Books and Beverages

Books and Beverages (#17)

At the time of my writing this, I’ve read eight books since my last Books and Beverages post. So it would seem as though I have been too busy reading to actually sit down and write my thoughts about what I’ve read. However, eight books seems a little daunting for me to write all at once so this post will contain only four. The remaining four will appear in #18 next week.

Books

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

25667918This was a really short read, but it packed a lot into a small package and its message is certainly relevant in this political climate. Binti is the first of her people, the Himba, to be accepted into the galaxy’s most prestigious university, Oomza Univeristy. Going there means that she will have to leave her family, culture, and everything she’s ever known behind. But on her way there, the ship carrying her and other students is attacked by an alien race called the Meduse, who hold a grudge against the university. Binti must learn to get along with the Meduse in order to make it to the university alive.

The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan

26596236This takes place after the events in The Heroes of Olympus series. Zeus has punished Apollo for his role in the near-destruction of the world and the disappearance of the Oracle of Delphi. Apollo finds himself as a mortal teenage boy without a shred of his godly powers or good looks. A young demi god named Meg finds him and claims his service. Together, they go to Camp Half-Blood to figure out how to restore the Oracle of Delphi. Apollo soon finds out that the disappearance of the Oracle is part of an even worse problem, and Meg may be able to help him fix it. I’d recommend this book if you like anything by Rick Riordan and if you’re into Greek mythology.

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

18112981This is one of those books that’s hard to read before you see the movie. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the movie follows the book pretty closely. A wealthy old man who’s fond of dinosaurs decides to open an amusement park featuring real dinosaurs brought back via genetic engineering. The park is about to open, and he calls in a mathematician and two archaeologists to critique the park. He also invites his grandchildren because the target audience of this park is children. They’ve taken precautions to ensure the dinosaurs can’t breed or survive off the island where the park is located. But they can’t plan for everything. All hell breaks loose when the park’s power shuts off and the dinosaurs are no longer contained by the electric fences. If you like dinosaurs, the movie, or suspense, then this is the book for you!

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

16793Wall is a town named for its large wall separating it from Faerie. Every nine years, the town opens the gate in the wall for a festival where all manner of creatures from Faerie come to sell their goods and services. When young Tristran Thorne spots a star fall beyond the wall, he promises to retrieve it to win the heart of Victoria, the most beautiful girl in Wall. Tristran soon finds out that nothing is what he expected in Faerie, not even a fallen star. And fallen stars are coveted by more than just him. This is another pretty quick read and a coming-of-age story that I enjoyed.

Beverages

Berry Prickly Pear Frappuccino

Starbucks keeps coming out with new Frappuccinos and I keep trying them and getting disappointed. It seems I haven’t learned, or perhaps I’m just very hopeful that the next one will actually be good. Anyway, I tried the new berry prickly pear one and frankly, it just tasted like milk blended with ice and some fruity swirl added in there to give it some flavor, but not enough. If there was a better milk to fruit ratio, it’d have been much better, but then I suppose that would make it a smoothie.

Cranberry Orange Juice

When my roommate moved out, she left behind a can of orange juice concentrate and a partially used bottle of cranberry juice. So I made a fruit juice combination with them and it turned out great. It’s a good way to get your daily dose of vitamins and sugar! Or if you’re not into vitamins, you can turn it into a Madras cocktail by adding vodka. Or turn it into a punch by adding more sugar some Sprite or 7UP!

 

 

Jewelry

The Etsy Test

 

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Swarovski Pearl Bar Necklaces

 

Since I opened my first shop on Etsy in 2014, I’ve been trying to figure out what the “secret” is. The secret to making sales and keep them coming in. After three and a half years I’ve finally come to the conclusion that there is no secret trick that will magically make my shop take off over night. There is only hard work.

Etsy is a huge marketplace for handmade and vintage goods and craft supplies. As of December 31, 2016, there were 1.7 million active sellers vying for the business of 26.6 million buyers, according to their annual report. As of July 2017, there are over 45 million items for sale on Etsy, nearly 9 million of them in the jewelry category alone.

Competition on Etsy is fierce, and if you are not actively making your shop stand out from the nearly 2 million others, you will be lost in the noise. But making your shop stand out is easier said than done and will no doubt require lots of hard work.

I came up with the Etsy Test to see just what a little elbow grease will do for my shop. I’ve made a plan to steadily add items to my shop through October before the holiday shopping really begins. And while I’m doing that, I’ll be updating my current listings from their photos to the titles, tags, and descriptions. I haven’t devised one yet, but I’m also planning on making some sort of promo campaign, most likely on Instagram and Facebook. But I think I’ll focus on that after I get 100 items in my shop in October.

