A creativity blog - including reviews, photographs and discussion on a variety of things; such as dragons and other things almost but not quite completely entirely unlike tea.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Grandma Anni's cream cake

So. One of the prettiest renditions of this particular cake recipe of mine. Or, it's not mine, but Grandma Anni's. I once read in Pirkka, or someplace else where they often have baking and cooking recipes, that you're supposed to name a cake recipe after the person you got it from. If going by that rule I should then probably call this Mom's cream cake, as this is the cake my mom would bake, two of them, every single weekend when I was growing up and there were three older brothers and my dad also there to eat their fill. It is still this particular cake mix that tastes like childhood to me. But my mom got the recipe from my father's mother, grandma Anni, so I'm calling this Anni-mummun kermakakku, or Grandma Anni's cream cake, because of that. I don't think I've ever had this cake as made by my granny though, but the ones my mom makes are just heavenly, and I think I'm getting nearer to her level each time I bake one or two of these. Sometimes I also call this "the miracle cake" because no matter how badly it seems to fail, it never quite does. Fail, that is.

I don't always understand the cake logic though. This time round, I made two cakes, in the picture is the first one out of the oven. While making the mix, it seemed to get a bit too thick in my opinion, but it evened out nicely into the form and rose well in the oven and ended up being really soft, making it a real careful operation to lift and get inside a plastic bag. It also fell away from the form all by itself. The other one I made felt so much better in the mixing phase, it was fluffy, soft and easy to get nice and tidy into the form. But then it seemed to stick to the bottom of the form more, it was a pain to get out without slicing it up and it also felt to be thicker and heavier than the earlier one. I managed to get it out nicely though, with the help of a wet towel and careful knife-work.

The recipe, in all it's simplicity is as follows:

Break four eggs into a mixing bowl, add two coffee cups of sugar (these would be around 1,5dl - my granny always used coffee cups as measure, so even though the amounts were always a bit uneven, depending on the cup, they would be around the same in relation to one another) and whip until it resembles whipped cream. Add one cup of melted butter and one cup of cream (sour or not). In a separate bowl, mix together two cups of wheat flour, one teaspoon of baking soda, a half teaspoon (or so) of kardemumma and one teaspoon of cinnamon. Add the flour into the mix after mixing the butter and cream into it evenly. You might want to just "turn" the flour into the mix, but I'm always lazy and just use the same mixer, just at a bit lower speed. Hasn't been a disaster yet. Butter the sides of a form and flour them with oatmeal - gives the cake its pretty exterior. Heat up the oven to 150 degrees centigrade (preferably a little earlier than this! I often forget to do it myself...) and put the form, into which you've obviously poured the cake mix by now, in. Keep in 150 degrees until the mix rises to the edges of the form or max 20 minutes. After that, turn the heat up to 200 degrees. And then you're on your own, because I never seem to remember what is the "exact" time it needs to be there - I go a bit by feel, a bit by look and a bit by smell. I also stick in toothpicks to test whether it's good or not. One good way to tell is if the cake starts to be loose from the edges, but this doesn't always happen, as I witnessed today with the second cake. It doesn't matter if the crust gets a little black, as it's going to be at the bottom of the cake once you turn it out of the form. One time, I remember, I kept checking the cake at least fifty times, and never taking it out - I was baking it for a party or something and wanted it to be perfect - and the heat must have varied a lot inside the oven with me opening and closing the door so many times, but eventually, the cake turned out really nice. And that's one of the reasons I like to call it "the miracle cake".

Saturday, 12 October 2013

The continued tales of a packomaniac - Small World

I wondered if I should have entitled this post "Tokenomania", but I decided to stick with the packomania theme so that people can more easily link this board game post with my previous board game post, and such and such. Also, "The continued tales of" has a nice ring to it.

My love/hate relationship with Small World (published by Days of Wonder, designed by Philippe Keyaerts) started around the time the game was first published. It was another one of those long-haired, heavy metal -listening board game and rpg -people I learned to know in the university, who first introduced me to this game. At first I thought it was cute and nice and fun and a lovely pastime, but I wasn't seriously impressed by it. And then came the expansions.

