Friday, 27 February 2009

On dagginess and overalls

A while ago I lamented how overalls are just extraordinarily uncool these days, unless you're under the age of 4 or pregnant. I'm a bit proud like that, concerned about first impressions and running into people I know down at the shops while looking frumpy. I would love to wear overalls in public anyway, but just don't have the charisma to carry it off. And I don't really want people thinking I'm expecting when I'm not.

Anyway, I have been working on my car recently and I usually just wear grotty old clothes that I don't mind destroying, but then Gib said to me "Geez dude, you totally need a pair of overalls". Why had I not thought of it before? Finally an appropriate place to wear daggy overalls! I did some searching at all of my local op shops and online, and it seems that overalls for people my size are quite hard to come by: the kids sizes don't quite extend to size 12-14, and adult overalls are mostly men's ones, and are far too big for me. So I decided to just buy a pattern and make them myself.

As an aside and while we're on the topic: why do all pattern magazines always have models with really dorky hair-dos? And poor colour coordination? I always wonder when I buy a pattern: am I really going to look as un-cool as this person in the photo? Will my clothes be poorly fitted like on that model? Pattern magazines have a way of making really hot people look ugly. It all adds to my nervousness about making my own clothes.

There were only two overall patterns I could find, both in Burda's "Young fashion" magazine. This pattern was "easy" and had wide legs (I love wide leg pants). Although, I think these might be a little too wide-leg to the point of being impractical for my purposes, so I might need to make them narrower, and and I'll need to check the length, but often 3/4 pants are just right for me. We'll see. So soon I'll have my own pair of overalls to wear in the comfort of the garage, where it wont matter if the pattern does turn out to be a bit crap and where it doesn't matter if I look like a big dork! Here's the pattern:

Burda 7822: These two sporty and super-comfortable outfits really fit the bill for leisure and holidays/vacation! [...and even working on cars]

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

8 foot giant squid pillow

Following up from how to make a giant squid cake is how to make a giant squid pillow! (Not by me this time though). I'm seriously impressed.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Just amazing...

I've been lying low a bit this week, one of the few times when I have been totally lost for words. Everything seems to pale in comparison to what's been going on around me. It's impossible describe the devastation that the bushfires have caused, but we all have seen the enormity of it so I wont even try.

Courtesy of The Age

It's amazing to watch everyone rally around though to help out. I've been cleaning out the cupboards (which we've been meaning to do for some time anyway), donating old blankets and sheets for the RSPCA, donations to the Red Cross, and scrounging together bits and pieces to furnish a house that Gib's parent's church is offering to fire victims who have lost their homes. I'm absolutely amazed and inspired by the work of Cindy who has established the Handmade Help blog featuring all these wonderful things that wonderful people are making to raise funds, and Meet Me at Mikes for getting together the Handmade Help recipe book.

It truly warms my heart to see the work and efforts of all of these people, and all of the generous actions from the whole community.

Eye spy... my secret (food) shame

I loved this week's theme. I do have a massive food shame. No, really, it's truly awful, and actually I'm really embarrassed to admit...

I love eating butter. That's right, you heard it:

Beth eats butter. On its own.

Salted butter, of course.

Tragic. I know you're cringing. This is, I think, is my worst habit. In my defense, it's not something you'll find me doing every day (I know the harm of saturated fats), but if I just happen to be cooking with butter, then I've been known (ok, I can't resist) to shave bits off the block and just pop it in my mouth, like thin slices of cheese. There, I said it. It's off my chest.

Thank you, Jade, for helping me admit my shame to the world and Cindy, the wonderful host of Eye spy!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

How to make a Giant Squid cake

Yesterday was the hottest day in Melbourne on record: 46.4°C. We have massive bushfires raging throughout the state. Needless to say things have been a little stressful* in these parts. It also means it's not the best weather for making a birthday cake. However, I headed to my parents' place where they have air conditioning in the kitchen and a spare fridge out the back. I started nice and early in the morning, so it was all done before the worst of the heat kicked in.

