panda chronicles

Pretty in Red

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Saturday September 17th will be International Red Panda Day. I’ve been celebrating IRPD since it first began in November 2010. Zoos around the world will be celebrating with special events and red panda themed fun. If your local zoo has red pandas, ask if they are celebrating. If they aren’t, see if they can next year. Information on IRPD can be found at Red Panda Network!

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On December 10th, 2015, Melbourne Zoo’s red panda mum Roshani and red panda dad Seba became proud panda parents to two adorable male cubs, Mandu and Keta. Mandu is short for Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city and Keta means boy in Nepalese.

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We decided that we would visit them as often as we could and make a photographic journal. We visited the zoo often throughout December, January, February and March but with no sightings. Finally, in early April, we saw them for the first time. And they were worth the wait! Two little bundles of fur clung to their tree branches whilst devouring an enormous amount of bamboo. Mum watched over them protectively.

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Since April we have visited them 6 times 🙂  It’s hard to pick a sample of best shots as they are adorable in almost every shot but I have given it a go. I hope you enjoy this small sample of the journey of Mandu and Keta, so far!

For my tasty Red Velvet Cupcake recipe created especially for IRPD and an hilarious panda cartoon by Anne Belov, please click here 🙂

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A Wonderful Life?

I don’t really like the movie It’s A Wonderful Life. I mean it’s a great film but I really feel sorry for George. There were so many things he wanted to do, like travel and build things, but he repeatedly puts his life on hold for the benefit of others. While noble, the hedonist in me always asks – what does he get for his sacrifice? Well he gets family, community and the knowledge that he has saved many, many lives. But the one life he doesn’t really get to live is his own. Well that is my brief take on this xmas classic that was based on a short story that was made into a xmas card. The story behind It’s A Wonderful Life is as fascinating as the film.

Equally fascinating is It’s A Wunderful Life, the story of San Diego’s giant panda cub Mr Wu, as told through the talented eyes of Anne Belov, creator of The Panda Chronicles. Mr Wu laments the birth of so many panda cubs in America as they are taking attention away from his cute self. When he wonders what the world would be like without these new panda cubs, the angelic Bee the Bear shows him what the world would be like if no new pandas were born – including Mr Wu! Whats follows is an extraordinary tale of cat domination, shady petting zoos and beer drinking pandas. A world without baby pandas is grim indeed. You can find It’s A Wunderful Life at the Panda Chronicles or you can read about Mr Wu’s many adventures, including my personal favourite The Wizard Of Wu, in The Panda Chronicles Book 4: The Book of Wu.

As many of you know, Anne Belov and I are working together on The Panda Chronicles Cuppycake Cookbook: Favourite Recipes of the Panda Kindergarten – a cupcake (or cuppycake) cookbook based on The Panda Chronicles.

Inspired by the thought of beer drinking pandas I have also created this very special beer cuppycake topped with a butter and cream cheese frosting and decorated with candied bacon. And this is the cartoon that inspired me!

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Beer Cuppycakes
After a hard day eating bamboo, some pandas like to put their paws up and relax with a refreshing beer cuppycake.

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This recipe makes enough batter for 24 mini cuppycakes and 2 full sized cuppycakes. You can make them all full sized but I’m not sure how many they make 🙂

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Ingredients
for the beer cuppycakes:
1 + 1/2 cups flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1/2 cup pale ale
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

for the candied bacon
3 shortcut bacon rashers
2 teaspoons brown sugar (approximately)

for the buttercream frosting
3/4 cups (170g) cream cheese, softened
3/4 cups (170g) unsalted butter, softened
1 + 1/2 cups powdered (icing) sugar, sifted

