I RETURN — WHOOSH!

I’m still alive! No need to panic!

I realize I haven’t posted in, like, two months, and that’s pretty sucky of me. To be honest, I haven’t been in the biggest mood to blog, and I don’t think I need to be preachy about it. We all get tired of blogging sometimes, and I’ve been productive in other ways.

BUT I STILL LOVE YOU ALL. (To prove it, cute cat pics ahead!)

As you probably know, I’m a writer by day, so I work on lots of articles (both online and print — exciting!) all the time. You can always check up on the things I’m churning out here. And for fear of spoiling my progress with this, I’ve actually been chipping away at the old novel, which feels … so old by now.

Not surprisingly, in my absence I’ve gotten behind on book reviews. By now, it’s so late that I’ve probably forgotten everything I wanted to say about them, so I may or may not do reviews. But the books I’ve read include two Raymond Carver short story collections and The Girl Who Would Be King. Maybe I’ll do a roundup or something. Would that be cool?

I’ve also been playing (and dammit, COMPLETING) lots of video games in my spare time, which is kind of my job, but I don’t always get to do it without writing involved. Things are going super well right now. Some good prospects are lining up. And I’m doing something really, really fun and secret (for now) with three other girls, and I CAN’T WAIT to see it published.

Life news: I may be moving to Philadelphia, which is kind of no fun. My boyfriend and I don’t want to leave Pittsburgh, but, alas — school stuff. I can go anywhere with my work, but we have two cats now* and everybody we know is here, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we can stay put.

Sammy and Merlin 1
This actually was a thing that happened.

Other than that, I finished Breaking Bad, which makes me incredibly sad only because it’s the Best Show Ever Made, and Nothing Will Ever Be As Good Again (sighs).

I’m still on my quest to become the Ultimate Cooking Master, which this winter has involved making the hell out of some awesome chilis and soups and using my crock pot more and trying not to make everything with chicken, because god I eat a lot of chicken, and I should probably diversify.

I am stupidly busy this month, and that’s always my fault (more assignments = more money, yay!), but I will share a couple cool links:

There’s a new app that will let you read novels in under 90 minutes thanks to wearable technology. THE FUTURE IS NOW.

Don’t panic: You can play The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s 30 years old and new again. GO!

So, what’s going on in the book/writing world that I should know about? What adventures have you gotten into? Deets, please!

Sammy and Merlin 2
Sammy (left) and Merlin (right).

*Our newest kitty, Sammy, only has three feet. He was born that way, ALL RIGHT?!

Awesome book cover Friday: Company of Liars

Why not start this Friday off with panic and disease?

By checking out this cover of Company of Liars: A Novel of the Plague by Karen Maitland, I mean.

Company of Liars

Here’s a description:

The year is 1348, and the first plague victim has reached English shores. Panic erupts around the country, and a small band of travelers comes together to outrun the deadly disease, unaware that something far more deadly is — in fact — traveling with them. The ill-assorted company — a scarred trader in holy relics, a conjurer, two musicians, a healer, and a deformed storyteller — are all concealing secrets and lies. And at their heart is the strange, cold child — Narigorm -—who reads the runes. But as law and order breaks down across the country and the battle for survival becomes ever more fierce, Narigorm mercilessly compels each of her fellow travelers to reveal the truth, and each in turn is driven to a cruel and unnatural death.

I absolutely love the detail and attention to design in this cover. It’s very symbolic, and it looks old-timey in an England way. Plus, the book sounds awesome. What do you think?

I hope you all have a great weekend! I’m heading to a friend’s potluck tonight and then rewatching Judge Dredd on Sunday. Making delicious, delicious spinach and artichoke dip, too, and I printed out a recipe for a peanut butter “cheese ball” because YUM. ;) And playing lots and lots of games because I took on too many reviews as I’m clearly nuts.

Also, our furnace broke in the apartment, so we’re getting that fixed. :( It’s been 10 degrees outside, but fortunately, we’re not freezing to death because at least some hot air is getting through.

What are your plans for the weekend? Enjoy!

Homemade pizza might surprise you

I admit. I’ve always been skeptical of homemade pizza. I know the pounds of grease dripping off pies from restaurants and even grocery store frozen food sections are bad for you, but somehow they always added to the taste. Gross, I know.

On a whim this past weekend, my boyfriend and I decided we wanted to make our own—hold the grease, please. So I whipped out my pizza issue of Bon Appetit (thanks, Sarah!) and read about the basics of homemade pizza-making. We didn’t have the time (or desire) to bake our own dough, but we did learn a little thing about cheeses: Pick two soft—mozzarella, stracciatella, ricotta, Robiola, etc.—and one hard, like Parmesan. As for toppings, variety matters.

To save money, we chose only one soft (mozzarella) and settled on Parmesan for our hard cheese. We selected the best pre-packaged pizza crust we could find (about $6—not cheap!) and bought a quarter pound of pepperoni from the deli (it was less expensive and more practical that way). We picked out Classico traditional pizza sauce, a smart decision, and used what we had sitting in the fridge for additional toppings.

