Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Key Lime Pie

For writing group meeting, I like to offer some sort of treat afterwards for those who could come in person. This last time it was key lime pie. And oooh, it was tasty...

Key Lime Pie*

- 2  graham cracker crumbs (not quite two packs)**
- 3 Tbs dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I think you could safely up this to 1 1/2 tsp)
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 6 Tbs salted butter, melted

- 4 large egg yolks, room temperature
- Finely grated rind of 1 lime
- 1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
- 1/2 c freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 5 limes)
- Whipped cream (optional)

1. Combine crumbs, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a bowl. Stir in melted butter. Press mixture into a 9-inch glass pie plate. Crust will be thick. Refrigerate for at least 15 min. (I just left mine in until I had the filling done.)

2. Preheat oven to 350 F.

3. Combine egg yolks and lime rind in a mixing bowl. Beat with a mixer on high speed 8 min.*** The eggs should be pale yellow and fluffy at this point.

4. Gradually add sweetened condensed milk and beat 7 min, or until fluffy.

5. Add lime juice, beating well, about 2 minutes.

6. Pour filling into chilled pie shell. Bake about 12 min, until filling is set. Refrigerate 3 hours. Top with whipped cream, if using, before serving. (I skipped the whipped cream.) Serves 8ish.

*Recipe slightly modified from here.

** Pro tip: I used my food processor to make graham cracker crumbs. I'm not sure that it's actually faster than using a Ziploc bag and a rolling pin, but it was definitely less effort. Plus I have to use that thing every chance I can because it's mostly only good for grinding up dry things like Oreos and graham crackers.

*** If you have a stand mixer like a KitchenAid, use it. I don't think it would have worked in my Bosch; there wasn't enough filling for the bowl size, but it was really boring to hold a hand mixer for 17 minutes. Worth it, but boring.

If you like lime, this pie is phenomenal. The cinnamon/nutmeg in the crust really adds a lot and kicks things up a notch. Plus it's pretty easy to make. So what are you waiting for? Go make it right now!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ten Things to Smile About

February flew by... hard to believe it's nearly over already. But it's been a pretty awesome month, so I guess I can forgive it just this once.

1. I threw an awesome steampunk birthday party for my great friend Amy.
2. I got over 100 hits on a single blog post (my review of Monsters and Mormons) - this may not be much to some of you big timers, but it's a new record for me!
3. I met some really awesome people and saw a lot of old friends at Life, the Universe, and Everything, the local writing con.
4. My brother in law got his mission call to Ukraine.
5. I got to spend some quality time with my in laws and go through the temple with previously referred to brother in law.
6. I tried several new recipes  (including TWO new dinner ideas, three dessert recipes, and a bread recipe).
7. I finally used some of my birthday gift cards and got some fun new kitchen stuff and a new sweater shirt.
8. I splurge on a water flosser that will blast away all my cavities (I hope).
9. I went on several fun dates with my husband.
10. I got a sweet bonus AND a raise at work (I knew they were both coming, but it's still exciting).

Monday, February 27, 2012

Monster Truck Madness!

Have you ever been to a monster truck rally?

Well, let me tell you. They're essentially 3 parts ridiculous, 1 part dirt, and a a healthy dose of awesome too. I got free tickets at work to go to one. I have no idea why I was chosen as the recipient of these lovely tickets, but now I am a more well rounded individual AND we got a sweet date for the low, low cost of parking and gas.

First things first: I never would have survived this thing without the earplugs they gave out to everyone. Definitely imperative. Second: did you know Nu Skin has its own suite at Energy Solutions Arena? The box seats were absolutely fantastic.

There were five events, plus two tricks by stunt people, lasting about two hours in total. (I thought it would get boring, but I was actually pretty entertained the whole time.)

Look, you can see an earplug peeking out of my ear.

The goal of the first event is to run the monster truck up on ramps made out of dirt and old cars, and get the truck as vertical as possible. Bonus points for landing on less than 4 wheels and for bouncing, careening, etc. Basically it was like watching a car trying to pop a wheelie, except they were doing it in trucks about... 12 feet tall at least. This was my second favorite event.

Exhibit A.

Exhibit B. We took a lot more pictures than this, but I think this gives you a pretty good idea of how it went.

The second event was real SUVs and trucks driving on a dirt track in a figure 8; fastest time wins. I don't think we have pics of this one, since it didn't involve massive trucks bouncing around.

The first stunt person did his trick next: getting in a box filled with TNT and then having it go off. No pics of this either, but just imagine a big bang and flashing light and you get the idea.

The third event was monster truck drag racing.

Oh look, a husband! And two monster trucks finishing their very short drag race behind him.

You can see one of the trucks getting lined up at the starting line. The other one is in the lower left corner by that guy's head.

The second stunt person (it was actually a husband and wife team) was a human cannonball, which was pretty cool too. No pics of this either, given the brevity of the stunt.

The fourth event was the final round of the second event. (No pics again. Are you shocked? It just wasn't as photogenic.)

The fifth event was one minute stunt demos for each of the monster trucks. This was definitely the funnest one to watch.

By this point there was a LOT of dirt kicked up. Some of those trucks caught some serious air though.

Nobody flipped completely over, but they did get a little close once or twice.

Overall, it was pretty fun and I'm glad we went. Not my typical kind of event, but you know, it's good to get out of the box now and then.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oooh! New kitchen gadgets!

I finally went shopping recently with some of the gift card money my mother in law sent for my birthday (yes, that was in fact nearly a month and a half ago and I'm just now getting around to using it). We didn't get to use up all of the gift cards yet, so stay tuned for more shopping pictures... but we did go to Bed Bath and Beyond for shiny new kitchen gadgets!

After browsing for a bit, I decided to pass on the chocolate fondue fountain (awesome, but not particularly useful) and went for the kitchen scale instead.

Yes, we chose this one based mostly on price. Not going to lie.

I haven't used it for anything yet, but I'm pretty pumped. :) It makes me think of the year I worked in the inorganic chemistry stockroom at BYU, when I would have to measure out piles of white powder for nefarious purposes for all the Chem 107 students. I think this one will have a little tamer life than those scales.

