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Archive for the ‘Cool Things’ Category

Chatbooks

I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned this here before, but I’m a big fan of a company called Chatbooks.

They offer a really affordable way to print out the squillions of phone pics we all take. There are a couple of options – the most economical being a subscription (US$10 per 60 photos, one per page) or you can create custom books for a bit more (US$15 per 60 photos, plus $1 per 6 photos thereafter).

I put together three volumes from our recent trip to San Francisco. The 15cm/6″ square format is small, but the quality is high, and it’s an easy way to have holiday snaps on hand…

Chatbooks currently have a sale on until 3nd December (it’s just been extended by a day!)…

…so I’ve ordered a photo book of my morning walks as a Christmas present to myself. It was fun going through the iPhone camera roll and picking out my favourites…

The Chatbooks app works well on both my iPhone and iPad. The software is highly flexible – if you do decide to make a book, take your time to edit carefully to ensure that you get exactly what you want. You have the option to add or remove captions and dates, resize, add  in photos from other sources, and move items around within the book.

Custom covers (both hard and soft) are available, as are a variety of upgrade options. Customer service is efficient and helpful, and cheerfully provided by stay at home mums and dads across the US (how great is that?). Finally, they’ve recently rejigged their postage rates and international shipping is now ridiculously affordable – I paid just US$4 on  my last order.

This isn’t a paid promotion, nor do I have any affiliation with the company – I’m just a very happy customer and thought I’d tell you about them while the sale was still on!

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Let me tell you about my friend Emilie.

She’s drop dead gorgeous, creative and smart, but still manages to be one of the most grounded people I know. We met years ago through our blogs and have been firm friends ever since, despite living on opposite sides of the world. Together we’ve shared an amazing sourdough journey – our starters Priscilla and Dillon are related – and between us we’ve baked hundreds (literally!) of loaves in our little home kitchens.

I love her to bits. I mailed her some dried starter years ago, and since then her bread baking skills have taken off at an exponential rate. Every time we chat, I learn something new from her, which is why I’m beyond excited that her book on sourdough has just been released…

It magically appeared in my iPad Kindle reader on Tuesday (I’d had it pre-ordered). I started reading her introduction, got to this section…and began to tear up. Here’s what she wrote…

You see, Em gets it. The magic of sourdough baking is in the sharing.

It’s in the mailing of a packet of starter halfway around the globe, or baking a loaf for an elderly neighbour, or exchanging ideas with sourdough obsessed friends on Twitter. And it’s also about sharing knowledge, so that others too can learn to bake delicious loaves at home. That small pot of bubbling flour and water has the capacity to empower and connect, and to build a sense of community in an age when gentle camaraderie is sorely lacking. The opportunity to “break bread” with family, friends and neighbours, both in real life and virtually, can be truly soul restoring.

And that’s why I’m so excited that Emilie has written this book! You see, she isn’t just a brilliant bread baker, she’s also incredibly real and down to earth. Many sourdough bread books are written by professionals working in commercial environments and as such, they’re not targeted towards “regular” folks baking in their home kitchens.

On the other hand, my darling friend has tested her recipes in a tiny fifty year old domestic oven with a gerry-rigged latch, retrofitted to hold the door closed. She has proofed dough in her non-airconditioned kitchen through sweltering heatwaves and New York winters. She has learned how to produce fabulous bread on days when it’s too hot to preheat the oven, coddled a sleepy starter back to life, and figured out a baking schedule that fits easily into a busy lifestyle. She knows the problems you’re likely to run into when you’re a novice baker, because she’s been through them.

. . . . .

An hour after the book arrived, I pulled Priscilla out of the fridge and began feeding her up. The first recipe I tried was the High Hydration Sourdough, and the results were superb…

I was very chuffed with the blistered crust (highly valued by artisan bakers) and well developed sourdough flavour…

. . . . .

Inspired, I mixed up a batch of Em’s focaccia dough that evening. I was intrigued – it was completely different to any recipe I’d tried before.

The following morning, I assembled her Stuffed Croque Monsieur with Ricotta and Swiss. I texted her to (jokingly) complain that she had me trashing my kitchen at 6.45am…

Somewhat ambitiously, I made a double batch of the recipe and then attempted to fit it all into a half sheet pan. Peering nervously through the oven door, I watched as it rose…and browned and bubbled to perfection. It was, without doubt, one of the best breads I’ve ever baked…

Everyone should buy this book, if for this one recipe alone…

. . . . .

