anne belov

A Tale Of A Felted Koala

Since discovering the Pagan wheel of the year over thirty years ago, I’ve celebrated the harvest festival of Halloween (Samhain) on April 30th. I still remember that first, long ago Halloween held in a Victorian forest on a bitterly cold night. After the ritual we warmed ourselves by an open fire. We watched the smoke rise in waves and patterns, trying to scry for messages in the fiery air. As the logs burned, the bright red embers turned to charcoal, making strange shapes as they transformed. We drank, laughed and talked through the night. We told jokes and shared stories until the sun rose and May Day dawned.

This Halloween I would like to share a story of a tiny felted koala, an idea forged during the horrifying Australian bushfires, and created by my dear artist friend Anne Belov as a symbol of comfort, hope and rebirth – perfect symbols for a Halloween tale.

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Many of you know Anne Belov as the creator of The Panda Chronicles. Anne is also a multi-talented professional artist (an incredible painter) who has recently branched out into the field of felted creations. Most of her creations are, not surprisingly, pandas, but in the mix there is a very special critter, Kevin the Koala, or as he is now affectionately known – Kevin the Scorched Koala. Before Kevin was born in felt he was introduced to the world in ink in a very special cartoon in The Panda Chronicles.

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Kevin was a huge hit and when Anne toyed with the idea of making a felted version of him we all said “Yes!” When she suggested adding scorch marks to her creation the more diabolical among us said “Hell Yes!” It wasn’t long before Kevin, complete with scorch marks, moved from the world of ink into the world of felt. I’m happy to say that I am the proud caretaker of the very first Kevin the Scorched Koala.

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To honour Kevin’s arrival to his ancestral homeland I created a special recipe that blends some Aussie ingredients (eucalyptus honey and macadamia nuts) with an imaginary cookie bar – the Binky Bar! If you’re a fan of The Panda Chronicles you’ll know that the pandas love eating and drinking and Binky Bars are one of their favourite treats. But what are they? No-one knows as it’s been left to our imaginations to visualise these tasty treats. When a Kevin fan suggested a Kevin Binky Bar would be fun I naturally volunteered to create one. Kevin’s Binky Bars feature a shortbread base topped with a sweet and chocolatey filling.

In honour of Kevin’s adorable scorch marks, I’ve served my Binky Bars with scorched macadamias. Scorched nuts are an Australian and New Zealand name for roasted nuts that are covered in layers of chocolate. Don’t worry if you can’t get them, or any other ingredients, just experiment and have fun. After all, nobody really knows what a Binky Bar looks like – or tastes like. 🙂

Kevin The Scorched Koala’s Honey & Macadamia Binky Bars

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Special Note:
These bars need to set overnight.

Ingredients
for the shortbread base
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
125g unsalted butter, cut into pieces

for the chocolate topping
50g unsalted butter
1/3 cup double cream
1 tablespoon eucalyptus honey*
50g dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
100g Anzac biscuits (cookies), broken into various small and medium sized pieces**
1/3 cup macadamia nuts, chopped into various small and medium sized pieces

Instructions
For the shortbread base:
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a baking pan (approximately 23cm x 17cm / 9” x 7”) with baking paper.
Place the flour, sugar and butter in a food processor.
Process until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Spread mixture into the prepared pan, pressing it down with fingers or the back of a spoon to compress it slightly.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until lightly browned.
Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before adding the topping.

For the chocolate topping:
Heat the butter and cream in a medium sized saucepan over low heat.
Stir in the honey.
Add the chocolate pieces and stir until the chocolate melts.
Allow to cool for a few minutes. (You have to allow it to cool long enough so that the biscuits don’t turn to mush when added, but not too long or the chocolate will set.)
Add the broken biscuits and chopped macadamias to the chocolate mixture and stir until combined.
Spread over the shortbread base.
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Cut into bars.
Serve with scorched macadamias.

*koalas love eucalyptus but you can use any honey you like or any other syrup such as agave, maple or golden.
**if you can’t find Anzac biscuits you can make your own or use my recipe here!

International Red Panda Day

Saturday the 20th of September is the 5th International Red Panda Day!

Never heard of International Red Panda Day? Well pop on over to the Red Panda Network and find out what all the excitement is about. If your local zoo has red pandas, find out if they are doing something. If they aren’t, let them know about it so maybe they can participate next year. It’s celebrated on the 3rd Saturday in September.

IMG_3228I was lucky enough to participate in the 1st International Red Panda Day at The National Zoo and Aquarium in Canberra. As they were listed as the only zoo in Australia participating in the event, I excitedly planned a weekend trip, booked my flights and accommodation and thought I would also treat myself to a red panda encounter. When I rang the zoo to book the encounter, I also asked what festivities they were doing for the special day. Imagine both our surprise when they said they had never heard of International Red Panda Day! They said they would check out what it was all about and ring me back. A few hours later I got a call saying they loved the idea and that they were now officially participating in the event. I was so excited – and so relieved. It ended up being a great day.

