On the first days of Christmas …

I was lucky enough to take part in Lorelei Eurto’s 12 Days of Christmas Handmade Gift exchange this year. The challenge was to make 11 gifts and send them to 11 recipients, in return I would get a gift from each of them. The gifts were not restricted to jewellery but they did need to be handmade by me. Starting on Chirstmas Day, each day we open a single gift assigned to that day, for a total of 12 days including our own.

Day one saw a gift from our gracious hostess, Lorelei. Due to the vagaries of two postal services, this gift arrived today, on day four, so I was lucky enough to open two gifts today! A beautiful jar of handmade spiced nuts (and my favourite combination at that!). These are coming down to the beach with me this afternoon! IMG_2832lores

I’ve already sneaked a taste and they are delicious, Lorelei, thank you so much for both the gift and the opportunity to join in the fun!

Day two was from Lisa Johnson, who sent me a fantastic pair of earrings with enamelled dangles.

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Aren’t they beautiful? Thank you Lisa, I love them!

On day three, I opened a gift from Suzette Bentley, who also gifted me with a lovely pair of earrings she calls Lollipops!

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Thank you Suzette, I have already worn them!

Here in Australia it is already day four and I have just opened my gift from Jodie Marshall. First of all are two chocolates, yum! And then a gorgeous knitted cuff, with a lampwork disc bead on the side. Just my colours, a rich ombré from deep pink to chocolate brown, and it fits perfectly!

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Thank you Jodie! I can’t wait to wear this!

I will be away with my family for the next few days and taking my little pile of gifts with me, so I will post an update on the presents I have received toward the end of next week.

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It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas…

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Ah, the smells of Christmas. Many years ago, when pot pourri was still fashionable, I had a wonderful mixture that smelled of Christmas. I would put it out in early December, and each night when I got home from work, the spicy fruity smell would welcome me in the door.

The real thing, of course, is Christmas baking. The heady fragrance of the Boozy Christmas pudding mix that wafts up as you stir it. The warm smells of a rich and spicy Christmas cake as it slowly cools.

There are so many recipes for fruit cake, and I’ve certainly tried a few. But this one is my keeper. It’s a boiled fruitcake from Aussie cookbook author Belinda Jeffrey that was published in Australian Home Beautiful magazine a few years ago. The beauty of the recipe is its flexibility—the types of fruit included can be varied to include any combination of raisins, sultanas, currants, prunes, dates, apricots, and other dried fruits; similarly the liquids can be varied to include orange and lemon juice, brandy, rum, port, to your tastes.

One of the main ingredients in this fruitcake recipe is fruit mince, and I’ve included a recipe for a homemade version as well, although a good quality store-bought fruit mince will work just as well. This recipe also comes from an Australia cookbook writer, the beloved-by-many Margaret Fulton.

I’m not one for the traditional marzipan icing and fake holly leaves. I don’t even make a nice pattern of almonds and pecan nuts on the top of the cake. It’s all about the rich, dark, fruity, dense cake for me.

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and all the best for a Happy New Year!!!

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Christmas Cake

Adapted from a recipe by Belinda Jeffrey, published in Australian Home Beautiful, December 2009.

Makes 2 Christmas cakes, 20cm diameter.

1 large lemon, zest finely grated, juice reserved
1 large orange, zest finely grated, juice reserved
495ml brandy or cognac
450g butter
540g dark brown sugar
1200g mixed dried fruit—for example, raisins, sultanas, currants, chopped apricots, chopped prunes, diced dates, candied fruit peel, glace fruit)
555g fruit mince (see recipe below)
3 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 heaped tsp cinnamon
1.5 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp cloves
3 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 tsp almond extract
6 eggs
570g wholemeal flour
blanched almonds and pecan halves for decorating (optional)
extra brandy/cognac

Measure out lemon and orange juice and add 1/2 c water to it, then pour in brandy until mixture measures 900ml total. Add the zest and set aside.

Melt butter over medium heat in large saucepan. Add the sugar and stir until the mixture is wet and slushy. Add the dried fruit, fruit mince, bicarbonate of soda and reserved juice mixture and stir to mix. Increase heat to high and stir until the sugar has dissolved, then stop stirring and bring the mixture to the boil. Allow to simmer for 4-5 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary to avoid the frothy mixture boiling over. Then turn off the heat and allow to cool completely in the saucepan.

Preheat oven to 150C. Grease 2 20cm round deep cake tins with butter and line with a double thickness of baking paper.