If you’ve never baked before, Artisan Sourdough Made Simple will teach you everything you need to know – how to grow your own starter from scratch, how to bake a variety of different loaves, what to do with your leftovers, and much more. Emilie’s prose is chatty and approachable, and her instructions are clear and succinct. There is a photo of every loaf, plus clever hints to help you achieve perfect results from your very first bake.

And if you already have a Priscilla starter in your kitchen, please buy this book. Not just because we’re all mentioned in it (although how exciting is that!) or because it’s great to support a member of our baking community, but because secretly (shh) Em wrote this book just for us. Hmm. Ok, that’s not really true, but it certainly feels that way! ♥

PS. The hard copy looks magnificent (Emilie has a video on her blog), but I bought the Kindle version as I was too impatient to wait for delivery. The e-book cost me less than US$10 and reads brilliantly on my iPad – the font is sharp and the text is fully hyperlinked, which makes it simple to navigate between sections.

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I’m always a bit conflicted when I post photos that I’ve taken at the White Rabbit Gallery.

On the one hand, I really want to encourage everyone in Sydney who has an interest in contemporary Chinese art to visit, and I don’t want my photos to gazump the magic of seeing an incredible piece for the first time. Additionally, many of the artworks are large and immersive, and it’s hard to do them justice in two dimensions. On the other hand, I know many of you don’t live in Sydney and will never get to see these amazing and unique pieces in person.

My compromise is to offer you a taster – a small snippet of what’s on offer over the three gallery floors. And it was hard to pare the photos down for this post, because Ritual Spirit is one of the most beautiful White Rabbit exhibitions ever.

. . . . .

Farfur the Martyr (2008) by Peng Hung-Chih, a stainless steel creation juxtaposing different religious views on the meaning of martyrdom, stands in the entrance foyer…

. . . . .

Defence (2014) by Xia Hang is a large stainless steel clockwork construction. Like all things steampunk, I found it hypnotically beautiful and instantly appealing…

. . . . .

Mr Sea (2014) by Geng Xue combines video with exquisitely expressive porcelain puppets…

. . . . .

Play 201301 (2013) by Xu Zhen is a tied and suspended cathedral created from leather and BDSM accessories. It fills an entire room…

. . . . .

100 Years of Repose (2011) by Yu Hong poignantly depicts what the artist refers to as China’s “sleeping sickness”. The pressures of modern Chinese life are so great that people fall asleep anywhere they can – on trains, benches or even under parked trucks…

. . . . .

Finally, a clip of the ethereally beautiful Scripting (2011) by Luxury Logico of Taiwan. Thirteen suspended fluorescent tubes move in time with John Cage’s haunting music. The artwork is massively enhanced by the clever curatorial decision to place it in a darkened room over a reflective black vinyl floor…

. . . . .

Every piece comes with its own story, and I’ve included links in the post above so that you can read a bit more about the individual artists.

The White Rabbit Gallery is one of Sydney’s great treasures and I’d urge you to visit if you ever get the opportunity to do so. Focusing on works of contemporary Chinese art made in the 21st century, the gallery continues to share these with the public completely for free. Their exhibitions are always brilliantly curated, thought-provoking and often very poignant.

. . . . .

White Rabbit Gallery
30 Balfour Street
Chippendale NSW 2008

RITUAL SPIRIT is open 10am to 5pm, Wed-Sun.
The exhibition runs until 28 January 2018

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On our last weekend in California, Pete and I found ourselves at Big Bounce America, the world’s largest bounce house (aka jumping castle). We were, without doubt, the oldest people in there…

After an hour of vigorous exercise (for some, Pete and I mostly sat and watched the kids break out their dance moves), we grabbed a quick bite of lunch at Bibi’s Burgers in Santa Rosa. I had the chili, which was served with Saltine crackers…

Then we headed off to visit the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center.