I am a huge fan of both the red panda and the giant panda. Growing up I couldn’t believe that these two vastly different but extremely cute creatures could be related, but that was the common view. Now we know that giant pandas are part of the bear family and red pandas are in their own unique family. There is a great article about these two different pandas here. For more information on red pandas and giant pandas visit the Red Panda Network and Pandas International. They have heaps of fun stuff on their sites, information and ways you can contribute to the panda cause

To help promote International Red Panda Day, Anne Belov of the Panda Chronicles has kindly created a cartoon featuring Rusty the Red Panda. I am so excited about this! When I first discovered the Panda Chronicles I thought it would be great to have a red panda become part of the giant panda gang. Thanks to Anne, my dream has come true.

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And there’s more!
To celebrate International Red Panda Day we have created a celebratory cuppycake especially for the day.

Red Panda Red Velvet Cuppycakes
Pandas of all colors will devour these celebratory red velvet cuppycakes with cream cheese frosting.

Ingredients
for the red velvet cuppycakes
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup superfine granulated (caster) sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sunflower oil
1 egg, room temperature
1 egg yolk, room temperature
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon pomegranate juice
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
red food coloring

for the cream cheese frosting
1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (115g) cream cheese, softened
4 cups powdered (icing) sugar
1/2 tablespoon milk
pomegranate seeds for sprinkling

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and sea salt. Set aside.
In a separate bowl whisk together the sugars and oil with a wire whisk until combined. Add the egg and egg yolk and whisk well. Add the buttermilk, sour cream, vanilla, pomegranate juice and cider vinegar. Whisk until smooth.
Using a wooden spoon, fold through the flour mix. Gently blend through enough red food coloring to achieve desired red. This should be a fairly wet batter. If it is too dry add more buttermilk.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into 12 paper cases.
Bake for 10 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cuppycake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

While cuppycakes are cooling make the cream cheese frosting by creaming together the butter and cream cheese in a medium sized bowl with an electric mixer. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar. Add the milk and beat until frosting reaches a piping consistency. Spoon frosting into a piping bag and pipe onto cuppycakes.

Decorate with pomegranate seeds.

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This recipe and other panda related recipes will be in The Panda Chronicles Cuppycake Cookbook: Favourite Recipes From The Panda Kindergarten.

Coming soon!!

Let Them Eat Cuppycakes!

Everyone loves celebrating with cake! And Pandas are no exception!!

Panda fans are being treated to adorable images of pandas around the world celebrating their birthdays with inventive and stunning panda cakes. Bamboo, fruit, vegetables and honey are just some of the ingredients in the cakes these fur balls are enjoying.

Birthdays are not the only time for pandas to have cake. In keeping with Chinese tradition, baby pandas don’t receive a name until they are 100 days old. This special event is also celebrated with cake.

I wonder what other important events pandas would like to celebrate and what special cakes they would like?

Anne Belov and the pandas at The Panda Chronicles are well known for their love of cupcakes, or, as they call them, cuppycakes. For the benefit of all pandas and their fans we are studiously, and with no thought or care for our waistlines, devising and taste-testing celebration cuppycakes for our upcoming book The Panda Chronicles Cuppycake Cookbook (favorite recipes from the panda kindergarten).

In honour of panda birthday season the pandas would like to share a very special cuppycake recipe for a very special panda – National Zoo’s Bao Bao aka Princess Pinky aka Leader of the Panda Kindergarten.

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Princess Pinky’s Cuppycakes

Some pandas are born Princesses, others learn along the way. Princess Pinky is happy to teach up and coming princesses “The Ways of a Princess”. Their first lesson will be to bake a batch of Princess Pinky’s favorite rose water lemonade cuppycakes with rose water icing and rose water cream, decorate them with plenty of pink princess bling and serve them to her. We’re not sure what the actual lesson is, but it sounds really tasty!

Ingredients
for the rose water cuppycakes
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon (125g) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup superfine granulated (caster) sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 tablespoons rose water
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour, sifted
1/2 cup almond meal
3 teaspoons baking powder, sifted
3/4 cup canned lemonade

for the rose water icing
1 + 3/4 cups powdered (icing) sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon rose water
2 tablespoons water
pink food coloring

for the rose water cream
1 cup (300ml) double cream
18oz (500g) mascarpone
4 tablespoons powdered (icing) sugar
4 tablespoons rose water
pink food coloring
pink and princess decorations of choice

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
In a medium sized bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until light and fluffy. Add the rose water and beat until combined. Add the flour, almond meal and baking powder and, using a wooden spoon, mix until combined. Add the lemonade and mix until combined.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into paper cases.
Bake for 10 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cuppycake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

While cuppycakes are cooling, mix together the icing sugar, rose water and water in a bowl.  Mix in enough pink food coloring to achieve your desired shade of pink. The icing should be just thick enough to dollop so add more water or powdered sugar if needed to get this consistency. Dollop the icing on top of each cuppycake and spread with clean fingers or a spoon until covered. Leave to set.