Instructions
To make the mini beer cuppycakes, preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 24-hole muffin pan with 24 paper cases and a 12-hole muffin pan with 2 paper cases.
In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the melted butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes or until combined.
Add the egg and beat until combined.
Add the beer and vanilla and beat until combined.
Gradually add the flour mix and, using a wooden spoon or spatula, mix until just combined.
Spoon the batter evenly into the 24 mini paper cases and the 2 larger paper cases.
Bake mini cuppycakes for 10 – 15 minutes and the 2 larger cuppycakes for 15 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cuppycake comes out clean. (I like to bake the mini cuppycakes first and then the 2 larger ones.)
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cuppycakes are cooling make the candied bacon by preheating the oven to 200C / 400F.
Line a baking tray with with baking paper.
Place the bacon rashers on the baking tray and sprinkle brown sugar evenly over each rasher. Depending on the length of the bacon, you may need more or less sugar.
Bake for 5 minutes then flip the bacon over and drag through the sugary liquid so both sides of the bacon are covered in sticky sugar.
Bake for another 5 minutes. Repeat until the bacon is dark brown.
Allow to cool on a wire rack before cutting into small pieces.

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

Achoo! – Revisited

Just over a year ago I saw a movie about the famous sneezing baby panda that became a YouTube sensation. No one really knew the identities of the sneezing baby panda or the mother panda who nearly drops her cookie in shock, although there was much speculation and many guesses. The film “Sneezing Baby Panda: The Movie” suggests the mother panda is Mao Mao and the baby panda is Chi Chi. You can read my review of the movie here.

But now, thanks to the wonderful Pandas International, the real identity of the sneezing baby panda and startled mother have been revealed. Why was it so hard to find out who these pandas were? The main issue was that the video was released on YouTube in 2006 and the assumption was that the footage was from 2006. But the footage was actually from a documentary filmed in 1998. This has caused much confusion and incorrect assumptions about who the pandas are. After much consultation and research, Pandas International recently revealed that the mother panda is Xue Xue and the sneezing baby panda is Mei Xiang!

If you know anything about famous pandas you’ll know that Mei Xiang is big news. Mei Xiang lives at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington DC and is the mother of two very famous pandas; Tai Shan (Butterstick) and Bao Bao.IMG_7812a

Ironically, Tai Shan is one of the stars of “Sneezing Baby Panda: The Movie” and plays the role of the sneezing baby panda Chi Chi. As we now know, the sneezing baby panda is not Chi Chi but Mei Xiang, Tai Shan’s mother. So the lovely and talented Tai Shan actually played his mother in the movie 🙂

Baby sister Bao Bao is also a sensation in her own right. She has been a Smithsonian Cover Girl and was voted the Smithsonian’s Most Iconic Item. Both Bao Bao and her parents have had silver coins made in their honour.

Bao Bao is also famous for her incarnation as Princess Pinky in The Panda Chronicles by Anne Belov. Princess Pinky is currently running for President of the United States in 2016. You can follow her exploits at the Chronicles and also her reaction to finding out that the sneezing baby panda is actually her mother! You can read Part One here and Part Two here.

So sit back, grab the popcorn and indulge in some pandamonium! And what better way to enjoy popcorn than in a cuppycake. From the (coming soon) cookbook “The Panda Chronicles Cuppycake Cookbook: Favourite Recipes of the Panda Kindergarten” by Anne Belov and me, is this delicious Popcorn Cuppycake. The Panda Cam Cuppycake is dedicated to all the wonderful pandas who have made us laugh and cry at their onscreen panda play and especially to the sneezing baby panda Mei Xiang and her mother Xue Xue.

Panda Cam Cuppycakes
Popcorn studded cornmeal cuppycakes with butter and cream cheese frosting are the perfect food for watching panda antics.

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Ingredients
for the cornmeal cuppycakes
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup almond meal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup sunflower oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten

for the butter and cream cheese frosting
1 cup (8oz/225g) cream cheese, softened
1 cup (8oz/225g) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons powdered (icing) sugar
freshly popped popping corn, cooled

Method
Preheat oven to 220C / 430F
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
In a medium sized bowl, mix together the cornmeal, almond meal, baking powder, salt and sugar.
In a small bowl mix together the buttermilk, oil and eggs.
Add milk mixture to cornmeal mixture and stir until just combined.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into the 12 paper cases.
Bake for 10 – 25 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the centre. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the 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 and beat until frosting reaches a piping consistency. Spoon frosting into a piping bag and pipe onto cuppycakes.
Decorate with popped corn.