Currently, I'm the very proud owner indeed of Small World (SW), along with the Grand Dames of Small World (GD), Cursed! (C!), Small World: Be Not Afraid.. (BNA), Royal Bonus (RB), Small World: Necromancer Island*, Small World Tales and Legends (SWTaL) and Small World Realms (SMR) -expansions, alongside Small World Underground (SWU). As is visible, the game keeps getting Smaller and Smaller.

Let's start by looking at the contents of the original SW box. It currently houses the basic game, as well as the tokens for the RB -expansion, as they don't fit on any of the trays. There is an extra tray that comes with BNA -expansion, which houses basically all the tokens from GD, C! and BNA - I also like to pack them so, that the basic game is in it's own box and the expansion things are in their own tray - that way it's always possible to play a vanilla game whenever one wishes.

The packing is really neat. There are actually directions for you when you first open up the game box on how to pack the game - as most of the tokens come in punch-through cardboard sheets, you should save the sheets once you've removed the tokens and put them under the black plastic tray - this serves to raise it's level from the bottom, which packs the pieces nice and tight against the rules sheets and the lid - you no longer need the extra space on top once you've removed the tokens from their cardboard sheets, you see? And as the cardboard sheets are still of the same width as they were when they were on top, they push the black tray up just the correct amount. It must have been a genius who designed this box. Or an idiot, as he/she turned out to be, when all the expansions started pouring in. Design a new box for us, to fit everything! Please! And I mean EVERYTHING!!!! (coughs)

So, here're most of the tokens inside the box - minus the coins. There are race and special power cards, or whatever you want to call them, each naturally with their own tokens, should there be any. With trolls, for instance, you'll get the troll tokens and their stone houses, all just with the race card. If they happen to be, say, Fortified as well, as their special power, then you'll get those tokens too! Joy and happiness! Not all special powers come with tokens, though, such as Hill, which only gives you extra coins for all Hill areas you occupy at a turn's end.

The token tray that comes with the BNA expansion, sadly does not fit into the boxes. But it is a much better design than the original tray was, as it has curved, yes you read it right, curved slots. This means easier pick up for each row of tokens, as they are wont to fall down and get stuck to the bottom of the tray. But with simply rounding up the corners one's life become infinitely easier. What a stroke of genius! 

I'd like to point out, that during me taking photos I didn't notice that the game was still in the previous gameplay packaging - which means that I had been helped by other players to pack the game and tokens and cards and thus, stuff was in places it wouldn't have been in, had I packed the game carefully and precisely myself. Luckily I noticed this grave error while repacking and was able to correct it, but I couldn't be bothered to take new photos anymore... But that's what you get when you are too tired to say "no" to eager helpers. ;)

SWU is a complete game in and of itself. It has basically all similar pieces to the original SW, just with the Underground special twist. Rules sheets, boards and tokens all have their own kind of artwork, only the coins and the die resemble those of the original SW.

An example from SWU, where you'll have eleven Shadow Mimes, who've decided to be Vengeful for this game, and thus receive the Vengeful tokens.

SWR is a map expansion. It comes with several (I could count them, but I won't) tiles, which can be turned one way up for SW map and the other way for SWU map. You also get the tokens for the tunnels, which were at least at some point also sold separately. The purpose of the tunnels is to join the SW and the SWU maps together - they cannot be built together due to the edges of the tiles not matching with one tile being the other side up. There are also smaller tiles for mountains, peaks (a new terrain type), and impassable regions - all of which are two-sided too.

SWTaL is a card expansion. The cards describe events which occur during the game turns and affect everyone. There are good things, such as that this turn, forests will produce one extra coin to anyone occupying them, or really, really bad ones, such as no active race scores points this turn. You get the amount of game rounds - 1 event cards a game, so there's no event on the very first turn. You always reveal the Upcoming event on the round before it comes, and on the next round it becomes the Current event, and you reveal a new Upcoming. There are themes to the cards, so it is possibly for you to pick a single theme for any game, or you can make a complete mix of them and get 7-9 completely random cards too.

So, as a mini-example of all of my games, here are two maps, SW and SWU, side by side, but not joined. There is one tunnel leading from SW swamp to SWU mud plain - so the Mudmen occupying that particular mud plain are adjacent to the swamp on the SW map. 