The specifications:
  • Make a giant squid cake. I couldn't do a 1:1 scale giant squid, and I wasn't sure how people would know it's a giant squid if it was cake-sized, because it would just look like a regular squid then. So I went with some sort of giant squid reference point: a boat.
  • The cake should be a white chocolate cake. That didn't happen. I ran out of time, and the day that I was able to make the cake was way too hot and it was going to be really nasty for the oven to be on for that long (1.5+ hours cooking time). So a vanilla cake it was (only 40 min cooking time). Sorry Sarah!
  • Must be iced with butter icing (my friend dislikes the sugary soft, mouldable icing). Butter icing, in 46.4°C weather, was going to be far too unstable. So I went with white chocolate ganache, in the hope that that would be more stable and would make up for the lack of white chocolate cake.

How to make a giant squid cake

You will need:
  • Double quantity of vanilla butter cake batter (I doubled the vanilla so it was more vanillary)
  • 1 large loaf pan (23 x 13 x 8 cm)
  • 1 slab pan (25 x 25 x 4 cm)
  • 750 g white chocolate
  • 250 ml cream
  • Plastic ice cream container lid, cut into 2 triangles for fins
  • Red & blue food dye
  • Candy necklaces (I got a massive bag for $2 at the Reject shop)
  • Toy boat
  • Toothpicks
Baking the cakes:

A few days before you need the cake is a good time to bake them.
  • Transfer ¾ of the double quantity of cake mixture to the loaf pan, and ¼ to the slab pan. Make sure your pans are well greased and have a layer of greaseproof paper on the bottom. Bake the slab for 30 mins, and the loaf for 40-45 mins.
  • Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely. Freeze the cakes. (I do this even when it isn't hot weather, so it makes the cake easier to cut, and it crumbs far less).
Shaping the cake:
  • Allow the cakes to thaw slightly before carving.
  • Using a sharp knife, shape the loaf cake into the shape of a squid's mantle. I used this squid anatomy site as a reference. I wont feature the pictures here because they're kind of gross. Because it's a cake and we need to maximise the amount of cake to be consumed, mine is somewhat more squat than an actual squid. Refer to the shape below. I also made a slight ridge (0.5cm) where the mantle finishes and the eye section begins.

  • From the slab cake, cut the arms and tentacles by making wiggly strips from the cake. Cut 8 arms and two tentacles. Each arm is about 3 cm wide and 18 cm long (although I then later cut some shorter to fit on the cake board). Each tentacle is 25 cm long and 3 cm wide. I cut the two tentacles from the bottom 6 cm of the slab. The tentacles have a little diamond shaped bit at the bottom. Be careful with your arms and tentacles. If you break on don't fret. Use some icing and toothpicks to glue them back together.

My wiggly squid arms and tentacles. You can see that some of the legs have been cut shorter to fit on the cake board.

Make the ganache:

Melt together 700 g white chocolate and 250 ml cream over a double boiler. Set aside the spare 50 g white chocolate (don't eat it!). Stir through 5 ml red food dye and 1 drop of blue food dye. Beat together until blended, allow to cool to room temperature.

Assemble the cake:
  • Prepare the cake board. I used a wooden chopping board covered in a couple of layers of blue plastic.
  • Place the mantle in a back corner of the cake.
  • Arrange the bottom legs around the cake, below the ridge of the mantle, and use toothpicks to hold them in place. I had 7 legs/tentacles below, and 3 on top. Don't bother with the top ones until later.
  • Ice the cake with the ganache.

The toothpicks poking out there are just place holders for the top legs
  • Add the plastic fins. Ice them too. I saved the fins until a bit later so I could ice the sides of the cake better.

  • I used two white chocolate buttons and placed them in the centre of the bottom end of the mantle/head area, for a beak.
  • Place the boat at the end of the cake board. Drape the top legs over the top of the boat, and use toothpicks to insert the legs into the body, and carefully ice them too.

Beak and positioning of legs against the body. You can see it was getting a little messy in there! It's ok, ganache cleans up really well.

  • Put the squid in the fridge for a bit to set the ganache. Once firm, take it out and wtih a spatular or knife dipped in hot water (be sure to wipe off the water) smooth over the icing.
  • Add your candy necklace suckers along the sides of the arms and tentacles.

