Textile artist Jacqueline Fink on the creative process

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“My work is as much a physical feat of endurance as much as it is a loving creative respite.” ~ Jacqueline Fink

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Jacqueline Fink is a knitter, and some. She is also a crafter, a dreamer, and an artist. And a mother.

Jacqueline learned to knit, like so many others, from her own mother. She told Trend Tablet magazine that as a child, she was “too impatient to commit to the language of knitting” to be able to follow a pattern. But five years ago, after her mother received a double lung transplant that saved her life, Jacqueline had a dream that heralded the beginning of her creative brand, Little Dandelion.

Now, she creates large-scale knitted works that range from gorgeous, textural blankets to chair covers and enormous ‘pure art’ installations.

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From time to time, as a creative person, I struggle to find inspiration. I also struggle to manage my work-life balance. And I feel overwhelmed, stifled even, by burnout and writer’s block (that’s been happening lately).

But somehow in my mind I put creative professionals – “real artists” as opposed to hobby creatives like me – up on a pedestal when it comes to the creative process. Subconsciously, I imagine this is all seamless for them. Which is untrue, and probably rather unfair of me. Professional artists, designers, crafters, writers and every manner of other creative folks have to find inspiration, balance priorities and beat burnout, too. Duh. Of course.

So… I figured we might all be able to learn a little something from how other artists approach these challenges, and Jacqueline was kind enough to share a little from her own experience.

ON SEARCHING FOR INSPIRATION…

My process is perhaps a little unusual. I don’t draw on external references for inspiration: I’m not one to trawl through magazines or the internet and while the natural world may influence my preference for a natural colour palette I create purely to please myself.

Inspiration typically finds me via a subconscious thought stream when I am engaged in something completely unconnected with my work or via a dream. I see the creation in my mind’s eye and, because I cannot draw, then have to hold it there while I work out a way to make the piece.

ON OVERCOMING CREATIVE BLOCK…

I have learned to do the following:

1. Just park the problem in the too hard basket and do something completely unconnected with your craft for a while
2. Spend time in the company of elbow creatives whom I love and admire. Their energy always reinvigorates me propels me on
3. Keep creating. I’ve often overcome great difficulties with one project through the process of making another

ON WORK-LIFE BALANCE…

I gave up on trying to achieve a work/life balance long ago and I don’t beat myself up about it. It is what it is. I work in our living room and so there is no separation of space for any of us and our life is pretty much chaotic most of the time. But we are a very flexible bunch and can tolerate mess so we just do the best we can with what we’ve got. When you have something you want to achieve it is very important that you don’t place roadblocks in your path as an excuse not to give it everything you’ve got.

And one last (exciting) thing…

Jacqueline is now developing her own oversized knitting yarn “so that others can experience the joy of slow craft and this rather unusual method of knitting.” Hooray! If you want to stay tuned, or take a look at more of her lovely work, Jacqueline’s website is at LittleDandelion.com, and you can follow her on Instagram at http://instagram.com/jacquifink.

All images here are used with Jacqueline’s kind permission, and taken from the Little Dandelion website. Photography credits are as follows (top to bottom): 1. Sharyn Cairns 2. Jacqueline Fink 3. Jacqueline Fink 4. Jacqueline Fink 5. Sharyn Cairns 6. Jacqueline Fink 7. Jacqueline Fink 8. Jacqueline Fink 9. Paul Westlake

8 things I loved at the Grand Designs Live Home Show

I am super grateful to the folks behind the Grand Designs Live Home Show in Melbourne for sending me tickets to this event on the weekend. Here are eight things I spotted at the show that I really wanted to spend my (sadly non existent) money on.

