Thursday, 25 November 2010

Christmas Biscuits and Chocolate Cupcakes

I decided this evening that I wanted to have a break from the computer, have a bit of quality bonding time with my lovely hubby and generally DO something. This is in the effort to resist the urge to sit back and hibernate in this appallingly cold weather. I guess we are lucky in that we have not had snow yet, but hearing the weatherman tell me that tomorrow's high temperature was likely to be -1 I decided something must be done to avoid the lure of the sofa/duvet combo of ultimate doom.

So, we decided to bake. Hubby went on his merry way creating some European style spiced cookies and in my ultimate wisdom I insisted that he used my set of Christmas cutters because I am excited that it is almost, nearly the time of year where it is OK to do such things again. Unfortunately, I accidentally decapitated the reindeer when removing him from the greaseproof paper. I feel a certain amount of guilt about this.




Given that we have nearly a chocolate shelf in the fridge, I realised it was time for me to make something chocolatey to use a bit up. I opted for chocolate cupcakes so that we could get rid of some in an even more yummy way. I tried out a new recipe, where I dissolved a load of cocoa in boiling water and let it cool whilst making up the rest of the batter. For a bit of added nom I included some orange flower water.

Once they were packed off into the oven, I set about making the icing by melting a shit load of dark chocolate in a bowl above a pan of boiling water. While it melted I beat a load of butter with icing sugar, then mixed the whole lot together. This resulted in a satisfyingly gooey and rich icing. Once the cakes had cooled on the rack I thickly smeared the icing on top.


For extra added Homer-drooling, once iced, I dipped some of the cupcakes into some of Ye Olde Traditional Choc Lick(by the way, do please try the Riley's Toffee from the previous link also, especially the dark chocolate variety - it's absolutely delicious!). As ever I had a mixture of traditional cupcakes in cases and some made in my cheapo silicon mould from the Poundshop - which continues to do an admirable job.



Anyone for afternoon tea this weekend?

Diagonal stripe nail art

I decided to give green diagonal striped nail art a go. This was a bit trickier than usual, I think because I used two of the mini Urban Decay nail polishes from their Summer of Love pack for the upper layers. This meant that I had a smaller wand to work with when applying more fiddly detail. Had they been proper nail art pens this would have been a bonus, but in freestyle terms it made things much more complicated.


First I applied a layer of a light lime green. This was nail varnish by Jessica. I had not used it before and found that it was disappointingly pale. I was hoping for a more vivid effect. After two coats it was a reasonable finish, but showed up best in daylight, as you can hopefully see from the picture.

Next I freehanded a darker green Urban Decay diagonal stripe. Apart from the problems with the wand that I have described I was relatively pleased at how easy this was. Once everything had dried, I added a thin stripe of a light gold glitter from the same Urban Decay set. This created a nice finish, but again looks much stronger in daylight.

Having completed this look, I realised I was late and proceeded to throw my makeup on and get ready to go out in about 10 minutes. Which meant I immediately significantly smudged at least three of my nails. Please make a mental note to leave sufficient lazing about time to let your nails dry if you attempt anything of this nature.


Sunday, 21 November 2010

Playing with Paintnet

Evening all.

Tonight I have been playing with Paint.net, a free piece of software which is basically your Photoshop substitute. I first downloaded it a couple of weeks ago as it seemed like the best free candidate for planning out my Avatar mosaic.

When planning the mosaic, I discovered the 'magic wand' tool - which allows you to select areas of similar colour and tone. This is particularly useful for picking out outlines or sections of an image for the purposes of changing its colour or cutting it out.




Having played with it for a while, I found that it was a really handy tool for reducing photos down to two or three colours, which I think is a really great effect. One of the photos I've been working on I have drawn a grid over. I think this effect will look really cool done in oil paints so I may give it a go and see how it works out.







I know that I totally haven't uncovered the full capabilities of Paint.net yet. I am finding that I get bored reading people's tutorials though, so guess I'll just have to devote another evening to having a fiddle with it to see what else it can do!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Pempi!

I haven't got much to say today cos I've been on a training course for three days and my brain is fried, so I thought I'd cop out and just give you the chance to listen to some of my husband's tunes!

Enjoy!


Sunday, 14 November 2010

EXCLUSIVE - Avatar: Biggest ever Blu-Ray Mosaic in pictures



So here are a selection of images from yesterday's Na'vi Blu-Ray mosaic extravaganza! I am so happy with how it turned out, really really pleased.

Enjoy!

Avatar: The Biggest Blu-Ray Mosaic, EVER!

On account of my husband loving films and me liking making massive mosaics out of loads of the same thing, we were invited to make a mosaic out of Blu-rays on behalf of 20th Century Fox to celebrate the launch of Avatar: the Extended Collectors Blu-ray, which is out on Monday 15th November 2010. (More info here...)

This was awesome for a number of reasons. Avatar is a cool film and it's awesome to be associated with it in some small way. Because Avatar exists, one million trees have been planted worldwide. And finally, designing and making massive mosaics out of lots of the same random thing is awesome.

Breaking the world record for the biggest toast mosaic was loads of fun, but I enjoyed this one more artistically because we were able to use more subtle colour tones and the final piece was more artistic. I think if I did it again, I would make the darkest blue tone a shade or two lighter, because the finished result was really hard to light properly in order to take a decent photo, but we got some. (Pictures from the proper photographer and not my rubbish DS camera will hopefully be added in a later post!)

