Chicken 65

I’d never heard of Chicken 65 (a popular South Indian dish) but a quick google shows I’ve been missing out.

Ingredients

500 gm chicken

1 tsp lemon juice/plain yogurt

1 tsp corn flour

1 tsp chickpea flour/plain flour

1/2 tsp ginger garlic paste

1 egg

1 tsp chilli powder

1/2 tsp mixed spice powder

Pinch tumeric

Pinch pepper

Salt to taste

Oil for deep frying

Method

1. Clean and cut chicken into bite size pieces.

2. Add lemon juice/yogurt to chicken and set aside.

3. Mix the rest of the ingredients (except the oil) into a smooth paste.

4. Add the chicken to the paste, mix well until combined, and allow it to rest for half-1 hour.

5. Deep fry in medium flame until golden.

IMG_5213Due to my usual habit of altering various ingredients, the ‘paste’ wasn’t very paste-y in consistency. Chris and I heartily enjoyed our fried chicken all the same.

You can see above that there are two distinct colours of fried chicken, varying due to the heat of the oil. The lighter-coloured chicken was cooked at medium (instead of high) heat, and tasted nicer.

Louisette. . . well. .

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Yum Factor: 4

Health: 3 (points for protein; points off for deep frying!)

Easy: 3 (I’ve deep fried a few times in my life, and only set the kitchen on fire once… but this is certainly not something the kids will be cooking solo anytime soon)

Will make again? Probably not. I may not be the poster child for low-fat eating, but I usually steer clear of actually deep frying my food.

Going Bananas

Louisette was deliriously excited about these. I’m mildly intolerant of bananas, especially the smell of bananas.

When I gathered the courage to breach the banana, I realised that the recipe didn’t include proportions. I googled, and adjusted this recipe.

Ingredients

130g butter (melted)

70g caster sugar

1 egg

1 banana, mashed

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla essence

250g self raising flour

160g milk

Another 50g melted butter

60g cinnamon sugar

Method

1. Beat butter and sugar until smooth.

2. Add egg and mix.

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3. Mix in baking powder, cinnamon, vanilla, and banana.

4. Sift flour and add flour and milk a little at a time until it’s all combined.

5. Spoon out onto baking tray in round shapes. (I put the mixture into a clear vegie bag, cut off the corner, and used it like a piping bag—it was very easy to use and would have been tidy if I’d used two trays instead of squeezing it all out here.)

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6. Bake for 6-8 minutes at 200 degrees. Flip with a fork after 5-6 minutes. Also, lick the bowl.

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7. Cool on tray for 5 minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack.

8. Drizzle melted butter over the top and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

 

Okay, so…. remember I had a huge pile of syrup leftover from the baklava? I used that instead of milk. So this is what happened:

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The back row is flipped and the front row isn’t (yet). I didn’t help my case by being too lazy to use two trays (and therefore making six monster donuts instead of 12 small, neat donuts).

They tasted amazing, though!

I used an apple corer to make the holes in the middle.

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Yum Factor: 4.5 (actually, these were REALLY nice. And even crispy on the edges, which I really liked)

Health: 1 (contains a single hard-working banana)

Easy: 4

Will make again? Actually… Yes, I think I will. Strange but true.

Chicken Curry

This was never going to go well. . .

Ingredients

1 kg skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (I used half a kilo chopped chicken thigh and adapted from there)

2 tsp salt (I left it out)

1/2 c cooking oil

1 and a half c chopped onion (I used half a fennel bulb)

1 T minced garlic (I used a jar)

1 and a half tsp minced fresh ginger root (I used a jar)

1 T  curry powder (I used chilli powder)

1 tsp ground cumin (I left it out)

1 tsp ground tumeric (I left it out)

1 tsp cayenne pepper (I left it out)

1 T water

470g crushed tomatoes

1 c plain yogurt

1 T chopped fresh coriander (I used dried and powdered)

1 tsp salt (I left it out)

1/2 c water

1 tsp garam masala (I used my own mixture)

1 T fresh lemon juice

 

Should I even bother typing the method? Looking at the ingredients above, I can see why this didn’t… resemble… the original recipe.

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It was edible, but nothing special.

TJ liked it, presumably because his aim in life is simply to keep us guessing. (Oh, and because I once again set aside some plain butter-fried chicken for him.)

 

Louisette… well…

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Next stop: Banana and cinnamon donuts

Carrot Halwa

I thought this was a dip until I googled it, at which point I went, “Ah, a dessert! That explains all that sugar.”

Ingredients

2c grated carrots

1c milk

3/4c palm sugar/brown sugar

3 T ghee (clarified butter)

Pinch of cardamon powder

10 cashews (optional; I used much more than 10)

1 T raisins (I left them out since Louisette and I are intolerant of dried fruit)

 

Method

1. Heat a pan with one tablespoon of ghee. Fry cashews and raisins until golden brown and then set aside. (I realised I was frying cashews in butter, and added sugar to see if I could create a ‘sugared/toffee cashew’ effect. It worked pretty well!)

2. Put grated carrots in the pan and sauté them until they no longer smell of raw carrots.

3. Add milk and cook on low/medium heat 10-12 minutes.

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4. Stir sometimes. Milk will boil and bubble up nicely. Cook it until the carrots are completely cooked and the milk is absorbed.

5. Once the milk is almost absorbed, add brown sugar and cardamon. Mix well. The mixture will liquefy and then thicken up. Continue cooking until all the milk is absorbed. Keep stirring, and add the remaining ghee little by little.

6. When the halwa forms a whole mass and doesn’t stick to the pan, add fried cashews and raisins and switch off the flame.

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I didn’t use nearly enough carrots, so the result was rather like eating wet brown sugar. Naturally the kids approved of this result.

Yum Factor: 2 (it’s unusual for a dish to have too much sugar for me, but this managed it)

Health: 1 (contains carrot)

Easy: 1 (since I fatally screwed it up)

Will make again? Nah. . . but I might make sugared cashews again one day.

Hey, want a cat picture? Sure you do!

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Baklava

Sugar, pastry, butter, and nuts?

