Friday, 31 October 2008

A healthy halloween treat

I was linked this from a friend the other day and thought it was pretty cool in a gory kind of way. A very inventive use for a watermelon. There are instructions for how to make it on BoingBoing.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Tasmania Part 2: Animals, bugs and plants

I'm not so sure if this is the most sensible way to present my holiday photos to you, but I'm rolling with it anyway. After Launceston, we picked up my parents and spent 5 days in the south of the state and took a look around Hobart, Port Arthur, Ida Bay, South-West National Park and Bruny Island.

Edit: for some reason blogger photo uploader/flickr is doing something dodgy with my photos so they're a little off-centre, and I can't work out why. You can view the originals here.

In this post I'll show a few of the smaller-scale things (as in, shrub size or smaller) we saw and save the big stuff for my next post. That is a selection of interesting animals, bugs and plants we saw. I don't have any idea about what species any of these things are - except perhaps the echidna - but if you know and want to tell me, please do! We just thought they looked cool. I've mentioned that I love bugs, and we spotted many of those while we were away.

Bumble bees; Bagdad. These things a freaking huge!

Pretty pink flowers; Devil's Kitchen

Echidna; Port Arthur

Cave cricket; Hastings Caves

Fungi; Southwest National Park

Lichen; Creepy Crawly walk (highly recommend!), Southwest National Park

Amazing moss covered tree; Creepy Crawly walk, Southwest National Park

Pretty red flower; Southwest National park

Banksias etc; Bruny Island Lighthouse

One of the numerous beetles of this variety we saw crawling all over Bruny Island Lighthouse

A pea that I know as "egg and bacon"; Fluted Cape walk, Bruny Island

Orchid; Fluted Cape walk, Bruny Island

A purple/blue flower we saw everywhere; Fluted Cape walk, Bruny Island

White wallaby (long way back, a bit of a dodgy shot); Fluted Cape walk, Bruny Island

Caterpillar pretending to be a stem; Old Mill trail, Bruny Island

6 random things...

I was tagged by Katie for the 6 random things about me meme. This meme has been doing the rounds a bit, and nearly all of you now have posted 6 random things about yourselves, so I wont tag any of you. Unless you want to join in, of course. It's actually been quite a challenge for me to come up with 6 random things about myself, but here goes...

1. I am really short. As in, less-than-5'-tall type short. Even my mother is taller than me (by an inch). I don't have any medical reasons for being so short: no weird illnesses or obvious defects, back injuries or surgery, no smoking as a teenager to stunt my growth. I'm just short. And Gib is really tall. In fact, there is exactly 35cm difference between us. I'm sure we look completely ridiculous together.

2. I think insects are really cool. I hate touching them or letting them crawl on me, but I love to watch them doing their thing. Beetles are by far my favourite. I love their gorgeous wings, the amazing adaptations to all sorts of terrain, from water, dessert to alpine regions. I love the way they bumble around (Aphex Twin obviously loves this too, he wrote a song that captures it very well - weird hey?). There are so many little critters all around us that we are just so oblivious to all the time.

3. My bedroom is quite messy, but I'm totally anal about keeping my kitchen clean. The bedroom is messy from the clothes I just leave on the floor when I crash into bed, and then from rummaging around in my wardrobe when I'm half asleep in the morning. But the kitchen is a different matter. Knives must be cleaned immediately and returned to their block. Benches clean and cleared. Cupboards organised. If I want to cook dinner or bake, then I just want to cook dinner - not clean for 15 minutes before starting.

4. I love bitter or tart food and drinks. Coffee, broccoli, gin and tonic, beer, Brussels sprouts, cranberry, blood oranges, dark chocolate (think 80% cocoa), limes, rhubarb... mmm yum.

G is for Gin and Tonic. Swell Dame.

