Wedding Cookies

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Recently, I attended a family wedding. While it was a lovely event at an unusual and interesting venue, all cultures have specific traditions and elements regarding wedding celebrations. However, there was one tradition part of the family uses that I found particularly great: family and friends of the bride and groom bring cookies, and everyone fills a box to take home. This is in addition to the wedding cake (which was delicious: white cake with nutella and an amazingly rich chocolate with raspberry).

We’re not just talking about a few dozen cookies here: there were dozens of kinds of cookies, and thousands of them. Most people took at least 2 boxes home, as well as eating a few, and there were still lots of cookies left over. The venue workers set up two large cookie buffets, and we really enjoyed going through the line and seeing all the different kinds–bar cookies and chocolate chip all the way through macarons and delicately decorated iced cookies.

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We really enjoyed seeing and trying them all. It was great to be able to cake them home and talk about them, and compare notes. As a baker and lover of food, I would have loved to do this at our wedding, if only I had known about it!

Does your family or area have any particular wedding traditions that you love? Let us know in the comments.

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Chocolate Mint Tea

Chocolate teas aren’t something I was very keen on until more recently, when I tried a chocolate hazelnut tea when I had Tea with Mom back in September. It was delicious, and I immediately put it on my wishlist. Today’s review, though, is for Stash’s Chocolate Mint tea, which was, of all places, on the clearance rack at the grocery store.

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Details

The ingredients incclude Wuyi oolong tea, peppermint, natural chocolate flavor, cocoa powder, and carob powder. The packaging is brown with a pleasing light green color and an image of stacked chocolate and mint leaves. It describes the tea as:

“Our Chocolate Mint Oolong is a delectable cup of guiltless dessert, perfect for taming a wile sweet tooth. Made with oolong from the Wuyi Mountains of China, the unbeatable pairing of chocolate and refreshing peppermint makes for a sensational delight.”

This tea has an intense and lush aroma, equal mint and chocolate, as soon as the packet’s open, and it lingers for some time. I love the scent and find it especially pleasing.

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Cold Tea

Steeping this tea cold, with or without ice, takes a long time to color and it never gets as deep as the hot tea in color. The flavor starts out subtle, but is very minty and chocolaty, and very refreshing in on a warm day. It’s delicious, and I really love this cold–I could drink it all the time. I had to specifically save a few bags for fall so that I could have it warm.

 

Hot Tea

I just finally made hot tea with this today, since it’s only now chilly and windy out. Unlike the cold tea, this colored right away, and now it’s a few minutes in and the chocolate scent is clear from about a foot away. Even up close, the scent is more chocolate than mint. The taste is more mint than chocolate, and quite pleasant. No need for sugar here, either.

 

Summary

No matter how you drink it, this tea has a pleasing, smooth flavor with the clear taste of both mint and chocolate. The tea delivers what package describes. I’d go out of my way to get it, and will definitely keep it in my stock of tea. Please let me know what you think if you try it.

A Reading Update

DH and I have seen a lot of changes this year, including a move. The last time we moved was over 13 years ago–the longest DH has stayed in one place. Along with the move, we’re now in a town with a great library, and in the time since we got our library cards, they’ve been well used. While DH’s big thing is movies, I’ve been reading a lot, as well as being able to complete series I was slowly working on one book at a time as I found them.

Series

  • Wicked Lovely (main series), Melissa Marr: Based on reviews, people tend to either love or hate these. I found them addicting but fun summer reads. Major kudos to Marr for the sheer amount of research into Fae.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Rick Riordan: These are quick and interesting, and a fun take on mythology in how it plays out.
  • The Heroes of Olympus (part way through), Rick Riordan: More of the same, but higher stakes.

Single Books

  • Madame Tussaud, Michelle Moran: I generally enjoy Moran’s books (whether or not they’re factual), and this one is quite gripping.
  • Cleopatra’s Daughter, Michelle Moran: Not my favorite of her books. Of the Egyptian ones, this is probably my least favorite.
  • The Valley of Amazement, Amy Tan: I enjoy the history and complicated personal stories of most of Tan’s books, and this wasn’t far from the mark.
  • The Demigod Files, Rick Riordan: Short tales and interviews from Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.
  • High Rhulain, Brian Jacques: An otter story! Formulaic Redwall with a little more thrown in.
  • Castle in the Air, Diana Wynne Jones: An enjoyable tale, not quite as good as I remember Howl’s Moving Castle to be.