We also had a little money left over so I got some whisks that have that nifty coating on the whisk part so that they don't scratch up your non-stick pans. Hooray! Now I won't worry about eating teflon anymore!

What are some absolutely essential items in your kitchen?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Movie Review: Chronicle

I got some movie tickets from work a while back (well, actually I got a Cinemark gift card that I didn't use on concessions because they're overpriced), so Nathan and I decided to go see a movie today. We've been eyeing Chronicle in particular since it looked intriguing and got decent reviews. I am going to try really hard not to give any spoilers so bear with me.

Chronicle is a hand cam style film about three high school kids who get telekinetic powers. Most of the movie is from the perspective of one of the teen's camcorder, and the movie follows them as they learn how to use their power and what madness ensues. On a deeper level, it is also about grief and dealing with an abusive parent.

As a whole, I felt like Chronicle was very realistic. The kinds of things the teens decide to do with their powers are about what you would expect from a popular senior class president, a normal but not super popular guy, and a screwed up loner: mostly small scale stuff, like playing tricks on people in a store or using their power to fly. The reactions of each character as the plot develops are believable as well, and it's pretty easy to understand and relate to their choices. The length is just about right as well (though the ending action sequence is a tad longer than it probably needed to be).

Ultimately, I liked this movie, but I probably won't see it more than once. It was a lot more depressing than I expected it to be, and while there was some resolution, it wasn't the kind that makes you go all warm and fuzzy inside. I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more character growth from the main characters, but given that it was from the perspective of the teens, and there weren't really any adult mentors in the entire movie, I can understand the lack. That's partly why it was a depressing ending... realistic, but depressing. There were so many if only's - if only the loner kid had a mentor to look up to, if only his friends understood what he was going through, if only he trusted them more... you get the idea.

So yes. Worth watching once. As an added bonus, it will probably move to the dollar theaters soon (in a few months I'd guess) because there are only about 3 show times for it in regular theaters each day. And it's definitely worth seeing for a dollar if you're in the right mood.

Water Pik

Costco coupons strike again...

We went to Costco earlier this week and they had a Water Pik water flosser on sale for $15 off. After some quick comparisons online, we decided it was as good a deal as we could expect to find anywhere, so... we bought it. (Okay, that's not the only reason. I also have this great tendency to get cavities between my teeth, so I'm really hoping it will cut down on the incidence of those and pay for itself that way.)  It came with a regular water flosser AND a travel flosser and a dozen heads too (for various specific things; I'll probably only use 3-4 of them ever but I guess it's nice to have them just in case). I found out later it all retailed for about double what we paid if we had gotten it from Water Pik's website directly, so that was pretty sweet.

Anyway, Nathan was pretty skeptical of it at first. I mean, it's basically a little wand you hold and it blasts water at your teeth. How useful could it really be?

Suffice it to say, we're both converts now. It really does work just as well if not better than actual floss, AND it's more fun to use! Of course, I usually end up squirting myself on accident at LEAST once a night, but I'm sure I'll get the hang of it soon enough. I really wish I had owned one of these when I had braces, because flossing with braces is a huge pain, and with this thing it's exactly the same amount of work as without braces. I suspect our theoretical future children will make good use of it, given their genetic predisposition on both sides for terrible teeth. It's also useful for people who are too lazy to floss, or for people like me who, no matter how many times their dentist shows them how to floss properly, it's never good enough to actually prevent any cavities.

So there you have it. If you had any doubt, let it be known that this thing is pretty awesome.

And no, this post was not compensated.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Update to the Enchilada recipe

So I made those enchiladas from the recipe I posted two days ago, and I thought I'd fill you in on some things I learned.

First off, I decided to fry the tortillas after all in a pan with some oil. I read online after the fact that this custom of frying the tortillas is generally done with corn tortillas because it makes them roll-able. It would have been nice to know that a little sooner, but oh well... frying flour tortillas made the edges crispy in the final dish, but other than that didn't add a whole lot to the overall experience. So you can probably skip that step safely. (See, recipe? If you'd been more specific about what kind of tortilla, we could have avoided this whole mess.)

Second, I only used 7 tortillas (probably because my Costco flour tortillas are way bigger than corn tortillas). It filled a 9x11 glass pan.

Third, I nearly ran out of filling. I think next time I will add something to make it be less thick (maybe some chicken broth or milk) and so it stretches further.

Fourth, I got the cheap kind of red enchilada sauce. Do yourself a favor and don't do this unless you know it's a good brand. Western Family classic enchilada sauce pretty much tastes and smells like vinegar. Nasty. I took a few spoonfuls of it and mixed it with straight tomato sauce, added some basil, oregano, and parsley, and used that instead. It was still too vinegary. I am clearly uninitiated into the realm of red enchilada sauce, because I'm almost certain that is not how it's supposed to taste. Perhaps classic enchilada sauce (which is red) is not the same as red enchilada sauce. I welcome enlightenment in the comments on this one, because I am baffled.

Anyway, aside from all that, it still tasted decent. Not worth the effort though. I think next time I will make the following modifications:

Sour Cream Enchiladas

Mix together:
- 1 can cream of chicken soup
- 1 can chopped green chilies
- 1 c sour cream
- 2-3 c cooked chicken, chopped

Divide in two uneven parts. In the larger part (about 3/4 to 2/3 of the mixture) mix in: 
- 1/4 to 1/2 c milk or chicken broth (enough so it is at least somewhat runny to ooze into all the cracks)

In the smaller part (about 1/4 to 1/3 of the mixture) mix in: 
- 1/2 c chopped onion (or 1/4 c dried onion)
- 1 c (or so) grated cheese

Other ingredients:
- 6-8 tortillas
- red enchilada sauce that is not nasty (I may try this recipe next time, unless I find a reliable brand of canned stuff)
- extra cheese for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Place 1/4 c chicken/onion/cheese mix in each tortilla, then roll up and place seam down in baking dish. Repeat for all tortillas. Spread chicken/milk mixture on top, pour enchilada sauce over it, and sprinkle with more cheese.

