Saturday, December 31, 2011

Book Review: The Inheritance & Other Stories

My brother kindly left me The Inheritance and Other Stories by Robin Hobb/Megan Lindholm at the top of the stairs today, so I gave it a shot after I finished my filing and completed chapter 2 in Dragon Quest 4. I've read most of Robin Hobb's other works and enjoyed them, so it was a safe bet.

Then I finished it a few hours later. So you get a book review. :P

First off, this is a book of... not really short stories, but novellas and novelettes. Most of them are longish, with two exceptions that are only 13 pages apiece. I am normally not a fan of short story anthologies, so this was perfectly fine by me; I tend to enjoy the slightly longer formats more (probably due to the greater opportunity to develop a memorable setting/character/plot). As with any anthology, there were some stories I liked more than others (in particular, my favorites were "Homecoming" and "Inheritance"), but I was quite pleased with the book as a whole.

Since they were all written by the same person (under two different pseudonyms) there was a certain consistency of style, even though the Megan Lindholm stories were more urban with a tinge of scifi/fantasy vs. the Robin Hobb stories which took place in settings she has used in her longer epic fantasy. I appreciated that consistency and feel it is one of the strengths of the collection. If you like Robin Hobb's other works (particularly the Farseer trilogy and the Liveship Traders trilogy) I'd recommend giving The Inheritance a try, at least for the three Robin Hobb stories it includes.

On a related note, I think that one of the greatest potential weaknesses for an anthology is that when you draw from a wide variety of authors (of varying degrees of experience), there's going to be more chance for variation in how readers respond to each story. Even in this volume there were some stories I liked more than others; in an anthology with a wide variety of authors instead of just one, I often find I am sifting through a lot of mediocre stories or stories that don't appeal to me personally to get to the few I do like. That doesn't mean that all the authors' contributions that I didn't like were bad; often they were simply not to my taste. For example, I remember reading Legends as a teenager and not appreciating some of the contributions simply because I wasn't familiar with that particular author's world or other works, whereas I would likely enjoy them more now after being exposed to more epic fantasy (and a greater variety of short fiction pieces).

Do you enjoy anthologies? Short stories or novellas and novelettes? Or do you gravitate more towards full length novels?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Filing and some other random stuff

Is it strange that I am excited for the weekend so that I can properly organize all my papers in my new filing cabinet? (It's probably pretty strange. I'm okay with that.) I got file folders, hanging file folders, and labels (well, they are actually Nathan's labels that I bought him for Christmas to label his N64 games), and I have a place to put it all ready to go. I just couldn't quite justify spending the evening doing it tonight when it was my parents' last day here... so tomorrow it is!

Other projects that are currently in limbo: cleaning out and organizing the writing room closet, finding a good way to store all my crochet thread (since I got lots for Christmas!) (I'm taking suggestions), taking out the massive pile of trash and recycling, and doing laundry. Oh, and of course playing more Dragon Quest IV... I'm quite popular with the little ones upstairs when the kids manage to finagle a seat by me while I'm playing. I also have a substantial stack of library books to work my way through soon... looks like my weekend's booked already (pun only sort of intended).

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Rest of the Crochet Stuff

Having family come to visit really messes up all my intentions of posting every day... oh well. :) I think it's worth spending time with them.

And now for the last two crochet creations from Christmas...

A carrot for my dad (again only available for download as a PDF on Ravelry) - #10 crochet thread

A happy cactus for my sister (first pattern from the link, smile added on a whim... also I could NOT figure out how to get the dirt to stay down in the pot like it was supposed to; I swear my yarn was stretchier than theirs or something). I think I might try one of those patterns again in #10 thread instead to see if that works better.

We also got a pretty awesome present from my brother. We asked for gray floor mats and got... 

I rather like them. They are "gray on average".

I also received, among other things, lots of kitchenware, a filing cabinet, a few DS games, and lots of chocolate.

I hope you all have been having a wonderful Christmas break as well. I'm a little sad that I didn't take tomorrow and Friday off of work too, but it's too late for that now. At least I get a three day weekend after that. XD

Monday, December 26, 2011

Crochet Extravaganza!

I made lots of crochet gifts this year... so this post is mostly a picture blitz with links to each pattern.

Fierce little dragon... in honor of Skyrim (it's a PDF download available for free on Ravelry). Made from #10 crochet thread.

A little money purse (adapted from here - I only did a starting row of 14 chain st though, and then made as many rows as it needed to look like the right shape. The flap was also many fewer rows as a result but the basic pattern remained the same.). Made from some kind of soft acrylic yarn.

Mario mushroom collection - made from #10 crochet thread

Hobbes - aka the present that took until 3am Christmas Eve! (The tail will be added on this week... it was not a necessity for the present opening when it came right down to it.) Made from #10 crochet thread.