The Battle Of The Cream Tea

What goes on my scones first – the jam or the cream? That is a question many face when confronted by a cream tea. So when the CWA (Country Women’s Association) were offering Devonshire teas (the popular name for cream teas in Australia) I couldn’t resist asking them. Their answer –  in Australia – whatever way you like! Free from the burden of choice I decided to try both ways.

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My verdict is if you like the jam to be the dominant flavour then put the jam on last, if you like cream to be the dominant flavour then put the cream on last. Either way they are delicious and a great way to spend an afternoon. But how did this battle of the cream teas begin?

While the origins of the cream tea are in dispute, it is generally accepted that a cream tea is a light afternoon snack that is comprised of scones, jam, cream and tea. The scones are cut or broken in half and then spread with jam and cream. Traditionally served in Devon or Cornwall, cream teas are now served worldwide. The confusion about which order to spread your scones has arisen because in Devon you put cream first then jam while in Cornwall you put jam first then cream. They take this issue very seriously so if you visit either county and have a cream tea, make sure you remember which order is “correct” for the county you are in. You don’t want to be thrown out of a tea room without tasting the scones! Now that is clear – problem solved! Not really … Unfortunately the type of scone, jam and cream are also the subject of much debate.

IMG_9177cScones
The original Cornish scone was actually a type of yeasted sweet bread roll called a Cornish split.
The scones of today are usually small cakes or quick breads leavened with baking powder rather than yeast.
Scones can be sweet, savoury or filled. Popular fillings are dried fruit or cheese.
There are different types of scones such as potato scones, drop scones, griddle scones and lemonade scones. American biscuits are similar to British scones. Some scones, such as griddle scones, are fried.
For a cream tea the scone should be plain, unglazed, baked and served warm.

Jam
Strawberry jam is traditional but as long as the jam is well made there doesn’t appear to be much angst over using other fruits.

Cream
Clotted cream is best but as it is difficult to get outside of Britain, whipped cream is a suitable substitute. Canned cream is totally unacceptable!

Tea
There doesn’t seem to be much debate on the tea issue. It should be black, very strong with a splash of milk and there should be plenty of it! Green or herbal teas are not acceptable substitutes. Sadly neither is coffee, as the name suggests 😦

So how do I enjoy my cream teas? In true Cornish style with butter first – that’s right butter first, then jam, then cream. Butter was part of the original Cornish cream tea. My experience in Australia is that you are served jam and cream or butter if you prefer, but never both. I save my butter indulgence for cream teas at home. My tea of choice is Earl Grey with a dash of milk.

If you’re a fan of cream teas I’d love to know what you do at home and what you are served when you go out.

And now from the traditional to a very untraditional cream tea – A Panda Afternoon Tea!!

The recipe below is from the (coming soon) cookbook – The Panda Chronicles Cuppycake Cookbook: Favourite Recipes of the Panda Kindergarten. The cookbook is a collaboration between me and artist Anne Belov, creator of The Panda Chronicles. Each cuppycake recipe will have a cartoon and an original painting by Anne. Want to know more about The Panda Chronicles? Just click here to visit Anne, her pandas and Mehitabel the Cat!

Please enjoy this “taste” from the Panda Kindergarten 🙂

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Bob T Panda’s Afternoon Tea Cuppycakes
Bob T Panda reinvents the Afternoon Tea with his Earl Grey cuppycakes served with Earl Grey cream and strawberry jam.

