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MIT blogger Kidist A. '22

Avatar and Desserts by Kidist A. '22

Exploring Food Art

Beware! There will be many spoilers for Avatar: The Last Airbender. Like a lot. Please watch it before reading this. Past this point, I’m making the assumption that you’ve seen the show and will not go over plot points. 

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Tl;dr: I made desserts inspired by my favorite Avatar episodes. Here are some pictures. The rest of the blog is me explaining how this happened and what the food means with some fangirling a lot bit. Enjoy:)a picture of three of desserts

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Table of Contents

The Beginnings

Around mid-may, Avatar: The Last Airbender comes out on Netflix, and everyone on Twitter and other various group chats are talking about it. I’d never heard of Avatar before,01 or I think I hadn't? I feel like after I knew what it was, I started to see it everywhere, and I can't tell if it's because it was always there and I just didn't notice or if there was a rise of Avatar related stuff around May-July. but after two weeks of not getting any references about Zuko and ‘that’s rough buddy’ and what bender I would be, I caved. I started watching the show, and it blew. my. mind. I was amazed at how a children’s show could be so light and funny while also being so nuanced and sophisticated. The world-building and characters are detailed and elaborate, it’s just so… I don’t even know what to say. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably seen the show and know how it is. I wish I could call this a childhood show.02 I mean I also haven’t seen other common American childhood shows like SpongeBob or Dora. A lot of channels I had access to in Ethiopia like Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network were dubbed in Arabic because access to Arab satellite television was cheap. Some of the channels weren't dubbed at all, and I think this had me watching shows that I definitely should not have been watching at 10/11 years old like The Vampire Diaries💀💀 but I digress   

Meanwhile, sometime in June, my little brother had challenged my cooking skills, claiming he was superior. I thought this was just a laughing matter, but I was shocked to find that he genuinely believed that he was better than me now that he could make a total of two meals.03 </span>to be fair, they do taste really good To settle these foolish thoughts, we decided to have a three-course meal cook-off at the end of July, which would be judged by my sister whose birthday was around then.

I finished watching ATLA around the beginning of July and was drowning in the post-show blues. My treatment? Binging Avatar video essays and calling people to rant about Avatar. On one of those calls, I remember talking about Avatar then the upcoming cook-off (or the other way around; I only recall it being in succession), and something clicked! I was going to make an Avatar inspired three-course meal. I didn’t know what it was going to look like then, but I knew I wanted to approach it more like an art project than a cooking endeavor. I thought I would start and finish this project by the end of July,04 LOL but I made everything this Thanksgiving break so that cook-off didn’t happen.05 </span>which is probably for the best, at least to spare my brother's ego Still, even though I had a lot of time to plan, there were still many, many blunders and botches.

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The Planning Phase

The nuance and complexity are what I love most about Avatar, but those same qualities made picking three things to focus on very difficult. I didn’t want to make dishes dedicated to the four nations and their corresponding colors because that would be cheesy and obvious, and I wanted to stick to three meals anyway. I wanted to pick an episode or topic that had either memorable visuals (Koi fish, Yue, Zuko and Azula’s fight, Katara’s revenge, the dragon dance, etc.) or that illustrated the beautiful nuance and craft of Avatar. So, I started watching more videos analyzing Avatar and was inundated with a wide range of possibilities. Here are some options I considered: 