Yoshi (Man, this pattern takes a LONG time... and has a lot of pieces to put together in the end.)

Yoshi from a different angle. Made from #10 crochet thread.

Elfin booties (for an incoming niece/nephew) - I swear they look the same size in real life. I have no idea what is going on in the picture. Made from a wool/acrylic blend of yarn.

There are a few more that I missed getting pictures of, but I'll post them soon!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Crocheting

At long last, I can unveil one of my Christmas surprises!

I made each of my nieces and nephews a little crocheted plushie monster this year. Nathan helped quite a bit with all the faces, which was the really important part. And now for pictures (grouped by family):

The Princess and the Pirate

The second one from the right has spikes on its back.

Blue is popular in this family.

We had fun making these! I thought they turned out pretty cute overall. Now I just need to make one for myself...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Deliciousness

All the Christmas guests have arrived safely! Hooray! I got some last minute shopping done today too, so I feel a little bit more prepared now for all the festivities. Not completely, but getting there.

But the big project for today was making treats for distribution to the neighbors. We got it down pretty well, I think; we had 3 adults and 4 kids helping, and we managed to crank out 3 batches of cookies, 2 batches of fudge, and some chocolate drizzled pretzels. Tomorrow we'll do some candied nuts and maybe one or two more kinds of cookies before we put it all together. I might have to get up a little earlier today to fit everything in... Starting the day at noon does tend to put a damper on how much you can get done.

I guess I already posted recipes for the fudge and pretzels, but for the cookies we made: gingersnaps, peanut blossoms, and Andes mint cookies. (The Andes mint recipe came from off the package of Andes mint chips, and the bag is up two flights of stairs, so... yeah. Not gonna happen tonight. But if you buy some from Walmart, which is the only place I've seen them, you will have the recipe on the bag anyway.)

Tomorrow is candied almonds and either snowball cookies or peppermint meltaways (or both, time permitting, which it probably won't). The snowball cookie recipe is my mom's and she brought dough already made, so that one will probably win. Recipe will come when I manage to get a copy from her, but the basic idea is here.

Then I get to make these for us, because they are too delicious to give away. :) And Nathan's mom gave me the kitchen gadgets to make some sort of fried cookie as well that is apparently quite delicious, so we'll have to try those as well - I mean, I have a deep fat fryer, I might as well use it...

What treats are traditional at your Christmas celebration?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

More secrets. And a movie.

I finally finished up one major project today, and one minor one! And I made significant progress on another one last night. I'm beginning to think I might actually get everything done before Christmas.

We scored free tickets to the new Mission Impossible movie tonight, so I'm being forced to take a break from all this Christmas frenzy. :) That's probably a good thing, thinking about it objectively.


(This represents a movie break.)


So anyway, the movie was good (so ridiculous that it was quite entertaining) and free, which was the most important part, and we found people - my brother and a friend - to use our extra tickets (the second most important part). If you like action movies, you might want to check it out some time. It was definitely worth watching for free, and also will be worth watching in the dollar theater, and maybe in the real theater if you aren't cheap like me (I hate paying full price for movies though). It got good reviews anyway, and Simon Pegg was amusing.

And now I shall leave you with two recipes that I have not yet tried but that I think look delicious. If you happen to get to them before me, tell me whether I am truly missing out as much as I think I am: Hot Pizza Dip Bites and Homemade Hot Chocolate!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Busy Busy

It's supposed to be slow at work around Christmas.

It's not.


Maybe tomorrow will be better.

At least it wasn't record-breakingly busy.

Sekkrit projects are coming along slowly; I got a few more crucial pieces done today and maybe tomorrow will go even better. We shall see. It might help if (a) work is slower, and (b) I remember to take all the necessary crochet supplies to work. :)

And the best news of all: my sister comes into town tomorrow!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Church Callings

Today was our last day of teaching the 3-4 year old children at church. It was quite the adventure this year. I still can't quite believe how much they grow up in a year: we went from having 8 little 3-year-olds, most of whom could not stay in their chairs for an hour, wiggling all over the place, none of whom could make it through the full hour of class time without multiple snack breaks... to having 6 four-year-olds (two moved out) who are relatively well behaved, can (mostly) sit still throughout Primary and class time, and are able to wait patiently until the end of class to get some fruit snacks. I used to have at least one on my lap the entirety of Primary, and now they all can sit in their own seats, and they even mostly stay in the same seat the whole time too. They can take turns. They remembered most of the basics of what we learned this year when we reviewed last week. (Very basics. I didn't want to tax them too much. "Are you a child of God?" "Yes!" "Excellent. Moving on.") It's been challenging at times, but overall it's been a pretty amazing experience.

