From the Faraway Tree — the Challenge of Literature Blog Hop

A little under a month ago, Erin Prais-Hintz from Tesori Trovati/Treasures Found unveiled the latest in her quarterly series of challenges and blog hops—The Challenge of Literature. The brief? To use literary inspiration to create a piece of jewellery.

In Erin’s words:

What is your favorite literary pastime? Do you enjoy reading poetry? Are you a fan of the classics like Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, or the Bronte sisters? Do you recall the first novel that you ever read that you so fully connected with? Or are you in the throes of reading bedtime stories so that colors your literary world?

Whatever your inspiration… poetry, drama, mystery, fantasy, realistic fiction, romance, graphic novels, children’s illustrated or young adult… I challenge you to be inspired by literature this month!

If you love reading, this is the challenge for you! For the Challenge of Literature, we will choose a piece of writing that speaks to each of us personally and translate that literature into an accessory.

via Treasures Found :: Inspiration is Everywhere.

From the moment I read her post, I knew this challenge was something that spoke to me. I love to read, and I always have.

But what would best inspire me? My favourite genre is fantasy, closely followed by science fiction. And paranormal and horror fiction. And historical fiction. And chick lit. The occasional thriller, especially if it has a science bent. See what I mean?

And then I thought of Enid Blyton, whose tales of fairies and forests started my love of fantasy. Oh, The Enchanted Wood, The Magic Faraway Tree and The Folk of the Faraway Tree. Reading these books transported me to a delightful land of fairies, pixies and gnomes, animals who spoke, magic lands and adventures. I have read them all dozens of times, as a child and as an adult. I still own copies—and not the politically correct and sanitised versions from the 1990s but the original copies I had as a child, battered and well read.

For those who have not been lucky enough to read these classic books, the Faraway Tree is a magical tree. Three children—Jo, Bessie and Fanny—move to the country. One day, they discover a mysterious woodland, the Enchanted Wood, and at its heart is the Faraway Tree. When the children climb up the tree, they discover that there are all sorts of folk living in the tree, and at the very top, a ladder leads up to a series of magical lands in the clouds, with names like Topsy-Turvy Land, The Land of Take What You Want, The Land of Birthdays, The Land of Toys, The Land of Enchantments and more. Not all of the lands are pleasant, and the children have many adventures with their friends from the Tree, Silky the fairy, Moonface, The Saucepan Man and more.

“It’s a simply enormous tree,” said Jo. “Its top goes right up to the clouds—and oh, Dick, at the top of it is always some strange land. You can go there by climbing up the top branch of the Faraway Tree, going up a little ladder through a hole in the big cloud that always lies on the top of the tree—and there you are in some peculiar land!”

“I don’t think I believe you,” said Dick. “You are making it all up.”

“Dick! We’ll take you there and show you what we mean,” said Bessie. “It’s all quite true. Oh Dick, we’ve had such exciting adventures at the top of the Faraway Tree. We’ve been to the Rocking Land and the Birthday Land.”

“And the Land of Take-What-You-Want and the Land of the Snowman,” said Fanny. “You just can’t think how exciting it all is.”

“And, Dick, all sorts of queer folk live in the trunk of the Faraway Tree,” said Jo. “We’ve lots of good friends there. We’ll take you to them one day. There’s a dear little fairy called Silky, because she has such a mass of silky gold hair.”

“And then there’s Moon-Face, with a big round face like the moon! He’s a darling!” said Bessie.

(From The Magic Faraway Tree, by Enid Blyton. First published in 1943.)

I thought to myself, what if I could create the Faraway Tree as a necklace? Who and what would need to be present to evoke this most magical of trees? Well, all magical trees need an owl of course! Silky the fairy and Moonface, who lives right at the top of the tree, near the ladder that leads to magical lands. An assortment of leaves and flowers and fruits from a tree that whimsically grows acorns, apples, cherries, and more.

And here it is, my Faraway Tree necklace, and a pair of leafy earrings to match it.

A closer look at the focal:

And the earrings. I kept them simple, as the necklace is so busy!

