Back to school: Art journal classes with Koosje Koene

One of my new year’s resolutions this year was to take some classes and learn something new just for the hell of it. Something I just wanted to find out more about and learn just because. When I was younger, I spend a lot of time writing and drawing. And painting, and making 3D art, and sewing things together… I was a very creative child. As I got a bit older, I still wrote, but the visual arts dropped off.

This year, in my attempts to get back to the real me, I wanted to get back into drawing again. My auntie is a wonderful artist herself, and once she found out it was something I was trying to get back into (she’d bought my so many pencils and pastels and sketchbooks when I was younger!), she had so much encouragement, which was an enormous help. She even brought some of her sketchbooks along to a breakfast date we had a while ago to show me how she worked on the road (she travels a lot, too). With that bit of extra encouragement, I also decided to bite the bullet and sign myself up for an art class, which has just come to an end!

I came across Koosje Koene’s Instagram page a while ago and admired from afar – I loved her style and how she combined some realistic elements with some more fun stuff. I followed the link to her website, and found that she ran some online art classes, which was what I eventually signed up for. She offers a few classes, actually, but the one I went with was the “Art Journaling Class;” a four week online group class with like-minded souls from all around the world, learning from Koosje’s online lessons and videos.

The idea behind the class is to help you keep a daily journal, but with art as well as just words. We covered pencil and pen drawings, water colours and coloured pencils, shadowing and lettering techniques, and quite a bit more. The big advantages for me in doing this class online rather than in person was
a) I could fit it in at my leisure, instead of trying to get to a class in a set place at a set time every week – life is crazy and it’s a lot less pressure when you can do the class on Tuesday one week instead of Monday if need be; and
b) For someone with anxiety, it’s so much less pressure being able to work at your own pace!

The other great thing was that everyone else signed up to do the class were really lovely and supportive – each week gave us the opportunity to upload the pieces we’d been working on for. There were never any nasty words, just helpful comments and advice, which was very much appreciated. Also, because the other students were of all ages from around the world, there were lots of different ideas and perspectives, which made it a lot more valuable, I think, than taking a class with 10 other people from the same city as you.

The pictures throughout this post were some of the pieces I worked on throughout the 4 weeks, and I’m happy to say that I am definitely keeping it up now that the classes are done. I’ve also put together a little notebook with paper for both writing and drawing to bring to Vietnam with me, because a piece of advice from my auntie’s really struck home; she said that she likes to take time out when she’s travelling to grab a coffee and just sit and draw a while, because you notice SO much more, which means that sketch is going to evoke so many more memories than that quick photo you’ve snapped.

Even though I’ve always loved to draw, I’ve lost a lot of confidence having not made time to do it regularly, so this was the perfect class for me; very supportive and self-paced, back to basics, and very fun. The other big problem for me is my tendency toward perfectionism; you have no idea how many pages have been torn out and entire books discarded because something was “wrong.” Learning to embrace the quirks and “mistakes,” and to stop procrastinating out of fear my work won’t be perfect were the greatest lessons I learnt, and are far more important than colour theory and how to shadow objects. If you’re the sort of person who often says “I wish I could draw,” this is the kind of class for you 🙂 It’s given me the confidence not only to start drawing again, but I’m on the look out for some more art classes now! Any recommendations would be much appreciated, it anyone has any!

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Have your (FODMAP friendly) cake & eat it too: My favourite sweet treats for the digestively challenged :)

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
–Eleanor Roosevelt

With that in mind, last night I made my return to Laneway Learning to teach another class.

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As I wrote yesterday, when I feel myself falling, I make myself busy, and teaching this class was one of the things I decided to busy myself with. I’m also a masochist and try my best to face my fears – teaching my first class with Laneway Learning was SO scary for me (a depressive, anxious introvert with very little self-confidence trying to run a class full of strangers!), but getting through it was pretty rewarding, and everyone was so nice and kind and supportive 🙂 You can read a little more about what they do here, but in a nutshell, Laneway Learning is an amazing little organisation in cities around the world offering classes taught by every day people on subjects they’re passionate about, at a low cost in order to make learning fun and accessible.

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When I contacted Laneway Learning about teaching this class, it was at a point where I was getting pretty frustrated with the lack of information available on whole FODMAP issue (see my open letter to crappy doctors for more on that); I’m one of the lucky ones with a background and degree in exercise science and nutrition, so I had a bit of a head start in creating recipes to suit the low FODMAP  guidelines, but I know that not everyone has that advantage. And the hardest part for most people is the desserts and sweets aspect of it all – low FODMAP treats can be a little difficult to navigate to start off with! So I contacted the team at Laneway Learning with a proposal to take a class to help navigate through some of the more frustrating aspects of the low FODMAP diet and ways around the restrictions to still be able to enjoy food!