Amazons have used their extra tokens to conquer a peak, which takes four tokens to conquer - also they've slaughtered some Indigenous people on the swamp close to the peak with three tokens and ridden through it to the empty hills beyond, requiring only the normal two tokens - the latter two regions they choose to protect with their Heroic tokens, meaning no other race tokens can come there to bother them - not even the dragon.

The Mudmen started from the mud plains, as is their right to do since it's on the edge of the SWU map, and they also took the caves on their right. After that they started lusting after the treasure they knew was being guarded by the two hideous monsters in one of the mushroom forests, so they attacked there with their two remaining tokens and a die - which was a huge success to the relief of everybody, as they rolled exactly the two extra tokens from the die they needed for the conquest. They are thus rewarded with the control of a relic or a popular place, whichever happens to come from the randomized stack of treasure. They are a bit worried about the Amazons, even though they're not yet occupying the swamp on the SW map - but if they do, they'll be right adjacent to the mud plain and could steal it away from the Mudmen- and where would one get one's extra Mudmen then? Nowhere else on this map, that's for sure.

And let's not forget that there are both a Current event and an Upcoming event to worry about! Oh dear, whatever is going to happen next, I wonder. No forest conquests at least, as it's being denied by the Upcoming event card. The Current event would require everyone to abandon one of their current regions, but as both of the races just started this turn, it doesn't affect them. The first round wouldn't even have an event card in any case, so it's clearly cheating being on top of the current event card.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, in a nutshell - or, in three boxes, a separate token tray and a deck of cards, is Small World. It's a disaster to pack, terrific to play and a great way to gain new enemies, at least until the next time you play. The arguments I have witnessed (and had!) over this game, oh, I could tell you stories... But I shan't.

The game also comes with empty race and special power cards, as well as with empty event cards. I've been meaning to bring some science fiction into the game with Aliens (equipped with a mothership, naturally), Space Marines, and possibly some eastern flavour along with Samurai and maybe Ninjas. But I need to think how to fit them together with the rest of the game first - and I use the word "fit" in the most endearing way I possibly can. 

(*I've never got the chance to try Necromancer Island, mainly because it's a scenario of co-operative play, which players of Small World are not often inclined to try... The game is, in my opinion, the epitome of competitive play. My ex-boyfriend had tried the Island once with a group of friends when I was off visiting parents or something such, and he said it wasn't any good - not that I trust his judgement in all things, but I've been disinclined to try it after that.)

Sunday, 6 October 2013

New cross stitch charts #3

So, another sale occured. Large Middle-Earth map above and Tsuru Kame by Haruyo Morita below. When I get back from Oulu, I'll probably start thinking about getting the fabric and flosses for another work than Asiria. Not sure which one it'll be though. Could be one of the minis or could be the Middle-Earth map - god knows I'll need the time to make it. :)

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Irish step dancing FTW!

Since coming to the university of Oulu to study English in 2007, I heard people talking about there being Irish dancing opportunities connected with the Irish Music Festival held in Oulu since 2005 - I think my first time was in 2008 or 2009, and I completely fell in love with it. Unfortunately, in the beginning it was only possible to train Irish dancing during the Festival weekend - then, after a while another dancing weekend was organized in the spring time. In the autumn of 2011 when I was studying in the University of Kent in Canterbury, a group of Oulu-based Irish dancers started organizing weekly dance practices and when I came back to Oulu I started going there too; almost regulary once a week, although there were two practices a week.. 

We are currently in the middle of the eight annual Irish Festival of Oulu, and the dance weekend is well under way. I'm participating in the intermediate group, where we learn a bit more demanding routines and choreographies, but also fine tune the basics and the easier céili dances. As I like Irish dancing very much, and as I'm in the spirit of the festivities, I thought I'd write something about Irish dancing here too.