Upcoming Reads

  • The Kane Chronicles, Rick Riordan: I don’t like these quite as much as the Olympian books, but I think it’s due to the narrators, the Kane siblings. This one is Egyptian mythology. I’ve read two so far.
  • A House with a Clock in It’s Walls, John Bellairs: Looked it up upon seeing the movie and suspecting it was a book, and it sounds like exactly my kind of book.

Clearly, there’s a lot of Rick Riordan books in my life right now. After the Kane books, I should try the Norse series, as well, but I’ve got the others to finish first. As well as more books from the to read pile I actually own…

What are you reading lately?

Simple Pleasures

Sometimes, it’s the simple pleasures in life that give life meaning and make things worthwhile during times of upheaval, trauma, or stress. Over the years and dealing with different things, I’ve learned more about myself, and what (certain) little things can make a big difference for me. At times, we all just need a reminder to remember to enjoy those little things in life that we find pleasing.

A short list for the current time includes:

  • sleep/naps/time alone in the bedroom where i can watch youtube videos or write and recharge
  • never underestimate the power of a good hot meal
  • cooking or baking something good
  • only listening to music you love–who has time for what doesn’t move them?
  • being home alone on a sunny Saturday morning
  • a bowl of fresh fruit sitting on the table (favorites are nectarines, pears, and citrus)
  • chocolate buttercream
  • lemon anything
  • snow
  • cool rainy days
  • being barefoot
  • having Tea, especially the sandwiches
  • happy babies
  • flowers
  • when you sit down to write and it unexpectedly just flows out
  • a freshly made bed
  • when the calendar image on your birthday month is, for once, lovely
  • profusions of color
  • purple pens

Magnolia Table

Until recently, I didn’t know who Joanna Gaines was. I had heard of her family’s business previously from when my brother and his wife took my parents to the Magnolia restaurant and shop. However, I didn’t bother much more about it and forgot all about the name until DH and I visited his sister’s family over Labor day. She had Gaines’ cookbook, Magnolia Table, and we made several recipes from it. And now I know who this lady is. Why, because this lady can cook. Everything we had was delicious. Full of cream and butter, so not diet friendly.

We made:

  • cinnamon squares: yeasted dough, but so delicious it’s worth the effort 20180920_1709192125835459566514204.jpg
  • after-school banana bread: so easy, banana heavy, sour cream. lusciously soft texture.
  • chicken with fettuccine alfredo: tenderized chicken and production line process, but good for kids to help out. sauce was great.
  • mushroom quiche: mushrooms, cream, spinach, cheese–yum!20180920_171012876022032659108629.jpg

 

While I’m not big into particular people, I might see if I can get a copy of this cookbook. It is well thought out, easy to follow, and is sensibly presented for easy reading while in-process, and with most recipes accompanied by color photos. Would definitely recommend!

TAZO Apricot Vanilla Creme

A coworker kindly gifted me with a bag of TAZO’s apricot vanilla creme tea. This is a white tea with apricot (both of which I enjoy) and vanilla (which is okay), which I quite enjoy. According to TAZO’s site, this tea has 31–45 mg of caffeine.

I drank made this hot, as it likely won’t do well cold. It smelled fruity when the bag was removed from the wrapper.

This tea has a light apricot flavor, with just a hint of vanilla. Very pleasant, but took a long time to build flavor. I kept the tea bag in the water for quite a while, at least 20 minutes, and enjoyed the fuller flavor toward the end. However, at the end it quickly went from a fuller flavor to very bitter–sugar did not cover the bitter flavor.

This is a nice, light tea, but not a show stopper. Would definitely drink again, but would’t go out of my way to get it.

Writing and Motivation

Writers all over the world have various modes and methods of writing, as well as differing motivations. Some write searching for truth, some with the intent of publishing novels, some for purely personal reasons. However, we each has something deeper that makes us want to write, sometimes before realizing what our goals are regarding what we produce. How we experience that urge can be very different.

Here, I’ll write a bit about my journey, and what inspires me to write.

 

The Urge

Ever since I can remember, I have had a relationship with books and loved reading. Although reviewing old schoolwork shows I was seemingly handy with story-based writing assignments, it wasn’t until middle school that I wrote my first real story. It was an awful self-insertion fanfic bridging our current world with that of the Dragonriders of Pern. While it was terrible writing, I enjoyed fitting the pieces together and spending more time in a world I loved.

For a while, my writing was quite derivative, and even the first writings I did for Zaira were inspired by another work. Of course, the Lupa world has since been built and there’s hardly anything left of those first drafts. It wasn’t until high school, when Zaira came along, that I began to take writing–and the idea that I wanted to be a writer–more seriously.

During high school and especially college, I spent periods not writing, but eventually would start working on the story again. Small breaks are still common, although usually it’s only days or weeks. But once I started working, and realizing the larger story that was unfolding, I began building a writing regimen. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s what it was.

Despite having no plans for publication or reaching others, I began to realize that I wanted to be a writer anyway. The desire to continue writing and put down new ideas, characters, and stories became stronger as I learned what I was doing and to accept that that was okay. I write for myself, and there was more space and acceptance of that as time went on. Now when I’m working well on a piece, I can do 2 or 3 sessions in a day.

The more I write, the longer I’ve been doing it, the stronger the urge gets.

 

Interesting Characters

Traditionally, I get into stories for the character. This blog is full of character advice, and the idea that stories start just there–with a good character. Once the bad fanfic idea ended, I began building stories based on particular characters. I started to focus on who those characters really were, just not what I had envisioned them as, and how their personalities, actions, and needs drove a story.

It’s changed the way that I approach character design. Instead of building a character based on what I want for them or think is cool, it’s more important to explore their background, what influences that had, and how/why they make decisions. Miara, for instance, came out of what life would be like for the child of two people in a particular position, at a particular point in time, and the way that they would raise someone.

 

Beautiful Things

Images and music, especially, inspire me to write things for certain moods or ideas they create. A recently playable character, Yasuko, was based on a pinterest image I found one day while also contemplating a new Wizarding World character. As a result, she has poor eyesight, is a metamorphmagus, and loves tea. Other times, I’m inspired to write scenes with food or cooking. After watching Yuri!!! On Ice (and falling in love with the Yuri on Ice piano solo) I wrote a scene about ice skating. Although these can be highly derivative, there’s no reason not to have fun writing something. Many times, these can be toned down and included in official works, but even if not, the exercise can be highly enjoyable.

 

Ideas

Most often lately, I start new things based on ideas. Sometimes they’re intriguing things inspired by something I’ve seen, read, or hear of. Other times, it’s “what will happen if X happens with these characters?” Especially  if there’s a large emotional payload involved. I often want to explore those things, and see what those characters will do, how they will respond, etc. This can lead to both very uplifting and very dark places.

As writers, we should not be afraid to write anything, whether we don’t think we can properly convey how awesome an event is, or are intimidated by intimate events, bitter attitudes, or extremely dark places. These things are part of us, and our characters, even when we don’t want to admit to them. The longer I write, the more convinced I am that delving more and more into the deep things of our characters and ourselves is essential for several things.

Knowing who our characters are, and who we are, and what we think about these things, can be essential in adding both depth and a sense of reality and completion to a story. Others will be able to relate to them more easily, and we can have a better understanding of ourselves. Writing things out will force you to think of your own position on things. Writing out things that are challenging or difficult can be intimidating, but is often an important step for these and many more reasons.

Remember that just because you’ve written something doesn’t mean it should always be part of the official story. Sometimes we need to explore for our own reasons, or produce material that would be more at home in a wiki than in the story itself. And that’s just fine. When you have an idea, run with it. Decide later if it’s part of the story, or if it was to help you explore.

 

What Motivates You

For some of us, especially when we’re starting out and may be unsure of ourselves, finding motivational elements for writing can be difficult. I know my journey hasn’t always been easy, and there have been many times when I’ve been scared to write a particular scene or experienced writer’s block.

