Sunday, July 29, 2012

How to hold onto your creativity by a whisker (and sew a patchwork cushion and bunting for a nursery)

This blog is all about the things that make my heart sing and my latest project is no exception. Making something new always provides a big thrill when it works. So too does making something special for someone you love. When they like and/or appreciate the results, it's worth every minute devoted to the task. The real feel-good factor though is simply in the making.

A very special friend (and probably my oldest one, given we met in our good old primary school days at Tarnagulla) had a beautiful little girl on Monday. She loves vintage and hand-made things so something special was in order. For her baby shower a few weeks ago, I made a patchwork cushion for the nursery using a red fabric with little cream stars and a cream fabric with light blue, green, pink and red apples and pears (both from Spotlight's Montreux drill range). It was my first attempt at a patchwork and I didn't really know what I was doing. I simply cut nine 15.5 cm squares and went for it! I'm chuffed with the result. Who needs a pattern when freestyle sewing is so liberating?!

In preparation for meeting the gorgeous, angelic, little Aiva today, I set myself down at the sewing machine yesterday morning and got busy making a bunting (or row of little flags). I love these things - co cute and cheery! I used the same fabric as the cushion (it got the mumma's approval) and roughly followed an online tutorial from Craftaholics Anonymous this time (click here to view). A rotary cutter and mat would have made the job easier, but I got it done, and couldn't help announcing "I'm so smart" to the Mister when it came together and actually looked good! Making things really does provide such a feel-good factor! I even took photos of it dangled above our mantle especially for the blog before I gave it away (no mean feat these days). 

I hadn't used bias binding before (remember I only started sewing last year - more of my sewing projects in the menu above) and I was very happy with the way it brought everything together so neatly. Here's a closer shot on the mantle with my other Spotlight find - a David bust statue that reminds me of the European sculpture gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of my favourite places in New York City. 

Since moving up into a bigger role at work last November, I've often been disappointed in myself for not having  anywhere near as much energy for my creative pursuits outside work. There's been less time spent on renovation projects, furniture makeovers, painting (both on the house and on a canvas), baking, sewing, creative writing, even reading and exercise (though not sure that's classified as a creative pursuit but it certainly helps to give me the energy for them). And there's been fewer blog posts, much to my dismay. Even when I do spend a few blissful hours on a project, posting it here is another project in itself. Thank you dear reader for sticking around. I'm even forgetting to photograph my baking efforts and eating out adventures - a real blogging sin. At least I'm not missing out on culinery discoveries, I have that area well covered! The upside of all this (and I always think there is a positive lurking in most things) is the feeling of joy when I do devote time to a little project. I refuse to give up entirely, even when it would be so much easier. Plus I love having my fingers in a few pies, and I have a single, stubborn finger hanging onto the pie dish containing the tastiest pie of all. It's called "Interests Outside Work". Hope you were able to devote some time to getting creative this weekend too. It feels good. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

New York treasures for home

New York treasures for Charles Whyte HQ. 
L-R: 36 alphabet discs from PB Teen, Jonathan Adler Cheval salt and pepper shakers, 
Anthropologie 'J' and 'E' hooks, clock doorknob and chalkboard jar. 

A couple of years ago my brother returned from a holiday to the US with friends and disgustedly told me that a girl he was travelling with got so excited at Disneyland that she ran ahead of them all day exclaiming how excited she was. At the time, my brother and I rolled our eyes together and I empathised with him wholeheartedly. How annoying indeed.

Fast forward a few years to my New York City holiday last month and I found myself frequently so excited that I wanted to run into places and I had to stop myself exclaiming "oh my God, this is so exciting." Times a'changing and so are we all. If my brother ever reads this, he will give me heaps. Que sera sera!

One of the things I was so looking forward to on our holiday was the chance to visit some of the US stores that I'd heard so much about through blogs, the internet and TV/movies. Homewares stores are my kind of Disneyland, especially in a country that does everything bigger.

Armed with my list of 'must visit shops' and the Google maps on my mobile, I rushed around the city and finally got to see for myself amazing stores like ABC Carpet & Home, Jonathan Adler, Anthropologie, West Elm, Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn. The prices were so good in most places compared to here in Australia. It killed me not to be able to buy everything. Here are my main finds for our house, after the shower curtain that I blogged about here

The Jonathan Adler store in Greenwich Village is so gorgeous and colourful, it was impossible for me not to be happy in there. I'm a big fan of his book 'Jonathan Adler on Happy Chic Colors' so I knew I had to take something home with me. 

I finally settled on the Cheval salt and pepper shakers because they screamed JA to me. And they were small enough to cart home. With only a tiny hole on the top of each, they look just as comfortable in a living room as a dining room so it's a cheat's way to get a piece of the happy chic aesthetic. 

I would have loved a couple of these Jonathan Adler horses but at around 35cm high and $US295 each, it wasn't going to happen.

The cheval shakers have found a home on the mantle and inspired a few other changes here too. A pop of red worked for me for about a day until the clutter of extra frames irked me and I moved the two red pieces to a new picture ledge in the kitchen. Not very "happy chic" of me, I know, but the red wasn't good with the yellow and pink touches in this room. If you look closely in these pics, you can see another Jonathan Adler influence though in the form of his Greek Key print that I painted last year (full post here). 

Anthropologie is a store I've waited years to see and because of that, my expectations may have been slightly overinflated. It was more rustic than I anticipated but I loved the home accessories and the prints used in the clothing (not so much the styles, a little old for me perhaps?).  I went to both the Rockefellar Centre store and the one at Chelsea Market. The 'J' and 'E' hooks, clock doorknob and chalkboard jar in the top picture are all Anthropologie finds. The hooks have found a home behind our bedroom door. I love, love anything with vintage typography, especially initials. They probably deserve a more public home but we didn't really have a space and at least here they can be put to use to hold towels and things. 

Hanging towels on the hook behind our door wasn't working anymore because of my scarves. I should have tidied them for the photo, oops! Keepin' it real for ya. At least you can see that hanging a damp towel over my scarves wouldn't have have worked. Gotta look after the scarves people and keep them smelling sweet! And now there will be no mixing up our towels with a hook each. 

Speaking of vintage typography, I continued the theme with the alphabet discs I picked up at PB Teen. I'll be using these discs (by Chronicle Books, see here) around the house as labels or decoration and as gift tags. Think I'm too old for PB Teen? Ah, uh. I've heard plenty of people online lusting after the colourful bedding, cute cushions and even beds from PB Teen, particularly their 4 poster bed. When I saw a store on Second Avenue (at 76th Street) just a few doors down from the Upper East Side apartment we rented in our second week, I had no problem paying a visit. It's a very small store but full of treasures for teens and non-teens alike. There's more range online, so have a look and tell me you wouldn't be happy to own some of it. 

As for the Anthropologie jar, it is hanging out on our kitchen bench. I wrote 'bribes' on the little chalkboard label and we pop favourite lollies in there for each other if we need to bribe the other to do something! The Anthropologie clock knob hasn't been put to use yet but I have no doubt a home for it will be found one day, giving us another means of remembering a wonderful trip. I just love having little things in our home to remind us of special people, periods, events and especially holidays. Are you the same?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cooking with coconut

All the eating out in the last post makes it sound like I’ve given up cooking. On the contrary, coming home renews the joy of cooking. After eating out so much on holiday and being out of our routines, we all seem to crave a basic, home-cooked meal. Sometimes I just want a bowl of steamed broccoli. All it needs is a smattering of salt. 

I had the next best thing when we returned from New York - tofu and veges. After a few hours unpacking and sleeping, we hadn't made it to the supermarket before our bellies were rumbling. Perfect excuse to get a fix of Vietnamese food.  A Melbourne homecoming at Sapa Hills, Footscray!

But back to cooking. A visit to A. Bongiovanni and Son in Seddon provided the perfect inspiration. While we were away, Lauren at the Footscray Food Blog posted about this wonderful new gourmet grocer (see post here) and shared the good news that they are stocking Coyo, one of her favourite yoghurts. Coyo is a natural, coconut milk yoghurt (dairy and gluten free) with the apt tagline “Heaven in a mouthful”.  I bought it thinking of desserts, but after tasting it I was inspired to cook lots of comforting winter meals. One ingredient inspired my cooking for a week. What a find - I dolloped it on everything!

First came the roast pumpkin and coconut soup, served with a dollop of Coyo in place of cream.  I found a great recipe in the Marie Claire Seasonal Kitchen book that wasn't too far from a traditional pumpkin soup but with an extra zing from the addition of coconut milk and a small red chilli (sorry, I can’t find a link online but there are lots of similar ones around if you don't have the book). 

Pic via

Next was pan-fried fish with Thai sauce from (recipe here). The fish marinated in sweet chilli, soy, fish sauce and lime juice was simple and tasty served on jasmine rice with broccoli. For the piece de resistance, I mixed the Coyo into my cooked jasmine rice. D-licious! 

Pic via Donna Hay

Finally, I made a Donna Hay thai chicken and bean curry for friends (recipe here). The cherry tomatoes and basil add a lovely freshness to this cozy classic. I'll leave you to guess what I dolloped on top!

I love how one great ingredient can inspire a whole host of dishes. Next time I buy Coyo, I think I'll see how it works in sweet dishes. Just need some inspiration. Raspberries? Toasted coconut? White chocolate? Send your suggestions my way! 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Coming home

An amazing dish from 'The Pint of Milk': sauteed exotic mushrooms, walnut sourdough, taleggio and truffled chestnuts $14

As we head over the Queensboro Bridge bound for JFK in a yellow cab, I soak up every last glimpse of the Manhattan skyline. For the first time in weeks, I am truly still. No plans, no must-sees, nothing new to take in. Flashes of the past weeks fill my thoughts in a pleasant blur, yet I’m not sure I’m ready to leave the frenetic energy of this awe-inspiring city behind.

“I’m really sad to be leaving,” I say aloud as my eyes glaze momentarily.

“Me too,” says the Mister beside me. “But it was a really great holiday.” He squeezes my hand.

A day later, another cab drops us at home in Footscray. It’s Sunday morning and the street is deadly quiet. Nothing moves, just our breath as it hits the cold air. Our car is still here! Inside, everything is as we left it. Not perfect, but clean, and it feels like home. The deep chill in the air has permeated inside, yet somehow I feel cocooned and warm. I love seeing all my things again and, for the first time, feel as though we have plenty of space. I remind myself, not for the first time in the last few weeks, that we are lucky. So easy to forget.

While nothing changed on the home front while we were gone, the rest of the west seems to have progressed at a rapid pace. In the weeks since returning, I’ve been like a kid in a "candy" shop checking out all the fabulous new places - Common Galaxia in Seddon is hitting all the right notes for me and just down Victoria Street, A. Bongiovanni & Son is winning my heart by making it easy to source speciality groceries (too many wonderful baking supplies for my own good). The Mexican taqueria chain, Guzman Y Gomez has made a quick bite before a movie much more attractive at Highpoint. The Reading Room at Victoria University in Footscray is now providing a coffee fix and eats to the wider community, not just students, so of course I had to sample their tasty wares. I made the effort to (finally) try The Pint of Milk in Newport and was not disappointed. I can't stop thinking about the nutty, earthy dish I ate there (pictured above). I’ve revived my sense of community by getting re-acquainted with my not-so-old favourites: Besito in West Footscray, Elceed in North Melbourne, and neighborhood favourites West 48 and Ebi Fine Foods.  Is the west really going off or am I just trying to tell myself that I don’t need New York, there is plenty happening here?!

I've discovered that it's possible to wish you were still on holiday and be happy to be home at the same time!



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