I’ll be monitoring my shop’s progress and I’ll be posting updates on this blog for anyone interested. To be somewhat scientific with this test, we need to compare it to how my shop was before. I’ll be comparing July-October of this year to the first half of 2017 and November and December to the same months in 2016 to account for the holiday shopping season.

The first half of 2017, I sold only three items. I had roughly 30-60 items in my shop and had an average of about 75 visits and 120 views per month. During the 2016 holiday season (November and December), I sold five items, had about 220 visits and 380 views in total during the two months. I don’t remember exactly how many items were in my shop, but it was probably somewhere around 40-50 if I had to guess.

I’m curious to see how drastic the change will be, but I suspect it will not be that drastic. After all, 100 items will represent only about 0.001% of the jewelry market on Etsy. May the odds be ever in my favor.

Baking

Baked Panko Chicken Nuggets

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I’ve been making this recipe for years so I can attest that it’s simple, easy, and – most of all – delicious. It’s pretty versatile too! You could pair it with rice, pasta, or even french fries. But most importantly, you can dip your nuggets in copious amounts of Chick-fil-A sauce! (Chick-fil-A sauce is probably at least half the reason I go there, so…) However you choose to serve your nuggets, they’re sure to please the palettes of young and old alike.

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It’s been so long that I actually looked at an actual recipe for this that I can’t remember where exactly I adapted it from. I do recall though that someone’s mom once brought panko chicken strips to a party in my high school Japanese class and they were so good! Back then I didn’t know what I was eating, but I asked the kid who brought it and started on my quest to learn how to make chicken taste so good.

I think the “secret” ingredient is the finely grated parmesan cheese that you mix in with the bread crumbs. It gives the chicken a wonderfully salty and sharply cheesy flavor that has you going back for seconds. The butter probably has something to do with it too, giving a nice rich flavor, but not too greasy since it soaks into the bread crumbs.

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Anyway, my method involves only one round of breading the chicken nuggets because I do not have the patience to do an egg wash or anything like that. (Nor do I have the patience to wash more dishes that the egg wash would inevitably dirty up.) The crumbs still stick to the chicken well enough, so I haven’t had any problems on that front, at least.

First I cut up the butter into little chunks, then I lay them out on a pan and stick them in the oven while it preheats. While that’s melting I usually mix up the bread crumbs in a bowl or gallon-size bag and cut the chicken into nugget-sized pieces. I take the pan out of the oven with the melted butter before it burns. Then, I start breading the chicken and laying it in the buttery pan. The nuggets go in the oven and I flip them halfway through to ensure they’re golden brown on both sides.

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Panko Chicken Nuggets

Ingredients

  • 4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1 – 2 lbs of chicken
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Cut the butter into small chunks and spread them out on a 13 x 9-inch pan. Place the pan in the oven so the butter can melt while the oven preheats.
  2. Cut chicken into nugget-sized pieces (about 1 – 2-inch cubes.) Combine the bread crumbs and cheese in a bowl or gallon-size bag. (Check on your melting butter occasionally so that it doesn’t burn.)
  3. Take the melted butter out of the oven. Coat the chicken in the breadcrumb mixture, and place the nuggets in the pan.
  4. Place the pan back in the oven for 8-12 minutes. (If you are using a metal pan, it will be closer to 8 minutes. If you are using a glass pan, it will be closer to 12 minutes.) Flip the nuggets over and bake for another 8-12 minutes until golden brown and the meat is no longer pink on the inside.
  5. Serve with your choice of sides to make it a meal. Enjoy!
Jewelry

Hobby, business, or somewhere in between?

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With creative entrepreneurialism on the rise, stories of people quitting their day jobs and turning their hobbies into successful full-time businesses are becoming more common. While these stories of triumph over the corporate cubicle lifestyle are refreshing and hopeful, I think they can lead to confusion as well. At least, it did for me, and I’m sure I can’t be the only one.

For the longest time, I’ve had the impression that my hobby needed to become a business. I figured that was the natural course of things and something I should prepare for after opening an Etsy shop. I thought that someday my “business” would outgrow Etsy and I’d get my own website. I’d have plenty of sales to pay for that website, my materials and other expenses, and even have some for myself to satiate my Starbucks addiction.