Some things I've learned:
- Consistency is crucial for young children.
- Don't bring frosted cupcakes unless you also bring full body bibs to protect their Sunday clothes from getting stained.
- Pick low sugar snacks OR don't give them the sugary snacks until the last two minutes of class.
- Always have a lot of short activities. Coloring, fishing, finding hidden objects around the room, and bean bag toss games are all very popular.
- Have a very flexible lesson plan because it's probably going to change as soon as they start losing interest.
- The lesson manual for Sunbeams is not that great. However, has a plethora of lesson helps and activity ideas and is vital to having a lesson that lasts the entire class time.

Next year we teach the 5-6 year old class. We will have five children (I think), one of whom is our niece. (Our nephew was in the Sunbeams this year. Gotta keep this tradition going I guess.) I am interested to see how much of what I learned with the Sunbeams transfers over to slightly older children. I'm guessing the constant hope for treats will at the very least.


Remember all those awesome treats I made last week? Well, I finally caught up and finished washing all the dishes that they caused, and my kitchen is clean for the first time in many days!  Rejoicing is in order!

On a sadder note, the last of the eight awesome goblets we got as a wedding gift finally broke. They have one by one been victims of carelessness, accidents, and (in this last instance) the dishwasher. (The most epic goblet breaking adventure occurred when the brother of a friend was over and accidentally knocked our Nintendo DS off of the arm of the couch... and it then fell onto one of the goblets on the floor below, where our friend had left it earlier. The DS even had a tiny shard of glass lodged in the right shoulder button when all was said and done.)

We loved the goblets while they lasted, but apparently in this house glassware has an average life expectancy that is quite short (eight goblets in 3.5 years, in this case). We're not particular with our glass breaking, either; we've broken lots of other glasses too, as well as a Corelle plate (that took some talent), and we've also chipped a few of our stoneware plates and bowls. While the last one isn't so bad, I find breaking things very depressing, especially when I could have prevented it with a little more care. So to all you out there who feel the same way: you are not alone!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas is rapidly approaching...

...and I am not ready for it at all (yet). I think I got a little overambitious with my projects this year. Still, I hope to make lots of progress tomorrow on getting everything ready to go before family starts arriving on Tuesday (in between cleaning my kitchen and bathroom before we have a rockin' Major cousin party tomorrow night). It is going to be a busy next few weeks! For some reason, last year didn't seem nearly so busy even though we ended up celebrating Christmas early due to my in-laws taking us to Rome over Christmas and the week following.

Anyway, I have lots more exciting stuff coming up on here once I am not swamped in secrecy, including at least four crochet projects (two done, two still in progress). I am also hoping to help my sister in law make goodie plates for the neighbors sometime as well, possibly including candied almonds, festive cookies, and fudge. I'll post any recipes I end up using, of course.

But for now, I will leave you with the instructions for making one of my favorite holiday treats, chocolate drizzled pretzels:

Get some parchment paper or wax paper and lay it out on the counter. Spread out a bunch of pretzels on it. Melt some white and milk chocolate in separate bowls (microwave for 30 sec to 1 min, stir, repeat until melted). Dip a fork or knife in the melted chocolate and drizzle the melted chocolate over the pretzels. Repeat with both white and milk chocolate until pretzels are suitably covered to your tastes. Leave them be for a while (30 min to an hour should do the trick) and then eat them ALL. Mmmmm. (I tried just dipping the pretzels in the chocolate one year, but it didn't give me a satisfactory pretzel to chocolate ratio, so I prefer this method instead. Also milk AND white chocolate was by far the favorite of all test subjects.)

If you have some of the big fat stick pretzels, try dipping them in caramel, then milk and/or white chocolate, and then rolling them in chopped nuts, coconut, or sprinkles. Be sure to let each layer set before moving on to the next one (except during the last step, of course, otherwise the nuts etc. won't stick).

Thursday, December 15, 2011


For work this morning, we had a farewell party for one of my colleagues (who incidentally will be sorely missed). I brought the pancake batter for the breakfast feast, and another coworker brought some excellent homemade syrup. They made a fantastic combination in my opinion, so I thought I'd share the recipes here.


2 eggs
2 c sour milk or buttermilk
1/4 c oil (or unsweetened applesauce)
2 c flour
2 Tbs sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon
2 Tbs ground wheat (optional)
1 grated Granny Smith apple (or some other variety of firm, tart apple)
chopped nuts (optional)
fresh blueberries, if available (optional)

Mix the wet ingredients. Add in the dry ingredients. Add the grated apple and chopped nuts. Whisk until fairly well mixed. Cook on a preheated, slightly greased griddle until golden brown. Makes between 20-30 pancakes, depending on the size and whatnot. (We fed 9 people with that batch, but they were also eating eggs and sausage and fruit.)

The recipe for the creamy syrup comes from here but I will copy it below for the convenience factor - just remember I can't take any credit for its deliciousness!

