dogs

Goodbye Rory

Sweet Rory was put down last weekend at 12 1/2 years of age. We knew it was coming. Last year’s snake bite really took its toll on him and he never fully recovered. But it’s still hard to deal with.

I don’t have words. So here’s some pictures.

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art

Steampunk

2017Aprw

This has been in the works for way too long. I had hoped to finish it during annual leave in March but got tonsillitis and spent a lot of time on the couch. I’ve never had tonsillitis before and hope to never have it again. Then I was swept up in a month of dog/house sitting. But finally I have finished and can spend ‘too long’ on something else (except I have no idea what to do next).

This was my first time using Clip Studio Paint since the short class I took last year. It took a long time to get a feel for the brushes. I was getting so frustrated that they wouldn’t do what I wanted. Then somehow it all started to work and now I love the program. It is so much better than my crappy free Photoshop Elements. The program also made editing the picture much easier, which was fortunate as I made a lot of changes throughout the process. Aside from “window” and “purple”, I had no clear idea of what I wanted. And I kept fiddling with the proportions.

I can’t stop staring at it thinking “shit, did I make that?” It really does seem a big step above the last thing I made. How did that happen? I’m been spending less time on digital art, not more. I feel like I should be losing my skills.

This is the pattern I used on the corset. Other images that I used for reference are saved to my Pinterest board.

food

Ombre Cake

It’s been almost two years since I’ve attempted a fancy cake (which was less fancy and more silly). I have been putting effort into making pretty cupcakes but there hasn’t been much reason to put in the effort for a fancy cake. But it’s my boyfriend’s birthday I have wanted to go crazy with colour and make an ombre cake for years so naturally I used the birthday as an excuse to make an ombre cake.

The latest season of the Great Australian Bake Off had an ombre cake challenge so I chose this recipe (spoiler: it doesn’t doesn’t taste lemony). The recipes themselves haven’t been tested and I was a little worried by some of the instructions. I never feel easy when recipes say “add the flours” when there is only one flour used – is there another flour that they forgot to add to the list of ingredients? Or heat eggwhites to 115C over water when that feels wrong to me (and my limited experience) and my boyfriend is adamant that a water bath can’t reach that temperature anyway (I panicked and took it off ~75C).

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I used this page for advice on how to ice the cake (plus my boyfriend showed me a handy brick layering strategy!). I might not have a turntable or icing smoother but it’s still an improvement from two years ago. It is a little disturbing slavering on large quantities of icing that I know exactly how much butter and sugar has gone into it. And it was a lot of icing. I might have a sweet tooth but that outer layer is way too much. I think I need to stick with cream cheese based icings.

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I still have a large amount of blue fondant from my very first fancy cake so I used some to make a quick flower. I used this page as a guide but I didn’t have the tools and I wasn’t trying all that hard. There’s only so many hours I can spend on a cake before I suffer from cake fatigue. Besides, my boyfriend’s family will still be wowed by my inferior flower. And wowed they were.

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I really enjoyed the process of making the cake. I felt a warm and fuzzy feeling finishing the cake, thinking ‘wow, I made that’. And everyone was vocally impressed. And there are so many more beautiful cakes on Pinterest that I’d love to try. But damn, it’s a lot of work. And a lot of cake that has to be eaten.

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sewing

New Look 6431

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After struggling with my first jacket, I thought this dress would be a breeze. And it was…except that I made a horrible error…

Until recently my career has focused on following instructions. Deviations from procedure were a big no no. I haven’t yet developed a good core understanding of sewing so I tend to stick pretty closely to the instructions. I attached front to back, then bodice to skirt. I took what I learned from the jacket and sewed mainly without pins and was very pleased with my work. Then came adding the zip and I realised that the waist was in fact too small. 😦

I did a lot of unpicking and then ignored the pattern instructions. I attached bodice to skirt, added the zip, and then attached front to back with some alterations. It was a little tricky as I had already attached the bias binding to the arm holes and didn’t unpick that. So the side seams (particularly under the armholes) don’t look quite as nice as I originally did but the main thing is that it now fits.

The frustrating thing is that I already had the relevant knowledge, I just didn’t know. When I made a dress in a sewing class in 2013, my teacher told me to add top to bottom first instead of front to back. But she didn’t explain why (ie. makes it easier to alter the size if it isn’t quite right) and I never thought about the reason why. So here I am, mindlessly following the instructions like I always do, instead of actually understanding what I’m doing. This is what makes me still a beginner despite sewing for four years.