What could possibly go wrong?

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Ingredients

1/2 kilo Antonnious Filo Pastry (we used some other brand)

2 c crushed almonds (we used a combination of cashews and walnuts)

1 and a half c butter

1 T cinnamon

Syrup

3 c sugar

1 c hone*

2 c water

Cinnamon stick

1 tsp cloves sticks

Method

  1. Mix nuts, sugar, and cinnamon.
  2. Butter a slice tray and lay a few sheets of filo pastry onto it (I used one sheet; the one we bought had a smaller number of thick slices which worked fine).
  3. Brush each sheet with butter (sooo much butter).
  4. Spread a small amount of nut mixture over filo layer.
  5. Continue making successive layers of filo and almond that are roughly the same thickness.
  6. Finish with a thicker layer of filo sheets (6-8 sheets), brushing each sheet with butter (I used one thick sheet, as before, and didn’t put butter on top).
  7. With a sharp knife, cut the baklava into diamond shaped pieces (I did squares).
  8. Sprinkle with water and bake in a medium oven for about an hour.
  9. When it is finished cooking, prepare syrup: Place water, honey, and spice in a saucepan and boil for 15 minutes.
  10. Pour boiling syrup over baklava, and let it cool again before serving.

The above pics are the baklava before and after the syrup. I ended up with 150g of syrup left over, presumably because I didn’t use honey. It still tasted fantastic, and I set aside the syrup with a plan to add it to another dish (which I did, with. . . results).

It’s amazing how some recipes take butter and sugar and suchlike and actually make them less healthy. It doesn’t seem possible, yet it happens. I’m no poster child for healthy eating, but the day after making baklava my blood sugar level was insane.

The kids loved it, but even they struggled to finish a single piece in a sitting.

Yum Factor: 4.5 (all this sugar and butter but no chocolate? Pfft.)

Health: -5000

Easy: 4

Will make again? Only if I’m trying to be the first person on Earth to be diagnosed with double diabetes. It was delicious though.

 

I’ve actually made it almost all the way through the recipe book (with blog entries lagging behind). This recipe is #9, which marks the halfway point.

*I pondered the meaning of hone, and googled this exotic ingredient with no success. Then I realised it was HONEY. I used a mix of maple syrup and golden syrup instead.

Utter Butter Chicken

Butter chicken is the biz. Everyone knows that.

Making it without using a packet was a strange and wondrous experience.

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Ingredients

2 T peanut oil

3 shallots, peeled and finely chopped (I used a fennel bulb instead)

1/2 white onion, peeled and chopped (I used a fennel bulb instead)

40g butter

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 clove of garlic, crushed or chopped

2cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

2 tsp garam masala (I mixed my own approximation based on a quick google search)

1 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp ground cumin

1 bay leaf (I used lots, because they were fairly old, then removed them because they’re gross to actually eat)

 

3 T natural yogurt

1 c cream

1 c tomato puree

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

500g boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces

1 T cornflour

3 T water

[Serve with rice. Naan bread and natural yogurt are really nice with it too.]

Method

  1. Sauce: Heat half the oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Fry the shallots and onion (or fennel) until soft.
  2. Stir in butter, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, half the garam masala, chilli, cumin, and bay leaf. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

3. Add tomato puree and cook for two minutes, stirring frequently.

4. Stir in cream and yogurt. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and set aside.

5. Heat the rest of the oil in a large frypan over medium heat. Cook chicken until lightly browned, about ten minutes. Reduce heat and season with the rest of the garam masala and cayenne. Stir in a few spoonfuls of sauce, and simmer until liquid has reduced and chicken is no longer pink. Spoon the cooked chicken into the sauce.

6. Mix together cornflour and water, then stir into the sauce. Adjust seasonings and cook for 5-10 minutes, or until the sauce thickens.

7. Beg children to eat it.

8. Decide to stick to packet mixes in future.

 

Louisette was SO SO excited about making butter chicken, and assured me she loved it. As you can see, she gave it “side thumb”. This pattern of wanting food and then refusing to eat it is very familiar to us by now.

Tim is giving a thumbs up… to the plain chicken that I set aside partway through the recipe, knowing he’d most likely turn up his nose at the delicious sauce. Which he did.

Yum Factor: 4.5 (for anyone with good taste)

Health: 4 (I added carrot and water chestnuts to the mix, so it even had vegies)

Easy: 3 (gathering that many ingredients takes time)

Will make again? I know it’s heresy, but the packet mixtures are pretty good. I’ll stick to them in future. (Of course, the kids don’t eat them either, so we don’t have them often.)

 

Pancakes #1

You may know me as a novelist, but for most of my life my true claim to fame was as the maker of pancakes. Technically, I actually make crepes (with lemon and sugar*), usually so thin that they’re slightly see-through.

My recipe is:

1 egg + 500ML milk (I use lactose free) + anywhere between 1/2 and 1 cup of flour.

1. Mix. (Can be left overnight.)

2. Fry with plenty of butter (tipping the pan around as you pour it in, to make it even thinner).

Other people think their way is best. They are wrong. But I’m gonna make pancakes differently this time, because that is part of this whole recipe journey thing. Two of the Year 1 kids came up with pancake recipes, so I’ll be making both.

Here’s the first.

Ingredients

1 c milk

1/2 c sugar

1 egg

1/2 tsp vanilla

1 c self-raising flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 T butter

Extra butter

Maple syrup

Method

  1. Beat milk, sugar, egg and vanilla.
  2. Add sifted flour and baking soda, and fold in.
  3. Then add melted butter. Mixture should be fairy liquid.
  4. Heat pan, grease with a spoonful of butter. Spoon mixture into pan and brown on each side.
  5. Serve with maple syrup.

 

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Yum Factor: 4 (mine are better)

Health: 0

Easy: 3 (frying anything is relatively high-maintenance)

Will make again? Nah. But I’ll make my version.

Louisette declared them the best pancakes of all time. Grr!

Perhaps it’s for the best, since the boy who submitted this recipe was one of the most eligible bachelors in Year 1.

Just look at that focus!

