Of Baked Goods and Deadlines

Short stories, editing, formatting, website content. Obtaining reviews, merchandise set up, the postal service increased the cost of shipping by HOW MUCH?!

Touching base with customer service representatives to discuss options.

Pre-release interviews. Checking and double-checking files before uploading.

And still, I chip away at the next novel because I really like the story and it’s very satisfying to work on.

How will I fit everything in? My productive week away from the other job came to an end. The responsibilities of life don’t tend to wait politely while I’m running about trying to finish everything in the same moment. Despite prioritising and re-prioritising, I get into a cycle of doing a little here, some other thing there, and never really moving forward enough to justify the time I’ve spent on any given task.

Counter-intuitive as it may seem on those days, the best thing to do is drop everything and bake tasty treats. Just shove all those worries into the back of my mind and accept that an hour off will help calm me, then there will be good smells filling the house and delicious results for my effort. Strawberry cupcakes to go with sweet iced coffee. Fresh waffles where the fluffy batter soaks up maple syrup and stays crisp on the edges. Mars Bar slice, Rice Bubble/Krispy treats, Honey Joys.

The deadlines won’t go away. The work won’t even complete itself while I’m not looking. But I’ll have spent time doing something immediately rewarding. Just as long as I don’t burn anything – that would be apocalyptic right now.

~A

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Tasting desserts, for science!

There’s a new brand of pre-packaged desserts available around these parts with one of those names which just challenges you to try them. Can they really be so delicious as to live up to their claims? Since they were on sale, and I have a sweet tooth today, I bought four different treats to try.

First up, I’ve got a berry cheesecake. The berry sauce over the top doesn’t even taste like berries, but there are seeds in it to prove at least once, this contained a blackberry or something similar. The cheesy part of this cheesecake proves to be pretty good. Nice lemony zest flavour going on, and a smooth texture. The cake crumbles for the base are pretty standard and boring, which is a shame because when the cake crumbles on a cheesecake are good, man, then they are my favourite part.

Conclusion: this cheesecake is acceptable, but does not live up to my expectations.

Now onto a tiramisu. I’m already biased here, because we have the best recipe for a homemade tiramisu, and I have only tasted one or two professionally made desserts which can match our own. This one seems to have a lump of chocolate cake, with the coffee cream cheese around it. The creamy mix is, in my opinion, too sweet and doesn’t have nearly enough coffee flavour. The cake is very dark, but doesn’t really taste like much at all.

Conclusion: it’s barely worth finishing this tiramisu, and I would avoid it next time.

Next, I’m getting into the profiteroles in a chocolate sauce. The sauce is super chocolatey and smooth, though not quite meeting the pure melted chocolate consistency you really want. The pastry from the profiterole is surprisingly dry. I’m having a hard time getting at the custard inside without having chocolate sauce all over it, but as near as I can tell, it’s a bland, vaguely vanilla custard. Taken all together, the elements don’t exactly work. Huh.

Conclusion: I’ve had far better profiteroles, but the sauce could be tasty on icecream.

And saving my favourite for last, a crème caramel. I think it’s fair to be a little afraid, considering the previous disappointments. It tastes decent, though the custard is a bit too firm and the caramel sauce is too thin. Nevertheless, the flavour is mostly right. And I’m picky about my crème caramels.

Conclusion: There are two other brands of premade crème caramel I can buy which are better.

Overall, it’s safe to say, there’s absolutely nothing omg! about these desserts, except that they are sad and not super tasty like one is led to believe. Maybe other people would like them plenty; I am particularly fussy about desserts (I’ll eat most, but it has to be something special for me to love it).

Science is disappointed. But I ate a lot of dessert!

~A

Oh, glorious breakfast contraption

Seriously, I want this machine.

Breakfast Station

This wonderful unit is dubbed the “Nostalgia Electrics Retro Series 3-in-1 Breakfast Station”. The entirely rational part of me knows there’s no way this thing could do any of its three functions amazingly; at best, it will work just as well as my existing electric frypan, toaster, and coffee percolator. But my current appliances are not a special machine designed as a full breakfast ensemble!

A part of me really craves ridiculous items like this. Definitely not the rational part. No one in this world needs a breakfast station. Except me. Surely I need it! Breakfast. All-in-one. It’s too fabulous for words.

In my ideal kitchen, I would have this, and a special slushie blender-dispenser, and a hot chocolate machine, and probably give into my lifelong desire for my very own fairy floss/cotton candy maker. I’ll also have a giant sink with a spray nozzle on the end of a hose, and a little dishwasher, a huge walk-in pantry, more cupboard and counter space than I could ever reasonably use!

Needless to say, not all of my daydreaming is spent in the world of my book.

I kind of like the idea of blue in a kitchen, too…

~A

Messy days

I inspect my hair in the mirror. It’s turning that murky pink-yellow colour on the tips as my usual purple dye fades out again. Time to re-dye! Today seems like as good a day as any, so out comes the bottle, gloves, and cheap conditioner; using it sometimes even keeps the dye from staining my skin.

Now, making a mess while recolouring my hair is no new thing. Specks of dye get on the sink, on me, on the walls (okay, only that one time). I have long since given up any concern for getting dye on myself, giving them a cursory scrub then living with the splotches for a few days until my skin renews itself. I try and be more cautious with the household, and usually manage to clean off any marks before they can cause a more permanent stain.

Once I’m suitably purple, I realise I’m starving! Need-to-eat-immediately-starving. Pancakes are my perfect solution. This is why I keep some store-bought shake pancake bottles in the cupboard, after all. Let me be perfectly clear, here: I’ve made these exact pancakes this exact way dozens of times before. Add the milk, tap the bottle to release the flour mix, shake it for a while then release the gases building up, and shake again.

Today was not meant to be a clean day. Aside from slopping milk down the side of the bottle, on the second round of shaking, the lid makes a faint ppppssssssttttttt noise at me. Then pops halfway off the threads and oozes thick, fluffy pancake mix. I rush it to the sink, taking the lid off to try and cease the eruption, but the goopy batter just keeps flowing. I end up tipping half the bottle into a bowl, but for some reason (perhaps an error in the manufacture), this particular pancake mix has nearly doubled in size. Oh well, more pancakes for me!

With the first tasty round frying up on the stove, I toss some bacon in a pan and get onto the most important part of any morning: the coffee production. But remember, this is some kind of conspiratorial morning, designed for messiness all round. Coffee grinds go on the floor. I spill water on the counter while filling the reservoir in the percolator. It’s a wonder the sugar didn’t go flying across the kitchen!

Since then, I ate breakfast and drank my coffee in peace. No significant mess in that department. But it’s only just on 10:30am, leaving more than enough hours in the day for something else to “go wrong”. Really, I’m not concerned. It’s just a bit of mess. Makes life interesting, you know?

~A

Skip another Sunday

Isn’t it amazing how you can get an absurd amount of things done, yet still feel completely unaccomplished? Welcome to my week. I can’t even tell you what I did, I don’t remember most of the specifics! All I know is I’ve been very busy, lots has happened, and family have been thoroughly visited, though we haven’t wrapped up those activities just yet.

Somewhere in the last few days, I’m assured a Sunday occurred and I missed blogging. I doubt anyone else noticed any more than I did at the time, since we’re all being drawn away from the usual internetly duties. Christmas break, when will you be relaxing? As usual, I need time off from my holidays.

At least with the change of pace, I can’t really get bored. That’s not to say I’m ever especially without things to do; I might get bored every now and then, but I’ve always got a new project, or something exciting to research if nothing else! But there’s something to be said for being dragged into unusual activities and being less of a hermit than I am for the rest of the year. That may or may not be a good thing.

As much as I love cooking, I don’t normally spend nearly as much time as I’d like baking tasty treats, but Christmas brings out the best in cooking delights. You better believe I am chief taste-tester, too. Mmm. Then there’s always the double batches; some for gifts and sharing, some for home. The fridge is full of snacks. It is very delicious.

I also enjoy visiting with family and friends who don’t live locally. They all troop into the greater Perth area to see us and other extended family, and it’s just pleasant to catch up. Some of them are folks we won’t see again until next Christmas, so making the most of the time they’re in town is important!

And I’ve always loved wrapping gifts, and the excitement of seeing people open the presents and find their surprise inside! I’m sometimes a bit sneaky with wrapping; if I don’t want the recipient to guess what’s inside, I’ll often hide the present in a deceptive cover first. Towels, bubblewrap, and oversized boxes are only some of the “normal” ways I’ve disguised the real gift. There have been the odd occasions of cobbling together mismatched boxes to make a very odd shape, or using an interesting basket or even a small suitcase before Christmas wrapping is applied. Hey, I have to keep myself entertained.

