Sunday, July 31, 2016

Slightly More Successful Baking Adventures with Abbey

Today, I will be showing you how to make a no-bake, processed sugar-free, almond butter and banana pie, based off of this recipe. The pie crust is from this recipe. (As I poke around this person's blog, I find more and more great recipes... Check her out if you are looking for healthy desert options!)

To make the pie crust, you must blend together (I used a food processor)...

-2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
-1/2 a cup of pecans (or other nut of your choice)
-1/2 a cup of shredded coconut
-1/2 a cup of raisins (pitted dates work, too)
-and 1/8th of a teaspoon of salt

When your mixture is blended well, spread it out in a 9-inch pan.

To make your pie, you must blend together...

-3 bananas
-1 cup of almond butter (or other nut butter of your choice)
-2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
-1/8th teaspoon of salt
-1/4th cup of melted, virgin coconut oil (<--- this sentence is why commas are important. Without the comma, the recipe would call for 1/4th of melted virgin. Umm... WHAT?!)
-4 tablespoons of pure maple syrup

Once your mixture is very well blended, pour it on top of the pie crust.

Freeze it until it hardens, and then keep it cool until you eat it.

The verdict:

"Very banana-y; but, mmmmm–I love the kick of the crust!"
"Very good."
"Much better than your last cake."
"Eh, pretty good." (From the apathetic teenage boy.)
"It kind of has the consistency of a go-gurt."
"Really good!"

Woo-hoo, a success! I agree: the pie is delicious. It's crazy that it has only natural sugars in it, for it tastes like something you would buy at a grocery store! This is definitely a recipe I will come back to. Next time, however, I may try using less bananas or more nut butter, so that the pie tastes more buttery and not so banana-y.
Now, if you will excuse me, I'm going to finish the piece of pie that I am eating now, and then go pack for camping!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Letter from Camp

Dear Family, Friends, and Followers,
Right now, I am sitting on the edge of the carrot bed here in Camp NaNoWriMo's Creativity Garden. I know, I know... shame on me for packing my bags and leaving without telling anyone. I'm sorry. I hope you didn't hire any helicopters or private detectives to look for me.
A week ago, I realized that if I was going to finish two short stories AND write descriptions for two of the races in my fantasy story before I go to school in a few weeks, I needed to sit down, concentrate, and write. So, like I said, I packed my bags and left. I drove straight to Camp NaNoWriMo, Imagination Land. Even though I was twenty days late, they sorted me into a cabin (though I decided to string up my hammock outside rather than break the camaraderie that my fellow cabin-mates had already built) and let me sign up for 20,000 words.
Well, as you can imagine, all of my good intentions have fallen short. Instead of 20,000 words, I have managed a measly 3,700.
What has been distracting me from writing all the way out in the middle of Imagination Land, you may wonder? The internet. Yes, even Imagination Land has wi-fi.
Books have also been distracting me (I should have known better than to bring them to Camp NaNoWriMo with me). I'm reading Into the Vast by DJ Edwardson and Hidden Pearls by Hayden Wand and both stories have me captivated!
Additionally, a few adventures have stolen me away from my stories... Can you believe that Imagination Land has a Wal-mart? Well, they do. And, once I heard that Wal-mart was having a back-to-school sale, I snuck out of NaNoWriMo's campground (which is specifically forbidden, by the way), forded streams, and climbed over logs to reach the Great Deals awaiting me. I found binders, pencils, highlighters, erasers, paper, and everything else a college student could need and—after paying for them—smuggled them back to my hammock.
With four days left to write, I doubt that I will be able to write 16,300 words. But, maybe, if I work hard, I will be able to finish one of my short stories. It chronicles the childhood of King John, a villain in my fantasy novel. The other short story and my fantasy race descriptions will have to wait for another time.
Oh dear, I see one of the other campers coming toward me. If they find out I'm writing a letter home instead of working on my Camp project, they may report me to the counselors and I could be thrown out!


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Baking Adventures with Abbey: Plantain "Oreo" Cake

It's your birthday! But, oh no! Conundrum strikes again: you don't eat processed sugar any more, so what are you going to do about birthday cake? Why not bake a sugar-free birthday cake?

Step one—wash your hands.

Step two—preheat your oven to 350 degrees (Fahrenheit, because we don't want to explode any Canadian/British/The Rest of the World ovens).

Step three—wash your hands again because maybe the buttons on the oven had germs on them.

Step four—you are now sufficiently prepared to handle the ingredients:
Take one green-ish plantain and chop it into bits. Mix it together with...
-a 1/2 cup of applesauce
-a 1/4th cup of liquid coconut oil (I liquefied mine in the microwave, but you can liquefy yours in a Bain-marie suspended over a volcano, if you like)
-and 2 tablespoons of coconut butter

Mix thoroughly until everything is mushy and smooth...ish. Plantains (at least, green-ish ones) are hard, so you may want to blend them in a food processor first.