Ingredients
for the Earl Grey cuppycakes
1/4 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon Earl Grey tea leaves
1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup superfine granulated (caster) sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup milk
1 + 1/4 cups flour, sifted
2 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

for the Earl Grey cream
4 tablespoons boiling water
2 tablespoons Earl Grey tea leaves
1 + 1/2 cup double cream
2 tablespoons powdered (icing) sugar

for serving
strawberry jam
cups of tea

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 10 paper cases.
Pour the boiling water over the tea leaves and allow to steep for five minutes.
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.
Strain the tea into the batter then add the milk and flour. Beat for 2 minutes or until the batter is light and fluffy.
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.
Make the cream by pouring the boiling water over the tea leaves and allow to steep for five minutes.
Whip together the cream and powdered sugar with a wire whisk until combined. Add the strained tea and beat until fluffy.
Serve with lots of jam and tea.

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A Daughter Of Eve

Like the biblical Eve I have a time before the Fall. I have a time when I wasn’t plagued by fear and panic attacks; a time when I believed in friendship and family; a time when I felt the world was a fun place to be. But that was a long time ago. August 1999 to be precise.

I had just submitted my thesis. It was the end of an eight year journey that had been exhilarating and exhausting. I remember walking down my driveway with a huge smile on my face. I was so happy; I was so free. But a visit to someone would change that. By the end of 1999 I would discover that I had been betrayed and hurt by those closest to me. I would ring in the new millennia with only my long term partner and a couple of close friends. I have talked about the time after the Fall and how I came through it – which I did! – in A Personality of Pandas.

Moving forward, by August 2013 I had fought many personal battles and won many victories. I was again in a great place. But another challenge was on the way, and it would be followed by more. I was about to be tested again!

On the first of August my partner Paul was unexpectedly retrenched from work. As the main breadwinner this threw all our financial security into disarray. It was one of my greatest fears. I’ve never worried about myself as I have lived with little money but supporting four high maintenance dogs was my deepest concern. Sadly, by the end of August we only had to worry about three dogs as our beloved Pug Wolfy was euthanised after a long battle with cancer. August 2013 is not a month I want to live through again.

But in October 2013 we were lucky enough to travel to China (the trip was paid for one week before Paul was retrenched!) I think this trip was one of the defining moments of my life and gave me the strength to face the challenges that just kept coming. I have written about this extraordinary journey in A Glimpse Of China. 2013 ended and we were doing okay but “slightly” stressed by the lack of work and lack of income.

Early in 2014 we were visited by another of my greatest fears – a venomous snake in our backyard! Again I’m not bothered by snakes but I am bothered by them being near my dogs. This three foot beauty was right near my babes but luckily we enacted our snake plan and we all survived the visit alive – even the snake 🙂 After it was all over, my first thought was “we have to sell the house!” My second thought was “I won’t be run out of my home by a snake!” The second thought won.

alchemy 03Being a former Christian, and now Vampirologist and a Pagan Witch, snakes aren’t just snakes, they are mythological creatures of supreme power and magic. I wanted this visit by the snake to be more than just “better fix the snake proof fencing” and more a lesson from an archetypal creature. My desire to project an esoteric meaning to the encounter was influenced by the nightmare I had the night before the snake visited. I had a dream that one of my dogs was bitten by a snake and was dying as I drove her to hospital. I woke up shaking and couldn’t get the dream out of my mind. Did the snake send a forewarning of its intended visit? I don’t know, but it was very polite and didn’t bite my dogs or us and for that I am grateful.

After a few tarot readings and taking a long, hard look at where I was, I began to think that the snake was warning me of enemies in my midst – enemies very close to home. Was I about to experience similar betrayals to the Fall of 1999? In a way I was, but it would be in no way as devastating as it was the first time. In fact, realising that I meant much less to some of my closest allies was liberating and healing. It allowed me to shed some dead skin I was carrying and for the first time in a long time I felt lighter.