  1. One meal for each of the three books/seasons. I considered doing a meal for each season finale or my favorite episode of that season. I could do that while also concentrating on the element that season centered on, which would make things easier for myself as that narrows my focus and gives me an established color palette to work with. Ultimately, I didn’t stick with this idea because it was still very broad.   
  2. Focus on a character and three points in their character arc. Avatar is timeless because its characters are so dynamic, and their growth is very relatable. Zuko is the obvious and perfect example because his change from coveting his father’s love at all costs to turning away from it is so drastic but also natural in the way it’s written. Other character changes that resonated with me included the evolutions of Iroh, Sokka, and Toph. I didn’t use this idea because I thought it was too limiting. I felt like there weren’t enough episodes that thoroughly explored the characters’ growth with the exception of Zuko. And personally, even though Zuko and his actions were mostly a product of his environment and upbringing, he still, at the very least, was a part of the royal family that brought about a great deal of carnage. He would eventually grow up to be a harbinger of peace and prosperity, so people do change. And it’s not like he could have done anything as he was a child and couldn’t speak out (and when he did, he was basically banished). So, I definitely feel for him, I really do. But honestly, I just don’t like him that much. I don’t dislike him either. I respect the person he became, but I didn’t want to focus on the bad person he was and that is the majority of his time on Avatar.a meme related to zuko's character arc// Source: Avatar Shitbending FB group
  3. Focus on three themes or one theme with three aspects. Avatar’s complex and difficult themes are one of my favorite aspects of the show. I didn’t expect this children’s show to handle topics of conflict, war, genocide, spirituality and so much more in such a layered manner. There are so many scenes and episodes that stand out to me, including Aang’s and Katara’s dilemmas on violence and revenge, Aang’s pain when he realizes that he’s the last airbender, Iroh’s tears as he mourns on his late son’s birthday, Zuko’s internal turmoil when he turns his back away from chasing the Avatar, and more. Similar to the first option, this topic was too broad, maybe even more so, and I loved so many of the themes, which made my indecision debilitating.
  4. Focus on world-building. Learning more about world-building took my love and appreciation for Avatar to another level because the details are remarkable. I didn’t know that each bending’s stances and movements are inspired by different martial arts styles. In addition to that, those martial arts styles match the representative values associated with its corresponding bending type (waterbending is inspired by fluid movements of Tai Chi while earthbending is inspired by the rooted and powerful stances of Hung ga). This distinction made the fight scenes so fascinating because now there are at least 10 possible combinations that are all different. Each nation has unique architectures, belief systems, cultures, etc. Even though this option was really rich, I didn’t use it because I think it would have focused too much on the visuals, and I wanted something that went beyond that and explored something deeper like characterization, symbolism, or theme.

For a few weeks throughout the summer, I would watch many video essays while eating or on breaks during my internship. The more I knew or the more choices that I had, the more difficult coming to a conclusion became. In the end, I decided to list all my favorite episodes that stuck with me now that some time had passed since I’d finished the show and pick from that list. I ended up with the thirteen episodes below.  

 

Book 1

  • The Siege of the North: Like I had mentioned earlier, one of the criterias I was looking for were strong or memorable visuals, and this episode is filled with them. This is where we see the koi fish, Yue as the moon, the red moon, the Ocean Spirit, and the Spirit Oasis to name a few. 

a gif of koi fish from avatar

Book 2

  • Tales of Ba Sing Se: Does this episode even need an explanation? Just tears. And pain. I think this episode had the most characterization of all other episodes, especially for Iroh, Toph, and even Momo.   
  • Appa’s Lost Days: This one is just straight-up pain and anger and nothing else. 
  • Bitter Work: This episode has a lot of underrated wisdom and insight into Iroh and his past, as he explains to Zuko the importance of learning from other nations and shows him how to redirect lightning, a technique he learned from studying waterbenders. The other part of this episode shows Toph teaching Aang how to earthbend and his struggle to learn as earthbending goes against his nature as an airbender. This episode demonstrates the different values associated with bending and how they can work in harmony or clash, and I love the attention to detail and world-building.
  • Zuko Alone: I’m a sucker for flashbacks, and this episode was filled with them and heartbreaking ones at that. We learned about Ursa, Zuko’s mother, and how much of a light she was in his life. This episode also followed Zuko as he saw the consequences of the Fire Nation’s imperial conquest. There was a lot of great characterization and themes explored. 
  • Crossroads of Destiny: This episode genuinely shook me. I remember jumping out of my seat when I thought the undefeatable Aang died. At the same time, I respected Azula for not waiting around to attack her opponent like every other villain. Zuko’s betrayal shocked me, and I remember pausing the episode and thinking ‘wait, this is not supposed to happen’. After the Zuko Alone episode, his mind-and-body turmoil with the whole Appa ordeal, his conversation with Katara, and more, I thought his decision to choose good was made and done, and I’d come to expect this clean arc from all the other shows and movies I’ve watched before. Anyways, Zuko’s decision made Iroh’s disappointment sting even more. The crystal cave is also a memorable visual, but the star of this episode for me were the completely unexpected events. 