Over the years, however, I’ve come to understand what kind of things motivate me to write (music, images, and sometimes food), and which stories I find highly motivating: relationships and large, difficult emotional payloads. I have also begun to understand that I enjoy the work it takes to pull off a good piece that deals with deep issues.

 

Music

In my case, one of the most influencing things is music. I have written whole scenes/events and even started an entire new story/world based on musical pieces I wanted to use. I use music as background almost any time I write, and sometimes finding the right music is like a switch that lets that part of the story flow out onto the page. One should not forget that music is the language of the soul, and it can help you.

I also know now what specific styles of music within a genre encourage me. I definitely prefer wordless music such as scores, soundtracks, and production music. However, I find pieces with several musical lines which are slowly added to build through throughout the piece. Often, several of these lines is a repeated motif. These are pieces like appear in the score for Ender’s Game. I find that these allow me to get into the piece and provide more prolonged energy.

 

Food

Since we talked about beautiful things above, the other thing I’ll talk about here is food. I often enjoy writing about food in my stories. Not only is it present, certain characters allow me to go through the process of making and critically tasting food when it’s present in the story. I go into such things because I want to, but it probably connects to others–we all eat, prepare, or otherwise interact with food on a daily basis.

I try not to make every character into cooking, or even much into eating, but I like being able to indulge this part of me in characters who cook, bake, or are learning. Characters often share things when cooking. They can becoming close to one another, or reveal things to the writer about themselves. “My mother used to make sushi with game meats” (Zaira). “We ate this when we were little, we’d come around Christmas and everything was warm and festive” (Eiry and Sali). “Dad used to always take us to the park on Saturdays to get ice cream, it reminds me of how much I hate him since he abandoned us” (Adam).

For example, Suzie wants to be a professional homemaker for her race when she’s an adult, and currently takes care of a young child. She’s beginning her first foray into puff pastry–she wants to make pain au chocolate. Describing the process is enjoyable for me, and I’ll also find out if she enjoys that level of precision or prefers to stick with more family style cooking (insights on her personality and patience).

 

What You Write

Understanding what you enjoy writing is a key element in being a writer. Although I often find it allies with a person’s favorite genres of stories on TV, film, or books, it may not always, or you may find that a certain way or form of those genres are your niche. To say I grew up reading fantasy is an understatement. Although I read a wider range of genres now, it’s still the backbone of my reading material. I especially enjoy young adult fiction. But that’s not what I write.

General fiction has no interest for me, and so I wouldn’t attempt to write a straight real-world fiction piece. Much of what I’ve written could be read by a young adult, but I also especially enjoy writing about difficult and also mature topics.

If you are highly motivated to write fan fiction, do so. Even serious writers can (and should!) write fan fiction if they want to. I regularly write in the Harry Potter universe, as well as a multiverse of different fandoms in addition to my completely original material. Sometimes these worlds, especially multiverses, open up an entirely new set of possibilities to explore. For instance, I have a Lupa canon character, Miara, that also appears in 2 multiverses, with rather different outcomes as those stories developed. I enjoy all three of them.

 

In Summary

I suppose the best thing I can say here is find the things you love, and include them in your writing process, or the writing itself. If you see something that makes you want to write about it, don’t dismiss it. Seek out self-knowledge, and use that understanding of yourself to help motivate you. Some parts are harder than others, but if you really want to keep writing, it is worth it. You never know where it might take you, or what characters and stories discover.

If you know what works well for you, please share. Most writers I know are always looking for more ways to keep writing.

Crock Pot Sausage

Ingredients

  • 1 pack sausage
  • 1/2 quart chicken stock
  • 6 scallions, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 3 carrots, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1 handful chopped parsley

Method

Pour the stock into the crock pot and add the scallions, carrots, and parsley. Lay the sausage on top. Cook on low all day or high for several hours until sausage is cooked through. Serve as desired.

Notes

We eat a lot of pork because it’s the cheapest meat here, but I’m not very fond of sausage (usually due to the spice/herb combination). This is one of the only things I’ve tried where that particular sausage flavor disappears. The chicken stock permeated the sausage and it was delicous. Will definitely be cooking sausage this way a lot from now on.