After the Fall I closed myself off from friends, wary of being used and abused again. In August 2007 (what is it with August!) I welcomed two of my eventual four WolfChildren into my home and with them came new adventures and new friends. Some of these friends remain close and dear while some were not the friends I thought and they are no longer a part of my life. But what I kept focussing on was the bad friendships, the mistakes, and what I kept failing to see was that even during the Fall I had friends who had stood by me and they are still with me now!

Unlike Eve’s snake, this snake didn’t help cast me out of Paradise but showed me that I had returned to Eden. I had what I had before the Fall, what had sustained me through my childhood, guided me through my adolescence and stood by me through my twenties, thirties and forties – friends – great friends! It was this realisation that helped heal some of the last of the wounds from the Fall.

There is one wound left to heal – perhaps the biggest of them all and it’s one I keep avoiding. I wish I had addressed it earlier because I think it precipitated another visitor to come and push me onto the right path. Yep, we had another venomous snake come into our yard and on a very special night – the eve of the Southern Hemisphere Summer Solstice. This time the dogs were safe inside so it was much less stressful. While waiting for the snake catcher I went outside to keep an eye on the snake. I was mesmerised by its beauty, its grace, its power and its deadliness. I wanted to reach my hand out and touch it – but naturally I didn’t!

As with the last visit I also had a nightmare about a snake the night before. Again I woke in a sweat and couldn’t shake the dream. Again I wonder was it a warning of a snakey visit? And again I don’t know. What I do know is the next path of my journey. I’d had an inkling of what I was missing before the snake visit but bizarrely enough the snake catcher said something that reinforced my suspicions. I have a new path to travel in 2015 and I am very excited!

As the year winds to a close I am happy about so many things. Paul finally got a job in October 2014, the day before Northern Hemisphere Halloween! I have made so many fabulous new friends through the Panda Chronicles blog and have strengthened the friendships I already had. A few friendships and relationships have ended, but I have let them go without remorse or pain. I am happy for what they have taught me and the way they have shaped my life.

IMG_3346For me, 2014 started and ended with a visit by a snake. These visits had many things to teach me, and I am grateful. I feel like I have finally left the Fall behind and that I am back in Eden, ready for another journey. The time of fear and panic attacks is hopefully over. I know the world is a fun place to live in and I not only believe in friendships I celebrate them! There is one more lesson that I learned from my snakes – but I’m keeping the snake’s final message a ssssecret – for now 🙂

Happy New Year to my wonderful Friends!
Looking forward to continuing our wild ride together in 2015 🙂

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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.

pandamorphosis cover copy

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.

IMG_6802c

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 🙂

 

A Personality Of Pandas

1988 was a pivotal year for me; I started university, met my long term partner Paul and the Giant Pandas Fei Fei and Xiao Xiao toured Australia. We went to see them at Melbourne Zoo because they are Paul’s favourite animal. The one stuffed toy that Paul has kept since childhood is a bedraggled panda. He has always loved this very special black and white bear. I would also come to love them but in a most unusual way.

panda ball

panda ball

Into The Darkness 2000 was another pivotal year for me. I graduated from university and promptly caught a flu that would plague me for years and would almost destroy my mind, body and soul. After years of antibiotics and no respite from the flu I contracted Post Viral Syndrome – PVS (a form of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). Not much is known about PVS, in fact doctors didn’t diagnose me, a naturopath did! But it took me a while to get to a naturopath. First I sank into a deep mental and physical depression. I was semi bedridden for over two years. Those years are still painful to remember. Weeks would go by in a blur. I rarely left the house and exercise was a thing of the past. Being intensely private I didn’t want anyone to know how sick I was so when I was invited places I would drag myself out of bed, get dressed and go. I would have a good time and then spend about three weeks in bed to recover. This went on and on. I couldn’t see an end to the misery or the pain. And then an amazing thing happened. A television show changed my life!

happy dance!

happy dance!

