Monday, December 12, 2016

Making Art in a Time of War: Part One - We Must Keep Creating

"I can't believe I'm etching cups with birds at a time like this."

"My art is so useless."

"I feel sucker punched. What's the point of trying to finish NaNoWriMo this year?"

"Everything I do feels trivial."

In the past couple of months I have had a large number of conversations with friends who, with each new socio-political announcemnet, fatal disaster, and world news event, questioned the worthiness and validity of their artwork.  Usually prolific writers I know put down their pens or spent hour staring at blank screens before giving up entirely on getting words down for a day, then for a week, then for a month.

With each new blow to the artistic community, I have listened to sculptures, painters, and writers question the importance of continuing to tell stories and create art.  It is disheartening to hear artist who know the collective value of art question their own worth within the community and up until now I have had difficulty in articulating my own internal railing against both the state of things in the world and my friends' despair in responding to them.  So here it is: when making art feels useless and writing fiction seems trivial or unimportant, it is even more imperative that we continue to (as said recently at the Night of Writing Dangerously) "battle our dragons" through our fiction and paint our stories in canvas and clay.

It boils down to this: 
We Must Keep Creating.

Monday, November 7, 2016

NaNoWriMo 2016 - Tea, Finnish Pancakes, and Ricotta

Contrary to the evidence (my current word count which is sitting a good 2000 to 3000 words below my target), NaNoWriMo is well underway for me, and I'm feeling confident in making it to 50,000 words before midnight of this November 31st.  Of course, I need to cut back on my baking and cooking experiments if I am to really catch up this week.

I have managed to avoid doing more with my Adagio account this month. Well, unless you count putting together one more writing blend to add to my Writer's Room tea blends: Writing by Candlelight.  I'm actually quite proud of this tea blend, and I can't wait until my tin arrives so that I can start brewing it before I sit down for my nightly writing sessions.

Earlier this year I was given a recipe for Pannu Kakku, a Finnish pancake made of
(at least now) equal parts flour, sugar, and milk with 1 egg and a pinch of baking powder per 1/4 cup of flour plus optional additives of lemon zest or vanilla.  It's baked in an oven safe skillet (cast iron) that has been preheated at 350*F with about a TBSP or 2 of butter so that it's hot and melted.  Roughly 30 minutes later (times vary with ovens I have found) and ta da! a really tasty and easy dish that always feels like a step up from the standard pancake.
I love this recipe so much I make it all the time, each time playing a little bit with the ingredients, experimenting with substitutions, adding different spices and flavorings.  But it is a bit time consuming and I need to cut back on making it so that I can focus more on my writing (at least for this month).  So yesterday, of course, I made another batch - basic recipe only, no crazy experimentation.

Of course, while I was in the kitchen I realized I had about a gallon of whey collected from the batch of yogurt I made (because of course I decided November was a great time to restart doing that) and decided I should try my hand at making ricotta cheese. (That did not work out at all - probably because it wasn't fresh collected whey, and had been sitting in a container in my refrigerator for a day).  So despite making a good push towards catching up on my word count last night, being at home near my kitchen has turned out to be too great a temptation away from my keyboard.

Not to worry, I've left the homestead behind for the day and have decided to go back to writing in cafes and coffee shops for the time being (at least until I am above my target word count), where I always seem to feel the creative bug a bit more keenly than when curled up with my cat, next to a kitchen smelling of cooking dough and hot spices.

And now - back to the noveling. Write On my fellow Wrimos! Write On!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Costumes, Choreography, and Cookies

October is almost gone, which means that my favorite holiday is almost upon us: Halloween! If you follow my Instagram, you already know that I have been decorating up a storm at my new place - stringing twinkly lights and autumn garlands, putting out figurines and witches hats, carving pumpkins and brewing apple cider.

This year in lieu of my normal All Hallow's Eve Mystery Party I will instead be attending a Night Circus Soiree.  My costume is well underway, all black and white with circus reminiscent stripes on the main skirt.  I have yet to figure out what or where I will put my Reveur's red accent but that shouldn't be too difficult to figure out.  Pictures will be posted to Instagram for anyone interested in seeing how it ends up :)

A couple of my aerial friends and I are beginning choreography for a silks and/or aerial rope duet (possibly group) piece.  If we ever get this circus tent completed we'll even have a place to perform the piece once it's done and we've had a chance to practice it.  Even if we're unable to perform it, we'll probably get a few videos of it to share.

