Bonus Blog · Books and Beverages

Books and Beverages (#3)

I didn’t read as many books this month as I did in March or April. The three books in total came out to about 1,129 pages, so not a bad month reading wise. One was a fantasy, one a murder mystery thriller, and the other a young adult alternative history. Overall, a very diverse month.

Books

The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
“A book with more than 500 pages”
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. Anyway, I really loved this book (meaning The Return of the King). There’s bromance and romance, but it adds to everything and makes you feel happy, and not at all a waste of words. A few times I had to set it down because I was scared of what would happen next, but I needed to know, so I had to keep reading for hope that it would be okay. Surprising twists caught me off guard several times and I was glad I hadn’t seen the movies yet because I think they would have ruined that initial surprise that wasn’t quite the same in film. There was only one loose end that didn’t get tied up, but Tolkien did that on purpose, and leaves it up to the reader’s imagination. Also, I cried at the end of the book. I didn’t find the ending itself to be intensely tear-jerking, but I think I cried mostly due to the fact that it was over. And I didn’t want it to end the way that it did, but it made sense. I think that’s all I can say without spoiling everything if you haven’t read the book or seen the movies. Overall, The Lord of the Rings is one of those books that helped me get through a bit of a rough patch. The best books are those whose meaning goes beyond the pages, and The Lord of the Rings certainly belongs in that category. Tolkien sprinkled little nuggets of wisdom throughout the book that everyone can benefit from reading.

Déjà Dead by Kathy Reichs
“A book based on or turned into a TV show”
This is the first book in the saga surrounding the life and work of forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. They turned this into the TV show Bones, which is just finishing up its tenth season. I like the show better than the book, to be honest. This book reminded me a lot of the show Agent Carter in that the protagonist is a female trying to gain respect in a male-dominated profession. Brennan is convinced there’s a serial killer on the loose, but she doesn’t have enough evidence to convince the Montreal police, which is where the book is set. One scene in the book is a two-page dialogue about saws and how different strokes and types of saws leave certain marks on bones. Another two-page scene, the reader gets an in depth explanation on how Brennan photoshopped a picture to see more clearly a dental impression in a piece of cheese. If you’re really into forensics, you’ll probably find this interesting, but I thought it was a bit out of place in a novel. It does makes sense that Reichs chose to include these lengthy descriptions since she herself is a forensic anthropologist. The book was relatively entertaining, however, and did have a few shocking twists and turns. I also find the title to be very appropriate and clever. Deja Dead makes you think that there is recurring death, which ties in with the serial killer aspect. It translates into “Already Dead,” which ties in with the sad reality that while family and friends were looking for their lost loved ones, they were already dead.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
“A book set in a different country”
I’m pretty sure this is the first alternative history I’ve read. It takes place in England, Austria, and Switzerland at the beginning of World War I. It follows two characters, Alek and Deryn. Alek is Archduke Ferdinand’s son who flees his home after his parents are assassinated. Deryn is a girl who disguises herself as a boy to join the British navy. Anyone allied with Germany is called a “Clanker,” referring to their prowess with machinery and mechanical engineering. They have created large war machines that walk on two legs. The British, on the other hand, are called Darwinists for their prowess with biological engineering and creating living, flying war beasts that are their own ecosystems. The sequence of historical events is the same as occurred in real life, but the weapons are far more advanced than even anything that is now considered modern. It seemed to me that this book was more like the first half of a book as opposed to a whole book. It just felt really short.

Beverages

Tazo Organic Baked Cinnamon Apple Rooibos Tea
I don’t think I’ve ever had an organic tea before, and this one is delicious. The rooibos gives it a vanilla-y taste, so it’s like you’re drinking liquid apple pie a la mode. It pairs nicely with a good book.

Crystal Light Lemonade Mix
Lately it’s been pretty warm, so I’ve turned to lemonade to quench my thirst. This stuff really hits the spot and is less than 10 calories per packet. It’s great having a deliciously flavored beverage that you don’t feel guilty about afterward. And you don’t have to make gallons of it at a time like other lemonade mixes. It’s great on sunny days spent outside reading a good book.

I don’t know about you, but May went by really fast. In only two days it’ll be June already. If you’re curious to see what I’m currently reading, check out the sidebar and/or friend me on Goodreads. Also, follow me or come back on June 27 for the next Books and Beverages post!

Baking

Strawberry Pie

Last week, there was going to be a post on butterscotch fudge. It didn’t turn out like I expected and I didn’t want to post a recipe that wasn’t great. This week’s recipe, however, turned out amazingly.

