If anyone was wondering what 15.5L of jam looks like…

…here’s half a fridge of preserves!

Roughly 20L of jam and preserves.

The taller jars (white tops and the likes) are 0.5L, the big ones are 1L, the smaller ones are 200-450ml.

Raspberry, elderberry, blackberry, plum, apple sauce, autumn pie mix and various mixed jams. Fruit mostly foraged, given or got on the cheap locally.

All preserves in boiled, undamaged pop-top jars, resealed with heat – canning without a canning bath, if you will. I was unsure about this trick, but after a whole year of eating jams made and preserved this way, I trust them. Should be great for Halloween and Christmas and still be edible and usable for a full 12 months from the date on the jar!

I probably made around 20L total, but I had to use some on the day due to jar shortage and gave some away to friends and Jon’s coworkers.

Jam. 🙂

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How To… make any ice cream.

Everybody loves ice cream. Or should. It’s a delicious frozen treat. It can taste of whatever you want it to. The only pity is that the best ice creams are sort of expensive.

Well, here I am to remedy that! I love making ice cream at home and it’s so simple and easy that you’ll wonder why you didn’t make it before.

1: The cream.

For your ice cream you need a creamy base. This doesn’t actually have to be cream, believe it or not. Just something that’s thick and smooth at room temperature.

Some ideas:

  • double cream
  • hand-whipped cream
  • evaporated milk
  • coconut cream
  • nut butter
  • mashed bananas
  • mashed avocado
  • frosting
  • blended persimmons

Again, anything that’s thick and creamy at room temperature.

2: The jam.

The second stage is the sweet or flavoured element. It doesn’t have to be a literal jam, but it needs to have a runny consistency and a strong and pleasant taste. This could be anything. You can even make a savoury ice cream if you want.

Some ideas:

  • jam
  • honey
  • smoothie
  • ganache
  • chocolate spread
  • nut butter
  • sauce

Anything that is runny but not liquid and adds taste.

3: The extras.

A teeny, tiny bit of something for taste. Can be anything as long as it doesn’t ruin the consistency of the ice cream.

Some ideas:

  • herbs and spices
  • essential oils
  • alcohol
  • nuts and seeds
  • fruit juice
  • honey and other sweeteners
  • salt

4: Blend.

Take a blender and mix the three elements together. Pour into a freezer-safe tupper.

5: The toppings.

A bit of colour, texture and flavour to sprinkle on top. Something light and contrasting.

Some ideas:

  • nuts and seeds
  • fruit pieces
  • berries
  • melted chocolate
  • melted toffee
  • candy bars
  • leaves
  • salt
  • pieces of ginger or cinnamon

6: Freeze.

Once you’re happy with how it looks and tastes, put it in the freezer for at least 24h.

7: Lightly defrost.

Some cream bases freeze very hard. Others freeze very softly. Make sure that it is perfectly scoopable before you try and serve.

8: Serve.

Dish it up, maybe with extra toppings.

Consume within four months for best taste.

What Crafting Does To And For You.

Arts and crafts are something most of us appreciate. We love seeing the results of great talent and skill. We also love engaging in crafting activities when we can. But crafting is a little like reading. Despite knowing that most of the happiest, wisest, healthiest people in the world craft, most people seem to avoid it.

It’s quite peculiar how we do this, because, however you look at it, crafting is innately human. From our earliest days, even if toys and paints aren’t available, we take mud and sand and sticks and stones and mash things together to make murals, sculptures and decorations. We are drawn to paint and stickers and glue. We make shiny, bright, ornamented versions of everyday items. In short, we are born with a desire to create. Which makes a lot of sense, really. A human is born a naked ape-grub without any sharp teeth or fangs, without the ability to even stand. We grow into gangly, nude primates that are slow, clumsy and weak compared to most of our would-be predators and prey. So crafting is one of our ways of surviving. By tinkering about with everything we are able to make houses, fire, weapons, traps, cooking utensils and preservation techniques. Crafting made the arrow, the tree-house, the fire pit and fermentation. It’s an instinctive drive.

And another unique trait of humans is that we use this tinkering to develop culture. At some point a good, strong arrowhead that felled five bison stops just being a good arrowhead and starts being a lucky arrowhead. At some point Mum’s copper pot stops being a cooking utensil and becomes an heirloom. The more we tinker, the more we develop, the more meaning we attach to things, until we start making this for meaning’s own sake. We find blue peaceful, so we seek out blue pigments. We like the little figures on Uncle’s bow, so we make our own figurines. We go from utilitarian, to utilitarian and meaningful, to purely meaningful.