Bake at 350 F for 20-25 min. Serve with tortilla chips.

I will continue tweaking this recipe until it is perfect... so if you have any suggestions, feel free to throw them at me. :) 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Some good stuff to read.

I've been perusing the Nebula nominations (not because I can vote on them, but because obviously somebody thought they were worth reading, and probably a lot of somebodies if they made it on the ballot). Not all of them are available for free online, but I thought I'd post links to a few of my favorites that are. For a full list of nominees, go here (complete with links!).

Of the novels, I have only read Kingdom of Gods, which I reviewed already. I will probably check out the others at some point. I haven't read any of the nominees in the YA category - how did that happen? I haven't seen any of the dramatic presentations nominated either, but that's less of a shocker given how many movies I see in a year. (Last year: 3 in theaters, I believe, and only a handful at home.)

Kiss Me Twice,” Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s Science Fiction, June 2011)
The Man Who Bridged the Mist,” Kij Johnson (Asimov’s Science Fiction, October/November 2011) - though I'm pretty sure you don't get to read the whole thing online, which I am very sad about.

Ray of Light,” Brad R. Torgersen (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, December 2011) - again, sadly just an excerpt.
Sauerkraut Station,” Ferrett Steinmetz (Giganotosaurus, November 2011)
Six Months, Three Days,” Charlie Jane Anders (, June 2011)

Short Story:
Movement,” Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s Science Fiction, March 2011)

I enjoyed reading all the nominees I could find, but if you don't have time to read them all, at least give these a shot. Even if you don't like super strange sci-fi, I think you'll still like them. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sour Cream Enchiladas

Work was crazy busy today, what with it being the first day after a 3 day weekend and all. I hope tomorrow is better, but I'm not banking on it. I'm struggling to come up with something scintillatingly brilliant, so you get this recipe instead.

I haven't actually made this, but I ate it at a family dinner a few weeks ago and found it delicious. (The recipe notes I got after the dinner though leave something to be desired. Not my aunt-in-law's fault; she got the recipe from someone else. I've clarified a few things in transcribing it below.)

Sour Cream Enchiladas

Mix together:
- 1 can cream of chicken soup
- 1 can chopped green chilies
- 1 c sour cream
- 2-3 c cooked chicken, chopped

Other ingredients:
- 12 tortillas
- 1/2 c chopped onion
- 1/2 lb grated cheese
- red enchilada sauce

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Dip tortillas in hot fat, then place 1 T chicken mix in each tortilla, add 1 t onion and a little cheese, then roll up and place seam down in baking dish. Repeat for all tortillas. Spread rest of mixture on top, pour enchilada sauce over it, and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Bake at 350 F for 20-25 min. Serve with tortilla chips.

As a side note: other than not frying the tortillas first (sounds messy and potentially unnecessary, though I may try it anyway just to be sure), I think I'll also mix the onion into the chicken mixture (and use dried onion). I'll probably also mix in most of the cheese. That would make assembly a lot easier. I must get some red enchilada sauce before I can try it, but hopefully I'll get to make it later this week. I'll keep you posted on any modifications I like.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Book Review: Everneath

One of the books I scored at LTUE a little over a week ago was Everneath, by Brodi Ashton. I finally picked it up last night at 10:30... and finished it at 1am. Was it worth blasting through it in one sitting?

In short, yes. It was. Before I dive in, I must say I really like the cover (even though I think it's kind of silly when they cut the tops off of women's heads on covers). The story is basically a modern day retelling of Hades and Persephone. I've said before I'm all for fairy tale retellings, and Greek myths are close enough for my tastes to share the same enjoyment. 

And now for a slightly more detailed summary: Nikki (protagonist) vanished into the underworld (called the Everneath) for several months, throwing her friends and family into a panic not knowing where she went. Now she's returned - but she only has 6 months before she has to go back for good. The story flips between her past (which allows you as a reader to piece together the events that led to her decision to go to Everneath in the first place) and her last 6 months in the mortal realm. I thought this particular technique added a lot to the book - I found it extremely interesting to read the juxtaposition of the past and present as the story progressed. I think if it had been chronological straight through, the book would have been a lot more bland as a whole. As it is, I was sucked in right away between the ticking time bomb of her impending doom and the mystery of her past. It added a nice balance to the pacing that I felt worked really well.

The interactions between Nikki and Jack (main love interest) were also well done. The awkwardness between them when she first returns is excellently done. The main antagonist, Cole, struck just the right amount of creepy stalker vibe, and though he didn't develop as much as Nikki and Jack, I even felt a little sorry for him at the end. (Only a little though.)

As far as endings go, this book is the perfect example of "standalone with sequel potential". The ending is pretty open, but it also gives enough closure to be satisfying. I do wonder about some of the minor characters (like Jack's mom in particular), but I think going into any more detail would have stretched out the ending too much after the big climax. If there's a sequel, I'll read it; if not, I won't be upset. I think this book works quite well on its own even with the open ending. 

Overall, I was extremely pleased with Everneath. I will certainly read future novels Ashton writes. There is absolutely nothing objectionable in this book, but I think ages 12+ will enjoy it most (particularly girls). 

It kind of reminded me of Wicked Lovely, which I also enjoyed, but I think I liked this one better. :) So if you liked Wicked Lovely you should probably go buy this one right now.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Crochet Pattern: CTR Shield

I decided last night at midnight that I ought to make something cool for my Primary class at church today, so I made up this pattern for a CTR Shield. I finished making them all at 2 am. Yeah, not my smartest move. (I made 5 total.)

Materials: green yarn, G hook, white felt, glue

Row 1: ch 1.
Row 2: 2 sc in ch 1 from previous row, ch 1, turn. (2 sc)
Row 3: 2 sc in each stitch, ch 1, turn. (4 sc)
Row 4: 2 sc, sc in next two st, 2 sc, ch 1, turn. (6 sc)
Row 5: 2 sc, sc in next 4 st, 2 sc, ch 1, turn. (8 sc)
Row 6: sc in next 8 st, ch 1, turn. (8 sc)
Row 7: sc in next 8 st, ch 1, turn. (8 sc)
Row 8: sl st in next 2 st, sc, dc decrease in next 2 st, sc, sl st in next 2 st, ch 1, turn.
Row 9: sl st in next 3 st, sc in top of dc decrease from previous row, sl st to end of row, finish off.