Easy Strawberry Pie

This recipe is very simple and is great for summer. The only baking involved is with the pie crust; the filling doesn’t get baked in the oven, so it won’t heat up your house too much. It will need to cool in the fridge for a while, so the time spent compared with baking a pie is about the same. It’s also very delicious, and who doesn’t love pie?

You Will Need:

  • Pie crust
  • 4 cups of sliced strawberries (~2 lbs)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1-1/4 cup (10 oz) 7-Up or Sprite
  • 3 Tbsp corn starch
  • Red food coloring
  • Whipped cream of your choice

Step 1: For baking your crust, follow the directions on the package or the recipe for baking an empty pie crust.

Step 2: In a medium sauce pan, combine the sugar, 7-Up (or Sprite), and corn starch. Whisk until well blended. Over medium-high heat, cook the mixture until it becomes gel-like (see photo below). Add a few drops of red food coloring until desired color is met. Remove from heat and let cool.

Step 2A Step 2B

Step 3: Place the sliced strawberries in the baked pie crust and add the gelatinous glaze, being careful not to spill any over the sides. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours. Slice and top with whipped cream or Cool Whip. Makes about 8 servings.

Step 3

Nutrition Info:
Serving Size:
1/8 of pie (w/o whipped cream)
Calories: 206
Fat:
5 g
Saturated: 1.5 g
Trans: 0 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Sodium: 34.7 mg
Carbs: 41.7 g
Fiber: 0 g
Sugar: 29 g
Protein: 1 g
Vitamin A: 0%
Vitamin C: 0.7%
Calcium: 0%
Iron: 4%

Bonus Blog

Why Selling Jewelry on Etsy is Hard

Etsy has been in the news a lot lately, so I thought I’d jump on this bandwagon and offer my two cents. If you aren’t familiar with Etsy, it is a large online marketplace for people to buy and sell handmade and vintage goods. I was once a seller and struggled to sell anything. From the six months my store was up, I learned a lot about Etsy and other sellers. Here’s a few of the things that I picked up.

  • Etsy’s jewelry market is heavily saturated. It’s difficult for customers to find your bracelet out of thousands, and given that there are so many to choose from, odds are yours won’t be purchased. There’s also a lot of shops out there claiming their jewelry is handmade when it clearly isn’t and the exact same item is in another shop as well. (Here’s a necklace in one shop, and another shop is selling an exact replica.)
  • There are a lot of counterfeiters on the site. I consider counterfeiting to cover a range of unfair practices. Claiming your goods are handmade when they’re actually mass manufactured. Using copyrighted or trademarked images or names (TV shows, movies, sports teams, etc.). Other sellers do it all the time, but that doesn’t give you permission to do so. Come up with some creative innuendo that won’t get you in trouble.
  • It takes a long time to gain momentum. If you want to jump-start your success, open up shop a couple months before the big holiday buying season. Hopefully before it comes around you’ll have made some sales and gotten some good reviews. Then when site traffic is up for the holidays, potential buyers will see your store and the good reviews and be more inclined to make a purchase. Treat your customers nice and they may turn into repeat customers. Remember that you probably won’t become an overnight success, but keep at it.
  • Most customers are looking for custom made-to-order. When someone buys something on Etsy, they’re okay with the fact that it might take a little more time for their item to be shipped. It’s worth the wait to have something unique made. This is why a lot of the successful jewelry shops offer different color and size options.

Selling jewelry online can be tough, but it can also be very rewarding. While Etsy is big and brings in more traffic than other online handmade marketplaces, its size makes it harder to crack down on counterfeiters and easier for new shops to get lost in all the noise. Note that these were only a few of the reasons that I decided to stop selling on Etsy. There were some other things that made it difficult and I wasn’t willing to take the time or effort to work them out.

Amazon has recently announced that they’re going to get into the online handmade business. I’m very interested in seeing how it compares with Etsy in terms of listing and commission fees, but I probably wouldn’t open up shop until it’s been around a few months. That way they can work out all the kinks.

Jewelry

Supernatural Charm Bracelet

If you’re a fan or spend any time on Twitter or Tumblr, then you most likely know that tomorrow is the season 10 finale of Supernatural. I’m going to be completely honest with you and say that I haven’t watched a wink of season 10 and don’t intend to catch up, but I know the basic gist of the plot (thanks, Twitter). At this point, if you want to know why I quit watching, then read on. If you don’t care why I quit watching, then you can scroll past this next paragraph.

