Fan Art

Choices That Matter is a serial story hub app by Tin Man Games. KG Tan is the project head and editor. The stories are:

And The Sun Went Out written by KG Tan, Alyce Potter, and myself.

And Their Souls Were Eaten written by yours truly (edited by KG Tan and Phill Berrie).

And Their Heroes Were Lost written by Phill Berrie (edited by KG Tan and yours truly), which is still getting periodically updated at the moment (the ‘serial’ part of the app).

 

All of which is to say that there is a bunch of awesome fan art out there, and it’s high time I collected some here!

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This is Etienne Sole, one of the love interests in And The Sun Went Out. The artist is Frey. His website is here and his twitter is here.

 

There’s more gorgeous And The Sun Went Out art here (but I can’t figure out how to contact the artist).

And here (same artist as the above link).

If you know of more fan art out there please let me know. I’ll share anything G-rated (and I love knowing about it all, OF COURSE).

TrailerFest 2018

Today I decided that my 2-3 (I honestly don’t know) YouTube accounts needed tidying up, so I started a fresh new channel (because that simplifies things, right?) using the MagicintheMailStories@gmail.com email account.

As you may have guessed, I love doing my own book trailers. It’s so much fun!

The channel is here (don’t click on that; they’re all right here).

Then I slightly-edited ALL my existing book trailers to make sure they all link back to my store, and put them all on the magical new channel. And here, for your convenience… including the NEW trailer for IRON LIGHTS (with a sneaky cover reveal)… are all my book and story trailers thus far.

Antipodean Queen 1: Heart of Brass

This trailer took several days to make as I tried to capture the sense of the novel via visual images (a process that became tradition for all three Antipodean Queen trailers). It’s the first trailer I ever attempted, and my first go at iMovie too. I’d filmed the waterworks engine at the Goulburn Waterworks Steampunk & Victoriana Fair the previous October, and several of my friends like steampunk and/or historical garb (and dancing) so I found quite a lot of images that way, then filled the trailer out with some stock images, and some pics from Michael Estrada (who is very generous with his images; I found him on deviant art by accident some time ago).

There’s some adorably (I hope) bad photoshopping here, too: Combining a stock image of steampunk people with my own photo of a hot air balloon; the top hat on this trailer’s version of Matilda; the clumsy erasure of a modern background.

I have my own ideas about which people in this trailer represent which characters. The couple in the thumbnail are now married so they fit Matilda and Patrick rather well. In fact I usually run into them at the Goulburn Fair.

I remain pathetically grateful to FLAP! for letting me use three of their songs (one per trailer). I’ve seen them live twice (first in Melbourne, then Canberra) and I hope their component parts are still making music. This song is a true story about a convict’s attempted escape from a Tasmanian prison. The second is also a true story… this time about the time the lead singer fell off a cliff and broke both her legs!

Antipodean Queen 2: Silver and Stone

I was delighted to discover that the model Irina Braga (who features on the covers) had done three different steampunk photo shoots. The image below is one that hasn’t been altered. I actually stumbled across her husband on one of the facebook steampunk communities I’m part of, and he bought a copy of the first book.

This trailer benefited from the advance knowledge that it would exist; I deliberately collected images over time. One might argue that my daughter is the star here, and I am absolutely fine with that.

I’d noticed at my first book launch that it’s worth taking a moment to explain what steampunk is before carrying on. And that it’s fun to mix videos with still images (although stock video costs a LOT).

Yes, the first image after the opening train is indeed me, looking rather younger and fitter than I do these days. But I still have that corset 🙂

Antipodean Queen 3: Iron Lights

This trailer didn’t cost a cent. Almost every picture (and all three videos) were taken at—again—the Goulburn Waterworks Steampunk & Victoriana Fair. In fact the lady with the wings (Leanne, I think) had a not inconsiderable influence on the plot.