Some of the components I used include an owl pendant and some coordinating ceramic beads from Gaea, a couple of spacer beads from Humblebeads in the necklace, and also in the earrings, lovely rectangular rhyolite (also known as rainforest jasper) beads in shades of cream, rusty brown and green, brass chain, lots and lots of Vintaj components including the branch, earring leaves, fairy and Moonface charms, plus a sweet acorn cap and a leafy clasp, Czech glass leaves flowers and rondelle “fruits” and a couple of sweet little flower headpins I found on Etsy some time ago. A scrap of sari silk in colours to tie it all together that was wrapped around a package of sari silk from Mudhound Studio.

If reading the books interests you, you can find the more recently published versions on Amazon and The Book Depository, or try eBay for vintage copies like mine.

For the rest of the blog hop participants use the links below or visit Erin’s blog:

Erin Prais-Hintz
Rebecca Anderson
Rose Binoya
Lori Bowring Michaud
Shannon Chomanszuk
Marlene Cupo
Jenny Davies-Reazor
Kim Dworak
Beth Emery
Therese Frank
Amy Freeland
K Hutchinson
Jennifer Justman
Susan Kennedy
Linda Landig
Lisa Lodge
Lisa Lowe
Kirsi Luostarinen
Beth McCord
Melissa Meman
Sharon Misuraco
Tracey Nanstad
Melinda Orr
Kashmira Patel
Alice Peterson
Sally Russick
Niky Sayers
Pam Sears
Amy Severino
Tracy Stillman
Emma Todd
Melissa Trudinger — you are here!
Lesley Watt
Shai Williams

Magnificent meat pie!

I’ve been craving pie. Here in Australia, a special place is reserved for the meat pie, a classic concoction of pastry, mince and gravy sold at milk bars, bakeries and convenience stores, and most especially, at the footy. But the pie I’ve been craving is more than that. Melt in your mouth meat, thick rich tasty gravy, tender flaky pastry. I’m drooling just thinking about it!

I found some gravy beef on sale last week, a cheap cut of meat even cheaper. So I scoured my recipe collection for a worthy recipe. And I think I found it in Jamie Oliver’s tribute to last year’s Royal Wedding between Kate and Will, a delicious casserole of beef, beer, barley and herbs. He used beef shin, but I substituted the gravy beef I had, which worked fine. I think it would work with any slow-cooking friendly cut of beef—chuck steak, gravy beef, blade steak or shin.

I also substituted a different pastry to the suet pastry he used, replacing it with Maggie Beer’s sour cream pastry. It’s quick to make and results in the most beautiful light flaky pastry.

And the end result? Just as magnificent as I envisioned!

Magnificent meat pie

Adapted from Jamie’s Great Britain, by Jamie Oliver

Serves 8-10

2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs unsalted butter
3 sprigs rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
3 sprigs thyme, leaves picked
3 bay leaves
3 red onions, chopped
1 kg gravy beef
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs tomato paste
440ml can of guinness
1.5 L homemade or good quality beef stock
2 Tbs plain flour
140g pearl barley
1 Tbs dijon mustard
2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
100g cheddar cheese, grated 
Sour cream pastry (see recipe below)
1 egg yolk
2 tsp milk

Put olive oil, butter and herbs in large casserole pot over high heat. When butter has melted, add onions, meat and a large pinch of salt and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add tomato paste, Guinness, stock and flour, and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer over low heat for an hour, stirring occasionally.

Add the pearl barley, replace cover and cook for another hour, stirring occasionally. Then remove lid and turn up heat to medium low, and cook for a further 30 minutes, stirring frequently until meat is falling apart and gravy has thickened.

Preheat oven to 220C.

Stir in mustard, Worcestershire sauce and cheese. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Pour into large pie dish, approximately 25cm by 30 cm and 5 cm deep. Brush edges of dish with an egg wash made from egg yolk and milk whisked together with a pinch of salt.

Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface until it is about 5 mm thick and big enough to just fit over dish. Carefully place on top of pie. Pinch edges down and brush with egg wash.

Bake for about 30-40 minutes at 220C until pastry is golden. Serve with green veges and homemade chips.

Maggie Beer’s sour cream pastry

From Maggie’s Harvest, by Maggie Beer

200g cold unsalted butter, roughly chopped
250g plain flour
120g/125 ml sour cream

Put butter and flour into bowl of food processor and pulse briefly until mixture has texture of breadcrumbs.

