Sweet shortcrust pastry

pastryballSweet Pastry 101

Colleen tells me that shortcrust pastry gets its texture from shortening the gluten strands with a fat. This makes it melt-in-the-mouth. In Seattle, the humidity in the air requires attention to the texture of the mix and you may need to add or subtract flour to get the desired end. A light hand is needed to avoid overworking the pastry.

Sweet pastry should be able to stand on its own, and for Colleen’s preferred recipe, it can be sliced up and served as shortbread.

Ingredients

1.5 sticks of butter at room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour
1 large egg
2-3 tablespoons of water
80 grams (1/4 cup) of baking sugar

Equipment

A large bowl
Plastic wrap or wax paper (either is good)
Rolling pin
Measuring cups
Pie dish or dishes
Pastry weights (this can be rice or uncooked split peas)
Oven preheated to 400F

Making

Cream butter and sugar together using your hand.
(heat of hand helps melt butter)
Add one egg and mix thoroughly.
Gradually add the flour until pastry forms a ball
(you may not need all the flour)
Add a couple teaspoons water to help make pastry workable (it does not break)
Pastry should leave sides of the bowl clean and not be sticky

Wrap in plastic or wax paper and put in fridge for half an hour.
This allows the gluten strands to relax and not be stretched,
creating the desired ‘shortness’.

Using pastry

Take out of refrigerator and place between two sheets of plastic or wax paper.
Use rolling pin to roll out to the desired size and thickness.
Remove one side of the paper or plastic and roll loosely around the rolling pin to lift it.
Roll out over pie dish, pastry side down.
Ease pastry into the corners without stretching.
Finish the edges by pinching between finger and thumb to flute edges.
Use parchment paper as a barrier for the weights. Add pastry weights to fill base evenly.

Blind Baking

This will prepare the pastry and cook it partially so it does not become soggy when you add a wet filling.

Place in oven and cook for 15 minutes.
Remove the weights and parchment paper (dough will still be moist on bottom).
Cook for another 5 minutes to dry the bottom of the pastry.
The pastry is now ready for filling.

Children’s stories in the Australian Bush

Australian animals by Ria Loader

Billabong Flats animals by Ria Loader

These are modern fables, tales of the ordinary acts of kindness and friendship, of discovery and adventure. Purely invented, they come from memories of childhood. They occur at the intersection of seeing the animals in the wild, and imagining what their lives would be like if they could tell us stories.

Billabong Flats is a mythical place in the Australian Bush. It is somewhere on the Eastern part of the continent, in the hills, between Sydney and Melbourne, thereabouts. It is also in another fictional world at the same time. Billabong Flats shares virtual space within my love affair with other imaginary places like the Five Acre Wood, the Peace Rock, and the abode of Ratty and Mole. It is just as real as you’d like it to be – no more, and no less.

In my stories, the animals dream the world, as much as the world creates them. The Land speaks through them. They welcome all, no matter how different they may be, or what native languages they may speak. When they come together, they can all speak the same tongue. The voices become that of friendship and accord, where all can have adventures together.

“Each according to their nature,” says Flying Fox, who likes to have fun.

“Each according to their means,” says Koala, who is wise in such things.

The first adventure occurs when Koala organizes the First Billabong Flats All Creature Race. The letters are all in capitals, because it’s a Very Important Thing.

There is a sense of fair play at Billabong Flats. Friendship is as important as winning, though winning the race would be a fine thing, if only there are not too many distractions. It’s an opportunity to get together and have fun. Koala is the organizer. She is a busy and industrious being, when she is not sleeping, which is most of the time.

I wrote this first story during the American election in 2016. My sweetie was annoyed at the shenanigans of the election, and the story was written for his internal eight year old, the child inside him. He loved fairness and justice; this one is for you my Raven.

When the world gets too noisy, and there is discord and strife all around, come visit the world of Billabong Flats and have some fun.

THE BIG RACE LINK

Food: DIY protein snacks and bars

chocolatechipsHealthy snacks for people on the go

This lovely little oddity comes to us courtesy of a food co-op in Madison, Wisconsin some 30 years ago, along with the slogan, “Power to the Beeple”. My sweetie told me about these “beeple bars”, and with a little experimenting, we reinvented the recipe. It’s basically a nut and protein bar with protein powder, honey and lecithin to bind it together. There are endless variations on a theme, some with more or less sweetener. If you want to go with peanut butter, no-salt peanut butter is best, especially the grind-your-own from PCC, Whole Foods or your local co-op grocer.