And gradually these meanings form a culture. If women of a certain tribe wear neck-braces in solidarity with women who need them, women in the next tribe will be confused, because they will either not need braces or view them as simple medical treatment. If hunters of a certain tribe paint themselves blue to connect with the Gods, hunters from another tribe may see the blue as aggression or even aspiration to godhood. By creating a sort of secret language of meaning, we exclude others from out culture and make it ours. We gain solidarity.

Which is where we start losing our desire to craft in the modern world. We live in a world where we no longer need to craft or be inventive. Not only are we avid, hungry consumers, we seem to be trying to become culturally stagnant, merely observing past culture and global cultures and not engaging in any cultural or tribal behaviours of our own.

But crafting is still good for us. The pull is still there, even when you sit down a sixty year old office worker with finger paints. How many people do you know who would never doodle, paint, sculpt, write, sing, dance, build, shape, collage, etc if they could? If you sat a group of adults down in an arts and crafts room and told them to entertain themselves, how many would find nothing to do? We still love it and want to do it. It’s only natural to us.

Crafting is still one of the best ways of dealing with mental and personality disorders, as well as with non-clinical stress, depression, anxiety, fear or boredom. It evens us out and leaves us feeling soothed and satisfied by the end. And to boot, it shows its own fruits. When you work crunching numbers, or teaching a lesson a week, or cleaning machinery, it’s hard to see your own work in the finished product. But when you take your vision and slowly shape it into something, you are present in the end result. And that reward is one of the richest you can experience.

Humans really are meant to craft and create. And we should put more effort into doing some crafting daily.

What do you enjoy crafting? Do you craft as much as you would like? Are there any crafts you would like to learn?

Check out my Pinterest board of things to craft or that I have crafted.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

How To… overcome impulse buying.

Everyone impulse buys to a degree. When we have some spare money (or sometimes when we don’t!) and we see something on the shelf, in the window or on Pinterest that we want, a few times we will buy it. And every time we will feel the pull. But what if you could enjoy window shopping without coming home with anything? Or browse the supermarket and get only what you need? Or go charity shopping without buyer’s remorse? Or leaf through a magazine and not feel jealous? It is possible, but it involves some careful retraining.

1: Make lists.

The first trick is to make lists. We will look at a couple of sorts of lists but, as with organization and memory, writing any suitable lists can help you avoid distractions.

You will firstly write lists of what you need. The most common list in this category is the shopping list: what you set out to get. Another list is a general list, where you note what sort of things you need (vegetables, protein, soap), allowing you to go with cheaper or better options when available. And another of my favourites is a permissions list, where you note what things you can buy if you spot them, allowing you to buy things you can stock up on, like freezables, canned goods and soaps when they are cheap.

And next you will write lists of what you want. This list is composed over the course of a week. Do not use it to write down everything you see that you fancy, because this interferes with step 3 and can make you miserable. Instead, when you see something you want, forget about it and wait two or three days. If after that it’s still on your mind, write it down. At the end of every week, have a look online to see what is the best way of buying one of these and whether it’s worth it. Often you will forget about most things before the day is out and become disinterested in other things when you consider their impracticalities with a cool head.

2: D.I.Y.

The next stage is to look at your list of impractical wants and ask yourself what you can make. These are the best things to start with. Often newbie diyers throw themselves in the deep end, not by making something too complicated, but by making something they need, or making something from their want list that wouldn’t be terrible to buy. When you try and start with things you need, you feel too much urgency and may mess it up or lose hope. When you try and start with things you would have bought anyway you are setting a standard you are bound to fall below, as it was already cheap, practical and suitable enough.

But by starting with things you wouldn’t otherwise have, you can ease your way into D.I.Y. and make it more worth your while. This means that your confidence grows and you end up relegating more and more of your wants to the D.I.Y. list, leading to fewer impulse buys. (Though your impulse crafting may skyrocket!)

3: Abundance mentality.

This term is often associated with the PUA community’s idea of viewing sex as plentiful, to stop young men thirsting for it and letting that thirst blind them. But whatever angle you take on that definition, it also applies to other facets of life, especially buying. You most resent not getting something when you think you can’t. You most dwell on something when you’re scared you may never be able to get one again. You most want to buy the less you are allowed to buy. This is a perfectly logical pattern for humans. When we deprive ourselves of things, our primitive selves assume they are scarce and, therefore, conclude it is more vital to grab them when we can.