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*A classic Aussie combination, and my personal favourite. Other recommended combinations include:

Butter and maple syrup

Butter and cinnamon sugar, rolled up (a South African specialty)

Vegemite (strange but true!)

Ham and cheese (cooked into the pancake, and served either as is or with vegemite)

Muesli Bars

If it wasn’t for procrastination, I’d never get anything done.

Today the kids are both with grandparents, so it’s definitely time to focus on my Top-Secret Well-Paid Writing Thingy. (I’m not allowed to tell people what it is, but it’s super awesome). I prepared by getting all the current “Murder in the Mail” stuff sorted: I stamped and addressed ALL of the “7b” postcards, and have already packaged and addressed all the “8” parcels, which is the Very Last Parcel For This Mail-Out (it’s been a huge thing!), and I washed and put away a whole lot of clothes.

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So today I’ve done two more loads of washing (mostly linen), cleaned the bathrooms, applied for a writing thing, invited two more people into the “Magic in the Mail: Feuding Fae” story (and sent them contracts, and chose two possible art options), arranged delivery of two paintings for the “Murder in the Mail” Exhibition (24 August until 7 September here in Canberra), rearranged my twitter profile, ordered contact lenses, arranged a dentist visit for Louisette and a checkup for the cat, and fed all the pets.

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And I’m writing my second blog entry of the day.

In unrelated news, it’s 11am and I haven’t scraped up the courage to open the aforementioned Top-Secret Well-Paid Writing Thingy. Today is my last chance to truly focus for at least ten days (there’s another grandparents’ day approaching, but I have much doctor-y stuff to do that day).

So… let’s talk about muesli bars!

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1/2 c honey (I used maple syrup, which definitely did NOT work as well)

1/4 c brown sugar

125 g butter

3 c rolled oats

1 c rice bubbles

1 c choc chips (the original recipe said 1/2 c but that’s clearly an error)

1/2 c desiccated coconut

1/4 c pepitas

1/4 c sunflowers

(with ANOTHER thank you to the grandparents for supplying the last two ingredients because I did not want a whole pack of either)

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  1. Grease a slice tray.
  2. Add honey, butter, and sugar to a saucepan and stir for two minutes or until the sauce is nice and thick.
  3. Mix everything else in a big bowl (except choc chips).
  4. Add syrup and stir.
  5. Put in tray, sprinkle with choc chips, and press down firmly with the back of a spoon.
  6. 15-20 min at 160 degrees (or until golden).
  7. Cool on tray before cutting into pieces.

Like I said, maple syrup didn’t work as well as honey. . . but I ended up with a kind of granola which was actually delicious (I ate it dry, with a spoon).

It was impossible to get the kids to stop eating long enough for a smiley-style picture. I am okay with that!

Yum Factor: 5

Health: 4 (a pretty good snack)

Easy: 4

Will make again? I don’t know. It doesn’t have as much protein as peanut butter balls… but then again, I’m not as intolerant of these either. And healthier than Anzac Biscuits, I reckon—but somewhat less portable. I might do some syrup experiments, because these could potentially be a school snack that Louisette actually eats. (No peanuts at school.)

Are ya chicken?

And so we come to the “actual meals” part of my daughter’s class recipe book.

First, we have Sweet Chilli Chicken Skewers.

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6 chicken tenderloins, sliced in half lengthwise

12 bamboo skewers, soaked

2 T sweet chilli sauce

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 T grated ginger (I got mine from a jar)

2 tsp olive oil

2 garlic cloves, crushed (jar)

1/2 tsp ground coriander

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  1. Thread chicken strips onto bamboo skewers.
  2. Mix everything else and marinade the chicken in it.
  3. Bake in moderate oven for half an hour, keeping it covered with aluminium foil for the first twenty minutes, and turning once. (The original recipe said to char-grill or BBQ for 3-4 minutes each side.)

(I cooked some frozen chips to go with them.)

 

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I wasn’t super enthusiastic about this—I’m against anything with chilli, as a rule—but the sauce was simply exquisite.

The kids enjoyed squeezing and sucking on the lemon:

TJ also enjoyed the sauce—as did I!

It was  a rather nice dinner. TJ was enthusiastic (he likes novelty, and is going through a pro-unusual food phase, although he still likes being able to clearly see exactly what each item is—the sauce was thin enough that it fundamentally didn’t register as “other”). Louisette. . . not so much. We made a rule at the beginning of this adventure that she had to have at least one bite of everything we made.

 

Yum Factor: 4 (an excellent meal)

Health: 4 (loses points for only being a meat recipe, rather than a balanced meal)

Easy: 4 (no real skill required, but slicing the chicken and putting it on skewers is more work than I usually do for a meal)

Will make again? Probably not as skewers (unless I’m bein’ fancy-like), but that sauce was great and I expect I’ll make it again at some point.

Excuse my French

Regular readers will know I’m a sucker for punishment.

Allow me to rephrase.

It really helps my depression to have a win in life, and taking on something a little bit special/difficult/unusual really works for me (while also making all my near relatives—except my Mum, who also loves a good project, and my Dad, who is used to her—try to talk me out of it*).

In unrelated news, Chris and I watch the Tour de France each year.

One of the sexiest things about Chris is that his reaction to virtually any sport is to immediately and pointedly fall asleep (he’ll literally change the channel/mute if sports news comes on). The Tour is the one exception; something he inherited from his father.

For about three weeks each Winter, our household grinds to a halt as the Tour is on from 8:30pm until 2:00am most nights.

It has a bewildering, hypnotic beauty (once one becomes desensitised to all the lycra). There are castles, and coastlines, weirdo spectators, epic art, plenty of heroes and villains, complicated and ever-changing team strategies, sprinklings of French, and amazing feats of endurance.

Aaaand then there’s Gabriel Gaté. He’s one of those chefs that just adores his job. Each night he films a short segment meeting local restauranteurs* and/or farmers, and cooks a dish (the recipe is written out in full online) inspired by the region.

The first night was last Saturday, so he cooked a “perfect coastal dish”: Prawn, Potato, and Hazelnut Salad. You can see what he actually did here.