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Clockwise from top left: This sweet set of four animal wooden spoons from Anrol Designs :: Painted geometric coasters from Amindy :: Hand carved and painted stoneware cups from Koa :: Lightweight, wooden K bowls, from Eco Wood Design :: An “eyoi yoi” table lamp (I used to have an eyoi yoi floor lamp that I loved) from Marc Pascal :: Humble milk crate tables & chairs made lovely with wooden tops, from Sawdust Bureau :: Shadowbox shelving from Cantilever Interiors  :: An image created from the text of an entire book, from Spineless Classics

(A little note about the pics: I did take my camera along to snap photos while I was there, but the combination of limited natural lighting plus the wearing of a toddler in the Ergo did not a steady hand nor pretty picture make. So to do these lovely products justice, I’ve used images from the makers’ or vendors’ websites.)

Tumbleweed

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Have you seen the tumbleweed rolling through this corner of the Internet lately? I feel like it’s ages since I’ve been here, and I’ve missed it. I’ve missed YOU.

To be honest I feel like I’ve lost a bit of writing momentum. We went away on a little holiday and I brought back all kinds of stories to share with you but, before we’d been back a week, little Harry got sick and ended up in hospital. He’s fine, he’s a tough little guy, but it was a tiring and stressful and all-consuming period.

And then of course by the time Harry and I got home from the hospital I was miles behind on work deadlines and all the little jobs and big jobs that life throws your way every day. They had piled up one on top of the other and it was all a bit overwhelming. It still is.

I’m trying to work my way from underneath the domestic and emotional detritus. Sometimes I see daylight, but then (for example) Madeleine throws up all over herself in the fancy food court at Emporium in Melbourne, and the world and worry tighten their grip on creative thinking, all over again.

(Silver lining: the outcome for Madeleine was not at all bad. We stripped her to singlet and nappy and cuddled her the whole way through to David Jones, where she got to pick out a new outfit for herself while checking out the toys. On the way home, riding in the Ergo with me, she announced, “I love my new clothes. I going to wear them ALL DAY. I going to wear them for EVER.”)

I signed up for an Inspiration Information for Bloggers course by Pip Lincolne, which started at the beginning of this month. I’ve barely had a chance to look at it, but now I’m going to start reading, retrospectively, through the past week-and-a-half’s worth of lessons. Hopefully, it will help me get my mojo back, and I can start giving you content worth your time. Some time. SOON.

I really hope so! Thanks for your patience, dear friend. x

ps. Were you as shocked as I was at the outcomes of The Block Glasshouse auctions? Did anyone else NOT see that coming? I feel so bad for the contestants. Imagine giving up three months of work, and being away from your family for three months, only to come away with next to nothing. I know it’s a competition, but that’s got to be really tough.

Shake it off

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I want to be like Rowley’s mum. This is Rowley and his mum:

I want to be the kind of fun mum who does daggy dancing with her kids, even badly choreographed dancing, in public. Especially in public. I don’t want to be self-conscious about my body, or my dance moves, or what I look like from behind in that skirt. What I want to be conscious of is my children. About making them laugh, sharing their joy, and teaching them – through my example – that there is more to this life than keeping our cool.

Lately the kids and I have been dancing to Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. At the chorus, we shake it like a polaroid picture (remember?). We love Taylor’s video. Madeleine says “I no like this” at the ballerinas and “I like this one” at the hip hop bits. And we both laugh when Taylor gets her dance moves wrong.

Let’s be honest. Taylor Swift is young and slim and gorgeous and just looks kind of “cute and goofy” when she stuffs up her dance moves. I definitely look more like Rowley’s mum. But at what point did that start bothering me? When Madeleine dances, it is with the total abandon and the pure joy of leaping about to music that only a toddler can bring. Harry dancing is a giant butterball that wiggles and bounces and bobs his head when the music comes on, a smile of delight on his face and, more often than not, a glob of dribble making its way over his chin.

I want that to be me (minus the dribble). Music. Joy. Love.

Last week I took Em for a mani-pedi and we were chatting about being self-conscious. It’s super pertinent for Em, since she’s 16 and right in the thick of adolescence and peer pressure and “being cool” (not that she’d call it any of those things because that definitely wouldn’t be cool) and all that jazz. We were thinking about how sometimes, by worrying how we appear to others, we actually draw attention to our insecurities. Whereas if we really OWN what we’re doing, even if that thing is daggy like being a traffic monitor or dancing really badly (I’m back on Diary of a Wimpy Kid now), people kind of respect that.