Once your mixture is mushy, add...

-a 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
-a 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
-a 1/2 teaspoon of salt
-4 tablespoons of protein powder
-and 3/4ths cup of raw cocoa powder

Once again, mix until mushy and smooth-ish.

Pour your mixture into a nine-inch circle pan and let it cook for twenty-five minutes.
Repeat instructions for a second cake.
When your cakes are done, they should look something like this:

My cakes broke it half for some reason... Beware the baking demons!  
While you wait for your cakes to bake, you can make the sugar-free (excepting natural sugars) frosting:

Mix together...
-1 1/2 packages of cream cheese
-1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
-some maple syrup and/or honey. The recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of maple syrup and/or honey, but after one teaspoon of each, the frosting tasted solely of cream cheese, so I added a few more teaspoons of each until it tasted the way I wanted it to.
After your cream cheese, vanilla extract, and maple syrup and/or honey are mixed together, mix in 3 tablespoons of heavy whipping cream.

This recipe only makes one batch of frosting, so you'll want to make a second to cover both of your cakes!

If your cake has split in half like mine did, you may want to glue it back together with frosting. This step is completely optional and doesn't really work.

Frost the top of one of your cakes, stick your second layer on top of that, and then cover the entire cake with your second batch of frosting.

Enjoy your creation! Feed it to your friends and family and hear their amazing feedback:

"Wow, chocolately."
"It goes great with a glass of milk!"
"It tastes good with the frosting, but the cake by itself..."
"Interesting... [long pause] But good!"
"No, no need to cut my mom a piece. She can finish mine."
"You need to find a way to make it less like a brick and more like a pastry."

Thaaanks Friends and Family.
But, I do agree. There is room for improvement. One of the cakes was quite bitter, though the other cake and the frosting balanced out the bitterness.
I enjoyed the cake more than everyone else who tried it. I think that was because my taste buds aren't used to the overwhelming sweetness of processed sugar, so anything that I eat with natural sweetness (coconut products, maple syrup, honey, fruit...) tastes better than it would to those whose taste buds are used to processed sugar.
You may not enjoy this cake if you are used to processed sugar, but, if you would like experiment with sugar-free/grain-free/egg-free baking, here is a link to the blog where I found the cake recipe:

What's the most interesting food you've ever tried to make?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

And the Most Nefarious Villain Award Goes To...

The stage is dark. Two figures stumble up the steps. As they struggle on stage, a single spot light turns on and illuminates the two figures. One is small and spider-like with thin, spindly appendages. The other is tall and also thin, though he is stooped over with the weight of something he carries. Both blink in the bright light as they approach the podium awaiting them in the center of the stage. The tall man lugs his load onto a stand that would normally hold a globe, and then straightens in front of the podium. He wears all white. His long hair and beard are white as well. His companion, on the other hand, wears dark clothing and has no hair. He is also too short to reach the podium.
The white gentleman speaks. His voice is deep and smooth. He has the kind of voice that one could listen to for hours, regardless of what he says.
"May we have a stool for Gollum?" he asks.
"Yessss... a sstool, precious. We wants to see, we do," hisses the spidery creature.
A stage hand runs out from the wings of the stage with a stool for Gollum.
"We shall begin," says the man in white. "I am the wizard Saruman and this is my companion—"
"Gollum, precious. Gollum, Gollum."
"Yes, my companion Gollum. Today, we, along with Sauron—who will be Skyping in via Palantir shortly—have the privilege of presenting the Most Nefarious Villain Silmaril to the worthiest harbinger of evil in all of fantasy literature! ...besides ourselves."
The man in white falls silent, waiting for something. When the silence becomes awkward, he clears his throat and taps the round, black ball which sits in the globe holder. He taps it again and waits. Several more seconds pass. Suddenly, the ball is replaced by an orb of fire so bright that Saruman and Gollum look away.
"Thank you for joining us at last, Sauron," Saruman says in an annoyed tone as he blinks the light from his eyes.
The fiery orb's intensity lessens and reveals a piercing eye within. The eye is surrounded by a ring of fire which blazes brighter in response to Saruman.
"Shall we begin?" Saruman asks. He does not wait for his companions to answer, but instead opens a manila folder. "The nominees for the Most Nefarious Villain Silmaril are... The Dragon from the Tales of Goldstone Woods by Anne Elisabeth Stengl."
The audience claps.
"Lady Life-in-Death from the sssame... gollum, gollum," hisses Gollum.
Once again, the audience applauds.
"Princess Davira from the Ilyon Chronicles by Jaye L. Knight," Saruman says.
This time, the applause is accompanied by shouts of someone who is a little bit too enthusiastic about this nomination. Gollum hisses at the Ilyon Chronicles enthusiast before naming the next nominee.
"Doloresssss Umbridge from Harry Potter, precious."
No one applauds for this villain. Instead, she is booed. Someone even shouts, "Give her the award! She's worse than He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named." Saruman glances sharply at the shouter and she settles in her seat with a sneer and a, "Well, she IS."
"Our final nominee is the White Witch from the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis," finishes Saruman. "And the winner is..."
Saruman opens a second manila envelope. Gollum hops from one foot to the other in anticipation. The Great Eye of Sauron burns brighter.
"The White Witch from the Chronicles of Narnia."
The audiences erupts with clapping and shouting. The White Witch rises from her seat and ascends the steps to the stage. She is dressed in a silver gown with a dropped waist and a long train. The dress is covered in crystals so that the Witch looks like newly fallen snow in the dead of night.
Saruman waits for her to arrange her train before pulling the Silmaril from the folds of his cloak.