This is what *I* did:

Ingredients:

Boiled cubed baby potatoes

Boiled cubed sweet potato

Chopped hard-boiled eggs

Diced cucumber

Finely chopped cashews

15ish cooked and ready-to-eat prawns, defrosted overnight (did you think I’d cook them myself??) and chopped (except for several saved for garnishing)

Some walnut halves, for garnish

Sprinkling of chopped chives, for garnish

 

50mL olive oil

1/2 tsp lemon myrtle/salt mixture

1/2 tsp mustard

1/2 tsp sweet chilli sauce

 

I mixed everything from the first section of the above list (except the garnishes), put it into fancy glasses, drizzled the dressing (ie the last four ingredients, mixed) over the top, then garnished it, then served it.

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This is what the dressing looks like. We actually didn’t need that much.

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The great thing about salads is that it’s easy to adjust them for different people. TJ’s salad contains carrots and cheese instead of prawns (I also chucked in some water chestnuts, because why not?)

Louisette had… sausages.

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Now let’s analyse the work of an international French chef using the same system I designed for 6 year-old home cooks:

Yum Factor: 4 (an excellent meal. Loses point for having no chocolate, and both kids refusing to eat prawns)

Health: 5 (vegetables and everything!)

Easy: 3 (no real skill required, but it took me a while to coordinate all the moving parts; 3 garnishes is just silly so next time I’ll probably just whack a prawn on top, sprinkle chives, and call it a 4. 4.5 because it can be prepped in advance).

Will make again? I was thinking ‘no’ during dinner (although it WAS nice to eat—and good to be able to do a  bit and then sit down, and then do the next bit, then rest again, etc) but I think that’s mostly because of the process of adjusting the recipe as I went along. So, in conclusion, yes I do think I’ll make it again (with the changes to make it a 4.5 on the easy scale). I reckon I’ll save it until we have (adult) guests coming over, so I can be all fancy-like.

*Chris evaluates each project on its own merits, and on how exhausted I’m likely to be afterwards. That determines his emotional reaction along a sliding scale from “enthusiastic” to “terrified”.

*Is there any word that’s more FRENCH than that? HOW MANY VOWELS DO YOU PEOPLE NEED?

Amytriptyline

One of my meds is amytriptyline. I take it to prevent migraines.

I’ve always had migraines with my period (not that I knew they were migraines until relatively recently) and when I was pregnant for the second time I had pregnancy migraines. It took a long time to get them diagnosed because they were mostly expressed through an aura that was pretty much 24/7. So basically my vision was blurry, and I had a lot of headaches. Along with a lot of other pregnancy awfulness.

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Pictured: The up side of that pregnancy.

The migraines continued after pregnancy, still every day, still mostly aura (but plenty of pain, too—and if I was in pain it usually went for three days straight) until I finally saw a neurologist. They mentioned that, among other things, I had some non-permanent brain damage (as I suspected, at that point – I’d had migraines every day for over two and a half years and definitely felt like something was wrong with my brain that wasn’t “just” mental illness or absent-mindedness or baby brain). The first med we tried didn’t work, and amytriptyline was only an option if I was NOT taking zoloft so I went through a really nasty period of getting off zoloft (for anxiety/depression) so I could try amytriptyline.

Fortunately, it worked—and at a relatively low dose, too. Amytriptyline is also sometimes prescribed for anxiety, but sadly it didn’t help me (so I now take pristiq for the mental stuff).

The early days on amytriptyline were super trippy. For the first week I’d get up in the morning too doped-up to walk straight. It got less silly after a bit, and I started taking the pills with dinner instead of when I went to bed.

Nowadays I still get aura relatively often—generally towards the end of a long day—and the occasional migraine (the aura is a warning; I take painkillers and chocolate and try to avoid physical and mental stress in order to head off the pain before it settles in).

Solving my migraines was a really big step toward functionality, but amytriptyline has some pretty intense side effects.

Firstly, I need to be careful of other meds containing serotonin (so I don’t take too much, get serotonin syndrome, and maybe die).

Secondly, it dries out my eyes. I now use eye drops every single day, but my eyes still water a whole bunch. I can’t wear eye makeup, and more importantly my eyes are in danger of going kablooey due to diabetes.

Thirdly, I sleep. A lot. I typically go to sleep around 11pm and get up at 7am (for those of you who don’t like counting, that’s eight hours each night) and also nap for around ten hours every week. Some nights I go to bed as early as 7pm, and sleep a full ten or twelve hours in a row. Then quite often have a nap the next afternoon. I used to be a night owl, but now I’m usually pretty wrecked in the evenings.

Since I started taking amytriptyline, three things happened:

My writing output dropped, and has never recovered. I still write more than most humans, though.

I can eat chocolate after dinner. This I like.

TJ sleeps less than I do, which SUCKS because I get almost no Chris-and-me-watching-TV down time.

It’s always super easy to get to sleep. Except every so often, generally when (like tonight) I take the tablet much later than usual, when I feel wildly awake. When that happens, I get up and watch TV or read a book until I feel tired enough to try again.

And that’s why I wrote this blog entry. At 2am.

One of the to-do lists I wrote recently was a medical one. There’s a lot of stuff on that list. I’m currently on a waiting list to see the neurologist again (I think the waiting list is about a year) and talk about other pill options. I don’t mind waiting because I know things might get worse before they get better. My mental state is fragile at best.

It’s clear I still have issues with migraines. It’s also clear that my brain damage hasn’t healed in the two years since I started taking amytriptyline (suggesting that the low-level migraines I’m still getting may be preventing my healing).

There is a very simple test for brain damage: I try to walk using ‘fairy steps’ – with each step, I touch the heel of the new foot to the toe of the previous foot. I’m now able to do it, but only if I use my arms to help me balance. If I keep my hands clasped together, I fall over. The physical lack of balance is nice and measurable, but I don’t know the effect this brain damage has on my writing or my ability to socialise. I’ve always been bad with names, but I’m really REALLY bad now. I also switch nouns (eg “Put the carrots in the laundry[fridge] please.”) and presumably my conversation isn’t as sparkling as it could be.

