Wednesday 31 August 2011

Photo Scavenger Hunt

Kirsty over at Leopard Anchor came up with a brilliant idea to share pictures and crafts, and I think I am just in under the wire for August!

1. Inspiration
My inner geologist was twitching during my hike around King's Canyon - some very interesting sandstone formations there - but this tree really caught my imagination.

There are quite a few trees growing in the canyon, out of clefts of rock where there appears to be nothing but sand, let alone water and sustenance for a growing tree. This one was alone in its height, though. I admired its tenacity, because it must have survived an awful lot of whistling winds, stuck up there above everything else.

2. Something I Have Made
Difficult when I have just done a FO post. So, instead, I will post a picture of a recently modified FO in action (ironically, in the Blue Mountains)

I knitted this jumper last year but I wasn't happy with the neckline, which was droopy and had a couple of ties on it which I couldn't make look right. So I cut them off, hemmed the edges and botched a v-neck. MUCH happier with it now. It's a great piece for holidays because it's really warm but very light and squashes up very small.

3. Motifs: Birds
Someone I met on holiday said these birds (galaas - as in, "Ya great flamin' galaaaaa!") looked like flying roses. Very poetic! They are a lovely colour.

4. Supplies
I am trying really hard to knit up some stash but I visited a Jo Sharp yarn boutique in Cottesloe, near Perth, for their knitting group. If you're in one of my knitting groups, you will understand that I was unable to leave the shop without this.

5. Holidays
I have blog posts in the works about Australia, of course. It's just difficult to put it into words - there are so many I could say! But here is only of my favourite pictures from the trip. I was on the three-day camping tour I took to Uluru and other rocky delights. We'd got up at 5am to hike to Cotterill's Bridge in King's Canyon for the sunrise. It was totally worth it.

I love this idea! Can't wait for next month!

A couple of FOs

I am trying to get my knit on again. It all went out of the window earlier this year so I've picked out some old skeins and some new patterns and been stashbusting. Here are the results.

Walkabout Willow
(So named because it was mostly knitted on plane journeys and bus trips related to my Australian holiday)

Pattern: Willow Cowl
Yarn: Knitwitches Seriously Gorgeous Cashmere & Silk, around 80g
Needle: 3.25mm
Mods: I didn't intend to make any, but then I realised, as I started the first set of decreases, that I had inexplicably only cast on three-quarters of the stitches required. By this point I had turned an almost perfect picot edge and the thought of ripping it out made my heart sink, so I did the only sensible thing and knitted the pattern backwards, increasing instead of decreasing. Since I think I was getting a tighter gauge than required, the top was still tight enough even though it was 10 stitches more than it was supposed to be.
I turned the bottom picot by picking up every stitch 9 rows down with a handy 2.5mm needle, knitting each stitch together with a live stitch (I knitted the lower stitch tbl) and then casting off. To start with the edge curled quite badly but it soon sorted itself out.

It really is gorgeous - soft, warm and light as a feather.

Green Beret

Through The Woods
Yarn: Lorna's Laces Shepherd Worsted in Green Envy
Needle: 3.75mm, 4mm
Mods: None, really, except I knitted the ribbing on a smaller needle. I have knitted too many floppy berets with enormous ribbing to repeat the mistake.

It's kind of camouflage. Green beret indeed! It's a gift, though, for someone who likes green, so hopefully they will enjoy it. It was super quick - done in a couple of days.

Sunday 28 August 2011

Sunday baking: Spice cupcakes with Dulce de Leche

Someone on the forum I frequent mentioned dulce de leche this weekend and it got me interested. I am a sucker for caramel and when I found this recipe I had to try it, though I did adapt it slightly. It turned out beautifully and was very low maintenance: not very much stirring at all, although I should have beaten it at the end because the texture looks a bit grainy. Doesn't taste grainy though, thankfully.

This sweet confection called for a cupcake with bite, not too sweet, and I was inspired by an amazing smoothie I had at this cafe while I was in Perth last week (I am plucking up the courage to email them and ask for the recipe...) which was full of cardamom, cinnamon and vanilla. So I adapted what has become my cupcake recipe of the moment.

Dulce de leche:
750ml gold top milk
375g caster sugar
Pinch of salt

Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and then turn the heat down until it's at a bare simmer. Stir every 5-10 minutes to keep it from sticking...
...I should maybe say here that we have an awesome set of saucepans which conduct heat extremely well, which probably helped with the not-catching part of making this, so you might want to take care, depending on your pans...
Keep at a bare simmer for 45 mins-1 hour. The mixture will thicken and turn pale brown. Don't worry about it looking too liquid because it will set firmer when it cools. Pour into jars and refrigerate when cooled.

3 cups self-raising flour
2 cups caster sugar
8oz butter
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1.5 cups milk
6 cardamom pods

Start by infusing the milk. Bash the cardamom pods until they break open and then tip the pods and seeds into the milk in a saucepan. Heat until boiling. Boil for 5 minutes or so and then turn off the heat and leave to cool.