A while ago I read an interview with Michael Richards, the man who played Kramer in Seinfeld. He said something along the lines of how in developing the Kramer character, he decided to deliver all of his lines as though Kramer somehow, mysteriously, knew it all. That approach instantly transformed Kramer from being a bit of a dim-witted idiot into an eccentric doofus who, nevertheless, frequently managed to convince people to go along with his crazy schemes. And Kramer almost always got the girl. The rest is television history.

Which is all a LOT of pop culture references to say, let’s shake it off! Let’s dance like nobody is watching. Hey everybody, let’s OWN this life, shall we?

(Images are all screen-grabs from the Shake It Off video on YouTube)

Gundagai dispatch – the Niagara Café

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(I tried to resist the cliché. I failed. Play this song in the background)

There is a little country town about half way between Sydney and Melbourne, called Gundagai. It has a population of about 1500. It was made famous by a folk song called The Road to Gundagai, which was written in 1922 by Jack O’Hagan (who lived, incidentally, just around the corner from me in Fitzroy). I think the song is about a soldier returning to his home town after the Great War. In my head, that’s what I imagine when I hear it.

We pulled into Gundagai on our way home from Canberra last week, because Harry had just woken from his nap and we needed somewhere to sit and feed him his breakfast. Purely by chance, we chose the Niagara Café.

The Niagara is 112 years old and has been owned by Greek immigrants the entire time (not the SAME Greek immigrants, clearly). It opened in 1902 as an Oyster Saloon, and took the name Niagara in 1928 because apparently American names were considered en vogue at the time.

The décor had a snazzy new update in 1938 that made it THE super-cool and happening night-spot in all the bustling metropolis of Gundagai. And, apart from some beautiful lights lost to a fire in the ’70s, it HAS NOT CHANGED SINCE THAT TIME.

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I’m talking scalloped booths, gloriously narrow and uncomfortable bench seats, and lime-green table-tops. Art deco mirrors, doors and windows. And a century’s worth of newspaper clippings framed on the walls, celebrating celebrity (mostly political) visitors and other events in the café’s history.

Events overlap events and nothing is removed. A banner proudly boasting the 50th anniversary (in 1992) of a Prime Minister’s visit still graces the back wall.

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The Niagara Café is SO COOL. It is the best kind of kitsch. The most authentic kind of nostalgia.

But everything looks worn and tired. It is clean, it is friendly, but it is tired. The mirrored counter is cracked and tired. The scalloped, lime-green booths are chipped and tired. The owners look tired. I’m sorry to say it, but even our food looked a little tired. [Update 7 Oct 2014: I just want to clarify that the food was neither old nor bad, and I recommend you eat here. This comment was meant to reflect a sense of weariness in presentation that I totally understand, having experienced first-hand how exhausting cafe work is.] I can hardly blame the Niagara, I reckon I’d be tired after 112 years, too.

Despite this, we fell hard for the Niagara. Mr B and I spent the next 200 kilometres (in between numerous rousing renditions of The Road to Gundagai on Madeleine’s request) discussing how we’d like to move to Gundagai and take over the Niagara Café and restore it to its former glory. Celebrating history and attracting the tourist dollar, you know?

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Holidays

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We’re heading off on holidays this weekend. To the glamorous, fun-filled, culture-soaked destination of… Canberra. In other words, the destination is the people we love, not the places. Luckily, there is a LOT of love for the people on this trip.

I’ve decided not to write in my blog while we’re away. I won’t even bring my computer. I want to take the time to unplug and just enjoy this time out as a family. So I’ll see you in just over a week.

In the meantime, here are some lovely links to keep you clicking away happily, and some letters in shiny envelopes I’ve been painting and sending to blog readers. I hope they like them!

