travel

The Victorian Alpine Region

We’ve just spent three nights in the Victorian Alpine Region. I’ve been plenty of time to ski in the winter (though admittedly not since high school) but haven’t visited during summer. Such a lovely area! I wish I had more time to explore. Another year…

Advertisements
art

My beautiful redhead

2018Feb

I have spent many many months painting a portrait of my boyfriend. Not only do I think he’s gorgeous but he also presents a great artistic challenge. Personally I’d be weirded out if someone decided to make a portrait of me. But he doesn’t seem to mind (though I didn’t tell him about it until I was sure it wasn’t a complete failure…)

I’ve never attempted a beard before and really struggled with it. Nothing was working! I eventually realised that I couldn’t handle the structure and colour of the hair simultaneously. By ignoring colour and painting in grey I was finally able to make it work. I used the same strategy for the rest of the hair, which I’ve spent the last three days working on during annual leave. I am so sick of his hair.

One thing that I think has made a difference is Clip Studio Paint. I did not like the program when I first tried it a few years ago but now I absolutely love it. I’ve only ever used Photoshop Elements because it came free with my tablet and Photoshop is too expensive for me (I know nowadays there is a monthly subscription but I don’t use programs frequently enough to justify it). The standard version of Clip Studio Paint is a great price and offers so much more than Photoshop Elements. I wish I had discovered the program earlier. It certainly made squishing his face late in the process much easier.

And here’s some screenshots of my progress from “WTF is this ugly thing?” to “I survived making a thing that looks pretty good”:

Step1Step2Step3Step4Step5Step6Step7Step8Step9

sewing

New Look 6125

 

This isn’t a fabric that I would choose for myself. It was a birthday present. The design is Yuendamu Bush Tomato by Aboriginal artist Audrey Napanangka.

I thought the print would look best as a shapeless dress, again not something I would normally choose but no other pattern felt right to me so I figured that I might as well try it and see what would happen. There wasn’t enough fabric for the dress so I had to add a band of different fabric across the bottom. It was very difficult to find something that suited. I also picked out a dark peach zip, which I think went very nicely with the fabric. I went to the effort of attaching it before deciding that actually, this dress doesn’t need a zip. So I unpicked it.

NewLook6215

 

Despite being marked as easy, I found the pattern instructions a little confusing and had to carefully re-read multiple times before I grasped it. I haven’t really lined dresses before so the process was foreign to me. But it seems to have worked out.

For the lining I chose some flimsy pink fabric that I had used for a Fail Skirt way back in my first year of sewing. It is awful material to work with and I had decided to never use it again. But I didn’t really want to buy some more lining and the colour went well with the fabric so I decided to try it and if it failed then I would get something better. Using gelatine to stabilise the fabric helped a lot but it was still horrible to work with.

NewLook6215_lining

Despite not being something I would choose for myself, I actually like this dress.

sewing

New Look 6345

NewLook6345.jpg

I had three family christmas parties in as many days so making this dress between events kept me from going crazy. I’ve been waiting for some grey tights to arrive before taking photos. My standard black tights just don’t cut it for this dress.

I’m not entirely happy with the bust. I’m just not busty enough for the pattern. I attempted my very first small bust adjustment with my very toile and my calculations came to only 0.5cm adjustment on each side. I was very skeptical about so small an adjustment but the toile looked good. Unfortunately the real thing did not work so well. I didn’t try for any further corrections to the garment as I had no fabric left in case I stuffed it up beyond repair. Regardless, this brief venture in toiles has convinced me to stop being lazy and make 2018 the Year of the Toile. Or perhaps the Year of Getting My Shit Together And Stop Taking Shortcuts.