Combine the flour and sugar in a bowl with a good grating of nutmeg (I used maybe a third of a nutmeg, maybe a bit less) and then rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Beat the eggs and vanilla with 1 cup of the infused milk in a separate bowl, then beat into the flour mixture in three batches, taking care not to overmix. Scoop into cases and bake at 180 degrees C for 20ish minutes.

Fill the cupcakes with the dulce de leche using the cone method. Dust with icing sugar.

I really liked these, although the cardamom flavour was quite strong and I'd probably only infuse the milk with 4 pods next time. I think the spice balances out the sweetness of the dulce de leche really nicely. I may repeat these for a weekend away in Cornwall next week, with a frosting. I just can't decide what sort of frosting would be suitable.

Sunday 21 August 2011

Good Kindle article

I have found my Kindle invaluable on my travels. I have finished three books on it, and have read the Guardian every day (it's quite gloomy at the moment, what with all this economy stuff, but I feel better educated as a result). It's also been useful for tweeting when there is no free wifi to which my phone can be connected.

There's a great article here about the increasing popularity of the ebook, and as someone who is still blowing sand from Cape Tribulation out of the keys of her Kindle, it went down extremely well.

Saturday 13 August 2011

Australia: week 2

This week saw us decamp from our palatial surroundings at Circular Quay, Sydney, to a decidedly less comfortable hostel in Cairns. In the flight path, by a main road and inhabited by some extremely squawky birds, there was definitely a bit less sleeping going on, but we still got up to lots.

I saw a saltwater crocodile, basking on a mudflat, and a cassowary, the world's most dangerous bird, plus a snake (from a distance) and a field full of wallabies.
I snorkelled on the Great Barrier Reef and held some sea cucumbers, and had a staring match with some clownfish in an anemone.
I lamented not checking the battery on my underwater camera BEFORE going to the Barrier was dead.
I travelled up to the Daintree Rainforest, which is a World Heritage site on all 4 points (apparently the only other place that qualifies thus is Yellowstone, somewhere else I have been.
I have learnt about the mangrove and its sacrificial leaf.
I have swum in the Pacific - two Aussie coasts, done!
I have been rather ill and spent a lot of time sleeping (booo....)
I have discovered not all backpacker hostels offer single sex dorms.
I have flown into the Red Centre, ready for some walkabout.

I am also concerned my 30 mins of internet might expire before I can post this so here endeth the reminsiscing!

Weekword: Quixotic

Carmen over at Tales of a Biomouse picked this week's word, Quixotic, and it happened to coincide with half an hour of free web time at the Rock Tour, who are taking me on a walking tour of Uluru and assorted other rocks over the next few days.

At first I didn't know what to say about Quixotic. I just thought, "Tilting at windmills! Oh wait...what does that mean?" so I looked it up (trusty Kindle dictionary) and found out it means trying to achieve something overly ambitious. This struck a chord with me because last week, as detailed in my last blog post, my friend Bec and I managed to drive from Sydney to the further end of the Great Ocean Road, and back, in 4 days, in spite of pretty much everybody saying this could not be done. Even the car hire people were taken aback and suggested it was too far for so short a time, but we were not to be talked out of it. The roads were good and the weather fine, and we had a really good time.

I think it's always worth attempting seemingly unattainable things, especially when there is precedent - road trips around the western US have taught me how far is too far to attempt to drive in one day and I was pretty confident, and really keen to see it. Imagine if I'd flown all this way and hadn't done one of the things that was top of my list! I'd have been gutted. Dream big, people. Lots of people ridicule the big dreamers but, in the words of seemingly everyone in Australia, "It'll be right."

Thursday 11 August 2011

Wednesday Beauty: On the Beach

Beach beauty is all about the sun, and how to avoid too much damage. I am fair-skinned, so don't tan particularly well and have to know my limits when it comes to time in the sun. I hate products that feel greasy or don't seem to sink into the skin. Here's what I take/use:

Ambre Solaire Sun Oil SPF30. Obviously any sun protection is good sun protection, but I like this as I am quite pasty and it adds a good sheen. I have never burned whilst using it and it sinks in well and doesn't feel greasy. I also really like their new spray-on lotion which goes on clear, though I don't have any of that (yet).
I have what seems to be an unusual approach to sun screen. I never go down a factor. I know some people start high and work down to say, a 15; I work up. I used to go from 20 to 30, though now I start at 30. If my skin is already brown and therefore a bit damaged, I don't want to be giving it less protection!

Soltan Factor SPF50+ soft pack. Perfect for shoving in a pocket and this little pack is good for topping up face or other areas that are particularly exposed. If I am out all day I tend to add a layer of this during the hottest hours.

Ultrasun SPF 30 Facial Sunscreen. I use this instead of a moisturiser in the morning if I'm going to be out in the sun. Sinks in really well, not greasy and doesn't leave a residue.

