A potful of honey

On yesterday’s soap post, I mentioned I had some honey left over in the pan, so I decided to use up those leftovers in soapmaking. I don’t know about you, but a panful of honey isn’t a common sight in the house for me, so I guess that demands some explanation: honey and walnut cookies!

To be more specific, the recipe was described as a medovik – an old Russian cake traditionally consisting of layers of honey biscuit and cream, often decorated with walnuts. The end product had to be easily portable and shareable for me though, so I decided to just make the biscuit layers and add crushed walnuts into the pastry. What could go wrong?

It started off quite well with boiling the honey.

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What honey we had had crystalised, but it turned out to not be a problem: heating it up made it go all clear and runny. In fact, that’s probably why the recipe instructed me to do that, so that it would make the mixture manageable and malleable.

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Bubble bubble toil and trouble…

Plus an added bonus was that the kitchen smelled very nice and homely from the process!

Next, of course, mixing in the flour. The quantity of the stuff required gave me misgivings from the start, as a 1:1 proportion with the honey seemed a little on the small side. The quantity or margarine was also laughably small, but at least the egg yolks and walnuts didn’t cause a problem.

The resulting quantity of dough was a little on the small side, but luckily I had plenty of ingredients to make a double batch.

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Then, however, came the biggest problem. Tasting my handiwork, I found that my concerns with regard to flour quantity were correct, and the result was simply too sweet. One could probably eat it in portions the size of a thumbnail, but who’s ever heard of cookies being that small? I had to depart from the recipe and add a lot more flour (and margarine, to retain the consistency), but the leap of faith proved successful, and I soon had a batch of wonderfully aromatic cookies! Next time, I’ll need to measure out the modifications I make so I can share the recipe – the additions were all done by eye rather than by weight.

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A small addendum:

You may have noticed that the recipe used egg yolks, which meant that there were whites left over. Those did not go to waste, however (as you might expect on an eco-blog), as adding in a couple more eggs, some milk and a dash of Provencal herbs and cheese over the top made a delicious omelette!

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Small green life hack: if you have hard, stale bread, cut/crumble/snap it into chunks and add it into an omelette as croutons: it gives it more texture and makes the dish more filling, helping you get by with a little less snacking and preventing food waste!

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Soapy Experiments

I’ve often worked with wax before, but until recently never really got the chance to work with soap… Which I now realise is a great shame.

The main thing I love with soap is that you don’t have to worry as much about clearing up pots and pans: you can do it even after the contents are solid because, well, it’s soap. It’s soluble. So without further ado, here’s a little on how I made honey, spices and orange soap.

Obviously, the first thing to do was melt the soap base. I had just used the same saucepan to boil some honey for a cooking project (more on that tomorrow), so figured that the best use for the leftovers would be to add them into soap.

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I wanted to make something a little more interesting than just a simple block of soap, so I decided to add some shapes in different colours. The only question was what to use as a mould. A little creative thinking brought me an elegant and green solution: a plastic tray taken from a box of chocolates.

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While these bits were setting, I decided to make the main part of the soap, which would encase the paler honey shapes above. I used cinammon and other spices to colour the mix, giving the soap a lovely scent.

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All parts complete, it was time to make the soap bars themselves. I like green solutions, so I re-used plastic pots from yogurts and cheese for the moulds, which meant that I had some interesting shapes, too!

Next, I added the spice soap:

For some bars, I also added orange zest for an added twist. The soap has since been sent on to Russia along with a family member to pass on to friends and family as a belated New Year’s present; but I really loved working with the stuff and will certainly be looking to start selling it in the future at www.etsy.com/uk/shop/GrowingEvergreen

For now, why not check out my work with wax in the Etsy shop?

Creativity and motivation

Inspired by the post at the Merriweather Council Blog (http://www.merriweathercouncilblog.com/), I decided to think a little about myself and what motivates me.

My mother taught me to embroider before I could write. Admittedly, it was on one of those children’s plastic cavases and it took me a year to complete due to lack of patience, but it illustrates my point. Crafting is second nature to me. So now when I think of a job I would enjoy doing, I think of one where I have enough freedom to be creative and work on projects that inspire me… But most employers demand highly qualified people for those jobs, so the way is shut for people like me, who suddenly find themselves adults and realise that employers ask for more than a good school record. So the best solution seems to be self-employment: opening my own handmade business.

I found that this process of ‘job selection’ can be reversed at times of low motivation. Feeling like the whole business thing is taking up a little more time than you’d like? Think about the alternatives. Most people of my age work in retail or in cafes, and both are my ideas of hell. I don’t mind dealing with customers, but doing it face-to-face several hours a week? No thanks. Running a business may require more hours and, at least initially, bring comparatively little revenue, but at the very least I get a feeling of accomplishment, rather than a general feeling of dislike for humans.

For me, there is a very strong link between creativity and motivation. If I can get motivated to start working, the cogs in the head start whirring and things start going smoothly. And when I say ‘get motivated’, I mean get so engrossed in or excited about a task that I don’t get distracted. Distractions often block the flow of thought. Meditation is the most efficient way I’ve found to achieve this when I need some help. I know I’m joining a huge chorus of voices when I start praising meditation, but for what it’s worth I’ll throw my penny in anyway:

  1. Meditation helps me to organise and prioritise thoughts and tasks. I have never been good at setting plans on paper: rather, there is a portion of my ‘mental space’ devoted to the calendar. When I need to remember an event, I imagine the calendar and fill in the date and timing; I also keep a small ‘to do’ list along with my calendar. It’s efficient up to a point, but I need to get better at writing all that on paper.
  2. Meditation helps me clear my mind and focus. It can help me remember why I’m doing something and to what end – that gets me excited and bam! motivation appears! It also prevents distractions, so I can get the job done nicely and efficiently.
  3. Meditation on the subject allows me to consider a problem from different angles. It’s like having a moodboard or a pinboard in your head, and the wonderful thing about it is that you can tailor how that thing looks and works perfectly to yourself. Just don’t forget to note down the end result.

Of course, if the creative going gets really tough, Pinterest is a good place to go to. I have a separate board for inspiration, www.pinterest.com/growevergreen/inspirational/ which I go to in times of trouble. If you have a look, you may notice that there is a strong nature and landscape thing going on – that is no accident, as I know for a fact that I find nature the most inspiring. Getting to know yourself like that is rather useful, too, as you have a ready-established source of inspiration to go to when you need to.

To bring this to an end, I’d just like to note one thing: if you realise you aren’t fulfilling a goal, that is no reason to give up. Case in point: I was planning to make this blog a daily one, and so far success has been rather varied. However, every day is a new start, and success is a working progress; I may have missed some days, but I won’t give up on the goal yet!

Welcome to Upcycling My Year

The year of upcycling sounds like a great idea! I think I might hop onboard with that… Especially as I don’t shop at high street stores anyway: going into them always makes me feel a little sick and ill inside: I’m really not a fan of mass “stamped out” consumerism without a heart or soul.

BrawHem : Upcycling My Year

After setting up BrawHem earlier this year, it felt appropriate that my New Year’s Resolution would involve sewing, and more specifically, upcycling. So this is my challenge – a whole year of making my own clothes, using only upcycled materials. And you can come along for the (likely rather bumpy) ride. I’ll be sharing my makes, tips for recycling and donating, some easy no-sew upcycling projects you can do at home, and information about reducing the 350,000 tonnes of clothing waste we produce each year.

You can get full details of the challenge and my reasons behind it here, but in brief the rules are:

  • No buying clothes from high-street stores.
  • I’m allowing myself to buy clothes from a charity shop, only if they’ll be drastically, structurally altered, or turned into something new entirely.
  • Anything I can’t sew (I’m thinking knitted things – I can’t knit, at all) I will…

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Seashell Tealights

Recently fetured on our Facebook page  https://www.facebook.com/growingevergreen/ were these upcycled seashell tealights:DSC_0154.JPG

I originally saw the idea on Pinterest and thought it was fantastic: the natural curve of the seashell contains the wax and acts as its own candleholder. Moreover, being a tealight, it didn’t require much wax, which meant that I could simply melt down leftover wax from shop-bought tealights, and so reduce waste a little. The other wonderful thing about working with tealights is that it gave me a great chance to experiment with scents and fragrances, trying out different mixtures in each one.

The shells themselves were saved up from the couple of times our family had shellfish for dinner: it seemed wrong somehow to bin the shells so I squirreled them away, until I would find a project to use them for. I still have a couple left, so I think I might use them as soap moulds…

Interested in the tealights? Check out  https://www.etsy.com/shop/GrowingEvergreen

Vintage Teacup Candles

Here’s a quick update on the GrowingEvergreen Etsy shop: www.etsy.com/uk/shop/GrowingEvergreen

One of our latest additions is a pair of teacups (saucers included), which have been upcycled into adorable candles:DSC_0139.JPG

The gold leaf edge on the inside of the teacup would catch and reflect the light of the candle, adding a touch of glamour to the overall picture. Moreover, the two teacups have slightly different shades of wax, so you can choose which you prefer – or get both and have the colour difference bring out the pair in an interior.

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The teacups had been taking up space without use in our cupboard for a while, so I decided it was time to give them a new life! To provide the wax for the candles, I used leftover wax from tealights and a couple of red candles (to provide the colour), so the entire thing is very eco-friendly. Why not check them out on Etsy?

Goodbye to the Czech Republic

Having spent a week up in the mountains in Czech Republic, it’s a shame to go… Especially as we finally got snow! In the next valley along, there was enough of the stuff to even ski, which we did for the full day today. Now back to the chalet for a brief rest, and then on home to the warm and mild UK. All in all, it’s been a wonderful visit: plenty of museums and an outing to Prague, as well as walking around the local area. So to say goodbye, here are a few photos from the last brief walk I took yesterday:

The landscape was a rather sombre one, with lots of dead browns and damp greys and some fog over the mountains, but personally I like these miserable views. I find them calming and powerful, and full of a mysterious and underappreciated beauty. During my walk, however, the cloud cover briefly tore, and I got the chance to experiment with camera settings while photographing the gentle sunset.

I feel that these photos are a nice note to finish on. It’s a shame about the lack of photos from today, but I fell over a little too often to risk taking a camera onto the slope!

Resolving the New Year

I still remember the first time I found out about New Year’s resolutions from my school teacher: growing up in a Russian family, we simply didn’t have that sort of tradition, as the New Year was our equivalent Christmas (the latter not being celebrated at all). But over the years, our family culture shifted to adopt some British traditions, and I think now it’s time for me to make New Year resolutions for the first time.

Changes are most effective when they’re gradual, so I’ll start of small… Or at least, I’ll try to, as sometimes I can be a little overambitious.

  1. Write a blog entry every day – I’ve been doing well at that for the past couple of days, so I’ll try to keep it up
  2. Meditate more often (initially, at least once a week)
  3. Try to improve my time organisation with to do lists/weekly goals/etc

That last one is a pretty big one, as it ranges from finding more time for music practice to spending a little more time on my arts and crafts, from spending more time with my family to doing more sport… so hopefully it should give me an all-round benefit.

While thinking about my resolutions today, I came across the article “10 simple exercises that will strengthen your willpower” at http://www.willpowered.co/learn/strengthen-your-willpower?utm_source=Outbrain&utm_medium=CPC&utm_campaign=Strengthen%20Your%20Willpower which curiously had some similarities with my resolutions. It was quite reassuring for me to see that, as I consider myself as having fairly low willpower, especially when it comes to motivation. So if all goes to plan, I will not only improve in a weak area, but it will also raise my self-esteem, which is also useful!

Now, to set the year going right, here’s my to do list for today:

  1. Violin practice
  2. Meditation
  3. Revise Latin in order to do a timed essay tomorrow
  4. Do some exercise

I wish you all the best of luck in keeping your resolutions!