Christine Shaw makes yummy cakes

Frosting, fondant, naked. Whatever cake you desire, Christine Shaw will make it. This cake baker, or should I say cake artist, is extremely talented and can make absolutely anything.

Christine Shaw first discovered her love of baking and crafting cakes when she was studying as a mature age student at Emily MacPherson College, which is part of the Melbourne University of Technology. As part of the electives for this course in her fourth year, Christine decided that she would try her hand at the patisserie, continental chocolate work and cake decorating courses. And she was loved it from the start.

It was during this degree in her second year that Christine would meet her husband Michael. “I married him in the 3rd year and fell pregnant in the final year”, she laughs. And having children early was planned Christine tells me. This meant that she could specialise and work from home with children around and having a newborn baby didn’t stop her. She and Michael are now the parents of three sons and have one grandchild.

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Christine was working at CRA Mining Company in their kitchens and had her first major project when she was asked to decorate 200 chocolate plaques for the entire International Olympic Committee during the Melbourne Olympic bid in 1989. She describes this as a dream job and was amazed with what she could do, even with having a newborn to care for.

From there, Christine’s cake artistry continued to grow and she now makes cakes for all different occasions at a very affordable price. With the process that Christine goes through to bake and then decorate a cake, I really am surprised that her prices are so modest.

I ask her about her cake process and how long one cake takes to make. 5 hours? 10 hours? Maybe 15 hours? No, it’s actually between 20 and 30 hours depending on the requirements. “The first thing I do is consult with the client to work out their requirements, flavour and vision.” Christine then tells me that her next step in the process with the client is to consolidate the cake design, quote and gain approval from the client to continue the process. “After the client is happy, I begin to source or make the required decorations,” Christine continues. Such decorations may be flowers, figurines, chocolate curls, biscuits, meringues and signage. Once these are sourced, Christine can then start baking the cake. “Because I rarely get asked to do a fruit cake nowadays, I have to make the cakes as close to the function date as possible. This usually means sleepless nights on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights to ensure on time delivery on Saturday.” I ask her to go further into detail about what she does on these sleepless nights to ensure these cakes are perfect. On the Wednesday, Christine will bake the cake/s and allow them to cool. On the Thursday she will fill the cakes with whichever filling is required (usually buttercream or ganache) and do an initial cover of the cake. Friday is where the magic happens and the cake comes to life with the final covering, usually with fondant, and decorating. Then the cake is delivered to the clients ready to be enjoyed.

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Christine, who has been baking cakes for 30 years, has had her fair share of unusual requests, but being the highly competent and amazing cake artist that she is, she delivered on all occasions. Christine was asked to model the bride, groom and their pet dog sitting on their favourite couch to top their wedding cake. As far as flavours are concerned, Christine says that the most odd one she has had was a caramel cheesecake filling for a cake. It was a first, but Christine assures me that it actually turned out to be quite nice. But the one that makes really makes Christine smile, and probably one that she is most proud of, is when her client requested a gluten, lactose and egg free cake. “I did consider giving them a lettuce leaf,” she laughs. “However it did turned out to be quite tasty. Who would have thought?!”

Like all artists, Christine finds inspiration from a few things. She draws inspiration from cakes she might see in a magazine or book; something she may findonline across various platforms; pieces of art; her own imagination; and the most easily accessible thing of all: nature. Inspiration can do great things for an artist like Christine and help make her cakes look (and taste) stunning.

What really draws people to Christine’s cakes, apart from the fact that her prices aren’t extreme, is the amount of flavours that she offers. Of course there’s the usual chocolate, caramel, vanilla, banana, strawberry and white chocolate, but there are also many other different flavours. Christine offers Greek Style Yoghurt cakes in chocolate fudge, mocha, chai and hazelnut flavours. She also offers lemon sour cream cake; sticky date; orange and coconut; orange poppyseed; lemon poppyseed; lime poppyseed; carrot; hummingbird; red velvet; caramelised apple cake; and pear lime and almond cake. She even makes a Nutella cake (my favourite).  But she is always happy to experiment with flavours too, especially for the fillings. Christine offers a variety of fillings which can be tailored to your taste. These fillings might contain alcohol or may be just a standard chocolate or caramel ganache. Or you might prefer to be more traditional and go with jam and cream.