Ingredients

  • Nut butter – peanut, almond, macadamia
  • Whey protein powder
  • Cocoa powder, and maybe some chocolate chips
  • Binding agent – honey, lecithin (not sweet), molasses or agave syrup (lower sugar)
  • Optional – dried fruit, coconut flakes (unsweetened)

Making

  • Blend the  nut butter with honey and lecithin
  • Add WPI protein powder (chocolate flavored is good, or plain), and cocoa.

Use your hands to smooth it all together . It’s all kinds of messy and gooey, but by hand is the best way to mix all the ingredients. Keep mixing until it has the texture of a moist dough, all stuck together.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tips

  • If it’s too dry, add more lecithin
  • If it’s too moist, add more protein powder

Finishing touches

  • Take the ‘dough’, make a one inch ball, roll it in coconut and refrigerate.
  • Roll out a bar, add some raisons, wrap in wax paper or foil, keep in the refrigerator until ready to add to your day pack.

Variations

  • Add chocolate chips
  • For a desert treat, dip in chocolate
  • For some ‘snap’ add rice crispies
  • I particularly like blending a couple of nut butters together like peanut butter/almond butter or macadamia/pecan

These snacks are tasty and nutritious, and best of all, you know all the ingredients that went into them. 

7 Things I learned about book marketing

It’s no exaggeration to say that I started this year with only a little bit of a clue about book marketing. I’d attended a couple of podcasts last year and had read the amazing Joanna Penn. Those activities gave me some places to start.

  • Research the Amazon categories that are closest to the book project
  • Use keywords when setting up the book in amazon
  • Use a title and subtitle on the book cover

However, these starting places ended up being more tactical than strategic. I wasn’t looking at this from the top down. I was still looking at it from the ‘things to do’ rather than approaching marketing from a classical perspective.

When I attended the Smarter Artist Summit this year, my ideas got turned on their head. Michelle Spiva gave a great talk about how  to stop trying to trick your fans into following you. Her approach was to teach them to love you instead. Michelle had a couple of key things to share. Tactics are not marketing. Strategy, it turns out, is about having a goal for what you want to do. The classic push and pull marketing strategies can be leveraged to build an overall plan. Michelle demonstrated how using both push marketing (like targeted advertising) and pull marketing (like a newsletter) can work together.

The seven main things I learned from conferences this year about marketing:

  1. Figure out what your goal is
  2. Write your ‘I am’ statement. For me:
    I am a great kids author and illustrator
    I am an awesome designer and maker
  3. That ‘branding’ is who people think you are when you’re not around
  4. Organizing events into push and pull categories helps you strategize better
  5. Push is a pattern interrupt. It is repetitive, qualified, trusted
  6. Pull is warm traffic with no intermediary, like a sale
  7. Go to where your traffic is

Michele Spiva emphasized having a long term marketing plan in order to avoid churn and burn. There are three main areas to focus on. Those are Traffic, Conversion and Sales. Oddly enough, my dad would have said much the same things. Traffic is about getting attention, conversion is about giving the traffic something to do. For conversion and sales, as an author I’m looking for true fans. To find the traffic, you need to go where they are. You need to hang out and be a genuine member of the community. Authenticity cannot be faked; they need to be your tribe.

To get back to the seven things I learned, a few words about each of these.

  1. Figuring out what your goal is
    Do you want to be a great blogger, a popular author, a celebrated illustrator?
    Your particular goals will differ. Without a goal, it’s hard to pitch to people.
  2. Write your “I am” statement 
    It helps to figure out what you’d put on a sticky note. Something that happened at the Smarter Artist Summit this year was people asking “what’s your superpower?” That was a clarifying question. Try it out for yourself.
  3. Branding
    Who people think you are when you’re not around. Huh. That means all of your messages need to be consistent. You get to understand some of this when you read your book reviews. Branding is as much about opinions as it is about what you think you’re putting out there.
  4. Push and pull strategies
    I found this super helpful. It allows me to draw a couple columns and work out where the events are, and what the tactics are for each event. Brilliant.
  5. Push  – an event that is aimed at getting traffic
    Advertising can be incredibly targeted. Amazon ads, for example, target people who  have bought books like yours. The value of the ‘also bought’, those recommendations that are shown to people when they are browsing for a new book, cannot be underestimated. Other entries into a sales funnel are free things that can be managed through Instafreebie, Bookbub, or Goodreads. Competitions are good ways to get a mailing list in place. As that’s something I haven’t done yet, this was all a bit new. My takeaway was being picky about who you have on your list.
  6. Pull events are what you do with people who already opted in
    You need to give your mailing list a reason to open your newsletter. It arrives in the mailbox, which is grand. However, it needs to avoid being annoying or too frequent. Making it valuable will build true fans.
  7. Go where your traffic is
    If you’re on Goodreads, you can recommend books you like. That gets you known in the community. When you have something of your own to contribute, like a new book, then it’s not spammy to mention it. Hang out in the forums, join lists for things you are interested in, and make conversation. It’s good to be a welcome visitor in the room.