A couple weeks ago I discovered a podcast called Create and Thrive. Jess Van Den, the creator and handmade jewelry business owner, started the podcast to help other creative entrepreneurs succeed. I forget what episode she mentions it in, but she describes how she and her husband do not want to hire employees because they’re content with their current business model. It took me awhile to really grasp this, but once I did, it was a huge reality check.

If you are wondering whether you should grow your hobby into a business, be honest with yourself. Consider why you have this creative hobby in the first place. Ask yourself if you have the resources (time, money, energy) to become a business.

Given my current circumstances (read: engineering school), a full-time business run by only me is a pipe dream. I have every intention to graduate college, hopefully with decent grades, so that means I am a full-time student. I simply don’t have the time to transform Bejewel the Nation into a business.

So my next question was if having a hobby would be worthwhile. Even though a hobby will not make as many sales as a business, I realized this was okay for me. I have another part-time job on campus so I can afford it to be just a hobby. And given all my engineering and math classes, I need some sort of creative artsy outlet.

It’s okay to decide to keep it a hobby, or even somewhere in between. I’m content with Bejewel the Nation being a sort of hobby-business hybrid and I like to think of it as a side dish to my college education. I still learn something, and it provides a break from the entree so I don’t get tired of it. I consider it to be a hybrid because I’d still like to turn a profit from it, but I understand it probably won’t be a particularly large profit since I’m not investing enough in it for that, which is okay.

If you decide to continue your creative endeavor as a hobby, just remember to keep it in perspective. Read any articles on growing a creative business carefully and consider which pieces of advice truly apply to you. Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you need to grow your hobby into a full-time business if it’s not practical for you to do so.

Baking

Snickerdoodles

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I was really craving some snickerdoodles the other day, and I was pleased to discover I had all but one ingredient to make them. That one ingredient was cream of tartar. At the time, I had no idea why I needed it, but it seemed like something I shouldn’t leave out. As I was munching on my freshly baked cookies, I did some research. 

I learned that cream of tartar (tartaric acid) is what separates snickerdoodles from sugar cookies. Being an acid, it reacts with another ingredient, baking soda, which is a base. You’re probably familiar with how baking soda reacts with vinegar, another type of acid, so you probably know that the two form carbon dioxide gas.

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The carbon dioxide bubbles that form from the cream of tartar and baking soda is what makes snickerdoodles so light and airy. The acidity is also what gives snickerdoodles their classic tang. Unlike sugar cookies, snickerdoodles have no vanilla since that would interfere with the tangy flavor.

I found the following recipe from Betty Crocker. I didn’t change any ingredients, but I did change some of the directions. I also cut the recipe in half and found that half makes about 20 cookies. I suspect it’s not quite two dozen because I kept eating the dough, but it was worth it.

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Snickerdoodles

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup sugar (for the coating)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (for the coating)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon for the coating. Set aside.
  4. With an electric mixer, combine butter, shortening, and 1 1/2 cups sugar until well incorporated. Add in the eggs. Once that is all combined, start slowly adding in the flour mixture until a dough just begins to form. Try not to overwork the dough.
  5. Roll dough into 1 1/4 inch balls. Roll balls in the cinnamon sugar and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.
  6. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until set. Allow the cookies to cool slightly before devouring.

Tip: If you overbake your cookies, they make for excellent dunkers, especially in hot chocolate.

Got leftover cinnamon sugar? Sprinkle it on toast, or use it to make cinnamon sugar popcorn!

Books and Beverages

Books and Beverages (#16)

Since the previous B&B, I’ve started two series, finished another, and continued another. I had a good mix of sci-fi, fantasy, mystery/thriller, and humor. I read about female computer hackers, female assassins, and teaching Neanderthals how to play Scrabble. All the while I enjoyed a secret Frappuccino and discovered a new favorite tea.

Books

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

24390078I read this as an e-book and let me begin by saying that you should definitely read a physical copy instead. This is the first book of The Illuminae Files, and by “files” that means each chapter in the book is some sort of record or email or transcribed audio file of the events. It’s quite different and rather refreshing, but some of the files have small font that my e-book could only enlarge so much. I think I missed out on some of the experience of this book, which is why I advise a physical copy.

It’s a sci-fi novel which takes place in the year 2575. The main characters, Kady and Ezra, have recently broken off their relationship and are not on the best of terms when a megacorporation attacks their planet. They flee with the other survivors on ships, but soon a deadly virus begins mutating and turning passengers into zombie-like creatures. Then the AI controlling the ship starts to go haywire. Kady starts hacking through the ships’ databases to figure out what’s going on and realizes that Ezra might be able to shed some light on things.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

6892870This is the final book of Millenium, and it starts off pretty much immediately after the events of the previous book, The Girl Who Played With Fire. It’s hard to say much without spoiling anything, so I’ll stick mostly to what’s on the book jacket. This novel delves more into the government conspiracy as journalist Mikael Blomkvist continues to dig into Lisbeth Salander’s past. As soon as Lisbeth gets released from the hospital, she’ll be expected to go on trial for three murders she didn’t commit. And she’ll also need to go on trial as a witness for the things Mikael discovered. We learn more about this mysterious man Zala and the conspiracy surrounding him. There is plenty of suspense that will keep you flipping pages.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

23599075It had been awhile since I’d read fantasy, and so I went out in search of a fantasy novel on my to-read list. Several weren’t available to check out on e-book from the library, but Throne of Glass was. It definitely satisfied my fantasy craving. Celaena Sardothien is slaving away in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes when the Crown Prince Dorian comes to fetch her. He offers her freedom, but she must come with him to participate in a competition to become the king’s royal assassin. If she wins, she’ll serve a few years of service after which she will be freed. During the months-long competition, the prince starts showing an interest in her and so does her trainer, Chaol, who is captain of the royal guard and Dorian’s best friend. But soon, Celaena has other problems – competitors start showing up dead. Celaena starts investigating, trying to figure out who the killer is, only to learn a dark secret and realize her true destiny.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

6064941This semester has been really tough, and a bit of humor helped to lift my spirits. This is the second book in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and it was just as absurd and full of improbable events as the first. Zaphod Beeblebrox, Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Trillian, and Marvin the depressed android are on their way to Milliways, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, when they’re attacked by the Vogons. They escape and Zaphod finds himself on a search for a man named Zarniwoop, who insists they must find the ruler of the universe. Well, Zaphod isn’t interested in the ruler of the universe, but rather in finding something to eat, and so they escape from Zarniwoop and go to the nearest restaurant. After their meal, Zaphod decides he wants a new spaceship, so they steal one from the parking lot. You can bet that some more absurd adventures ensue after that, but I think that’s all I can say without giving too much away.

Beverages

Twix Frappuccino

While everyone freaks out about the Unicorn Frappuccino, I decided to try a secret menu item – the Twix Frappuccino. You probably guessed it’s inspired by the candy bar. It’s a caramel Frappuccino with hazelnut syrup, java chips, caramel drizzle down the sides and topped with whipped cream and more caramel sauce and mocha sauce on top. It’s not too sweet, nor does it taste like sour milk. (And the best part is you don’t have to worry if it’s made with unicorn blood!)

Good Earth Sweet and Spicy Tea

This is some good tea, man. It reminds me a lot of the Pike Place Market Spice tea, but the Good Earth tea is caffeine free. And every tea bag tag has a little inspirational quote on it, which is cute! Basically, it tastes just as its name suggests, it’s sweet, not bitter, and it’s got some spice in it that smells wonderful!

Bonus Blog

Eowyn Challenge Update

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

I made it to Rivendell! And I met my goal to get there by the end of 2016. The next leg of the journey will take me to Lothlorien, and I’m planning on traveling those 462 miles by the end of 2017. I’m already 120 miles there!

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This view took my breath away! (Or was that from running up the hill to see it?)

If you’re not familiar with the Eowyn Challenge, it was created over a decade ago around the time when the LOTR trilogy was in theaters. Essentially, it’s meant to motivate people to get out and exercise in some form that can be tracked by distance (i.e. running, walking, hiking, biking, swimming).

Last year, I hardly did any running, but I still made it to Rivendell with a few days to spare. I accumulated a lot of miles by just walking around campus going to class. This year I’ve already done more running than I did in all of 2016! Fingers crossed that I might make it to Lothlorien well before December 31.

I’m trying to take running a little less seriously than I did last year because I think that was the majority of the problem. Last year I kept trying to increase mileage and quickly came to the conclusion that I simply didn’t have time to run. This year, I’m trying to tell myself that even if I get out there and run for 15-20 minutes, it’s better than not running at all. And let’s be real, starting out with 15-20 minutes every few days sounds a lot more manageable than starting with 5-6 miles a week.

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And to reiterate Bilbo’s advice, it is a dangerous business. Especially when you realize that Starbucks isn’t that far away and the idea of a literal Starbucks run pops into your head. Let me tell you if you can end your run with Starbucks, you will be amazed at how fast you can run. I do believe this will be quite dangerous for my wallet.