Book 3

  • The Beach: This was another episode with great character insight, especially regarding the inner problems of Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee. 
  • The Avatar and the Firelord: This episode had everything I love: flashbacks that gave historical context, contributed to Zuko’s character development, and addressed the general theme of war and conflict. 
  • Sokka’s Master: This episode not only showed another side to Sokka but was also personally relatable. I appreciated the lessons on the value of intelligence, grit, and other qualities that aren’t immediately observable the way bending is.
  • The Puppetmaster: The bloodbending plot point was so shocking; I won’t forget how my heart dropped when I realized what was happening. At the same time, I thought bloodbending was such a creative application of waterbending. 
  • The Southern Raiders: I love this episode for its nuanced approach to forgiveness, violence, and revenge. I appreciate that the episode didn’t have a black or white answer even though they could have easily done that by depicting a more vindictive and thus temporarily satisfying action.   
  • The Western Air Temple: I liked this episode because it was realistic in that the Aang and the gang were very hesitant to include Zuko in their group, justifiably so. And Zuko doesn’t really get that defensive because he understands their distrust. One of the videos I watched talks about this in the context of America, and I think everyone should watch it (and her other videos because EvelynFromTheInternets is awesome).
  • Sozin’s Comet: Everything was building up for the ultimate battle between Aang and Ozai and that fight did not disappoint. The Agni Kai between Zuko and Azula was sad and tragically beautiful.

In the end, I picked *dramatic drum roll* The Crossroads of Destiny, The Southern Raiders, and Sozin’s Comet 06 </span>what are some of your favorite episodes? . First, all of them had distinctive visuals (the cave, Katara’s bending, the fight between Aang and Ozai as well as Zuko and Azula). This combination of the three episodes included aspects of the other episodes I liked. For example, I liked the Puppet Master because of the bloodbending, which is also in The Southern Raiders. The Crossroads of Destiny captures the main struggle of Zuko’s character, and his characterization is what I loved in a lot of the other episodes. I rewatched the episodes, took screenshots of important scenes, and compiled a long PDF of the three episodes and their main events.

a compilation of food pictures that were my inspiration

some of the pics from my pinterest board

Now that I had picked what I would focus on, it was time for me to think about how I was going to represent those episodes on a plate. In the weeks it took me to get this decision, I was also spending a lot of time on Pinterest, gathering pictures of fancy appetizers, entrees, and desserts. I had found more than 200 pictures, mostly desserts, and entered another wave of decision paralysis. Additionally, my previous artworks have mostly leaned towards realism, and this project was on the other end. At this point, it was almost the end of August, and I was focusing on my internship and the start of classes. All of this combined made this step of planning the longest in the process. But, over the next few weeks, I would mull over some ideas listed below. 

  • I wanted to have a good mix of visual and symbolic representation. For example, visual representation would be imitating the green cave crystals as candy while symbolic representation could be representing the four nations with their corresponding colors.a picture listing the elements of design and the principles of design
  • I started to think a lot more about the elements of art and principles of design, which are sets of visual terms that I learned in my intro to art class way back in high school and honestly hadn’t given it much thought since. I primarily use graphite and watercolor, and the chief element I’m usually concerned with is value07 I would say shape and form as well but a part of me believes that they are brought about mostly by a change in value, at least in my artwork which is especially helpful when trying to accurately recreate still lives or reference pictures. But now, I’m exploring different goals like capturing the essence of a story or evoking emotion. I had to reconsider what would be in my ‘toolbox’ to help me achieve those goals, and a lot of them came from revisiting the terms in the picture above. In addition to those, food as a media adds another layer of perception and sensation through taste and smell. You could vary the temperature, the sweetness, the state,08 as in solid, liquid, gas (I've seen creative application of liquid nitrogen and smoke on different cooking shows) and more. 
  • The next reasonable step after identifying the ‘tools’ is to figure out how to use it. In this project, I knew I wanted to focus mostly on lines. The picture below is an image I found a few years ago that elegantly captures really deep feelings through simple lines. In this process of reflection, I would ask myself how I felt when I saw a perpendicular line. What was the difference in my feelings and perceptions when I saw a curved object versus one with sharp edges? I had an internal debate with myself on whether or not my interpretations were valid and tried to search for an established meaning for what parallel lines mean when it appears in art. This discussion has made me appreciate abstract art a lot more; I used to view it as an overrated art style with pretty colors and no skill, but researching and reading more has elevated it to a style that is deeper, personal, and emotional. 