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So what still draws Christine to baking after all these years? Passion. “It’s a sense of satisfaction that it looks and tastes great and the thought that people are excited to eat and enjoy it too.” Repeat customers and word of mouth ensures that Christine is always baking cakes.

Aside from baking, Christine also enjoys cooking. “I love creating and I love making food look appetising. I love making food that people will love eating and get great satisfaction out of it when they do”, Christine tells me. Among her favourite cuisines to make are Asian, Greek and Italian, especially pasta. With her cooking, Christine offers catering to parties and different functions. She also works as food tech support, canteen supervisor and breakfast club coordinator at St Mary’s Catholic College in Gateshead, a suburb of Lake Macquarie.

I’ve had the pleasure of tasting Christine’s cakes and they are very delicious. The mud cake isn’t too dense, and the fondant is just the right amount of sweetness. The filling is delectable and adds to the taste. Her cakes always look finished and she is capable of making anything you desire, which is why she has become so popular. Christine’s cakes are made with love which really shines through.

Christine Shaw is a talented and crafty cake extraordinaire.  Nothing is too hard for her. However you like your cake, Christine can surely make it.

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Book review- ‘A Changing Land’ by Nicole Alexander

A Changing Land by Australian author Nicole Alexander is a book that I wouldn’t necessarily be drawn to in an ordinary book shop. It’s not because of its cover, which I think is a great choice as it is very relevant to the premise of the story being the Australian outback. And it’s not because I had never heard of the author before. It’s simply because this is not usually the type of fiction I go for but I am very happy to eat humble pie in regards to this book.

This book was a thoroughly enjoyable read and I wished I had come across it sooner. I came across A Changing Land when my mother-in-law was collecting books for elderly clients at work. Upon reading the blurb I thought I would try it for something different and I am very glad that I did. This book shines.

A Changing Land is actually a sequel to Bark Cutters, but I didn’t find that out until later. I didn’t particularly feel like I had to read the Bark Cutters to understand what was happening. It all made sense. It’s got everything I like in a book: romance, misunderstandings, secrets and, on a lesser scale, tragedy. Whilst I usually prefer to go for biographies, sappy love stories or teen fiction, it only took me a few chapters to realise that this was a book I could really enjoy.

This book follows the legacy of the Gordan family. Beginning in the early 19th century, we meet Hamish Gordon who has a rural holding built on stock theft called ‘Wangallon’. Hamish is determined to ensure that his son, Angus, will inherit an enlarged property and will not stop at anything to do so. This includes a plan to purchase the neighbouring property. Because of his greed, Hamish nearly destroys everything, resulting in major repercussions.

We then meet Luke who is Hamish’s eldest son from another marriage. Luke feels deserted as he lost his mother and siblings years earlier. Upon hearing of his father’s plans, Luke is forced to choose between a new life or protection from the home has only ever known.

Flash forward to the end of the 20th century, we meet Sarah Gordon who runs Wangallon with her fiancé. As all good family stories go, Jim who is Sarah’s half brother from Scotland turns up unannounced. What does Jim want? Will Sarah’s fight sacrifice her happiness? Who will succeed in the acquisition of the property? These were all questions I was looking to be answered during the book. Don’t worry though, I won’t spoil it for you.

One thing that really drew me into this book, aside from the fact that it is Australian, is that it shows rural Australia in both past and present times and how these farms often remain in families for decades. I also really love Australian history so seeing the growth of Australia in the book was something that I really enjoyed too.

Upon reading this book, I learned that author Nicole Alexander actually grew up in rural Australia so she really knows what she is talking about. I find that her knowledge and experience makes this book shine and also makes it very believable.

