Bonus Blog · Books and Beverages

Books and Beverages (#2)

Another month has gone by and that means it’s time for another Books and Beverages post. (Okay, this one’s a little late, but that’s because I was close to finishing a few books and I wanted to include them in this post, but wasn’t able to have them read by Saturday. Poor planning on my part.) I managed to read five books totaling 1,572 pages this month, which kind of boggles my mind because I’m pretty sure I’ve never read that many books in one month before. I’m trying to complete the Popsugar 2015 Reading Challenge, and so far I’ve read 8.67* of the 52 books. My Goodreads 2015 goal is only 15 books and that’s over half done.

Books

The Two Towers: Being the Second Part of the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
“A book with more than 500 pages” *
The Fellowship of the Ring was my favorite of the books I read last month, and the same is true of The Two Towers this month. The first half follows the adventures of one group of characters, and the second half another group. There are unexpected friends and alliances that come along, all boiling up to the exciting end. If you don’t like cliffhangers and are reading the book as three separate volumes*, then have The Return of the King ready to go. This was the worst cliffhanger I’ve encountered since I read The Mark of Athena; it may be even worse than that. Also, if you want to watch the first movie after reading the first part, you’ll need to read the first chapter of the second part, which Peter Jackson put at the end of the first movie.

Enclave by Ann Aguirre
“A book set in the future”
At the beginning of this book I wasn’t too sure if I was going to like it, but as the story progressed, it got more interesting. It’s set in post-apocalyptic New York where society has fallen to pieces. In the subway system underground resides several enclaves where life is totalitarian and they’re told to fear the world above them. Deuce lives in one such enclave called College where she becomes a Huntress to protect her enclave from Freaks, which are basically zombies. She gets exiled Topside with her hunting partner Fade, and realizes that what she was taught about the world above was not true at all. I found this book to be a fairly accurate description of what could happen in a post-apocalyptic world.

Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins
“A book you started but never finished”
I tried to read this in the eighth grade when I wasn’t really interested in reading adult fiction, so I quit reading it. The story starts out on a plane where suddenly passengers vanish, leaving their clothes on their seats. No one quite understands what’s going on, and soon enough it seems the only possible explanation is that the Rapture occurred and those whose faith was on the rocks were left behind. Events soon take place that are described in the book of Revelation and eventually an Antichrist rises to power. Although we have no idea if, when, or how the Rapture will take place, I thought that this offered an interesting hypothesis as to what could happen, if one interprets the Bible literally.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
“A book that was originally written in a different language”
This was another mystery/thriller book that I enjoyed, and it definitely was very thrilling and mysterious. It begins with Blomkvist, a shamed financial journalist who’s been convicted of libel and sentenced to prison, even though he knows the man he tried to expose, Wennerstrom, is indeed doing illegal business practices. He’s asked by a very prestigious business man by the name of Vanger to look into the disappearance and suspected murder of his niece, Harriet, a case that has been cold for several decades. He thinks that someone in his family may have killed her. Vanger had an extensive background check run on Blomkvist by a young woman named Lisbeth Salander who can find people’s deepest secrets. Eventually, Blomkvist and Salander meet up and together work on the mystery of Harriet’s disappearance. Overall, a very interesting and intriguing book.

Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx
“A book you can finish in a day”
I tend to be a slow reader, so for this particular challenge I knew to pick a pretty short book and this fit (about 60 pages). This story follows two cowboys, Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist. They find work ranching sheep one summer on Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming and soon realize that they are in love. Four years pass before they see each other again, and both are married with children. They can’t deny their love for each other and they get together often, telling their wives they’re going hunting or fishing. Ennis’s wife figures it out after she sees them kissing and divorces Ennis since he isn’t being a good father either. The two of them try to keep their secret in a society where men are killed for being gay. If you’ve seen the movie, you know this book has a sad ending.

Beverages

Pineapple and Banana Juice Stuff
There’s a recipe that I found in a booklet that came with a blender and I decided to try it out. It consists of pineapple, pineapple juice, and a banana. You blend it together to make this sort of juice, and it’s really good. It seems like it would really hit the spot on a hot day.