Last but not least for this well overdue update: COOKIES! Below is a pic from my first foray into cookie decorating. Pretty cute, if I do say so myself!

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Witch is IN

Halloween is coming, and I finally - finally - had a chance to do a bit of house work in preparation. And by housework I mean pulling out the tubs of Halloween decorations I've collected over the years and start going crazy while listening to my All Hallows Eve music mix. So far I've decorated the fireplace (that we're not allowed to use for fire anyways), the stairwell, one of the windows, and a bookshelf, as well as hang one of the wreaths.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Musings on Yellow - Nail Polish

I’m organizing my nail polish collection when I realize that I don’t own any yellow polish. When I’m at the store, browsing through the various colors, trailing my fingers over the sparkly, glittered specials - I skip over yellow as if I can’t even see it.  It’s not intentional, I’ve just never thought about it until now.

It’s not that big of a deal. I don’t wear yellow. Not since I was 5 years old, dressed in a yellow dress with green tights, spending the day pretending I was a daffodil.

Maybe I'll look for yellow glitter polish next time I'm in the store.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The latest from the Cake Files

I realized today that I haven't posted any of my cakes in a while. Last month I did two cakes decorated in fondant to look like gift boxes.

The first cake was a black pepper spice cake I got out of an old copy of The Spice Cookbook - 1964 that was given to me a few months back.  The cake was good, but not nearly as spicy as I wanted.  I think next time I make it I'll add a bit more cloves and fresh ground black pepper.  I filled the cake with coconut cream. 

The bow was made with gum paste the week prior, and since I've been thinking a lot on the color yellow recently, I put yellow fondant polka dots over the main color fondant of pink.

The second cake I did was a two tier cake, the first tier being red velvet with a whipped cream filling, and the second tier was a funfetti cake (like the one I did for Mother's Day) with a dolce de leche filling.  Like the first cake, the bow was done out of gum paste and left to sit/harden for a week. I wrapped the base of each tier in a fake silver rhinestone ribbon. 

As I was carrying this cake to the person whose birthday it was, a woman told me she loved my "hat."  Looking at the photos, I can kind of see it now, actually. At the time I thought it was really funny that I had made a cake that was mistaken for a fancy hat.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Movie Review - Mohenjo Daro

I haven't done a review in a long while - years, actually - and yesterday I felt inspired to finally sit down and write up another one.
A touching, heartfelt film that manages to breathe life into familiar story architecture against the artistically inspired backdrop of the ancient city, Mohenjo Daro.
Rating: (out of 5)

Have you heard the story of the orphaned farm lad who dreams of life beyond his provincial borders, so goes to the city/capital/castle and discovers he has a much deeper connection to the province/kingdom/royal family than he ever knew? Along the way he saves/falls in love with a woman of a higher station, and takes on an evil tyrant while learning the truth about his parents/heritage.

Yes? I should think so. It's a pretty standard Hero's Journey story across a lot of cultures and Mohenjo Daro hits all of those beats as well as a few other major tropes (see below).  But if I avoided every story that utilized storytelling tropes or followed a Hero's Journey, I would never pick up a book or watch a film ever again.  And in doing so I would miss out on the richness stories bring to our lives, and completely overlook gems like Mohenjo Daro.  This is a film that shines because of its heart, not its cutting-edge storyline.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

SDCC 2016 - The (late) Highlights Reel

So I'm finally getting back into a post-SDCC, post-Nerdfest!, post-GISHWHES routine - just in time for me to move in to a new place... Yup. That's how I roll.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Musings on Yellow - The Sun Dress

“I don’t think I’m going to get it.”


“I don’t look good in yellow.” I don’t, maybe, but my blonde hair matches the pattern of yellow flowers on the short, flowy summer dress.

“But it’s adorable.” It is.

I shrug.

“You usually love this style.” I do.