At least I now know a to attach my dresses top to bottom instead of front to back. May I never make this mistake again.

sewing

Motor City Express Jacket

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After all the time I spent preparing the pattern pieces for this project, I was very keen to start sewing. It didn’t start well – I had my needle in the wrong position for two seams before I picked up my mistake. It was only 1/8″ so it was very annoying to unpick and redo it over such a little mistake. Then, as things were starting to go well and I was feeling confident, I could not for the life of me match the front facing to the front lining. Normally the issue would be the lining, I’m terrible at cutting out lining. But it turned out I had cut some sides of the front facing a size too large. Urg!

Throughout the sewing I cycled between thinking “I’ve got this” to “This project is beyond me”. I do have a tendency to be overly ambitious in my creative projects but in many ways it is a good thing. I might not get the outcome that I want but striving for something that is beyond my current skill set pushes me further than I could go cruising through an easy project. I might have felt that this jacket is a train wreck but I still had the sense of satisfaction that I’ve come so far in learning how to sew and that I am learning a lot more from this particular class.

Attaching the sleeves to the rest of the jacket just wouldn’t work! The lining crimped easily but it still didn’t match the jacket so I ended up easing it. And I managed to rip one of the sleeves. I picked it up and the notch ripped! Fuck that, I’m not cutting it out again…so I stitched up the rip and went ahead with attaching it.

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And then, after months of agony, I was so close to the end. And the hems were wrong! I don’t know what I did! It looks like I didn’t properly correct the front facing when I cut it wrong way at the beginning. But I really have no idea what I did or how to fix it. So fuck it, I stitched it up as best I could…

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So there you go, I finished it. It does not look even remotely professional but fuck yeah, I did it!

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sewing

Oh Deer

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The moment I saw this pattern (Simplicity 1218), I knew I had to attempt it! It is just so ridiculous and cute. My mum gave it to me as a birthday present in 2015 and I did not start it until a year later.

Lumpy3.jpgIf you have browsed my past posts, you would see that my few attempts at soft toys have not been too successful. Because of my past experiences, I spent a lot of time procrastinating and this project has dragged for months. Then I got up to sewing the antlers and they drooped. I think this would be an expected issue? But the instructions make no mention of preventing droopy antlers? I feel like that should have been mentioned instead of assuming people know what they’re doing…

Thankfully my handy engineering boyfriend gave me some wire and told me the best way to rig it.

I’m pretty pleased with my deer head. I’ve named him Lumpy because my sewing wasn’t great and he looks lumpy because of it. Sewing soft toys is a lot harder than clothes but I think I’m getting a little bit better. Lumpy now adorns my study.

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books · food · recipes

Cookbooks of 2016

At the start of the year I was fortunate enough to join a newly formed cookbook group. The small group meets up once a month at a different member’s home and we all share a dish made from a single cookbook chosen by the host. It has been an absolutely wonderful experience and I feel that I have already grown from it, not only developing my cooking skills but also becoming more adventurous. I can’t wait until 2017!

I’d like to share my take on the books that we have explored this year.

complete-food-safariComplete Food Safari

We started our cookbook adventure with a book containing recipes from the TV show Food Safari. In the series, Maeve O’Meara travels around Australia and explores food from chefs and home cooks of different cultures.

I chose to make Jambalaya, for the simple reason that I love chorizo 😉 There were some lovely dishes on the day, including a stunning Sindhi Biryani (goat curry). I had eaten goat once before but never did I think that I would want to cook goat! But this dish was the main thing that spurred me to buy the book. Over the weekend I finally made my own Sindhi Biryani and it still tasted great (though perhaps not as good as the one made for our group).

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I find the design of this book stunning but it’s large size is also off-putting. It isn’t normally a book that I grab when I’m browsing for something to make. Which is a pity as the things that I have made from the book were very nice.

persianaPersiana

Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour was an instant hit. All of our dishes on the day were amazing and worked so well together. I made the Baklava, which was full of citrus and much better than the more sweet Greek version.

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Soon after our event I ordered my own copy of the book and have been working my way through the book. So many amazing recipes! The only downside is that there are a lot of ingredients that I can’t get from the supermarket and have to hunt for them (thankfully I’ve discovered a specialty store near work that has a lot of the ingredients).

I love this book so much, it has become my favourite. All cooks should try this book!

how-to-eatHow to Eat

How to Eat by Nigella Lawson would have to be my lowpoint in my cookbook adventures. I’ve never tried Nigella’s recipes before so I don’t know if I’m not a fan of her or just this book (which is fairly old. Maybe it hasn’t aged well?). The majority of the dishes on the day were bland and uninspiring. I can’t even remember what I made (just looked it up: I made Mushroom Risotto). The only dish that I was a fan of was shortbread dipped in lemon cream and quite frankly, I have better variations of shortbread and lemon cream/curd in other cookbooks.