I might just try this: home-made hanging planter

Next holiday, if Canberra is unavailable, I want to go to this blue-painted town

Have you heard? There’s a hippo in the Thames!

How to graciously say no. Handy to know

Cute! Park your VW, park your keys

You think you’ve seen a treehouse, but then you see THIS

Would you do this to your old plates and saucers and cups?

How to be a good dinner guest

It’s my birthday next month and I really REALLY love these ceramics. Those two facts might be unrelated. But then again they might not

Vanilla rosemary pudding. Looks so delicious!

Do you remember ages ago when I told you about the OTO food trucks for kids? Now, they’re also made for cats. Which is so wrong, but so right

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Open hands, empty nests

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The video below is amazing. It’s a rare and quite vulnerable insight into the inspiration behind artist and sculptor Shelia Berger’s work, and the personal and creative path she follows as she pursues that inspiration. It starts with a family bereavement and an empty nest found in her childhood home, and builds from there.

Often I wonder “where did that artist get their ideas?” This video reveals so much more than the artist’s “ideas.” To borrow a much-abused word from reality TV, it truly is a creative and personal journey as she explores nurturing, loss, and the fragility and constant movement of nature, through art.

You can see this and more wonderful “Portraits in Creativity” produced by Gael Towey, here. Gael says her great love is storytelling. The “Portraits in Creativity” series seeks to capture the bravery of artists and artisans, and reveals the visual seduction of the creative process.

Creative life

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How do you keep track of your creative life?

Recently I drew this mind-mappy flow-charty thing to try to figure out, for myself, how all my various fun and creative projects relate to and support one another.

Here’s what I learned about my creative life from creating this map:

1. Writing a novel was not the pinnacle of my creative writing activities, but a catalyst for more

2. The people in blogging communities are awesome and so are those in snail-mail communities

3. All my disparate projects don’t seem so disparate after all. They work together in a funny kind of way

4. Having kids doesn’t mean you have to give up on doing the creative things you love. In many cases, it can inspire you

And it’s that last one I want to talk about. Last week a friend (Hi Bec!) said the NICEST thing to me. She said she wanted to have children one day but that she had always feared that prioritising her children might mean having to give up on doing the things she loved. But that knowing me and reading my blog had given her the confidence that the two didn’t have to drive one another away. Isn’t that wonderful?

I’m the first to admit that I really struggle to find the time to follow my passions. Hey, there are three good reasons why my next novel is still only a third of the way through after ALL THESE YEARS, that the magazine I’ve mentioned here hasn’t launched yet, that I take literally months to write and send the letters I promise to send, and that my blog posting is intermittent at best. Two of those reasons are sleeping upstairs right now and will do so for an undetermined length of time (could be I only have five minutes of blog-writing time left); and the other reason is my actual, you know, paid job. But…

Despite the perpetually time-poor state that comes with being a parent of small children, I make it a priority to work on my creative joys. They’re just not the TOP priority. I don’t achieve the way I used to, or hit goals the way I used to, but I do give myself permission to chip away at these activities, purely for the love of doing them.

And now Madeleine is entering an age in which she notices these things. She loves to watch me drawing and painting my “mail art,” and often I’ll go to her for inspiration on what to draw (if you’re noticing a lot of horses and tea pots in my post pictures lately, that’s why). I want my children to grow up understanding the value of work and responsibility; but also to feel like it’s good to have interests and passions, and that they can follow them as far as they want to take them.

I think that’s a good thing to teach, isn’t it? I hope it is.

Allo, Mummy

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Oh hello, have you been enjoying the sunshine? We sure have. But this was how my weekend started.

It was about 4am on Friday night/Saturday morning. I was coming home from a night out dining, drinking and dancing with my friends…

No, I wasn’t. I HAD been fast asleep in my bed with my ear-plugs in, when I felt something touch my cheek and it woke me up. Pulling the ear-plugs out, I could hear the soft sounds of a little person breathing. Blearily, still surfacing from sleep, I wondered why Mr B had brought Harry into our bed and what my baby was doing on my pillow. The little person flung his hand around my neck and I thought, “Isn’t that the most adorable thing? It’s almost like he’s hugging me!” Then I realised Mr B was saying something about going downstairs for a second and asking me to keep her safe on the bed.