Peaberry Dark Kona Coffee
I got some of this stuff when I was in Hawaii, and it’s great. It’s really smooth and not very bitter, so it requires little, if any, cream or sugar. I’ll be sad when it’s gone.

If you’d like to read last month’s Books and Beverages, click here. You can look forward to the next one on May 30!

Edit: *Originally, The Lord of the Rings was the trilogy I was planning to read for the Popsugar challenge. Then I read the note on the text at the beginning in which it says that The Lord of the Rings is not a trilogy, but one big novel sometimes published as three separate volumes. (The movies, however, are a trilogy.) For accuracy’s sake, I decided to change it from the trilogy to the book with more than 500 words.

Baking

Strawberry Shortcake with Homemade Whipped Cream

Last weekend I bought a couple strawberry plants for the garden. And already the local supermarket has some delicious-looking strawberries for sale, so naturally I picked some of those up too. They’re (obviously) the key ingredient in this strawberry shortcake recipe that I’ve made over the years. Here’s how you can make it too.

Strawberry Shortcake Recipe

What You Will Need:

Shortcake:

  • A pre-made angel food cake bar, 4″ x 8″ x 2.5″ (store bought or made from scratch)

Topping:

  • ~2 lbs of fresh strawberries
  • 1/8 – 1/4 cup sugar

Sauce:

  • 1 cup of strawberries
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp sugar

Whipped Cream:

  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp sugar

Directions:

Step 1 – Topping: Wash strawberries and trim off leaves and stems (set aside about 1 cup of strawberries for sauce). Slice them length-wise about a quarter of an inch thick. Place in large bowl with sugar (use more or less to taste) and mix until well incorporated. Place in fridge and let sit for 15-20 minutes.

Step 1: Topping

Step 2 – Sauce: Roughly chop strawberries and blend with water until pureed and smooth. Pour the pureed strawberries into a small sauce pan and add in the sugar. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Step 2: Sauce

Step 3 – Whipped Cream: Place whipping cream, vanilla, and sugar in a bowl. Beat with hand or stand mixer until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes.

Step 3: Whipped Cream

Step 4: Cut your angel food cake bar into 1-inch slices. (There will be 8 slices total, but you need to use only 4 of them. I like to save these and make more topping, sauce, and whipped cream for the next night, but you’re welcome to use them how you see fit.) Break these slices in half and place at the bottom of cereal bowls. With a spoon, drizzle the sauce over the top of the cake slices. Next, put the strawberry slices on the cake (as much as you want), and top it off with dollops of whipped cream.

Step 4A: Assembly

Strawberry Shortcake with Homemade Whipped Cream

This is a fairly straight forward recipe, but can become time-consuming, which is why I like to use store-bought angel food cake. You can also use store-bought sauce and whipped cream, but I prefer to make my own. And you’re more than welcome to go the extra mile and make your own angel food cake.

This recipe has the potential to serve up to 8, since the angel food cake bar makes 8 slices. All you have to do is double the recipes for the topping, sauce, whipped cream and you’re good to go. It’s great for summer entertaining.

Anyways, I can’t wait for the strawberry plants I bought to start producing berries. It would be great to incorporate some homegrown strawberries into this recipe. Also, if you happen to see any interesting recipes on Pinterest that you’d like me to try out in a new baking series in which I test Pinterest recipes, send me the link to the original post.

Yesterday marked Sparkle and Sprinkle’s 2-month birthday, so thanks to all my followers who make these posts feel worth while!

Jewelry

Game of Thrones Charm Bracelet

A Song of Ice and Fire has got to be one of my favorite book series. The show is pretty good, too, and can stand on its own, but I still think the books are better. There are subtleties and other details that may have been omitted or changed from book to TV, and I think the little things are important. Anyway, enough ramblings from me. If you want to read blogs on books check out my first Books and Beverages post, and check out xo, Yvette’s March Book Talk.