I used to be quite fond of my brain. Mental illness really doesn’t help with that, but brain damage is a whole new kettle of brains. Fish. Fish brains.

You know what I mean.

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Isaac Biscuits

TJ insists that I’m wrong to call these “Anzac Biscuits”. Well, what would I know?

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Ingredients:

 

1 c rolled oats

1 c plain flour

2/3 c brown sugar

2/3 c desiccated coconut

130g butter

2 T golden syrup

1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda

Method:

  1. Mix oats, flour, sugar, and coconut in a bowl.
  2. Combine butter and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir for 2 minutes or until butter is melted. Stir in bicarb soda (fun).
  3. Mix butter mixture with dry ingredients.
  4. Line a tray with baking paper.
  5. Roll mixture into balls and flatten slightly.
  6. 10-12 minutes at 140 degrees.

Having only eaten store bought Anzac biscuits (as far as she remembers), these were a revelation for Louisette. They were gone in 24 hours (mostly because of me rather than Lizzie).

Yum Factor: 4 (they’d be a 5 if I was a biscuit type of person, or if they contained chocolate)

Health: 3 (relatively healthy by snack standards, but definitely a treat)

Easy: 4 (hard to screw up. . . although I technically did screw them up by just mixing everything instead of doing the syrup properly)

Will make again? I reckon so. They’re quite similar to peanut butter balls (in terms of being oat-based and a relatively healthy treat that’s simple to make and has some nicely basic pantry ingredients), but with less protein and chocolate (sad but useful because I can’t eat too much peanut butter; I’m intolerant of nuts).

Plus I’m pretty sure that adding the bicarb to the syrup makes it fizz up in a fun way (and presumably makes the final biscuits even nicer too), and I’m annoyed to have missed that.

I reckon we’ll make these next time we run out of choc chips.

Bicarb is cool.

 

Today is Saturday. The kids woke up at 6am as usual and instead of turning the TV on (the usual morning routine, while Chris and I sleep) they decided to do our world puzzle together. Wearing beanies.

(For the sake of honestly I should mention that there were intervals of screaming rage before they settled down into this charming scene. Then there was some more screaming, which is why I was awake to take these pics.)

So, how’s the cooking project going? This is only the fourth official blog entry, but we’re actually up to Number 8 (of 18). The next FIVE are rather tricky for various reasons, so it’ll be interesting to see how that goes (I’ve deliberately delayed the actual blog entries so they’re spaced out nicely).

One week of school holidays is DONE and OVER and no one has been hospitalised. So that’s good. The grandparents are visiting us today, which of course is fantastic. Nana is entertaining both kids, and Poppy and Chris are fixing various things around the house. They just walked through carrying the innards of our sofa bed.

Grandma’s Spaghetti

The Year 1 teacher who organised Louisette’s new recipe book wanted FAMILY recipes (with a strong hint of ‘multicultural, please’) and this one is a ripper.

My children are dead-set against anything to do with tomatoes (except of course, for tomato sauce, which bears little resemblance to the fruit*) so I knew that this was unlikely to be accepted with grace. However, any recipe that contains only three ingredients is a winner in my book.

  1. 500g spaghetti
  2. Tin condensed tomato soup
  3. Grated cheese

Cook the spaghetti, drain it, mix it with soup and sprinkle it with cheese.

Aaaand. . . you’re done!

 

TJ liked it (although I know from experience he’d probably refuse it next time.)

Yum Factor: 3 (I like grated cheese)

Health: 3 (passable as a meal, but is mostly made of starch and salt)

Easy: 5

Will make again? Probably not, because Louisette won’t eat it; I require more meat in my meals; and putting any red liquid near my 4 year-old is asking for trouble (especially when there’s also long, whippy, drippy noodles involved).

*     *     *

In other news, today I filled in my annual stall holder form for the Goulburn Waterworks Steampunk & Victoriana Fair. (Here‘s the facebook page for last year, and I blogged about it here, with pics.)

The fair (now called the Steampunk Victoriana Fair) has been getting much bigger every year, and this year they’ve gotten big enough to have “Stall Holder APPLICATION” forms rather than just forms.

What I mean to say is, they’re bringing in STANDARDS.

They now request details about the stall, and a picture or photo of what the stall will look like. If you’re connected to me on facebook (especially on either my ‘general‘ page or my ‘Antipodean Queen‘ page), you probably see such things about once a month, for example:

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But since I’ve been stallholding at the Steampunk & Victoriana Fair for the last three years (before I had any books out, in fact!), and have enjoyed all my interactions with the divine (and divinely well-organised) Julianne, I decided to do a drawing instead. This drawing:

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I feel there’s a raw honesty to my work that goes beyond the merely picturesque. I also feel that I probably won’t be a contributing visual artist to the “Murder in the Mail” and “Magic in the Mail” stories anytime soon.

 

*Or is it a vegetable? Argue away in the comments.

Moose?

My daughter had heard of moose, but not mousse. . . so when her dad and I discussed making chocolate mousse she asked, “Will it come alive when it’s finished?”

(Being scientifically-minded, she knows perfectly well that mammals have live young. . . but she also knows there are a lot of weird and wonderful ways to make life happen.)

Speaking of Louisette, she and I were talking today about what she wants to be when she grows up.

She told me that she wants to be a scientist, spy (a new kind who doesn’t spy on people), vet, doctor, nurse, police officer, firefighter, artist, writer and mum. “I have decided that I WILL be a Mum and I WILL marry a man.”

[I have told her that she can’t marry a family member, and if she marries a girl it’s slightly trickier to have kids.]

I said, “The most important thing about marriage is picking the right person. If you pick, for example, a bully—that would be terrible every day.”

She said, “I already have some ideas.”

Of course I wanted details, so she told me (names redacted, obviously):

Kid1, “because he likes science just like me.”

Kid2, “because his name starts with ‘L’ just like me.”

Kid3, “because he is kind.”

Kid4, “because he is funny and has all the best stories.”

Kid5, “because he is very very very very kind.”