We laid down the crust, added the entire small jar of sauce (leaving a border for the crust), mixed a generous amount of shredded mozzarella and Parmesan together, and added chopped pepperoni slices at will. We then broke up pieces of mushroom, cut up bacon (about 4-5 half slices) and ham (1-2 pieces of ham off the bone from the deli), and finally sprinkled a little more Parmesan on top to pack it all in.

All ovens are different, but we set ours on 410 degrees for 16 minutes. The result? Let’s just say I have a new all-time favorite.

A hearty snack: spring vegetable and goat cheese dip

Yesterday I made a great appetizer: spring vegetable and goat cheese dip. I forgot to snap a picture (not that my dish came out quite as presentable as the one in Bon Appétit Magazine), but you can find the recipe online.

Here’s a quick rundown of my experience making the dip:

Since I’m slow, I didn’t bother preheating the oven until I was most of the way through mixing the ingredients. Like the recipe advises, I started by preparing the 3/4″ asparagus pieces. Then I focused on everything else. I couldn’t find mild white cheddar cheese at the grocery store, so I substituted monterey jack. The only other ingredients I left out were the peas, mint, and parsley. I think peas are gross, and others seemed too minor to justify spending extra money on.

My changes didn’t make much difference—the dip was absolutely delicious, although it didn’t turn out as golden-brown as I would have liked and the remaining goat cheese (sprinkled on top before putting the dip in the oven) didn’t melt very well even after 20 minutes.

I made this dip for four people and served it with pieces of baguette. It went fast! :)

A light, healthy weekend breakfast: buttermilk oatcakes with raspberry compote

On Saturday my boyfriend and I made one of Sarah’s recipes: buttermilk oatcakes with raspberry compote. I didn’t really deviate from Sarah’s directions, so I won’t go into detail  about making them when she explains it so well already.

I did choose low-fat buttermilk, though, and we skipped the fancy syrup, using whatever we had on hand (ie., the cheap stuff). Everything was easy to make but took a little time, but to my surprise the cinnamon worked wonders (and smelled so good) with the raspberries, and the oatcakes made me less full than regular pancakes and were healthier, too. So the entire batch was the perfect amount for two people! Maybe three, if you make a nice side. I got really hungry for maple sausage by the time we were done cooking.

A little syrup or butter on top mixes well with the raspberry compote when you’re ready to eat, too. As you can see from my pictures, the finished results looked very similar to how Sarah, a much more experienced cook, made hers.

Playing with dirt—a great recipe for kids and adults who are kids at heart

A couple Sundays ago was my best friend’s birthday, and to surprise her, my boyfriend and I brought her favorite wine and made a gooey dessert: dirt. I remember first eating this deceptively named sweet in elementary school, so it was fun to try it again. I nabbed the most minimal recipe I could find off RecipeTips.com and made a few amendments of my own.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 package Oreo cookies, crushed
  • 1 cup cold milk (or however much the pudding mix calls for)
  • 1 package chocolate instant pudding mix
  • 8 ounces Cool Whip topping, thawed
  • 1 package gummy worms (or bears or whatever else you want)

We started by putting the cookies into resealable plastic bags. If you can, divy up the cookies into two halves—so that 50% of the package is in each bag. Close tightly and use a rolling pin to crush until crumbly, not fine. Set those aside.

Make the chocolate instant pudding mix in a large bowl. Use a spoon to mix for however long the box says (about 2-3 minutes on average), then let sit for 5 minutes. I find that using a wooden spoon is a lot easier than a standard whisk, since the pudding sticks to the whisk more easily and is harder to scrape off. Now add all the Cool Whip on top of the pudding, sprinkling on top of that 1/2 of the crushed cookies (this is why having two bags with equal amounts comes in handy). Now stir it all together carefully until everything is well blended—the white Cool Whip should turn light brown from the Oreos, like mud!

Now here’s where I diverted from the recipe. Instead of using plastic cups to make individual servings, I transferred the ingredients into a bigger bowl by following these steps: Once you finish mixing the pudding-Cool Whip-Oreo fusion, sprinkle 1/3 of the remaining crushed cookies into the bottom of a separate, empty bowl. Now move the entire pudding mixture into that bowl, on top of the layer of Oreos. For the best presentation, go slowly and try to cover the entire area without getting any pudding on the sides.

Now add you gummy worms or bears—go ahead, drop them all in. I tried to get the most even distribution of colored bears (FYI, we used bears because my friend hates worms!). So carefully place those on top of everything in the bowl. Now sprinkle in the rest of the Oreos, so you evenly cover—or “bury,” if you will—the gummy worms/bears.

(As a note, Haribo gummy bears are my favorite, but they were too chewy for this dessert. Use regular gummy bears instead, if you’d rather have those than worms.)

I didn’t top with any Cool Whip, although the recipe says you can. Now cover the bowl with a lid or plastic wrap and put in the fridge. Serve chilled. Be warned, it’s very filling!

And there you go!

My first blog award!