a picture that shows different relationships as lines

All this pondering happened slowly over the course of September, and while there was some progress, it wasn’t consistent and barely was significant. It’s not that I didn’t have time to spare, I just felt guilty working on an art project instead of a pset. So, I did the next best thing. I asked my CMS.100(Introduction to Media Studies) professor if I could do this as my final project, and he said yes! With that green light, I finally started brainstorming and sketching different meals. However, I struggled to come up with an appetizer and an entree that would match Crossroads of Destiny and The Southern Raiders. Desserts offer more flexibility in terms of color and textures, and after many attempts to brainstorm, I decided to do all desserts. 

October felt like a total of four days, and suddenly it was the end of the second week of November and the beginning of midterm season. I still had to finalize my sketches, and I realized I had to make all of this food over Thanksgiving break because that would be my last break before I was crushed with all my other assignments and finals. Somehow a project I’d been thinking about since June was still not completely planned out. And I had completely forgotten about the most important part: the recipes. So, the weekend before Thanksgiving break, I spent a lot of time reverse image searching recipes of pictures I had collected earlier. I looked up recipes for different cakes I had never made before because I definitely needed the extra challenge. That Sunday, I went shopping for hours at 5 different places to get different ingredients, plates, and other cookware. I spent the next three days cooking from the moment I got up to the moment I went to bed. My final results were definitely not what I had planned, which I will discuss in a later section, but I’m satisfied with the end. 

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What I Made and What it Means

The Crossroads of Destiny

a picture of one of my desserts and scene from crossroads of destiny

The core of the dessert is just a chocolate mousse with matcha sauce. The chocolate mousse is covered in a chocolate glaze, topped with a vanilla tuile, and lined with green rock candy. Along the matcha sauce are some sugar candy, bits of milk cake, and a few mango spheres. three pictures of my first dessert

I mostly focused on Zuko and the two scenes that shocked me (Zuko’s betrayal and Aang’s near-death experience). I represented Iroh with the milk cake as a nod to his leadership in the White Lotus while the blue green candy represented the scene where Iroh is captured and entrapped by the crystals. I wanted to represent Zuko’s journey in the show so far with the sauce. Zuko was on a generally linear path to redemption up until this episode. At the beginning of the show, Zuko only cared about finding the Avatar to restore his honor, but with the guidance of Iroh, he started to put other things above this one goal. In Book 1, he chose to continue searching for Iroh when he saw Appa flying in the opposite direction. He chose to save his crew and not chase after the Avatar when his ship was caught in a storm. In Zuko Alone, he bonds with Lee and sees for himself all the damage and death the Fire Nation had caused in its name. He even gives Lee the knife Iroh had given Zuko, which Lee later rejects when he learns Zuko is a fire bender. After some pushback, Zuko starts to accept his humble new beginning in the Iroh’s tea shop in Ba Sing Se. For a moment, he pursues Appa and thus the Avatar, but after Iroh yells some sense into him for the umpteenth time, he drops this chase too. His body was in literal turmoil because that act was against his nature but he survived the fevers and hallucinations. He has a heart-to-heart conversation with Katara about the loss of their mothers. And after all of that, all Azula had to do was tempt him with their father’s love, and he fought by her side. 

At the time I was so angry at Zuko and the writers of the show for this unwarranted emotional pain, but in hindsight it makes a lot of sense. Of course he would accept the opportunity to gain the one and only thing he has wanted for years. His relapse also makes his redemption arc strong and believable because growth and change is neither linear nor easy. By going back and learning for himself that being the prince his father wants, the prince who stays silent, is not who he is. His pivot and return to Fire Nation launches him on a painful path of self-discovery, and while he ultimately comes out of it a changed and good person, he still left many hurt along the way.      

