Saturday, January 30, 2016

Strawberry - Blueberry Muffins | Recipe


The other day Fluxxdog and I got to talking about muffins and how, early in our relationship, I used to make peach muffins for him to take to work to eat for lunch. I had found a recipe for blueberry-peach muffins and asked him if he'd like to give it a try. Well, unfortunately, this is not the season for peaches. Luckily Veonoss found strawberries for us to try. Originally I was tempted to use the blueberry-peach muffin recipe and just replace "peaches" with "strawberries". Then I found a recipe specifically for blueberry-strawberry muffins and decided to give it a shot.

Unlike a lot of recipes I'm used to, this one calls for veggie oil instead of butter. It also uses a significant amount flour. After I had mixed in most of the dry ingredients, I started to worry about this recipe as the "batter" was looking more like "dough" and had a stickier consistency than I like.

Even after adding the fruit, I wasn't getting the consistency that I thought I would need for muffins. I started looking at the comments of the recipe and saw that a lot of people needed to do variations on the recipe to get it how they wanted. One person added an extra egg, another replaced the sugar with brown sugar, etc. However, there were enough people saying the recipe was fine on its own that I decided to keep going. 

After I added the strawberry jam and kept mixing it for several more minutes, the batter started to look and feel more like actual batter.

I was still very nervous about how the muffins would turn out. I was tempted to look up a cinnamon roll icing recipe to add if they weren't tasty or sweet enough. Fortunately, though, the recipe held up. Fluxxdog, Veonoss and I were able to make a good breakfast out of these. They tasted even better with coffee. So, I think I'll go ahead and add this recipe to the list of keepers. Next time I'll see about replacing the strawberry jam with blueberry and see what happens.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Custodian of Marvels | Rod Duncan

*Image and book provided via NetGalley.

Elizabeth Barnabus has been on the run since she was 14. The Duke of Northamptom says she belongs to him as an indentured servant after he paid off her father's debts, which were incurred by the Duke himself, though this was never proven. In an attempt to find more evidence for her case against the Duke and resolve her money problems, Elizabeth rejoins friends from her circus days in their attempts to steal from The Patent Court, the most heavily guarded government building in the world.

Once again, I find myself reading a book from the middle of a series. Once again, Angry Robot Books has provided a series that can be started from any point. Though this book was not what I expected when I first started reading, I had no problems getting into this world and rather enjoyed my stay there. 

We only get to really know a few of the cast of characters, but the ensemble still works. Considering it's all told from Elizabeth's perspective, it's not surprising we only learn so much about each character. I also appreciated that this book was from the first-person perspective. At the start of each chapter, there are quotes from The Bullet-Catcher's Handbook that tell about how to perform illusions and cons. As a result, I was left feeling like I was missing a piece of the puzzle, which kept me on the edge of my seat, which made this read so much more enjoyable. I can honestly say, this is one of those very rare books where I can predict almost nothing.

This is a very interesting world, an engaging story, and a pleasant read. I happily give 4.5 Hoots!

                Hoot! Hoot!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Prince: Legacy of Darkness | Phoenix Garrett Wright

*Book and image provided by NetGalley

This book follows the story of Lucifer (a separate entity from Satan) the first vampire, and former seraphim. In the 2060's, a decade or so after the War of Immortals, the witches become bolder in their attacks on the vampires who, led by Lucifer, prefer to be left in darkness and out of humanity's reality, except for when it's time to feed. Lucifer must keep his fledglings in line in an attempt to show a united front against the army of witches and humans with UV light based weapons.

This is a very long book. If you intend to read it, be sure to set enough time aside for it. To be fair to Wright, I'm not sure how this book could have told the story he wanted while being a shorter book. There is a lot of content here with a fairly good balance between exposition/story telling and action.

Fair warning about the action, this book is not for the feint of heart or stomach. Several scenes involve copious amounts of blood. Then there are the depictions of Hell that left me feeling nauseated. I won't go into details, but  you have been warned. 

I have to admit, I probably won't read the next installment. I read all 600+ pages of this book and never felt emotionally or intellectually invested in any of the characters. The entire book is told from the perspective of Lucifer and it's no surprise he used to manage the Gate of Pride in Hell. He's arrogant and prideful to a fault, but clearly such is the nature of the character. I never feel that any one group, humans, vampires or witches are in the right. They all seem like they're doing the wrong thing, especially when the story is from the perspective of someone who thinks they're all inferior anyways.