“Yellow makes me look all pasty.” It doesn’t. I don’t think.

“It does not. And it’s covered in sunflowers. Sunflowers are awesome.” They are.

“I can’t afford it.” I could.

“I don’t need it.” I didn’t.

I wanted it, though. It was cute. But… it was yellow. Well, a bit of white covered in yellow and gold sunflowers.  The soft material slid sweetly through my fingers, swished back into place.

Five years later and I’m still thinking about that damn sun dress.  I wish I had bought it when I had the chance.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Stabbing at a river...

"Where is the Orcslayer!?"
"Killing a river."

- Journey Quest, Episode 3

And of course, the next time we see this "warrior" he is, in fact, attempting to stab a river to death with a sword. Because.... reasons.

Anyways, July was crazy busy. So was June for that matter, but June was the kind of crazy build-up busy that leads to a level of schedule madness that can only be described as, well, July. My July at least.

San Diego Comic Con was amazing fun, Nerdfest!2016 (Wizarding World) was meant to be 24 hours of movie marathoning and themed food but actually ended up lasting over 25 hours, and I found a new place to live so I've been prepping a move. Last week was also finals week - 11 hours of finals which were done over the course of 1.5 days.  Also, I became an aunt to two beautiful twin girls.  So you know, not much has been happening. >_>

I have been working on writing up the panels I attended at SDCC, going through the pictures from Nerdfest, and working on a new piece I might serialize. So, unlike last time I updated, there is more to come soon.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Taking a break from cakes - a riff on carrot halwa

Just to remind people that I don't just do cake type desserts, and also because I had a dearth of quickly spoiling carrots, I decided to try my hand at 'Gajar Ka Halwa' - an Indian carrot-based dessert that is absolutely delicious. Of course, as soon as I decided to do that I realized that I had almost none of the most common (according to the internet) ingredients, except for the carrots and a bit of cardamom powder (I really need to restock my spice rack).  So what follows is my last-minute, use what I had on hand, riff on Carrot Halwa. 

A week or so ago my housemates came home with over 2 lbs of organic, fresh out of the ground carrots, put them in the refrigerator, and from what I can tell promptly forgot about them (to be fair, I've done the exact same thing many times after going to a Farmers Market on an empty stomach).  I pulled those out, washed and peeled the good ones, and tossed the rest.  I also had about half of a 14 oz container of sweetened condensed milk left from my last attempt at a mirror glaze, some coconut milk, light brown sugar, regular butter, craisins (dried cranberries) and roasted/salted pistachios still in the shell. These were the closest items in my pantry to ingredient lists that come up when I searched for recipes online.

~2 lbs of fresh, peeled carrots
~7 oz of sweetened condensed milk
1 cup of coconut milk
1/8 cup whipping cream
2 TBS butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup rough chopped roasted/salted pistachios

I still don't own a food processor and grating 2 lbs of carrots sounded way too tedious so I dumped the milks and cream into a blender with the carrots and pulsed it on high until it was roughly the consistency and size of rice.  Then I drained the liquid into a pot and set it aside. In a nonstick skillet I cooked the carrots over medium heat (electric stove) for about 10 minutes. I added the carrots to the milk along with sugar and cooked it over medium heat until it began to separate from the edge of the pot and the liquid had reduced by about half (approximately 20 minutes), stirring constantly.  I added the butter, dried cranberries, and the cardamom, and continued to cook over medium heat for another 10 minutes, stirring constantly.
At this point, I suggest tasting it to see if the consistency and sweetness are to your preference. I liked it a little less sweet and a bit more al dente, so I took it off the stove and mixed in the pistachios.  So, so tasty.  It was good hot off the stove, it was good somewhat warm, and - as I eat leftovers from the fridge - I can tell you it is good cold as well.

For the following information, if you find any mistakes please, please let me know so I can make sure I correct it. I don't want to be spreading misinformation, and this is only what I gleaned while researching recipes for halwa, and thought was pretty neat.