“Him,” I corrected Mr B blearily as I watched his shadow retreat. For a moment, everything was quiet. Then the arm around my neck shifted and, millimetres from my ear, a little voice equal parts creepy and adorable, said, “Allo, Mummy.”

Turns out Madeleine had been having a nightmare (something about a lost hair-band) and Mr B had tried but failed to resettle her, then brought her into our bed. Let me tell you she was very pleased to be there. The nightmare was long forgotten but so, sadly, was my night’s sleep. She kept up a constant stream of chatter for the next two hours while Mr B and Harry both snored, snuggling happily next to me and stroking my hair and saying things like “I like you lots Mummy” and “I loving you Mummy” and “Harry still sleeping?” and “I have breakfast yet?” (at about 4.45am).

At 5.45am when Harry woke up (it is a true miracle that he didn’t wake sooner since his cot is RIGHT next to our bed), I sat up to feed him and Madeleine sat up too. She covered his face and mine with repeated kisses, which didn’t make breastfeeding particularly easy but which was ridiculously lovely.

And then we all went downstairs before the sun was up and BAM, just like that, it was time for the weekend to begin. Ah weekends, a restful reprise from the busy work week. The next two days continued as they had begun. Exhausting, entertaining, adorable, exasperating, hilarious, filled with love and filled with fun.

So, basically just another day in a house with a toddler and a baby. How was your weekend?

Here are some parenty-style links that you might enjoy:

* DIRECTLY related to my story above, this piece on the ageing influence of motherhood made me laugh

* I have a love-hate relationship with IKEA, I take issue with being forced to follow the arrows, for one. But ever since having kids I’ve had to make my peace with them. Those storage solutions are just so handy. And did you know they now have a stationery range?

* This beautifully expresses how I feel about the daycare drop-off (yes, I’ve started that early)

* Holy moly, how cool are the little cardboard castles in this party for a bunch of two year olds?

* What writers can learn from ‘Good Night Moon’. We love this book at our place!

* Do you like to drink flavoured water?

* How to grow your own crystals. I LOVED keeping ‘crystal gardens’ when I was a kid. Did you?

* Pretty much love all the clothes in this shop!

* Equal parts loving and loathing. Yeah, I get that

* Beautiful children’s rooms

* New-baby gifts that might actually get used

* Women need a year to recover from childhood. Well, that lets me off the hook a bit

* Super cute party food for little ones

Sunshine snail mail

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As I write this post winds and hailstorms are battering outside, which is ironic, because I want to write about celebrating sunshine and spring.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a fan of winter. I like the crisp, cold air of a July morning. The crunch of frost underfoot. My hands wrapped around a freshly-brewed cup of tea. Slippers, hot-water-bottles, cats on laps and snuggles with babies.

But I’ve also said it before and I’m saying it again: this year, I am determined to welcome the warmer weather with a positive attitude. Normally, the onset of a mild spring day has me all-a-dither about summer looming, and, “Oh no if it’s hot in September, January is going to be HORRIBLE.”

Not this time. I hereby declare that this is the year summer and I make friends. I will open my arms to the sting of hot sun on my skin, burning away the weariness and black mornings and endless winter viruses. I will re-plant my vegetable garden and let the summer sun and rain warm the soil into something that nurtures growth and life. I will make this a season of salads and seafood and fresh, wholesome summer on the inside of me as well as the back yard. And if it all gets too much, I will thank the gods that I now live in a house with air conditioning.

To celebrate my new friendship with summer, I made up a batch of little “sunshine packets” filled with organic sunflower seeds, to send to blog subscribers. I hope they will plant them and enjoy some glorious bursts of perspiration-free “summer” in their gardens or in pots.

Instead of the usual brown paper, I slipped these packets into cheerful yellow envelopes to make them even more summery, before I painted on the pictures and addresses. Here’s what they looked like.