Weave in ends.

Cut out the letters CTR from the white felt and glue them onto the green shield. Mod Podge is not ideal for this, incidentally, though I discovered that fact TOO LATE. So use some other kind of craft glue.

If desired, glue pin backings on to the back to make them into pins. (I wanted to do this but did not have a hot glue gun available to do so... fail.) Another easy adaptation is to crochet a basic band onto it to make it into a bracelet.

Each shield took about 5-10 min to crochet, and cutting out/gluing on the letters was the tedious part. But still, I did the whole thing from making up the pattern to finishing five in under 2 hours (with some aborted ideas along the way) so it's not a super intense project. I would estimate you can crank one out from start to finish in about 20 min tops. Finished product is about 1 in square.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Video Game Revolution!

As you probably already figured, I play a fair amount of video games. I watch Nathan play even more. (He's trying to review every single one he's played over here, incidentally, and even at the rate of two reviews a day he's hardly made a dent.) So I feel like maybe some of the ideas I have for making the video game industry better might at least be a little tiny bit legit. There's one feature in particular that I think is a no brainer.

Language filters.

Seriously. Gears of War put one in (kind of as a joke, I think; they also put in a gore filter which I thought was a pretty cool addition too), and even though I didn't care for that game as a whole, I thought that feature was awesome and I respected the franchise more as a result. (In fact, that's one of the big reasons I didn't complain when Nathan bought the third Gears of War.) It cannot possibly take that much more programming to silence out the swearing in a game. It's standard procedure to add subtitles in most games with a lot of talking. It should be standard procedure to put a language filter in too.

Here's my logic: if there's a language filter option available, then those who don't want to listen to some voice actor dropping the f-bomb every two seconds don't have to. Those people who do want to subject themselves to such delights can. Everybody's happy. You please a larger audience, and you sell more copies.

Okay, so maybe the population of people who don't appreciate swearing in video games is small. But consider this. There are a lot of games that Nathan plays through once, and never wants to play through again at least in part because of excessive cursing. It's the difference between a rent and a buy (or possibly the difference between a buy-and-return-to-Gamestop-within-a-week and a buy-to-keep). It's the difference between a parent playing it in front of their kids (with language filter on) and indoctrinating the next generation into playing this cool game, and a parent passing on it entirely (or playing it after the kids are asleep). In other words, maybe it's a smaller population, but I still think it's significant enough for the developers to spend an extra day or two adding in a basic feature.

There are so many games that I immediately dislike because I hear five f-bombs in the intro cut scene. I really don't think there's any call for that anyway, but I can respect artistic license or whatever if developers want to put it in for "atmosphere". I just think there ought to be an option to mute it for those of us who find it offensive.

Maybe I'm over idealistic. But that's my two cents.

Book Review: Guards! Guards!

I decided to reread Guards! Guards! this last week since I realized I could remember absolutely nothing about the plot except that it had Vimes as a character. In my defense, it was the first Terry Pratchett book I ever read, so I didn't fully appreciate it anyway and I had all 25+ that came after it to compete for memory space (plus it was approximately 5 years ago if my memory serves me correctly).

I am ashamed to admit that re-reading it did not jog any memories. None of the plot line seemed remotely familiar as I read it.

That being said, it is still a fantastic book. I believe I appreciate it infinitely more now that I have read the rest of the city watch books (this is the first in that story arc). It's really phenomenal how Pratchett manages to create a character like Vimes. He starts out completely incompetent - perpetually drunk and the captain of the relics of the night watch that nobody takes seriously. And yet... you still sympathize with him, and he grows a lot throughout the book. Great example of making someone sympathetic yet still very flawed, and showing them grow. But this book is only a tiny, tiny snippet of Vimes' character arc, and having read the later books, he stands in incredibly stark contrast to his future self as I re-read this book. Pratchett does a marvelous job at inching Vimes along the path of character development - first to competence in his job, and then competence in his life, and then actually excelling and being a genuinely good person in all areas. The funny thing is though, you can see the seeds of goodness in him in Guards! Guards! and you can see them begin to grow bit by bit. I just didn't realize how much they grew until I put beginning Vimes, drunk in a gutter, next to Vimes in Snuff. Two completely different people, and yet they both have the same dedication to answering to the Law.

If you ever need a good topic for an English paper on character development, I found you a perfect topic.

Anyway, that was what struck me most about this book on the re-read. It's a great book anyway, but I think that comparison between beginning and future Vimes is really what made it phenomenal for me. Now I need to re-read the rest of the story arc...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sweet Muffins

My mom's favorite cookbook was always one specific edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook (I think from the 70's). It was her fail-safe, go to cookbook, and when it fell apart, we put each page in sheet protectors in a binder so that she could keep using it.

Point being, that's where I got this awesome muffin recipe. It's incredibly easy and delicious.

Sweet Muffins

1 egg
1/2 c milk
1/4 c vegetable oil
1/2 c sugar
1 1/2 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

plus whatever mix-ins you want, like:
1 tsp cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice
1 c fresh blueberries
lemon zest + lemon juice + poppy seeds
orange zest + craisins
chopped nuts
chocolate chips

Heat oven to 400 F. Grease bottoms of 12 medium muffin cups (2 3/4 diameter) or use muffin liners. Beat egg; stir in milk and oil. Mix in remaining ingredients just until flour is moistened. Batter should be lumpy. (If you mix it too much your muffins get tough and not quite as delectable.) Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 20-25 min or until golden brown. Immediately remove from pan. Makes 12 muffins.

I added 1 tsp of pumpkin pie spice to mine tonight and tried them out in my newish mini muffin pan. I got 24 muffins out of it, though I probably filled them fuller than i should have because I really didn't want to have to do another round with 2-4 muffins in a pan with 24 spots... If you decide to do mini muffins, only bake them for 15-20 minutes or so (until they look golden brown around the edges and a toothpick comes out clean). I also reduced the temperature to 375 F right before I put them in since I was using a dark pan. 

Enjoy! If you find any particularly stellar mix in combinations, I'd love to hear about them. :)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mission Calls, Milkshakes, and Mysteries

Nathan's brother received his mission call today, so we went over to his apartment to watch him open it. He was called to the Donetsk, Ukraine mission (Russian speaking) and leaves June 6! Pretty exciting stuff. His aunt taught school in Ukraine, so he already has an "in" with the people. XD

We recorded a video; if you really want to see it, let me know and I'll email it to you. 

Then we got a quart of ice cream, came home, and made milkshakes. Mmmmm. Here, I'm so generous that I'll even include the recipe! 

Chocolate Milkshakes
- 3 large-ish scoops vanilla ice cream
- some milk
- some chocolate syrup

Blend until well mixed. Add more milk and continue blending until it reaches the desired consistency. If you are feeling super on top of things, freeze/refrigerate the glasses beforehand so that the milkshake melts more slowly.

Makes one large milkshake.

I find milkshakes are best when you use vanilla ice cream for the base and mix in your chosen flavors as you go. Much more versatile. For example, I throw in strawberries when I have some that are fresh. WAY better than strawberry ice cream, IMHO. 

As for the mystery alluded to in the title... well, I started a new secret crochet project. I haven't decided how secret yet, but I'm almost half done so you'll probably find out within a week anyway.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Recipe Review: Potato Soup

I pulled out an old standby for dinner tonight, potato soup. (Mostly because it didn't require going to the store on the way home from work.) It's extremely easy and quite basic.

1/4 c butter
1/4 of an onion, chopped (or 2 Tbs dried onion, which is what I always use)
5 large potatoes, peeled (if desired) and chopped
1 qt water
6 chicken bouillon cubes
1 can evaporated milk
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion in the butter. Add the potatoes, water, and bouillon. Make sure all the potato chunks are submerged. Simmer for 20-30 min on medium-medium high heat until potatoes are soft when you poke them with a fork. Mash up some of the potatoes with a potato masher until it reaches the desired lumpiness (or if you like super creamy soup with no lumps, use an immersion blender). Add evaporated milk; heat through but don't boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (I usually err on the side of less on the theory that people can season it how they want to after it's served.) Top with shredded cheese and bacon bits. Serve with a bread product.

Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 20-30 min
Servings: 5-6ish
Materials needed: 1 pot, 1 potato peeler, 1 knife for chopping, cutting board, rubber scraper or something similar to stir with, something to serve with (ladle)

I opted to go for biscuits today as my bread product, since they take about the same amount of time to make as the potato soup does to cook. Perfect coordination and it tasted yummy too. This soup is also really good with homemade bread (my favorite recipes are this white bread - with only 2-3 Tbs sugar, not 2/3 cup - and this wheat bread, which I don't make as much because Nathan hates ground wheat bitsies in his bread). I could see it being fantastic with these baguettes for something a little fancier as well. Pretty much any homemade bread stuff will be excellent, in fact.

I personally find this soup to be great as is, but if you want it to be jazzed up a bit, you could consider adding things like:

- chopped cooked chicken
- ham
- celery
- herb seasonings like basil, oregano, parsley, etc.
- red pepper flakes
- garlic
- shredded cheeses besides cheddar

Experiment to your heart's desire. Or just stick with the basics and enjoy a super easy and filling meal.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Game Review: "Story" games by Kairosoft

We have an iPod Touch. And with that iPod Touch, we have a lot of iPhone games. I mean, a LOT. There's a free one every day. Here's a little tip: most of the free ones are crap. Not always, but my iPod is cluttered with terrible games that I will probably never play. 


There is one folder of games that never fails me. It is the "Story games" folder, and it contains every Kairosoft game we own:

Hot Springs Story

Mega Mall Story

iPhone Screenshot 1
Game Dev Story

Grand Prix Story Screenshot
Grand Prix Story

Pocket Academy

Oh! Edo Towns

iPhone Screenshot 1
Venture Towns

If I remember rightly, this is every one they've put out on iPhone except the soccer one - Pocket League Story. So for completeness' sake:

iPhone Screenshot 1
Pocket League Story

Kairosoft has made a name for itself by making a new (to me at least) genre of games that at their core involve building stuff, unlocking new stuff to build, earning money, and expanding your empire. They fall into two main categories. 

Hot Springs Story, Mega Mall Story, Oh! Edo Towns, and Venture Towns are all pretty similar. You start with a set number of buildings, build them, and try to earn lots of money and attract customers/residents as you unlock more buildings and stuff. Pocket Academy is along the same lines, except you are building a high quality school, so it has added things like tests, clubs, and field trips. All of the games have combos where you get bonuses by putting certain combinations of buildings next to each other. It becomes a challenge to get the most combos in the smallest amount of space, stay in the positive for income, and grow as fast as possible. Each game goes for 15 "years", which ends up working out to around 4-5 hours of game play (I've never timed it, but that's a rough estimate), depending on how much time you spend in the menus micromanaging. 

Game Dev Story and Grand Prix Story (and I believe also Pocket League Story) are slightly different. In these games, you start as a manager of a terrible team producing low quality products (video games, racing cars, and soccer teams, respectively) and you have to work to build up your team and create better quality products to win better and better awards/recognition. These games are also 15 in-game years, if I remember correctly, and they take about the same amount of time per game. These games involve less micromanaging, but they also involve risking an investment on creating a new product (car/game/whatever) that might be completely terrible. 

Both categories are excellent. I have played each of these games (except Game Dev Story for some reason, must get on that, and of course Pocket League Story) through all the way (sometimes twice) and I still find them fantastic. There's a bit of a learning curve for them, but once you've played one from each category, the rest are easy to pick up on. There are still changes between them, but the core mechanics are pretty similar, which is nice because there isn't much in the way of tutorials to teach you how to play the first time. (That's why I had to play some of them twice... once to learn how, and once to kick the trash out of my first high score.)

The easiest one by far in the first category to start with is Mega Mall Story. This one is a bit more streamlined and introduces new concepts one at a time to make it easier to learn how to play. Once you have mastered that one, moving to the others is cakewalk. Oh! Edo Towns and Venture Towns are pretty similar (I honestly could not tell much difference at all in the game play) but the others each have unique bits to them that make them just different enough to make them worth playing. Even though they are essentially all the same kind of game, they're addicting, so the little changes are enough to make it fun to play the next one.

Of them all, I think my favorite is Pocket Academy (it is the most complex but the most fun to me), but Mega Mall Story and Grand Prix Story are also high up on my list. Grand Prix Story was the one that I was sure would be stupid, and then I proceeded to play it for most of the drive to California over Thanksgiving weekend... it definitely was a pleasant surprise.

All of these games are generally going to run $3.99 each for iPhone. While I think buying a few at that price is worth it, note that you can usually snag them at $1.99 if you have patience (Venture Towns is $1.99 right now, for example). They often discount their last release when a new one comes out (again, case in point: Pocket League came out, Venture Towns is discounted) and two bucks for one of these games is well worth it. 

Kairosoft's games will make a great addition to your handheld touch device. I believe most of them are currently available on both iPhone and Android (and Android might actually have a few more, like World Cruise Story... and Epic Astro Story... what! I want! ...but they do run a bit more price-wise, up to $5). 

So what are you waiting for? At least go try a demo!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cake Stand

I decided today that my cake stand that we got as a wedding gift is a miracle of glassware. I made a cake on Tuesday, then frosted it Wednesday (for the steampunk party, if you recall) and left it in the cake stand ever since. That cake is still moist. It is still delicious. It still tastes fresh. According to the interwebs, cakes should be eaten in like, 4 days for maximum freshness. We're going on 5 now. If I knew I could get away with keeping a cake in that thing for nearly a week as I slowly worked my way through it one bite at a time, I might have started making cakes more often! (I don't actually like cake that much - or rather, I like it, but I don't ever think "man, I sure wish I had a piece of cake right now". So making a whole cake, and then having two people try to eat it all... not so successful.)

Lest you forgot what it looked like.

Anyway, as it is we still have 2-3 pieces of chocolate cake left, so we're going to test this awesome kitchen item to its limits. I feel like I am almost obligated to make cake more now, because I have a cake stand, offset spatula, spinning turntable for decorating, and round cake pans. These have all (with the exception of the cake stand) been obtained in the last 2 months. No piping stuff though. I think I'm okay with that for now. My frosting abilities are pretty severely limited, especially since I don't like using frosting that I think tastes nasty...

Saturday, February 11, 2012

LTUE (Part II)

The last day of LTUE was quite enjoyable. We started out hitting the "Writers on Writing" panel, which was stuffed full of big names in fantasy: Tracy Hickman, Brandon Sanderson, L.E. Modesitt, and Dave Farland. It was a really good panel, with little nuggets of wisdom like "Talent without discipline is wasted air". Nathan particularly liked that gem, as well as Tracy Hickman's take on e-books.

We wanted to go to another panel on Religion in Science Fiction next, but we ended up missing that one in favor of signature hunting (Nathan had to get Brandon Mull's signature on his Kindle case, and also got Larry Correia's and Dan Wells' while he was at it. The case is pretty much completely filled front and back with signatures now, after WorldCon, World Fantasy, and ConDUIT last year and LTUE this year).

Then we grabbed lunch with Isaac Stewart (who drew the maps for Brandon Sanderson's books) and his brother, which was pretty awesome, and then dashed back for a panel on balancing plots and subplots. That was followed by a panel on schmoozing and how not to trap/scare famous people you want to talk to at cons, and another on urban fantasy. We rounded out the day with a few readings by Mary Robinette Kowal, Larry Correia, and Dan Wells. I unfortunately was not the lucky recipient of any ARCs, but I still fully intend to read all of their upcoming releases (or recent releases, in Larry's case). 

All in all, it made for a long day, but we had fun and saw a lot of people who are pretty awesome. I was surprised how many random people I saw that I knew from lots of other areas of my life: someone from my book group, a former roommate's sister, someone from our ward, someone from work... it got pretty funny by the end. 

And now,  in keeping with yesterday's tradition of ending with a link to a piece of short fiction, I give you Tanya, Princess of the Elves by Larry Correia (this is what he chose to read part of for his reading, which was hilarious). To get to it from the link, click "Next" in the upper right hand corner and then select the second link in the table of contents. Or feel free to browse the rest of the free short fiction found there. I will probably put them all on my Kindle soon for my reading pleasure in the next day or two.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Novella recommendation and LTUE

I went to LTUE after work today (Life, the Universe, and Everything, a local writing con) at Nathan's insistence. Even though it made for a long day, I ha a very enjoyable time. We sat in on a panel about book bombing, then grabbed some dinner and wandered around while we waited for the big signing extravaganza to begin. Our wandering led to chatting with Brandon Sanderson, then meeting a freelance editor, Sarah Bylund, who happened to also know my sister (random, but cool). Then Nathan introduced me to all manner of famous folk, including Dave Farland, Mary Robinette Kowal (looking forward to reading Glamour in Glass), Eric James Stone (just got his story The Robot Sorcerer which was free on Amazon today), Paul Genesse (who gave us The Crimson Pact II, which I've been meaning to read since it came out), Bree Despain (excited for The Savage Grace), Brodi Ashton (who gave us a copy of her new book, Everneath - woo!), and Lisa Mangum (editor for Shadow Mountain). All in all, a pretty awesome evening. I'm excited for tomorrow. I forget how fun cons are firsthand; I usually just get the recaps afterwards. :)

And with that, I leave you with a link to Mary Robinette Kowal's novella Kiss Me Twice, which she put up for free as a birthday present earlier this week. I just read it and really liked it quite a bit.

Book Review: Cinder

I've seen a lot of hype and push for a new series called The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, the first book of which just came out and is titled Cinder. My brother got a copy from the library and hooked me up since I thought it looked intriguing.


 The basic premise started out pretty simple: a Cinderella retelling... but she's a cyborg. It grew from there. At a most basic level, I find fairy tale retelling immensely enjoyable, and this was no exception. I read it start to finish in about 3 hours. (I'm a pretty fast reader... and I had a wide open evening for the first time in quite a while. Can you really blame me?) That ought to be a good sign, since it means I never got bored with it.

Overall, I found the story quite engaging. The world is well fleshed out, and Cinder is a sympathetic and (mostly) believable character. I really, really liked the premise and the fact that the story was more than just a retelling; it wove in a new plot line or two of its own. The rich setting, the addition of the Lunars and the plague to the world's history, and the introduction of cybernetic technology all add up to a pretty awesome backdrop for the story, and they mesh really well.

Was it perfect? No. I called a plot twist about 200 pages before the character found out, and I was certain she was going to find out right after I figured it out. But at the same time, those next 200 pages flew by, which made the (in my mind) unresolved reveal much less annoying. (In fact, I didn't even notice it had been so long until after Cinder actually found out.) There were a few bits here and there where the prose wasn't as polished as well and things like that (mostly little stuff that I probably only notice because I've been in my husband's writing group for a few years now). But the book as a whole showed a ton of potential for Marissa Meyer as an author, and I expect even greater things with every new book she publishes.

This is, by the way, the first in a series. There's not much in the way of resolution with a big tidy bow tying everything up at the end. I was left with enough of a conclusion that I was still content, but there are many things left unresolved that promise some pretty awesome potential in future books. Meyer strikes a nice balance of cliffhanger and closure that I found particularly satisfactory.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Glimpse of the Party

Hot air balloons. (This did not work quite as well as I would have hoped.) We tied tulle over the tops and attached little paper mache boxes for the baskets. 

FYE is having a blowout sale. Nathan couldn't resist the massive Angry Bird... (not steampunk, I know. Deal with it.)


More decorations

Aaaand... some more decorations (Amy had lots of fun with her in-laws' Cricut machine)

Food! Cake (with chocolate ganache frosting, chilled and then whipped), lemon cookies, scones, wraps, veggies, chocolate covered cherries, and french fries (not shown - I finished them later)

The birthday girl!

Not shown: we spray painted cheap nerf guns gold and then used the gears we painted a few days ago to decorate the nerf guns. Then we had nerf gun wars. XD There was also a fair amount of Rock Band, Dance Central, and Smash Bros that was played. All in all, a great success.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Lemon Crinkles

Tonight was a baking extravaganza! I'm preparing all the food for the steampunk birthday party I'm helping with tomorrow, so I've been in the kitchen for about... 3 and a half hours tonight. (I'm kind of tired now.)

I've already posted about the cake and scones, so I won't bore you with repeat pictures. (But I will tell you really fast how I modified the scones recipe this time: I added craisins, the zest of 1 orange, 2 Tbs orange juice, and 1/4 tsp cloves. Delicious! Though I may decrease the cloves a bit next time to 1/8ish tsp.)

Anyway. Back to the point. I tried a new recipe for Lemon Crinkles. When I finished the dough, I looked at it and thought, "that can't possibly make very many cookies..." It doesn't look like much dough, but it's easily doubled if you really have issues with that. Just remember that I got 46 small cookies out of it, which is still a goodly amount. (I personally am kind of excited to find a cookie recipe that doesn't make fifty bajillion cookies, particularly since there are only two of us.)

Behold! Lemony goodness!

Overall, I am quite satisfied with this recipe. I used the zest from a whole lemon, and the cookies have a delightful lemony flavor that is not overwhelming but is still noticeable. I wasn't quite sure how to tell when they were done - they never really looked shiny to me at all, but I ended up cooking them 13 min per cookie sheet. This worked really well for the sheets that had 20 cookies each on them; not so much for the one with only 6 (11 min would have been just fine). If they are browned, they will be crunchy and not as delicious. Trust me on this one. I tested it for science. Take them out when they look like they need just a minute or two more and then let them cool on the cookie sheet for a bit, and they will be fantastic.

And now, a little preview of tomorrow's treats...

A new and exciting frosting recipe! 100 times easier and hopefully still delicious! Recipe to come...

Monday, February 6, 2012

Chicken Cordon Bleu

I've been wanting to try a new dinner recipe for a while, and Nathan really, really likes chicken cordon bleu... so, well, no brainer. I even planned ahead and put some chicken in the refrigerator to defrost last night. (This is a rare occurrence, which is partially why we have lame dinners so often.)

After a bit of poking around on, I settled on this version with a few modifications. I only used 4 chicken breasts but left the amounts of everything else pretty much the same. I used water instead of wine (which may not have been the optimal choice), 2 slices of ham per chicken breast (they were pretty small and very thin), and used half vegetable oil/half butter instead of all butter.

I had no idea what the directions were talking about when they describe how to wrap the chicken around the cheese/ham; I just had Nathan pound the chicken flat, put the cheese/ham on top, and rolled it up (sort of). And then applied toothpicks liberally. There must be a more effective way of doing it, but... it worked, so we'll call it a success.

I made one other modification based on the suggestions in the comments over on allrecipes; after browning the chicken for about 5-7 min or so, I put the pieces in a glass baking dish (9x11) and baked them for about 30 min at 350 F. While they were baking, I finished up the sauce. I chose to do it this way because in the past, my sauces have taken forever to thicken. See yesterday's post with the frosting issue. I was totally expecting a repeat of that. Instead, it thickened up and was ready within 10 minutes. Of course. I just left it on low and stirred occasionally until the chicken was done.

And now, some pictures.

Ready to eat!

 Overall it turned out pretty good, but lacking a little zing. That may have been due to my lazy substitution of water for white wine; I may try apple juice or ginger ale next time instead. I also felt like it needed a bit of salt. (That also might depend on the kind of ham you use. I suspect cheap lunch meat ham is not as salty as real ham.) I might try breading it next time as well, though that might get a bit tricky given the tendency of the pieces to come unrolled when handled too much. We shall see how adventurous I feel. :P

The sauce is definitely a crucial part of this recipe. I promise you, it is worth the calories. Just... try not to think about how it is mostly butter and cream...