I don’t get why Supernatural is getting more hype, even though (to me) the show seems to be losing quality. Seasons 1-5 were spectacular and the story arc was well planned. Then the creator, Eric Kripke, left the show to start Revolution and the plot line went to purgatory (literally). The plot line of seasons 6-10 makes little sense compared with that of 1-5. It’s all over the place and frankly is becoming very predictable. After the season 9 finale, I accurately predicted what would happen in the beginning of season 10. I knew what was going to happen, so there was absolutely no suspense. And any threat of one of the main characters getting killed of is an empty one. It would have been great to end the show on a high note after season 5, but it’s been dragged out another 5, soon to be 6. I’m still a fan of the show, just not of anything after season 5.

This bracelet has a total of 6 pweter charms and red and black accent beads.
This bracelet has a total of 6 pewter charms and red and black glass accent beads.

If you’re looking for something to augment your fan experience, you might consider making a charm bracelet. Similar to my Game of Thrones charm bracelet, this one is balanced between charms and beads. I don’t like bracelets that are made of only charms without anything to break the monotony. I imagine those bracelets would be heavy and also noisy, like wind chimes every time you moved your arm. That’s why I like to add in some colorful accent beads. Like their charm counterparts, the accent beads represent something in the show, and also complement the charms.

Supernatural Charm Bracelet - left side
The left end of the bracelet. The charms shown in close up from left to right are: a slice of pie (for the countless times Dean eats it) and a baseball cap (for Bobby).

For the Supernatural bracelet I decided to use red and black accent beads. If you know about the show, then you know it’s pretty gory, so that’s why I chose red. The black comes from the color of the “demon smoke” and it’s also a color strongly associated with monsters. The different shapes and sizes of the beads add interest.

This picture shows the other 4 charms in close-up. From left to right they are a pistol (for the Colt), a pentagram (for obvious reasons), a sword (for the angel blades), and a wing (for Castiel).
This picture shows the other 4 charms in close-up. From left to right they are: a pistol (for the Colt), a pentagram (for obvious reasons), a sword (for the angel blades), and a wing (for Castiel).

I struggled a bit to find charms for this one and was unable to find a salt shaker charm. In the show, salt wards off ghosts and other spirits like demons. All things considered, I think I did a pretty good job in finding meaningful charms.

Anyway, if you’re planning to watch the finale tomorrow, I hope you enjoy it!

Baking

Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Happy Chocolate Chip Day! There are many uses for chocolate chips, the most obvious being chocolate chip cookies. I thought I would make this recipe more grown up by using dark chocolate chunks instead of the usual semi-sweet chips. This recipe comes from the Mrs. Fields Cookie Book and is called “Blue-Ribbon Chocolate Chip Cookies,” but for this post I cut the original recipe in half.

Happy Chocolate Chip Day!
Happy Chocolate Chip Day!

You Will Need:

  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (6 oz.) dark chocolate chunks (I used 65% cacao chunks.)

Step 1: Preheat oven to 300° F. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Step 2: To soften butter, microwave at half power for about 1 minute. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugars until creamy, scraping the sides to ensure it’s well incorporated. Add the egg and vanilla, scraping the sides again.

Step 2A
Creamed butter and sugars.
Step 2B
Egg and vanilla added.

Step 3: On a low speed, slowly add in the flour mixture until well incorporated. You will probably have to scrape the sides of the bowl again.

Step 4: Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the chocolate chunks. If you wish to use your hands for this, make sure they’re wet. This will prevent the dough from sticking to them.

Step 4

Step 5: Drop by rounded tablespoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Place them about 2 inches apart since they’ll spread out while baking. Bake 22-24 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. Makes about two dozen cookies. For best results, eat immediately with a glass of milk.

Step 6
Cookies fresh from the oven.

If you’re looking for another chocolate chip recipe, check out my Oatmeal Scotchies post. You can easily substitute the butterscotch chips with regular chocolate chips.

Nutrition Facts:
Serving Size: 1 cookie (recipe makes about 24)
Calories: 115
Fat: 6.3 g
Saturated: 3.8 g
Trans: 0 g
Cholesterol: 17.7 mg
Sodium: 15.3 mg
Carbs: 14.8 g
Fiber: 1.1 g
Sugars: 8.9 g
Protein: 1.3 g
Vitamin A: 2.9%
Vitamin C: 0%
Calcium: 0%
Iron:
5.0%

Jewelry

Prom Jewelry

Since it’s getting close to prom season, I thought it’d be a good idea to write a short post on prom jewelry. Prom jewelry doesn’t have to be used for just prom. You can wear it for date nights and other formal occasions. You can also cut down on some of the prom night costs by making your own jewelry. Custom making it yourself also ensures that it’s exactly what you want, and the right color to match your dress. I hope these next few pieces give you ideas for your own prom jewelry.