Charles Worthington Sunshine Leave-in UV protection Spray. A new product for me, I have to admit - a hair sunscreen. I don't colour my hair or straighten it regularly but it is very long and the ends do get a bit frazzled in the heat so this, I hope, will counteract it. I'll use it on dry hair before and after swimming.

Deep conditioner sachets. I use to use John Frieda Beach Blonde hair oil when I was swimming but it's sadly discontinued now. Instead, once I am out of the sea or the pool and have rinsed my hair, I add a sachet of deep conditioner while sunbathing. The heat makes it work really well.
I don't really like Pantene but I had three of these in my samples bag and it seemed a waste not to use them!

Toner and wipes. Both for cooling down. Pictured: Eau Roma Water from Lush (again!) and cucumber wipes from Boots which are very soothing on hot skin. And, of course, a big hat to keep the sun off my head. This one's from Accessorise.

Aloe gel. I find this far more cooling and effective than an after sun cream, all of which feel greasy and counter-productive. I put this on as soon as I get out of the sun to draw the heat out of my skin. This is a spray aloe I picked up in the States.

Badger Bali Balm. I've sworn by this for many years and never come across anything that counteracts redness quite so well. Once my skin is clean, and cooled from the aloe, I put this on before bed. It's quite greasy but very effective. I burn easily, and so I always take this on holiday and use it even if my skin doesn't look particularly red. I have even used it on my face in the past.

Do you have any must-have beach products?

Sunday 7 August 2011

Australia: week 1

Sadly no pictures, as I can't easily blog them from my phone, but updates nevertheless!

New this past week:
Finally, I have crossed the equator!
I have seen koalas, wallabies, (dead) kangaroos, an echidna, a seal and been near to some migrating whales. And that was before we visited Taronga zoo.
I have driven along the Great Ocean Road, learned it is a memorial to the soldiers who died in WW1, dipped my feet in the Great Southern Ocean, and gaped in awe at the 7 remaining Apostles.
I have enjoyed talking non-stop for almost 4 days with my lovely friend Beccy, who's been c fixture in my life since I was 12 and who made our road trip just amazing.
I have hiked to the edge of a cliff in the Blue Mountains.
I have eaten pies and discovered fixed cabins on caravan parks are amazing value for money.
I have drunk a lot of good Aussie wine (they sell the native stuff everywhere here, unlike in California). Pinot gris is a new grape to me but already a favourite.
I have watched Aussie rules football, and saw an NZ vs Aus rugby match in a pub.
I have photographed the Sydney opera house and bridge from the Manly ferry.
I have turned 33! And celebrated with the Antipodean contingent of the family.

You know there will be pictures...

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Wednesday Beauty: On the Plane

There's no reason you can't treat your flight like a mini spa session: indeed, it helps to pass the time. Most products come in a mini version, although full-size facial products are often small enough to be cabin friendly. I also find flights, with their dry, recycled air, are the perfect place to use products I might usually consider to be too heavy for my skin.

Here's what I take/do:

Wipes. Nice ones that don't make my face feel sensitive. These are Good Things wipes from larger Boots stores and smell deliciously fruity. I use them at the start of the flight to cleanse my face, and at the end of the flight to spruce up my decolletage and underarms.

Toner. This is Eau Roma Water from Lush: it's cooling and calming. At the start of the flight, I spritz after using the wipe and blot off using the cotton wool pads. At the end of the flight, I spritz over and blot off to remove any remaining traces of facial oil.

Serum. This is Kiehl's Acai repair serum which smells zingy and gingery. I apply it to my scrupulously clean skin at the start of the flight.

Then I add a layer of facial oil - I use Neal's Yard Orange Flower Oil. Moisturiser would of course work just as well but I would choose a night cream for in-flight use because I find the air gets really dry. Sometimes I will reapply the oil once or twice during the flight.

Elizabeth Arden 8 Hour Cream. This is a handy travel-sized tube I got, funnily enough, from in-flight duty free. I use this on my lips, cuticles and sometimes my feet, particularly if they look like they're beginning to swell and I want to give myself a quick foot rub to combat it.

I pop on my eyemask and put in my ear plugs if I want to sleep.

After waking up, or at the end of the flight, I use eye drops. I wear contact lenses and alhough they're continuous wear lenses and thus OK for sleeping in, I find my eyes can still feel a bit gritty. I don't spend a fortune on eye drops because they have to be binned within a couple of months and I can never use them all up. These are Boots own, suitable for lens wearers.

Deodorant. I use a stick gel deo, which is handy because I couldn't bring a spray on board. I will sometimes also bring perfume on board, or use some if I have bought any in duty free. I like to smell fresh! Of course I forgot to add toothbrush and mini toothpaste into the picture but these always go into my clear plastic bag too.

Day Moisturiser. I haven't got one in the picture because this is usually a sample I've picked up at the airport or out of a magazine. I apply this after using the toner to remove any facial oil residue. Depending on where/why I'm flying, I might put a bit of mascara or blusher on at this point too.