I am continuing to learn more about publishing and book marketing all the time. Attending workshops and podcasts with indie authors like Michelle Spiva gives me inspiration.

This year, my strategy is to start is building an overall marketing plan. Then I’ll work on the top of the funnel for one project area at a time. Thank you to everyone who shared their tips and tricks with me. I’ll keep telling you what I find out along the way.

Design for the right size screen

The monitors are larger,

so we can fit more on the screen

vectorstock_18712444One of the challenges of design is to have a response to the desire to fit more on the screen, as it seems obvious (to some) that a larger screen means more real estate to fill. Periodically, we also hear a proposal to have wider text, beyond the 75 characters that a person can read without turning their head. And that really depends on whether the device is at 10 feet, like a television or hand-held, like a smart phone.

However, the proportional relationship described by the distance between eyes, the reach of the arm, the amount a person can view without turning their head – those hold true, regardless of the size of the screen, console, device. For most practical purposes, designers use the width of 45-75 characters as the optimal width for reading. That’s actually why we have columns in magazines and newspapers. It makes it easier to read. We can cheat those numbers a bit, but beyond around 80 characters, we need to understand how we’re hurting readers.

As designers of human-computer interactions and experiences, we find ourselves drawing pictures to show people how that works. We draw the distance between human eyes, the viewing distance of the screen, at arm’s length away from the person, and the cone that represents the field of vision. We show a novel held in the hand, and examples from movies such as star wars, where there are a few large words across the screen, but those words fill the whole visual field

A long time ago

In a galaxy

Far far away

We show a person holding up their thumb, and moving it around at arm’s length. This simulates how we parse information, the thumb being the point of attention, and moving the thumb shows the bite-sized chunk of information we see at a time. The size of the monitors has changed, but the focus of human eyes has not. Human-machine interface follows the same rules as the other proportional relationships found in nature, and in the human body.

Fibonacci  described the relationships as part of the sequence of numbers and geometry found in the body, and in nature, as part of a spiral known as the divine proportion, or golden ratio. Though we more popularly know of Fibonacci from the Dan Brown novel, The DaVinci Code, his explorations of numbers in nature and the body are fascinating from a design perspective. They remind us that defining space, and designing within that space, can be made more pleasing by paying attention to the golden ratio. We can choose rectangular shapes that follow that ratio; we can also place information in places that the eye will naturally follow, along the curve of the spiral.

Changes in perception are occuring, however, not in ways we may have expected. More often than not, those large screens allow us to switch rapidly between different screens, rather than expanding just one. We can fit more windows on the screen, and move our attention between those windows, and the information contained in them. We also move perceptually between multiple email conversations, surfing, games, and writing, all in parallel. However, unless working on a full-game immersion, or a graphics program, maximizing a window is out. It makes it harder to mouse across to the far edges, adds to fatigue, and frankly too much is missed if it is on the periphery of our vision.

As a user experience designer, I need to be aware of these balance points, and not design experiences that make the user work too hard for the reward of the information they are trying to get to. Making it easier, quicker, more responsive within the frame or window, that’s the ticket.

Ultimately, we design for a variety of screens and devices. We use media queries to determine which stylesheets to use, and how the responsive widths will display the information. We have come a long way from the old world of print, with fixed layouts that are static. The end user wants control of their device, and of their experience. If we listen to that, and pay attention, we will design in a way that respects the person’s wish to change their screen contrast, the fonts, the sizes and the colors. Good design can take all these things into account, and become even more relevant to the person we are designing the experience for. That’s what modern design aims for – the right sized experience in the hands of people with all kinds of different needs.