Friday, August 31, 2012

Kitchen Fails: Cocoa is a Dry Ingredient

You know how there are a billion gazillion food blogs on the internet? And how most of them seem to say things like "ohmygosh, it is so easy to make your own prosciutto/tea biscuits/glazed fizzywigs/whatever" and then there is a really simple looking list of instructions and some very lovely photographs of some very attractive food and then the comments all say things like "Wow! This was so easy! I can't believe I've been buying this all these years, and also my children/husband/greataunt'sghost all really love it!"?

Yes, of course you know, because the internet is FILLED with these things. And they drive me a little nuts, because I tend to screwup in the kitchen pretty regularly. This is because I am impatient. And often trying to cook while hungry. Which makes me EVEN MORE IMPATIENT. That, and I only vaguely know what I am doing, so there aren't many super useful cooking instincts for me to fall back on. So, because I am an oversharer and because I think we all feel better when the internet isn't insistently telling us that everyone else is super perfect and interesting and confident while we are trying to not burst into tears about losing our toothbrushes AGAIN (please note, this is just a random example. I actually know where my toothbrush is at the moment), I give you

KITCHEN FAILS: Cocoa is a dry ingredient

I wanted cookies. My old roommate used to make the most awesome cookie explosions, so I tried a recipe at her suggestion: Dark Chocolate Chip Comfort Cookies

The problem here is that I didn't have a half-cup of cocoa. I didn't even really want the double chocolate, so I said, hey, no worries, I have all the other ingredients, including awesome peanut butter, and carried merrily along.

Somewhere, in the back of my mind, a tiny red flag went up about the fact that just deleting a random ingredient probably wasn't going to end well, but I. Wanted. Cookies., and just kept going.

Well, the batter tasted great, and I plunked them in the oven. Where they started to spread. And spread. And SPREAD. Please note that my cookie tray also doesn't fit in our apartment oven, a fact I discovered while trying to bake these, so I had them on an improvised tin foil sheet over the oven rack (I say this like I have since then replaced the cookie sheet, but I have not.). And these cookies were still spreading.

Now, the moment they had started spreading, my brain finally acknowledged the little red flag which finally got a chance to say "you know, a half cup of cocoa is actually a lot of dry ingredient" and "maybe you should substitute that with something, and not just delete it?" and "Don't do this. It never works when you muck with backing recipes" but by then it was too late. It was also too late to put them in a baking dish and make cookie bars. It was basically Just Too Late.

So they came out in sort of a strange film of mostly cooked cookie dough, and were delicious, but also a total fucking disaster. Which I then compounded by just sort of throwing the whole, not quite cooled, cookiesque mass into a bowl where they promptly adhered to each other into a big blob.  Which I sort of carved pieces off occasionally and ate in a rebelliously desultory way. Stupid cocoa.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

WOA: Stromblo Steampunk Telescope

While reading about Canberra, I stumbled upon a charming sidequest:
Canberra Steampunk Telescope

Steampunk continues to be one of my Grand Passions, and I'm in the midst of being an Admin for the Newcastle Steampunk Enthusiasts group, and constantly on the look-out for Australian Steampunk Adventures. Going to go see a telescope which just happened to be in the city I was in was perfect. Go Steampunk!

The Stromblo Observatory went through a brutal bushfire in 2003, and this was a commissioned telescope to replace the one that was lost. I couldn't find much information on it, and my guidebook was from 2004, which means that the Observatory basically got a Tragic Story box which was less than useful. But Adventure! Determination! Misty morning walks!

So off we go, up the mountain. The drive was easy enough, and so was finding the husk of the burnt out observatory, as well as a lovely restaurant, but there was no sign of anything resembling a telescope, steampunk or otherwise.

By this point, I had become stubborn. There is no guarantee I would ever be in Canberra again (there's also no guarantee I won't be there every year, but big moves make you very aware of change), and we'd come up this mountain SPECIFICALLY to find this thing. Trying to prod my phone's internet into providing some type of useful location/information was spectacularly unsuccessful, and the staff at the restaurant just shrugged at our question in confusion and told us that it didn't exist (I knew they were wrong. Maybe it was a conspiracy?). So we wandered into the university compound nearby, which does the actual observatory work now, and forlornly tried doors and peered in windows.