NewLook6345_toile

The invisible zip also gave me grief. I have sewn one successful invisible zip (during sewing class when I used the teacher’s invisible zipper foot) and have had a string of disasters since then. Generally I’ve avoided them but I really couldn’t with this dress. I’ve long suspected that the main issue was that I have a crap invisible zipper foot and this time I paid close attention and discovered that one side of the foot is fine. The other side doesn’t sew close to the zip, resulting in a very visible zip. Urg! I’ve drawn a little X on that side so I know to never use it again. Using the good side of the zipper foot I was able to sew an acceptable zip. It isn’t completely invisible and there is a slight bulge in the fabric that I can’t figure out but given my years of bad zips, I’m calling this a win. Now that I’ve figured out the problem with the foot I can focus on improving my invisible zip skills.

sewing

McCall’s M7160

My goal this summer is to make plenty of dresses. Long ago I didn’t wear skirts and dresses, partially due to low self-esteem but mainly because I have difficulty finding nice shoes that don’t make my feet bleed after only a few minutes of walking. Nowadays I have a few nice pairs of shoes but still a small dress collection and I’m getting sick of wearing the same ones over and over. Except my first dress is too heavy for a blazing Australian summer so I’m not being very logical with my sewing plans…

M7160_front

My boyfriend picked out the fabric from the reduced section. The fabric is meant to be for active wear but I’m as active as a potato on a couch. Anyway, he found the fabric and then patiently waited while I flipped through the pattern catalogs, finding the right right dress pattern for the fabric. I chose McCall’s M7160 and am very happy with it. It was very easy to sew and I love how the skirt drapes. There is meant to be elastic in the waistband but I omitted it as it doesn’t seem necessary. And of course I ran out of thread whilst sewing the final hem. :/ Why is it always the final hem?

M7160

M7160_side

The fabric does have tiny holes in it so I underlined it with a light grey knit. I also made the pockets grey because I first thought it would be weird using holey fabric. Now I think the teal would have been fine but I kind of like that the pockets are little hidden contrasts. And they are really well concealed.

Next I will definitely make a summer dress and it will be finished before summer ends!

books · food · recipes

Cookbooks of 2017

Another year of cooking and sharing delicious food with lovely people. Joining this cookbook club has been one of the best decisions that I have ever made. I have tried new things, discovered great recipes, and learned so much.

So here we go, a year’s worth of cookbooks. Some great and some not so great but all of it a lot of fun exploring.

rickstein_longweekends_cover-130716-232x300Rick Stein’s Long Weekend

Rick Stein’s Long Weekend was a great start to our year. I haven’t seen the TV series but the book is full of appealing recipes that also had easily accessible ingredients. Every dish in our banquet tasted great. The standout for me was Shallots Stuffed with Lamb, Cinnamon and Pine Nuts. I didn’t expect it to have so much flavour! Baked Feta Cheese with Tomato, Red Pepper and Chillies was also a winner. I chose to make Green Kale Soup with Chorizo and Potato, because you can’t go wrong with chorizo in soup! A lot us left that day determined to buy the book.

Another recipe I tried at home that was amazing were Prawn Dumplings. They had such a beautiful creamy filling. I’m drooling just thinking of them.

Mangalore Ladies Club Cookbook

This is not so much a review of a book as a recounting of a really fun weekend. The host for this month had a book from when she was living in India 20 years ago, made by “a bunch of foodie Indian housewives who formed a ladies club”. The book itself is called Mangalore Ladies Club Cookbook.  There was no chance that we could obtain copies of the book so a week before the event the host sent each of us a recipe from the book. It was really great and I would recommend this activity to anyone who is a part of a food group similar to ours.

It was interesting to see the recipe picked for me, chicken kebabs, which I would never have chosen this myself. What’s more, the recipe instructions were rather sparse in instructions and required us to fill in the gaps. I am really slack at tasting and adjusting marinades and sauces but this recipe pushed me to really think about what I was tasting and how I could improve it.

recipe

This event was also particularly fun for me as my recipe required cooking in a tandoor or BBQ. My boyfriend made me a charcoal bbq using some leftover garden paving and parts of an ancient dead wall heater that he had recently removed. It is so nice sitting on the path outside, cooking skewers on a homemade BBQ. I’d love to do it again.

skewers.jpg

SecretsRedLanternSecrets of the Red Lantern

We next explored Vietnamese dishes from Secrets of the Red Lantern by Pauline Nguyen (and featuring recipes by Luke Nguyen and Mark Jensen). This isn’t the first time we have explored culinary delights from the Nguyen family: we tried Luke Nguyen’s France last year. I’m not really sold on either books. Luke Nguyen’s France had lots of difficult to obtain ingredients and looked like too much effort, whereas Secrets of the Red Lantern was more obtainable but few recipes popped out and called ‘make me’.