As I delved deeper into the novel, I really did struggle to put it down. The storyline and the words on the page just kept drawing me in. I was always curious to find out what would happen next and also couldn’t wait to find out how it all ended. Of course I was sad once the book ended though.

Overall, this book is very well-written and interesting. It kept me entertained and enthralled. Nicole does an excellent job at making the reader feel like they are a part of the story. That’s how I felt anyway.

This book is highly recommended to anyone who enjoys modern historical fiction, particularly Australian history. It is within my top 5 books from Australian authors (and I’ve read quite a number) so I very highly recommend it to everyone.

4.5/5

Jordan Pannowitz- Photography and everything in between

Jordan Pannowitz is bubbly, friendly, talented and extremely busy. And, as I soon found out, she is caring. The 26 year-old photographer from Newcastle is more than just handy with a camera.

Jordan’s passion for photography began when she was 16 after her Aunty got a professional camera and taught Jordan how to use it. So that Christmas, Jordan’s parents got her a camera so she could start fulfilling her love of photography. “I started off with taking free photos for my family and friends. By the time I was 19, I started doing weddings for them as a back-up photographer”.

Jordan created her photography business JPannowitz Photography when she was 23 and began to charge people for her services. Since then, her business has only continued to grow. Last year, Jordan was shooting roughly 8 weddings a month and is already nearly fully booked for weddings this year. “I have a lot of loyal clients who just kept recommending me to people. It just kept going,” she tells me during our phone conversation. I can hear the passion in her voice whenever she speaks about her photography work.

I ask Jordan about her photographic style, something that is an important aspect to know when choosing a photographer to cover your shoot. She explains to me that her style is what is known as high contrast, meaning that the blues and greens stand out more. Given that a majority of Jordan’s photoshoots occur either on the beach or in the Hunter Valley, this chosen style is very fitting. Although the moody style is becoming very popular, and Jordan is happy to edit a few photos this way, she prefers to be a little different and stick with this high contrast style for all her photo shoots, and they certainly look amazing.

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Photo: JPannowitz Photography

Unlike other photographers, Jordan does not put a limit on the number of photos that her clients receive. “I edit every single photo, and you get every single photo. I believe that you are paying for a photography service so I don’t think that you should be limited”. As Jordan continues to tell me, there really would be no point in her keeping all these photos to herself rather than showing them to the world. “I try to differ myself from everyone else. So at the end you could have 1600 photos.”

Another thing that sets Jordan apart from other photographers, and something I think reflects Jordan’s personality, is that she doesn’t charge an arm and a leg for her wedding services. Whilst most wedding photographers price their packages around $4000, Jordan’s most expensive package is under $2000. I am curious about this and ask Jordan just how and why she does it so cheap. “I do it because I love it. I don’t do it to become rich. I use the money to pay for my equipment.” Jordan’s photos are of an amazing quality but she can’t justify asking people to spend an obscene amount on photos for their special day and believes that there are better things they could be spending their money on. I can’t help but agree with her.

One of the reasons why Jordan is not fussed with making a huge profit from her photography is because she has another job- one that she worked very hard to achieve. Jordan has a degree in Medical Radiation Science and works at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital in Radio Oncology. She works down in Sydney 4 days a week so between that and her photography, her schedule is usually full.

Still, Jordan finds time to volunteer for children’s cancer charity Camp Quality, something she has held close to her heart for the last 5 years. “Working in oncology, I get to see up close what adults as well as kids go through when they are diagnosed with cancer. It’s hard enough being an adult, let alone being a child and being 2 or 7 with cancer,” she tells me and I can hear the passion in her voice. Camp Quality does amazing work to help children who are suffering from cancer, but they also help their families as well. I find out from Jordan that siblings of those battling cancer have a 200% increased risk of becoming depressed. “We have family camps where the whole family can come along.” Through Camp Quality, Jordan travels around Australia and visits different schools with a puppet show that helps educate kids about cancer and what to do if one of their class mates has cancer. “It’s very rewarding”.