I represented Zuko’s sudden change with a sharp turn in that line of matcha sauce. The chocolate mousse represents Azula as she was the main cause for his change. I put some matcha powder on top of the mousse to represent the Dai Li and her control. I wanted to put the yellow mango spheres on top of the mousse to complete the colors of the Earth Kingdom’s throne (yellow/gold, green, brown) and signify Azula’s thirst for power. I had to put it on the side because it kept falling. Following the sharp turn, I wanted the sauce to essentially go downhill in a splintered and fractured way because that basically mirrors Zuko’s journey after that. The red-orange and blue candy is a hint to Zuko’s betrayal of Katara and the fight between them. I put a little blue candy shaped almost like a sphere to represent the water Katara almost used to heal Zuko’s scar. 

Finally, the vanilla tuile represents Aang brutal electrocution as I felt like the shape and texture of the tuile matched the moment Azula shot him. Throughout the show, we’ve seen the immense power of the Avatar state. The show is called Avatar: The Last Airbender; Aang is the main character. Aang is the person the world has been expecting for a hundred years! All of this made me comfortable regarding the safety of Aang. But when Azula shot him, I genuinely thought that Aang died. I think after Zuko’s betrayal I knew the writers had no limits. Also, Azula’s precision is deadly, and she had a direct view of Aang. Thankfully, Katara still had the spirit water, and Aang survived. 

 

The Southern Raiders

a picture of one of my desserts and scene from the southern raiders

This dessert is a cake roll two ways with chocolate ganache and sugar candy. The white milk roll and chocolate cake roll are both filled with whipped cream. The chocolate cake roll is covered in a mirror glaze and topped with a cherry and some blueberry sauce while the milk roll is topped with a sugar candy structure, milk chocolate, and tuile. The rolls are separated by a flexible chocolate ganache. 

three pictures of one of my desserts

I think this episode illustrates a lot of what makes Avatar so great. Katara finding her mother’s killer isn’t necessarily that important in the context of the show’s overall plot, especially as the major battle between Aang and Ozai approaches. However, this side mission manages to accomplish multiple things at once: shows another side to Katara, addresses Katara’s justified distrust of Zuko, challenges Aang’s commitment to nonviolence, and explores forgiveness and revenge. 

This episode focuses a lot on the eyes of the characters, specifically Katara and Yon Rha, her mother’s killer.  Something changes in Katara the moment she finds out that she could go after Yon Rha. Her whole demeanor changes, and she turns from the caring and motherly figure of the group to a cold vindicator filled with so much anger and hatred that she bloodbended, an act she swore off. You can also see it in her eyes: her brows are furrowed at all times which greatly contrasts her big and round eyes we see during the flashbacks to her childhood. Similarly, in those flashbacks, Yon Rha is in the position of power, his eyes, brows, helmet, and stark shadows on his face all create different sharp shapes while the now old Yon Rha has a worn and fearful look.

a group of pictures of eyes (mostly katara's)

I wanted to incorporate this idea of curves versus sharp lines with the ganache. On one end, the ganache is curved and circular and it gradually decreases as it becomes more straight and pointed. On the curved end, I have the milk roll, and while you can’t see it, I put blue food coloring in the whipped cream for her waterbending, though I’m hoping the sugar candy atop the roll would also be an indicator. That candy was an attempt to recreate Katara’s iconic scene and mastery of waterbending as she sends icy spikes towards Yon Rha, almost killing him. 

The Southern Raiders really resonated with me because I was personally thinking about forgiveness before I had watched this episode. A lot of the rhetoric I’ve seen in other movies and shows has been relatively black and white when it comes to revenge and forgiveness. The general message alternates between ‘be the bigger person and forgive’ or ‘an eye for an eye’. I try to imagine myself in Katara’s shoes, and frankly there is no way in hell I would ever forgive anyone for intentionally killing my mother. Honestly, if it weren’t for God, the law, and my constantly diminishing but still barely existing respect for humanity, I probably would not have held back. Regardless, I’m grateful that the writers hold their audience in enough regard to show a middle ground of sorts. This extends to many of the other themes and issues they handled throughout the show. 

Like I’ve mentioned before, I love flashbacks because usually they add rich color to the narrative, and this episode is no exception. Katara’s character so far has mostly centered on her maturity and strength as a waterbender but this added context deepens her character. Just imagine knowing that your mother sacrificed her life for yours. After her mother’s murder, Katara assumed many responsibilites to fill the gap left by her mother and later her father. Katara’s maturity, independence, and strong will comes from having grown up too fast due to her tragic loss. This episode is also important for Zuko’s redemption arc and regaining Katara’s trust after betraying her in the catacombs. He understood her warranted suspicion and wasn’t defensive; instead, he found a way to earn her trust back.  

Other aspects of this dish include the cherry and the blueberry sauce, which were a nod to firebending and bloodbending respectively. I added some leftover tuile and chocolate in the sugar candy bowl partly because the bowl was looking empty, but I think it can also relate to the weather at the time of Katara’s confrontation as it was pouring rain and the lightning was a dramatic moment when Yon Rha realizes who Katara was.   

 

Sozin’s Comet

a picture of one of my desserts and scenes from sozins comet

The final dessert is a chocolate lava cake and Mille Feuille with raspberries, strawberries, and meringue. The red sauce is a blueberry sauce while the blue sauce is a vanilla sauce with blue food coloring. 

three pictures of my dessert

Sozin’s Comet is an epic episode. As the culmination of the entire show, this episode has a lot riding on it, and it delivered. I generally don’t enjoy watching fighting scenes and often prefer skipping that scene and finding out who won. But this battle between Aang and Ozai was so grand and spectacular. There were different shifts throughout the fight clearly expressed with barely any dialogue. The bending was incredibly mind-blowing. Honestly, I cried in awe watching this episode. The video below outlines in great detail the mastery behind the writing of this impressive climactic scene. I definitely recommend watching this, especially if you’re interested in writing.  

And then there’s the Agni Kai. Besides The Beach, there really are no episodes that have shown Azula as someone other than a strategic and skilled sociopath. Here, we see the once composed and calculated Azula collapse into a shell of her former self when everything she stands for, that fear is the only reliable way, is questioned when her friends betray her. In her fight with Zuko, Azula isn’t striking accurate lightning as she usually does but rather bending in a chaotic and powerful manner. Her ultimate defeat should be a joyful moment, but the whole scene is just sad and somber. Zuko isn’t enjoying watching his sister’s mental breakdown; Katara looks away. Though their fight was short, it was memorable; the score and the visuals work well together in somehow creating a climactic and sorrowful scene at the same time. The same YouTuber breaks down this fight as well with more great lessons on writing conflict and fight scenes.   

The chocolate lava cake and the chocolate shaving on top were a nod to the earth pillars, where the fight between Ozai and Aang took place. I chose to make a lava cake because chocolate oozes out of a lava cake when you cut into one, and I wanted it to be symbolic of the way Ozai loses an important part of himself and his overall power, his firebending. On top of the mille-feuille are four things that correspond to the four elements: the raspberry to fire, chocolate shavings to earth, blue candy to water, and the orange candy to air. I wanted the combination of all elements to represent Aang and his Avatar state. I positioned the mille-feuille between the lava cake and the blue and red sauces, symbolizing the two manifestations of fire (flames and lightning), in order to further illustrate Ozai’s loss of his bendings as a result of the Avatar. The red and blue sauces were also a nod to the Agni Kai as Azula was almost exclusively bending lightning while Zuko was fire bending. The bubble sugar atop the lava cake was an attempt to reference Aang listening to the earth when he is confronting Ozai. Earthbending was the form of bending that Aang struggled with the most, and the advanced technique of listening to the earth is one that he used smoothly and effortlessly when his life was in danger. 

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Expectation vs. Reality: Lessons Learned

Although I largely accomplished what I set out to do, there were still many parts of my plans that weren’t fulfilled mostly due to my rushed planning. Here’s a comparison of my thumbnails and the final result and some notes and what was missing. a picture of my dessert, the sketch, and notes about what I couldn't includea picture of my dessert, the sketch, and notes about what I couldn't includea picture of my dessert, the sketch, and notes about what I couldn't include

Other lessons: 

  • Plate dimensions matter. I wish I had measured out the heights and diameters of the different cakes and bought plates based on that. As a result, I either ran out of space or everything put together looked a lot different than I had imagined and not in a good way. For example, I wanted to have the matcha powder to the side of the chocolate mousse in the first dessert but there wasn’t enough space. I feel like the matcha powder is overshadowed by the tuile on top of it. I didn’t realize how much plates play a factor in how everything would look all together. Spacing and composition is important! I’m sorry for neglecting y’all.    
  • Recipes matter as much as visuals. My vision for the red and blue sauces in the last dessert was for the motion of the sauces to mimic bending motions of Zuko and Azula respectively with Azula’s being more chaotic than Zuko’s. But the vanilla sauce recipe that I had was a lot thicker and was difficult to apply in that manner, so I changed my plan to the more generic twirls seen in both their bending. This is one example and there are many more that have taught me to consider the recipes while planning the visuals. 
  • Don’t rush. I thought that I was going to finish cooking everything in one day, which in hindsight is just utterly laughable. I spent three whole days doing nothing but cooking well past midnight. I was super tired when I was finally plating everything and didn’t put too much energy into taking pictures. I barely have any pictures of the cooking process which I regret. Because I thought I was going to finish all in one day, I started cooking different parts of each meal which got overwhelming and disorganized after a while. There were many cooking failures that could have been avoided had I tested the recipes. After my initial shopping, I went to my local grocery store more than seven times over three days because I forgot one essential ingredient and then another. I’m so grateful for my patient and supportive mother, though I’m pretty sure she was as patient as she was because I told her it was for a school project (which is true!!). 

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Conclusion

Overall, this was not a bad first try. Before this, the fanciest thing I had done regarding cooking was decorating the cake below. This was at least 6 years ago when I went to a relative’s house and someone said I was the artsy cousin and had to decorate the cake on the spot.

a picture of a homemade cake

Other takeaways~~

  • I’ve been writing since I was single-digit years old, but Avatar has really reignited my love for great storytelling. In a few years, I probably won’t remember many of the plot points and character names, but I’ll remember what I felt. I may not remember all the themes explored in the show in the future, but now, in the present, they have sparked new reflections or furthered existing ones. I feel like I’m better after watching ATLA, and I hope one day I’m able to tell stories as impactful as Avatar was to me.  
  • This project has unintentionally made me think a lot deeper about my art and its purpose. My goal has always been mastering hyperrealism because that’s a clear goal or skill to strive for. Something feels off when a face is drawn unproportionally or if the colors and values are weird. It becomes a lot more difficult when the art is more creative or free-spirited. I’ll admit that I’ve had moments where I had this elitist mindset when it came to art. I placed realism at the top and everything else at the bottom. But lately, I’ve been asking what the point of art is anyway. Recreate photos? Stick bananas to a wall? I don’t know the answer; I don’t think there is a singular answer. All I know is that I’ve been valuing art that evokes emotion more than ever. When planning the first dessert, I was looking up art that depicted betrayal, and besides the ones showing someone being stabbed in the back, the piece that spoke to me the most was the one below. 

a painting titled love and betrayal

  • And what if no one but the creator understands their symbolism or intentions? Does the artist’s goal have to be clearly communicated in order for their art to be considered a success? I’ve been having these questions and discussions as it relates to my poetry as well. I’m shifting from clear and firm language to more open-ended and expressive language that allows for multiple interpretations. Is a poem more or less successful if only the author’s intended idea or goal is communicated to the reader? Or maybe it’s more beautiful to let the reader include a part of themselves in their reading of your poem and walk away with a different interpretation. I don’t know. Changing my writing process has been a lot slower compared to the sudden change in my artistic pursuits. So it’s been interesting to apply lessons across disciplines.
  • Cooking is fun! Food as an artistic media is something I’ve only recently considered, and it’s totally underrated. Not only can you play with different elements of art but you also have the added layers of taste, smell, and temperature. Granted, I didn’t really experiment with those but now I know.  Food art is like sculpting but better because you can eat it. In addition, cooking is the one hobby that has always made me feel like a scientist. The topics that I was learning about in 3.091(Introduction to Solid State Chemistry) this semester were directly applicable to a few of the foods I was making, specifically tempering chocolate. I also learned of a new food science disciple: molecular gastronomy. It sounds super fancy, but the easy mango spheres I made were using techniques from this subdiscipline. I definitely want to learn more about this to further my artistic and cooking pursuits. 
  • I want to get more into food photography. My search has introduced me to various corners of food YouTube, and I’ve been learning more about this underappreciated area of photography.
  • Lastly, I’m dedicating this blog post to Devin, who encouraged me to watch Avatar and listened to all my plans and rants. Thank you💓

