Thursday, April 11, 2013

Review this.

Happy Thursday friends! Our weekend was a very quiet one, if you follow me on Instagram you would have seen my new attempt at a geometric pattern nail art, my thighs got burnt to a crisp sitting by the pool reading my new book (oops, I missed a spot with the ole sunblock) and the Mr. and I are a little under the weather, hence my lack of posts this week. I guess this week was not a total disaster as on Monday I experienced my first Arizona dust storm so I had the perfect excuse to stay inside, rest my sunburn and my head.

I finished reading the latest book "The Lords of Salem" By Rob Zombie with B.K Evenson. Let me preface this by saying that this book is not for the faint of heart. I'm a horror movie fan myself and am a fan of Rob Zombie, be it his music or his incredibly gory films. Even though you can hear me screaming from my couch or occasionally peeping at the TV through my fingers that are carefully placed over my eyes there is something about the horror/gore/scary genre that gets my heart racing and blood pumping. It also helps that I am married to a massive horror movie buff.

When it comes to books however, I'm a bit more of a wuss. I never read horror books! The scariest book I ever read was "Kiss the Girls" By James Patterson. I guess I feel like my imagination scares me a lot more than Hollywood can, I enjoy reading books as they are just words on a piece of paper (or screen if you have become a traitor to the written word like myself). Books leave a whole lot up for interpretation and I guess that is why I love to read, it gives you a chance to really use your imagination. Rob Zombie scared the pants off me in this book, I had to put it down in a few places as there really are some quite graphic scenes in this book, which will be coming to your local theater in approx a week or so!

The stories beginnings are based on the Salem witch trials back in 1692, Reverend John Hawthorne and Judge Samuel Mather encounter a horrid satanic ritual taking place, quickly confront the witches and immediately begin an execution. This leads to a curse being placed on the decedents of all the men whom burnt these witches at the stake that night. Come to present day when we find our leading lady Heidi Hawthorne (played by none other than Zombie's muse and wife Sheri Moon Zombie in the film) decedent of Rev. John Hawthorne, former drug addict, night time DJ at the local radio station and typical rock snob loner. When a mysterious wooden box with a curious symbol carved into it appears addressed to Heidi, things start to get a little out of hand. A band by the name of "The Lords" have sent Heidi their latest record to be played and to put it lightly have got all the women in town going crazier than a mob of 14 year old girls at a OneDirection concert. A string of gruesome deaths ensue with their female attackers left confused and branded with the same strange symbol as on the box, things just go from bad to worse.

This book does it have some light hearted moments with Heidi's two DJ side kicks Herman and Herman "Whitey" poke fun at the Norwegian black metal genre and keep up with the whole Salem Witch charade to satiate their bosses and the Salem public. It does offer some historical accuracies and some very intense murder scenes, which are not every ones cup of tea, let's face it but is what Rob Zombie does best, scare the crap out of his audience. It was an easy read, well written and easy to follow. I am not convinced that I will be reading anymore horror books in the near future, I think I may just leave this kind of thing for my couch and my snuggle buddy.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Jazz it up!

Let me start by prefacing this post and letting you all know, YES, I'm one of those mason jar lovers. I threw away most of our drinking glasses much to the dismay of my husband and replaced 80% of them with mason jars. They so versatile I use them as jars for jams and sauces the way they were intended, also neat little candles and toothbrush holders (don't judge me). We used mason jars and vintage tea cups for our wedding reception in the park, they went perfectly with our casual vintage theme.

Alas wether they are small of large mouthed jars these functional favorites all look the same. And if you're not a fan of drinking out of some strangers half used cup like myself, then I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that your guests aren't going to like it either. Well never fear, a few mins and 2 supplies from the kitchen and you are going to have yourself a Super Fabulous mason jar party.

Let's get started...

1. Start with any size mason jar, wether it be a large mouth or small mouth either will work for this project. Set aside the top part of your lid, you won't be needing it. Just keep the screwing part of the lid.

2. Grab any spare cupcake cases you have lying around your kitchen cupboard, I always have various cases around as I never know when I am going to feel like whipping up a batch of cupcakes. If you don't have any around or are having a larger party and want each individual person to have their own personalized jar by all means shop around for more cupcake cases.

3. Flatten those puppies out ensuring your not creasing or tearing them.

4. Fill the jar with your drink of choice. Lay the cupcake case on top of the jar and very carefully screw the lid on to secure. Tah-dah! Wasn't so hard now was it?

The larger mouthed jar lids tend to hide the bottom of the cases where the smaller mouthed jars have a cute little skirt at the bottom. 

Lastly, when putting the straw you can poke a little hole with a thick needle and work the straw through carefully, the papers are thin and fragile so they tend to tear. I just wet the tip of my finger slightly and work the water onto the point where my straw will go and put a little pressure on it with the end of my straw it tends to slide through nicely.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How to make friends?