Add cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, cloves, vanilla and almond extracts to the cooled mixture and stir. Add eggs and stir in well. Mix in flour and stir to thoroughly combine, then allow batter to sit for a few minutes before scraping it into the two prepared tins.

If desired, decorate the tops of the cakes with almonds and pecans arranged in concentric circles.

Bake the cakes until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean, approximately 1.5 hrs. Check the cakes periodically during cooking, and cover with foil once the tops are a good rich brown colour.

Leave the cakes to cool completely in the tin, on a rack. Remove from the tin, and brush the base and the top with brandy/cognac, then wrap in cling wrap and foil. To prolong the life of the cake, store in the fridge.

Notes:

1. The boiled fruit mixture can be cooled overnight if that is convenient.

2. The top of the cake will feel firm when lightly pressed when it is fully cooked.

3. The cake will last in the fridge for at least a couple of months.

Fruit Mince

Adapted from a recipe by Margaret Fulton, published in Australian Home Beautiful, December 2009.

Makes approximately 4.5 cups.

1.5 c raisins
1.5 c currants
1.5 c sultanas
1/3 c blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
1 apple, grated
3/4 c brown sugar
75g unsalted butter, melted
1/3 c brandy or rum
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 orange, zest and juice

Process dried fruit and almonds in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Spoon into a bowl and combine with grated apple, sugar, butter, brandy, spices and orange juice and zest. Mix well.

Cover and chill, stirring daily for at least 2 days before use.

Notes:

1. Fruit mince will last for several months in the fridge. Give it a stir now and then.

2. This recipe is actually half of the original recipe, but I find I don’t use it all up (I’m not one for making fruit mince tarts). I have enough left over after making the cakes to make a batch or two of fruit mince muffins.

Christmas is cooking …

photo credit: k e e k i via photopin cc

photo credit: k e e k i via photopin cc

Around this time of year, talk in my family turns to what we’re going to eat on Christmas Day. If it’s my side of the family, our preference is to have one big meal that stretches out for most of the afternoon—perhaps some nice nibbles to start with, some BBQ’d seafood (we ARE in Australia after all, what’s Christmas without a BBQ?) for a first course, then maybe a whole fish (again, cooked on the BBQ) and a turkey breast or some slow-roasted lamb, or a beef fillet, with some salads and maybe some asparagus and of course roast potatoes!

Then there’s a ham on the side for those that want it; the leftovers will keep us in sandwiches for the next week or so! That usually takes us through to late afternoon, and after a rest it’s time for dessert—something lighter and more summery like pavlova or summer pudding, as well as the more traditional Christmas pudding.

Christmas pudding has become a tradition in our family over the last 20 years or so. I don’t really remember it featuring on the menu when I was a kid, unless we were visiting our relatives, although I know it made the occasional appearance. But when I moved to the US in the early 90s and started teaching myself how to cook, I came across a recipe in The San Francisco Chronicle that was easy and delicious, and with some minor modifications I’ve been making it ever since!

It’s not too labour intensive, although you need to plan your cooking around your schedule as you need to start the fruit macerating the day before you cook the puddings, and the steaming time is several hours long. And here where Christmas meets Summer, I also have to keep an eye on the weather, as I don’t want to heat the house up more than I need to on a hot day.

My recipe makes two good-sized puddings— each one is plenty for a group of 12 as it is very rich—and they keep for a while, although I have made them as little as a week before the big day with delicious results. I think the longest I’ve kept a pudding is about a year—the quantity of alcohol is sufficient to preserve it well!

I’ve got a couple more Christmas cooking posts for you over the next few days, a great boiled fruitcake recipe as well as the most fantastic raspberry chocolate truffle slice, seriously it’s to die for!

(You’ll have to wait for a photo—there is absolutely nothing photogenic about a pudding in a tin mould!)

Boozy Christmas pudding

Adapted from a recipe published in The San Francisco Chronicle on 16 December, 1992.

Makes 2 puddings, each serving 8-10 people.

350g prunes, pitted and chopped
300g currants
225g dark raisins
125g mixed peel
100g dried apricots, chopped
zest and juice of large orange
zest and juice of large lemon
1 Tbs molasses
2/3 c Guinness stout
1/2 c brandy
1/4 c tawny port
1/4 c Cointreau
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, rounded
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg, rounded
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cloves, scant
1 c plus 1 Tbs dark brown sugar
8 cups of breadcrumbs made from fresh white bread — about 500g
175g butter plus additional for greasing the pudding basins

Combine the prunes, currants, raisins, peel, citrus zests and juice, apricots, and molasses in a large non-reactive bowl. Add the stout, brandy, port and Cointreau and mix well. Stir in the spices, add the sugar and mix very well. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24-48 hours, stirring occasionally.