According to Wikipedia (yes, I know it's not a reliable academic source, but there are some interesting links at the bottom of the page) - gajar ke halwa is a sweet dessert pudding popular in Northern India and Pakistan, and often served during Indian festivals like Diwali ('Festival of Lights' that takes place over several days during the fall). Served hot during the winter months, it is usually made with nuts, milk, sugar, khoya, ghee, and grated carrot cooked into a pudding form and is also popular because it is light, nutritious, and vegetarian.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

*Cough**Cough* - random updates while I recupe from another cold

With a lack of recently decorated cakes, culinary experiments, or progress on either my Circus Tent BB-8 Droid projects, I have been left with something of a lull in updates. The persistent cough, newly developed allergies, and my increasingly busy academic schedule are definitely not helping matters.  I am determined however, to get back into a more regular posting schedule. So to kick June off on a bright note, some fun news!

Filming on a new Netflix Original Series began in my area, and I got called up to be an extra (so I may or may not actually make it into the background, but hey, paying work that is also fun!).  The show is called "Thirteen Reasons Why" and while the premise is definitely not unicorns and rainbows (it's about a girl who commits suicide and sends 13 tapes as her suicide note), I have heard that the book it is based on of the same title is really good.  I'll admit, I went to the casting call on a lark because my Dad and a friend were interested. I didn't actually think I would get a callback.

Edits on my adventure fiction book are coming along well, and I have received positive reviews from a few people that make me confidant in the direction it's going. Also in the book world, I have begun collecting my culinary experiments into a makeshift cookbook. I'm thinking I may get it self-published just because I can and I know at least some of my family may be interested in what goes in there. I would, of course, also include the handwritten recipes of my late step-mother so there's some sentimental value in the collection.

Next up in the culinary/cake world is my attempt at Death By Chocolate Cake, loosely inspired by a recipe in this cookbook: Of course, as with everything that comes out of my kitchen, I have put my own spin on things.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Cake Decorating: Mother's Day Edition

Cake decorating has taken off, as well as my academics and aerial training.  So this post is a little bit belated. I ended up baking three cakes for Mothers Day, 1 on commission and 2 for family - one for my sister in law and one for my own mother.

The commissioned cake was ordered the night before Mothers Day and all they wanted was chocolate upon chocolate. Straightforward enough, so to spruce it up a bit I cut the cake layers thin, so that the cake ended up being 7 layers of cake and 7 layers of filling, frosted with a chocolate buttercream filled with shaved chocolate.  This may not have been the infamous Death By Chocolate cake (as that takes 2 days to make) but it came pretty close.
 The picture to the right was taken by the cake recipients after they'd had a few pieces. Hmmmm. So many layers of chocolate. From all accounts it was pretty delicious!

The next cake I did was for my mother, and was also a round cake.  She requested lemon and vanilla flavors, so I made two cakes, one vanilla, and one my special lemon curd cake, filled the cake with alternating vanilla cream and lemon curd between each of the 4 layers, and frosted in a lemon whipped cream.  The decorations were buttercream because I still haven't found a good recipe for decorative frosting that doesn't lose shape over time.

You can kind of see where I accidentally dropped my spatula into the chocolate glaze, but for the most part I think it turned out looking pretty good. From partaking in the cake later that day I know it tasted good. I'm going to have post my lemon curd cake recipe at some point because it never fails to be absolutely scrumptious.

The third cake I did for Mothers Day was a sheet cake for my sister in law who is also very pregnant with twins. She loves peanut butter and funfetti cakes, so I played around with a few healthier, from scratch recipes, and made my own vanilla funfetti cake with a peanut butter cream filling.

As you can see, my newly developed rose making skills were a theme this month.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Cookbook Treasures: Hippopotamus Stew

So in the past few weeks I have moved, I have helped a friend move, and have restarted work on two major building/crafting projects. During the packing and transporting and gifting of various boxes, a friend offered me two bags of cookbooks for me to look through.

