Monday, November 29, 2010

Because of Martha (BOM): Cupcake Challenge 3/175

I was busy this past weekend. Busy enough to pop out two cupcake challenges. This third challenge is the Snickerdoodle Cupcake. Are you familiar with the snickerdoodle cookie? It is delicious and one of the few cookies that I am really good at making. 
So, I got my ingredients together. There was a good amount of cinnamon making an appearance. However, it was actually a fairly standard bunch of ingredients overall.
Dallas was little help. He wanted me to throw his string. He was a huge distraction during this process.
Yay, paper liners! Cleanup was a snap. I used plain white baking cups from Betty Crocker.
So, this was how my cupcakes were supposed to turn out. I didn't have the knack for piping, but let me continue. You'll see soon enough. (T-T)
Mixing was easy. My ingredients only required measuring and sifting. Talk about a simple Sunday baking project.
With my dough ready, I managed to fill my cupcake liners. Trust me when I say that it was stretching it to get 24 only because I over-filled my first batch. But 28 would have been a weird number anyway.
This is one batch coming out of the oven. They are crinkly on the top and they smelled like cinnamon heaven.
Here is where things took a turn for the worse. My piping skills were atrocious. However, I blame this partly on the fact that I don't think my frosting was stiff enough. I was just afraid of making it dry and it drying out. However, they taste really good, so I will just have to practice piping for the future. Then, I'll revisit these with the appropriate skills.

Film Review | Tangled

Naturally, I have been waiting to see Tangled for some time—since nearly last year actually. Then, it was called Rapunzel, but that is neither here nor there. When it comes to animated movies, Disney holds the crown. Some of my favorites are their cell-animated feature films from the 80s and 90s. However, Tangled really showed off their skill with 3D animation (though I watched it in 2D—do you know how outrageous ticket prices have become?). Hit the jump for the full review.

Grade: B 

Image via BSC Review

Because of Martha (BOM): Cupcake Challenge 2/175

For any unfamiliar readers, I am a fan of Martha Stewart. She (and her genius employees, of course) is very talented at coming up with excellent recipes and crafts. I happened upon her Cupcakes cookbook and BOOM!—lightbulb. I decided since there are 175 cupcakes total, I'd do the crazy thing and make each one. This is not a Julie & Julia thing, but it is proving to be delicious. I have no set deadline or time to make cupcakes, but there are moments when you need a cupcake. In the future, I hope that this will aid me in becoming a better baker with more ideas and several tricks up my sleeve. 

This installment features Pumpkin-Brown Butter Cupcakes. They seemed like a perfect Thanksgiving cupcake. They take all that is wonderful about pumpkin bread (or cookies) in cupcake form. 
Like everything else, this began with gathering my ingredients. Most of these are commonly used for pumpkin, so you'll notice the nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and light brown sugar as quite traditional. There were great deals on the price since it's baking season.

 This is my hopeful outcome, but let's get started.
The recipe called for the sage to be chiffonade. I had to do a bit of research and watch a video, but I think the sage added some good flavor to the mix.
After browning my butter, I measured and combined all of my ingredients. A Kitchen-Aid mixer will save your life, trust me.
Once my dough was the proper consistency, I spooned the dough into buttered-and-floured muffin cups. No liners for this one. Talk about messy.

About 22 minutes later, these warm cupcakes were ready to come out of the oven. They smelled divine. I wish I could attach the smell of fresh pumpkin-brown butter cupcakes to this post!
Once they were completely cooled, I dipped them in brown-butter icing. Maybe they don't look exactly like the ones above, but they are kind of close and very good. I loved these! They are not ultra-sweet so the glaze gives just the right touch. Talk about a well-balanced recipe.

Images by B. and me

Film Review | Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part I)

These past few weeks have been extremely busy and packed full of things to do, so I am only now getting my review for Harry Potter 7 up. I have never read any of the books for Harry Potter, so I am only basing my review from the movies and their relation to one another. That being said, I'm going to go ahead and jump right in with the review. 

Grade: C+

Monday, November 15, 2010

Beggar by choice

For those of us that live in cities, we are aware of a population that is lumped into the term "homeless." I think that is an incorrect assumption. Over the course of the past two years, I have discovered that a better term for this population is "beggar." If you read the Bible or follow the idea of noblesse oblige, you will feel that it is your duty to help these people. They are less fortunate, they are in need—that is what we are taught believe.

However, they are not always those things. More often than not, beggars are not in their right mind, and they are addicted to drugs (or a combination of the two). Instead of giving to them, passersby flat out ignore them. When I was first hired in the city, the recession was going full force and many people were out of work. It was a hard time for everyone and I was only an intern making some odd dollars an hour. 

It was during this time that I met Mike, a younger guy that sat outside of a convenience store near my workplace. He would ask for spare change every afternoon as if it were a full-time job. My mother has perhaps jaded me, but I don't believe in giving money to beggars. Instead, I would save carrot sticks or cookies from my lunch to give him. If I didn't have extra food, I would give sticks of gum. What began as, "Do you have spare change, ma'am?" became "Do you have any more gum, ma'am?" in a few short weeks.

I assumed that Mike couldn't find a job, and I pitied him because even though I was an intern, I had an income. However, as weeks turned into months and years, I have found that there is more to Mike than meets the eye. Like many other beggars, Mike does work. He is recovering from a drug problem, so his performance fluctuates, which affects how much work he gets—and that affects how much money he makes. He has a phone, he has a place to live, and he plays chess (he also has a girlfriend, which is a recent development). However, he needs additional money to make "ends" meet, by which I mean that he wants extra money. 