What you need to realize is that you can afford that cupcake maker, those shoes or that ham hock. The money is there. You just don’t need it or really want it. Even if you don’t have the money in the bank, remind yourself that it isn’t because you have no money, it’s almost certainly because you prioritized another luxury, like smoked salmon, a new bag or some yarn for knitting.

Even if you can’t actually afford that thing at the present moment, it is better to train yourself to assume you can afford it, but don’t really need or want it. That way you are less likely to impulse buy when it is on offer, or when you find a similar item!

4: The second trip.

This is something that can very quickly annoy people you shop with, so it’s best applied when you are out on your own. Every shop requires two trips.

When we are shopping because we need something, we often pick up things we may not need. Start at the tills and browse your way around the supermarket. Put the things you came in for at one side of the basket or trolley and the things you picked up at the other side. Then, make your way back the same way you came. Put back anything you have changed your mind about in this time. I have no idea why this works so much better than just not picking it up in the first place, but it does!

When we are browsing, we often find ourselves shopping. Sometimes this isn’t so bad for a bit of fun and when we find things we like, but shopping sprees are rightfully seen as binge activities by many. Again, start at the end of town where your car is or where you will exit. Work your way through the shops in order. Don’t buy anything, just enjoy  browsing, take mental note of the items you like and their prices and carry on. On your way back, don’t go into any shop where you didn’t find anything you still want. If anything is really pulling you, just pop into the shop and, looking at it in your hands, ask yourself if it’s worth the price.

Your double trips may seem excessive, but the amount of money, stress and confusion they spare is helpful beyond belief.

5: Allowance.

Another trick is to give yourself a random expenses allowance. The allowance isn’t the random part, the expenses are! When you tell yourself you are only allowed one frivolous item or spontaneous purchase a week, it makes it a lot easier to control pointless clutter and lots of tiny buys. When you tell yourself that you have £X to spend on unplanned purchases, you spend less on each item. Whatever your impulse problem is, place a restriction on it. Preferably at half or below half your current levels. Ideally down to £5-10 or one single item.

This on its own can be hard to keep up, but combined with double trips, shopping lists and a well-cultivated abundance mentality, it is fairly easy to stick to even a ridiculous restriction.

The one caution is not to restrict it to nothing. The reason for this is the “diet effect”. The same way that someone on a low-carb diet will eat an apple and throw the diet out of the window for a day, someone who is not allowed to spend spontaneously will pick up one unplanned item and find their basket full of twelve more unplanned items. Rather than do this, having a little leeway will help you focus and allow for human error.

6: Practical shopping.

One sort of impulse buy that we can let go a little and go crazy on is practical purchases. When you find things on your permissions list, don’t stop yourself getting them. If you find something you will genuinely make good use of within seven days, contemplate a little, but you’re likely better off getting it.

Sometimes, going on a shopping spree with “anything for the house” or “ten new shirts” in mind can be very similar to going on one where anything goes. Of course, minus the guilt trip afterwards!

And those are my six steps to defeating impulse buying!

What are your tricks for avoiding spontaneous spending? What things do you find harder and easier to resist? Do share in the comments!

TTFN and Happy Hunting.

How to… Craft Yourself Tidy!

We’ve all hit that problem. We have a book of sewing patterns, 40 shoeboxes and a Pinterest board lined up, full of crafts we want to make. And we also have a house to tidy and keep, work to do or things to mend. So we put everything away, sort the laundry, finish writing that essay or report, darn those socks and finally have no time to craft. Or we put actual work to one side, start making stuff and end up with more scarves than we need and a few hours lost.

Curse you, scarves!

Curse you, scarves!

What if we could seize that creative urge, take some time to relax, improve our house’s organization and feel like no time was wasted at the end?

Well, here to the rescue, I’ve compiled a list of various ways you can make your home neater and prettier, by crafting the organization into your home.

1: Hanging organizers.

The craft.

Take a length of fabric. Sew the edges flat underneath it. Add pockets by stitching the bottom and side of a square to the fabric. Perhaps attach a ribbon or two to hang it with.

The result.

A convenient hanging set of pockets you can put on the back of doors, inside wardrobes or even attach to the wall to keep your small, frequently used items.

Made with an old sheet, a swimming costume and a strip of stripy fabric.

Made with an old sheet, a swimming costume and a strip of stripy fabric.

Made with an old hoodie and some yellow fabric.

Made with an old hoodie and some yellow fabric.

The quick option: buy some shoe organizers and decorate them.

2: Repurpose boxes.

The craft.

Take a small, sturdy box. Cut it to the desired size. Use the offcuts to make some slot-together separators for it. Paint or wrap in pretty paper or fabric.

The result.

A fitted box to keep a set of things in one place and organized. I made Jon one for his contact lenses as I kept moving them when I was tidying and mixing the sets up.

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The quick option: make some separators and use the box as-is.

3: Under-table hammock.

The craft.

Take a piece of fabric and cut it to 3-4″ smaller than the table is from corner to corner. In each corner, attach elastics that are just too small to wrap around the table legs without stretching. Put on table. For tables where you can’t slide something up the legs, swap the elastics for velcro or buttoned straps.

The result.

A convenient place to hide your magazines, recently watched or to-watch DVDs, games controls and remote controls.

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The quick option: attach some elastic to an appropriately sized sheet.

4: Baskets and pots.

The craft.

Not much of a craft, but fun to decorate and organize with. Find a suitable basket or large flower pot. Clean and decorate a little. Use it to store rolled-up towels, or your gloves and hats, for easy access whenever needed. Also use one for assorted car repair materials, for example, or anything else you may need to grab in a rush.

The result.

A prettier way of storing my towels where they are all visible and accessible without being in the way.

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The quick option: take a basket or pot and roll your towels or bedding to fit it. It can’t get much easier. 🙂

5: Grease and sauce pots.

The craft.

Take some glass jars and use permanent marker or sharpie to decorate them and assign their purpose.

The result.

Cute little jars to keep my reusable cooking fats in, sorted by type so the tastes don’t get mixed.

20141206_163244

Lard, olive oil, lamb fat, chicken drippings, tallow.

 

The quick option: rather than draw, use a jar or cup that is already pretty and make sure your handwriting looks nice.

6: Curtain ties.

The craft.

Cut some appropriately toned fabric 2″ longer than you need and twice as wide. Fold and stitch all sides but one end. Turn inside out and invisible stitch the end. Tie curtains back.

The result.

I actually just did the quick option here! The room is more open and brighter with these heavy curtains tied back.

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The quick option: cut a strip of fabric or a length of ribbon for each curtain. Tie back in a bow.

7: Bags.

The craft.

Make a deep base bag and line it. Make many smaller pockets and purses and go attaching them as you see fit. Add a draw string, zips, or buttons. Back straps are harder to make than purse handles are.

The result.

A cute and handy bag to carry around.

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The quick option: make a bucket handbag or a tote.

And some I haven’t made, but want to make when I have the time or a purpose for them.

Make fishy laundry and bathing bags like these.

Make some amazing shelves.

Make some handy baskets and holders for better bathroom organization.

Make a pallet shed organizer.

Weekend crafts.

This weekend I was going to see a relative, but the plans got thrown off by tonsilitis. So, seeing as I had cancelled all my work for the week and was determined to not overwork myself, I decided to spend this weekend crafting.

First I needed to sort the coffee table. There was nothing horribly wrong with it. But it was plain white and stained crazily easily, which is not great for a table that will have coffee on it. We also invariably forget to use coasters, so having something I could wipe clean was a must.

The only picture where I allowed the table to be seen. It was thoroughly cleaned before that meal, so no shame. :p

The only picture where I allowed the table to be seen. It was thoroughly cleaned before that meal, so no shame. :p

 

That is the original and finished design. I contemplated a lot of things for our coffee table. I even considered painting a detailed scene and setting some glass on top of it. But I didn’t want to make something I would feel too bad about parting ways with if it broke. So I settled on a boho glass pebble top.

The materials for this were a variety of glass pebbles and grout and filler plaster.

1: Arrange your pebbles by colour. That way you have an idea what you’re going to be able to do with them.

2: Clean and dry the table.

3: Mark out any spaces you want to leave. We wanted a gap for our chess board that we could slide it in and out of.

4: Little by little, spread the grout and/or plaster and place the pebbles in the right pattern.

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I ran out of pebbles so I left the middle almost bare except for some floral coasters and a few pebbles.

The finished product looks pretty awesome and should clean smoothly.

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The other thing I made was an upgraded version of my knitting loom. The original looked like this.

Ugly and efficient.

Ugly and efficient.

 

I made some pretty cool scarves on it.