Eagle-eyed viewers may notice that the British flag-vested gentleman is the very same man that I thought of as ‘Patrick’ in the trailer for Heart of Brass, and that there are at least three versions of Emmeline in the one trailer (the woman with the clockwork handle in her back is author and model Tara Moss, who is a simply fantastic human being).

I was careful to include both my children this time. TJ is the boy in the brown aviator hat; Louisette is the tiara-wearing pirate (apparently “more treacherous than any sea” although she certainly doesn’t look it).

I LOVE the image of the three books side by side, and went back to add it to trailers #1 and #2.

The pictures of the lighthouse and the sea were all taken by me at the Lonsdale Lighthouse. ‘Miss Venture’ is a real historical image that I based the character on.

IRON LIGHTS will be launched on Sunday 26th August 2018 2:15-2:45pm at Kings’ Hall (Old Parliament House) as part of the Canberra Writers’ Festival.

Heest Trilogy 1: The Monster Apprentice (set in Rahana)

I wanted this trailer to feel quite different, so I hired some actor friends and told a story (of sorts) through the videos & music (this was a very expensive trailer). When I had all the internal illustrations, I added several of Tash Turgoose’s pics. I’m very pleased with the result.

Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday

The fundamental appeal—and difficulty—of the “Murder in the Mail” story system is that it has to be explained to every single reader. For that reason, I tried to be as clear as possible. I filmed relatives of mine posting and retrieving A4 envelopes from mailboxes, and ultimately only used the “recipient” footage (although I like it a lot).

Louisette did some very matter-of-fact acting which I wanted to include but the “Murder in the Mail” artists gently pointed out that having a child prominently featured was rather confusing for a murder mystery story.

For some reason Adobe gave me several free stock images at just the right moment, so I used that plus some of the art that I had permission to use publicly. I paid for the music.

This trailer was very useful for the Kickstarter campaign, as it’s well above the usual Kickstarter video standards. This is what my trailers look like when I’m trying to be closer to the ‘professional’ end of the ‘professional to quirky’ scale.

Magic in the Mail story series (Emmeline’s Empire and Feuding Fae)

This trailer took perhaps half an hour, and cost nothing! The song is the same song that’s included with the Magic in the Mail: Emmeline’s Empire story, and I used 100% art images rather than stock images. I copied and pasted the Murder in the Mail trailer into a new file, and then simply changed it from there, being careful to echo the beats of the original without making the two trailers identical.

And since Magic in the Mail is more child-friendly than Murder in the Mail I could use Louisette’s face in this one. Winner.

 

Do I have any advice for people making their own trailers?

Hmmm. Try to keep it under a minute, with striking images and emotions that give a sense of the book rather than necessarily focusing on plot or characters.

Have an EPIC cover.

Keep in mind that you can get a pretty decent book trailer for $5 or so. 😛

The beginning of the end

Well, it’s still not 100% certain, but things aren’t looking good for Princess Ana. There are probably some hard decisions ahead.

So here she is, looking perfect as usual:

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Update: The decision to put her to sleep has been made. We’ll tell the kids in the morning.

Update: Ana died peacefully at the vet last Saturday.

The Banana Bread of Destiny

The only good thing about banana bread is that is uses up bananas.*

Ingredients

1 and a half c buckwheat flour

1 c coconut sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cinnamon

1 c mashed banana

1 egg

1/2 c yogurt

1/4 c grapeseed oil

1/3 c maple syrup

2 tsp vanilla bean paste

Method

1. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon.

2. Add banana, egg, yogurt, oil, maple syrup, and vanilla. Mix.

3. Pour into a lightly greased 21cm x 10cm loaf tin lined with baking paper.

4. Bake for 1 hour at 160 degrees or until cooked when tested with a skewer.

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Obviously, the kids loved this. Even Louisette.

 

Yum Factor: 0

Health: 2

Easy: 4

Will make again? Nope. Bananas are evil.

*Apologies to the 6 year-old child who lovingly contributed this recipe to her Year 1 class.