5. I have two pet rats. Before you all freak out, I'll let you know that they are very clean, don't smell and are naturally toilet trained. They are very affectionate and smart and they have big personalities. I've had guinea pigs and rabbits in the past, but I much prefer rats as they are far more switched on. I honestly can't think of a better pet for my situation right now: being in my mid-20's with constantly changing living situations (rats are very portable), wanting to take off for the weekend (they can look after themselves for a night or two), and not having the space for, say, a dog, rats make terrific pets. My two girls are very snuggly and playful. They are impossible to take photos of.

Kit and Pip: Impossible to keep still for a photo.

6. My natural hair colour is a revolting mousey blonde/brown that goes a kind of greyish colour if it isn't washed every day. I haven't seen my natural hair colour in about 8 years. I don't understand why L'Oreal stocks a dye in my hair colour, and worse, who buys it?

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Sew sew

I have in fact been in a sewing mood but not much to show at this stage. I've finished drafting a pattern for a messenger bag I'm making for a friend (it's taken a few revisions but it's getting there!) and given the number of babies that are around at the moment, I decided to buy a new pattern:

Butterick 5713 - "Sew baby"
Includes overalls, pants, jacket, bonnet and mittens

I liked this pattern because there were so many options to choose from. I love overalls and desperately wish that they would become a cool adult fashion. They are so functional, like when you are out in the garden, and they are just so comfy (well I remember them being comfy the last time I wore them, which was when I was about 9 years old). So instead, I make them for the children of my friends and relatives, and just keep wishing that I could wear a pair myself.

Then there's all the Christmas sewing I need to do in the next two months. I should start planning for that now because my diary over the next two months is already filling fast. There will be a few more hand made gifts this year, and home grown ones too: herb pots propagated from plants from your own garden make great gifts! And if I get them started now, they should be looking quite strong by Christmas time.

This is ...what I'm surprised I like

Nattō is a traditional Japanese food of fermented soy beans, often eaten with rice for breakfast. I was first told about by Kat who likened it to "snot", and then I was offered some by my friend Erika, who lives in Nagano, who absolutely can't get enough of the stuff. It's quite pungent like blue cheese and very sticky, as you can see from the picture. To be honest, I was a little bit nervous when I tried it because food just shouldn't be sticky like that. The more you stir it, the stickier it gets. It kind of creeped me out, but I was very surprised indeed to find that it tastes delicious. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find it here in Australia yet, although I'm sure it's around.

Friday, 24 October 2008

How to make a nudibranch cake

As I have mentioned before, my friends seem to be competing for the strangest marine animal birthday cake. Despite my decorating being quite hacked sometimes (I've finally decided to enroll in a cake decorating course), I always like a good challenge. I decided to make a Tambja verconis, which is found off the south-east coast of Australia.

Beth's coconut lime loaf cake

I made this the day beforehand. Adapted from here.

200 g butter
215 g castor sugar
1 tbsp lime rind
2 eggs
2 cups self raising flour
Juice of 2 limes
165ml can coconut milk
  • Preheat oven to 170°C. Grease an 11 x 21 cm loaf pan with non-stick baking paper. Remember to do this part because I was lazy and thought that greasing a tin would be enough, even though I've read ~100 times that you should always put non-stick baking paper on the bottom of the loaf pan. The bottom of the cake stuck to the tin. That was OK for me because I was turning the cake into a nudibranch, but if you're not, then you probably want to put baking paper in the bottom of your pan.
  • Beat butter, sugar and rind until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  • Gently fold in flour, lime juice and coconut milk.
  • Bake for 50 mins until golden and cooked through. Leave for 5 mins before turning out on a rack to cool completely.
Swiss buttercream icing:

I decided to make a Swiss buttercream icing because it comes up very glossy, which is what you want when making a nudibranch. I really like Swiss buttercream because it isn't sickly sweet and is very easy to smooth over your cake. People will tell you lots of horror stories about making it, and having now made it a few times over the years, all you have to do is be patient. Keep beating and it will eventually whip up.
  • Four egg whites
  • 220 g castor sugar
  • 330 g butter at room temperature, cut into 10 pieces.
  • Blue and yellow food dye
Completely dissolve the castor sugar into the eggwhites in a bain-marie: a bowl over a saucepan of hot water (make sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water). Stir continuously. You will know when the sugar is fully dissolved when you can't feel any grittiness in the mixture.