Add sour cream and pulse again until mixture just comes together. Turn out onto board and press into a ball.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes until ready to use.


1. You can replace the pastry with store bought shortcrust or puff pastry if you don’t want to make your own.


Peacock flower bracelet

Yesterday was the final day for submitting pictures to the Beading Forum Designer Quest #24. The Designer Quest, which is run a couple of times a year by the Australia-based Beading Forum and local magazine Australian Beading, is a competition for beaders to make a piece of jewellery or wearable art using a kit provided by a sponsor, in this case Cranberry Berry-licious Beads. Participants have around eight weeks to design and make their piece and a couple of extra weeks for photographing and uploading the pics.

And today, finally, we get to see what everyone else has made. The winner will receive $80 shopping voucher from Cranberry as well as a 12 month subscription to Australian Beading. And there is another $20 voucher from Cranberry for the pieces that gets the popular vote.

Anyway, this is the first time I have entered the Designer Quest, and it was quite a challenge for me as I don’t really have much experience with seed beads—and this kit was full of them! This is the kit I received …

See all those seedies? They range from 8/0 to 15/0! And there are triangles! Eek! And yes, that’s a vintage crystal rivoli-style stone there—that means NO HOLE! EEK! There are small smooth and faceted rounds and some tiny drops as well as some bigger pillow beads and some peacock daggers. All Czech glass.

Well, after mulling it over for a while and looking through my beading books and magazines for ideas, I came up with a workable idea. I have a fantastic book by Heather Powers, the bead maker and jewellery designer behind Humblebeads, called Jewelry Designs from Nature. It’s a beatiful book, full of stunning designs featuring a huge array of beautiful handcrafted artbeads. I love to browse through it! One of her designs, the Birch Forest Bracelet, is a variation of what Heather calls a Sundry bracelet, which features a fringe of seed beads combined with other small beads or charms, between larger beads. And I thought the technique could form the basis of my design.

But then I had to decide what to do with that crystal. I dug around in my stash and pulled out a Vintaj filigree bead cap which fit nicely around the crystal. I fashioned a flower out of the daggers and a few of the drops and attached it to a Vintaj daisy connector and then popped the crystal on top. Here’s a close-up of it. I think it turned out pretty well!

Then using Heather’s sundry fringe technique, I made two side pieces with gold and purple fringing in between the big beads. I joined it all together with brass jumprings and a brass clasp and voila!

I am so pleased with this design! I used some of nearly everything except the triangle beads. I just could not figure out a way to incorporate them. And I have plans to make a pair of earrings with the two large beads I have left, perhaps with a bit of fringing hanging from the bottom. But unfortunately, I have had a revolting month (don’t ask!), so it hasn’t happened yet. And maybe I’ll work out something to do with the triangle beads—suggestions most welcome!

As for the other designs, well, I’ll be going to have a look at them tomorrow. Unfortunately, the Beading Forum is membership based, with limited access to the forums for non-members, and this is one of the members-only things.

But I’ve got another challenge and blog hop coming up in a couple of weeks, so come back on the 31st May to see what I come up with for Erin Prais-Hintz’s Challenge of Literature.

Challenge of Literature 2012

Quick and spicy dinner

Some nights round here, there isn’t a lot of time, or for that matter, inclination, to cook. It’s good to have a few quick recipes on hand to make an easy meal from ingredients you have on hand.

This recipe is based loosely on the Italian pasta sauce alla Amatriciana—a spicy tomato based sauce flavoured with smoky bacon. But in this version, I have replaced the bacon with chorizo sausage, which amps up the spicy factor a bit more.

The whole dish takes about 20 minutes to throw together, which is perfect when you’re juggling homework, bathtime and bedtime.

Penne with tomato and chorizo sauce

Adapted from The Food I Love, by Neil Perry

Serves 2

1 Tbs olive oil
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1 chorizo sausage, halved lengthwise and sliced about 0.5cm thick
1 400g can diced tomatoes
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
200g penne
freshly grated parmesan cheese

Put water on for pasta.

Heat olive oil in a frypan over medium-high heat and fry onion for 2-3 minutes until soft and golden.