Take the fruit mixture out of the fridge and stand at room temperature for about an hour. Fold in the breadcrumbs in batches with a large spatula, until no white specks of bread are visible. The mixture will be quite stiff at this point. Allow to stand for about 30 minutes at room temperature. Melt the butter and thoroughly fold into the mixture. There will be about 9 cups of the pudding mixture.

Brush 2 pudding moulds, each about 2-2.5L capacity, with melted butter. Lightly pack the pudding mixture into each mould and smooth tops with a rubber spatula.

Butter 2 rounds of baking paper/parchment and press onto the surface of each pudding. Cover each mould with its lid, or with aluminium foil.

Place each mould into a stockpot with boiling water 3/4 of the way up the sides of the mould and cover pot with lid. Steam for 4 hours over low to medium-low heat so that water bath is at a gentle boil.  Replenish boiling water as necessary.

Transfer puddings to wire racks and cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until day of serving. Brush them with brandy or Cointreau once or twice if desired.

To serve, let puddings stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, then steam as before for 2.5 hours. Let cool on rack for a further 1.5 hours.

Run a knife around the edge of the pudding and invert onto a cake plate or stand. Decorate with holly sprigs and/or glace fruit if desired.

Pour about 2 Tbs hot brandy over the top of the pudding and light with a match. The flames will subside as the alcohol burns off. Slice and serve with whipped cream, vanilla icecream, custard, brandy butter or even a slightly sweetened natural yoghurt.

Notes:

1. You need at least 3 days to make the puddings from start to finish. But the longer the puddings have to mature, the better. I try to make mine in early December.

2. The original recipe called for Frangelico instead of Cointreau, so feel free to mix up the alcoholic flavours a bit! Grand Marnier would also be nice. Cognac can be used in place of brandy.

3. You could use glace fruits instead of mixed peel.

4. I use a good quality white sandwich loaf for the breadcrumbs, which I prepare using a food processor. Sometimes I use the crusts, other times I cut the crust away. What is important is making sure that the bread is in crumbs not chunks.

5. You could use several smaller pudding moulds or basins if you wanted smaller puddings, but make sure the bowls aren’t more than about  3/4 full. The steaming time remains the same.

6. Leftover pudding can easily be heated up in the microwave, and it’s nice cold too!

Art Bead Scene Holiday Ornament Blog Hop—Reveal!

If you’ve come to look at my post for the 3rd Annual Challenge of Color, click here!

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It’s time to see what ornament I came up with for the Art Bead Scene Holiday Ornament Blog Hop using the beads I found up at the Bead Expo a few weeks ago from local lampwork artist Marianne Bradman. When I saw them in a bowl of orphan beads, I knew they’d be perfect for a Christmas ornament or three.

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In the end, time won out and I made one ornament using just one of the beads.  I used memory wire and Czech glass beads to make 2 nested rings with silver-coloured craft wire messy-wrapped over the loops joining the two ends of each ring. I wired the two loops together and dangled a silver-coloured snowflake charm in the centre, and hung the whole thing off the art bead. A length of red and white bakers twine for hanging completed the ornament. The loops and the snowflake move freely

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If I can get some more of the Czech glass beads in the right colours, I will probably make it a trio of ornaments.

Here are the other participants in the Art Bead Scene Ornament Blog Hop—please go and take a look at what they have come up with too!

Art Bead Scene

Humblebeads

Treasures Found

Song Beads

Viki O’Dell

Sue Beads

Modern Nature Studio

Diane Hawkey

Suburban Girl Studio

Jen Judd Rocks

Ellie’s Bijoux

Island Girl’s Insights

Life By The Seat Of My Pants

Too Aquarius 

Shelley Graham Turner

Artfully Ornamental

Charis Designs Jewelry

Harrison Hollow Designs

Silver Nik Nats

Bead Soup Mix

Toodles and Binks

Bead Recipes >>YOU ARE HERE<<

Play Sculpt Live

BeeTree by M.E.

African Coast Necklace—The 3rd Annual Challenge of Colour

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Well, today is reveal day for Erin Prais-Hintz’s 3rd Annual Challenge of Color. I have to admit I am late posting this, although it is still November 30 in the USA (phew!). It’s not that I hadn’t finished my piece, but the end of the year is in full swing around here and this week alone I have had my daughter’s piano concert, a school assembly performance, Christmas shopping, extreme heat, work, after school activities and, well, you get the picture.