Beat the eggwhite/sugar mixture until stiff peaks are formed. Beat in the butter one piece at a time. You'll probably only start to see it fluff up after the last or second last piece is added. It might look like it's starting to break down and go mushy, but don't worry, just keep whipping.

Separate your icing into two bowls, add blue or yellow dye to each, and whip until the colour is evenly blended through. I also like to set some plain icing aside in case I've miscalculated and need more. The yellow of this icing actually came out very bright: "Bart Simpson yellow"!

This icing can be kept for up to 3 days in the fridge in an airtight container. You will need to re-beat it after it's at room temperature.

Place the cake onto two sheets of overlapping baking paper (this helps keep your plate clean and makes it easier for tidying up). Carve the cake into the shape of a nudibranch. Round the edges, brush away any crumbs.

  • Cover the cake entirely in yellow icing. Remove the baking sheet.
  • Pipe a large amount of blue icing around the entire edge of the base of the cake cake and smooth it out so it joins the yellow, being carful not to blend the two, to make the edge of the foot of the nudibranch. Refer to this website for more nudibranch anatomy.
  • Pipe blue lines/dots along the mantle of the nudibranch.
  • To make the rhinophores (the "antennae" looking parts), I used chopped down jelly snakes. Place a toothpick into the end of the snake to keep the rhinophore somewhat upright, and insert the other end of the toothpick into the head of the cake.
  • To make the gills, I made some blobs of Orchard icing, coloured blue. I made 4 x 4cm lengths of blue jelly snakes. For each section, I cut four slits down into the snake, leaving about 1cm at the base. I inserted them into the blobs of icing and then mounted them onto the mantle of the nudibranch. I piped some of the blue buttercream icing around it and into the centre to keep it in place.

  • The ridge the protrudes across the top of the nudibranchs "forehead" is made out of a strip of Orchard icing
  • I am aware that nudibranchs have eyes that are very tiny and can barely be seen, however the nudibranch cake looked pretty ridiculous without them, so I gave it some big blue eyes anyway (artistic licence is ok!).

This is... my favourite movie

I'll choose three favourite movies of mine (in no particular order) because it's so hard to separate them:

  • Run Lola Run. This was the movie that got me listening to electronic music. The soundtrack is awesome. And I adore Lola's character. Almost like a human superhero.

"The plot revolves around a mad scientist, Krank (Daniel Emilfork), who lives in an old oil rig off the coast of a surreal Dickensian French city. Krank does not have the ability to dream, and as a result he is prematurely old. In order to supplement his dream deficit, Krank kidnaps young children in order to study and extract their dreams. Unfortunately for Krank, this scheme fails as the experience of being kidnapped and harangued by the menacing Krank is so traumatic that the children have only nightmares."

  • Pan's Labyrinth: it takes place in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. It's a fairy tale-like story, but I would not let my children (if I had them) watch it. Make sure to have a box of tissues with you while watching this one.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Taste Sensation: Trolli Glotzer

Edit: Sorry, dear readers! I know some of you were a wee bit grossed out and put off your lunch yesterday. I tried my best to put the rest of the post behind a "cut" by working through Blogger's horrible expandable post summaries help guide, and then I tried other methods and still couldn't work out how to do it. So I'm just going to do a:

Warning: do not read below if don't like gross things!

A dear friend sent me a packet of confectionery eyeballs in the mail the other day.

I was seriously impressed by the detail in them: the difference in texture between the iris/lens/cornea etc (which is quite firm, even the shape of this part is quite accurate) and vitreous humour (which is slightly more squishy), and blood vessels. Clearly these guys have gone to a lot of effort to achieve anatomical accuracy while still keeping it a fun confectionery, which I totally respect. They taste great too: the vitreous humour has a very fluffy texture, very sweet, while the iris is firmer and very tangy, like lemon.

There were 7 eyeballs in the packet, but now only one...

