In case you were wondering about the fate of those roses from earlier this week – they’ve been dried and squirrelled away for sprinkling on baked goods for a bit of colour.

Drying rose petals is actually quite easy, even without a dehydrator or other fancy equipment. I just plucked the petals and arranged them in a single layer on a paper towel, then microwaved in 20 second intervals until they were dry and crisp. My microwave has lost a lot of its power over the years so it took a good several minutes in total, but your mileage may vary. Make sure that there aren’t any water droplets from rain or morning dew on the petals, as they will burn spots into the delicate petals when microwaved.

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The petals turn a darker colour when dried; mine went from a light pink to a magenta. I made the mistake of leaving my first batch from a week ago in a jar near a window, and they faded to a sad yellowish colour. These guys are going to be living in darkness until I’m ready for them. I’ve seen rose petals used as decoration on cakes in cafes which look really stunning, so I’m trying to think of how I can use these ones. Maybe a project for this weekend?

I’m tempted to go around my neighbourhood with a pair of scissors to collect more colours…

 

Last weekend I was in the fortunate position of having leftover dulce de leche and nothing to eat it with. As much as I like just eating it by the spoonful (yes really), I decided that a better use would be to sandwich it between shortbread cookies.

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Dulce de leche translates literally to ‘candy of milk’, and is made by slowly heating condensed milk (or milk and sugar) until it turns into something like a gooey caramel. The Boy made ours using this Taste.com.au recipe for an earlier project. Not being someone who does things by halves, he was hoping to sandwich it between gigantic chocolate peanut butter chocolate chip cookies into massive double-sized super cookies that would probably give you a heart attack from looking at. I decided to go down a slightly different route.

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Shortbread is a favourite of mine, because what could be more simple than butter, sugar, flour and a pinch of salt? There’s something so pleasing about the crumbly texture and the smooth flavour of butter, the perfect vehicle for a filling. I deliberately rolled out the dough quite thinly, less than 5mm, and cut them into circles small enough to eat in one bite. Somehow I don’t have any simple round cookie cutters, only things like ninjas and stars, but a little wineglass does the trick. Shortbread dough gets trickier to work with the warmer it gets, so I find it easiest to roll and cut straight onto some baking paper and transferring the whole sheet onto the baking tray, saving the hassle of trying to pry thin and delicate circles off the bench and preserving the nice circle shape. They don’t expand as they bake, so I just crammed as many as possible onto one sheet.

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Fifteen minutes in the oven at 180 degrees and these guys were nice and brown and crisp. I had to be careful spreading on the dulce de leche, because these biscuits are so short (that is, full of butter) that they snap and crumble with a fraction too much pressure. I found that smearing a circular dollop in the centre of the biscuit then twisting another one over the top, squishing the filling between them, gave the neatest results. The ones where I tried to put too much filling onto began to slide apart as the chilled dulce de leche melted slightly in the morning sun, delicious mistakes to be eaten before they made too much mess.

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Shortbread Cookies with Dulce de Leche Filling

A small but decadent sweet treat with just a bit of salt. Perfect with a cup of tea, just remember they can be very more-ish. Adapted from my butter-stained copy of The Cooking Book. Make roughly 30 double-decker cookies.

You’ll need:

  • ~1 cup of dulce de leche filling (recipe here)
  • 175g butter, softened
  • 50g sugar (for a not-t00-sweet biscuit – go for 75g if you’re not adding filling)
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Here’s what you do:

  1. Beat the sugar and butter together until soft and fluffy.
  2. Add the flour and salt, then mix until combined and the mixture forms a dough (it can look like dry breadcrumbs at this point, but it always comes together).
  3. Knead gently until it becomes a smooth dough.
  4. Preheat the oven to 180˚C.
  5. Roll the dough onto a lightly floured sheet of baking paper, to a thickness of ~4mm. The butter content can make this dough difficult to roll without sticking – I find giving the dough some time in the fridge and rubbing some flour over the rolling pin before rolling can help.
  6. Use a ~4cm round cutter to cut circles in the rolled out dough, then remove the scraps and repeat the process. As the biscuits don’t rise as they bake, they can be cut very close to one another.
  7. Move the sheet with cut circles on top onto a baking tray, and bake for ~15 minutes or until golden brown.
  8. Once baked, transfer to a cooling tray to cool completely before adding the filling.
  9. Carefully spread a dollop of dulce de leche onto the center of a biscuit with a circular motion, then push another on top, twisting as you go to evenly spread the filling.