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Photo: JPannowitz Photgraphy

 

Although Jordan is busy with her radio oncology work and Camp Quality, she wouldn’t change her work for anything, and that includes her photography. “It’s a great way to balance out of my life and to see people crying happy tears instead of sad tears is what I really like”. Jordan’s photography is all about her clients, so naturally, seeing her clients reactions to her images is a reminder to Jordan about why she does what she does. “It’s nice when they see their family all together in the one photo”. Jordan tells me how even in this day and age with camera phones being so popular, it’s actually really rare to get a whole family together in the one photo. “They may have a huge family that they don’t often get together but they do for the photo and so when everyone is together it’s quite emotional and just, to see that on their faces, I really love that”. And weddings are an excellent occasion to bring everyone together for photos which is probably why Jordan loves covering weddings so much.

One of the weddings that Jordan has covered, and possibly one of her most memorable one, was a cultural experience which is why it stood out so much. It was a Fijian/New Zealand wedding and was completely different to anything Jordan had shot before. Of course there were cultural dances, both Fijian and New Zealand and the groom and his groomsmen performed a choreographed routine to Bruno Mars. Jordan tells me that as per tradition, all the male guests danced around the bride and put money down her dress. “It was just amazing. I’d never been to anything like that before”. Jordan had previously done a Scottish wedding where the father of the bride wore a kilt, but never had she done a wedding that was completely culturally influenced. In fact, this wedding made Jordan feel like she was in Fiji herself. There were prayers in a different language and the dances were performed by family members of all ages from little kids to grandfathers. “It made me want to get up there and dance with them”.

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Photo: JPannowitz Photography

Jordan Pannowitz may have only just begun her photography career but she is already very popular and I have no doubt that, with amazing images like hers, her career will only continue to grow. Her generosity with Camp Quality really shines through and sums up her personality. And her work in Radio Oncology shows that there are things other than photography that interests Jordan.

As our phone call wraps up, it becomes clear to me that Jordan is a very caring person. And that is probably the best quality to have.

Sami’s Crazy Love album launch

Young singer/songwriter Sami, who has recently moved to Newcastle, has just announced the title of her new album. The album is called Crazy Love and is sure to follow in the footsteps of her debut album Every Passing Minute.

To celebrate the release of her new album, Sami is hosting a launch party on the 7th April at The Small Ballroom is Newcastle from 7pm. “I am so excited about the new album,” Sami says. Along with Sami, the launch will also feature music from Georgina Grimshaw, with more artists to be named over the coming weeks. Sami will perform with her 6 piece backing band, giving fans a taste of her new album. Sami estimates that 150 fans will be at the album launch.

Crazy Love will feature songs about love (of course), life and summer. As Sami told me in our previous interview, each track was co-written by her so this album is sure to be very personal. Sami also got to work with some top song writers including Steve Deal, Dane Baldwin and Troy Kemp.sami crazy love album launch.jpg

As Sami prepares for her massive album launch, she will continue to perform gigs regularly around the Newcastle and Hunter Valley areas. This weekend is her 22nd birthday so she is celebrating in style. On Friday the 9th February, join Sami for her birthday bash at the Commercial Hotel in Boolaroo from 6:30pm-9:30pm. Entry is free but Sami only asks that you wear something silly and enjoy yourselves. Then on Saturday 10th February, she will be performing at the Neath Hotel from 8pm-11:30pm. Again entry to this event is free. To top of her birthday weekend, Sami will be performing at the Lakeside Tavern in Forster between 2:30pm and 5:30pm. You guessed it, entry is free.

Since our last interview, Sami has acquired a job working for the Hit Squad on Newcastle’s Hit 106.9, another thing that she is very excited about.

So while Sami keeps busy with her music and writing career, be sure to check out her gigs when you can. You don’t want to miss her album launch. It’s going to be huge.  Tickets for this event are $10 each. To buy tickets, head to the store on Sami’s website: http://www.samicooke.com.au

 

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Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Turtles All the Way Down is a strange title indeed, but for author John Green that’s nothing unusual. Like his 6 titles before it, there is a subliminal meaning behind the title, but I will get to that later.

Following a five-year hiatus, since the release of smash The Fault in Our Stars, Green released Turtles All the Way Down in October 2017. To say it was much anticipated would be an underestimation. In fact, Green had begun to create hype for the book in December 2016 by reading an excerpt during a live stream. He also posted cryptic clues in his ‘vlogbrothers’ videos. It wasn’t long before fans began to piece the clues together and thus, Turtles All the Way Down was anticipated.

To give you a brief run-down of the plot without spoiling too much, all I can say is: read this book with your mind open to mental illness. The story follows Aza Holmes, a 16 year-old school student in Indianapolis. Aza suffers from severe anxiety and believes that she suffers from an infection, Clostridium difficile (C-diff for short) as a result of a callused finger which hasn’t quite healed properly. Her best friend Daisy is a Star Wars fanfiction author and follows Aza on a hunt for a fugitive billionaire. Along the way, Aza finds herself getting closer to the fugitive’s son, Davis, than she anticipated. She also goes on a psychological journey to help find herself. As in all John Green novels, there are unexpected occurrences but, for the most part, a very witty and entertaining storyline.

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Photo: Goodreads

John Green has always had a way of drawing the audience in, and this book is no exception. After reading the first few pages I wanted to know: who is Aza Holmes? What is going through her mind to make her so obsessed with C-diff? What will John Green write next? Indeed, it really is captivating.

Now most of you are probably under the impression that John Green only writes for teenagers so therefore his books can only be read by teenagers, right? Wrong! This book takes on a new maturity that even adults can either relate to or learn from. Like other Green book, there’s a strong theme throughout the whole book, from more than just one character- mental illness.

Mental illness is something that affects almost everybody in some way, whether it be yourself or a loved one, so I really like that John Green has taken such an important issue and has woven it throughout this story- with great talent might I add. John Green writes from experience though, having suffered from a mental illness himself from a young age. John Green told TIME “I still can’t really talk directly about my own obsessions. The word triggering has become so broadly used in popular culture, but anyone who has experienced an anxiety attack knows how badly they want to avoid it”. This comes across in the story as Aza goes through a journey of wanting to avoid her obsession with C-diff and avoid opening her callus that has ‘caused her C-diff’. She also craves the ability to avoid this anxiety when it comes to her relationship with Davis because every time she goes to kiss him, all she can think about is the eighty million microbes being exchanged in that kiss.  I really think that John Green is almost using Aza to tell his experience with mental illness. No matter how attached or detached he might be from the main character’s specific mental illness, it is written about with knowledge and passion- to, in a way, educate the readers.

John Green has once again created a thoroughly entertaining novel that takes the reader on a journey with the characters, which is something I really admire in novels. I found myself feeling the same emotions that Aza did, whilst also feeling empathetic towards her. I found myself taking this journey with the protagonist as she discovered not only who she is, but how much friendship means. After a short falling out with Daisy over her fanfiction and, upon reading Daisy’s apology to Aza in her fan fiction, Aza realises that friendship is one of the true things in life and something that helps her get through the day.

The title of the book is obscure yes, but upon conclusion, it becomes clear what John Green is trying to portray throughout this whole book. It’s really an anecdote depicting the issues of infinite regression. The title Turtles All the Way Down comes from a story, which Green heard at college and it stuck with him. He told TIME “The point of the (original) story is that the scientist is right but the old woman saying that the world resets on a turtles all the way down situation, she’s also right”. What John Green is suggesting is that the world is the stories that we tell about it, which matter. “They shape the actual world and they shape our actual lives,” Green continues to tell TIME. I find this particularly relevant in the case of Aza because although her illness continues to regress, her life can reset. Her story is important and shapes who she is as a person and also shapes her relationships. I think that is a super powerful message.

Over all, John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down is an enjoyable read and is also a lot of fun. I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of Green’s other books or doesn’t mind a bit of witty teen fiction. With news of the book being adapted in the film, John Green has definitely produced yet another hit novel and a must-read.

4.5/5