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Orange vintage love in Launceston

I'll present my trip to Tasmania in themed installments. While I was there I took some photos of some pretty cool blog-related stuff: food, plants... (nothing sewing-related, but I did think up some cool new sewing projects while I was away).

I'll kick it off with the place we were staying at in Launceston. It was a holiday apartment: a residential house split into two. And it was decked out in the most totally awesome vintage gear, and a few granny square and shagpile rugs around too. Everywhere. And all of the accessories were orange. Have I ever mentioned that orange is my favourite colour? There were even orange printed pyrex dishes in the cupboard, however unfortunately the photos of those didn't turn out so well. The orange Corona toilet seat - with matching orange light shade - was what did it for me though.

That light shade is actually orange, not red, but the lighting was awkward

I <3 your blog!

Jen over at August Street tagged me for this meme, and I'm a bit late (a whole month late!)... better late than never, hey? I have to choose my 7 favourite blogs and also pass it on... but I've decided not to pass this one on. I love all of the blogs I read... I feel bad because there are so many blogs I love and how could I possibly choose only seven??

Here are seven of my most favourite blogs. Everyone knows so many of the crafty blogs around (everyone seems to know everyone) so I've decided to add some other ones that I love to read as well:

  • Isis the Scientist: "On becoming a domestic and laboratory goddess". Dr Isis presents a witty view on the juggling act between science, motherhood and domestic chores. Her choice images crack me up every time. Some great recipes there too!
  • A print a day: This one was recently linked to me by Gina and I have fallen in love instantly. The gorgeous drawings of plants and fungi, and most fascinating to me was the carnivorous plant calendar and other gorgeous repeats that she posted!
  • Adventures in Ethics and Science: This blog is terrific. I love reading the conversations Janet retells from her boys and husband and her little tidbits on her garden and the discussions on ethics in science. Such a pleasant and refreshing mix.
  • Culinary Concoctions: So many delicious looking photos and recipes. I think my waistline expands just looking at some of this stuff. Lots of inspiration to be found here.
  • Sui Zo's Hobby of the Month: Sui is an old friend of mine. He's done many things in his lifetime... been a linesman, computer tech, manager of a laser tag complex... and now he's doing a fine arts degree majoring in glass at ANU. He enjoys playing with furnaces.
  • Bugs and fishes: I am constantly amazed at the cute hand sewing and little felt projects. The poppies and robins are totally adorable. Some tutorials to check out there too!
  • Just tutes: many cool, funky, simple sewing tutes. I always pick up a few ideas and tips whenever I drop by.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

This is... my current reading material

I'm back on the Mainland and slowly catching up with all of my blog reading. I'm still in anti-climax mode after arriving in late last night and don't know what to do with myself, so catching up on the "This is" posts seems like a good start (rather than, say, unpacking/washing/tidying).

My current reading material, which I arrive at work to every day, looks very much like this:

Courtesy of jepoirrier

... except multiplied across my entire desk and with extra coffee and tea stains on top. I recently went through and organised it alphabetically and arranged them into folders, however my unsorted pile of "interesting new articles" is growing rapidly and I am not sure if I will ever get to the bottom. But surprisingly, I have actually been looking forward to reading my humongous pile of papers. I like to think this is a good thing.

In my spare time I have been plugging away through the Chronicles of Narnia which I am thoroughly enjoying. It is something easy to read that doesn't constantly have funny phrases like basal ganglia (the word "ganglia" always sounds silly to me), gamma-aminobutyric acid or rostroventral lateral medulla, but at the same time has great depth. I have just started reading The Silver Chair. I am quite a hopeless reader when it comes to fiction novels and I have started many books and never finished them. I usually only have time to read when I go to bed, and I only ever read 2 or 3 pages before I fall asleep. So a book has to either be really exciting or really easy for me to ever get through it.

Thank you Champagne Dreams for the theme and to Three Buttons for hosting This is!

Friday, 10 October 2008

Back soon!