There were a couple of displays we could see through some big glass doors, but I wasn't really sure we were supposed to be wandering around, nothing was open and it was getting a little chilly, so we sadly gave up and then cheerfully continued our drive.

Once I got home, I began to prod the internet much more efficiently than on my maddeningly rubbish little phone (I miss my Canadian iphone so much. I seriously need to get around to finding a way to get it unlocked). And imagine my surprise when I realized that my partner and I had, in actuality, stared RIGHT AT the damn thing and not realized it was steampunk.

It turned out that the telescope was the exact thing we had peered at through the glass doors at the academic observatory and then unanimously and categorically dismissed. And that's because we had been expecting to find something like this:

and had found instead this:

I think you can see how we got confused. Interestingly, those two pieces are done by the same sculptor, and you can read about their creation here.

So yes, maybe it is more impressive when you can get closer to it? Anyone been?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

WOA: Canberra

World Of Australia
Quest: Post those backlogged adventures DING!
New Location Discovered: CANBERRA

First off, because I am the type of person to admit to horribly stupid stuff that I have done, I didn't know Canberra was the capital of Australia until I decided to move here. Much like Ottawa, they picked a location between their two heavy hitters (Sydney and Melbourne) and turned it into a capital city.

It has a the reputation for being a bit dull, which has been echoed by both my lovely travel book In A Sunburnt Country by Bill Bryson (So funny, and bizarrely entitled On Australia here. I find non-translated but totally different book titles very interesting) and by the various people I have met. I figured that, much like Ottawa, it was awesome when you got to know it, but didn't make finding the cool stuff easy.

The drive there was AMAZING. Not only did I get to see The Big Merino (yes, that is a giant sheep. Yes, I hugged it. Yes, there are MANY MORE giant things in Australia. And yes, you should come visit me)

but the landscape in Australia continues to be breathtaking and driving along the Australian countryside in our little convertible in the shadows of the mountains, surrounded by unfamiliar trees and SUPER WEIRD birdcalls (I kept insisting the car was falling apart. He kept telling me that it was a bird.) is a glorious glorious thing. Also,

Highway Driving Quest

My ability to drive along Australia highways is totally getting better, especially since I am no longer frantically checking my lefthand mirror to figure out where in the lane I am. I forgot how much I enjoy country driving with the music blaring. Also, I have found all my old mix cds from highschool/undergrad, so the drives are particularly epic; Tenacious D is now stuck in my head.

We bummed around Canberra, played 500 (which is the Australian beloved card game equivalent to Eucher) until two am and FROZE. Dear lord, it gets down to freezing but they have no insulation and no centralized heating. WE WERE WEARING COATS INSIDE. I SLEPT IN SOCKS. I .. yes, I don't approve of this. Of course, back in Newcastle, I just went swimming at the beach in late Autumn, so my complaints sort of lose their weight, but still! I get cold when I sleep. /sulk

We also went to the Roller Derby game, because a)roller derby is AWESOME, b)they were playing our Newcastle team and one of our friends is on it (Her name is Beaver Destruction. As a Canadian, I try not to take offense. ;) ) and c) one of our 500 partners is sometimes a ref. Yes, the further I get from the Roller Derby Heartland of Texas, USA the more I see of it. Canberra's Vice City Rollers PULVERIZED our Dockyard Dames (seriously, I LOVE the names in Derby), and they should be very proud of how hard their blockers hit, but it was an awesome game none the less and the DJ was genuinely good.

We checked out the Tower thing, wandered the Museum of Australia (which told me things I did not know), I hung out in the Rainforest Gully of the Botanical Gardens (I was horribly allergic to Something/Everything in Canberra, but the Gully cleared my lungs right up. Also, Australian rainforest makes you think that you are about to get eaten by a dinosaur. The weird birds reinforce this), and we accidentally ate at Samy's Chinese BBQ, which it turns out is an institution. I have a knack for randomly picking iconic restaurants ( Chili in Washington D.C., Five Guys in an airport), for which I am extremely grateful.

So Canberra was grand, but I will tell you this now: it is not a walking city. There is way more road than anyone should ever need, and it tends to just spit you out in strange places, all the while you are surrounded by park which is surrounding suburbs and you are just trying to figure out where the city is. Plus, many of the pubs were closed at noon on a Sunday, which is just mean. So good times, but I prefer my beach.