For this lifelong fan, happiness was…spending an afternoon exploring all things Peanuts…

We began at the Redwood Empire Ice Arena

Built and owned by Schulz and his then wife Joyce in 1969, it’s a scene straight out of the Snoopy and Peppermint Patty strips…

Charlie Brown stands outside the entrance…

A newly created “Abbey Road” features provides a fun photo opportunity…

The museum is a short walk from the ice rink…

The space is a loving, elegant, and beautifully curated tribute to the life and work of Charles “Sparky” Schulz (1922 – 2000)…

There are scores of original strips on rotating display…

This huge seven metre high mural was created by Japanese artist Yoshiteru Otani. It’s impossible to see from the photo below, but the 3,588 ceramic tile creation of Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown contains ten years’ worth of carefully selected comic strips…

Here’s a close-up…

Sparky’s work area from his studio at One Snoopy Place, Santa Rosa has been lovingly recreated on the second floor. It includes his original desk and drawing board…

Aside from cartooning, ice hockey was his other great passion…

A fan of the art of Christo and Jean-Claude, Schulz paid tribute to them in one of his strips in the late 1970s…

Twenty-five years later, Christo created and gifted his Wrapped Snoopy House to the museum…

One of our favourite items was this bedroom wall painted by Schulz for his daughter Meredith in 1951. After their house in Colorado Springs was sold the following year, the wall was painted over at least four times until it was purchased by Polly and Stanley Travnicek. Over the course of three months, Polly carefully stripped back the top layers of paint, revealing the original artwork underneath. In 2001, the Travniceks donated the entire wall to the museum…

On our way back to the car, we stopped at the Warm Puppy Cafe for a cold drink…

Situated inside the Ice Arena, Sparky Schulz’s table is permanently reserved. He ate there most days…

I toyed with the idea of bringing these lemonade cups home, but decided it wasn’t wise to pack sticky paper in our luggage…

A final photo before heading back to San Francisco – I couldn’t resist the opportunity to be Lucy! ♥

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Pete and I have been in San Francisco for most of September.

We’ve had the best time, staying with our beloved friends Danielle, Patrick, their wonderful children, and Obi Dog Kenobi.

A week before we left Sydney, Dan phoned us at home.

She knew we were keen to visit Yosemite National Park and had been scouting out accommodation for us. We had the option of checking into a motel outside and driving in, or renting a “tent cabin” in Half Dome Valley. Staying right in the middle of the national park was very appealing, but the downside was that we’d have to share the public amenities – there were no bathrooms in the tents.

“Oh well, so long as the toilets are clean and there aren’t any bed bugs, I guess I can manage”, I told her reluctantly.

My friend snorted with laughter.

“Bed bugs! You should be worried about the BEARS, not bed bugs!”

Err…right. Ten minutes and several expletives later, I rang her back.

“Dan, I’m 52. If I need to get up and pee in the middle of the night, a bear will EAT me. I can do public toilets OR bears, but not both together. We need another option…”

Bless her, after she stopped laughing, our darling friend managed to get us a proper cabin with a bathroom, but it meant making the four hour drive from San Francisco to the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges the day after we arrived. Thankfully, Yosemite was so mindblowingly awesome that we didn’t even notice the jetlag.

As we entered the park, we passed El Capitan, a giant 900m tall granite monolith. The striking sheer cliff faces of Yosemite, carved by glacial action over a million years ago, were completely different to anything Pete and I had seen before…

Our cabin was in Half Dome Valley, with trees and mountains all around…

. . . . .

The following morning, we woke early to watch the sun rise over the mountains. The moon shone brightly in the sky, which was hazy from wildfires in other parts of the park…

The smoky haze wasn’t too bad in the morning, but it muted the blue of the sky and resulted in some hauntingly beautiful photos…

As the sun rose, Half Dome cast a shadow on the smoke particles, resulting in a clear line of light in the sky…

The meadows in the valley are a wealth of diverse plant life, bordered by ancient tree forests. Boardwalks are in place to protect them from tourist traffic. As we walked through, we could see small wallows of flattened grass where deer had bedded down for the night…

We explored the Merced River…

…and hiked the short distance to Lower Yosemite Falls…

Ansel Adams, the American photographer and environmentalist whose advocacy and black and white photos of Yosemite helped to expand the National Park service, has a gallery in Yosemite Village…

As we drove out of the park, we stopped at Tunnel View for one parting glimpse…

Sometimes, life gives us opportunities to do things that we never dreamed possible. Visiting Yosemite National Park was definitely one of those moments! ♥

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