Perhaps that is what causes me to categorize beggars differently than the homeless. It is because homeless people don't always beg for money. They are the ones that sleep between the doors of businesses to feel heat and cool air. They carry their belongings with them at all times and have a block that they call their stomping grounds. Even if offered a job, they would probably decline the opportunity in favor of the place where they feel comfortable. Being homeless is sometimes a lifestyle choice.

Both beggars and homeless people will accost you as you walk down any city street. Some of them make you feel threatened and others annoy you. Whichever extreme the person falls under, I no longer feel obligated to empty my pockets for them. Oftentimes, giving will find the beggar asking for more (or being picky about what you gave them). Instead, I will speak to them if addressed and continue on my way. When I walk down the street, I don't make a point of talking to everyone I encounter, so I just treat them the same as anyone else in the city. At the end of the day, we all have to live our lives—no one else's. So if you find yourself in the presence of a beggar, don't assume that they did not choose their current situation.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Game Review | Kirby's Epic Yarn

I've played enough of the newly released Kirby's Epic Yarn to give a rather cohesive review. For those who are familiar with Kirby and all of his fluffy pinkness, this new video game will change your thoughts about him. Instead of his usual ability to suck up enemies (and spit them out or copy their abilities), you are a yarn version of Kirby. Gone are the days of sucking things up like only Kirby can. Instead, you can become various vehicles and you use your "lasso" of yarn to grab and destroy enemies or other obstacles. 

I'm torn about the graphics. Some of the backgrounds are very competitive, but the imagination put into each scene is definitely worth more than a small personal issue of mine. The way that sand is shown as unraveling yarn reveals how creative and thoughtful the developers were while they made this piece. After you beat each level, you gain a patch that when properly placed allows you to continue to the next level. 

Besides the usual levels, you can also bring the collected items you've found and add them to an apartment complex. If you bring all of the correct items to an apartment, a friend will move in and additional mini-games will open up to you. It's a good way to keep the gameplay fresh and give you something else to do if you are facing a difficult level. 

Another nice extra is your own place. You can decorate it with anything you find in the levels. Thanks to the beads scattered all over Patch Land, you can purchase more objects or wallpaper/flooring from the stores.

So, if you enjoy the standard platform game but want a bit of a twist, Kirby's Epic Yarn will definitely be worth your hard-earned money. It's great for kids because you can't really die. If you have a friend over, they can even join the fun and you can play the day away. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Film Review | Megamind

I am always excited to see cartoon films. If you have read my blog for a while, you'll know that I generally see most animated feature-length films while they are still in theaters. Since Harry Potter and Tangled are coming out later this month, I expected Megamind to be a decent film for a lazy Sunday afternoon to tide me over until these come out. To be honest with you, I am not a huge fan of 3D, so I watched Megamind in good, old-fashioned 2D and I enjoyed the whole thing. Hit the jump for the full review (with spoilers).

Grade: B

Because of Martha (BOM): Cupcake Challenge 1/175

A recent purchase at Barnes & Noble has prompted me to challenge myself in the way that only a nerd like me would. When I noticed that the Martha Stewart's Cupcakes cookbook has 175 recipes, I thought that I may as well make each recipe. Don't start thinking Julie & Julia. I just thought that this challenge would help me improve at baking with extra sweet results. 

To begin, I thought it made sense to start with the very first recipe, which happens to be Chocolate Chip Cupcakes. It gathered my ingredients taking extra special care to follow the directions that were outlined (and even more, the amounts of ingredients). Other than a quick run to get unsalted butter because of my terrible math skills, I was ready to go. 

I began by mixing together my ingredients for the cupcakes. The recipe yields thirty cupcakes (exactly for me) and they were really beautiful on their pans both before and after baking. They took about twenty minutes a tin. 

While I waited for the cupcakes to bake, I worked on the frosting. It was a dark chocolate frosting that tasted really delicious alone (trust me!).

After cooling, I decorated the cupcakes and served them up for my sisters. They are quite sweet, which I was not expecting. Although I love chocolate frosting, I think that perhaps it was too much chocolate to go with the chocolate chip cupcakes. One snag I ran into with the frosting is that it has flecks of chocolate in it instead of being perfectly smooth. I think this was due to me cooling my melted chocolate too much. However, they are great cupcakes and they taste nice plain if you don't like frosting! Look forward to my next installment of my BOM: Cupcake Challenge coming later this month.

Recipe from Martha Stewart Cupcakes. You can purchase online or in any book store.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The digital book

As eReaders become the choice of readers, I become more and more sad. There are several nice things about eReaders, don't get me wrong. I have one too! You can read while being jostled around a crowded Metro. No need to flip pages, so you are able to hold onto a pole. They are slim and fit in most any bag. Most eReaders have great cases and other accessories.

What is the problem, then? You wonder. Well, with this move to the digital book, there are at least three things that bother me:
  • I can't lend my library to someone else. Being able to pass a book on to a friend when you finish it can fuel a later conversation. However, it isn't as easy with eReaders when you use it to read the books that you have saved on it.
  • You lose the conversation. Have you ever spoken with someone simply because they saw the jacket of your book? At times, these small exchanges lead to even more book recommendations or a new friend.
  • It's no longer personal. Having your own book makes it real and it makes it yours. You can write your name inside of it. You can doodle in the margins if you want (though that is not my preferred way to treat my own books). With things being digital, you don't have the same ownership. The book goes from being special to being another file on your computer's hard drive.
So, don't take this the wrong way. EReaders are helpful for many people and they come in handy often. Just don't forget that printed books save trees and start jobs. There is something about a book that I love and enjoy. What about you? Just how digital are you?