's hastily thrown together.
It would be lie to say that cooking is pure joy for me every day of the week. There are those days when I drag myself into the kitchen and make an uninspired meal or just resort to a bland sandwich. But thankfully those days don't happen as often as they used to.

I meant to write about cooking meals for babies and toddlers and I actually wanted to post my first recipe but I think I'll better keep this for the next posts.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Crochet Necklaces

Sometimes it's funny which craft projects turn into an object that's loved and cherished - and which ones don't. It happens quite a lot that something I've been really excited about ends up half finished or  stays hidden away in some drawer. And then there are others that were done nearly half heartedly and turn out to be used a lot.
I made this crochet necklace a while ago, mainly to try out crocheting with beads. The beads aren't the best quality, they're plastic and were salvaged from an old hair clip. They're also very lightweight which is the main reason I didn't really like the necklace: I was going for a 20s look and I really needed more weight for the necklace to hang right. Yet recently I decided to start wearing some of the things I had lying around in my room and the colour of the necklace happened to go well with the jumper I was wearing. It looked better to double it up though and suddenly the light weight didn't matter anymore and I was really happy with how it looked.

 I decided to make another beaded necklace this time with pearl beads and pink yarn.

It might be a present for someone or I might try to sell it in our Etsy shop, I don't know yet.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Work in Progress: Chunky Crochet Scarf

This is a constant learning process for me: I'm not very good with modern technology and there's so much I have to learn. My husband just kindly showed me how to import images from my phone to the computer, so now I can write my first craft post.

This is a crochet scarf I'm making as a Christmas present for a friend. This is a really simple pattern. The inspiration comes from several chunky scarf pictures I've seen on Pinterest. Instead of following any instructions I decided to picked my own pattern (a very simple one row repeat) and just see how it goes. It will be a short scarf that closes with three large buttons.
Chunky yarn wouldn't be my usual choice of yarn weight. I do a lot of lace crocheting and I love knitting with 4 ply or even thinner yarns. Here's a picture of a glove I'm knitting with a lovely lace weight alpaca yarn. It's a big difference. I do enjoy the quick progress you make when working with chunky yarn!

 When I went to buy the yarn for this scarf I had some difficulty finding one with natural fibre. The more I knit the snobbier I get about yarn: I never buy artificial yarn if I can help it. In the end I had to settle for a wool polyester blend as there was no pure wool. It does feel nice when it's crocheted though so I'm quite happy with my choice.

I'll have to crochet a another few centimetres before choosing and sewing on the buttons. That's the fun part: choosing the buttons! I do love matching patterns and colors. I think the buttons will be colorful and big. Maybe I'll make them myself...

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Introducing myself

Hello, |'m Anke. If someone had told me a year or even six months ago that I would start writing a blog I wouldn't have believed them. Despite the fact that I love reading blogs, first and foremost my sister's lovely artist's blog, I never thought that anything in my life was worth to blog about. What made me change my mind? I'm not really sure. Last week I was on a walk trying to get my toddler son to nap in his buggy, collecting blackberries and thinking about the jumper I was going to knit when I suddenly realised that I would love to write about all this: my craft projects, cooking and baking, my experiences as a first time mum and my love for the beautiful countryside. Like everyone with a passion I also love talking about it but I don't want to bore everyone around me. You can't expect everyone to get excited about the colour of a new ball of wool. In a blog I can share my passion with like-minded people and only if they are willing to read it. So there is no danger of boring anyone. And even if nobody is going to read what I write it will still be diary and a document of what I have done which I can come back to later in my life.
Funnily enough although being an avid reader of novels and though I'd sincerely love being able to write, I'm not very good at it. I've been known to spend ages to write a simple birthday card to a friend. I've been unable to keep a diary for more than a month, always feeling ashamed of my inelegant style. But I am always better when writing under some kind of pressure and the knowledge that somebody might be reading my blog is a kind of pressure for me.

So this is what this blog is going to be about: I think it will be firstly a craft blog, mainly about knitting, crocheting and sewing, but I'd also like to write about my life as a stay at home mum to my moon-obsessed toddler son (hence the title of the blog: he keeps wanting to see the moon even in the middle of a cloudy day). There might be some cooking and baking recipes and some book reviews. That's my plan for the moment anyway.