Magleby's Creamy Syrup
1 stick butter
1 Cup sugar
1 Cup buttermilk
1 T. vanilla
1 T. corn syrup
½ tsp. baking soda

Bring first five ingredients to a boil.
Add in baking soda.
Boil for 10 seconds then remove from heat immediately to avoid boil over.
Serve over French toast, pancakes, crepes or any other yummy breakfast item.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


I am not a huge fan of frosting. I find it overly sweet, and people tend to put on waaaaaay too much for my preferences, so most desserts with frosting get it all scraped off before I'll eat it.


As part of the birthday celebrations this week, Nathan requested cupcakes. I can't refuse a perfectly reasonable request like that. But I didn't want to make frosting. Every time I've made it, I cut the recipe down to 1/8 and it STILL makes way too much. So I was not really in the mood for more of that... and I had this brilliant idea. (Well, I thought it was brilliant anyway.)

Nathan's brother gave him Nutella for his present. Nutella has frosting-like consistency... and, you will be happy to know that it tastes absolutely delicious on chocolate cupcakes! Also it is much easier than making frosting when all your mixing bowls are dirty (which they were), and much more versatile when there's some left over.

On a slightly related note, one of the ladies in my neighborhood says she has a fantastic recipe for a custard-based frosting that is not overly sweet (though it is a bit time consuming). One of these days I will get the recipe from her and try it out, because I think it sounds fabulous!

What's your favorite kind of frosting, or favorite frosting recipe?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Birthday Festivities Recap

So a few weeks ago Nathan mentioned that he kind of wanted an old CRT TV so that he could play all our retro games on it. Ever being on the alert for ideas for presents, I took mental note of this little fact... and then didn't do anything about it. Yesterday I remembered my intentions and started browsing online to see what kind of TVs worked well for retro gaming and though opinions were diverse, I figured I was onto something when I saw several different people in several different forums recommending a Sony Trinitron CRT. Buying it online was not such a great idea; took too long and they were all at least $50 from what I could see, if not more. So given my limited knowledge of TV hookups and limited time with the car without Nathan, I spoiled the surprise and planned a trip to our local DI to look for one with him. I honestly didn't expect we'd find one right away, but I was prepared to visit the DI half an hour away if necessary.

No need. Lo and behold, the very first TV we saw at DI (and also the cheapest) was a Sony Trinitron!

We borrowed a TV stand and the little table from my brother, who just had them collecting dust in the storage room in the basement, and now we have this sweet little setup in the writing room. It houses our NES, SNES, and N64, as well as all our games and controllers. It also helps our living room look much tidier. :) (We used to have them all out there with the XBox 360 and more... advanced equipment, but it was getting a little crowded.) Another happy coincidence was that the universal remote that my parents got Nathan for his birthday last year works with the TV (we got it in the hopes we could use it with our sound system, but it didn't - so we're glad we can put it to use at last)!

Nathan added the lava lamp and all my stuffed creations to complete the ambiance. All in all, we were both quite pleased with how it turned out, and are quite appreciative of the furniture we were able to borrow. It felt like everything came together far more perfectly than I deserved, given how much I procrastinated.

Now I just have to finish up all my projects for Christmas! We got a few more done last night, but I still have a ways to go.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Happy birthday to my husband!

It is a day of great celebration around here today, as you might imagine. Pictures of the festivities may or may not be forthcoming, but either way I hope you all have a fantastic day too. And now I'm going to enjoy spending the rest of the day with my awesome husband and help him have a fabulous birthday.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Game Review: Dance Central 2

The short review: I freaking love this game.

The long(er) review: This game basically fixes all the issues people had with Dance Central 1. For those who have never played either one, they are the dancing equivalent of Rock Band: they teach you dance moves and routines of varying difficulty levels, and you dance them and get scored on it. (It's even made by the same people that make Rock Band.) 

Main things I liked about the first one:
- fun way to exercise
- excellent replay value
- lots of variety in difficulty (between songs as well as going from Easy to Medium to Hard)
- decent selection of songs

Main improvements with DC2:
- 2 player option
- much more flexible "Break it down" mode - the mode that teaches you the dance routine
- voice enabled commands (i.e. I can shout "XBox: pause" mid song and it will pause)
- all the songs from DC1 ported over so I can still play my favorites
- it can video you doing a move when you are learning it, and then replays the video so you can see what you are doing wrong
- it's usually quite accurate at recognizing me and signing me in automatically!

Really, the only thing I don't like about DC2 is that some of their song choices are really strange. For the most part they picked good ones, but there are a few that made me raise my eyebrows a bit (and I think are the main reason for the Teen rating). Still, with all the downloadable content that's available, plus all the songs ported from DC1, plus the song list it came with, I have plenty to choose from, so it's not really an issue. 

For those of you who think you can't dance, this game can change that (if you let it). Unless you have zero sense of rhythm AND zero coordination, pretty much anybody can learn the routines in this game with a little time and practice. And once you get through the relatively small learning curve, it's definitely one of the funnest and best Kinect enabled games out there.

If you have an XBox 360 and Kinect, I strongly recommend you buy this game. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

More Treats! Fudge and Coconut Cream Pie

I finished off the baking extravaganza with enough deliciousness to leave me on a sugar high for all of next week.  First up, coconut walnut fudge!

Recipe here, and I just added chopped walnuts (maybe 1 c. or so chopped) and coconut (maybe 3/4 to 1 c) after everything was mixed together and melted but before I put it in the pan. Then after it set for a few minutes in the fridge I added some coconut on top to make it pretty, and pressed down gently to help it stick. It was pretty much ideal; I got a few pieces for myself, and I took the rest to work for a Christmas bake sale.

Now on to the coconut cream pie: possibly one of the easiest pies to make.

Same crust recipe as before (1 c flour, 1 tsp salt, 1/3 c + 1 T Crisco, cold water); once you get it in the pie plate and make it pretty, poke it with a fork all over to keep it from puffing up. Bake it at 450 F until it begins to brown. (This takes about 12 min in a Pyrex glass pie plate in my oven.) Then let it cool to room temperature. While that's cooling, make the filling:

- 1 box instant coconut cream pudding
- 1 3/4 c milk
- 1/2 to 1 pint whipping cream
- 1 c coconut, give or take

Follow directions on box for a pie: add milk to pudding mix and whisk for 2 min. Then let set in the fridge for 5 min.

While it sets, whip 1/2 - 1 pint whipping cream until it has stiffish peaks (it's okay if they flop over a little but you want it to have a little stiffness, just not butter yet). Then mix it with the now set pudding and the coconut. (Whether you use half a pint or a whole pint of whipping cream just depends on how full you want your pie; in the photo above I used 1 pint.)

Once the pie crust is cool, dump the filling into the pie crust and voila! Pie done. If you want, you can toast some coconut on the stove and sprinkle it on top for presentation, but I'm usually too lazy.

Friday, December 9, 2011

White Chili

Dinner last night was white chili, recipe courtesy of my friend who I believe got it from his aunt. It's one of our favorites, especially when served with fresh bread on a cold winter day. Bread: check, cold winter day: double check. (Unfortunately.)

Not the prettiest presentation, but you get the idea.

Here's the recipe:

- 2 lbs chicken breast cooked and diced (I use 2 cans of the precooked chicken from Costco for ultimate laziness)
- 1 lg onion, diced (I use dried onion, about 1/4 c I think - I usually just eyeball it)
- 3 cans of beans (I usually use great northern, white kidney, and red kidney beans because I like a mixture better than all one kind, but pick whatever kinds you'd like)
- 2 (14 oz) cans chicken broth (or 4c water and 4 chicken bouillon cubes, or 4c chicken stock)
- 1 7oz can of diced green chilies (I think I usually use a 4 oz can just because that's the kind I always have on hand)
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp oregano (dried)
- 1/4-1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne powder or red pepper flakes (optional)
- 2 c sour cream (I use one 16 oz container)
- 1 c whipped cream, milk, or half and half (I usually use milk)

Add chicken, onion, beans, broth, chilies, and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered 30 min. Stir in sour cream and milk. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Baking Day

For the first time in what seems like a long while, I finally had a long, empty evening to start catching up on my baking!

Project 1: I had half a can of pumpkin in my fridge for 2 weeks and I finally had time to do something with it. So glad it lasts a long time! And because I never did get my pie hunger thoroughly sated at Thanksgiving, I went with the classic pumpkin pie.  (Recipe from here.) Surprisingly simple, so much so that both I and my sister in law were a little incredulous (are you sure it calls for sweetened condensed milk and not evaporated milk???). But it did, in fact, turn out just as delicious as the thousand plus reviews indicated it would. Minor changes: I used 1 tsp cinnamon and 1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (approx.) instead of the spices listed. Otherwise I followed it exactly. My crust recipe calls for 1 c. flour, 1 tsp salt, 1/3 c + 1 T Crisco, and some ice cold water.

I used my new toy and the allrecipes app to display the recipe for maximum efficiency, and I must say I think that's my favorite use for the kindle fire so far. I foresee that being far more convenient than printing out recipes all the time, and then having to sift through them all searching for one I know I printed six months ago... I've heard this is a favorite use of the iPad as well for bakers, though I haven't ever been able to justify buying an iPad just for the convenience in the kitchen.

Second baking project: homemade bread. I haven't made any since before Thanksgiving, and my lunches have suffered! Modifications from the recipe: I usually reduce sugar to 3-4 T and substitute butter for oil. This makes excellent sandwiches, especially the first 3 days or so (it is usually good for a week to a week and a half in my house before it starts getting iffy though). It is also great with homemade jam when it's still warm from baking.

Next project: coconut cream pie. I have a pint of whipping cream that's going to go off soon, and it needs to be put to good use... I also have some plain greek yogurt that I've been meaning to whip up into frozen yogurt and haven't yet, but given how long I've had it, I will have to do some thorough checking to make sure it's still good.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas just came early.

We had our work Christmas party last night, and I'm not going to lie, it was phenomenal. Nu Skin is seriously one of the best companies to work for, hands down. I like working for them anyway (or else why would I have stayed for over 2 years already?), but December is a particularly bounteous month. Need proof?

Exhibit A.
Yes. Not one, but two Kindle Fires. One per employee! (You can't see it, but the Nu Skin logo is branded on the back. Now it matches my ipod shuffle from 2 years ago!) I haven't played with it much yet, but so far it's pretty cool. Or rather, pretty hot, given the name...

Exhibit B.
No picture. But imagine two fat American Express cash cards.

Exhibit C.
Two weeks of extra pay in my bank account Friday (part in the form of a Costco cash card).

Exhibit D.
A pretty dang awesome Christmas concert by Kurt Bestor, who (though I had never heard of him prior to this) is apparently a pretty well known musician in Utah.

Exhibit E.
Free Nu Skin products! (Well, what did you expect?) Actually, one free Nu Skin product that we probably wouldn't be able to get for a while due to it being extremely popular, and a nifty backpack that probably has the Nu Skin logo on there somewhere.

Yep, it's like this pretty much every year, but the employee gift (Exhibit A) was rather nicer than usual. :) And that is why I will work for Nu Skin as long as possible.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Chicken Parmesan

One of the more popular meals around here lately has been Chicken Parmesan. We use the recipe off of America's Test Kitchen: Let's Get Cooking (a most fascinating use of the DS, even if the voice recognition on it is terrible - the recipes so far have been generally good, if rather basic). I'm sure you can find similar recipes elsewhere online, but for convenience here is the recipe and my annotations.

- 3 oz mozzarella cheese (I have no way to measure cheese by ounces. I just get about 1-1 1/2 shredded.)
- 1/2 oz Parmesan cheese (I use about... 1/2 cup shredded)
- 1 c. flour (you don't really need that much. I got by with half a cup or so tonight.)
- 2 large eggs
- 3 cups fresh breadcrumbs (you definitely don't need that much. I use store bought bread crumbs because I'm lazy, and you probably only need about 1 1/2 cups max. I started by putting about 3/4 cup in a dish and adding more as needed, because otherwise you end up with tons of bread crumbs that are contaminated with raw chicken.)
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 6-8 oz each (I used 3 of the ones from Costco tonight, but I've done it with 4 as well; it's way easier if you think ahead and defrost them in the fridge for a day)
- Salt
- Pepper
- 3/4 c vegetable oil
- 1 cup tomato sauce (I use one of the small cans)

1. Grate the cheeses if you have not already done so. This recipe claims you will have 3/4 c shredded mozzarella and 1/4 c Parmesan, but we like things extra cheesy around here so feel free to up the amounts if you so desire.

2. Preheat oven to 450 F.

3. Put the flour in a shallow dish, beat the eggs in a second shallow dish, and put the bread crumbs in a third shallow dish. Line them up all pretty.

1. Prepare the chicken by trimming the fat and putting each piece between two lengths of plastic wrap or in a Ziploc bag. Pound each piece flat with a meat tenderizer (or hammer, or some similar object suitable for pounding) until it is about 1/2 inch thick. As a side note, the chicken needs to be defrosted when you do this.

2. If you are using Costco chicken or other unusually large pieces of chicken, cut the flattened chicken breast in half to make it a more manageable size. Ours generally turn out to be about 3 inches by 4 inches, roughly, though they are almost always funky shapes with weird bits of chicken poking out at strange angles.

3. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. (Try not to think about how difficult it is to season raw meat without getting raw meat juice on your salt/pepper shakers...)

4. Working with one piece at a time, dredge the chicken through the flour, then through the egg (make sure to let all the extra drip off), then in the bread crumbs. (The chicken post-flour, pre-egg is the least gross, IMHO.)

5. Lay each breaded piece of chicken on a dry plate. If you cut each piece in half like I did, you will have 6-8 pieces now (depending on how many chicken breasts you started with).

6. Now heat up the 3/4 c oil in a 12 inch nonstick skillet (medium/medium-high heat - I find on my stove that medium heat is just about perfect). While it's heating up, line a plate or something with paper towels so you have somewhere to drain the chicken, and get out a rimmed baking sheet (pick one with edges unless you like scraping burnt cheese off the bottom of your oven).

7. When the oil is hot (i.e. when it starts to smoke a little bit), put two pieces of breaded chicken in and cook until light golden brown on both sides, about 4-6 min. If your oil is too hot, you may notice that the breading begins to burn a little if you don't keep a careful eye on it. If it's not hot enough, it won't do anything when you put in the chicken, and you may find yourself cringing at the thought of it soaking up all that oil... If your oil is just right, it will sizzle and pop upon touching the chicken, but not out of control, and your chicken will cook 2-3 min on each side and look deliciously perfect. (It took me several tries to get it right; in fact, this is the first time I really felt like I did it without any problems.)

8. Drain each piece of fried chicken briefly on paper towels, then transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Repeat step 7-8 until all chicken is cooked and drained.

9. Spoon some tomato sauce over each chicken breast, then put some Parmesan cheese on each one, then put mozzarella cheese on each one. Forget the amounts that the recipes says, just put as much as you think looks good.

10. Bake the chicken until the cheese has melted and browned, 5-10 minutes.

11. Enjoy! No picture sadly, but we ate it up too fast to even think about that. And now we have lovely leftovers for tomorrow and maybe the day after too!

It does take a fair bit of preparation and work to make this, but it is seriously tasty. And it's a great introduction to breading too, because even if you mess up some it still tastes decent. Best of all, it's one of the few meals my husband enjoys helping with. :) I think there's something rather manly about the meat tenderizer for him.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gingerbread House

For Christmas, my mother in law decided to do an advent calendar for us... except instead of having a calendar, she gave us numbered gifts - one to open each day from Dec 1-25. Sunday's was a gingerbread house kit! Naturally we had to make it tonight. It was a fun project, especially when we started getting a little creative. Perhaps we got a bit carried away... you decide!

The front. We tried to make it look realistic, but instead it just looks like a pouting face.

Nathan's side, with a reference to Skyrim.

The back, with the Maw! And also our plushie Maw peeking over the roof.

The Maw is not quite sure what to think of this. 

My side, with reference to Plants vs. Zombies and an angry bird.


This is another favorite pattern I've found: a Bob-omb from Mario. I've actually made two of them so far, but my husband took the first one to work already to decorate his desk. You get TWO pictures of this one, so as to fully appreciate him from all angles: 

I used this pattern, except as you can probably tell I mixed up the colors a bit after consulting the reliable source of "Google image search". Plus it is freaking impossible to find gray #10 crochet thread. I looked everywhere for it, because I wanted it for a different pattern that I haven't tackled yet. I still have two possible stores in my city to check out, but the three I've looked at so far have failed me. I did get some very thin yarn to try as an alternative, but we'll see if it ends up working or not. Anyway, I am quite pleased with this particular endeavor. I used #10 crochet thread and my trusty #7 hook again with white, black, and yellow thread and fiberfill stuffing. He turned out about 1 1/2 inches tall.

If I do this pattern again I may eliminate one of the white rows on the cap to make it a little shorter because every time I look at him it strikes me as abnormally tall, but that's probably just me.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Super Mario Invincibility Star

I've been on a Mario kick lately with crocheting. Maybe it's because there are so many free patterns out there for Mario-themed amigurumi... Anyway, I liked the way this one turned out:

Pattern found here. I used #10 crochet thread (again - I use it for most of my projects) and a #7 hook. I even had lots of help from my in-laws' kitties! (I made it while visiting them over Thanksgiving.) It is about 2 inches tall and maybe half an inch wide.

More Mario themed objects to come - I've been busy lately. :)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Homage to Dragon Quest

I played Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (on the DS) last year as my first introduction to the series, and I must say I was quite enchanted (even though it's impossible to 100% that game). Then I played Rocket Slime a few months ago and it further solidified my appreciation of slimes. So when I saw this crochet pattern, I had to try it out. Here's the result:

I made it with crochet thread #10 instead of yarn so it's only about 2 inches tall and SO CUTE. Making the tip was the trickiest part but I am quite pleased with how he turned out!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Game Review: Dungeon Defenders

One of my favorite games that has come out this year is Dungeon Defenders, a tower defense game with elements of a first person shooter. I've actually only played as the Mage so far (there are 4 different characters you can choose from) but it is fantastically fun and has quite a bit of replay value. Even better, it has online/local multiplayer. I've played it both alone as well as with Nathan and two other friends, and it's great both ways. If you enjoy tower defense games, you won't want to miss out on this one.

I daresay it's my favorite tower defense since Plants vs. Zombies, which I beat on PC, Mac, Xbox 360, and iPhone and probably put well over 100 hours into. (We've somehow managed to avoid getting it on DS so far.) So take that as you will.

