Archive for August, 2009

Photoshop Class: Creating a Magazine Cover

Magazine cover mockup - Click for a larger view

Magazine cover mockup - Click for a larger view

For this Photoshop class assignment, we had to create a magazine cover layout, trace the magazine’s title, include at least 4 images, a number of blending modes and text effects, and of course the regular color and levels corrections.

I originally wanted to use one of our travel photos for the magazine cover, but I just wasn’t happy with how any of them really fit in the vertical magazine layout, so I went to Flickr and searched for some photos of Japan. I found this very pretty one that I felt would work perfectly with the layout I was thinking of, and I really started trying to figure out what I wanted on there.

I had hesitations about making the cover too crowded, but I wanted to make sure I had all the elements in place, and I wanted to try out some different ways to highlight information, and play with the blending and text styles. I also decided to go even further on the image adjustments, really pushing the color levels and oversaturating the image. I also used a separate filter for the sky area to make it more vibrant and colorful — it actually has a gradient overlaid on it to add the pinks. I also spent a lot of time trying to figure out what colors to use for all the text, especially the title. And I found that coming up with the text was harder than I thought it would be.

Main cover photo courtesy of Chi King’s Flickr Stream

A Giant Sesame Ring and a Delicious Moroccan-Themed Dinner

Yesterday I wanted to bake again, but I didn’t feel like making baguettes. I looked through a few of my cookbooks and found a recipe for a sesame in The Vegitarian Epicure. It turned out to be a pretty simple ad quick bread — about 3 hours from start to finish, which of course involved about 2 hours and 45 minutes of waiting for it to rise and bake.

The recipe was simple enough — flour, salt, egg, oil and yeast, and though I had some problems with the food processor (I should have put the water in first, since after I poured it on top it started dripping out the bottom), I cleaned everything up, did a little extra kneading by hand, and added a little more water back in to get back on track. It rose for about an hour before I formed it into a ring in a shallow cake pan, and then another hour later, I brushed the top with an egg yolk and put on the sesame seeds (it basically looked like a giant bagel).

Before putting the ring in the oven

Before putting the ring in the oven

That’s when I ran into a little more trouble. I started to preheat the oven, but when I came back to it, it was cold. We’d had a problem with the stove earlier in the week and though the pilot lights for our burners were on, the one for the oven wasn’t relit. And let me tell you, lighting the pilot light on my Maytag oven was not really a one-person job — after many failed attempts, I finally had to lie completely on the floor with my arm entirely in the broiler holding a lit match, and stretching my other arm up to push in the oven temperature knob. I finally got the oven back in working order, but it had already been about 20 minutes since I was supposed to put the ring in the oven, and it seemed to be rising faster and faster.

The monstrous sesame ring just out of the oven

After the ring had been baking for 50 minutes, I opened up the oven to find an enormous loaf of bread that wasn’t much of a ring at all — there was just the slightest remnant of the hole in the center. In any case, the bread tasted very good, and I would definitely try it again, maybe on a cookie sheet this time, too, so I could make it a bit bigger and hopefully preserve the ring shape.

While The Vegitarian Epicure said to serve the sesame ring with a greek feast, I decided to head to the other side of the Mediterranean and make a Moroccan-inspired meal. My sister had brought me some spices back from Morocco about a month ago, and I’d been waiting to use them for a tasty meal — so far I’d only used them to season roasted chickpeas. I decided to make a saffron rice pilaf, which I modified slightly from a recipe I found online, and then I improvised a lentil and eggplant curry with moroccan spices, which turned out very tasty — and I’ve posted the recipe below. I also served some hummus with tomatoes, cucumber and lavosh bread.

Half-Eaten sesame ring, lentil and eggplant curry, and saffron rice pilaf

Half-Eaten sesame ring, lentil and eggplant curry, and saffron rice pilaf

Of course, I didn’t think to take a picture of the meal until we were all served, but it was very tasty. I also took all the photos on my iPhone, so I apologize for the blur and sort of funny colors.

My parents and sister joined us for dinner (this was definitely a meal to share), and after we ate everyone tested out their arm strength on Evan’s pull-up bar (I put some photos of the pull-ups on Facebook). I can’t do a pull-up and neither can my sister, but we learned that our parents can!

Lentil and Eggplant Curry with Moroccan Spices


  • 1 cup green lentils
  • 1 large eggplant, cut into medium-sized cubes
  • 1 onion (can also use an extra half or so for a garnish)
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped finely (can also use an extra for garnish)
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1-2 cups tomato juice
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Water (as needed)
  • Moroccan spice blend (I have no idea what was in this, but it was red and contained a ton of different flavors)


In a large pan, saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil on medium-low heat until tender. After 5-10 minutes, add in the eggplant and tomato halves, followed a few minutes after by the lentils. Add the tomato juice and extra water if necessary to come just to the top of the veggies, and add the spice blend and salt and pepper to taste (you’ll be adjusting this throughout the cooking). Keep the temperature at a simmer, and cook the vegetables until the lentils are soft, adding water as necessary to keep the mixture mostly covered (this took about an hour and a half for me).

For the garnish, thinly slice about half an onion and chop a clove of garlic. Get some oil in a pan very hot, then toss in the onions and garlic and cook until they are browned and as crispy as you’d like. You can also add some cilantro to the top to add a bit more color.

This recipe serves 4-6 people, and is great over rice.

Illustrator Class: My Posterized Murray Poster

Our last Adobe Illustrator class assignment was creating a “posterized” poster — a stylized version of a photo that combines areas with similar tones to create a more graphic effect. We had to achieve the postrized look using the pen and pencil tool, and we could also use the live trace tool. We also had to add a title to the image.

The original photo

The original photo (scanned in a while back)

I chose a photo of Murray that I took back when he was a puppy, which was always one of my favorite photos of him. I ended up tracing him with the pencil tool, then using live trace for the flowers and grass, though then I duplicated some flowers to fill in the empty areas. I also create a color palette from the original photo, since when I posterized the image in Photoshop and when I did the live trace, the colors got sort of weird, with Murray getting very pink.

The posterized image

The posterized image (click for a closer view)

I decided to enlarge Murray and put the photo in a frame with words around it, similar to how it’s displayed at my parent’s house. I also tested out using some different effects, like drop shadows to give it more depth.

More Cooking Fun: Baguettes, Brownies and Homemade Pizza

I’ve still been on my cooking kick, baking bread and trying out new recipes. Last week, I decided to bake baguettes again, and this time they came out looking perfect, though slightly undercooked for my taste — they were cooked all the way through, but I would have liked a thicker crust.

4 perfect looking baguettes

4 perfect looking baguettes

As for dinner with the baguettes, I decided to try out some recipes from my new Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook. I made a very tasty grapefruit, avocado and endive salad, as well as a summer squash and corn pasta, which tasted sweet and fresh (unfortunately I didn’t take photos). I really enjoyed both recipes and would make them both again. They were really simple but had a lot of flavor, and I love that the cookbook gives really free-form instructions in the recipes, which makes it hard to go wrong.

These are the brownies Maryn made, but mine looked pretty similar!

These are the brownies Maryn made, but mine looked pretty similar!

For dessert, I made the Tartine brownies that we first tried when Maryn and Brian came over for dinner. I found the recipe on the No Special Effects blog, and they turned out really tasty and rich, though somehow not exactly like the ones Maryn baked (maybe I baked them a little longer than I should?), though I don’t think anyone was complaining. They were really decadent and rich, and had a flaky top and moist, soft interior.

Putting the pizzas into the oven

Putting the pizzas into the oven

This week, I decided my dough of the week — I have been making some sort of bread at least once a week for a little while now — would be pizza dough, and I had a few people over for an impromptu pizza-making party. I found a recipe for whole wheat dough in The New Basics Cookbook (I would have likely referred to How to Cook Everything again, but I didn’t have it handy because we’re housesitting), and made up a batch with enough to make four individual-size pizzas. The dough was easy enough, and I just pressed it out by hand. I made a simple tomato sauce by doctoring up a canned sauce (also a recipe froms The New Basics Cookbook), shredded up some mozzarella cheese, and sliced mushrooms, tomatoes and red peppers. We also had garlic, olives, basil and carmelized onions to put on the pizzas. All the combinations were delicious — especially the ones with the caramelized onions. I only wish we had more leftovers… I’ll definitely be making pizzas again soon, and trying out some different crust recipes. The whole wheat crust was good, but it doesn’t have that classic pizza taste.

Our pizza leftovers -- boy were they delicious the next day

Our pizza leftovers -- caramelized onion and mushroom, and red pepper, tomato and basil -- boy were they delicious the next day

What should be on the menu for next week?

Photoshop Class: The Paris Postcard

postcard paris

Last week’s assignment for my Photoshop class was creating a postcard using at least 5 of 7 pictures of Paris, and multiple creative layer and text styles. I wouldn’t have normally chosen to give the sky a watercolor effect, but I needed to figure out something to do and I didn’t want to obscure the actual Paris sights. It’s tough for me to try to think about the necessary number of effects and transformations for the project while also trying to focus on the design. Ultimately, I liked how this one turned out, though, and I liked the idea of using the text to frame the images.