I apologise if you've commented and I haven't replied... or haven't quite got around to checking all of your blogs of late... (I also have a meme from August Street which I had in my mind for about a week to do then totally forgot about til yesterday! - Oopsies, will do it when I come back!). I handed in a draft of a literature review to my supervisors yesterday and in just a few hours I'll be in Tasmania! I have to say a big thank you to Gina who sent me over a bunch of literature from Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife for all of the cool outdoor things to see when we head to the south of state.

View Larger Map

So I'll be back sometime next weekend! Be good while I'm away!

Monday, 6 October 2008

A thing or two about taro

I always get a bit worried doing my Taste Sensation! posts. I always feel like a bit of a dill, thinking that the whole world has tried these things before me, but nonetheless, I still feel I need document my adventures more as a note to myself about what I should look out for again, and what I should avoid. And also for remembering the fun times we had trying something "new".

Yesterday I posted about our taro ice cream tastings. Taro isn't too common in Australia, and while I always see it on the menu in many of the Asian restaurants nearby, it's something that hasn't filtered into the Australian mainstream.

A little more on taro:

It's quite a bland vegetable, tasting quite chesnutty, but also a bit potato-y too. Like potatoes, it has to be cooked, or it's poisonous and can be boiled, baked, roasted, mashed, crumbed/fried. The skin of the taro can be a bit irritating, so wear gloves when washing and peeling it. Of course you can check wikipedia for notes on its cultivation, if that tickles your fancy.

You can find taro fresh or tinned in your local Asian grocer (although I've only found 2/5 of our local ones stock it fresh). Apparently you can substitute it for potato in almost any recipe. My friends tell me taro also tastes great when combined with coconut milk. Australians generally have an aversion to any dessert or sweet drink that has a vegetable in it, such as sweet potato, pumpkin or taro. But I always think "Surely if a food is that popular and common, it must be good?" (Sometimes that thinking gets me into trouble - case in point: Red bean) but as I found on Sunday evening, taro ice cream is delicious.

Taro plantation: By Monroe Broadway

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Stencil-along on hold and other things in my not-as-productive-as-I'd-have-liked weekend

No Mr Robo

So today I finally had time to stencil. I'd been hanging out all week and today I had my design all ready to go, I had made preparations for how to deal with stencils with islands. Then realised Gib had reinstalled windows so had to reinstall drivers/adjust network settings/fuss about with cables etc etc... only to discover that the printer had no ink. It was 4:45pm on a Sunday and no way would I make it to the shops in time to remedy this.

Sorry robo-dude, you're just going to have to wait a little longer...

No printer meant that I couldn't print out the soft baby shoe pattern (I have been asked to make some more!), and so I started cutting out some pieces for a bag I've started making (hear that, Kat!) but didn't get very far beyond cutting out bits. But some things were created on the weekend (not that I did much to help with them, but provided moral support).

Kate's veil

My friend Kate, who is getting married in November, came over Friday night. My mum helped her to make a veil in about 2 hours. I provided food, cups of tea and jovial conversation, while my mum and Kate busily worked away cutting and stitching. All that was left to do in the end was attach the comb. In total it cost her $16 for all materials + $12 for the pattern - and was therefore 10x cheaper than what you can pay in the shops for a veil (She tried on one in a shop that was $300 and looked similar to the one we made - obscene, isn't it?).

Taro taste sensation!

But I did get to try a new Taste Sensation last night. About 2 months ago I finally tried taro for the first time. We spotted it in the shop, took it home then worked out what to do with it later. It was quite bland, but definitely not unpleasant. Last night we were out with some friends at a newish claypot restaurant that's opened up in our area. One of our friends loves taro and he ordered a taro dessert. At first they got the order wrong, and provided this taro dessert (which was just chunks of taro, ice and ice cream... with yes, that is parsley instead of mint)

instead of this one (which still came with parsley on top).

Taste Sensation! verdict: Taro ice cream is really nice - it taste especially with sago, although I'm not so sure about the taro on its own... I don't particularly like the texture, but it could grow on me. I would order this myself in future.

This is... my favourite kitchen tool

Ok ok, I've already blogged enough about my knives... so I'll post about my second favourite kitchen tool... but it's a tie between the mandolin and stab mixer.