Once cuppycakes are iced, make the rose water cream by gently whipping the cream, mascarpone, sugar and rose water together in a medium sized bowl with an electric mixer until combined. Add pink food coloring a small amount at a time until you achieve your desired shade of pink. Whisk on high speed until stiff peaks form. Spoon whipped cream into a piping bag and pipe onto iced cuppycakes.

Decorate with pink and princess decorations as desired.

Notes from the pandas:
“Rose water is very aromatic and can differ in strength between brands. Add a little at a time and keep tasting until you get the amount you desire.” 

“For a gluten free version substitute the plain flour for brown rice flour and add 1/2 a teaspoon of xanthan gum.”

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What other cuppycakes have these inventive pandas created?

Stay tuned 🙂

Connections: An Unexpected Treasure (With Frosting)

I am so happy to have Anne Belov of The Panda Chronicles and the recently released picture book Pandamorphosis as a guest blogger. Last week I talked about my love of pandas and Anne is one of the wonderful people I met on this journey! We are also collaborating on a book together 🙂

I’ll let Anne introduce herself and talk a bit about her work and our upcoming project!!

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Connections: An Unexpected Treasure (With Frosting)

Generally speaking, I’m not known for playing well with others.

At least, not in my creative pursuits. I spent my art school years learning to be a painter, and as everyone knows, painters paint alone in their garret, living an isolated, tortured existence. Cutting off your ear is considered optional.

But then a funny thing happened a few years back: pandas entered my life and I became…um…obsessed with them. (For more about that, read my post on Cordelia’s Mom, Still: Where did all these pandas come from?)

Visual art was my thing, no illustrating, no cartooning, no printmaking, nothing but all painting, all the time, and stay out of my very private studio, thank you very much. I had absolutely no intention of becoming a writer.

The pandas made me do it.

Their voices invaded my brain, and I had no choice but to write down their words and the stories they told, and draw pictures of them, as they popped into my head. The Panda Chronicles blog, which features Your Brain on Pandas comics, sprang forth from my playtime with pandas. This eventually led me to write Pandamorphosis, my wordless picture book. Pandamorphosis brought my fine art training to bear (pun intended) and merged it with the comical nature of my …um…comic pandas.

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So, while adrift on the internet, looking for readers who just might be looking for panda satire, something very unexpected began to happen: I started making connections.

In art, as well as music and in publishing, the game has changed. No more can the creative introvert sit in their tower, far above the clamor down below. The internet makes it possible, no, make that mandatory, that the writer connects with the crowds. Assuming, of course that the crowds have come calling.

I discovered something magical: the conversations and connections with my readers (OMG! I have readers!!!!!) help to feed and inspire me. My readers have embraced my bears with genuine enthusiasm. After all, who wouldn’t want to hug a panda? The more my readers cheer me on, the more I want to write new adventures for my cast of pandas (and one very annoyed cat.)

It is this cyberspace connection that makes these interactions easy, not to mention possible. And now, through this world-of-the-future marvel, I am about to embark on a collaborative project with my hostess here at VSomethingSpeaks.

Sometime towards the end of last year, Vicky approached me with the idea of writing a cookbook, based on the characters of Your Brain on Pandas. At first, I was a little skeptical.  After all, these are my pandas. But then she began to share some of the character sketches and recipes, with photos, (because of course if you are going to write a cookbook, you must test the recipes exhaustively,) and I began to see that she had a feel for my pandas, and would treat them with respect. We began to talk of a collaborative project, combining her recipes and writing, with my comics and illustrations.

Literary scandal copy

Did I forget to mention that this is a cupcake, make that a cuppycake cookbook?

If you follow Your Brain on Pandas, you will be well aware that all the pandas are especially fond of cuppycakes, to the point of cuppycake obsession. So, you are hearing it here first: The Panda Chronicles Cuppycake Cookbook (favorite recipes from the panda kindergarten) is moving forward. Now that Pandamorphosis is out in the world, it’s full speed ahead as we develop our proposal and send out queries to agents. (What? You don’t have a copy of Pandamorphosis? It’s available on Amazon along with all the Panda Chronicles collections)

We hope you will follow along on our frosting filled journey. We’ll keep you updated on our progress here and over at The Panda Chronicles.

Vicky might even share a recipe or two.

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Anne Belov is a visual artist, cartoonist and writer living on an island in the Pacific Northwest. You can find her paintings at The Rob Schouten Gallery in Greenbank, WA, her cartoons on her blog The Panda Chronicles, and read her guest posts on Whidbey Life Magazine, an on-line journal of arts, food, and culture on Whidbey Island. Her book Pandamorphosis was funded by her third successful Kickstarter project. Her only regret in life is that there is no MacArthur Grant awarded for panda satire.

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Make sure you visit Anne’s links!!

Thank you Anne for your wonderful words. You are so right about making connections!! Meeting people like you online continues to be one of the more rewarding experiences of being a writer, as is getting feedback and comments from the lovely people who stop by and visit.

I think a Cuppycake recipe may be in order next time 🙂