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Dear mama: don’t listen to the stories

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Warning: rant pending.

This is a little pep talk for everyone expecting (or one day hoping to expect, or friends with someone who is expecting) their first baby. It is called DON’T LISTEN TO THE STORIES.

You know the stories I’m talking about. The “You Will Never Sleep Again” stories. The “Your Breasts Will Sag Forever” stories. The stretch-mark stories and the projectile vomit stories and the no-sleep stories and the nappy-contents stories and the traumatic birth stories. Especially the traumatic birth stories.

My advice is this: stop listening to them! These stories will not help you but they will probably scare you. And there is so much GOOD about having a baby, and so much practical stuff that you NEED to know, why would you bother with the scary, unhelpful stuff?

It’s like a trigger flips inside grandmothers and mothers and aunties and sisters and cousins and friends and complete strangers that makes them want to spill their most intimate and, in many cases, their worst labour experiences to expectant mothers.

I don’t get it! Are they thinking expecting mothers need to be taken down a peg or something? I imagine their inner monologue goes something like this: “Hey pregnant woman, you are clearly expecting everything to be soft and gentle and loving like a baby powder commercial, and I am here to tell you the hard truth.”

Whereas in reality, the pregnant woman is probably already plagued by nerves and fear and the unknown, alongside her excitement and anticipation, not to mention exhaustion and sleep difficulties and professional and financial nerves and a to-do-list that is getting out of hand. The last thing she needs is your doomsday prophesy.

I remember when I was a good eight-and-a-half months pregnant with my first child and we had gone out for a quiet dinner at the pub after work. There I was sipping my mineral water and eyeing other people’s glasses of sav blanc with longing when the waitress, quite a young woman, approached our table and began regaling me with the story of her sister’s recent labour.

If even half of that story was true, someone will be making a mini-series about it some time soon. It seemed to last for days (both the labour and the story). At one point I swear there were spy-thriller spotlights pinning the poor woman to her hospital bed. At another, some kind of water-jet that suggested they were trying to pressure-hose that baby out like old paint off a brick wall.

Mr B kept walking away from the table, ostensibly to warm himself by the open fire but really to get away from the Labour From Hell story. I could see his shoulders shaking with silent laughter even though his back was turned. Then he would return, realise the story was STILL GOING, and head back to the fire. Unfortunately I was trapped, both by the near-impossibility of maneuvering my enormous belly away from the table and between the tightly-packed bistro chairs, and by the deep-seated social constraints that made me smile and nod politely even when she got up to the bloody bits and the screaming bits and the frankly anatomically-impossible bits (“the baby was coming out sideways”).

Later in the car on the way home, we roared with laughter. “What about the bit with the water torture?” Mr B gasped, red faced and wiping away tears. “How could you have left me there alone!” I shrieked. “She just wouldn’t stop!”

Recently I was at the zoo with a friend who was expecting her second child. Another woman overheard us talking about it, and began to share the stories of her recent miscarriages. It was so sad. That poor woman. We both realised how raw and heartbreaking those experiences were for her, and how clearly she just needed to get them off her chest, to share her sadness and anger at the universe. Neither of us begrudged her this need, because neither of us could imagine how difficult such a situation must be.

But of all the strangers with whom to share her sad, sad story, did she really have to pick the pregnant one? A rounded belly, it seems, is as much an invitation for uninvited stories as it is for uninvited touching.

So, the point of my rant is this: don’t listen to the stories. You don’t need them. Deflect the conversation away, if you can. Sometimes, I point-blank told people, “Don’t tell me that, it’s not helping.”

Because this is your pregnancy, not theirs.

And your baby, not theirs.