(Image by me, isn't Arizona pretty!)

Honestly, this is not a "how to" it's simply the musings of a person who has to learn how to make friends in her adult life.

I've never been a super shy person, nor have I been a quintessential social butterfly. 
It used to be so easy, I remember starting a new school being insanely nervous, having butterflies in my tummy mixing with excitement. Starting a new school always meant a fresh start, a promise to avoid the "mean girls" and just make good choices about the people you wanted to spend every lunch with.
Primary school in Australia was simple as the teacher introducing you to a person that would show you around the classroom, show you where to put your backpacks (in the cubby!), where the art supplies were and where the Grade 4's ate their lunch. Next thing you know you were playing red rover or bullrush together and planning to meet after school at the park with your bikes and little brothers in tow. It was all so simple.

Then... High School and changing schools was a little more challenging, the kids had developed attitudes, television was our main source of entertainment and also gave us some pretty nasty ideals about who we needed as our friends. The Internet was rarely talked of as very, very few people even had access to the net and don't even get me started on DIAL UP! No one had mobile phones and everyone had a home phone, you knew all your best friends home phone numbers by heart as you never had a contact list. Diaries were kept instead of blogs and the only people that knew you were having a bad day were your parents and your bestie, it certainly wasn't plastered all over Facebook that no one understands you. In saying that, you walked through those gates on your first day and it was still quite daunting. If you hadn't found a friend by home room or first class shit was starting to get pretty dire, but sure enough by the time little lunch rolled along you had already made 3 friends, all of which promised to meet you at your last class to show you where the hang out was. See, simple as that.

In the real world I met most of my best friends through work or friends of friends. I haven't kept in contact with a great deal of friends from high school (sorry), some still all remain as close as they all were in high school. I met my best friend through work, she was actually my boss and was there to greet me at the front door on my first day in the big new city I had just moved to, by lunch we had solidified our friendship over fish and chips and she has been the best friend I could ever have in the world going on 5 years now. She's my "sister from another mister" kind of bestie and I miss her like crazy. I miss our Bohemian Rhapsody sing-a-longs in the car and our weekly sushi dates, our never ending work pranks and sitting in lounge room whenever I was in need of some love, she would feed me cheese and just listen, I miss that.

Two years later I sit in our home office 10,000 million miles away (alright, I have a flair for exaggeration) from all the comforts a solid friendship has to offer and I am asking myself, "How do you make friends when you're an adult"? OK, let's be real here peoples, I don't feel like an adult. I just feel like a slightly grown up kid. Apart from paying bills, grocery shopping and making my bed every day (Yes Ma, you will be happy to know I do make the bed EVERY day) I still feel like I did when I was 18. Mr. J and I don't drink, we don't party, we're home bodies. We like to get up early and go on hikes and bike rides, watch scary movies at home whilst stuffing our faces with ice cream and making fart jokes. I prefer to spend my money on makeup, hair products and craft supplies rather than booze. Is this really going to make me a whole lot of friends?

Clearly, I am old enough to know what I want. We have all been in those friendships that are one sided or you question why you are even friends with this person if all they do is cause you pain and stress. I have, so I know what I don't want in a friendship. I have spent a whole lot of time thinking about how people create friendships when they literally know no one in town. It's not as if I can go up to a random someone in the street and say "Hi, want to be my friend?" there is a very high chance I may have the cops called on me. There are meet up sites out there and various social networking sites have in the past  have created some wonderful friendships which I still treasure to this day, but is that what we have to resort to? Do we have to essentially interview our friends before we meet them in person? The world has changed I understand that, look at the forum in which I choose to express myself, Hello! From being blissfully unaware of the Internet at the age of 13, to having every part of our lives being filtered through this technology. That's not to say that I don't love it. The world seems smaller, I can Skype with my Mum anytime I am feeling homesick and it's like she is right there sharing a cup of tea with me. It's amazing that I can keep in contact with all of my friends back in Australia, keep up with everything they are up to and I know that when we see each other again, it will be like I never left.

So what are we missing? It's so easy to develop and maintain our friendships a squillion miles away, why is it so hard to do that in your own backyard? Maybe it's just about putting yourself out there, whether it be in the grocery store, cafe, blog, Instagram, job, craft store... the list goes on. Being the new person in a new town/country can be mind numbingly stressful, having to contend with learning how to do everything from scratch is a real kick in the butt. How to pay bills? How to set up a bank account? Do people still use Cheques (checks)? I thought that was just in the movies. You are learning a whole new set of rules, so why not take that one step further? May it be at the bank or behind your computer. What have you got to loose? As of today I challenge you to put yourself out there, I know I'm going to.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Monday, March 25, 2013

Today I made...