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I won’t rehash what we went through on the night (and frankly it was a bit of a tough class with numerous technical difficulties!), but instead I thought I’d give everyone a quick list of some of the low FODMAP friendly sweet recipes I’ve posted on my blog lately – because you should still be able to have your cake and eat it too, even if your stomach hates you!!

# Bliss balls
# Cacao, goji berry & chia seed cake drops
# Chocolate microwave cake
# Hazelnut, coconut & dark chocolate biscuits
# Healthy peanut butter cookies
# Orange, polenta & cacao cake drops
# Peanut butter oat slice
# Zucchini chocolate chip cake

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Stay tuned for a seriously amazing, seriously chocolatey cake later in the week that we can add to the list, but lovely readers, if any of you have some FODMAP friendly recipes you’ve created and would like to share, please add them to the comments below! I’m always looking for new treats to try 🙂

The New Orleans School of Cooking!

New Orleans School of Cooking
524 St. Louis St, New Orleans
http://www.neworleansschoolofcooking.com

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Now this was one hell of an experience! I’ve always wanted to visit New Orleans, one of the reasons for which being the food culture here; it’s like no other part of America, in that it is SO unique and specialised. The mix of nationalities that had a hand in creating this city all brought with them elements of their foods from back home, which leads to dishes that have no comparisons in other parts of the world, like gumbo and pralines.

We purchased tickets for one of the cooking demonstrations, for around AUD$30.00 each, and it started from the moment we walked through the doors. We were greeted, checked in and invited to look around their store before the class began: questions welcomed and encouraged!

Right on 2pm, the gorgeous Pat breezed into the store and welcomed us all. Up to the third floor we trekked and took our seats at the scattered round tables, set with cutlery, recipes, condiments and drinks (water and iced tea) on a checkered tablecloth. The stove was already well and truly alive with a few pots of stock and the beginnings of a gumbo bubbling away.

Pat was quite simply amazing. This gorgeous lady gave us a full and truly entertaining run down of the history of New Orleans, constantly bringing it back to the food and history’s impact on Louisiana cuisine, intermittently fluttering back to the stove to explain the steps to getting the andouille and chicken gumbo together. Once everything was in the pot, she left it to simmer and do its thing, moving fluidly onto the next recipe, creole chicken.

She threw together another classic recipe, explaining as she went, all the while still giving us historical information and fielding questions from some of her more eager students; now, this lady really knows her stuff, answering questions on everything from the smoke point of butter and oil versus lard to how long your creole sauce will keep for. Count yourself incredibly fortunate if you should find yourself in her kitchen!

Again, leaving the creole to simmer away, she moved onto the pralines, the most famous of New Orleanian sweets. I plan to attempt all of these recipes when I’m back home, so if you’re interested in recipes and seeing how I did recreating them, visit back here soon : )

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Then, like the seasoned professional she clearly is, Pat’s lunch party was on! We were served bowls of gumbo and plates of creole chicken on rice. Beer appeared on the tables, as well as second servings for those of us who couldn’t get enough (more gumbo for me, please!). And that food.. It was like being served warm bowls of hugs, seriously.. New Orleans food is true comfort food. It’s rich and full of flavour. It’s the food you wanna be eating when it’s cold, when you’ve had a shitty day at work, when you’re mentally and physically exhausted. It’s not difficult to put together, but there are layers of flavours that work in absolute perfect symphony. If you don’t like the food in New Orleans, then you just don’t like food! Amazing class run by an amazing woman; do yourself a favour and sign up when you visit!

Teaching with Laneway Learning – thanks for having me guys!

You know how they say that you should do something each day that scares you? I totally did yesterday… I taught my first class for Laneway Learning!

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I wrote about them a while ago when I took dad to a chocolate tasting class for Father’s Day – if you’re not familiar with Laneway Learning, start now! They’ve been around for a few years and you can learn with them not only in Melbourne, but also Sydney, Brisbane, Hobart, Adelaide and even Singapore! The team behind it decided to make use of CBD cafes after hours, by using them as a base to host a ragtag series of evening classes taught by ordinary people with extraordinary passions. These classes are amazing because they are super accessible (generally costing only $14) and anyone can teach, which means you have the chance to learn anything; upcoming classes include Making Sense of Food Labels, Vodka Alchemy, Balloon Artistry, A History of Digital Games, Classic Music 101 and Up-Cycled Jewellery. You can literally learn it all here!