I tried a vegetable curry and it was bland. The flavour did develop overnight and tasted much better the next day but it did leave me with a disappointing first impression. However, the food tasted great on the day of the banquet. We had an absolutely delicious braised duck. I made Red Lantern Crisp Parcels with fish sauce and they were surprisingly good. I’ll definitely make those again and would recommend the recipe to others. I don’t think I’d recommend the cookbook. The book just didn’t grab me and make me want to try things.

veganeatsSmith and Daughters

Smith and Daughters was an incredibly difficult cookbook to obtain! I was in the queue at two different libraries and someone else tried four libraries with no success. I ended up going to a book store and taking pictures of a few recipes (and then purchased a different cookbook because I felt bad using the store but not giving them money). But apparently the recipes are available online so I didn’t have to go to all the trouble! Still, it’s a good sign that there is such a high demand for a cookbook. (I ended up waiting two months for the library book).

This is a vegan cookbook and I’ll admit that I thought I would not like it very much. I was so very wrong. All the food we had was delicious and filling. I loved the meat free meatballs. And the cashew cheese I made was amazing!

I really do recommend this book. It is a must have for vegans and vegetarians but I also believe that it is a valuable resource for us omnivores (particularly if you have vegan friends and would like to share food with them). I for one have been trying to reduce my meat intake over the years and the more good recipes I gather the easier it will be. But also a lot of the recipes can be modified so that they don’t have to be vegan if you don’t want.

citrusCitrus

Maybe I have developed high standards over the year but I wasn’t very thrilled by Citrus. Perhaps this group is making me a cookbook snob? 

A book dedicated to using citrus sounds like my kind of thing but very few recipes stood out to me as I flicked through. I had similar thoughts on the day. There was a very nice beef stew but nothing really was special. I’m sure it’s a reasonable book but I just have no interest in looking at it ever again.

Meh.

downloadPalestine on a Plate

Middle Eastern cuisine seems to be growing in popularity and I am more than happy to jump on this bandwagon. Palestine on a Plate by Joudie Kalla contains recipes mainly unchanged from her grandmother. This makes me a bit envious, I only have two recipes from one of my grandmothers and I kind of fail at making one of them. I wish more of my central European food heritage had been passed down.

The book wasn’t available at my library but luckily the host had brought her copy along to the previous gathering and I was able to photograph a few recipes that appealed to me. In the end I decided to make Lemon and Rose Doughnuts, which were baked instead of fried. I had never made baked doughnuts before (my grandma made fried yeast-based doughnuts) and I don’t have a doughnut tray so they didn’t feel very doughnutty to me but they still tasted good.

Doughnuts

We had a poor turnout this month so there wasn’t as much food to sample compared to other months but everything that was on offer tasted great. A standout for me was Spiced Meat Parcels with Pomegranates. Very moreish! I can’t wait to get my own copy of the book and discover more dishes.

rivercottageRiver Cottage: Veg Every Day

I have previously been given a River Cottage cookbook (Love Your Leftovers) and it sat on my shelf for months before I decided to give it away. The book just didn’t excite me and I had no desire to try it’s recipes. It was this that coloured my expectations of Veg Every Day. I thought I would feel the same way about the book but was pleasantly surprised once I got it from the library. There were a lot of recipes that appealed to me and I want to try. The food is simple and hearty.

I have never had chestnuts before and the chestnut soup in the book was absolutely delicious! Aside from that, the food that we made was nice but nothing special.

This is a worthwhile book to own or at least look at, especially for beginner cooks or those with a small recipe repertoire who would like to expand their range. I think I would have happily purchased the book in my earlier cooking days and gained a lot out of it. I don’t believe that it is the right book for me now but I have copied out some of the recipes to try.

spicetempleSpice Temple

Spice Temple by Neil Perry would have to be my favourite books of the year. The food is just gorgeous. So good that I celebrated my birthday with yum cha at the Spice Temple restaurant. Yum!