Irish dancing is really the kind of traditional dancing people in Ireland do. There are different forms of it and it's not uncommon to have dancing whenever there's a suitable music playing. Although the competitive dancing is very fine indeed, you don't really need much to be able to dance - most group dances, or céilis are actually quite simple, they just go on forever and ever. The two basic dance types are the reel and the jig. A reel is often a bit slower than a jig and it is characterized by people moving in lines left and right and returning back to where they started from. A jig has a bit more fast-paced music and its steps are more airy. With that I mean that there are often more jumps and more lifting one's legs in jigs. Jigs also travel a bit more than the reels are wont to do, and even if you do the same step sequence both for the right and left leg, you don't often end up in the same place as you started from, but instead go basically from one corner of the dance floor to the other. Both reels and jigs can be danced single or as céilis.

As mentioned, the Irish dance step sequences are most often repeated both for the right and for the left leg. What this basically means, is that you start a choreography with you right foot in front (one leg is always in the front and the other one in the back) and once you complete the step sequence, you've ended up with your left foot in the front and you repeat the same step, but begin with your left foot. Not all dances do this, but especially most single dances will.

The posture for Irish dancing is as follows: head up high, shoulders back, arms relaxed but straight, hands in loose fists, legs straight, with other one in front of the other (knees are in a straight line), crossed over, so there's a diamond-shape between your shins, turned out, so that your toes point outward and heels inward, and finally, you stand on your toes. Your knees don't bend, except when you are kicking back towards your bum or your lifting your leg up and touching your knee with your toes, for instance. The movement comes mainly from your ankles, so it's a really demanding way of dancing and takes a lot of muscle training before it'll start looking even close to proper. When jumping, you also are not supposed to bend you knees when going up or coming down, so the main force is always on your ankles and your toes. The opening of the leg starts all they way up, so that your whole leg is turned open from your hip down - one of the benefits this gives you is the balance. Try staying on your toes and jumping up and down with your legs straight and you'll notice how difficult it is to stay up like that. You also need to keep your abs strong all the time, because they're the main support for the rest of your upper body and you can get a sore back if you don't concentrate on your abs while jumping around. And don't forget to keep your ankles and toe nice and straight and pointing them when you are jumping.

So basically it's only your arms that don't get a lot of movement , or exercise in Irish dancing. In céilis you often hold hands with your partner, so that you form a 90 degree angle with them - elbows are in a line and your hands are upright - which can make the muscles in your arms sore too.. Finally, there are two different shoe-types: the soft shoe and the hard shoe. The soft shoe concentrates on the airy, light movement, jumps and travelling soundlessly, while the hard shoe is the exact opposite - you're supposed to tap and drum and make a sound and you don't always even move around too much; although many of the hard shoe dances are jigs, which I already mentioned tend to travel around. I myself have been practising mainly the soft shoe style but I'm going to get hard shoes soon and start doing that as well. I suppose my downstairs neighbours will love me a bit more after that, not to mention my dog, who is already a bit worried every time I do steps at home...

The three basic steps in Irish dancing are the promenade, or skips or hop-two-threes (a dear child has many names, after all) which is the basic reel and jig step and the purpose of which is to move forward. The rhythm of the step differs slightly according to the type of music, reel or jig, being played. This step is accomplished by first taking a step with your front leg, then following it with your back leg, then another front leg step, kicking yourself in the bum with the back leg and moving the back leg forward to be the new front leg. Also, there's a jump during the back kick.

Another basic step is jump-two-three, hop-over or confusingly, hop-two-three, where you lift your front leg up, do a big jump as if going over a fence, with the back leg kicking your bum again during the jump and coming forward to become the new front leg, with which you take the step two forward, and closing your legs from the openness of the jump, third step bring the back leg back to the beginning position. This step takes you both up and forward.

The third basic step is called sevens - you begin it with a cut or a jump (a cut is a kick with your front leg to your opposite hip, during which you also jump) then doing six steps to the side. You always go in the direction of the front leg, so if the right left is the front leg, you go right. You also always cross you legs over when you do this step, you don't bend you knees at all and in the end you often do something like two jump-two-threes before the next sevens, often to the opposite direction, so the first jump needs to switch leg as well.

I could probably go on about the dances and step sequences, but I guess I'll leave it here at this point. I could sometime put on links to  Irish dance videos and maybe even introduce some nice and easy céilis and what sort of steps they use.