It will be what it will be and the one thing that is within your control is freeing yourself up to enjoy it. Let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to anticipate happy things if your mind isn’t full of tales of woe.

ps. That belly? That’s Madeleine, at eight and a half months.

ps2. Here’s another resource: the handy “pregnancy food card” I made when I was pregnant, if you’re that way inclined

The great custard controversy

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Don’t say I never bring you the important issues. While we were chatting the other night, Mr B started to tell me about the custard his Nan used to make. To hear him tell it, “Nan’s custard” was rich, creamy and perfect. She would whip it up for dessert after a Sunday roast, and make it at Christmas to pour over pudding. Mr B’s Nan was one of those truly hospitable women that you mostly only read about in old books. She’d be up at 4am on Christmas Day to roast the turkey, preparing a veritable banquet for the family.

I’ve got to be honest, I’ve never really thought of custard as a dish in itself. It seems more of… I don’t know… a condiment. But he was so passionate about Nan’s custard and how good it was and all those memories, that I asked him to get the recipe so I could try to create his happy culinary experience. Here’s how the conversation went next.

Mr B: I don’t think she had a recipe. She just mixed it up on the stove.

Me: Would she have given your Mum the recipe?

Mr B (ignoring my question and looking all misty-eyed): It was delicious, and fluorescent yellow.

Me (growing suspicious): And she definitely made it from scratch? What ingredients did she use?

Mr B (with a withering look): What all custard is made from. Custard powder!

And just like that, the Great Custard Challenge was born.

To the best of my knowledge, there are three types of custard: the type you buy ready-made and refrigerated, the type you make up with custard powder, and the type you mix up with eggs and milk. I decided I would make all three, then challenge Mr B to a blind tasting to see which one lived up to his memory.

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It took me two goes to make the powder version, because I tackled it first and while I think I got the consistency the way Mr B described it (quite thick), by the time I had subsequently cooked up the ‘real deal’ version, the powder version had become congealed and gluggy, and I had to throw it out and start again. We will be eating custard in our house for a long time because Mr B bought a two kilogram jug of the refrigerated stuff because it was only a dollar more than the small carton. Sometimes he forgets it’s just us and two very small children, and shops like he’s back in his childhood home with three adults, five children, and umpteen aunties, uncles, cousins and neighbours visiting at any given time.

If you’ve never made custard from scratch (actual scratch, rather than with powder), it’s incredibly easy. Here’s my recipe, a bit of an amalgam of a few I found on the Internet. These are small quantities, and it makes about a cup and a half. I’m going to try it without the sugar next time and see if the kids still like it for a healthy snack.

Ingredients: 


1 egg
1.5 tablespoons cornflour
1.5 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract*
1.5 tablespoons sugar

*We only had vanilla essence in the house for this experiment because I bought it by accident, and it still tasted ok, but I definitely think extract or the scrapings of an actual vanilla pod would be the better way to go

Method:

1. In a small saucepan with the heat off, whisk the egg, cornflour and a couple of tablespoons of the milk together
2. When you have created a smooth paste with no lumps, turn the heat on low, and gradually add the rest of the milk, stirring continually
3. As soon as the custard becomes thick and creamy (which will happen the second you start to think “this is taking too long it won’t work”), remove the saucepan from the heat
4. Stir in the sugar and vanilla

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACan you guess which is which by looking at these?
L-R = the powdered stuff, the refrigerated stuff, the homemade stuff

The outcome of this challenge? Much to my surprise, Mr B chose my homemade custard in his blind tasting! I can’t claim that it was up to Nan’s Magic Custard Powder dessert standard because a) I never got to taste it and b) possibly I just didn’t do the powder justice. But it was nice to get the stamp of approval on my very own creation. The best part was that the Custard Challenge led to a longer conversation about Mr B’s Nan and their Christmases in Bendigo and about the kind of woman she was. Which was quite lovely, and exactly what food memories are all about, I think.

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This is part of a new regular series exploring food memories from our childhoods. The good, the bad and the bizarre. I explain the whole thing in this post if you’re interested. Do you want to join in? Recreate or reinvent some of your best or worst food memories and use the hashtag #naomilovesfoodmemories so I can promote what you’re doing. Or ask me to have a go at one of your food memories and I’ll see what I can do!