Saturday, 22 August 2015

Pride and Piña Colada Cheesecake (No Bake)

I had a friend around for lunch the other day. Last time I saw her we were reminiscing about our university days and about the time that I attempted to make cheesecake using cottage cheese instead of soft cheese. Apparently you can actually do this but you have to sieve the cottage cheese first. I had not, and created a lumpy, slightly salty-tasting cheesecake which only she would eat (something I put down to smoking having killed her tastebuds).
Anyway, following this conversation I decided to try prove I could make a decent cheesecake. My friend was famous at university for her love of pina coladas, she went out dressed as one once, I couldn't find a recipe for a pina colada cheesecake on-line that I entirely liked, so I read several and then made it up as I went along with very successful results!

Piña Colada No-Bake Cheesecake

(Makes enough to fill 10 small ramekins)


For the Base

100g Butter
200g Digestive Biscuits

For the Middle

200g Packet of Creamed Coconut (the solid kind)
300g Packet Soft Cheese
50g Brown Sugar
300ml Milk
Gelatine (enough to set 1 pint of liquid)

For the Top

400g Tinned Pineapple
Pineapple Jam


1. Smash the digestive biscuits into fine crumbs using your preferred method (in my case a plastic bag and a rolling pin). Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat and mix the crumbs in with it. Divide the resulting mixture between the ramekins and press down with the back of a spoon. Put the ramekins in the fridge to set while you make the middle bit.

2. Using a fork, smoosh together the block of creamed coconut, the soft cheese and the brown sugar. Using a hand-blender, slowly mix in the milk until you have about a pint of creamy goodness (I did this by eye, so you may need more or less than 300ml of milk). You will then need to add your gelatine according to the instructions on the packet. I used pork gelatine leaves, which involved having to soak the leaves in cold water first, then slowly warming the coconut mixture in a saucepan, and melting the gelatine in it. Having incorporated the gelatine, spoon the mixture into the ramekins and leave in the fridge to set (I left it overnight).

3. Drain the tinned pineapple and mix it up in a bowl with a couple of tablespoons of the pineapple jam (exactly how much depends on your personal taste). Spoon on top of the coconut mixture and serve (if I'd had any cocktail umbrellas I would have decorated the ramekins with those).

Untested Ideas

This could, of course, be made in one cake tin. My guessimate would be that a 20cm springform tin would be appropriate. I chose to make it in ramekins because I was being a bit experimental and it is easier to do that without ruining everything in ramekins. Also, as I was making far more than my friend and I would eat in a single sitting I wanted it to keep better, which I find happens with individual portions.

If I'd had any rum, I probably would have experimented using it. You could try adding some to the middle bit in place of some of the milk, or making some pineapple and rum jam for the top.

Fresh pineapple can be a bit tough to eat and sometimes reacts badly with dairy products which is why I decided to stick with canned, but obviously you could try fresh for the top. My initial cheesecake just had canned pineapple on the top without the jam, but I felt it wasn't quite pineappley enough. The jam is frankly a bit odd on its own but it works well at enhancing the pineapple flavour. I am also considering making it again with some pineapple juice in place of the milk.

Finally I am thinking about using dessicated coconut, coconut biscuits and/or coconut oil in the base.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Dignity and Digital Painting

I've been practising drawing using my phone. I have a Wacom graphics tablet for my PC, but I prefer the experience of being able to draw on the surface where the image is, if that makes sense. I am still getting used to the difference in control between pencils and a tablet and I miss the natural messiness of real world materials. However, it easier to record progress on digital art, to share it with others and to adjust for one's inevitable mistakes...
This is the first larger piece I have worked on. It is based on a photo I took in the Spanish town of Jerez. I am absolutely fascinated by the abandoned and the decaying, so although this might not seem like the obvious choice of subject matter I enjoyed painting it and am pleased with the results. It is also a bit of a comedy piece - I was thinking about the film Labyrinth and the character of Shale from Dragonage: Origins.

This was the initial sketch I did - I try and do the sketch in a contrasting tone to the end piece so I can easily pick it out. I really like the dark orange/teal combo on this one - almost wish I'd done something different with the colours.

After doing some colour blocking and basic shading I started putting on the detail.

I accidentally blended the background layer with the teal colour-blocking layer, which made it more difficult to edit either. I also felt I'd made the background a bit too dark, which distracted from the statues so I erased it.

This is ostensibly the finished piece, although I am considering reversing my earlier choice to lighten up the wall in the background. While it emphasises the statues, it means the white pigeons are kind of lost, and the picture seems a bit sanitised somehow.

I would be really interested to hear from anyone else who likes painting abandoned places/scenes. You can find me on DeviantArt or Twitter (@LucySaintSmith)

Change is Afoot!

I started this blog to have a place to post my book reviews for Netgalley. Then I started studying for an MA in Library and Information Science, and this kind of fell by the wayside. I have been thinking about blogging about other things I enjoy that might vaguely be considered work related for a while and since I rather liked this, admittedly underused, blog I have now resolved to start blogging my book reviews again (instead of sticking them on Goodreads) and adding to that posts on other projects I am working on. These projects will be mainly craft-based things that I am doing in my own time but might want a record of somewhere.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon

Zenn Scarlett is a teenage girl who lives on Mars and is training to become a vet who treats alien megafauna. Earth has become extremely xenophobic and has cut off all contact with other planets, fearing alien contamination. This leaves the (human) Martian society decaying, unable to get all the materials that it needs. Zenn struggles with the resentful attitude of the local humans towards her alien patients, the absence of her parents and the apparent development of strange new mental powers, all whilst trying to pass her end of year exams.
I liked this book. It is imaginative sci-fi for a young adult audience. Zenn is a likeable main character, and the various creatures that she treats are wonderfully described. My favourite was the sunkiller - giant flying reptiles that carry whole cities on their backs. It really appealed to the young girl in me that wanted to be a vet! The Martian community has a bleak, western-like feel which I enjoyed and while the plot wasn't a page-turner it was interesting and well paced.
There were a couple of downsides. Firstly, I might have missed it, but I don't think it was explained why the Martian humans couldn't just trade with other planets for the things that they needed. Obviously the technology would be different, but it would have made more sense if they had adapted, although this would have ruined the plot. Secondly, sometimes the exposition was a bit clumsy - too much of Zenn's thoughts explaining things, which dented my immersion in the book.
These things aside, I enjoyed it and I would recommend it to my students who like sci-fi and also as something a little different for those who enjoy animal stories. I am looking forward to the sequel, and hope that it will reveal more of the universe and some more interesting creatures.