My final verdict? It was tasty, and I'll likely make it again, but I will also probably tinker with it some more to make it perfect. The sauce isn't too far off, but the chicken itself is a bit lacking.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Steampunk Cake

A tale of a two layer cake transformed into a gear, in four pictures.

Not the most exciting... yet. I am pretty pumped that I got to use my cake decorating stand though.

Cutting out some pieces to make it gear shaped...

Center circle is cut now

Aaaaand... done!

I used this recipe for the cake and this frosting recipe (because I hate conventional buttercream frosting). I'm not sure what the deal was with the frosting, but I could never get it to thicken like it was supposed to when I was boiling the initial mixture, so my frosting was super soft at the end. (We stirred it for 20 minutes, I kid you not, before I gave up and took it off the stove. I wonder if altitude can make that big of a difference...) Still, I found it easy to work with for the most part.

This is really only the practice prototype cake. I wanted to make sure I could do it before the party. :) Now I kind of wish I could guarantee it would still be fresh and delicious in 4 days... but I'll probably end up making another one. I hope people like cake a LOT. It's a pretty dang tasty treat if you like chocolate.

Other food ideas for the steampunk party include: fried cookies, donuts, Victorian tea party food (i.e. cucumber sandwiches and the like), and possibly something boring like a vegetable tray. Suggestions welcome; I seem to have a hard time balancing out all the desserts...

Drinks may involve butter beer or some sort of ginger ale - sherbet concoction.

... Blast. I think I'll have to go to the grocery store again before this all goes down...

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Steampunky Goodness

I'm helping my former roommate (and still current friend) plan her steampunk themed birthday party for next week. As part of the preparations today, we did a little shopping...

We started at DI and scoured the store for old analog clocks and kitchen appliances that looked like they might contain gears. We had a strict price limit, since there's no point in spending $5 for something that might not have what you need, so the rule was it had to be $1. We found two clocks and one hand mixer that were promising (and $1 each). We also saw a music box but it was $3...

Next we went to Hobby Lobby and got some copper and silver acrylic paint. (Amy, my friend, already had some gold, or we would have gotten that too.)

We brought our treasures back to my apartment, where we then took apart the stuff from DI.

Partway through dismantling the clocks.

Our pile of treasures (or clock guts)... I was disappointed to see half of the gears were plastic.

I really, really love taking stuff apart.

The hand mixer yielded a disappointingly small number of gears. But it did contain a pretty cool motor we haven't decided what to do with yet.

Since half the gears were plastic, we had to paint them to look more authentic...

Gold, silver, and copper gears.

I was rather pleased with how they turned out. There aren't very many silver ones though because for some reason, that paint took forever to dry. Like, upwards of 20 minutes per coat, vs. 2-3 min for the other colors of paint. Weird.

We have a few more to paint still, but we ran out of time. Now the question remains... what to do with them? We're thinking about having party guests decorate nerf guns with the paint and gears, or possibly making the gears into bracelets or earrings... If you have any other fantastic ideas, feel free to share them in the comments.

Other planned decorations include silver tissue paper cut into gears for the walls. I really want to rig up some sort of dirgible too, but I'm rather stumped as to how to do it for cheap.

I have some pretty awesome ideas for food, too, but that will have to wait til tomorrow...

Friday, February 3, 2012

Book Review: Monsters and Mormons

A while back, Dan Wells posted a few blog posts about a short story he was writing for an anthology called Monsters & Mormons. It sounded intriguing... and then my brother requested that the Provo City Library purchase it, and then they did, and then he borrowed it from the library, and then it appeared at the top of the stairs in our apartment. (We live in his basement.) And thus, I got to read it.

Let's start with the basic premise, shall we? The purpose of this anthology is to collect stories about Latter Day Saints interacting with fantastical creatures (aka monsters). Sometimes the Latter Day Saints are monsters. Sometimes they are good monsters fighting bad monsters. In other words, the stories all had to have monsters, and Mormons, and beyond that it was open to interpretation.

Overall, it's a fun anthology, but very eclectic. Due to the very small pool of writers who are LDS and write sci-fi/fantasy and were invited to participate in the anthology, there's a wide variety of formats (mostly short stories, but there are also some graphic stories and poetry, and some of the pieces might be long enough to be considered novelettes) and also some variation in skill level. There are 30 pieces in all.

Rather than go through each one individually (which would take forever), I will summarize my impressions. There were a lot of stories that were okay, some that had a lot of potential and kind of putter out at the very end (or ended extremely abruptly), and a few that were fabulous. I didn't care for the poetry or graphic stories as much (then again, I haven't enjoyed that format of literature as much in the past when I've sampled it, either) but the concepts introduced in some of the stories were quite cool.

One of the things I realized reading this anthology is that it is very tricky to find the right balance in a short story. It's quite easy to tackle too big of an idea (or ideas), get halfway through, and then have to end the story because of length constraints. It's also quite easy to think of a cool idea and then write a story about it, but not include enough other substance to really make it have any oomph. An author must tread a delicate balance between too much and too little for a short story to be satisfying on its own, not leaving the reader feeling lacking (or jilted because it promised so much more and didn't deliver before the end).

Both Eric James Stone ("That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made") and Dan Wells ("The Mountain of the Lord") are excellent examples of authors who did it right. And oh, how deliciously satisfying those stories were. They were my favorites in the anthology.

Others that I thought were decent:
- "First Estate" by Katherine Woodbury (interesting story, though I wanted more)
- "Brothers in Arms" by Graham Bradley (again, I felt it ended a little abruptly)
- "Bokev Momen" by D. Michael Martindale (I actually liked this one quite a bit)
- "Let the Mountains Tremble for Adoniha Has Fallen" by Steven Peck (interesting ideas, strange story)
- "Allow Me to Introduce Myself" by Moriah Jovan (the ending gets weird but I liked the rest of it)

Like any anthology, Monsters and Mormons has its strengths and weaknesses, but if you enjoy reading quirky takes on LDS history and culture (green jello, anyone?), you'll probably find enough in here to make it worth reading. And Provo City Library has a copy that will be available for checking out again shortly...