Black and White Bracelet and Earring Set

Black and White Bracelet and Earrings Set

I originally made these as a birthday gift for someone. I found the design in a jewelry book called Earrings, Earrings, Earrings! by Barb Switzer. The book has all kinds of earring designs in it, as well as a few other jewelry set designs. Anyways, the recipient of this set loved it, and I wish it was my own idea. It would go well with dresses with black or silver accents, and with countless date night outfits. This really is a versatile design and you can choose the price of the beads if you want it to be more or less expensive.

Swarovski Purple Pearl Panache Necklace

Photo by ArtBeads.com.

This necklace would most likely go well with dark colored dresses. The title of the photo is a link to the tutorial, and you can purchase kits that offer other colors such as green, gold, and silver. Or you could substitute for many different colors if you love the design and want it to match your dress or outfit. This necklace design is simplistic and elegant, making it versatile for a variety of other occasions.

Dinner Then Dancing Earrings

Photo by ArtBeads.com.

The title of this picture is also a link to the tutorial. In three words the title sums up prom night perfectly, and these earrings definitely scream “prom”. They don’t look too heavy, and they’re very classy. These are a little more complicated to make since they require epoxy clay, but the end result seems well worth it. Either of these designs could go with a variety of dresses or outfits.

I hope these pieces gave you some ideas for your own prom/formal occasion jewelry. I only chose two of the many designs on Artbeads’ Learning Center, which is a great place to look for free inspiration and tutorials. It’s also where I learned a lot of the basics of jewelry making.

Baking

Lemon Mochi

On the back of the box of Mochiko sweet rice flour, there’s a recipe for chocolate mochi. Long ago, in my high school Japanese class I made a video with some classmates on how to make the chocolate mochi. It was pretty much all in Japanese. But have no fear, because this post will be in English. I wish I could say that I’m so fluent in Japanese, I can write a whole blog post, but that’s not the case. Anyway, I felt that the chocolate mochi recipe could be expanded to a bunch of different flavors. Instead of cocoa powder, as the recipe on the back calls for, I decided to try it with lemon extract. Here is the result.

Lemon Mochi Squares

You Will Need:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tsp lemon extract
  • 3-5 drops of yellow food coloring
  • 1 box of Mochiko rice flour (16 oz)
  • 3 cups of water
  • Lots of corn starch

Step 1: In a saucepan, combine sugar and 1 cup water. Dissolve sugar over medium heat, stirring often. When sugar is dissolved, add lemon extract and food coloring. Keep warm over low heat.Step 1Step 1B

Step 2: In large microwave-safe bowl, combine the flour and 3 cups water. Stir until well incorporated. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the top of the bowl and microwave on high 5 minutes.

Step 2

Step 3: Remove bowl carefully, as it will be hot. Remove plastic wrap and stir the mochi well. It should be starting to get sticky. Replace the plastic wrap and microwave on high another 5 minutes. Step 3

Step 4: While the mochi is cooking, coat a glass baking dish with corn starch to prevent the mochi from sticking.

Step 4

Step 5: Remove mochi from microwave, being careful when removing the plastic wrap to avoid steam burns. Stir it again and pour the sugar water in the dish. Mix until well incorporated.

Step 6A
Start by folding the mochi over the sugar mixture until it looks like this. Now you can stir normally without splashing sugar water everywhere.
Step 5B
This is what it will look like when well incorporated.

Step 6: This is probably the most difficult step. Carefully pour the warm mochi into the baking dish. (It’s easier said than done. You may want to get someone to help with this step.)

Step 6
The warmer the mochi, the easier it is to pour.

Step 7: Coat the top of the mochi with more corn starch and let cool. When cooled, cut into squares and coat the squares with corn starch. Brush off any excess starch with a basting brush. Enjoy!

Step 7

This is also Mochi. As much as he begs, he probably shouldn't eat mochi. (Cannibalism?)
This is also Mochi. As much as he begs, he probably shouldn’t eat mochi. (Cannibalism?)

Sorry this post was late. Usually, my jewelry posts appear on Tuesdays at 5 pm PT / 8 pm ET. Baking posts like this one are supposed to appear on Fridays at 4 pm PT / 7 pm ET. I also have a monthly blog series called Books and Beverages which appears on the last Saturday of every month at 2 pm PT / 5 pm ET. This info can also be found on the About page. Since you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading!