Archive for October, 2009

Making Home Made Orange-Date Rolls

Orange date rolls hot out of the oven

Orange date rolls hot out of the oven

Last week I got some dates in my LOVE Delivery box. I don’t really like dates plain very much, so I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them. Then, over the weekend, I started thumbing through the bread recipes in How to Cook Everything and came across a recipe for orange date rolls — a variation on sweet rolls and cinnamon rolls.

I’ve never made them from scratch before, but the recipe didn’t seem too difficult. The dough came together easily — a mix of flour, sugar, salt, butter, milk and yeast. I let it rise for about 2 hours before rolling it out into a square. I then brushed on butter, and covered it with a half a cup of brown sugar, 6 or 6 chopped up dates and the the chopped up zest of a large orange. I rolled up the rectangle, then cut it into slices about an inch and a half wide.

These looked a little small right after they were rolled

These looked a little small right after they were rolled

I was worried that they were a bit small and loose, and the recipe said to put the rolls in individual muffin tins — and I don’t have a muffin tin — so I just put them in a cake pan and hoped they would rise.

Thankfully they did rise -- this is just before I put them in the oven

Thankfully they did rise -- this is just before I put them in the oven

Thankfully, after an hour they did, and I made a glaze with orange juice and sugar to pour over the rolls before I put them in the oven. After baking for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees, they smelled incredible and puffed up even more. They were slightly shiny from the glaze, and when I started pulling them apart, they came out easily and were soft and fluffy and sweet, but not overly so.

The finished product -- they turned out perfectly!

The finished product -- they turned out perfectly!

I’m not normally a big fan of cinnamon rolls and the only time I ever tried Pillsbury orange rolls I didn’t like them very much, but these were incredible. I guess I’d just never had something like this fresh out of the oven. The orange and date flavors weren’t overpowering, and they blended together well. They also looked quite good. They weren’t the same at all after they had cooled. Though I ate one for breakfast the next morning, it wasn’t anywhere near as soft or tasty as it was straight from the oven.

I don’t typically make a lot of sweets, but there were totally worth it — and even though they take 3 to 4 hours to make, I would definitely try to make them for a breakfast/brunch (though I think I’d let the dough do its first rise in the fridge overnight so it would take a bit less time).

Recreating a Planet Terror Poster, Textures and All

Click to view a larger version of the comparison

Click to view a larger version of the comparison

Last week’s Photoshop class assignment was to recreate the look of a Planet Terror poster using our own images and textures. I chose a photo I took of Guiselle where she looks sort of scared, and painted on some eye makeup and made her lips a deeper red-orange so she looked like she was wearing lipstick. I couldn’t quite recreate the drippy mascara as well as I wanted, so I left it out. I also changed the color of her shirt from purple to green, and added a lot of highlights and shadows to make the lighting feel more like the original.

Click to view an even larger view of Guiselle's Planet Terror moment

Click to view an even larger view of Guiselle's Planet Terror moment

For the background, I blurred some crumpled paper to give the yellow some texture, and added scratches to the edges. I also added the paper folds, which was a pretty complicated process since I wanted to match the original colors in the folds, as well as the original feel, and I wasn’t working with the best photo of folds to begin with since my paper was just white and it has quite a lot of shadow on it.

I played with the text a bit, though just used the Title and production company logos from the original.

Click to view a larger version of Evan's texture moment

Click to view a larger version of Evan's texture moment

As this was texture week, we also had to create a bunch of original textures from photos/scans and use them in an image. I made of of Evan, using many textures, from tree bark to crumpled aluminum foil to ripped paper in the background, and dirt and more marked up tree bark on top of him to make him look grittier.

A Black Hawk Down Color Match

Last week’s other Photoshop assignment was to create a color match with a Black Hawk Down poster. We learned a few techniques for getting the colors to mesh and were tasked with creating an image and colorizing it.

The original poster we had to match

The original poster we had to match

I created another image of Evan since I felt like him looking away and sitting would lend to a similar feel to the poster. I used a landscape photo I took in Budapest and added a number of layers of cracks, dirt and noise to give it a grittier texture. Also, the color changed slightly when I saved Evan’s portrait for web, so it doesn’t look quite as close a match as it really is.

My color-matched portrait of Evan

My color-matched portrait of Evan

Playing With Halftone Photoshop Effects

One of the assignments in my Photoshop class last week was to create a series of halftone looks by using the regular and color halftone filters in creative ways. I may have gone a bit too abstract on some, but it was interesting playing around with an effect I hadn’t used before.

I used a portrait I created of Evan — I started playing around with it for the Editorial Portrait assignment. And added various halftone masks, layers and effects.

The original portrait I created by compositing Evan, a Goose and a background that I took in Cambridge while punting

The original portrait I created by compositing Evan, a Goose and a background that I took in Cambridge while punting

A very simple, even halftone pattern with no variation in size in 50% gray

A very simple, even halftone pattern with no variation in size in 50% gray -- you can barely see it in this small version, it's just giving the photo its softness

This is sort of an old-timey look, and it was a required matched look for the assignment

This is sort of an old-timey look, and it was a required matched look for the assignment

Here I deconstructed the color halftone into layers of red, green and blue and applied different opacities and effects like strokes and drop shadows

Here I deconstructed the color halftone into layers of red, green and blue and applied different opacities and effects like strokes and drop shadows

Then I went even more abstract, again pulling apart the color channels, but also using an alternate color scheme

Then I went even more abstract, again pulling apart the color channels, but also using an alternate color scheme

If I had used a less detailed image, I could have gotten much more dramatic effects or created a more Pop Art feel. I sort of wish I’d gone that way, but this is a learning process… and I do love how these change so dramatically as they increase or decrease in size.

‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’ Book Signing

boy who harnessed the windYesterday, my friend Caroline and I went to a book launch event for The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. She was invited to the event through her job, and asked me to come along with her. I had seen the author — and subject of the book — William Kamkwamba — on the Daily Show earlier in the week, and found his story inspiring, so I was very excited to get to meet him.

William is from Malawi, and starting at a young age, he was fascinated with bicycle dynamos and radios. When a famine hit the country and his parents could no longer afford to send him to high school, he decided to try to continue his education by going to a small library with about 900 books. He didn’t read much English, but he was fascinated with the science books and learned mostly by looking at the diagrams. In one book, he saw a windmill and decided to build one to bring electricity to his home and his village.

He shared how he collected scraps of metal and PVC pipe from a trash yard, and how his family and friends thought he was crazy. But his idea worked — he ultimately created a functioning windmill, built a circuit breaker and light switches, and stored the power the windmill generated in an old car battery.

I took AP physics in high school and I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have done any of that.

William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

He and his co-author, journalist Bryan Mealer, shared a lot of stories about the tough times William’s village was having during the famine, and how he gathered together parts with the help of his cousin and another friend. He also then talked about what happened after journalists had discovered what he’d done. He was profiled in many papers and was invited to speak at the TED conference, where he met Tom Rielly who would turn his story into a documentary and help get him into a pan-African high school in South Africa. He’s now helping William pursue college in the U.S. — he’s been looking at Harvey Mudd while he’s been in LA.

William also told some funny stories about his first time on a plane, in a hotel and using a computer — and how he wished he had access to Google back when he was trying to figure out how to build his first windmill. And we heard about the changes in the quality of life in William’s village — he built another windmill to pump water for his mother’s garden, and started a youth soccer team to keep other kids out of trouble. The village also now has its own fresh water source, and William’s parents’ home has a real roof and some better amenities than it had when he was growing up.

I’m really excited to read the book, which I got signed by both William and Bryan. I’m very honored to have met them — and have had a bit of time to actually talk to them. I also met Ben Nabors, who is producing the documentary about William’s story. Check out the Moving Windmills short below to learn more.

The Secret to Getting Nooks and Crannies in English Muffins

The nooks and crannies in my fork-split whole wheat english muffin

The nooks and crannies in my fork-split whole wheat english muffin

The first two times I made english muffins, I thought they were delicious but I missed the nooks and crannies that you get with fork-split muffins that toast up nice and crispy and catch lots of butter and jam.

I also missed the little crunch of cornmeal that most store-bought english muffins had, so I decided to modify the recipe a bit to get what I wanted. So instead of dusting with flour before the muffins rise between two baking sheets, I dusted with corn meal. That was easy enough.

And for the nooks and cranies, I decided to try fork splitting. After much Googling, it seemed that the way to do it was to just poke the english muffin all around with a fork as soon as it came off the stove. I tested it out — it wasn’t too hard since the muffins don’t get too hot and can be handled by hand right off the stove. It worked perfectly. They’re now easy to separate by hand, and they have a great texture from pulling them apart.

The fork split might not look quite as nice as leaving them whole, but it's worth it

The fork split might not look quite as nice as leaving them whole, but it's worth it

They didn’t look quite as pretty with the sides mangled from the fork, but I could have probably been gentler. I just wasn’t sure what sort of pressure I needed to make sure they split easily.

So that’s it! The secret of how to make nooks and crannies revealed!

Also, to make whole wheat english muffins, just use the same recipe for regular english muffins and use 2 cups of whole wheat flour and 2 cups of regular bread flour. Maybe next time I’ll try honey wheat ones…

Creating Composited Portraits in Photoshop

The first big assignment in my Photoshop II class was creating two “editorial portraits” that could be part of one magazine article, somehow related and showed some of the personality of the subject.

When I took photos for the first week of class, I used my friends Guiselle and Kacie as models. I shot the photos in my apartment against a white background. I also took photos of Evan, but for this assignment, I decided that I wanted the fictional article I was putting these photos together for to be a series of profiles of strong women.

Guiselle's Portrait

Guiselle's Portrait - Click to view a larger version

I decided to use two sort of confrontational photos. In Guiselle’s she’s jumping — actually hurdling — right at you. She ran track in high school and college, and she’s now a lawyer. I felt that her intense look and body language pushed out of the frame, showed a lot of movement, and really showed a strong woman. The background I used was from Highgate Cemetery, and I decided to add the flowers in to add a fanciful element, add more color and visual interest, and soften the photo a bit.

Kacie's Portrait

Kacie's Portrait - Click to view a larger version

In Kacie’s photo, I placed her in front of a house, giving a “get off my lawn” sort of stare. Kacie is one of my funniest friends — and she’s actually started doing stand-up comedy. She also loves bizarre props, like Billy Bob teeth, rubber chickens, alligator feet and flamingos. I chose to take a photo of that building because of the skull stickers on the door and the truck in the lawn. And I added in the gas meter, sign, and flamingo to add some more interest and humor to the image, and to help balance it as well.

This was a really fun assignment, and I feel like I was able to capture my friends’ personalities quite well. It was a lot of work to get the photos to look like this, but I’m really happy with how they turned out.