At my writers group meeting the next day I was flipping through the FAHA Ladies and Friends Favorite Recipes - 1986 and found this particular gem nestled between a pasta dish and champagne punch recipe:
Hippopotamus Stew
(From the Wambasi Tribe of Tanganyika)
1 medium size hippopotamus
300 lb. potatoes (white)
189 lb. yellow onions
111 lb. carrots
85 lb. celery, diced
16 lb. pepper
38 lb. salt
1 clove garlic (for just a hint)
1/4 ton parsley
2 rabbits (optional)
          Skin hippo - make certain you remove all the hide. Cut hippo into bite-size pieces. Lay them out and season with salt and pepper. Place in rather large tub. Rub rim of tub with garlic. Add enough water to cover. When water boils, reduce heat and simmer over kerosene stove for about 4 weeks. The day before serving add remaining ingredients. Simmer a little longer until done. This will serve 900 guests. If more are expected, add the 2 rabbits.
Barbara Costa

So there's that.
It's amazing what you can find in some of these older cookbooks.

Monday, April 4, 2016

And now for something completely different - musings on the ethics of communication policies relevant to manned interplanetary missions

During my defense of my final Masters degree exam, I was asked if I had learned anything unexpected or new. Of course, after 2+ years studying aerospace science I most definitely had learned new and unexpected things about space, science, engineering, and human exploration. My response, then, was of a question that had dogged my mind for months during the various courses I took on human factors and safety systems, and further developed while reading and watching The Martian (by Andy Weir): communication ethics.

A quick note on terms and topics. When I refer to communications and communication policies, I am speaking of communication between astronauts/explorers and Earth/mission control, and the rules and regulations that affect those communications.  What I am discussing below covers interpersonal communications only, and is not a question of those mission critical communications or communications that involve politically or organizationally sensitive material that fall under the purview of those in intelligence and security.

Written below was part of my response to the defense question, and a list of supporting references that I used:

Submitted for Graduate Capstone Defense in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements of Master of Aeronautical Science
November, 2015

During my course of study, I began my own examination of the ethical considerations that should be incorporated into the building of communication policies for future interplanetary missions, and the repercussions such discussions could have on the building of future crews to Mars or farther.  Stress, trauma, and bereavement have been shown to affect proficiency, and increase error rates (Delespaux, 2013; Ellis, 2006; Kanas, et al., 2009).  In a way, this is the basis for suggesting that there should be a set policy on determining whether or when it is appropriate to share communications that could be traumatic in nature with crew members on interplanetary missions.  

The loss of a family member, spouse, or child, or the loss of a home or home town to natural disaster may seem extreme, but they are examples of traumatic events well within the realm of possibility.  While it seems logical that there should be some kind of policy in place overseeing communication with space crews on interplanetary missions, the ethics of withholding such information as the death of a child, weighted against the safety of an entire crew, will require serious reflection and discussion.  Ethically speaking, any policy that restricts communications in this way would have to be known and agreed to by participants well in advance of missions, but in doing so may cause some potentially excellent Mars explorers candidates to self-eliminate out of the process.  International cooperation would also be needed from any country with an astronaut on a Mars crew.

It would be possible to continue with what appears to be a method of determining how and what type of communications to share on a case by case basis, as long as such decisions were in part made by medical or psychiatric professionals.  However, despite being able to understand why it is important to overall mission safety to put serious consideration into how communications should be regulated, I can also see how such seemingly corporate or organizational decisions could be controversial.


Delespaux, E., Ryckebosch-Dayes, A-S., Heeren, A., and Zech, E. (2013). Attachment and Severity of Grief: The Mediating Role of Negative Appraisal and Inflexible Coping [On-line] Retrieved from:

Ellis, A. (2006). ‘System Breakdown: The Role of Mental Models and Transactive Memory in the Relationship Between Acute Stress and Team Performance’ Academy of Management Journal [On-line] Retrieved from:

Kanas, N., Sandal, G., Boyd, J. E., Gushin, V. I., Manzey, D., North, R., Leon, G. R., Suedfeld, P., Bishop, S., Fiedler, E. R., Inoue, N., Johannes, B., Kealy, D. J., Kraft, N., Matsuzaki, I., Musson, D., Palinkas, L. A., Salnitskiy, V. P., Sipes, W., Stuster, J., and Wang, J. (2009). ‘Psychology and culture during long-duration space missions’ Acta Astronautica Volume 66 [On-line] Retrieved from: