Tuesday, December 27, 2011

New Year's Eve

I'm having some friends over for a New Year party of sorts on Saturday.  We don't usually have more than two people around for food at a time, and we don't have enough chairs for the 9-11 we're expecting, so I decided tapas/finger food would be a brilliant way to get around it.

In preparation, last night I got my sourdough starter (see this post) out of the fridge after her long hibernation.  I can't remember when I last fed her, but it is probably about DATE when I last mentioned her in a post.  So I was surprised that she looked so healthy:

This is just after I poured off the blackish water or 'hooch' that had gathered on top.  According to The Fresh Loaf, this is normal, and she will be fine (I've seen this before and she's always been fine afterward).  I will update how she goes.  The idea of having a batch of starter in the freezer just in case she does die from neglect is very comforting!  I am planning on making the sourdough baguettes from Chocolate and Zucchini that I've made before, and making them into crostini.

Also, I spotted this book (albeit with a different cover to this, but buy it at Mighty Ape!) at work, and nabbed it as it wasn't on hold.

It is fabulous!  I love any unusually set-out cookbooks, and this is such a great idea.  The book includes four recipes for each of 50 ingredients, so 200 yummy looking recipes.  And the recipes for each ingredient are quite different from one another - for tomatoes you can choose between three-colour salad, bruschetta, spaghetti alla puttanesca, and tomato tarte tatin.  I know, right?!  I have chosen a few recipes either to make according to the instructions, or as inspiration for my own take.

There will be pictures of the food after Saturday (probably after Sunday, in fact, as even though we have scheduled 'midnight' for 10pm, I'm sure I will be zonkered on Sunday!).  In the meantime, have a great New Year, spend it with the people you love or the people you find most interesting and entertaining, and make a resolution or two that you have no intention of keeping.  I'm not telling mine, but they're already forming themselves in my head (hint:  one involves taking more pictures, and the other involves posting more often again!).

Lastly, I think this is one of my biggest wins ever:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Obligatory Graduation and Canberra Trip post

We got home at 2am on Saturday of last week, and I'm still exhausted.  I could easily have stayed in bed for a few days, but I've been working at Whangaparaoa Library, as their me was on holiday.  A 'short' summary of our week follows, and I even have some pictures from the new camera!

On Tuesday, at 5:30am, we left home.  We flew to Sydney and then took the bus to Canberra.  Tuesday was a long day - we got to Canberra at 4:30pm zulu (yep, I watch too much NCIS), which meant 13 hours of traveling (and waiting in the airport).  We stayed at the YHA in the central city, and yet again we were impressed.  YHAs are reliably awesome.  We had the best burgers in the world at Guss'.  I wish I could move Guss' to my house, it's the best restaurant in the world ever!

On Wednesday, we went shopping and collected my gown.  There was some confusion about which ceremony I was in, and which degree I was getting...  this will be relevant tomorrow.  That evening, we had dinner at Wagamama with two of my friends who also studied ForAnth but were in their thesis year when I was in coursework.

The ANU campus is pretty

On Thursday, we went to the Anthropology and Archaeology graduate lunch, and met up with Liz, the postgraduate adviser for Anth and Arch who is the only reason I ever got my thesis handed in.  She is a legend!  We then went to the graduation hall, only to find that Mum had no ticket, and that I wasn't on their list of graduands.  I had been put into the 5:30pm ceremony instead of the 2pm with the rest of the faculty!  But Liz had some stern words with the graduation office, and with only 10 minutes to spare I was seated, Mum got in, and everything went well after that.  Including having dinner with another friend and her daughter.

The Canberra Centre is really pretty at night with all of the fairy lights

On Friday, our last full day in Canberra, we chased up my transcript and certificate (which, because of the change in ceremony time, wasn't ready for pickup on Thursday), and then visited the National Botanical Gardens.  Friday night, I had dessert with my friends from SCUNA (the ANU Choral Society that I belonged to the first year I lived in Canberra), and then we went to karaoke!  It was so much fun, I posted on facebook that I could karaoke with them every night and still be sad when it was home time.

 This pretty fern made me think of home, even though it's apparently an Australian native
(at the National Botanical Gardens)

 This tree is called the Wollemi Pine (though it's not a pine tree) and its earliest fossils date to 200 million years ago!  This specimen lives outside of the forestry building at the ANU

It was a very brief visit, but I managed to see everyone I wanted to see and do almost everything I wanted to do.  Still haven't been to parliament...  but, I don't suppose I'm missing much!

 We saw this little guy on the way home on Friday night.  He's just too cute not to include!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My New Camera (and Budgery's first photo shoot)

I bought my camera!!  The first photo I took was, of course, of Budgery - our budgie (yes, we're inventive!).  Isn't he pretty?

To remind you, this is the camera I decided on, and I managed to get it in red, which makes me happy.

We're off to Australia on Tuesday (at the crack of 'oh my god what the'), so I will make sure to take lots of pictures.  And, as promised, when I get home, I will go through my archive and upload better pictures of the crafty things I've done.  Hmm... this means recooking lots of yummies...  Okay, who wants to come over and eat them for me once I've taken photos?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Birthday Rachel!

It's my good friend Rachel's birthday today, and seeing as she LOVES Harry Potter, I thought I would share this for her:

The Very Last Harry Potter Deleted Scenes You Will Ever See at Io9

Harry Potter Shrine and Etsy Treasury at Geek Crafts

Sorting Hat at Mr X Stitch

And something to keep her busy over her holiday:  Butterbeer Cupcakes at Easy Baked

Big hugs Rachel!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Hi all, just a short note to draw your attention to the fact that I've indexed the recipes; book and dvd reviews; and craft posts I've put up on this little blog.  I didn't realise how many recipes I've stored here, both of my own and just links to recipes I wanted to come back to.  I also didn't realise how light I've been on posting about the crafts I do (or did...  before I started my job), so I'll have to rectify that, methinks.  One day when I have more than one day off a week (I had Friday off and it was the first day that the library had been open in a month that I hadn't been there!).  So, if you know I posted about something and want to read it again, just click on the links above, easy peasy.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Lemon Honey Chicken

While you wait on the edge of your seat for my review of To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis (that you didn't even know you would be getting), here's a link to the Women in Science Fiction book club's discussion of Farthing (that you may remember from this post).  And also, this is what we had for dinner tonight:

Juice and zest of half a lemon
2 heaped t honey (or a good squeeze of liquid honey)
Pinch white pepper
1t dried thyme
1t rubbed rosemary
Pinch of turmeric
2 spring onions
1-2t unsalted butter

Put everything into a small pot on low heat to melt the honey and soften the spring onion.  Meanwhile, brown some chicken, then pour the warm sauce over the top, pop in the butter, and cover with a lid or a sheet of tin foil.

Serve on rice.

I've been told by my doctor that I have high blood pressure for my age, so I should cut out all salt until it's normal again.  This is bizarre to me as we don't add salt to our food or eat many obviously salty things.  We also steer away from processed food, instead making our own sauces (as you may notice from what I write about food on here).

However, apparently a good portion of your daily salt intake can come from bread, so I'm going to try making bread without salt tomorrow.  I've done a little research and it seems that the salt in bread is only for flavour, with one person saying that one would find that salt-free bread would taste like cardboard.  But apparently it is also a yeast inhibitor (unlike sugar, which is just as yummy to yeast as it is to us), meaning that a salt free bread may need less yeast.  Interesting right?

Other places one can find sneaky salt is in cereal (Mum looked in the supermarket today and couldn't find anything other than porridge that had no salt in it, but ew); dried fruit; tinned fruit, vegetables, and fish; and shop-bought baking.  As you can imagine, I've not had much other than fruit to eat today!  Wish me luck for the next week, I'm going to need it!

PS:  Sorry for the lack of photo, I'm only a wee while away from getting my camera.  I'd have it by now, but noone around here seems to know about the specials they publish in their mailers...  So be patient, I'll pop a photo in next time we make it!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Book Review: Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog (and Fire Watch)

It's official, I love Connie Willis.  Yes, I know, I'm only three books into her repertoire, but until I find evidence against it, I stick by my statement.  This is the second novel in the Time Traveling Oxfordians universe (I don't think the series has a title...), and is almost the polar opposite of Doomsday Book in tone, setting, and characterisation.

Ned is busy in the past trying to find out what happened to the monstrosity that is the Bishop's Bird Stump, last seen in Coventry Cathedral before its bombing in 1940.  This almost impossible task has been set him by Lady Shrapnell, who has basically taken over the history department (with her 'generous donations') to aid her in recreating the Cathedral exactly as it was moments before the bombing.

Because of the number of drops (ie time traveling trips) Ned has done in a short amount of time, he becomes ill with time-lag, causing "Maudlin sentimentality, difficulty in distinguishing sounds, fatigue... tendency to become distracted by irrelevancies.  Slowness in answering.  Blurred vision" and his almost being hit by a steam locomotive.  The only cure for this is rest, but because of Lady Shrapnell, that just wont happen in (Ned's present) 2057, so Mr Dunworthy (yes, the very same from Doomsday Book and Fire Watch) sends him to 1888.  Where else could be more relaxing - punting on the Thames, playing croquet, and drinking tea.  Except that Mr Dunworthy has set Ned a task, something that Ned has since forgotten due to the time-lag. And here's where the spoilers start!  Click the picture below for a much shorter than usual review...

I think it takes a really skilled author to be both entertaining and thought-provoking, especially in both a lighthearted story and a serious story.  If you found Doomsday Book too heavy to finish, do try To Say Nothing of the Dog.  Also, give her short stories a try.  I dug Fire Watch out of the library's stack (it was published in 1984) to read the Hugo and Nebula award-winning titular story, set in the same universe as Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, and Blackout/All Clear (which I'll definitely be reading soon*), and read on through the rest of the stories.  I found A Letter from the Clearys (Nebula award winner), And Come from Miles Around, and Service for the Burial of the Dead the most enjoyable, though the imagery of Daisy in the Sun (Hugo award nominee) has stayed with me.

*Because this has been sitting in my draft-posts for so long, I'm now actually on to reading Blackout.  I'm only three or four chapters in and I'm already hooked.  I don't think it's a spoiler to say Colin (from Doomsday Book) makes an appearance!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Hallowe'en!!

Hi everyone, yes I'm still alive, though only barely after a week of full time (33 hours 45 minutes, not including the fact that I get paid for public holidays!) work.  I have decided I need to put in some effort to keep up my blog again, and so here's a non-scary little Hallowe'en story for you, written by me, and inspired by this picture from The Lady Lair.

Hidden behind some willows at a bend in the stream is an old wooden jetty leading up to an old stone cottage.  In Autumn, the leaves turn red and golden brown and yellow and the trees stand in a colourful blanket that covers the river-smoothed rocks and in places the drifts reach up and over the jetty.  The only way to read the cottage is by rowboat up to this jetty, then by carefully stepping log to log and plank to plank up the jetty that turns into a set of rickety stairs up to the courtyard in front of the big blue front door of the house.  The cobblestones here are weathered, but smooth, and free of leaves as if someone had only recently swept them all away.  But noone comes here anymore, and the door creaks as a breeze blows through; it is never locked.  On the other side of the door, the sunlight streams, not through the windows, which, though intact, have grown cloudy with dirt, but down from the gaps in the green-tiled roof.  The floor is dusty and in places covered in moss and lichen, and further into the house the light dims under the intact sections of roof.  The kitchen smells faintly of damp, but the stove is intact, and a small bundle of wood still sits next to it in an indestructible basket made of willow saplings.  In the corner of the kitchen is a door, and on the other side another courtyard with a stone well, and beyond, a glade of elm and birch trees, where a child's swing hangs, forlorn, from one rope.

But instead of this melancholy scene, a scene that only hints at happier times, you see the sparkling lights and hear the choral voices of the faerie who have taken this place as their own, and you gaze in childlike wonder.  You see fae children lined up across the swing, playing clapping games and laughing.  You see the hearth in full flame, and warm your hands, while a small stout woman stirs a pot of fragrant stew on top.  You see that the lichen and moss are gardens of flowers and vegetables, with fae of all sizes tending them and singing a working song.  To stay and watch too long is not advised, so with reluctance, you turn away, open the big blue door, and cross the neatly swept courtyard.  But before you step back into your little row boat, you kick up the red and golden brown and yellow leaves so that they fall about you in a flurry of colour, and grin, knowing that you'll never tell a soul about the old stone cottage at the end of the old wooden jetty hidden behind the willows in the bend in the stream.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Princess Bride Reunion

This made me tear up it's so beautiful.  Happy anniversary to my favourite movie.

Monday, October 10, 2011

I found this on tumblr ages ago, but I don't remember who's tumblr.  If you see this somewhere else, please let me know so I can credit the person who made this awesome quote look so pretty.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I'm Baaaaack, and Cameras

We have finally got decent broadband internet!  Yay!  I have been busy trying to judge how many podcasts I can download/videos I can watch/websites I can visit, without going over our 30GB limit.  I updated all of my podcasts in one day and only got to 1GB.  But those are the podcasts for almost a month.  So I'm not worried.

I've also been working 5 days a week, for 4-6 hours a day, and have managed to accumulate some funds.  So I when I was in JB Hi Fi yesterday, I had a look at their digital cameras.  There are so many in my intended price range to choose from, so I walked away without any.  My friend who is in Africa at the moment is a brilliant photographer in her spare time, so I think I will wait (less than a month to go now!!) until she comes home and ask for her advice.  Here are the models I was looking at though (in no particular order):

Samsung (ST-95/EC-PL120ZFPBAU)
5x optical zoom


Cannon (PSA2200)
4x optical zoom


Nikon (Coolpix S3100/S3100KITPP)
5x optical zoom


Samsung (ST-65/EC-ST65ZZBPSAU)
5x optical zoom


Sony (DSC-W530)
4x optical zoom


Fuji (Z-90?*)
5x optical zoom


See what I mean about difficult choices?  I have included the most basic features for these (though they can all record video and sound), because past that, a lot of it becomes jargon, or at least to me it does.  Digital image stabilistaion or optical image stabilisation?  Continuous shooting speed?  Retouch filter effects?  Sweep panorama?  I have only the slightest idea of what these terms could mean, but I have no idea what impact that would have on the quality of my pictures, or the ease of use of the camera.  This is why I'm going to wait.  Hopefully, although the sale prices are only applicable until the 19th of October, they will still be within my budget.

What kind of camera do you use?  How did you choose it; price, features, zoom/mp?  Have you found that one brand is more reliable than another?  Do you have any problems with your camera that you'll avoid if you buy another?  Discuss!

*The image on the JB website doesn't look exactly like the one detailed on the Fuji website, however, it is included in the group photo on the summary page

Friday, September 30, 2011

Tortilla Espanola (Spanish Omelette)

Hi all, we're only a few days away from our new internet connection now (hopefully...), which means I should have the patience to post more often after that (and upload pictures).  I get home from work and I'm too tired to put up with the little rotating flower symbol.  At the moment, I'm writing in a notepad file because it's taking so long to load the post editor.  But no matter, I have some time to spare.

Mum has been on a course in the city to do with cataloguing that she says is reteaching her things she's been doing for years.  But it means she gets home late enough that I can get dinner almost ready before she invades the kitchen.  Last night, we had a Spanish Omelette, something neither of us had tried before, but both loved.

There's a recipe for Spanish Omelette in the Edmond's Cook Book, but I don't think it's the same as this one from Tapas by Marie MacDonald, that I based our's on:

Tortilla Espanola (Spanish Omelette)

1kg potatoes (Maris Piper are suggested)
6 large eggs
salt to taste
olive oil for frying

Slice the potatoes and put into a medium heat frying pan with a substantial amount of oil (the book says 250ml, but there was no way I'd use that much).  Once the potatoes are softened (the book suggests 15-20 minutes but it didn't take ours that long), drain the excess oil (and keep it) and add the potatoes to the eggs that you have whisked together thoroughly with the salt.  Leave the mixture to stand for a few minutes to firm up.  Then pour a little of the oil back into the pan and then the omelette mixture.  If you think it will be too difficult to flip the omelette, pop it into the oven under the grill to finish off (make sure your frying pan handle wont melt if you do this!).

For a sauce, I cut up some onions, cooked them in a little oil until transparent, added a t or so of sugar and a pinch of salt and then some cut up tomatoes and a small splash of balsamic vinegar and let it sit on a very low heat while the omelette cooked.  Tapas suggests taking 500 ml chicken stock and 50 ml dry sherry and reducing by half, and roasting some garlic to serve with the omelette.

This book is very cool, I would love to try most of the recipes because they look delicious, not too complicated, fresh, and pretty healthy.  For example jamon croquetas, broad beans with garlic and chilli, and sweet apple tart (I'm planning to make this on Sunday).  I will have to give the book its own post I think!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Because It's My Brithday...

Because it's my birthday, I am going to post something I assume not many people will be interested in (I seem to be the only person who loves birds - everyone I know other than my Mum either likes cats or dogs), just because I think it's cool.  So here are three videos of parrots talking and/or being cute. The last one has swearing, so don't watch it if you think you might be offended!

Again, this video is of a parrot swearing. You have been warned.

Supernatural Season 4

I just finished Supernatural season four, which features the biggest story arc so far.  At the beginning of the season we are introduced to angels and the entire season focuses on the brothers trying to stop Lilith (who we met last season).  I really enjoy episodes that stand alone (or at least mostly stand alone with some reference to the ongoing arc), so this season wasn't my favourite.  But there is a tribute to the great black-and-white monster movies, a cameo from the Ghostfacers, an episode where Dean is scared of EVERYTHING (including a very small, very cute doggie with a bow - hilarious!), and a life-sized talking teddy bear with a death wish.  And there's this:

If that's not enough to make you want to watch this season, I don't know what is, and frankly, I don't know what's wrong with you. :-)

You can get Supernatural Season 4 at Mighty Ape on special right now, saving $47.  Click on the picture!

PS:  The picture for the cover of this season does not make Sam look good, am I right?  Dean, however, looks as awesome as always!

Edit:  I notice that the video isn't working, but that you can click through to youtube to watch it.  I suggest you do, it's hilarious, and this video was the only one I could find that's just as it is in the episode - most have added clips and things.

Monday, September 19, 2011

German Onion Cake

I have been delaying posting this recipe because I stole it from a friend, and didn't receive a reply when I asked if I could put it on here.  But he's had plenty of time to say no, so I assume he means yes.  :-)  Logic, I likes it.
Despite its name, it's not really cake.  It's a pie.  And its delicious.  Really delicious.  Instead of using pastry for the base, however, you use a bread dough.  This makes it a whole lot less greasy than it could be (greasiness is what puts me off quiche).  Put aside quite a bit of time to let the dough rise properly, but if it doesn't, it's not a huge problem - I have had to give up when it had only increased in size by about 50% rather than 100%, and it is still delicious.

Onion Cake

250g flour
10g yeast
125g milk
40g butter
pinch salt

Mix all ingredients and place in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size.  Meanwhile, make the filling.

750g onion, sliced into rings
40g butter
20g cooking oil
60g bacon, diced (optional)
250g sour cream
50g flour
3 eggs
1 tablespoon of caraway (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter with oil in a large frying pan or pot, and add onions (and bacon).  Cook until transparent.  Allow to cool slightly, then mix in sour cream, eggs, spices, and flour.

Roll out the dough to cover the bottom and sides of a 28-35cm spring form tin, pour in the filling, and bake in a preheated oven for ~ an hour at 200°C.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

seaQuest 2032

Hi all, we're still having problems with our phone and internet, so it'll be a few days before I can get on to post much.  Which coincides nicely with almost double the number of working hours I've been offered this week than I thought I was going to have.

But I had to spread the joy and share with you the excitement I felt when I saw this on the seaQuest facebook fan page (and the JB HI FI link [click the picture]):

Looks like Australia is the testing ground for the viability of releasing seaQuest 2032 on dvd.  It's due out next month, and as I'll be in Australia in December, I am SO excited!  I can't wait to see this!  I remembered most of the episodes from the first and second seasons from when it was on in the 90s, but I don't think I remember season 3.  I didn't like it as much as the first two seasons, but was still heartbroken when the show was cancelled.  I AM SO EXCITED, you'd not believe it, it's like all my Christmases...  Anyway, if you're in Australia and love this show, please preorder it and show Universal that it's worth sharing with the rest of the world :-)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Why do technical things have to be so tricky?

We have changed internet providers, or will do at the end of the month anyway.  Out new ISP offers a deal where you sign up for phone and internet from them and it's $10 cheaper than we've been paying.  Plus, instead of 2gb a month, we go up to 30gb.  I don't know what I will do with all that speeeeed!!  Anyway, I signed us up, then realised that the date we'd sign up would be only six days into our new bill with the old provider, so called the new provider and they recommended changing our sign up date.  So we did.

A few days later we got our modem, so we were all ready to go for the 3rd of October.  Then on Thursday I missed a courier delivery for Mum, and we guessed "oh no, they've sent us another modem".  Yesterday the package was redelivered and lo and behold, another modem.

Mum picked up the phone to let them know...  and our phone has been disconnected.  So I've been signed in to Mum's email account (meaning I can't post here) waiting for an email back from the new provider to explain why they've cut us off almost a month early from our old telephone provider.  I don't want to hook up the new modem (which is where you plug the phone in with this new deal), because I don't know if our old internet will work through it.

It's all very complicated and technical for someone like me who has advanced beginner-intermediate understanding of computery things.  So, I think you can expect some catch up posts when it's all sorted.  I have half written one about trilobites (which are awesome!) and have some book reviews that have to be finished too.  Meanwhile, Mum and I are off to watch a dvd that I'll also tell you about later.  It's perfect weather for dvds, dark and rainy.  Hope everyone out there is well.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Book Review: Girl Genius (Vol 6) - Agatha Heterodyne and the Golden Trilobite by Kaja and Phil Foglio

I've talked about Girl Genius before when I lamented the end of Freakangels, because it's an awesome webcomic published three times a week (here). Because I'm so far behind and our internet is often annoyingly slow, I was delighted to find that our library has certain volumes in brand new shiny hard copy. If you read Girl Genius online, I suggest getting your hands on a printed volume, they are so beautiful - the colours are more vibrant, lush, and everything is sharper. That's not to say that if you don't have access to hard copies, you shouldn't read the online version, because either way, the story and the graphics rock. As usual, there are spoilers behind the picture, so don't click on it if you haven't read Volume 5 or if you don't want to know the gist of Volume 6 (and it really is only the gist, it's only one paragraph and I don't think the spoilers for Volume 6 are too major).

My only criticism of Girl Genius overall is that there is a LOT of backstory that we are learning along with Agatha and her friends. While, with characters as ignorant of the story as the readers, this would be okay, but Agatha is finding out what is true and what is false in the legendary stories of the Heterodyne Gang that she already knows, and filling in gaps of her own life. At times it feels like we are being asked to to bridge a gap between one fact and a part of the legend we don't know, or have only been introduced to once in passing. This may be my problem, as I do tend to avoid epic stories in written format (preferring them in television show format [Star Trek, for example]) because I get a bit lost, so I'd love to hear from anyone else reading Girl Genius!  If you're not reading it already, get to!  You have quite a bit to catch up on before we can talk about it together.

You can get the first omnibus of Girl Genius (Volumes 1-3) here, Volume 6 here, and the latest volume (Volume 10) here or here.  You can also buy all sorts of neat Girl Genius things here (can someone please get me the Heterodyne pin?  Kthanxbai)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Chocolate and Zucchini Cake

According to a number of cookbooks I've read recently, it used to be far more common to put vegetables in sweet cakes.  It makes a lot of sense, not only because this was one way to sweeten batters before sugar was widely available and affordable in Europe, but also because the moisture in the raw vegetables leaks out as the cake bakes, and makes a very moist texture.  Carrot cake seems to be the only cake of this type to have survived, except for this recipe we have been making for a few years now.  When I first heard of it, I thought it would taste terrible, but you can't taste the zucchini, and believe me, once you try it, you'll be pondering other ways to include vegetables in your cakes!

Chocolate and Zucchini Cake

125 g butter
1 c brown sugar

½ c white sugar
3 eggs
2½ c flour
1 t vanilla
½ c plain yoghurt
¼ c cocoa
2 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
½ t mixed spice
½ t salt (if using unsalted butter)
3 c grated zucchini

Beat butter and sugars, and then add eggs, one at a time, with a spoonful of the measured flour (this stops the eggs curdling).  Add the vanilla and yoghurt and mix well to combine.  Sift in dry ingredients, add the zucchini, and mix well until thoroughly combined.  Bake at 170°C for ~45 minutes in a 25 cm tin.

Variations:  Omit the cinnamon and mixed spice if desired.  Add ½-1 c of chocolate chips before you add the dry ingredients, to make it even more chocolatey.  Swap the yoghurt for about half as much sour cream for a lovely tang (if the mixture becomes too dry, just add a small amount of milk to make up for the yoghurt).

I did have a photo of this cake, but it came out terribly and the cake didn't survive long enough to take another.  I will pop one in next time we make it!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Velvet Chicken

Rather than a recipe, this is a technique for preparing the most deliciously moist chicken for your next stir fry.  Have you ever wondered why the chicken in the stir fry you make at home is slightly dry in comparison to takeaways, even though it's not overcooked?  According the BBC Good Food magazine, and tested by yours truly, restaurants 'velvet' their chicken, before cooking it.

Simply combine 1T of corn flour, 1T of rice wine or dry sherry (we had neither, so used a little splash of water), and an egg white, and then toss chicken pieces in the gooey mess to coat.  It's just the same as battering.  Then leave the chicken to stand on the bench for 20-30 minutes while you chop up all of your veges (we had 7 different veges tonight and it was glorious!).  The magazine suggested poaching or deep frying the chicken, so we popped it on the stove in a pan full of almost boiling water (eww deep frying!).  Then I emptied the water and popped the chicken back in the pan with a little oil to brown up a little, before stirring it into the veges and sauce, and serving.

This was really simple, and turned out wonderfully!  I hope you'll try it, let me know what you think if you do!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Short Note: Studio Ghibli

Today I have accomplished many things, but it's already 9:41pm and I haven't published a blog post.  Because one of the things I accomplished today was finishing volume five of Girl Genius online, I will keep this post short so I can go and read volume six (which I was pleasantly surprised was in the library).

I was going to tell you all about the dvds I (FINALLY) received from Amazon UK on Friday, but I haven't finished all three of the Sinbad movies I was going to talk about, only two of them.  So instead I will give you this link, and hope that you are as excited about anything Studio Ghibli as I am.  I love their movies, there's something in them that (even though Ghibli movies seem a lot more grown up) Disney almost had when I was a kid, but is totally lost now.  Don't get me started on Disney and their focus on graphics and merchandise over story...  Anyway, as the author of the post says, it makes me sad to think that we could have had another mystical adventure movie from Studio Ghibli, but perhaps if this one were finished, we would have missed out on Nausicaa instead.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Red-Does-Not-Go-Faster Scarf

Photo courtesy of Kris

I made another crochet scarf!  I promise, one day soon I'll be brave and move past scarves (though I still have one in progress), but this was a gift.  It was only two..  or three weeks late.  But it finally got to its new home.

The body of the scarf is a simple ribbed treble crochet (ie, a row of back loop treble [rs], then a row of front loop treble [ws]), and the ends are a funky stitch, the name of which I don't remember, but I think it looks and feels like a really really lush carpet, so for now I'll call it carpet stitch.  It sounds complicated (though it's not, I mean, seriously, I can even do it!), and I have no idea how to draw it, so I'll just explain it:
First Row:  tr in each stitch to end, do not turn
Second Row: ch 7, sl st into front loop of last tr, *ch 7, sl st into front loop of next tr, repeat from * to end, including top of turning chain of first row, do not turn
Third Row:  ch 3, *tr into back loop of next tr, repeat from * to end
You can vary the length of the chain for a different look, but because a treble stitch is three chain high, it will extend below the row you're stitching into.

I used an 8 ply wool because it came in a big enough ball that I knew I'd easily finish the scarf without having to buy more, but it was really really fine.  To make a thicker fabric I used two strands of wool at once.  For the first few rows, that was tricky, but I soon got the hang of it.

To finish, I did a border in crab stitch, one of the coolest simple edging stitch I know of.  Starting from the right hand side (yup, another r-l stitch) simply dc into each st.  Because you're working right to left, the wool from the ball is caught in the stitch and makes it look woven.  Really cool, especially if you have limited wool left, and once I worked out how to do it right (instructions are no substitute for experimentation), it worked pretty quickly.

So that's another project done!  Soon, I may start feeling accomplished!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Kumara and Lentil Soup

Hi there folks, I promised I would post every day in September (except my birthday), but already that attempt has been foiled!  I wrote the review of Journey to the Centre of the Earth on Thursday afternoon, and scheduled it for Friday morning, but when I decided to change something in the post and clicked 'update', blogger decided to publish it then and there.  This is what I get for trying out this new interface, I suck at figuring out new things.  So please count Thursday's second post as Friday's post, and we'll all get along just fine.

I absolutely love this recipe, it's flavourful and really good for you.  For anyone not from New Zealand, kumara is a variety of sweet potato brought to New Zealand with the Maori a few hundred years ago.  It has a different flavour to the sweet potato I had while in Australia, quite a bit sweeter.  It also has a texture that's softer than a regular potato when cooked, and is a little stringy.  In New Zealand, you can buy purple (see below), golden, and orange (depending on season) in every supermarket in the country.  I'm sure sweet potato will work just as well in this recipe, though it will taste a little different.  Please do include the apple, though, as it adds another type of sweetness and a subtle flavour that really makes the soup.

Picture from Wikipedia

Kumara and Lentil Soup

A drizzle of oil
2 tsp curry powder
2 onions, grated or chopped finely
3 cloves of garlic
1 apple, grated or chopped finely
20 g coriander
Thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
Salt to taste
800 g kumera (sweet potato), grated or chopped finely
1.2 L stock
100 g red lentils
300 ml milk
Juice of 1 lime (optional)

Drizzle a large saucepan with oil and add the curry powder and heat, stirring, until fragrant.  Add the onions, garlic, apple, coriander, and ginger.  Season to taste, and cook slowly for 5 minutes.  Add the kumera, lentils, stock, and milk, and simmer covered for 20 minutes or until everything is cooked.  Blend until smooth and stir in lime juice if using.

Variations:  Try pumpkin in the place of sweet potato.  Instead of using curry powder, try using your own favourite mix of spices.  Instead of using milk and stock, try coconut milk/cream (and add water as needed), add minced/finely chopped lemongrass, and limit the spices to tumeric and chilli, and make a Thai-inspired sweet potato/pumpkin soup.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Book Review: Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne

I really enjoyed this book.  I have read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and didn't enjoy that nearly as much.  In fact, I call 20,000 Leagues 'The Fish Directory' because the bulk of the book is descriptions of the various sea life the Professor is privileged to encounter.  At times, Journey to the Centre of the Earth verges on 'The Lithics Directory', but Verne seems to reel himself back, showing great restraint (or perhaps he was simply more enthusiastic about fish?).  This results in detail that adds to the story rather than detracting from it.  I'm sure Verne was a very intelligent person and wanted to share as much information in as great detail as possible, but in 20,000 Leagues, it really weighs the story down.

I think most people know the general gist of this story, whether from hearing about it or seeing one of the movie incarnations, so I won't worry too much about spoiling it*.  Young Axel (very cool name, by the way) is nephew to Professor Otto Liedenbrock, already an esteemed mineralogist at the beginning of the novel.  In a coded message (found in an old book), attributed to a savant by the name of Saknussemm and transcribed in runic symbols, Otto is delighted to find the directions to the access point for the interior of the earth.  In fact, this note claims that the tunnel leads to the earth's very center.  Consumed by a drive to attain even higher esteem, and armed with an admirable ability to ignore the protestations of his young companion, Otto drags Axel to Iceland.  There they find the tunnel at the top of an extinct volcano, and, along with their faithful (to the point of self-sacrificing) guide Hans, they plunge into a great adventure.

At the time of writing, the theory of plate tectonics was over 40 years away, which meant that Verne's contemporaries didn't understand the processes involved in the formation and activity of volcanoes.  The accepted theory of the era was that the earth was hollow, and tunnels and tubes ran underneath the crust of the earth that joined each volcano to one another.  Through these tubes, lava would flow, but after a volcano had become extinct, it was possible to travel through these empty tunnels.  And this is what Verne uses as his starting point.  It is true science fiction, well before the term was coined, in that a scientific theory is the very heart of the story.  Without these tunnels, no access to the centre of the earth could exist, and so there was no adventure to be had.

The fact that Verne wrote adventure fantasy based upon what must have been an amazing amount of scientific understanding and knowledge in the days well before our accustomed ease of access to information, makes his works worth reading on its own.  However, the story told in Journey to the Centre of the Earth is just as compelling.  Come on people, it has dinosaurs!  If you're not sold yet, I don't know what to do with you.

If I have inspired you to buy this book, please consider purchasing it from Mighty Ape (also, it's only $8!).
Using this link doesn't cost you anything and gives me credit to spend on more things to tell you about!

*Though, do see this article about how much more we enjoy a story when we have heard spoilers for it.

Another Graphics Fairy-Inspired Pretty

I mentioned a long time ago now that I had taken a picture from Graphics Fairy, transferred it onto some calico, and stitched it for an engagement present for a friend.  Well, last weekend, I was finally able to give it to her, and so can now show it off.

I am really pleased with how it came out, especially as a few elements caused me some real frustration.  Here's the original picture:

The first thing I did was hand stencil the banner with 'Congratulations'.  Then I used my trusty (and much shorter now!) 2B pencil to colour the back of the paper, then pinned it to the calico.  Then, just as I have done with the canvases I've been doing, I traced over the image with a pen.  Then I just stitched it!

There are a few French knots, and almost-grub roses, but it's mostly backstitch and satin stitch.  I really must learn to vary the stitches I use, hopefully that way I will cut down the amount of time spent on each piece, as there are quicker ways of filling spaces and doing flowers.

I also must start recording the numbers of the threads I use, at least for the projects that are intended as presents.  I hate that I look at this picture now, months after I finished it, and think that a certain colour is lovely, knowing that I took a thread from three different colours to make it.  I'll never be able to recreate it from the photo.  Live and learn!

Have you got any projects that you've been meaning to finish?  I still have heaps and heaps of them.  I have changed my mind about what one of my canvases is going to be since I painted it far too dark for its original purpose.  I'll talk about that more next week.  I also have gnomey to finish.  I have finished project 'red does not go faster' scarf, it simply needs steaming and sending (I promised it'd be in the mail yesterday, but I forgot to ask Mum how to steam it).  So I'm keeping busy!

Monday, August 29, 2011


I've decided to retroactively call August a holiday month, and am committed to posting every day in September.  Except maybe on my birthday...

See you on Thursday!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Another Absence

Hi!  The weather has been so depressing here lately that I haven't been motivated to do much other than cook and sew and crochet.  This is why last week's Links of the Week have come out today (and have last week's date on them).

I have finished my friend's birthday present scarf, and have to finish edging it, then block it, then send it.  The copies of my thesis that I had bound weeks ago are still sitting on the floor behind the couch waiting to be sent.  My gnome picture that was the stitch along at Feeling Stitchy LAST month, is still going (I even finished a whole flower yesterday), but I have realised that the beads we got at Spotlight last week are too big to use for everywhere I wanted to put a bead, so when Mum goes to the hospital for x rays (her doctor thinks she might have arthritis!) on Monday, I will tag along and pop into Spotlight again for some smaller beads.

I made a recipe from World of Cake that, if I had followed the instructions properly would never have worked (please people, check your quantities before recipe books go to the printer!) because it listed 1c of flour for about 3 or more cups of liquid, and assumed a bread-like dough would result.  Three extra cups of flour were, luckily, in the cupboard.  I made another recipe from that book and it turned out fabulously, so I stand by my claim that the book rocks.  I made this (delicious!), and also these (best chocolate chip/chunk biscuits ever!).

And today I am listening to hours of podcasts, broken up by listening to Bjork.  I will try to be better about posting more regularly again.  I was doing so well, too!  What are you up to?  Is anyone reading this enjoying the freezing weather here in NZ?  I'm sure we could amuse ourselves by asking everyone we talk to how many layers they're wearing (thermal singlet, t shirt, two jumpers, two pairs of pants, socks, thermal socks,...  does a wheat bag count as a layer?)!

Links of the Week: August 13

Animals:  Sand Kitten in Israeli Zoo at Zooborns
I would sincerely like to apply for permission to have one of these gorgeous cats sent to me for Christmas.  Does anyone know how I can do this?  I'm sure s/he would make a great friend for the lion cub I'm trying to convince my friend to bring back from Africa for me.

Music/Comedy:  Bohemian Rhapsody in 25 Annoying Voices at Youtube
This guy is amazing.  He is in New Zealand at the moment with his one-man play that takes characters from the Simpsons and uses them to play out Shakespeare's MacBeth.  Sounds awesome!

Cartoon:  Why They Cancelled Eureka at Nerd Approved
Eureka was becoming one of my favourite running tv shows, and will now be relegated to 'shows they cancelled too soon', along with Firefly, SG:A (and SG:U which I haven't seen yet), and seaQuest (among many many more, obviously).  I think this cartoon is quite funny, I bet this is how it really happens too.  My idea for the future of tv?  Networks produce many pilot episodes, as already happens, and the viewers pledge money to make more episodes happen (that they can then download and keep in return for their pledge).  If enough money is raised, the network produces the season.

History:  Important War Records Finally Found at Stuff NZ
Imagine, if you can, that you are a prisoner of war, watching men (and these days women) around you suffering and dying, or simply disappearing one day to the next.  This was reality for the man in this article, who thought past his own position to empathise with the families of the men he knew in the camp.  He kept records as meticulously as he was able to of the fate of these men.  These records were then given to the British military when he was rescued at the end of the war, and shortly after, they disappeared.  But they have finally been released.

Awesome:  Rukhsana Kauser at Bad Ass of the Week
Imagine a terrorist knocks on your door and he and his baddy buddies, armed with rifles, demand that you become a member of his harem.  Your Mum and Dad stand up for you and are beaten up in return.  What would you do?  This story is so awesome and told in a really awesome way.  Rukhsana Kauser is BADASS.

(this live video shows why I like this song:  they don't use a vocal manipulator!)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Are You A Vegetarian? No, I Just Like Veges!

My Mum is a pescetarian who sometimes eats chicken and turkey...  and bacon.  So we eat a lot of chicken and vegetables because fish can be expensive and a lot of the fresh stuff gives me a migraine or stomach cramps.  I don't mind, I have pork and beef now and then, but otherwise don't miss it.  Unlike most people I know, I love vegetables and quite often order vegetable dishes when at restaurants instead of meat.

I was perusing foodgawker earlier today when I stumbled across this gorgeous plate from The Stone Soup:

I loaded the page to get the recipe, but my attention was caught by this statement:
One of the biggest mistakes I made last year when I decided to go vegetarian for a month, was not doing enough research before I made the change.
Which meant I ended up struggling to have enough energy.

This sounds just like my Mum - she's always tired.  I joke that from the moment she gets out of bed, all she can think of is getting back in.  I wonder if this is her problem; well that and the sleep apnea I'm sure she has.  So I think I'll have a look around this site for some more vegetarian recipes for her (and me) to enjoy, and hopefully make her feel better.

But tonight we're going to have these with some small modifications for what we have at home):

I am trying to be less lazy and make dinner a bit more interesting.  We had got into a bit of a food rut, but the Sure To Rise Challenge seems to have kicked me in the proverbial, and I have been furiously catching up on food blogs and websites.

On Monday we had Kumara Coconut and Lentil Soup (which is similar, but not as time-consuming or as delicious as Kumara and Lentil Soup) which made enough for me to still be eating it for lunch today.  I was a little disappointed that it lacked a little flavour, but over the course of a bowl, it grew on me, and I changed my mind.

On Tuesday we had (an altered version of) Thai Prawn Curry.  I have no idea where to get massamancurry paste, and we had some green curry paste in the fridge that I wanted to use, so we swapped that out.  It was delicious, and we really enjoyed the texture and flavour of the potatoes.

And last night we had Spiced Turkey Burgers.  Last time we found turkey mince in the supermarket on special, I made meatballs, and they were a little disappointing - they lacked flavour.  But these were amazing.  I added some craisens (dried cranberries) to the patty mix, and they offered a nice little burst of flavour.  We also had some cranberry sauce on the burgers to really overdo the yum factor!

Well, I'm off now to finish sending The Wheeling Gourmet the results of the Sure To Rise Challenge and then bake some Belgian Buns from Krystina Castella's A World of Cake.  Mum is taking the day off tomorrow and we're going shopping (window, of course), so I'm taking lunch.  Colour me frugal.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Disney Family Dvd Marathon

This week I've been sitting crocheting (this is why I haven't posted much in the last few weeks - nothing to post about, I'm just sitting, crafting, not finishing things), and to keep myself from going completely insane, I've been watching dvd after dvd.  It's a great opportunity to feel less guilty about watching some of my favourite movies for the first time in ages.

Yesterday I watched Swiss Family Robinson:
Stranded on a deserted island after an encounter with pirates, a storm, and then a rocky reef, the Robinson family settle in for what they think might be a long stay.  They build a fantastic tree house (it's worth watching the movie just for this!) with indoor plumbing and a cool box; tame animals as varied as zebras, elephants, ostriches, and even catch a tiger; and wonder what to do next.

So the two eldest boys set off in one of the boats salvaged from the shipwreck to circumnavigate the island.  On this journey they meet the pirates again, who have captured an admiral and a cabin boy to hold for ransom.  Saving the cabin boy enrages the pirates so much that they seek out the family to get the boy back and restore their honour.  However, they don't count on the initiative and resourcefulness of the family!

On Monday I watched Blackbeard's Ghost:
Blackbeard, the well-known and, in his time, universally-feared pirate is revered in the seaside university town of Godolphin and an Inn furnished with artefacts from his life, is run by his elderly descendents.  Steve, the new coach of the floundering Godolphin Track Team, arrives at the Inn to find they are holding a fund raising event to aid in the payment of their mortgage.  If this mortgage is not paid in time, the land will be sold to the local crooks who intend to open a casino there (based on an ambiguity as to which jurisdiction the land falls under).

Hoping to impress the head of the conservation committee, Steve buys an expensive bedwarmer, and taking it to his room promtly sits on it and breaks it.  Within the handle he finds the spell book of one of Blackbeard's wives, and brings Blackbeard back to life.  What follows is a very funny story about Steve's efforts to get Blackbeard off his back, save the Inn, and get the girl.  If you need more convincing, there's a great scene where Steve shoots the gangsters with his finger *pew pew*...  and it works!

Today I'm going to watch The Absent-Minded Professor:
Professor Brainard is brilliant, but completely unconnected to the real world.  The film opens with him missing his own wedding because he is so caught up in his scientific experiments, for what is obviously not the first time.  However, he has found something amazing - a substance that breaks the law of conservation of energy, which can be demonstrated by showing that a ball of the substance will bounce higher on its second bounce than its first.  The Professor uses what he calls Flubber to make his university's basketball team fly through the air, his car fly (into government controlled airspace, no less), and finally to win back the heart of his fiance.  It's a really sweet funny movie.

They don't make movies like this any more - ones that can appeal to children and parents because they are funny, full of action, and have great stories and characters.  The only place you do sometimes see this these days is in animated movies like Shrek, and some anime.  They don't talk down to children, but are still appropriate for them.  They're not afraid to have some slapstick and groan-worthy moments; they're silly.  "I like corny, I'm looking for corny in my life".  Do you have any favourite movies from when you were a kid that you still love watching?  Let me know!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Blogging Fiction

Just a short post as I only want to pose a question.  Does anyone know anything about fiction blogs?  By that I mean a blog written by an author in the voice of a fictitious character about their fictitious world.  I've heard of them somewhere in my travels around the interwub, but my (albeit, pretty lazy attempts at) searching hasn't brought up a place to start.  I think this could be a really interesting way to present fiction, and may even consider writing one myself (though probably anonymously and/or set to private - I can't write fiction, but I enjoy trying) so I'm very keen on finding something good to follow.

Are there any interesting ways you enjoy fiction?  I listen to a whole heap of fiction podcasts (Escape Pod, The Drabblecast, PodCastle, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clone Pod [on hiatus], Starship Sofa, Variant Frequencies, Tor dot com Story Podcast, X Minus One...  yeah I know it's a lot, but I have them running in the background while I craft, and at most they come out once a week!), and subscribe to Daily Science Fiction by email (though I have got really slack at reading them!).  What about you?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Links of the Week - August 6

Craft:  A Boy's Best Friend...  at Feeling Stitchy
The moment I read the title of this post I thought of the song "A Boy's Best Friend" By the White Stripes, for which the last line is "A boy's best friend is his mother or whatever has become his pet".  That's not what this embroidery is about, but I'll have that song playing in my head whenever I think of Hitchcock for a while now, I'm sure.

Steampunk:  Mad Hatter's Tea Party at Geek Crafts
Usually steampunk is very...  punky.  But this is beautiful whether you're into steampunk or not.  And I am.  So it's extra beautiful.

Science:  Facial Recognition at Io9
Yes, I have sneakily popped two links into this one entry.  The first is all about how facial recognition software could allow facebook to invade your privacy even more (or allow people to use facebook to invade your privacy themselves) and the second is about a neat phenomena that means that we don't process oddities about faces when they're upside down.  Both are interesting to me, despite my having studied this stuff for my masters.

Recipe:  Sugar Plum Crepes with Ricotta and Honey at Smitten Kitchen
Does anyone need any convincing to go and check this out?  No?  Good, I will tell you a little* story instead then.  We had an amazing plum tree at our old house.  Every year about Christmastime we would have a glut of plums, they would be tart when not quite ripe, then sweet when ripe, then rich when a little overripe, but edible at all three stages.  When we moved, we thought it would be okay not to take a cutting or any plum stones because my uncle (the one with the puppies) had lots of little baby plum trees on his farm that we'd given him, and he'd just dig one up for us.  No luck - he lost them (it's a farm, it's big!).  But I bumped into our old neighbours recently and they say the plum tree is still there, and the new owner is lovely - she'd be happy to have me call to collect a few plums to grow a new tree from.  So there is hope!

Art/Webcomics:  The Final Episode of FREAKANGELS at FREAKANGELS.com
I can't read it.  I just can't.  It can't be over.  I hate Warren Ellis.  I love Warren Ellis.  Waaaaahh.

(Wait, what?  That's not right...)

*Since when have I ever told a little story?

Sure To Rise

I mentioned a while back that I had signed up for a cooking challenge based on the Edmond's Cook Book and its online 1914 editionThe Wheeling Gourmet asked that entrants cook something from the 1914 edition, and its modern (that is, 2000 or later) equivalent, and I chose scones.  Because the plain scones had lard in them (which I can't abide), I decided that the analog to the modern scones I make (from Edmond's Classics, 2005) were the Yorkshire Tea Scones (even though they have an egg in them).  I have just had a lovely little tea party with Mum and my singing friend and her family, and my two batches of scones.

The 2005 Version:

3 c flour
6 t baking powder
75 g butter
~1 c milk*

Butter is rubbed into flour and baking powder, then enough milk is added to get a sticky dough.

The 1914 Version:

3/4 lb (340g) flour
1 oz (28 g) butter
1 dessertspoon sugar
~1/2 c milk*
2 t baking powder
1 egg

Butter is melted, milk is added and warmed and then added to sugar.  Flour and baking powder are mixed and a well is made in the centre.  The egg and then butter milk liquid is poured in.

They both turned out to be delicious and the votes for favourite came out pretty even (I think it was 3:2 [with one abstaining] to the 1914s).  I preferred the 1914 scones for a few reasons; although denser in texture, they sat much lighter in the tummy, the recipe made fewer scones (better for a household of two), and I just generally preferred the texture.  One tea party goer commented that the 2005 scones were sweeter, despite the lack of sugar in the recipe.  I hypothesised (and felt very smart about it) that this was because I didn't use unsalted butter, and that there is more butter in the 2005 version.

In summary, I LOVED this experiment, and think I might do another comparison soon!

*I found that I needed extra milk today.  The amount of milk you need changes from batch to batch, we think depending on the brand of flour you use, the brand of milk, and the weather (I am not kidding).


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