Let’s start with the dumplings. I love dumplings and was thrilled to see a chapter dedicated to them. I have tried two dumpling recipes and tasted another during our banquet and they were absolutely amazing. I sampled more at the restaurant and loved them but sadly those recipes aren’t included in the book. I wish the dumpling was more extensive! If you love dumplings and have the patience to make them then you absolutely must get this book.

For the banquet I made handmade egg noodles Hunan-style with smoked bacon and chilli, mainly because I wanted to make my own noodles (which turned out amazing. My best batch to date). I wasn’t sure how good the actual meal would be… Until I tasted it. Wow! Such flavour! I was bouncing around the kitchen in happiness (I don’t dance, I bounce). The food on the day was great, including the desserts. Oh that three milk cake…yum…

Noodles.jpg

One issue with the book is that some of the ingredients are tricky to source. Golden mushrooms and drumstick mushrooms? I have enough trouble getting enoki mushrooms in my local supermarket, let alone varieties I’ve never heard of. It’s probably easy to substitute the mushrooms with other varieties but what about things like Tianjin preserved cabbage? I don’t even know where to start with that…

the-zen-kitchenThe Zen Kitchen

It was my turn to host and I chose to try The Zen Kitchen by Adam Liaw. He was a winner on MasterChef Australia back at the beginning when I loved the show and he comes across as such a lovely chilled person that I was curious to try his work. Unfortunately, after Spice Temple I didn’t get excited by the book. It seemed simple and plain. I ended up ignoring the book for three weeks before I could look at it again without bias and appreciate it.

This is a deceptive book. Many of the dishes we tried are simple but stand out with amazing sauces or dressings. Seriously, carrot salad that just consists of carrot and dressing – make it, eat it, eat more of it. Steamed pork sesame dressing – make the pork or don’t make the pork. The pork is not important. Make that sesame dressing. Pour it all over meat/salad of choice and enter sesame heaven.

It is clear that Adam Liaw is a very talented cook and I’m keen to borrow his other books to discover more delicious sauces.

realmexicanfoodReal Mexican Food

Our final book for the year was Real Mexican Food by Ben Fordham and Felipe Fuentes Cruz. Australia is a great place for quality asian restaurants but fairly disappointing when it comes to Mexican. It was this discussion at my event that lead to the selection of this book.

It was certainly a good end to the cooking year. The food was delicious and worked really well together and made for a great feast. I would certainly recommend this book to anyone interested in Mexican cooking or catering to a large crowd. I made Caramelised Apple Burritos, which were yummy but the stand-out dish was definitely the slow-cooked beef (and margaritas of course).

sewing

New Look 6035

NewLook6035

I didn’t actually plan on making a complete outfit, I just happened to pick out fabrics that kind of go together. (I should probably iron my clothes before taking photos of them. Except my iron is a piece a shit…)

There really isn’t much to say about the top and skirt. My past efforts using flimsy gauze have not worked well but I stumbled across the method of using gelatine to stabilise fabric from Lladybird. It worked really well! My cutting and sewing was much improved and I would really recommend the technique.

The jacket pattern doesn’t include lining, which just seems silly to me. A jacket should be lined. I decided to take what I had learned in a Craftsy class and try to add my own. I had some leftover teal lining from one of my earlier dresses (which is horribly sewn and does not get worn) but that meant that I didn’t have spare in case I stuffed up. In the end it was a great choice as I love the teal against the grey.

NewLook6035_lining

The size I chose was a little too small so I decided to omit the button (also, I can’t be bothered). The sleeves were way too small and required a smaller seam allowance. I think even if I use this pattern again a size larger then I would still have to decrease the seam allowance of the sleeves.

I got very very confused with the collar. It took a lot of rereading and staring at the illustration to figure it out the under collar and I was really amazed with how well it turned out. But I could not figure out the upper collar and my attempts at attaching the upper and under was terrible. In the end I got around the problem by not sewing the corners and instead top stitching the collar. Meh, it worked…

NewLook6035_topstitch

So while I do love this jacket, I would say that this is not a suitable pattern for a beginner.