onwards and upwards

onwards and upwards

Through the Bamboo Forest I remember Paul asking me if I would like to watch a documentary on giant pandas. Since it required nothing more of me than to lie on a couch and keep my eyes open I said okay. One hour later I was a changed person. What happened? Those damn pandas broke my heart. I watched as mother pandas groomed their fragile and precious cubs; cubs fighting for their survival and the survival of their species. I watched as the world fought to stop this precious creature from becoming extinct. Panda reserves and panda breeding programs had been established in China and with co-operation and participation from the rest of the world, the fight to save the panda was in full swing. I wanted to be part of that fight! The documentary ended with a cub making its first climb into a tree. As the dainty little cub struggled, I saw my own struggle reflected. There are plenty of humans on the planet but only one me – I was nearly extinct and I wanted to survive. When the documentary finished I started sobbing, for the pandas but also for myself. Like Scarlett O’Hara I vowed I would never be brought down so low again. Taking that image of the triumphant baby panda with me I began the slow process of getting healthy. Walking With Pandas I wasn’t alone on my journey. I had always had the support of my partner and I was lucky enough to find a naturopath who could diagnose and treat me. Through a combination of homeopathic medicine, meditation, diet and exercise I slowly regained the ability to live. I wanted to make something of myself but mostly I wanted to be able to give something to the animal welfare movement. So each day I would get up, get dressed and put one foot in front of the other. I began daily walking, some days I could only walk past two houses other days I travelled further. I began walking around the block and was soon walking 20 minutes to the local shops and 20 minutes back – with a coffee break in between! One day, after coming back from my now routine 60 minute walk, a neighbour called me over and told me how proud she was of me. I never knew that she had been watching me from those early days. She had watched me go from hobbling wreck to a – well not a power walker – but a walker with a surprising turn of speed! What she hadn’t seen was that I wasn’t alone on those walks. I had company – and what strange company they were.

a special scrunch

a special scrunch

The companions on my journey were pandas. You see the pandas came with me after that documentary. I was surprised, and slightly disturbed to find I had a cast of panda characters in my head. They had names, personalities and different voices. Some were old, some were young, most were female. They inspired me when I thought I couldn’t go any further. I even had an inner critic panda who would mock my valiant efforts! I’m a writer so I’m no stranger to insanity but this didn’t feel like I had gone crazy. Bizarrely it felt like I had evolved. Ancient Pagan Deities were often pictured with animals and some were depicted as animal or half animal themselves. That’s how I felt: part human, part panda and for the first time in a long time, all me. Not long after the panda invasion Paul and I saw a stuffed panda that had a scrunched face with a grumpy expression. He laughed and said it reminded him of me. And then he bought her for me – my first stuffed panda!! She’s my favourite and runs my pack of stuffed pandas with an iron paw. Unlike real pandas my stuffed pandas have bred – a lot! And I never leave home without a panda. I used to take a stuffed one with me but now I have panda tattoos – no chance of forgetting them when I go out!

miaow miaow & me

miao miao & me

Full Circle 25 years after Fei Fei and Xiao Xiao delighted us in Melbourne, Paul and I celebrated 25 years of not being married in the most symbolic way – we went to China to cuddle a panda! As I waited in line at the Chengdu Panda Base a few thoughts crossed my mind. Excitement was one! A few years earlier we had done the VIP tour in Adelaide to meet the pandas Wang Wang and Funi. We got to pat their heads but that was through bars. Now I was about to sit next to a baby panda! My inner critic panda popped up and suggested it was exploitive to pimp pandas out for pats. But then one year old Miao Miao was carried out and all legible thought was erased. All I could think was – baby panda!! When my turn came I eagerly sat next to the little panda princess who seemed to delight in greeting her fawning subjects. I patted her and held back the tears. I wanted to thank her and all the pandas for what they had done for me. I promised the little cub that I would continue to fight for the survival of all animals, especially pandas. If I had any doubts about the process they were allayed by the staff at the panda reserve. They graciously and enthusiastically thanked everyone who had paid for the privilege of patting a panda. They assured us the money would be used to keep the panda dream alive. And I know it will.

bamboooooo!

bamboooooo!