The mandolin

Gib gave me this for my birthday and I was concerned that it would become one of those gadgets I never use, but boy was I wrong! After watching Iron Chef America, I always wondered how they made those "noodles" out of carrot or zucchini, and then we started to notice that every Iron Chef had a mandolin and how much it sped up their food preparation. The mandolin really comes into its own when chopping/slicing lots of vegetables say, for stir fries or stews, or for slicing lots of vegetables to go on the barbecue (onion, eggplant). It's most awesome for slicing up cabbage for okonomiyaki (recipe here), which needs the cabbage nice and thin for best results.

Tonight's meal: onion cooked on the bbq to go with our veggie burgers! (Hmm, I should really get onto cooking that after posting this...)

The stab mixer

With 800 watts of blending power, it's the ultimate tool for making soups, dips and sorbets. In winter making soups, it's just a tool I can't live without. Why fuss with transferring to/from the food processor then having to reheat when I can just blend it up in 2 minutes with this? My favourite thing to make in summer is canteloupe sorbet and without an ice cream machine, the stab mixer works great. It crushes all of those ice crystals and makes perfectly smooth sorbet.

Thanks to handmaiden for another great topic! To join in the "This is..." fun, head here.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

What to do with beetroot stems?

I headed into Macro Wholefoods today and was overwhelmed by the big, bright bunches of super fresh baby beets and just had to buy them. And then they had bunches of bright green asparagus on sale so, you know, I just had to buy them too (along with a massive bag of limes for $3)

I decided to make a vegetable salad of baby beets and sweet potato, with asparagus and wilted baby spinach leaves, with a bit of balsamic vinegar dressing. I reckon you could have easily put either goat or feta cheese in, or perhaps tossed through some walnuts, but just a simple balsamic was delicious enough too.

But the problem was I had all of these gorgeous bright pink beetroot stems that I couldn't bear to throw out:

Too pretty to donate to the compost bin...

Apparently no one really cooks with beetroot stems. The only recipe I could find was this one for keerai upperi, and with inspiration from that, Gib and I combined forces and made our own side dish with beetroot stems... with wonderful results. Not sure if my photos are doing it justice here, but oh well, here goes:

Beth and Gib's gingery beetroot stem and bean side dish

1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic
Stems from one bunch of fresh baby beats, washed thoroughly, chopped into 5cm lengths
1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 tbsp mustard (I used hot english)
100 g cannelini beans

Saute the onion and garlic together until the onion goes clear
Add the beetroot stems and ginger, cooks for another 3-4 minutes until stems start to soften
Toss through mustard and cannelini beans, cook until beans are warmed through

Although it doesn't really come through in the photo, what I liked about this was the gradient of colours in the dish: the bright pink stems, the peachy coloured onion and finally the pale white beans which don't get much of a chance to absorb the beetroot.

It's my fabric stash!

Thought I'd jump in on the Mike's Share your stash! invite. It's been so exciting seeing everyone else's fabric stash. And I confess, after seeing Bug and Pop's link to EmilyMe, I decided to add to mine. However compared to everyone else's, my stash seems a little pathetic...

Yep, two measly tubs of fabrics. But I am young and have many more years worth of fabric hoarding to go. I need to go and purchase a second lockable tub because I really do not like working out of a wash basket. I have been good and have been trying to use up my current stash before rushing out to purchase more. Ever since I organised my fabric into colours it has been so much easier to work out what I can make and what fabrics I can coordinate before buying.

However, the reason why I wanted to join in on this is because for ages I have wanted to share my one prized piece of fabric. Apparently my mum bought it when I was very young and made it into a curtain for my bedroom, but didn't use it for very long so the fabric is still in good shape and hasn't faded at all. I love the design: the dancing birds and bugs, the cute flowers, the happy colours. It's way too cute. The print is called "The Garden Party", but I can't find anything on who designed it or manufactured it. I think it is totally adorable and I have often wondered if it's possible to get it reprinted somehow because I would really love about 50 repeats of it!

Click here to see more detail