Sorry about the belated post, I was supposed to get this one on Friday but I injured my neck rolling over in bed. Yes, I am that much of a klutz that I seriously hurt myself doing the simplest of tasks. I was out of commission for 3 days but am feeling great today and have full neck function! Huzzah!
I am thinking of starting a "See how many times Kez bangs herself up" tally on the blog, I think I am up to nasty injury number 3 already!

This was my first attempt at making the gorgeous parcels of deliciousness and they really were a lot of fun to make. In saying that I will be messing with the recipe slightly next time adding here and subtracting there but for the most part I had a great morning cooking these babies and I will most likely whip up another batch this week. If anyone has flavor requests please, send them my way!

Here goes...

Vanilla Macaron

Ingredients (makes about 24 macarons)

2/3 cup of ground almonds (you can grind them yourself, buy them pre ground by the pound or Bob's Red Mill Almond meal is a great product to try also)
1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar or icing sugar
3 large egg whites at room temp
5 tablespoons of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or seeds from 1/2 a vanilla bean

+ Cut a sheet of parchment paper (baking paper) to fit your baking sheet and draw 1 inch or 2.5cm circles on the paper spacing them at least 1/2 inch or 1.5cm apart. This will act as your guide when piping the batter onto your baking sheet and ensure all your macarons are the same size when sandwiching them with your butter cream.

+ Preheat your oven to 375F or 190C

+ Sift powered sugar and almond meal through a sieve twice and set aside.

+ In a mixing bowl beat your egg whites on high speed until they are foamy.

+ Gradually add granulated sugar and vanilla to the egg whites. Keep beating until meringue mixture is stiff, firm and glossy.

+ Add half of the sifted almond and sugar mixture, stir with a spatula and ensure you stir from the bottom scraping the bottom of the bowl and incorporating all the dry ingredients.

+ Add rest of the dry ingredients mixing in a light motion.

+ Here the macronnage starts; Macaronnage is a process used when mixing batter.
Tilt your mixing bowl to the side and press and spread out the batter against the bowl's sides, scoop the batter from the bottom and turn it upside down. Repeat this process about 15 times.
Note: If the process is done less than 10 times the macaron may lack lustre, repeat the process more than 20 times and you will have worked the batter too much resulting in oil stains on the surface of your macaron.
Another helpful hint, try keeping your almond meal in the fridge or freezer, this will ensure that heat will not ruin your meal. Almond meal spoils very easily and it's a fairly pricey item to be buying every time you a feeling like visiting the streets of Paris!

+ Attach a .4inch or 1.01cm round tip to a pastry bag
HINT: Before heaping the mixture into the bag, give the tip a twist so that the bag is closed off just before the tip, this will make it easier to scoop all the mixture into the pastry bag without any spillages.

+ Pour batter into your pastry bag and your are ready to pipe.

+ Pipe batter onto your pre circled baking sheet.

+ Give the bottom of your baking sheet a light tap with the palm of your hand or a flat surface. This helps round the macaron and also helps the pied or foot develop.

+ Before baking dry your macarons at room temp for anywhere between 15 to 30mins depending the humidity level. It's pretty dry in Arizona so 15 mins was plenty of time for mine. You will know they are done when you can touch the batter slightly with your finger and nothing sticks to your finger.

+ Place your baking sheet inside another baking sheet of the same size, doubling up on baking sheets prevents the bottom of the macaron from burning or being over baked.

+ Bake for 15 to 18 mins until slightly crisp on top. I would keep my eye on them from about 14mins onward as they can go from slightly undercooked to wayyyyyy too crispy in seconds.

+ Remove macarons and place on a wire rack to cool. In this time you can get the butter cream ready!

Raspberry Buttercream

8 tablespoons of softened unsalted butter
2/3 - 1 cup of powdered sugar or icing sugar
1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2-3 fresh raspberries

+ Mash and soften butter with a spatula until butter becomes the consistency of mayo.

+ Slowly incorporate sugar, you can use your own taste buds and eyes to see if this is the right sweetness and consistency if this is too think then you can add cream or milk to thin this out.

+ Add vanilla extract and raspberries, you will notice your buttercream will become streaky red straight away. Mix the buttercream until you are happy with the color.

+ Add a small amount of buttercream to a macaron and sandwich between another!

+ Eat as many as your sweet little heart desires. I like to pair mine with a glass of almond milk or tea.

Happy baking friends!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spring Magic

To celebrate spring we made oatmeal pancakes with fresh strawberries and yummy orange juice

Is it me or is there something utterly amazing about the season known as Spring? Everything is louder and unbound by the chill of winter, as the birds, wildlife and flowers come out of their winter hideaways, so do we. The layers of clothes and socks come off and if you're anything like me, wild horses could not keep you from wanting to be outside soaking up the rays from that glorious yellow ball in the sky.