Our guide was waiting for us and he too thanked us for our support of the panda. He took us around the reserve and his love and knowledge were breathtaking. He knew the names of all the pandas and kept track of their progress. We couldn’t believe it when we saw a group of baby pandas laid out sunbaking on a plank of wood. That is the photo on my banner. Later we saw the same baby pandas asleep in their crib. Everywhere we looked we saw adorable pandas doing what they do best – eating, playing and sleeping. We ended the day walking with red pandas. Chengdu Panda Reserve was a great day out but we wanted more!

don't! wipe! my! face!!

don’t! wipe! my! face!!

The next day we went with our guide to the Bifengxia Panda Reserve. He was delighted at our reaction when he showed us Tai Shan!! We squealed – Tai Shan Butterstick! He was nicknamed Butterstick after a zookeeper at the National Zoo in Washington said that he was the size of a stick of butter when he was born. Next we were treated to some amazing baby panda antics. We were just in time to see two baby pandas about to be fed milk in metal bowls. They were so cheeky. One panda didn’t want to have its mouth wiped so it rolled on the ground and then rolled in spilt milk! We saw other baby pandas playing on plastic toys. These were images we had often seen on Pandas International and now we were seeing them live. We ended our day watching a group of five young pandas eating, playing and then chasing each other up trees. One panda climbed up a tree all on its own and put on quite a show. I was reminded of a little baby panda climbing a tree in a documentary; a baby panda that had given me the courage to get up and climb my own trees. Meeting the pandas in their homeland was a life changing experience. They gave me the courage to continue my journey in a new and wonderful way. This journey would involve an American artist, cartoonist and writer. It is a journey that has only just begun. And it is no surprise that the stars of this journey are pandas.

panda kindergarten playing UP!

panda kindergarten playing UP!

The Anne Belov Connection I first came across Anne Belov and The Panda Chronicles through Pandas International, a fantastic organisation dedicated to the giant panda cause. One day I noticed a panda cartoon from Pandas International on my Facebook feed. Intrigued, I clicked to see what it was. That’s when I met Bob T. Panda! If you love quirky and witty cartoons you must go and visit him. Needless to say I was hooked. I quickly bought the Panda Chronicle Books and followed The Panda Chronicles blog. Through this blog I met their delightful creator Anne Belov. We began interacting and I found her to be funny and generous AND she was as crazy about pandas as I was! I loved her pandas so much and I dearly wanted to become more a part of the Panda Chronicles. I noticed that her pandas, especially the endearing panda kindergarten, had a fondness for cupcakes, or as they call them – cuppycakes 🙂 I hatched a plan! Emboldened by my visit to China, I threw caution to the winds and emailed Anne with an idea for a collaboration. Luckily she said yes!! Anne has happily agreed to be my guest blogger so you can read all about her, the pandas and our planned book next time. Not Everything Is Black & White My beloved pug Wolfy passed away nearly a year ago. He was my Chinese panda dog and I miss him dearly. I was too devastated after his death to buy him his own memory box so I stuffed all his mementoes and condolence cards in mine. For Southern Hemisphere Halloween (April 30th) I finally got him his own red memory box. I started going through my box and pulling out his things. I cried as I re-read his cards and remembered his life. But then I stopped crying. There at the bottom of my box of memories was an article I had cut out. It was about the giant pandas visiting Melbourne in 1988. Way back then those peculiar black and white creatures had cast a spell on me and when I needed them most they came out of the bamboo forest and offered their help. My childhood search for a favourite animal has finally ended. I can think of no better animal than one that wasn’t chosen by me but that reached out with its own furry paw to touch and heal me mind, body and soul.

nap time

nap time

not a panda suit

not a panda suit

      I’ve always talked to the animals,

     but the giant pandas are the first ones who talked back

and they’re still talking!