Enough with the whinging and lame excuses and on to the challenge! Erin teamed up with Brandi Hussey, a jewellery designer turned colour guru, who created 40 palettes based on images from the Earth as Art series of satellite images. From Erin’s original blog post about the challenge:

The Earth As Art image gallery is a group of over 120 pictures taken from the Landsat series of Earth observation satellites since 1972. These pictures of the unique features of our beautiful planet are a vital resource for understanding scientific issues related to land use and natural resources. Plus they are just so darned cool!

All the images that we will be using in this Challenge of Color and all the information that I found came from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) which donated all these images to the Library of Congress.

The images in these galleries are spectacular. The views of mountains, valleys, islands and forests was well as agricultural patterns and even heavily populated areas are quite striking in their abstraction. The colors are much different than what you might expect. The satellite land imagery uses a digital palette that relates to the different levels on the infrared spectrum and help to give insight into the specific geography of the image.

Erin selected two palettes for each of us from the set of 40 that Brandi created. No two participants got the same pair of palettes, and we only had to use one of them. My two palettes were gorgeous:

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I was intrigued and challenged by the predominance of earthy red colours in both palettes—they are not colours I gravitate toward as a rule. I looked through my bead stash and found beads that matched both palettes, which I pulled aside. I had ideas for both, but unfortunately was only able to complete the piece for the first palette—but I will complete the second piece when I have some breathing space and post it in the next few weeks.

So, that first palette. It’s a satellite image of a small African country, Guinea-Bissau, taken on 1 December 2000. The image shows complex swirling patterns in the blue of the ocean surrounding it, which are caused by the deposition of silt from the rivers you can see carving their way through the landscape. From Wikipedia, I learned this about Guinea-Bissau:

Guinea-Bissau, officially the Republic of Guinea-Bissau, is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Senegal to the north and Guinea to the south and east, with the Atlantic Ocean to its west. It covers 36,125 km² (nearly 14,000 sq mi) with an estimated population of 1,600,000.

Guinea-Bissau was once part of the kingdom of Gabu, as well as part of the Mali Empire. Parts of this kingdom persisted until the 18th century, while a few others were part of the Portuguese Empire since the 16th century. It then became the Portuguese colony of Portuguese Guinea in the 19th century. Upon independence, declared in 1973 and recognised in 1974, the name of its capital, Bissau, was added to the country’s name to prevent confusion with the bordering Republic of Guinea. Guinea-Bissau has a history of political instability since gaining independence and no elected president has successfully served a full five-year term.

Only 14% of the population speaks the official language, Portuguese. A plurality of the population (44%) speaks Kriol, a Portuguese-based creole language, and the remainder speak native African languages. The main religions are African traditional religions and Islam, and there is a Christian (mostly Catholic) minority.

The country’s per-capita gross domestic product is one of the lowest in the world.

This small, tropical country lies at a low altitude; its highest point is 300 metres (984 ft). The interior is savanna, and the coastline is plain with swamps of Guinean mangroves. Its monsoon-like rainy season alternates with periods of hot, dry harmattan winds blowing from the Sahara. The Bijagos Archipelago extends out to sea.

The thing that struck me most about the image is the contrast of the vivid blue of the ocean with the red tones of the land. Interestingly, the red areas indicate dense vegetation, one of the quirks of the satellite images, which undergo complex processing to combine data collected across the electromagnetic spectrum (you can find an explanation of how these images are constructed on Erin’s blog post, linked above).

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So those contrasts are what I tried to capture in my African Coast necklace, which uses copper chain and findings, combined with some Czech glass beads in an autumnal blend of lighter and deeper reds, as well as cobalt blues. I wove a blue silk fairy ribbon through the chain to highlight the vivid blues of the ocean. Sadly, I couldn’t find an art bead in my stash that had the right colours, so this time around I have not used one.

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As I said above, I have plans to make a piece based on the second palette too. I have a set of crazy lace agate beads that not only contain the earthy mix of orangey-browns but the pattern of colour of the natural stone resembles the image above.

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It’s been an enjoyable challenge, and one that I wish I had had more time to work on. Thank you for the beautiful palettes Erin and Brandi, and I’m really looking forward to hopping around to see everyone’s palettes and creations. Here is a list of the participants:

Jeannie Dukic    (life threw her a curveball, spread some sunshine to her anyway!)
Kristen Stevens  (her Muse is on vacation – hop over and give her Muse a nudge 😉
Tracy Stillman   (hard to bead with a wrist injury, send healing thoughts)
Melissa Trudinger  YOU ARE HERE!