Book Club Book Nov 2011

Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale

This is one of my favorite books by Shannon Hale, right after Princess Academy. It's a retelling of an old fairy tale (Maid Maleen). The basic premise is a princess refuses to marry the prince her father picks out for her because she loves another, so he locks her in a tower for seven years. This particular retelling is from the POV of the maid, not the princess herself, which makes for an interesting take on everything. I really liked the culture sketched by Hale - it's loosely based on Mongolia, but it still feels like its own unique culture.

Some of my book group commented that the princess in this retelling is very unsympathetic. This is undeniably true, but the question remains whether that is a good thing or off-putting for readers... in the end, for me I think it works to the advantage of the characters' development, and I found it easy to tolerate it until that character development becomes apparent. This is in part because if I were in the maid's shoes, I probably would not be very sympathetic to the princess myself. However, My sister in law felt that it made the POV character unsympathetic because she had no sympathy for the princess, which made it hard for her to connect with either one. I think each reader is going to have a slightly different tolerance level of that sort of thing. By and large though most people I have talked to about this book have enjoyed it, so if you like fairy tale retellings, you should give Book of a Thousand Days a try. Plus it has a cat in it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Honey Glazed Chicken

Tuesday's dinner was another new recipe, honey glazed chicken.

(Yes, the pictures in the link are much prettier than mine, but we can't all be talented food photographers. Plus, I ate half my portion before I even remembered to take a picture...)

Overall verdict: it was good, but not as good as the sweet and sour chicken from Monday. The sauce was a little potent for my taste, so if you decide to make this, please note it is better to err on the side of too little sauce than too much on your rice... I did double the sauce as recommended and I think I still would because it covers the chicken better in the pan and makes it so the dish requires less basting. I used a smaller Pyrex glass dish (I think 7x11) and it held almost all the chicken I thawed (3 large chicken breasts - the kind you get at Costco in giant bags, thawed in the fridge overnight and cut into pieces) and made about 4-5 servings.

And now I have 5 bite-size pieces of leftover raw chicken in my fridge, waiting for some miracle to transform them into something else delicious (but not too delicious, because there's only going to be one serving).

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Picture of the Alleged Cheesecake

I thought it turned out rather pretty, even if the top did crack (despite leaving it in the oven to cool exactly as directed.) AND I finally got an excuse to use the cake stand that we got for our wedding over 3 years ago!

Recipe found here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sweet&Sour Chicken and some treats

I took today off just in case my Thanksgiving break extended a little long (meaning if we were delayed due to weather problems), but then we got back from CA right on schedule... so today was just a lazy stay-at-home-and-get-things-done sort of day. As those sorts of days go, this one went quite well.

I decided to take advantage of the time at home and utilize one of my ultimate lazy dinner tools: the crockpot!  Dinner tonight was a sweet and sour chicken recipe. I made a few modifications: I didn't brown the chicken first (just threw it straight in from the freezer), and I used 1 c. water with 1 chicken bullion cube instead of 1 c. beef broth.  Overall it took about 5 min to prepare and 5-6 hours to cook. The verdict? It was quite tasty (I served it on white rice) but we both wished the sauce was a little thicker. I'm not sure how to remedy that; maybe I'll try adding some flour next time, or cornstarch at the end to thicken it. But taste-wise it was pretty delicious.

The only problem I find with crockpot recipes is they all take about 5-6 hours to cook. This makes it ideal if you are home around noon: a tiny amount of prep and dinner is taken care of. However, I am nearly always at work and can't come home for lunch, so it's trickier to get things going at the proper time. I may find a way around that someday, but for right now I try to take advantage of these days when I can.

I also whipped up a cheesecake today, but it is currently cooling in the oven and will be for another 4 hours, so no pictures just yet. A pie or two may be in order soon as well, since I did not get nearly enough at Thanksgiving. So many treats, so little time to eat them all!

A New Beginning

I've officially decided to abandon livejournal. I've never been very good at posting on my old blog over there, but ever since they introduced video ads that pop up every time I go view my own blog, I've become a little disenchanted with their site. So we have a new beginning, also known as a last ditch effort to be better about recording important life events.

The purpose of this blog is mainly to post pictures of my latest crochet projects, describe in delectable detail my latest culinary creations, recommend/review books that I deem worthy, and discuss any particularly addicting video games I have encountered. Oh, and also to let my family know I'm still alive.

I hope to post at least every week, but I suppose that depends on how much I crochet/bake/read/play, now doesn't it? :)

I draw my inspirations from,,, and my husband. You probably won't get many one of a kind crochet patterns here (yet), but you will get lots of links to awesome free patterns I have found. I'm probably not going to make up my own recipes, but if I find a good one and modify it to make it fantastic, I may post that (with the link to the original, of course). And I don't write books of my own... but my fabulously talented husband does! You can see his blog here. He writes mainly young adult and epic fantasy.

So there you have it. If any of that piques your interest, feel free to stick around.