I’ve found these cookies stay crisp for a few days in an airtight container, whilst the dough can be rolled into a log and frozen for up to 3 months, ready to be sliced up and baked for emergency cookies (it happens).

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P.S. I’m digging rustic, ‘real’ food styling lately, especially as it meant I could take photos right in my kitchen work area and just tidy up all in one go at the end. I often over think styled food shots, but this one was mostly on the fly and a whole lot faster for it. What do you think?

This weekend’s harvest:

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Fourteen grape tomatoes, of various ripeness levels. I’ve found that they tend to split or get attacked by bugs if I let them ripen fully on the vine, so have started picking them slightly green. Our plant has been surprisingly more prolific over winter than it was during warmer weather, and although the fruit take a little while to ripen they are beautifully sweet.

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Some pretty pink roses from our climbing vine, the petals of which I ended up drying in the microwave to decorate cakes with at some point in the future. I didn’t really have too much interest in our roses until I figured out how I could eat them! Although now that I’ve actually stopped to smell them, they do have a delicate scent.

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And one (slightly snail-eaten) four leaf clover. Still lucky right?

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Oh and I have high hopes for these little guys – spinach, radicchio and rocket grown from seed. I ended up thinning them slightly now they’re getting bigger and competing for space, pulling up a few here and there and using them on top of my dinner – a thrown-together affair of homemade bread, the riper grape tomatoes above, and some fancy fetta and olive oil.

I’m not the best gardener, but I think I’m getting better at not killing things right away at least!

Now that I’ve culled my clothing down to things that I actually really like, it’s much more in my interests to extend the longevity of each item. Being somewhat clumsy with food and calligraphy ink, I sometimes end up with clothes that are perfect except for a not-quite-removed stain, especially on the light coloured ones.

The solution I’ve come up with isn’t an original one – I just dye them a darker colour. Since I’ve discovered that pale colours aren’t really my thing anyway, this often ends up making me like my ‘new’ clothes better anyway. The process is quite straightforward - I used Dylon fabric dye in dark green, along with warm water and a lot of salt. I then stirred my clothes in it for 15 minutes, then every 15 minutes with one gloved hand, whilst watching Orphan Black on my iPad with the other. By the end of the episode it was ready to wash and set out to dry.

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Above you can see a before and after, and how the different shades and fabrics turned out, although I didn’t have the foresight to put them in the same order. My Lululemon bamboo/cashmere blend sweater (top in the left pic; bottom in the right) started out a pale grey, and ended up a slightly paler version of the suggested colour. My modal and silk t-shirt (middle in the left pic; top in the right) went from white to a slightly paler forest green, and both the silk and modal portions ended up a very similar colour. Lastly a dusky pink silk dress (bottom in the left pic; middle on the right) ended up a lovely olive green, although the polyester lining remained dusky pink! Technically I dyed more clothes in one batch than suggested, but I’m happy with the resulting medium tone rather than the darker green, for now at least. And of course it covered up those stains.

All of these items had been sitting in the ‘to be fixed’ pile for months before I got around to dyeing them, and now they’re back into regular rotation. I can also see this as being a simple and cheap way to breathe a bit of life into a capsule wardrobe without having to buy something completely new.

A few tips if you want to have a go at dyeing your own clothes:

  • Pay attention to the fabric – synthetic fabrics do not hold dye (trust me, I’ve tried it before) unless it’s done in a special way. I believe cotton will take dye better than the fabrics I used this time.
  • Remember that synthetic trims, thread or lining won’t take the dye, so you might end up with contrast stitching that you weren’t after!
  • If you’re dyeing something that already has a colour, think about how those colours will combine (for example, my dress ended up more olive than the packet suggested due to the pink).
  • The more items you throw in to dye, the lighter the overall colour is going to be. To get a similar colour to the packet, weigh your clothing first and stick to the instructions.

Now to get to the rest of my to-fix pile…

More Wardrobe Zen posts here.

Ah July – for me July is a month of birthdays (including mine and The Boy’s) and a whole lot of eating and drinking. Here’s my recap for this month’s Head & Heart.

“A monthly capture of my feelings and doings, in the raw.”

What I’ve been grateful for

Having the opportunity to go to STYLEAID, Perth’s biggest fashion fundraising event, which I worked on the website for. It was an amazing event with some great performances and fashion. I’ve never actually been to a black tie event before, so it was quite the experience!

Having the time, opportunity and inclination to learn new skills and hobbies, and even give back a little too. It’s occurred to me how very privileged I am (I scored extremely high on that test), so I’m trying to not just use all of it for personal gain.

What I’ve been thinking about

I’ve just started volunteering for CoderDojo WA, which is a program run on weekends to teach interested kids how to code. I’ve seen a lot of articles talking about how code literacy is an important skill for children (probably thanks to Obama’s push for Computer Science Education Week last year), but like a lot of other programmers/developers out there I think that focusing on the technical skill is missing the point. The important life skills you can learn via coding are analytical thinking, problem solving and not thinking that a failure is the end. An engineer, my dad taught me from a young age to break down problems into smaller problems, gather useful information from each ‘failure’, and use it to try a more educated approach the next time. This is exactly how I approach any web development I have to do (it never ever works perfectly the first time), but also how I try to approach life in general. I’m still figuring out how I can translate that into teaching these kids.

Sort of following on from that, I feel a bit weird talking about things like volunteering or giving blood – it sounds like I’m asking for some kind of congratulations, but that isn’t the case! In today’s hyper-connected world, promoting these causes to others who might end up helping out too is a good thing. They say it can take hearing something seven times for it to really click, so just in case this is the seventh time for you – I really encourage you to become a blood donor! They even give you a meal afterwards, which is pretty awesome. It isn’t as hard as you think it is.

What I’m excited for

Last week I started a letterpress course, with my second class this Wednesday, and I have so many ideas that I can’t wait to try. I’m learning the oldschool methods of typesetting – as opposed to having the design printed on a photopolymer plate – which is laborious but fascinating. Many original lead and wooden type cases and blocks have been donated to the school, so designing is a matter of finding the correct case in big metal drawers, grabbing out each individual character or block that you need, then laying them out into a forme with the appropriate leading (which is actually lead) ready to ink by hand and print on the proofing presses. I’m yet to make my first print, but I’ve started gathering ideas on Pinterest so I can try out as many things as possible in the six weeks.

My first attempt at letterpress typesetting; original wooden type

My first attempt at letterpress typesetting; original wooden type

What I’ve been doing

Eating, mostly. July is always a month of eating for me. Also more sketching of course; trying to get back into jogging; extending the life of my clothes and shoes by repairing them; throwing my annual winter feast; turning 29; trying to tick off as many items as possible from my 30 Before 30 list.

I’m having another go at growing salad leaves, after some previous failures. My rocket, spinach and radicchio have germinated in pots in my kitchen window, and I’ve just thinned them down to give the remaining ones the best chance. I’m terrible at thinning seedlings – I want them all to grow! – so just transferred the extras into pots outside to hedge my bets and see which location works out best. If they make it to a decent eating size I’m hoping to bring the pots in to work to add to my salads. Anyone have tips for growing salad leaves?

What I’ve been reading

I’m not sure how I’ve only just discovered the Brain Pickings blog, run by Maria Popova – each post is full of so many nuggets of wisdom taken from publications and speeches of amazing people, distilled down to their essence and translated into something I can relate to. I love how short but punchy each one is, giving me some excellent food for thought. Warning – they are peppered with links to related posts which are equally fascinating, so save yourself a good afternoon to flick through or save the best ones to read later.

I love this article about the benefit of creative hobbies – apparently giving yourself enjoyable, creative, low-level challenges is better for de-stressing than more typical passive activities like watching tv, online shopping etc. Even if your hobby doesn’t turn into a multi-million dollar company – or make any money at all – it’s still worthwhile pursuing, just for your mental health and general productivity. I now feel justified, as I have a ridiculous number of creative hobbies and side projects!

I’ve just passed the half way point of Walden, which is dragging on a bit but I will get there… eventually.

What I’ve been spending money on

Fancy dinners with The Boy for our birthdays; the Good Food & Wine Show (sadly quite boring), a bright red floor-length secondhand gown for $45 from Vinnie’s Retro (bargain!); wine; cooking ingredients. My life has relatively few expenses these days besides the basics and a few foodie splurges here and there, so I’m going to enjoy it and save whilst it lasts.


 

If you’d like to join us or see others’ posts in this monthly series, head on over to helario.us for the master list.

Pictured above – taken by me at STYLEAID, at the end of the fashion show.