I should point out that I didn’t read Nigella’s writing, only the recipes. Apparently the writing is really good and feels like a conversation or something like that. Can’t say that I’m interested in that.

moosewoodMoosewood Cookbook

I might have been left with the impression that How to Eat is dated but Moosewood Cookbook is even older and I certainly don’t feel that the recipes are dated! Moosewood was originally written in 1974 by Mollie Katzen and is based on vegetarian dishes served at a restaurant co-op in Ithaca, NY. I made Mushroom and Barley Soup.

What I really liked about the book was the flexibility of the recipes. It would clearly state if you would use low fat milk instead of full fat, or perhaps you could use cream instead…etc. That kind of information would have been very useful when I was first learning how to cook.

I enjoy the book but I haven’t felt any drive to revisit it since.

lukenguyenLuke Nguyen’s France

Luke Nguyen’s France is a delightful French-Vietnamese fusion. I am really ignorant of history and had no idea that the French had occupied Vietnam and influenced its cuisine. I don’t actually watch much cooking shows but I have enjoyed the bits and pieces I have seen of Luke Nguyen. He has this lovely enthusiasm and cheerful welcomeness about him. But I’ve never been interested to try his actual recipes as a lot of ingredients I’ve seen him use seem to be endemic to the region he’s cooking in and not easily accessible. In fact, a few of our members did have trouble finding the right ingredients for our cooking gathering.

I made Kaffir Lime and Lemongrass Creme Brulee, which I thought was delicious but gave me a lot of grief! I tried Luke’s steaming method and scrambled it. Twice. That’s when I switched to a bain marie in the oven and it worked a charm. But the highlight of the day was snails. I was very hesitant when I discovered that someone had decided to make a snail dish. But I tried it and wow, snails smothered in garlic and butter are surprisingly nice. I have a tin of snails in the pantry, waiting for me to get around to cooking them.

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I really didn’t have a chance to look at the cookbook in detail. I just flicked through someone’s copy and snapped a photo of the creme brulee recipe. I want to borrow the book and try a few more things to decide if I want to buy it or not but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. I keep getting distracted by the cookbooks I already own.

plentymorePlenty More

Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi is a well-celebrated vegetarian cookbook that I actually haven’t used before now. Which is silly, since I want to reduce my meat consumption. I was very excited to try this books, it was hard to choose what to make. The book is certainly on my wishlist now.

I made the Aubergine Cheesecake, which I have resolved to bring to family christmas. The downside to our dinner was that most of us chose cheesey dishes. They were all delicious but I lost my appetite for a few days and couldn’t eat cheese for a week after that! Lesson learned…

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01kitchengardencompanionKitchen Garden Companion

Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Companion was my book choice when I hosted. It was initially a birthday present from my sister. The book groups recipes by ingredient in alphabetical order (and also explains how to grow the food) and I have spent years working my way from A-Z (I’m up to T). There are a lot of recipes that are average but there are also a lot of dishes that taste great. I made Eve’s Pudding, which is a nice little simple pud to share.

I was very confused when one member of the group brought a (delicious) banana ice cream. I have no banana section in my book! It looks like there is a difference in the recipes listed between the copies of the book published in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. My sister gave me the Northern copy as it is much cheaper than the Southern one. My local library has a copy of the book so I fully plan to borrow it and compare the copies (including saving that banana ice cream recipe. Yum!). Just as soon as I reach Z in my book…

hestonHeston Blumenthal at Home

Our final book for the year was Heston Blumenthal at Home. I’ve seen his shows, I was very worried when the host announced her book. The book is actually more accessible than I thought it would be and the food was amazing. Heston is an impressive person. He really knows what he’s doing and shares that knowledge in his book. I love the science in this book, with it’s explanations about the correct temperatures for determining when a meat is cooked or a caramel is ready.

The food that came out was pretty amazing. Green tea smoked salmon was my favourite but I also couldn’t stop eating basil and mascapone pesto. I made Eton Mess. I wasn’t sold on the banana puree but OMG, those were the best meringues I have ever eaten. I think I’ll stick with Heston’s meringue recipe from now on. I’m definitely going to add this book to my collection.

A lot of the recipes aren’t what I would call easily accessible. Such as sodium citrate as an ingredient, which before now I only knew as an coagulant in blood collection tubes. And some of the ice creams require dry ice. I suppose I could pinch some left-over dry ice from work but how will other people acquire it? But even if you aren’t interested in the recipes, the book is still worth a read as there is a lot to learn from it.