Anyway, I got in touch with the lovely Lucie who encouraged me to take some of my recipes and turn them into a class, which ran last night – Quick & Easy Breads. The idea behind it was that we’ve gotten so conditioned to buying bread from supermarkets and bakeries, without giving any thought to doing it ourselves – bread is essentially flour plus a few other ingredients. It can be pretty cheap, fun and rewarding to DIY, and I wanted to put that out there. I know that a lot of people will shy away from the idea of baking their own bread because yeast can be scary, and not everyone has time to sit around and wait for dough to proof and rise and then knead and rise again and bake and blah blah blah. My class wasn’t about that traditional type of bread. I went with non-traditional, easy, cheat ways of making bread – fried flatbread, soda bread and Italian piadina bread.

That was the easy part. The hard part was the week before the class when it sank in that my humble little idea had sold out within a few hours of it being posted on the website and I’d be teaching something personal and important and special to me to a class of 20 odd adults who I didn’t know. I started to panic a little bit – I’m not the teacher, that’s my husband. And sister. And sister-in-law. And a few friends. But not me. What if they didn’t like the food? What if it wasn’t what they were expecting or wanting? What if I couldn’t answer all their questions? Worse yet, what if no one had any questions?

The morning after the night before, and I’m sure there were some people who didn’t like what we made. I’m sure I didn’t meet everyone’s expectations. I certainly couldn’t answer everyone’s questions, not that there were a heap of them. The equipment we had to work with wasn’t what I’d expected. It didn’t all go to plan. We had to rush through a bit of it. Nothing went drastically, horrifically wrong, but it certainly didn’t all go fairy-tale right. The things I was so scared of happening happened, and you know what? That was ok. I actually had a fun time being scared out of my wits and too far out of my comfort zone to be rescued. It was a great night and I can just about guarantee I learnt more than the “students” in my class did!

If any of those students are reading, I’m so sorry it didn’t all go to plan and thank you so much for sticking by me with my first-time teacher nerves! Will I teach there again? I hope so, if they’ll have me back! Should you consider putting your hand up to teach a group of strangers about something you’re passionate about? ABSOLUTELY!

Laneway Learning: Charlie & The Chocolate Tastings class with Xocolatl Artisan Chocolates

I was SO excited when I came across Laneway Learning a few months ago, and cannot believe it’s not getting more attention!! If you haven’t heard of it, you’re not alone; starting in 2012 in Melbourne (and since making its way to Sydney, Brisbane, Hobart, Adelaide and even Singapore!), a few friends decided to make use of CBD cafes after hours, by using them as a base to host a ragtag series of evening classes taught by ordinary people with extraordinary passions. These classes are amazing because they are super accessible (generally costing only $14) and anyone can teach, which means you have the chance to learn anything from origami gift wrapping to hip hop yoga to mindful self-compassion, and literally everything in between.

It’s an absolutely brilliant initiative, and I feel like it needs to be put out there a lot more! This week, I joined the Charlie and the Chocolate Tastings class with dad (as part of his Father’s Day present). This class was taught by father-daughter team (perfect, right?!) Christos and Tina from Xocolatl Artisan Chocolates and they very kindly brought along a whole lot of chocolate for us to try. Dad’s a massive chocoholic, a trait passed on to me, so this was perfect for us!

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Christos and Tina were fantastic – they really, really knew their stuff, and taught it to us all in a way that kept everyone interested and engaged for the entire 75 minutes. It was obvious they really had a passion for their work (you’d be crazy not to when your work is chocolate!), which really came across when they spoke about things like their belief in fair trade and working family to family – as in, their family working with the families who run the cocoa plantation farms, ensuring that their products come from family businesses rather than slave labour. Tina also spoke a lot about her recent trip to the cocoa plantations in Ghana, and we tried not only the final chocolate product, but also cocoa nibs, cocoa mass, cocoa butter and cocoa liquor. Personally, I loved it all!

 

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If you’re interested in trying a class your self, get along to the Laneway Learning website http://melbourne.lanewaylearning.com/ and check out what they have on offer! The classes are constantly changing, as they are all one offs, so there’s always something of interest!

I may also be teaching a class or two in the future, so stay tuned 😉