The eye:

This was a bit of serendipity. I didn't have any Orchard icing to mould into an eye and refused to go out into the heat. My mum had these small glass spice bowls. Originally I was going to use them as a chocolate mould (with the leftover 50 g white chocolate): fill the bottom with a centre of white chocolate dyed black, let it set, then fill in white chocolate over the top, then tip it out once its all set together. However, they didn't tip out. So I then decided to just keep the chocolate eyes in the spice bowl, and use the whole think as the eye. It really got that freaky eye lens thing going that squids have. I just pushed the eye/glass spice bowl into the side of the head.

The clean up and presentation:

Using a damp paper towel and some ear buds, carfully clean up around the cake board and tidy up any icing that has oozed into weird corners. And here it is...

Happy birthday, Sarah!

And, because I am lazy, this is also going to come under this week's Eye Spy something delicious theme, because, you know, white chocolate ganache is freaking delicious. This week's theme was suggested by the super crafty Handmaiden and hosted by the wonderful Cindy!

* My aunt lives in Whittlesea, one of the townships south of Kinglake where the worst has been that is assisting with feeding people and providing temporary shelter. We have friends who lives in Wallan and they managed to rescue their horses, fire came to within 3 metres of their house, but their house was been saved.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Phantom ant syndrome

We have ants in our kitchen. In the bathroom. In the cupboard under the stairs. You know, I've even found them in my undies drawer. Everywhere. Is. Crawling. With. Ants.

In the last few days the hot weather has brought them out in what seems like the millions. I'm now so used to flicking them off my arms, my legs, the back of the neck, extracting them out from under my clothes, that now I'll be anywhere - even at work or on the bus - and think I have one of those little blighters crawling on me. It's driving me completely mad!

Friday, 6 February 2009

Toys for girls and boys

Just as Gib has discovered overlockers...

... I have discovered the Dremmel!

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Recipe box swap: Fun foods!

It's the first topic for the year and it's a good one! Ohhh I can't wait to read everyone else's submissions! I think you should join in too. Head over to I have to say... and just add yours to the end.

Have I ever mentioned how much I love raspberries? We used to grow them in our backyard until it grew into our next door neighbour's yard and they poisoned it! Oh well. We have blueberries growing now and they are just as delicous. Actually, I'll take any berry thanks! I love this white chocolate and raspberry muffin recipe from the ABC. I am never just a straight-out sugary treat person myself, I love to have fruit mixed in. Fresh and dried fruit are so sweet, but they give a treat such an interesting texture and flavour. The best thing about muffins is that they are so quick to make, so when you have a naughty food craving, muffins are just the thing!

White chocolate and raspberry muffins

2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 cup buttermilk (if you're feeling really decadent, try it with coconut milk instead!)
1 egg
90 g butter, melted
1 punnet fresh raspberries
1/2 cup white chocolate bits

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Eye spy... a small object

I quite liked The Crafty Librarian's topic this week. I mean, honestly, who doesn't like mini things? For me, my favourite mini object is this little elephant dongle for my phone. It's cute, it's small, it's pink and it contrasts beautifully with my silver/white phone. And he keeps my phone screen clean. But I think it's great to have something so cute hanging out with me all of the time!

This is one of my other favourite mini things. This is one of our two pet rats, posing for the camera. They're going through an exceptionally cuddling mood at the moment when all they want is to be played with and snuggle in. They survived just fine in all of this heat. Normally rats aren't so keen on swimming, but we give our little ones a big tub of water and they will happily go for a paddle (especially if we add some frozen peas!) so it's been easy to keep them cool.

Thank you to Cindy over at Bug and Pop for hosting Eye Spy!

Adventures in Ethics and Crafting

There's an interesting article over at Adventures in Ethics and Science that crosses over into the craft world. Not so important for us, but more for our American crafty friends out there. Following last year's issues with China's production of children's toys containing lead, the American Government passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which requires that a sample of products from each batch of products aimed at children under the age of 12 be independently tested for lead. The law in its current state, has some big implications for those who craft and sell children's products. The article runs through the costs of testing products, implications for not just crafters, but libraries and sellers of antiques. "One of a kind toy and children's clothing makers would be out of business or face $100,000 fines.

It sounds like they rushed it through to please everyone without thinking of the ramifications. It's so utterly ridiculous that I assume they'll have the common sense to change it.