Fan jewelry has always been one of my favorite things to make and wear. It’s like a T-shirt that you can wear everyday, but from a distance just looks like any other ordinary piece of jewelry. I think charm bracelets make the best sort of fan jewelry, and since I love Game of Thrones, it was natural that I had to make a Game of Thrones charm bracelet. And what better time to write about it than two days after the season five premiere?

Game of Thrones Charm Bracelet with Stark Colors

I chose to do the Stark colors (grey and white) for this bracelet because if I lived in Westeros I would probably pledge my allegiance to them. Let’s be honest, they’re much more likable than the Lannisters (Tyrion’s pretty awesome, though). Anyway, it’d be easy to swap out the grey pearls and white diamond-shaped Czech glass beads for any other family’s colors, which is something that I love about charm bracelets. They’re so easily customized if you want to sell them or make some for friends. (This was one of the things that I actually sold in my short run on Etsy, and it had plenty of favorites as well.)

Game of Thrones Charm Bracelet Left
This is one half of the bracelet showing four charms up close: Trout: House Tully; Falcon: House Arryn; Wolf: House Stark; Stag: House Baratheon.
This shows the other half of the bracelet and the other four charms: Lion: House Lannister; Rose: House Tyrell; Kraken: House Greyjoy; Dragon: House Targaryen.
This shows the other half of the bracelet and the other four charms: Lion: House Lannister; Rose: House Tyrell; Kraken: House Greyjoy; Dragon: House Targaryen.

I like to put at least one non-charm bead in between the charms so that it gives the bracelet some interest. I have seen other charm bracelets that are made entirely out of charms, and varying in amounts. I think that a handful of charms on a charm bracelet and nothing else looks lazy because it’s pretty simple to attach charms to a chain. (Look up any video on how to open and close a jump ring, and you’ll see what I mean.) On the other hand, it looks less lazy if the chain is laden with charms but I think the bracelet would be a little heavy and none of the charms hold their own, so to speak. I like a charm bracelet with good balance because you get some color, some charms, and it’s not too heavy. Of the Great Houses, I had to leave out House Hightower and House Martell because there was not enough room and these houses have lesser roles in the books thus far. Perhaps I will have to redesign it if that changes.

Fan jewelry is awesome, whether it’s for sports teams, books, movies, or TV shows. If you’re looking to buy some, Etsy is definitely your best bet and will usually have a wide range of options.

Baking

Easy Deep Dish Peach Cobbler

It’s getting closer to peach season, and I couldn’t help myself. Thankfully, you can use canned peaches for this recipe and have it any time of the year. Serve it warm with ice cream for a delectable treat that tastes like summer.

Easy Deep Dish Peach Cobbler

Baking time: 1 hour
Difficulty: Easy
Servings: 6

What You Will Need:

  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) of unsalted butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp double-acting baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • A 29 oz. can of yellow cling peaches in heavy syrup
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • Deep glass baking dish
  • Medium mixing bowl

Step 1:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Melt butter in the baking dish. This can be done in the microwave for 30-40 seconds on high, or in the oven for 10-15 minutes.

Step 1

Step 2: 
While butter is melting, sift together in a separate bowl the flour, sugar, baking powder, and cinnamon.

Step 2

Step 3:
Pour the entire can of peaches, juices and all, over the melted butter. With a spoon, sprinkle the flour mixture evenly over the top of the peaches.

Step 3

Step 4:
Drizzle the milk evenly over the top of the flour. Bake for 1 hour or until golden brown and juices are bubbling around the edges. Enjoy!

Step 4A

Step 4B

I’m thinking about doing some baking posts in which I test out recipes from Pinterest and other blogs. Sometimes the pictures on Pinterest can be misleading and things don’t come out of the oven looking like the picture, so that’s what I’ll set out to discover. If you have any recipes or pictures in mind, let me know in a comment!

Baking

Pillsbury Holiday Cookie Tips

Happy Easter! I know this post is a little late, but I’m adjusting to a new schedule. Next week’s baking post will be at the usual time.

Tips for the perfect Pillsbury holiday cookies

I thought I’d share with you some quick tips to get the most out of those Pillsbury pre-cut holiday cookies. They offer different ones at different times of the year, and this post will be featuring the Easter ones.