I was very impressed with her logic, and with her choices (I know all of these boys; some quite well). I was especially happy that none of her choices have ever been mean to her (I do encourage her to be friends with those that tease her, within reason), and that only one is Caucasian.

We talked about how far away marriage is, and how marrying a good friend is definitely the way to go.

So that was fun.

Chocolate Mousse was always going to be a winner. (You can google your own recipe; I’ve typed enough today.) Vast amounts of chocolate and cream, with sugar added?

 

Yum Factor: 5 (so rich it’s deadly)

Health: -1000 stars

Easy: 4 (gotta use a dry bowl to whip egg white. . . which I didn’t, and it was still fabulous)… but it’s not easy to tell the kids they can’t eat it until the next day.

Will make again? Probably not, but maybe at Christmas (probably with Bailey’s added). It’s WAY too much cream for my system to handle, so I’d attempt it with lactose free cream (after consulting my also-low-lactose Mum about whether lactose free cream can whip). It’s gluten free (like my mum), so actually that’s helpful. A LOT easier than cake, and yummier too. So… probably yes, now I think of it.

Holiday Recipes

My daughter is getting three weeks of holidays between Terms 2 and 3. She’s a pretty great kid, but that still fills me with blinding terror.

A few weeks ago, her Year 1 teacher asked the kids for family recipes. Those recipes were typed, bound, and printed (with illustrations by the kids). There are about 15 recipes altogether, and I decided that Louisette and I would cook them ALL these holidays.

Yes, THAT will make everything less stressful! Come along and watch as I inevitably regret all the life choices I ever made to end up on this path to horror and pain!

We started with. . . us. Louisette’s recipe was originally from a low-FODMAP recipe book, and it’s a fantastic snack—high in protein, easy to transport (after it’s been cooled, it stays non-sticky even when left out), and still yummy!

I love the magic of SCIENCE inherent in this recipe; taking a gooey mess and adding elements that dry it out to a perfect texture.

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Peanut Butter Balls

3/4 c peanut butter (cashew butter is good but stickier, so you gotta add more cinnamon and/or coconut if you cashew it up)

2 T maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 c oats

1/4 c coconut

2 T dark choc chips

Method:

  1. Mix everything in a bowl.
  2. Using your hands, roll into balls (this gets very messy and sticky).
  3. Place in the fridge until set.

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We make this recipe all the time (and of course we always eat one before they set anyways). It’s great for diabetics and low-FODMAP people (low salicylates, not so much). The above pic is the result of a double portion.

Yum Factor: 5 (aka “yes, it contains chocolate”)

Health: 4 (not exactly a salad, but a million times better than just chocolate)

Easy: 3 (heavy to stir but mixes easily; annoying to put into balls)

Will make again? Uh. . . yes. About three times a week until the kids move out. This is one of the five foods they eat willingly AND it counts as a treat (useful, since our household is a treat-based economy).

Reading My Reviews

It’s no secret that I read my reviews. I enjoy an enraged negative review, as a rule, and I pay attention if the same criticisms come up more than once.

Tin Man Games has an app called “Choices that Matter” on iOS and Google Play, which is an interactive serial story app. I wrote about half of the first story (“And the Sun Went Out”) with Alyce Potter and KG Tan, all of the second story (“And Their Souls Were Eaten”, set in the same universe as all my steampunk fantasy), and I’m editing the third story (“And Their Heroes Were Lost” by Phill Berrie). Google Play has a LOT of reviews, so I spent literally hours last night getting up to date. I made a collection of some of my favourites.

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR “AND THE SUN WENT OUT”.

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It warms my writerly heart to hear that interactive fiction is making people get back into reading. We hear this a lot!

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I love the poetry of the first one, and the insight of the second. Gonna make sure KG Tan and the others see these ones.

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This just amused me. More than once.

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I kinda like it when people get hysterical with need as they wait for updates. ‘Heroes’ is still going strong, just slowly.

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I adore making readers cry.

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Chosen because it’s fun to see contrasting opinions right next to each other.

 

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“Action-packed, intelligent stories shrouded in mystery” is quite the poster quote.

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Yay, more crying readers. Love it.

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Poor, tormented reader.

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It’s amazing how positive and negative reviews say exactly the same thing (except in reverse).

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I love interactive fiction for its inclusivity, particularly on gender and sexuality.

 

 

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I love a detailed compliment. It’s always fascinating to see how people see the characters I’ve played a part in writing.

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I wish I could reply and let them know that there IS a villain path in the third story.

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That’s startlingly deep.

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I love it when people favour “Souls” because of course it’s my baby.

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I just love that last sentence. And yes, that is a sentiment expressed quite often. Yay?

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I agree 🙂 Phill and I both have novels published.

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It’s funny how many people want to turn stories (my novels, too) into movies. I think “And The Sun Went Out” is unfilmable because of Moti, but my steampunk novels could easily be a movie someday (if they caught the right person’s eye, which is vanishingly unlikely).

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“And The Sun Went Out” makes a LOT of people cry, so hearing that “And Their Souls Were Eaten” had that kind of impact is absolutely wonderful.

The way it tells you how common your ending is, is a really cool & unique thing in this app. Kudos to Tin Man Games.

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I love it when readers play a story over and over to get different pieces of the story or different endings.

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Aw!

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A LOT of people (including the writers) want a Moti-con. I like this review because most people automatically default to male with gender-neutral characters, but Wendy has defaulted to female. Yay!

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I do write books! Comments like this are both great and frustrating, since I can’t immediately sell them a pile of my novels.

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It’s funny (and good) how many people have an awareness of the game developers needing to be paid.

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“Not epic” is a perfect burn. And then the next review is totally different.

 

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*love*

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Turning people gay is *takes off sunnies* what I do.

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It’s funny to eavesdrop on a discussion of story methods.

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Same. We writers are just as in love with Moti as the readers. And yes, we cried too. And we badly want our own Moti-con devices.

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I am also human *wink*.

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Not MANY children could write a 600,000+ word branching narrative, but sure. You do you.

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Lol, that’s certainly an up side to interactive fiction.

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I love that she assumes a female writer, and reckons my novels would “storm the shelves”.