So, we were at the London Film Museum, in one of the Riverside Suites looking out over the London Eye. We used 4000 Blu-ray discs to create the iconic Avatar Navi image. It was 9.6 by 6 metres - so 57.6 square metres in total! It took 5 of us about 4 hours in total. I am proud to say I created the design and was perhaps the 'artistic lead' on the project if you will. Mike loved it and loved being involved with it. I hope if any of you read this in time, you pop over to the London Film Museum tomorrow to have a looksee - I think it's only going to be there for a day or two.

I'm not sure what the final plan for the mosaic is. We glued all of the discs in place, so that the mosaic can be moved. I am hoping that the PR company can find a home for the mosaic in the future, but if not I have been assured that an ethical means of disposal will be found, in harmony with the themes of Avatar.
You'll have to wait for the proper photos to see it properly!!

A great day and another wonderful memory that Mike and I have shared, but now I am knackered and going to bed!

Edit - wow, I just noticed that I accidentally overwrote a load of my photos from the beginning of the day. That sucks. Ah well, my grip on technology is clearly tenuous.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

REVIEW: Layla Graffiti Topcoat - WOW!

I got sent the Layla Graffiti Topcoat in White by R8Beauty to try out. They sent me a little questionnaire too, which I've just done. I've had it for a couple of weeks and been waiting for a peaceful evening to try it out and now I am SO GLAD I found time to give it a whirl.

I was a little unsure about it - it says topcoat on the bottle, but there is no more information than that. The lid has a funky design on it, but I had no idea if that was actually what it would do. I started off with Stay Perfect's Totally Teal as a base, cos I am obsessed with Teal and it matches my DMs. Woo!

I took a deep breath after my two coats were dry and applied the Layla Graffiti topcoat. I was unsure how much to put on, so I just went for a decent dollop. And before my very eyes, I watched it shrink and crack and produce the exact effect on the bottle top. Oh my days. I was in awe.

I convinced my lovely hubby to film me putting on the next hand. I'm really glad I used a dark base coat, because the effect shows up really well. I am now really keen to try the other colours in the range. This is literally the easiest, but most effective nail art I have ever seen - I am rapt with this product. Now it is dry, it is quite a rough finish, as you would imagine. I would think that if you want to preserve the finish, you could use another top coat on, to stop it catching day to day. I'm gonna just go with it as it because I quite like the matte finish of the Layla with the occasional shine of the base showing through.

Another really fun aspect to this was the problems I was having with my camera. I messed about with the flash a bit and got some really awesome pics. I hope you've enjoyed them. My camera is a Toshiba Camileo - technically a camcorder, so not so great for stills, but I love the effects that came out with the flash and high contrast here!

I seriously can't recommend the funkiness of this product enough. Get it, get it now.







Excuse the quality of the video, my husband is not the best videographer lol.

Matzo cupcakes and Christmas Challenge Update

Evening all!

Well, the Christmas Challenge has been an unmitigated disaster so far - hooray! There are a number of reasons for this. I've been working pretty much every waking hour in the last week, which has meant that today was the first time in nearly a week that I've been on the old Wii fit doobery. Ho hum. I have been ensuring that I walk a lot in the day, avoiding the tube when I've been to meetings in London, and volunteering to walk across town to the university for meetings instead of getting them to come to me, but it has still not been enough. I think that also a weekend of takeaway pizza last week, and many beers drunk on Friday followed by sharing a portion of chips with my hubby yesterday may also have contributed. Nevermind, onwards and upwards! I shall continue and see how we get on. I do think that my arms are looking a tad more toned, so it's not all bad news. Plus we've still got about 48 days until Christmas (therefore about 41 until the work's Christmas do) so there's still plenty of time yet.
Unrelated cat and husband image

I am considering knocking the lager on the head for a while and sticking to the wine. This seems like an eminently sensible weight loss decision if you ask me. At least I'm still not compromising my morals at this stage, although I do remember the Special K diet looking appealing midweek. Urghhh.

In other news, I realised today that we still have a ridiculous amount of jam in the house (stolen from the toast day because I wanted the nice close lid glass jars). I got myself all het up to do a spot of baking until I realised that we didn't have any flour! Poo!

Luckily, the Store Cupboard of Ultimate Randomness still contains a packet of cake matzo meal that I bought on a whim, reduced to 15p from Morrisons a while back. After dutifully searching the internet, I came up with a number of likely looking sponge cake recipes and set about making some fairy cakes, with a big dollop of jam in the middle. I'm just going to go and whip them out of the oven now, let's see how they turned out...

Matzo meal and jam cakes
...Turns out they look OK! Hooray! Now to pass some time so that the jam is cool enough to sample them!! Matzo meal is made from crushed up Matzo crackers.  These crackers are a traditional Jewish food, usually presumed to be kosher (indeed the meal that I have carries assurances that it is kosher). A common application of this meal is to make dumplings for chicken soup. This is something I will try in the future (I am sure that using a finer ground matzo meal will be fine in the end).

These cakes were made using golden caster sugar, beaten up with egg yolks and then stirred in to the matzo meal with some lime zest. I then beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and folded it altogether. I was not convinced that they would rise, and therefore adding the jam prior to baking them was potentially the kiss of death on them, however, they seem to have risen nicely. I suppose they are glorified meringues, cooked for just under 20 minutes on a medium over (I think I went for about 160'C).

And so, the taste test.

Mmm!!! Nice! They are quite a dense sponge, as you would expect from 'flour' which is crushed up crackers! I think the jam in the centre was a bit of a masterstroke as they clearly need a lot of sweetening up. The recipe I used called for nearly twice as much sugar as matzo meal and they are just  balanced with a big dollop of jam in the middle! Definitely a great recipe using a cheap flour alternative and a good way to use up eggs if you have a glut! Very enjoyable.
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