Add garlic, dried pepper flakes and chorizo sausage and saute for 3-4 minutes until sausage starts to brown around edges.

Add tomatoes and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Meanwhile, cook the penne pasta until al dente.

Drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss to coat. Divide into two pasta bowls and add parmesan cheese to taste.


1. If the sauce thickens up a bit too much, add a bit of the pasta cooking water to the pan to thin it out.


Comfort for a cold day

It’s rapidly sliding into winter here, even though we have most of a month left of autumn. I should be used to this, but after growing up in the sunny shores of Perth, where autumn slowly drifts into winter in early June, it can be hard.

Naturally, my thoughts turn to winter foods—thick hearty soups, tasty stews and slow-roasted dinners. I’ve even dragged out the slow cooker! But this particular meal, shepherd’s pie, was a bit of a winner with my young family. Both girls declared it DELICIOUS and polished off a large bowlful.

Traditionally, shepherd’s pie is made with lamb, quite often with leftover lamb from a roast, but equally as tasty from lamb mince. If you use beef, it’s cottage pie. It’s a complete meal in a bowl, with plenty of vegetables and of course the generous topper of mashed potatoes. It works equally well as a big family sized pie or prepared in individual pie plates. It’s not a particularly photogenic dish, but it certainly warms the soul.

And next time I make it, I think I’ll play a bit more with the recipe—maybe add some rosemary, and definitely some garlic. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Shepherd’s pie

Adapted from Modern Classics Volume 1, by Donna Hay

Serves 4-6

1 Tbs olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
600g lamb mince
2 Tbs tomato paste
400g can peeled italian tomatoes
1 c beef stock
1 fresh bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
1 c frozen peas
sea salt and cracked black pepper
1kg potatoes, peeled and quartered
75g butter
1/4 c milk
1/2 c grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 190C.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Cook the onion and carrot for about 5 minutes until soft and golden. Add the mince and cook for 3 minutes until browned. Stir through the tomato paste and tomatoes, the stock, bay leaf and thyme and bring to a simmer.

Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, then add the peas and simmer uncovered for a further 15 minutes, or until liquid has evaporated. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper.

While the meat mixture is cooking, add the potatoes to cold water and bring to a boil. Gently boil until the potatoes are soft.

Drain and mash with the butter and milk, then stir through the parmesan.

Spoon the meat mixture into a 4-cup capacity ovenproof dish and top with mashed potato. Bake for 35 minutes until potato is golden brown.


1. It’s a good idea to use a tray underneath the dish while it’s in the oven, as it can bubble over from underneath the mashed potatoes.

2. This can also be be made in individual servings using small dishes.


Works in progress

I’ve had a busy couple of weeks, and life’s popped up a few surprises to keep me on my toes.

It means I haven’t had as much time to make jewellery as I’d like. And I seem to have several pieces going at once!

This one is the remaking of a turquoise necklace for my mum. She bought these enormous turquoise beads last year in Spain and wants them restrung with coral coloured beads in between each one. They are HUGE! I’m not sure they are actually real turquoise, given the price she paid for them, more likely they dyed howlite, whcih has that characteristic veined appearance of turquoise. And the “coral” nuggets are also dyed howlite. Anyway, this is where I am with it, just need to make it longer than choker length —I have plenty more turquoise and coral beads so that’s not going to be an issue. I’d like to use chain at the back because, to me, those big nuggets would be uncomfortable to lean back against. But I am having problems finding silver-plated or silver-filled chain in the right style. It needs to be big to match the rest of the necklace.

These beads are to make a necklace for a friend to give as a present. They are a deep amethyst-hued Czech crystal with a lovely lustre finish. I plan to combine them with silver-plated chain to make a delicate necklace.

Finally, this is the focal I have made for the Beading Forum Design Quest 24 challenge. It combines Czech peacock daggers and small teardrop beads, that I have attached to a Vintaj brass filigree. And then there is a crystal rivoli popped onto the front, also wrapped in a Vintaj filigree beadcap. I’m pretty chuffed with how it’s turned out actually!

I’ll post more pics of the finished pieces when they’re done. On the schedule this week are a couple of mother’s day gifts, hopefully I’ll have time to make at least one of them!