"Your Silmaril," he says, looking lustfully at the jewel.
"Thank you," says the White Witch.
Her lips curve upwards very slightly as she scrutinizes the Silmaril. As she reaches out to take it, however, Gollum pops up between Saruman and the Witch. He grabs the Silmaril and leaps off the stage with it.
"My precious! We wants it, we do! Preciousss!" he yells.
"Security!" Saruman shouts.
Sauron's eye grows wide, flaming white hot in anger.
"My Silmaril! No!" the Witch screeches. She wields her staff and aims it at the audience. "Bring that back you wretch, or I shall turn you to stone!"
"My preciousss!" "No, no, gollum... Mustn't steal, we mustn't. Bring back the precious." "Sssss! We keeps it, we will." "No, no! Brings it back, we will! Sméagol will bring back the precious!" "Sssss!"
Gollum races back up the steps and presents the Silmaril to the White Witch. She looks down her nose at Gollum and snatches the jewel from him.  
"I will not recite a speech, for I have been greatly insulted," she says, turning up her nose at the creature groveling at her feet.
"Sorry, we are," says Gollum.
The White Witch does not acknowledge him but, instead, turns on her heel and walks off stage. As she reaches the bottom step, she fires her staff backwards at Gollum and he turns to stone.
"That concludes our ceremony for today," says Saruman. "Thank you for joining us in the first ever Silmarillion Awards. Refreshments will follow in the antechamber."
He follows the White Witch off stage and offers her his arm. She takes it and they lead the audience out of the auditorium.
The spotlight goes out, casting the stage into darkness once more. The only light comes from the Palantir, where the blaze of the Eye of Sauron dwindles to a blue flicker. Someone opens a stage door and a breeze blows through the wings and onto the stage. Whoosh; the Eye of Sauron is snuffed out.

Later, the janitor comes to mop the floor and trips over a stone statue in the middle of the stage.
"Who puts a statue in the middle of the floor, eh?" he grumbles to himself. "Now I'll hafta move it myself." He picks up the statue with a grunt and hauls it to the dumpster outside. He throws it in, but, as soon as he leaves, a Lord of the Rings enthusiast dumpster dives to save the lifelike statue of Gollum. It will definitely add value to his collection. What a find!

Thus ends the first award ceremony for the Most Nefarious Villain Silmaril.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Long and Winding Editing Road—Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.

~I've been inspired by Katie at Spiral-Bound's "Editing Diaries" posts to do my own editing series. Currently, I'm in the process of editing a fairytale-fantasy novel I wrote in 2014, and I want you to join me on this journey! Maybe, together, we can learn a few things about writing along The Long and Winding Editing Road.~

Timeline of my Fantasy/Fairytale Novel:

December 2013- After a walk in the frigid Minnesota snow, a scene pops into my head: An Elf and a Princess are climbing down a snowy mountain. The Elf is doing all right, because he can walk on top of the snow, but the Princess is struggling as the snow comes up to her waist and she is wearing a full skirt. The Elf goes back to help her.
This Elf and Princess turned out to be the first whisper of my story's main characters, Finn and Rozella.

January 2014- I start writing the story in a sky blue notebook, with only a vague idea of where the story is going and who the characters are. I continue to write sporadically throughout the next six months, completing the blue notebook and a Beatles notebook.

July 2014- I write 18,000 words in my book for Camp NaNoWriMo.

November 2014- In a last effort to finish my never-ending novel before the end of the year, I write 60,000 words (by hand!) for NaNoWriMo. And the book STILL isn't finished.

December 2014- I write a little more during December and then decide that I need to re-plot the entire novel before I can finish the story.

July-August 2015- I write a synopsis of each chapter on a notecard and then go through them all, fixing plot holes, tightening the story, and coming up with an ending.