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But it had too few spikes, was starting to fall apart and was bulky to carry and use. So I decided to make something more portable, attractive and functional. Introducing the loom 2.0:

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Yes, that is a coat rack. I got so used to the knitting needle ends that stuck out of the back of my box that I felt I needed something to stab my wool balls onto, rest my crochet hook on and tie the loose end of wool to. So a coat hanger seemed like the natural choice. Plus, it was a ready-sanded piece of wood for 99p.

To make:

-10-100 round-end or skirting board nails

-30-100cm of wood

-a hammer

-a ruler and a marker pen

1: Use the ruler to mark the board at even places.

2: Hammer in the first three nails and last three nails at an angle. This will hold your board.

3: Hammer in the central nails deal straight, for easy weaving.

To use click here.

Last Minute Crafting, or Knitting for People Who Can’t Knit.

I’ve always wanted to learn how to knit. But I have days when I’m very clumsy with my hands, which would get in the way of even knitting, and also have a serious problem with numbers to a point where I can think of the number four and say “Seven” and “Eleven” first, or where I can skip entire numbers when counting or copying something. I usually deal with it in time for everyday situations, but when crafting something invariably goes wrong. Never a good place to start. And when I got bored of crochet due to the constant mistakes and plateaus caused by shaky hands and poor number management, I gave up on learning to knit, at least not while I had other things to do.

But I never stop learning about crafts, even ones I can’t do. Looking at patterns led me on a pinterest-crawl and soon I was learning about arm knitting. Then I realized that, even if arm knitting was simple, it required me to keep both my arms working on the knitting until I was done, in case I messed up and tied a knot when getting loose. Me? Sit still for over five minutes? With a craft? No chance. Especially not when the results look like they’d be so easily destroyed by a cat or a clumsy movement. But I  also discovered finger knitting. And it got me thinking.

As you can see, finger-knitting is based on the old way we used to use toilet rolls to knit bracelets in art class. It eliminates the counting, the fiddly needles and the time-consuming element. But I had two concerns. Firstly, that as with arm-knitting I just hadn’t the patience to sit like that for so long. Secondly that I only have four fingers, meaning I could only make something as wide as I could spread my fingers. So what if I could add to my fingers? What if I made a board or a box that I could use to finger-knit without knitting at all?

This is what I made:

 

Ugly and efficient.

Ugly and efficient.

However you could also make one with a board, maybe even paint it up and use it as a Christmas gift for any young or klutzy crafters in the family. I’m definitely making a knitting board all to myself sometime in the new year. Or maybe you could make yourself one and use it to knock out some quick and easy Christmas gifts for neighbours. However you want to play it, here are my instructions for a knitting board and a knitting box.

Knitting box.

Equipment:

-a cardboard box

-10-100 spiky, sticky things (actual sticks, kebab sticks, chop sticks, knitting needles, anything)

-heavy duty tape, hot glue gun, crafting glue

-(optional) fabric or paper for decorating

-(optional) small hook or clasp for holding your thread end (see instructions)

Assembly:

1: Mark an even number of dots along one edge of the cardboard box.

2: Insert the spiky things in through the dot and out through another side of the box, to hold them firm.

3: Make sure your knitting ends (the ones where you drew the dots) are all an even length.

4: Tape/glue the non-knitting ends against the box.

5: (Attach optionals.)

Knitting Board.

Equipment:

-1 long board

-10-100 evenly sized nails, round tops or other nails that don’t have a very wide top are much, much better

-hammer

-(optional) an extra nail or a clip

-(optional) paint

Assembly:

1: Mark the board with dots an even distance apart.

2: Hammer a nail into each dot.

3: Even out the nails.

4: (Add optionals.)

Definitely making myself one!

Instructions.

So how do we use this badboy? Well, we start by attaching the end of our yarn to the clasp, or otherwise just taping it to the side of our box/board.

KNIT1

Next we weave the ball end of our yarn over and under until we reach the end of the spikes.

KNIT2

Wrap it around and go over and under on your way back, so each spike has a bit of thread on the top and bottom of it.

KNIT3

Repeat both ways so that each spike has two bits of thread.

KNIT4

Pull the thread nearest the box/board over the top of the thread nearest you. Make sure the top thread stays on, but the thread near the box/board comes off!

KNIT5

KNIT6

KNIT7

Repeat on every spike.

Take your yarn again and weave once both ways.

KNIT4

The old “top” thread should now be the one nearest the board and the new one should be the top. Pull the bottom thread back over the top one.

Rinse and repeat.