I get WAY more reviews (literally thousands more) for my interactive stories than for my novels. It shows how lucky I am to have been born in the right moment to flourish in the digital interactive fiction sphere.

The Woman Tax

Last night I crashed my car, because I am a woman.
 
On Tuesday last week another creative Australian woman, comedian Eurydice Dickson, was killed in a park as she walked home from a gig. Like me, she sometimes takes slight risks in order to live her life and have the career she has.
 
Last night, I went to the University of Canberra for a writing session, taking 6 year-old Louisette with me because I don’t have any other options. The UC Writers’ Group has been so helpful I named them in Silver and Stone as one of the reasons my second steampunk book was finished on time. These writing sessions are a lifeline. They also take place at an awkward time of day when my kids are with me, and it’s dark.
 
As always, Louisette was slow and silly getting into the car, and I was quietly frightened—hiding my fear from her, as always. (She’s six. She doesn’t yet know to be frightened, and I don’t want to teach her—yet. I will teach her soon. All mothers teach their daughters to be afraid. We have to.)
 
Like most universities, UC has underlit places, and I was uncomfortably aware that I needed to do a 3-point turn in order to get out of a small carpark that I chose because it’s near the door. My 6 year-old daughter and I were in danger (probably very little, but perhaps not), and I had to get us out as quickly as possible.
 
So, expecting Louisette to scream, “My seatbelt isn’t buckled yet!” at any second, I backed up. I hit a gate hard enough to tear our back bumper.
 
Because I’m a woman.
 
Would people be holding a candlelit vigil for Louisette and I next week if I hadn’t driven away quickly? Almost certainly not. But maybe. Because I’m a woman, and she’s just a girl.
 
This is how women live every day. Should I have stayed home? Well, no. The majority of murdered women are killed in their home.
 
There is no safe place. I live with this fear every day.
——————————-
I arrived home from crashing the car and found a speeding ticket for $279. The ticket shows that I was driving 88km/hr in an 80km/hr zone—so not speeding MUCH, but certainly speeding.
It was dated 9 June 2018.
That was the day I ran two parties for my son’s 4th birthday (the entry directly before this one is about the cake). Why two parties?
Well, read on. . .
Chris, TJ, my brother, and my nephew all have their birthdays within about a week. Last year and the year before I’ve organised ‘group’ birthday parties at inside playgrounds. Inside playgrounds cost money (bad, but makes them a special occasion, and I tell everyone to pay for the playground instead of buying gifts). June is Winter, so outside isn’t really an option.
Why do I organise the birthday? Simple. In the above list of birthday boys, there are two obvious women: the wives. Since my brother’s wife is only related to the rest of us by marriage, the birthday duties fall on me. (The other obvious option is the matriarch aka my mother, but she lives in Gundagai so she’s already making a 5-hour round trip just to show up.)
Could a boy organise a family event? Lol, no!* When a man and a woman get married, the man no longer has to remember his own mother’s birthday—that’s what a wife is for! The woman, of course, is now responsible for two extended families instead of one.
I don’t make the rules.
So this year my extended family didn’t like the idea of going to an inside playground for a group party, so I needed to please both TJ and the numerous relatives somehow.
Hence, two parties in one day.
The party in the morning was kid-oriented, and the party in the evening was adult-oriented (we all put in $20 and got Chinese…. I kept it as simple as humanly possible… with ice cream and leftover dino cake for dessert).
I asked my sister to come to the kid party and help me with the cake. I don’t see her often so it was a great opportunity for our kids to play together while we could chat and be silly over icing and sprinkles.
Nope. She was busy.
Mum said she’d come to the kid party. Great!
So here’s what happened on the day:
Mum decided at the last minute that making sure her DOG wasn’t lonely was more important than showing up, and she was 45 minutes late. Thanks mum! (No really, thanks—if she hadn’t show up when she did there wouldn’t be a video of the cake, which was what I really really wanted.)
The (single) mother of TJ’s best friend (I literally checked the date with her before booking the party) was deathly ill so Chris and I needed to pick up her two kids.
So I think you can see why I was going a whole 8km above the speed limit that day.
But I did all the things. I made an epic cake. I made sure TJ’s best friend was there. I gave TJ an awesome day/week and also arranged an awesome day (totally different day) for Chris’ birthday. I stayed on budget and gave all my extended family a fabulous get-together in the evening—making sure it started early so my parents could drive back to Gundagai in enough time to get a good night’s sleep. (Not a single guest arrived on time, either. My family can be pretty rude.)
Because I’m a woman. When it comes to family events, and homework, and school stuff, and family health, and remembering important things, and household cleanliness. . . the buck stops here, with the woman.*
What a shame the value of a woman’s buck is only seventy-three cents due to the institutionalised sexism of gender-based pay discrepancies.
But that’s another story.
*Obviously there are exceptions.

How to Make an Epic Dino Cake

My son turned four this week, and asked for a dinosaur cake. Once I had the revelation that (a) I don’t like cake, so (b) Why bother making it? but (c) I do like creating peculiar things, and (d) The only thing they’ll eat is a horrifying amount of icing anyway… It all fell into place.

Or at least, it fell.

TJ is a winter baby (which means parties must be inside), and his father, grandfather, uncle, and oldest cousin all have birthdays within about a week. So I arranged to have two parties today: one for TJ’s friends (at an inside playground with a dino room), and one for his numerous relations (at my house).

That meant I could make a single giant cake and use leftovers for party #2.

There are two basic schools of thought for dinosaur cakes: One big dinosaur, or a scene with several dinosaurs. In my opinion, the one big dino cake takes more skill. Sure, there are dino-shaped cake tins out there, but you still need to be able to have smooth icing. Not gonna happen.

I was clever enough to assemble the cake at the location of the party, rather than attempting to carry it safely in a vehicle (and to take my own knives and large containers in which to bring home the leftovers). I was also clever enough to order the base from Woolworths. I ordered a basic slab cake, two layers, no icing. It was $20. I took three layers off part of it, and moved them to the top at the back. Voila! A cliff face ready for a waterfall.

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At Woolies I’d previously bought various items: edible glue (which I couldn’t figure out how to open, so I hacked it open with a knife; used it to stick cupcake topper sheets around the sides), writing icing (used for the blue lines in the water), Natural Confectionary dinosaurs, and a full roll of “ready rolled icing” suitable for a 22cm round cake, which I sliced into shapes with a butter knife for the water.

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I’d made a double portion of chocolate buttercream icing at home (it needs to either be made or re-mixed on the day or the butter hardens and it’s useless), which had a pleasantly different texture to my “water”. I spread it in a hurry, and quite thick, so it just covered the top. I was using my hands and laughing maniacally at this stage, rather aware of my deadline as one of the kids had to leave early and there was another party using the room at 12, etc etc. The buttercream icing had enough stickiness to draw up some of the cake, and it also struggled a bit to hold onto the “cliff”. But it worked well enough. As you can see, smooth flat icing is not my forte (not that I was particularly trying this time).

This icing was easy to shove about, and it was great for standing up little dinosaurs later.

 

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I had prepared some desiccated coconut ages earlier with food dye, intending it to be green grass but it was too blue so I chucked it in the water.

The trees didn’t really work (but who cares? They’re made of Tim Tams, mint leaves, and lolly bananas), although leaning them against the cliff helped (the edible glue didn’t—using icing might have worked a little).

The mountains and volcanoes are “chocolate” waffle cones. I’ll go into more detail about the volcanoes in a bit…

The flowers were a pack of edible flowers I impulse bought at Woolies when I was examining sundry icing/sprinkle products for inspiration.

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I also used:

-Green and yellow sprinkles for grass/sand. (If your child is very scientific, this is not the cake for them… grass is a relatively recent plant.)

-Edible white balls from the same pack to be dino eggs (quite a stretch).

-Dino candles (they are parading across the water at the top of the waterfall. I presume this is how they became extinct. That, and being on fire). Ebay.

-Lots of fondant dinosaurs from ebay (actually, I was pretty happy with them despite how fragile they are. They mostly survived the post and last a long while (weeks), and taste better than anything rice paper-ish).

-Dino sprinkles around the edge of the water (SO not necessary… AND mixed with other sprinkles… but TJ was rather taken with the idea of dino sprinkles).

-Strawberry topping carefully applied around the edges of the volcanoes for lava (it was important that none of the topping got inside the volcanoes).

-Mini plastic dinos (tube of 20 or so for $4 from Kmart and I dropped some in each party bag afterwards), and two wind-up dinos ($3 each at Kmart).

-Dino cupcake toppers for the sides of the cake (stuck on with “edible glue” from Woolies), and Tim Tams.

As you can see, the aesthetic I was going for was: I bought a whole lotta vaguely cake-related stuff and I aim to use it ALL.

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So there it is in all its glory.

Now let’s talk volcanoes.

I dug two holes in the cake, and inserted small empty (clean) coke bottles (I experimented with other shapes and the mini soft drink bottle worked best). Then I broke a hole in the pointy end of two waffle cones and placed them over the top.

I was careful to make the bottle hole and cone hole match up as well as possible. You can see one of the bottles in the top of this pic:

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The cones did shatter a fair bit, but they fundamentally worked.

Bring a SEALED bottle of DIET red (the colour doesn’t matter; a lot of people use Coke because the dark colour is more dramatic but obviously red was better here).

At the last moment, fill both bottles. Then drop two MINT MENTOS into each one.

NB: The red diet drink I used uses stevia (considered a more ‘natural’ sweetener than the old chemical ones that have a number and/or a multisyllabic name). A LESS natural drink is likely to cause a greater explosion.

 

My daughter and her friend held the wind-up dinosaurs and let them go when I said, “Now!” and dropped the mentos into the volcanoes.

I lit the candles before pouring the diet soft drink into the bottles.

Postcard from “Emmeline’s Empire”

Penny Blake of https://blakeandwight.com is just starting to arrange an “Author Postcard” series (starting in July, I think). I literally finished “Magic in the Mail: Emmeline’s Empire” earlier today so I was in the perfect head space.

This postcard is written in character, and designed as an ad for the story (and, because why not? for the Antipodean Queen trilogy too).

WARNING: This contains a spoiler for the general plot of “Antipodean Queen 3: Iron Lights”.

A3 Poster Emmeline's Empire

To Miss Venture,

I had not expected to find such pleasure in your company, nor to accomplish so much so quickly as we assist Miss Muchamore in her martial endeavours. Yet now I find myself longing to once again find myself beside the sea—and therefore beside you.

Here in the countryside the Australian heat is somewhat blunted by the surrounding hills. There are also several convenient river-side trees behind which a young woman like myself can take the waters in a relatively discreet manner. It is strange to think that this serene valley will soon be over-run by Her Royal Majesty’s troops.

Has Miss Muchamore told you she is writing an autobiography, beginning with the strange history of her magic-infused anatomy? Truly the 1860s are a wonderful time to be alive. Given that the first volume of her intended trilogy is entitled Heart of Brass it seems you and I will soon have one less secret to keep. In fact her trilogy is almost complete, which I confess makes me a little nervous, as the end of Miss Muchamore’s military campaign also draws to its climax. Does she think she is going to die?

My life has been somewhat different to hers. I imagine if I told my own story it would have to be written entirely in letters, rather than in the manner of a regular novel. Perhaps I should compile it, after all! I could call it Magic in the Mail: Emmeline’s Empire after Miss Muchamore’s small holding. But letters would not be enough. There would be pictures too, including your beautiful painting of Miss Muchamore’s sister, and a tiny model of our fort for the attentive reader to build, joining our rebellion by proxy. And jewellery, since it is both lovely and small enough to fit in an envelope. Perhaps a tiny heart made of brass.

Or perhaps all this is all a foolish dream. Who would want to read the letters of ordinary women like you and I? We are both of us side characters, not heroines.

And yet.

I think foolish dreams are the most interesting kind, don’t you?

With love from your friend,

Xiong

 

https://felicitybanks.wordpress.com/2017/10/03/antipodean-queen-1-heart-of-brass/

https://magicinthemail.boards.net