Probably my biggest complaint about this book is that there are so many typos and punctuation errors. It may have just been the Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) I received, but there were so many spelling and editing errors that need to be cleaned up. 

To be honest, I can only give this book 2.5 hoots. I appreciate what the author was trying to do, and the first half or so of the book was plenty entertaining, but after that it was just all downhill and I just wanted the book to end.


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Christmas Cookies | Recipe

Yeah, I know. We're well past Christmas at this point. But I didn't get to celebrate Christmas with my Mom until after New Year's. I ended up making 45 Christmas cookies (would have been 48 but I lost two to the floor and one to taste testing). I made so many because I thought my nephew and both my brothers were coming as well, but my nephew ended up sick so he and his dad had to stay home. I'm still working on getting rid of all of these!

Christmas cookies were always a big deal in Mom's family. My great-grandmother would make up at least one hundred every year and we'd get all the cousins together to decorate them. Grandma B was the kind of person who would spend 15-20 minutes decorating one cookie, just to get all the sprinkles in their proper places. I kinda take after her with the decorating, but I also respect my mom's approach of spending as much time decorating a cookie as it takes to eat the cookie. So I opted to give myself some practice frosting with decorating bags. It was quite the learning experience.

Naturally, the first step was mixing up the batter for the cookies. Grandma B always made sugar cookies, but I decided to make up vanilla cookies as I had all the ingredients. 

Then comes the rolling out of the dough. I remembered (from painful experience) that I needed to flour the rolling mat before I put the dough down. I didn't put all the dough down at once and went through it in batches instead.

I've been asked before how I know what the proper thickness is for the cookie dough. The answer is, I don't. It's something that depends on the recipe, the desired crispiness of the cookies, etc. I tested some different sized layers before settling on one.

Before next Christmas, I will need to get some more cookie cutters. These were the only ones I could find that produced the cookie sizes I wanted.

The cookies do look a little flat going in, but after 8 minutes in the oven they come out looking pretty good.

At this point I was still debating whether or not to frost the cookies so I had Fluxxdog taste test one and he said that it was just okay and could use a little something more.

Again, I deviate from Grandma B's tradition. She always made cream cheese frosting for the cookies, but I didn't have enough cream cheese, nor does the frosting lend itself to decorating bags. So, instead, I made up a double batch of icing, split it in two, and added food coloring. Next year I may try for more colors, but for now I like the red and green.

In order to make sure I had enough icing for all of the cookies, and to try to minimize the mess, I went over the cookies once with the red icing. Then I went over them again with the green. I had initially skipped a few cookies, thinking some of them would be all red or all green, but I ended up with enough extra icing that I was able to go over the cookies again and get a good mix of both colors.

I'm actually somewhat energized by this experience and I'm looking forward to getting in more practice with the decorating bags and seeing if I can make frosting flowers and whatnot. If you'd like to see these attempts/experiments, please let me know. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

New Year's Resolutions

Okay, I've had Christmas, New Year's, and Second Christmas completed. I've had plenty of time to think about my resolutions for the year and I've got a couple of goodies. I'm looking at having one resolution for my health, one for my work, one for my family and one for my hobbies.

Health Resolution: Toning
I've lost a lot of size the past couple of years. So much so that my lifelong weight goal is to just not gain it all back. That being said, I do feel I could do more. So this year I'm going to see about either building up muscle or toning what muscles I have. We'll see how it goes.
pokemon memes snorlax gif

Work Resolution: Learn to Read Russian
The one person in my department who was fluent in Russian recently left so the rest of us have been tackling the Russian titles we get as best we can. I'd already had an interest in this and I'm already working on memorizing the Russian alphabet, so this resolution should be doable. It is quite interesting how understandable a lot of Russian words are once you are able to read them.

Family Resolution: Dedicate Time to the Briggs Wiki
This project has been on the back burner for a few years now. I haven't had the time nor the work space to get it done. Recently I started working four 10-hour days, giving me Fridays for things like chores, doctor appointments and, now, the Briggs Wiki. I'm hoping to dedicate one Friday a month to this work and making visible progress.
family photo,Photo,old people

Hobby Resolution: 
This year I signed up for the #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge. I will not be buying any new books and I will only request one non-fiction from NetGalley a month. I'm doing this because I have over 200 books in my kindle that I've never read. I also have about 10-20 physical books that I've never read. Really hoping I can survive this.

Having books standing on a shelf in a room is like having completely different worlds at the ready waiting to be explored - JF Hermans

So those are my plans for 2016. What are some of yours?