Our next assignment is a magazine cover… I think mine will be travel themed again.

My New Obsession: Baking Bread (and Crackers)


Evan bought me a Cuisinart for my birthday. I’d long been talking about how one would help me out in the kitchen, and I had some tasks taken care of by getting an immersion blender which had some other attachments I could use for some light chopping, but I had no idea the extent of the little machine’s power.

Reading through the manual, I learned that it was great for making bread — something I’d been meaning to try for a while, but hadn’t done yet. And as things turned out, for my first two loaves of bread, I didn’t even use the Cuisinart — I used a no-knead recipe from the New York Times on YouTube. The recipe is dead simple, as explained in the 5-minute video below, and it turned out pretty well.

My first try, the bread got a little burnt on the bottom — I had it on an oven rack that was too low. It also stuck to the cloth I was turning it out on, though that didn’t affect the final appearance much. It was also more dense than I would have liked, but I felt it was good for a first effort, and I did eat everything except for the bottom crust.

No-knead bread trial #1 -- a little burnt on the bottom

No-knead bread trial #1 -- a little burnt on the bottom

My second loaf didn’t burn at all and looked even prettier, but it still wasn’t as airy as I would have liked — maybe I need to add a bit more yeast or let it rise for a little longer.

No-knead bread trial #2 - quite a nice looking loaf

No-knead bread trial #2 - quite a nice looking loaf

My biggest bread success yet, though was making baguette’s. I once again turned to Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything and used the very first recipe in the bread section. I used the Cuisinart to knead the dough, then spent most of the day just letting it rise, occasionally separating it or rolling it into long snakes. I ended up with four baguettes, which were crusty on the outside and soft and delicious on the inside. Unfortunately, we should have eaten them all immediately, because the next day, they were not nearly as good.

The recipe couldn’t have been simpler, again using only flour, water, yeast and salt, and even though I think I overcooked them by about 5 minutes (they were a bit darker than expected), they tasted just perfect.

My first homemade baguette

My first homemade baguette

My other flour-and-water baking obsession has been making crackers. I love crackers and generally will devour and entire box myself in a single sitting. I’ve made crackers twice before, again from How to Cook Everything, and they’re incredibly easy. All you need to do is mix together a cup of flour, a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of salt and about a quarter of a cup of water, then roll the dough out into a thin sheet and bake. You can also sprinkle on salt, sesame seeds or other toppings, and the whole process takes about 15 or 20 minutes.

I’ve made two batches so far, and I’m partial to the ones I made with half all purpose flour and half wheat flour since they were a nice brown color. I then topped some with sesame seeds, others with salt and pepper, and others with garlic salt, and I cut them into strips before baking so they’d be relatively uniform. I haven’t taken any photos yet, but I think I’ll be making crackers a lot more in the near future. Thankfully they keep well for at least a few days.

Learning Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator for Real

I use Photoshop just about daily, and have for quite a few years now. I’m familiar with many of the tools, and know how to get a lot of different results, but I’ve always felt like I’m not quite doing everything right — and that if I knew the program better it would help the work I do, so I signed up for a UCLA Extension Photoshop class, and decided to sign up for an Illustrator one, as well.

I’m taking these classes online, which has been an interesting experience — I do miss the camaraderie of the classroom and the real interaction with the teacher, and taking an online class requires a bit more self motivation than just showing up to class once a week since we’re supposed to be checking our class message boards frequently, participating and sharing our work in progress. So far, though, it’s going well, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot.

In the photoshop class, we’ve talked a lot about retouching and correcting photos, which I haven’t done much of before. Now I want to go back to my travel photos from last year and make them even better. We’re also working on creating layer masks, working in nondestructive ways, and creating interesting effects when compositing images.

One project we did was on photo retouching:

Before Retouching

Before Retouching

After retouching

After retouching

For another project, we had to bring together images, as well as use a gradient and creative text styles to create a brochure. I did it for a tour of Oxford, from photos I took there last year.


In my Illustrator class, we have been learning to use the shape and pen tools, and about combining shapes and paths. Our first project was creating a chess board and chess pieces — I decided to make mine little penguins.

Penguin Chess Set

Penguin Chess Set

Our next assignment was to trace logos with the pen tool and then distort the logos with the various transform tools. Here are some I did for the World Wildlife Federation logo.

WWF-LogoTracesSo far, the classes have been going well and I’ve been learning a lot with each assignment and through the great Adobe Classroom in a Book textbooks. I’ll post more of my projects as I complete my assignments.