  • These cookies can be aligned perfectly in a sort of grid pattern seen below. Space them out evenly on a 12″ circular baking sheet. A dozen should fit on it. If you have two sheets, you can use up the whole box of cookies.

Cookies on sheet

  • Just like with any other cookie, you want these to bake evenly. Follow the trick in this post and rotate and swap your cookie sheets from top to bottom to ensure even baking. I find that 10 minutes is usually enough to bake these cookies, swapping the sheets halfway at 5 minutes.
  • After they’re done baking, wait for the cookies to deflate and flatten. This means they are cool enough to remove from the pan with a spatula. It also means they are ready to devour.

Done cookies

Hope you enjoyed this short little post on making the perfect holiday sugar cookies!

Bonus Blog · Travel

Spring Break: Hawaii

I don’t usually do anything interesting for school breaks, but this spring break one of my friends invited me to go to Hawaii with her. Naturally, I took her up on the invite.

Yellow Hibiscus
I was expecting to see luscious tropical vegetation at every turn, but there was a lot of brown grass like you might see in a desert. I guess this is the volcano’s fault.

There are a lot of things that still don’t make sense to me about Hawaii.

  1. Why isn’t Honolulu on the big island? I’m sure there’s some reason, so if you know it, I’d love to learn something new.
  2. Hawaii is part of the US, yet if you need medical care, you’re probably better off on the mainland. Seriously, why are there not more doctors in Hawaii? Who wouldn’t want to get paid tons of money as a doctor and live in an island paradise? It’s a win-win.
  3. Parts of the big island are pretty much all brown. I understand about the volcanoes and such, but I was kind of surprised when we got there and it was more brown than green. I was expecting green, not a desert.

Now that those are out of the way, let’s get into the details. I did a lot of fun things like look at a volcano (sadly, no lava), boogie board for about five minutes, eat some Hawaiian shave ice, watch a sunset, tan on the beach, tan by a pool, snorkel and look at fish, and whale watching. I also bought a sun hat. (I recommend buying one before leaving because it will be at least $5-$10 cheaper, depending on the hat.) I will spare you all the boring photos I took and simplify it down to the handful of my favorites.

Here are some pretty palm trees by a pretty ocean view. I was very happy with all the green in this area.
Here are some pretty palm trees by a pretty ocean view. I was very happy with all the green in this area. Past the palm trees is a black sand beach. There was a trail to hike down to it, but we weren’t wearing good hiking shoes at the time.
A gorgeous sunset framed in between two trees.
A gorgeous sunset framed in between two trees.
The air coming from these vents was warmer than I expected. If you stuck your hand in one for long enough, it'd probably come out with a burn. The vents also stink like rotten eggs, which is something else you don't get from the picture.
The air coming from these volcanic steam vents was warmer than I expected. If you stuck your hand in one for long enough, it’d probably come out with a burn. The vents also stink like rotten eggs, which is something else you don’t get from the picture. (See how brown it is?)
The beaches around Kona are known to be shark-infested, so the locals leave them to the tourists. We'd been boogie boarding for five minutes before they called everyone out because a shark was sighted. That's how I was able to get a picture of a beach without any swimmers or tourists in it. No sharks in this shot either.
The beaches around Kona are known to be shark-infested, so the locals leave them to the tourists. We’d been boogie boarding for five minutes before they called everyone out because a shark was sighted. That’s how I was able to get a picture of a beach without any swimmers or tourists in it. No sharks in this shot either. 
This is a what a whale looks like when it's breaching. We couldn't get any closer because the waters were getting choppy. It was a wonder I didn't drop my camera in the water.
This is a what a whale looks like when it’s breaching. We couldn’t get any closer because the waters were getting choppy. It was a wonder I didn’t drop my camera in the water.

There you have it. My final verdict is that Hawaii is dangerous. You could burn your hand in a steam vent, get eaten by a shark, drop your camera off the side of a rocking boat, and never want to return to the mainland. I highly recommend going. (I apologize for the lack of tropical fish pictures. Somehow I couldn’t get my camera to work under water. Technical difficulties.)