Of course, on the subject of skipping blog days, blogging will also be cut back this week with Christmas day falling on Sunday! But don’t worry, I’ll still be around, even if my brain is too fried to remember to comment! After surviving the rest of this week, things should return to normal, somewhat.

~A

How to have an excellent day

Step one: Make snacks.

In this instance, I cooked up one of my staple foods, the ever-delicious tuna, avocado and cucumber sushi! Surprisingly, sushi is one of those foods which seems like a chore, but turns out to be ridiculously easy to make, tastes extra fresh and you can tweak it to your own subtle flavours so easily. To illustrate this point, here’s my “recipe” for sushi. Keep in mind, you will need some kind of bamboo rolling mat, or similar, to shape the sushi into the nice rolls.

1 cup of sushi rice
2 sheets of nori/seaweed
1 cup of water (I actually use a LITTLE over a cup)
1 tablespoon of sushi vinegar
1 small can of tuna, around 90grams (in olive oil, from preference)
1 tablespoon of mayonnaise (whole egg, again preference)
1 Lebanese cucumber (or part of a continental cucumber)
Half an avocado

Rinse the rice in a strainer/colander until the water runs clear. Put the rice into a medium pot with the cup of water, turn your stove on high until boiling; cover and reduce heat to the lowest setting/simmer for 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes is up, remove from heat and leave resting for a further 15 minutes. IMPORTANT: Do not lift the lid from your pot until after the full 25 minutes has elapsed! The steam that’s going on inside the pot is cooking your rice to perfection!

While the rice is cooking, drain the tuna and mix well with the mayonnaise. It will form a slightly sticky mixture and be very delicious. Slice your avocado, and cucumber into long strips; remove the seeds from the cucumber. Some people will scoop/scrap the seeds out with a spoon, but I simply cut the cucumber length-ways into quarters, then run the knife at an angle to cut away the seeds, then cut the cucumber to my desired thickness.

When the rice is all done, empty it out of the saucepan into a heavy bowl. I use a ceramic mixing bowl, but it would be traditional to use a specially shaped bamboo bowl; anything will do, really. Sprinkle the sushi vinegar over the rice, and using a bamboo or wooden spoon, turn the vinegar through using a folding and cutting motion. This keeps the rice grains from breaking up. You’ll want the rice to cool down; I usually just toss it into the fridge for a couple of minutes and fold it again, or use a hand-fan to cool while mixing.

The instructions for actually “building” the sushi roll are far better explained through image or instructional video. I won’t go into length about the hows of it, but simply put, nori, rice, fillings, roll! I set the whole sushi roll aside in the fridge (while I make the others, usually), because the nori softens and seals the roll when resting, and as the rice gets colder, it sticks together firmer and that makes it easier to cut.

I’m no expect on sushi, but my “technique” is quick, easy, and then I get to nom a whole pile of sushi. Which brings me to step two of having an excellent day!

Step two: Take snacks, visit friend, enjoy!

~A

Dinner, and the weather

I guess some people have a problem with writers including observations of the weather in their stories? I don’t understand that. I love weather, and it’s always something I’m aware of. My favourite weather is the cold and rainy days that dim the sun and make me just want to curl up beside a fire, favourite book in hand and a tidy selection of Royal Gala apples available to eat throughout the day.

For me, including a small note about the weather or the season in my writing is just a natural thing. I don’t do it constantly, and I definitely don’t have any preconceptions about “dark and stormy nights”, because all my dark and stormy nights have been perfectly normal, or simply thrilling in the way lightning has filled the sky with wild blue and white bolts. Sure, it’s not essential, but there’s that degree of normalcy for me, and it can go a long way towards explaining character behaviours or putting additional conflicts in their path (the need for shelter from the elements, for a start).

On a vaguely unrelated note, I notice that fantasy works often discuss foods. Not only that, but the foods are frequently all of the “hunted a boar, roasting it now” variety, complete with mead, ale, or some wine or other. There might even be trenchers of bread! Dark bread, and rich gravy, and hard cheese. If you’ve read any more than a handful of fantasy novels, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

I am personally a big fan of eating. Food is awesome, sharing meals with loved ones is a special thing, and it’s just damn tasty. So I have a similar preoccupation with food as I do with the weather, but I’m not as driven to write about banquets, feasts and other such typical meals. I lean toward just include foods as a part of another scene; maybe the characters are preparing a meal as they talk, or they are interrupted eating to attend to other matters.

I think my take on weather and food is part of my “style”, as it is intrinsic to me. Without those little additions, I don’t think my stories would have the same sense of life to them.

~A