Thank you so much to Amy Marie, who runs a wonderful and very helpful writing blog called The Literary Mom, for giving me the Liebster Blog Award! As someone who greatly enjoys writing and building relationships with readers and fellow bloggers, this is an honor, and one that I deeply value. So thank you again, Amy! :D

The Liebster Award (as stated on Amy’s page):

The guidelines for the Liebster Blog Award are:

  • Show your thanks to the blogger who gave you the award by linking back to them.
  • Reveal your top 5 picks for the award and let them know by leaving them a comment on their blog.
  • Post the award on your blog.
  • Bask in the love from the most supportive people on the blogsphere – other bloggers.
  • Most of all – have fun and spread the karma.

I’m extremely excited about the chance to point out some of my favorite blogs! If Amy hadn’t just received the award, I would definitely nominate her. (PS: She’s also critiquing the first twenty or so pages of my novel, so she’s twice as awesome.) Anyway, be sure to follow her and these other amazing bloggers:

1. Sarah’s Place: Embracing life in the northern lattitudes – No other blogger has welcomed me to the WordPress.com blogosphere quite like Sarah, and for that I owe her a great deal of thanks and appreciation. Not only that, but her blog is fantastic! She has (in my humble opinion) one of the best cooking sites on the net. I’m pretty picky about recipes—they can’t involve an excess of rare, needless ingredients or be too difficult to make—but Sarah consistently provides ones (complete with personality and great step-by-step pictures) that are easy to understand and make and look absolutely delicious. Keep up the great work, Sarah. No pressure or anything. Just keep being you! :)

2. Yo Mama: ‘Cause there ain’t no yo daddy jokes – My favorite women’s advocate and gender blogger who—brownie points for her—also has me listed on her blogroll (she’s also listed in mine, see the sidebar). She’s one of the smartest and most talented bloggers around.

(FYI, I’m totally open to blogroll exchanges, if anyone’s ever interested. Just send an email to wita [dot] blog [at] gmail [dot] com.)

3. The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say “Shhh” – Oh my goodness, I could say oodles about how wonderful Miss Anderson is. She has one of the most fun book blogs out there, and she adds layers (I’m talking Shrek layers, like an onion, only more awesome) of personality and charm to everything she writes. Plus, she doles out letter grades to the books she reads. Nice!

4. Sometimes Bailey: A non-fiction writer’s blog about making a literary life while balancing work and family – I haven’t pinned down Veronica yet—her blog entries are always refreshingly varied in my feed. Her posts about literature, life, and writing are always a pleasure to read.

5. Kristen Lamb’s Blog – Kristen is an author and a social media and publishing whiz, and her posts constantly brim with wise and insightful advice. Check it out!

A toast to an awesome cooking blogger

Thanks to blogger Sarah for holding a contest and choosing me as a winner of a one-year subscription to Bon Appetit Magazine! There’s little I love more than getting goodies in the mail, except my fellow writers and readers.

Sarah runs an amazing cooking blog over at Sarah’s Place. Believe me, it’s awesome and very non-cook friendly—meaning she’ll turn you into one with her great recipes and pictures of delicious food. I’m hungry just thinking about it.

So stop by her blog and—oh my god, look at that French onion soup. I don’t even like French onion soup! Wowza.

Thanks, Sarah!

Sweet and delicious: tangerine-pistachio sticky buns

For about fifteen bucks, my boyfriend and I made these delectable sticky buns this weekend.

Perfect for the novice cook to make, these tangerine-pistachio sticky buns smell amazing as they bake and taste even better.

You can find the recipe over at Sarah’s Place blog. She’s got some really unique dishes on there.

Some of the sticky buns fell apart upon removing them from the pan, but that’s more our fault than the recipe’s. Anyway, they tasted fantastic. We couldn’t find tangerine marmalade at the store, so we substituted orange (which the recipe says is okay). We had to shell and de-salt the pistachios ourselves, and the pizza dough (we used refrigerated pizza crust in tubes) was naturally elastic, so it took awhile to roll out into a decent shape and size. My Mom recommended that next time we pinch the ends of the roll in with water before cutting it into equal slices and setting them in the pan. Apparently this helps prevent the filling from squeezing out, though I think it might compensate for the extra dough: The two ends of the roll had less filling in them because of the 1″ margin, but nobody complained that they weren’t darn tasty.

If you’re worried about budget, you can definitely do this for around $15. We already had the flour, butter, and salt (though we accidentally nixed the salt but figured it worked out fine anyway, since we used salted butter instead of unsalted as the recipe called for). Our shopping list looked something like this:

  • Plain pistachios ~ $4-5 (These were the cheapest ones we could find, and we used most of them. The rest we ate because pistachios are yummy! Again, we shelled the ones we needed ourselves and washed them since we couldn’t find any unsalted.)
  • Dark-brown sugar ~ $1-2 (A store brand is fine.)
  • Tangerine or orange marmalade ~ $4-5 (We used Smucker’s and spread on more than the recipe called for. Just use as much as you think covers the dough well.)
  • Pizza dough, two tubes ~ $4-5 (We just used pizza crust. I’m not sure if there’s a difference.)

These were a huge hit and relatively easy to make. Makes 8-10 rolls, depending on how you cut them.