Aaaand we’re done!

While in the waiting room today I looked over my last three months of blood sugar readings. It turns out I spoke too soon when I blamed that delicious baklava for my record-breaking blood sugar reading the following morning.

As is utterly obvious to anyone who glances at me in passing, I eat a lot of chocolate. Like, every day. (I’m gonna go analyse that habit sometime soon.)

Despite this, my blood sugar has been remarkably good ever since my stomach operation  last year. (Pause for cheering!)

Except these school holidays.

Was it all these not-usually-healthy recipes?

Actually, nope.

I looked back over the past three months of daily blood sugar readings, and guess what?

There were a total of 10 high blood sugar readings.

1 was due to getting up at stupid o’clock to drive to Sydney.

1 was just random.

2 were due to medical appointments. (Often deeply stressful.)

The other 6—that is, 60%—were ALL on the one day a week that I look after the kids for the full day (that is, from 8am until 6pm, while Chris is at work and there’s no day care or grandparents).

So that’s informative. Unfortunately for everyone, I associate the kids with an increase in physical pain and panic, which of course is a self-fulfilling thing.

So school’s about to start again, which is going to help with my sanity a bunch, but I clearly need to think about this some more. For one thing, I’ll make sure Chris takes more time off work next holidays.

Sushi Bowl Recipe

Okay, this one made me nervous. It was invented by one of the kids “inspired by the giant packet of seaweed paper he asked his mum to buy at Costco”.

What could possibly go wrong?

Ingredients

Rice

Smoked salmon

Avocado

Seaweed paper

Soy sauce

Method

1. Cook rice.

2. Put rice in a bowl.

3. Scrunch up the seaweed.

4. Put salmon, avocado, and seaweed in the bowl.

5. Drizzle on soy sauce.

6. Soy sauce.

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Obviously, after taking the picture, I shovelled on a whole lot more salmon and avocado and tucked in. It was delicious.

I let the children choose their own toppings, encouraging them to make beautiful designs. Louisette’s is on the left, and TJ’s is on the right.

*long sigh*

Great job kids.

Yum Factor: 4

Health: 4

Easy: 4

Will make again? Maybe. It was pretty great—except for the seaweed 😛

 

I had my diabetes checkup today. It’s over now, which is good. There was a lot of crying (just from me, but with several different medical professionals because why stop at just one?), and then I went and bought a fast food lunch and $20 worth of lollies.

So, today went pretty much as expected.

Now there’s just one more job to do: wait for the vet to call and tell me my cat has cancer.

What a fabulous day.

It is pretty nice, actually. I’m watching “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (terrible title, brilliant show) and stuffing my face. My major decision of the day is whether to lie down while watching TV, stay sitting while watching TV, lie down and read a book, or take a nap.

Who am I kidding? The only decision is which order to do all of the above.

More More Pancakes

Ingredients

2 eggs

1 and 3/4c milk

1 tsp vanilla essence

2 c self-raising flour

1/3 c caster sugar

 

Method

  1. In a bowl, sift self raising flour and mix in the caster sugar.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix eggs, milk, and vanilla essence.
  3. Add egg mixture to dry ingredients and mix until there are no lumps (a blender, hand mixer, or shaking bottle is helpful).
  4. Heat and grease frypan.
  5. Spoon mixture into frypan and cook until bubbles form and pop.
  6. Flip and cook other side.
  7. Enjoy with your favourite toppings.

 

The kids were thrilled, naturally.

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Surprisingly, this recipe had a lot of similar elements to the other one (I guess not that surprisingly, since they’re both pancake recipes).

Tomorrow is technically the last day of school holidays, and the kids will both be at the grandparents all day. So we made it? I guess? We HAVE done all the recipes, and I’ll blog about the last two shortly.

Today I spent two hours with an endometriosis nurse. This is one of the steps along the road towards likely surgery (given how much the last surgery helped, and how much hormone treatments have destroyed my brain, this is good news—and since it’s through the public system, I won’t need to run another GoFundMe campaign).

As I drove to the appointment at the Canberra Hospital, I listened to the radio.

So it turns out that, last night, a man under police guard wrestled a GUN off a POLICE OFFICER and fired at least two shots. In Canberra Hospital. (He’s now being charged with two counts of attempted murder, so. . . yay?)

Well, I didn’t get shot and I didn’t quite start full-on bawling while discussing my mental and physical health, or being earnestly told that diet and exercise is strongly recommended (WHAT!?!?! I’m an enormously fat female with depression so that idea has never once occurred to me or any of the dozens of medical professionals I meet every week or so).

So. . . yay.

Tomorrow I have a “diabetes checkup” which is medical speak for having another, unrelated nurse tell me to diet and exercise. She’ll continue suggesting exercises I can’t do and foods I can’t eat until I start sobbing, then she’ll tell me off for giving her attitude, and then I’ll say, “Thank you very much. I’m going now” and walk out while she’s still talking.

Or at least, that’s what the last one was like.

Oops cookies

I forgot this one: Choc Chip Cookies

Ingredients

125g butter, cubed

3/4c brown sugar

1/4c caster sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla essence

1 c self raising flour

1 c plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 c choc chips

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Method

1. Melt butter.

2. Add the sugars to the butter and mix well.

3. In a separate bowl whisk an egg, then whisk in the butter and sugar mixture. Add vanilla essence and mix well, until it looks like caramel.

4. Add flour and baking powder. Stir to combine and fold in chocolate chips.

5. Roll into balls and place on a lined tray.

6. Bake at 180 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until lightly golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Okay, so confession time: It was ever so slightly difficult to stir, so I added more melted butter. Don’t blame the recipe. (Also, I was two lazy to use two types of sugar, so I only used brown. So the biscuits are brown.)

 

In the world’s least startling news, the kids loved every crumb, and so did I.

 

Yum Factor: 5

Health: lol

Easy: 5

Will make again? Yup. I might even follow the recipe next time.

Three recipes to go people!

Also, Ana (aka the cat aka Fuzzybutt aka SHADDUP) just had a checkup and she now needs Rather Ominous follow-up tests. We’ll most likely find out on Friday if she’s okay or not. (Although usually when medical types say that, it ends up taking much longer.)

Here she is, looking (as usual) annoyed that I’m taking a picture.

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Sushi

I went through a sushi phase long ago so I was pretty confident going into this. I was also pretty confident the kids would be determined not to give this beautiful-looking food a chance. So… how did it go?

Ingredients

Rice

Seaweed sheet

Cucumber

Japanese mayonnaise

Soy sauce

[I added a small tin of tuna & sun-dried tomato, which was delicious.]

Method

1. Wash and cook rice.

2. Cut cucumber into matchsticks.

3. Put the seaweed sheet on a large chopping board and spread rice on the seaweed sheet.

4. Put the cucumber over the rice.

5. Squeeze the mayonnaise on the cucumber.

6. Roll it up and cut into pieces.

7. Dip into soy sauce and enjoy!

TJ liked it, but even Louisette’s enthusiastic friend wasn’t enough to win her over.

So much for peer pressure.

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You can clearly tell that some slices worked better than others (always!) but I was pretty happy with how most of them looked. (I should admit, you need a good sharp knife for slicing so it’s not generally a good task for kids—but they both loved the rest of the process.)

Yum Factor: 4 (I actually REALLY liked these!)

Health: 5 (low fat, and has 2.5 vegies if you count the words “sun-dried tomato” from the tuna tin. I’m assuming anything as aggressively green as the seaweed must be good for me.)

Easy: 3 (easier than it looks, but also easy to screw up)

Will make again? I think it might be time for another sushi phase! Especially since we have the rest of the pack of seaweed sheets.

I know these are really California rolls, but you get the idea.

I like using almost any small flavoured meat tins for this.

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.