Score: 8/10

Martha Wells

I have to confess I have not written a review for a while because a. I had a Manuscripts Studies essay due in that I really wanted to do well and b. because I have been on a total Martha Wells binge!
I started by re-reading Death of the Necromancer which was even better than I remembered it. I am obsessed with 19th century London, so I loved the feel of the fantasy city of Vienne, where the book is set, which evokes a decaying 19th century city beautifully. I had also forgotten the mish-mash of 19th century literature references, from The Count of Monte Cristo to Sherlock Holmes which are brilliantly woven in.
I then read City of Bones for the first time and was completely blown away! It is set in a fantasy desert landscape, with cities nestled amid the ruins of an ancient civilisation that was almost wiped away in a mysterious occurrance 1000 years before. The main character, Khat, was someone I could really empathise with. He and his business partner are dealers in ancient relics, and I loved the way that it was all about the relics for them, and money was just something they needed to live. The plot was gripping and the heroine, Elen, and all the secondary characters were brilliantly realised. This is a book that desperately needs a sequel!
Finally I read the Raksura trilogy. Initally I found the first book to be quite disappointing. It took me a very long time to get into it, the main characters felt a little too alien. I persevered, however, and by the end of the first book was very glad that I had. The world, and the societies within it are fantastically detailed, imaginative and interesting. I liked the flipping of gender roles and the strong female characters.
Martha Wells is just an amazing writer. I love the themes that run through her work - ruins, abandoned settlements and the sense of previous societies, damaged male leads learning to trust and strong female characters. She writes with great imagination and flair, creating intricate societies and worlds that I would really like to visit.

Death of the Necromancer - 10/10
City of Bones - 10/10
The Raksura Trilogy - 8/10

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Quintessence by Daniel Walton

Quintessence is the second of two fabulous books I have been reading with exploration and maritime adventure at the centre of them. It is an historical fantasy set at the end of Edward VI's reign (mid-sixteenth century). The world is like ours, but it has been proven to be flat. The book opens with an English Admiral returning to London with a ship full of rocks and sand and a crew who are all dead within a few days. An alchemist, seeking to uncover the mysteries of life, wants to take the Admiral's ship and return to the mysterious island that he claims to have found at the edge of the world. The King's doctor and his family become entangled in this journey through both religious conflicts and scientific curiosity and the stage is set for an epic adventure that dwells on the themes of obsession, colonialism and religion.
Walton's writing reminds me of Tim Powers in that he creates a really strong historical background onto which he maps the fantastical elements of the story. He gives a lot of consideration to the struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism that was prominent in England and much of Europe at the time. He also demonstrates a strong understanding of the issues of colonists and the colonised. These strong backgrounds enable him to give his characters powerful motives which makes for a great plot (although there is a bit of deus ex machina at the end).
I loved all of the characters, Parriss (the King's doctor) was probably my favourite as he is struggling with so many things throughout the story. The creatures of the island and surrounding ocean are all beautifully imagined too, and the science (or alchemy) of it is credibly thought out.  As with Emilie and the Hollow World (my last review) I tasted notes of The Odyssey and Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I loved the whole feel of this novel - it felt quite genuinely sixteenth century - and the sense of excitement at exploration. Highly recommended. 

Emilie and the Hollow World by Martha Wells

Quite a while ago now I read Martha Wells' most famous novel Death of a Necromancer and I was totally blown away (if you haven't read Death of a Necromancer stop reading this and go and buy it now!). I just wanted to exist in the world she created, and I was so devastated that her other books were not a direct follow-on (I think she has written some about the children and other descendents of the characters, but it's not the same...) I didn't read anything else by her, figuring I'd come back to her later. Well now I finally have and I am very pleased to report that I love her work as much as ever.
Emilie and the Hollow World is the first of two books I've read recently that have an exploratory maritime theme, both of which have been awesome. It is a fantastical re-imagining of Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth -  the events and characters are largely different but the gist and feel of the story are the same. If you enjoy the great old Victorian adventure stories (Haggard, Verne and Conan Doyle) then this is definitely a book for you. It has all the rollicking adventure with none of the inherent sexism and racism that the Victorian stories unfortunately bring to the table.
Emilie is a 16 year-old runaway who accidentally boards a ship heading for the centre of the Earth. She is a fantastic character - vulnerable without being pathetic, capable without being unrealistic - somewhat like Phoebe in Vacant Graves. She was my favourite character, although I also liked Miss Marlende - the fiercely intelligent scientists daughter at the centre of the expedition to rescue her father.
Martha Wells creates a fabulous world, both on the surface and at the centre of the Earth. The journey accross the ocean at the centre of the world brought to mind The Odyssey and Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I particularly liked the ruined cities in the sea as I have a penchant for abandoned buildings!
When I reached the end of this book I didn't want to put it down and read something else, just like Death of a Necromancer I wanted to remain in this world. Martha Wells is a great author, and this is a great book which I highly recommend.