Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Chocolate Rotator -- 3D Chocolate Maker Toy

It all started last November. I saw an episode of Eat Your Kimchi on Youtube about a 3D Chocolate Maker. At the time I thought it looked like fun, but not really enough to order one from Korea. The very next day I was at Big W and saw one very similar. It was meant to be! I put it on my Christmas list and Husband duly bought it for me for Christmas. We were too busy to look at it until now, and the Easter holidays are the perfect time to muck around with chocolate.

The photos aren't so good for this post: it was a very dull day. Sorry about that, but hey, I'm a real person and nobody's perfect!

The chocolate rotator kit came with a gyroscope machine, 6 different shaped egg moulds, a mixing cup and spoon, and foil and stickers to wrap the finished creations with.

Melting the chocolate and adding it to the egg mould. We had to pour the chocolate into the mould and fit it into the machine very quickly while it was still runny.

Unfortunately I bought the wrong kind of chocolate and it wasn't runny enough to spread throughout the entire egg while it was spinning. Husband added some coconut oil and this helped somewhat.

The instructions said to spin the machine for 3 minutes. After making all 6 egg moulds, our arms were tired! We left them in the fridge for about an hour before unmoulding. The results were mixed: some came out well, others had big holes in them, and some came out a full shape, but with the bottom third completely filled with chocolate!

Still, it was a lot of fun and with the right chocolate, the chocolate eggs should come out well next time.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Gluten-Free Files: Hot Cross Buns

Even though I don't celebrate Easter, I couldn't let it go by without trying to recreate my favourite part of it -- the hot cross buns. We used a recipe that Husband found online, but I can't find it again, and it's so heavily modified that there's probably no point in linking to it anyway!

We used the self-raising flour blend from Aldi, and Husband had the interesting idea of adding some banana bread mix. Hopefully this would give it more texture and flavour. The ratio was 2 parts SR flour to 1 part banana bread mix.

I only added a little sugar, just a couple of tablespoons, as I was also using dried fruit and choc bits, which will provide most of the sweetness. I added cocoa, and the spice is the St. Nicolaas Spice mix from Gewürzhaus. It's one of my favourite shops! They have teas as well as herbs and spices. I'd like to do reviews of some of their products one day.

We added melted butter and warmed milk to the dry mix. We're using yeast as well as baking powder to hopefully give the buns extra rising power. The rising that normally happens in bread happens because of the stretching property in gluten. That's why gluten-free products are notorious for being flat and stodgy. According to our reading, baking powder is usually more effective, but we decided to try a combination of the two. The pre-mixed self-raising flour has xantham gum in it, which acts as a binding agent and also adds in some of the stretching property that the flour lacks.

Soon I'd like to try and make my own flour blend. Now that the weather is cooling down, it's time to start baking again and I'm feeling enthusiastic. All this new information I've learned about gluten-free baking is so complicated, though. I studied Home Economics in school right up until Year 10, and we never learned anything this complex!

Even though there's no point in kneading gluten-free bread, I had to -- just a little bit! -- for nostalgia's sake. Kneading activates the stretching properties of the gluten, allowing it to rise. Seeing as there's no gluten, there's no point in kneading. Where's the fun in that?

Here's an action shot of me piping the crosses onto the buns. Husband has a genuine 1970s piping kit; it's quite impressive. I think he put some cocoa into the paste, hence the brown colour.

Before baking. I put them in a tin so that hopefully the sides of the tin will encourage the buns to rise upwards instead of outwards (if they rise at all, that is....).

We didn't leave the buns to rise for very long, both because of the small amount of yeast, and impatience! They enlarged just a little bit, but better than nothing, I guess.

For some reason the glaze on them crystallised and turned white; that's why they have that funny white stuff on them. Nevertheless, they looked quite appealing. Husband made standard hot cross buns at the same time -- in the photo below, mine is on the left and his is on the right. The size difference is entirely due to the rising properties of his gluteny wheat flour.

For my first try at gluten-free baking, I think they turned out quite well. They're heavier in texture than normal buns, but not as bad as I thought they'd be. They're not dry or crumbly at all, as a lot of gluten-free products can be. I'm quite proud of that! They taste strongly of banana though! So if I use the banana bread mix again, I'll use less. I definitely want to keep experimenting with gluten-free baking.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

My Teeny-Tiny Olive Harvest

It was my first olive harvest, so I had to google it like a total noob.

Here are the olives in situ on our adorable little olive tree.

I think you're supposed to either pick them when green, or wait until they all turn purple, depending on what kind of olives you want. But birds had already tried to peck at some of them, so I decided to harvest them today, without any further delay.

Possibly the world's smallest olive harvest. Actually, last year it grew about 3, but they fell off before I could do anything about it. So I'm quite pleased.

Olives can't be eaten raw: they're too bitter. They need to be cured. I used this tutorial from Milkwood and the dry salt curing option. Luckily I have a 1-kilo tub of salt, which I bought for cheesemaking that I never got around to doing (yet!).

At least I knew how to sterilise the jar from my jam-making exploits earlier this year! I prefer the oven method, as the process of oven-baking dries the jar and you don't have to dry it manually.

Packing the olives in layers with the salt. Though I'm pretty sure there are supposed to be more than 5 olives in each layer!

The jar should seal itself as it cools down. The tutorial says to shake it every second day. After three weeks, taste an olive every few days to see if they're ready yet. If I did that, there'd be none left in no time! So I might give it 4 weeks and hopefully that will be OK.

I'll update when they're done! Perhaps I'll have a little olive party. A very little one...

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Decoden Etsy Shop Review and Project

Yesterday I was moving some stuff around in the hobby room, and I came across a haul of decoden supplies that I'd bought from MissSapporo on Etsy last year and never done anything with. I must be in a very crafty mood at the moment, because I had a sudden urge to deco things, straight away!

But first I will write about the shop itself a little bit. When the supplies first arrived, I took some photos of them, so why not do a review? I have ordered from MissSapporo twice now, and I was absolutely 100% happy with the whole experience both times. Here is my most recent order (well, May last year actually, but who's counting!):

The parcel arrived very fast from Japan. In fact, everything I order from Japan comes amazingly fast, compared to the U.S. and even closer places like China and, ahem, other parts of Australia. Everything was parcelled up very carefully with bubble wrap, and there was a lovely note. From the words Yuriko had written, it was clear she remembered me from last time. It was really lovely.

Along with my order, there was a little parcel of extras! I wouldn't order anything Barbie-themed normally, but I loved the other items. Yuriko also has another Etsy shop dedicated to fabrics, which I have ordered from once and had the same wonderful experience. She also seems to have regular sales and discount codes available. I would definitely recommend purchasing from her!

Now for the decoden project. I needed something to decorate, and fast! I chose this powder compact from Daiso. Even though it's a cheap compact, it works really well for me, so I can see it being in my life until it's all gone. But as you can see, it's in a prominent spot on my makeup stand, and it's boring!


Gathering my supplies. I used a toothpick to apply the glue in small patches. I made myself a gem picker with a chopstick and some gaffer tape, but I ended up using the toothpick to place the gems as they were so small.

I decided to use one of my square cabochons in the centre, and I chose a colour that would match the hot pink gemstones. I put the bunny and rose on at this point to add extra interest:

Getting there! I was working on our coffee table, and leaning over became a bit painful after a while! It was getting quite late by this point, so I left the rest for the next morning.

Finished! The gems were a bit uneven on the edges, but I don't think it looks too bad. Next time I think I'll start at the outside edge and work inwards.

Back where it belongs:

No longer boring!

Friday, 11 March 2016

Finished Shawl!

My Autumn Sky shawl is finally finished. So-called because of the bright blue colour, and the filet openwork pattern, which isn't quite warm enough for Winter. Though it's way too warm for Summer! I could only wear it for a few minutes before I started sweating glowing. It's just like me to get crochet cravings in the middle of a heatwave!

I used the Tsubaki Cotton 2-way Marguerite pattern from Ravelry. The yarn is just a cheap-o acrylic. I used a larger-than-recommended hook so it turned out bigger than the original. I had to modify the edging as I was about to run out of yarn and did something simpler to make it last.

This shawl almost didn't make it. It took me 3 years. Not because the pattern was difficult at all, but because I just wasn't sure about the project. I nearly ripped it at one point because I'd come to hate the colour. But now I like it. I think it would work well in a Hama (seaside) Girl outfit.

And, ooo-er, look! Photos of my face! I dyed my hair yesterday, a darker colour than I've had in a long time. I'd forgotten how pale it makes me look! (But secretly, I kinda like that...)

Thanks to Husband for today's photos!

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

My KonMari Journey Has Begun!

I finished reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying a few months ago, and while I genuinely want to give my house the KonMari treatment, I have to admit I've put it off. It seemed like such a big job and it was too daunting. But yesterday, something came over me. Yesterday I KonMari-ed my socks!

I knew that I was going to start with my socks. I'd decided before I even finished reading the book to start with them because a) the book recommends starting with items that are of least sentimental value; and b) I was pretty sure they were all unpacked.

The big complicating factor with KonMari-ing my house is that quite a lot of my stuff is still packed. Especially the stuff of least sentimental value. So I have decided to give myself 12 months instead of the recommended 6 months, to account for all the unpacking.

Anyway, back to the socks. I have a lot of socks! I have a feeling that I have more of everything than I thought I did. Here are the socks:

And again, after sorting and folding the 'correct' way:

Even with something like socks, I was still sentimentally attached to some of them!
I kept this pair because I was given them as a prize for competing in a fun-walk:

And these because I bought them in C&A in Amsterdam. Even though they're very plain, I know which ones they are because they have the European sizes woven into the arch.

The final step in the KonMari process is, of course, to put your items that you've decided to keep where they belong. I put the knee-length socks at the back, as I hardly wear them anymore. The ankle socks fill up the big box, and the sneaker socks juuuuust fit into a small box. Across the front are socks I knitted myself, which are too thick to wear with shoes and are reserved for cold nights at home.

Whoa, I still have a lot of socks!! Look at the poor things all squished in! But, when I think about it, this will be the only time that all of my socks are put away. Any other time, there are inevitably always some in the wash. Also, in the future, I'd like to separate my Mori and other style clothes from my work clothes and set them up in the magical fairy wonderland hobby room. Socks will be included in that, so they'll be divided in half one day (soon?).

I tidied a few other things yesterday too, but that can wait for another time.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Late Summer Garden Update

It's March already, but Summer isn't over yet! According to the indigenous Brambuk weather calendar, Summer isn't over until the end of March, and I tend to agree with that.

The stone fruit trees are well past fruiting, and they're starting to gear down for cold season. The leaves on the plum are starting to fall, and I'm sure the others won't be far behind. Soon it'll be time to prune them.

Our little olive tree, though only chin-high still, has grown some olives! I think they might be ready to pick. I'll need to do some research on how to pick and cure them.

The orange tree is continuing to do its thing, with quite a few big, juicy oranges ready to pick. All through last year we watered it a lot more than before, which solved the problem of dry oranges with thick rinds. There are also quite a few half-sized ones on the tree, so we can expect lovely oranges right into Autumn.

The roses are continuing to delight me, and are growing so well even though I've completely forgotten to fertilise them for months! The Hot Chocolate (second photo) seems to have the strongest perfume. Their beautiful scent carries on the hot air.

In fact, my worst problem is that they're growing too big! The flowers are so high up that I can't appreciate them properly. Last Winter I only pruned them fairly lightly because I was worried about overdoing it. I don't think I need to worry about that from now on. The thing you can see at the top of this photo is a bird's nest under the eave of the house.


Son of Chilli Plant is going great guns as well. This is Husband's baby just as much as my own. It's grown from a seed from the original Chilli Plant which we had for years through two moves, both indoors and outdoors, until I killed it by repotting it at the wrong time. So I'm very relieved to see Son of Chilli Plant doing its thing so well.

And here's my latest adventure. I planted some lettuce seeds that I got for free with my Digger's Club membership pack. I already had some potting mix and a pot hanging around, so these cost me literally nothing. I've had to cover them with bird netting as I noticed some had been pulled out just as soon as they started sprouting. I suppose I will have to start thinning them out soon, but I'm too much of a softie!

Meanwhile, indoors....
I have several little succulents growing that I potted up a few months ago. I meant to do a separate post on it, but I never got around to it. They all come from the same parent plant.

My bamboo is growing a third stem! I think its pot is getting a bit small, but I'm too scared to re-pot it after my last failures! In the background you can see some more succulents I'm trying to start. I'd like to give them away to friends when they're big enough.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Manga Review: Banana Bread Pudding

Banana Bread Pudding is a six-chapter manga by Yumiko Ōshima, written in 1977.

Ira is an awkward schoolgirl. When her older sister, the only thing tying her to sanity, gets married and moves out of home, she feels the need to do something drastic to keep herself from sliding into insanity. Ira decides that she wants to find an "in the closet" gay man and help him by marrying him and being a "curtain" to him. (Here in Australia, it's called being someone's beard.)

Ira becomes fixated on Touge, the brother of her best friend Saeko. Despite the fact that he's a womaniser, she thinks that he's gay. Saeko encourages the friendship, not telling Touge the full truth until it's too late. She begs him to play along in order not to upset Ira's already tentative mental health. The ruse goes a little too far and Touge agrees to marry Ira. After the wedding, Ira insists on on meeting Touge's 'boyfriend' to explain the situation. Saeko arranges for Ōgami, who is in fact gay, to play the role of boyfriend, even though she herself has a crush on him.

The arrangement quickly falls apart when Ōgami's boyfriend sees him together with Touge and beats him. Ira finds out the truth and decides to transfer her attentions to Ōgami's boyfriend. Meanwhile, Saeko is trying to deal with her feelings for Ōgami while protecting Ira from herself.

Intercut with the story are scenes where Ira dreams of a beautiful but deadly creature visiting her in the night and threatening to eat her. As her mental health worsens, these scenes become more intense until they are interfering with her waking life.

Banana Bread Pudding looks like it would be a fluffy story, and the drawings are light and pretty. The themes it deals with though, are quite profound: mental illness, gender diversity, trans-dressing, relationships between teachers and students, incest and domestic violence. These would have been even more controversial topics in the 1970s than they are today.

A few of the plot points seemed unrealistic to me. The fact that Ira's parents agree to let her drop out of school and marry seems a bit unlikely. It also grated with me that Ira decides to run away and live with Ōgami's boyfriend, despite knowing that he's a perpetrator of domestic violence. Again, her parents allow this to happen.

The ending seemed a bit disjointed. The ending of each character's story is told separately whereas they could have been better integrated. Depite these points, I enjoyed the story. The unpredictability of Ira's actions, coupled with Saeko's unsuccessful attempts to help her, give the story interest. The ending, whilst generally positive, isn't a sickly-sweet 'happily ever after'. I'd like to read other manga by the same author.

I read this story online at Hot Cakes Scanlations.