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Recipes

Here are the articles and videos I used to make everything along with some comments on the difficulty levels. 

Lace Tuiles

Difficulty: Easy

You technically only need three ingredients but I added powdered sugar, vanilla, and food coloring. This is such an easy and quick recipe that can make your dessert fancier than it is while also adding a crunchy texture. 

Matcha Glaze

Difficulty: Easy

Mango Spheres

Difficulty: Easy

Really cool recipe! I overdid it with the agar agar because there’s a difference between agar agar powder and flakes. I bought the latter while the video used the former. There are a few articles online about how to correctly convert between the two. The recipe starts at 3:56. 

Chocolate Mousse

Difficulty: Medium

The recipe is pretty easy, but I didn’t use a flexible silicon mold and couldn’t easily take the mousse out while keeping its shape. I had to buy another mold and do it all over again.

Chocolate Mirror Glaze

Difficulty: Easy

Blueberry Sauce

Difficulty: Easy

I used blueberries instead of cranberries.

Flexible Ganache

Difficulty: Medium

Honestly, I think I got a little lucky because it seems like this recipe is easy to mess up according to the comments

Sugar Candy Bowl

Difficulty: Medium 

Chocolate Cake Roll

Difficulty: Medium

Rolling the cake was a little hard, and my cake cracked a bit. Luckily I could hide it with the mirror glaze.

 

White Milk Roll Cake

Difficulty: Medium

I underestimated the importance of having the correct cake pan size or at the very least not trying to account for the difference. My cake wasn’t as fluffy and spongey, but it was still good.

Blue Sauce

Difficulty: Easy

I used the matcha sauce recipe at 9:03, and instead of putting in matcha powder, I put blue food coloring. 

 

Bubble Sugar Tuile

Difficulty: Medium

This should have been easy but I made my layer of glucose too thin and I didn’t get much of the bubble effect seen in the video.

Mille Feuille

Difficulty: Easy

This was easy only because I didn’t actually make the pastry lol.

Lava Cake

Difficulty: Easy

This was surprisingly easy, quick, and tasted SO good. I’m definitely making this again for sure.

Meringue Shards

Difficulty: Easy

I made this on my first day of cooking but couldn’t include it because it had dried up by the time I plated everything on the third day. But this tasted so freaking good. The shards melted in your mouth like cotton candy. It really was amazing.

Tempering Chocolate 

Difficulty: Hard

I also didn’t include this because I couldn’t really do it. I tried many times but it didn’t work out and I don’t even know why. I’ll definitely experiment more to try and get it right. Not everything went to waste though as I was able to use the leftover chocolate to make the different crumbs and shavings.

 

 

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  1. or I think I hadn't? I feel like after I knew what it was, I started to see it everywhere, and I can't tell if it's because it was always there and I just didn't notice or if there was a rise of Avatar related stuff around May-July. back to text
  2. I mean I also haven’t seen other common American childhood shows like SpongeBob or Dora. A lot of channels I had access to in Ethiopia like Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network were dubbed in Arabic because access to Arab satellite television was cheap. Some of the channels weren't dubbed at all, and I think this had me watching shows that I definitely should not have been watching at 10/11 years old like The Vampire Diaries💀💀 but I digress back to text
  3. to be fair, they do taste really good back to text
  4. LOL back to text
  5. which is probably for the best, at least to spare my brother's ego back to text
  6. what are some of your favorite episodes? back to text
  7. I would say shape and form as well but a part of me believes that they are brought about mostly by a change in value, at least in my artwork back to text
  8. as in solid, liquid, gas (I've seen creative application of liquid nitrogen and smoke on different cooking shows) back to text