I've spent the past year in South Dakota where our summers are hot but our winters are bitterly cold. You haven't had cold weather until you step outside on a winters day, take a deep breath and... your nose hairs freeze! Luckily last month we moved to a climate I am a little more familiar with. Arizona sure bought spring early to me this year.

Honestly, I cant expect my Aussie friends to relate too much. I spent the majority of my life living in a 365 day perpetual summer in Brisbane, Queensland. The summers were hot, humid and most likely spent by the beach or pool. The winters were cooler, a little less humid and most likely spent by the beach or pool, no joke! Although I loved and will continue to always love a Brisbane winter, the air is clear and crisp, the sky is always the bluest of blues and I would be at my absolute happiest riding a bike or visiting friends with a light cardigan and a pair of jeans. A change of season there wasn't a date or an event as such, it was a feeling. It would hit me like a bolt of lightning and I would know that winter had arrived.
How many Aussies out there have visited a country during the change of a season? I would love to know how much you loved it.

Moving to the Mid West gave me, for the first time, real SEASONS. Would you believe it people, they actually exist! Honestly they are the greatest display of nature I am ever come to see, from literally the dead of winter (and I mean dead, just a wash of white and grey as far the eye can see), to a miniscule green bud on a lonely branch which with time would become a symphony of yellow and green over every tree imaginable. The grass is so vibrant it's breathtaking, the flowers are making their debut for the first time and literally if you blink you will miss their grand entrance. It seems like whilst you sleep, nature is Spring bombing your back yard. Have you actually stopped to appreciate this show? If you can't answer, yes to my question, may I suggest you stop. Stop your busy life, stop writing that Tweet, stop downloading your latest hashtag ridden photograph to Instagram. I know the minute I hit publish, my shoes are on and I'm going to soak in some of Mother Natures half time show.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Today I made... Churros Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting and Salted Dulce De Leche Sauce

That was a mouthful! Technically I didn't make them today (look at that, starting a blog and already rife with filthy lies!). Saturday was my husbands first company potluck event since he started his new job. It was a chance for everyone to get together, enjoy the amazing Arizona weather and for the wives to get to know each other. They had decided early on a Mexican theme, lots of yummy Carne Asada and salsa, rice, beans burritos, queso dip and lots more. As I am a fully fledged Occa, I had no idea how to make any specialty Mexican dishes, so I went to my fall back plan for everything... DESSERT!

I honestly do not know how I became such a "Little Betty Crocker" as most people refer to me. I am not a sweet tooth AT ALL. It started out at a young age I guess when my Ma used to get me to make my famous sponge cakes, I never remember eating them all I can recall is baking them. Clearly. I didn't have one of those CPS blacklisted mothers. I was responsible for adding ingredients, she would actually bake it. I always had such a sense of pride knowing that people loved my baking, I never really felt that way about cooking everyday meals.

I really didn't know what to make, a cupcake is a cupcake, the end. I needed something that was going to be enjoyed by all and still keep with the Mexican theme. A friend of mine was chatting with me and linked me to a great site which had a Cinco De Mayo themed Mexican Churro cupcake. I was sold!

I begun this process on Friday morning as making the Dulce De Leche takes about 3 hours!
No... don't run away yet. It is surprisingly easy, you just have to be prepared to devote a little time to ensure the sauce doesn't boil too hard or burn. The recipe I followed said it would take between 2-2.5 hours but mine took about 3 hours and wasn't as dark and thick as her pictures depicted but the end result was magical regardless. I am working with a new stove, so it is going to take me a while to get temps right etc.

Once the sauce was safe to be left alone for a while, I started on my Churros. I LOVE Churros, they are the right mixture of crunch, sweet and soft gooey middle. Much to my amazement they are really easy to make. If you attempt to make your own from the link below, I recommend you get your oil temp right, too cold and they will suck up a lot of nasty oil, too hot and you will have oil splatters and burnt churros for days!

Saturday came making the simple vanilla cinnamon cupcake and cinnamon cream cheese frosting. I note here that you really need to watch what you're doing when placing these babies in the oven. Once again I sustained a non life threatening hand injury whilst getting 24 cupcakes into the oven. I'm now sporting a trendy cats eye style burn on my right hand. Maybe that's why my mother then used to let me use the oven... hmmmmm.

What can I say, they were a huge success and I actually ate 2 (and a whole lot of left over frosting).
If you want to give this a go, don't be discouraged by the long list of ingredients and processes, they are all really easy and she has laid everything out do be as user friendly as possible.

Thank you Bakingdom

*Sorry for poor quality photos, making 3 hours sauces and taking cute photos simultaneously are not for forte. Hey, I said I was a baker not a baking photographer.

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