September-November 2015- I re-write my novel, focusing on plot, and then let my dad read it.

February-April 2016- I re-write my novel for a second time, focusing on the characters, and then send it off to friends and family to read.

I've been thinking a lot about my book as I wait for comments to trickle back to me, and I have decided that I need to make three big changes:

1) Finn.
Surprise, surprise. If you've been reading my blog(s) for a while, you may remember THIS post, THIS post, and THIS post. All three of them discuss the problems that I've had with Finn throughout the writing and re-writing process. I don't know what that guy's problem is. He keeps making trouble for me! And it's not because he's a rascally fellow; no, in fact, he's good-natured and heroic (at least, that's how I hope he appears to my readers).
What's he troubling me with this time? His race.
Finn is an Elf, but everyone writes Elves into their fantasy stories, and they all tend to be the same: tall, thin, super model gorgeous, light, ethereal, wisdomous, and great with a bow and arrow. I tried to think of ways my Elves could be different, but I fear that they've still slipped into "stereotypical Elf"-land.
So, I decided to make up my own fantasy race for Finn's people. This is dangerous because it could go one of three ways, depending on how well I do my job as writer: one is that people could see my race as the Dollar Store Version of the Real Thing, the second is that I could make my race so crazy that no one will bother even trying to remember it, and the third is that I could find the perfect balance between the two and create a functioning, memorable race.
I am, of course, hoping for the third option. I've come up with some ideas that I think are different enough, but still manageable for the reader.

2) World building.
Basically, I have none. Or, very little. This needs to change. One of the main issues is that nothing is named because I am terrible at naming things (I've been working on this story for two-and-a-half years and still haven't thought of a good title yet). So, I need to spend an afternoon or five brainstorming ideas for the various cultures my character's run in to and then translate those brainstorms into my story.

3) Secrecy.
This change stems from a comment made by one of my readers. He noticed that several of my major characters are secretive about their past, which makes the story overwhelming because there's too much mystery.
My thought process after reading that comment: What? No! They all need to keep their pasts a secret! I am WRITER. HERE ME WRITE! ...Well, maybe he's right about one of my characters... I can't really think of a conceivable reason for him to keep his past a secret. Maybe he can be open about his past. But the other two can stay secret! Yet, he does have a point about another character, too... This character has two layers of secrecy to his past. What if I stripped away one layer? That might work. The third character has to have a secretive past, though, because it benefits the plot. Wow, that solves my problem! Now only one character is completely secretive about the past!

Unfortunately, the changes I want to make mean that I have to do yet another round of re-writing. I knew I would have to go back and add in world building, but I hadn't anticipated making any more significant changes to my characters. During this next edit, I will try to do both. I'm also going to try have this next edit done by the end of the year, which may be slightly ambitious depending on how heavy my schoolwork load is. I suppose I'll find out!

Have you writers ever dealt with a character who gives you new troubles every time you fix the ones he handed you the day before? How much secrecy and mystery do you readers think is too much in a book?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Reorganizing My Bookshelves

I'm headed off to college in the fall and want to take some books with me... Sounds like the perfect time to reorganize the bookshelves!
Enjoy the video:

And, if you haven't already, vote for your favorite fantasy characters here: Silmarillion Awards

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Silmarillion Awards: Voting

Welcome to the second stage of the Silmarillion Awards!

Nominations for the Most Nefarious Villain Silmaril are now closed, and the top five "seconded" characters have moved on to the voting round. Can you believe there were fifty-six nominations?
Here were the Top Five:

The White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the White Witch has declared herself Queen of Narnia and has cast a spell over the land which makes it always winter, but never Christmas. With her wand, she is able to turn any naysayers into stone.

The Dragon from The Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. The Dragon marks those who have lost their hearts through tragedy or false love with a kiss on the brow. Those who have been kissed turn into dragons, burning from the inside until their human bodies become horribly twisted.

Lady Life-in-Death from The Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. In return for service, Lady Life-in-Death grants you your heart's desire. However, this deal may not seem so sweet when you find out the price of your heart's desire in enslavement.

Princess Davira from the Ilyon Chronicles by Jaye L. Knight. Davira is the daughter of an emperor, but does not act like it. She is ice-cold, ruthless, and used to having her own way.

Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling. The Ministry of Magic is anxious to quell rumors about the return of Voldemort, so they send Dolores Umbridge to teach their lies. They eventually give Umbridge so much power that she is an unstoppable, tyrannical bully.

The voting form contains the top five nominations from all ten categories, so if you have already gone through the form on someone else's blog, there is no need to go through it again. If you haven't gone through the voting form yet, do so here:

Voting will remain open until July 14 and, after that, your favorite Lord of the Rings characters will be presenting the Silmaril Awards to the winners!