cooking

I Had a Blast with These Blueberry Muffins!

When lockdown began, I stress-baked like crazy. I normally love the blueberry muffins from Dunkin’ Donuts (or now just Dunkin), and I still could have gotten them to go. Where I live, many restaurants still offer take-out, delivery, or curbside pickup.

Anyway, I tried making these muffins using a kopykat recipe from the Internet. It called for a special Dunkin creamer. But I didn’t have that.

So, I used either half and half, heavy cream, or both. Whatever I did, it made the muffins super-moist and delicious. I had learned that the more fat content a dairy product contains, the softer it makes the baked good.

I also used a mix of frozen wild blueberries as well as fresh blueberries. I even included some fresh raspberries and blackberries. Mixed berry muffins rule!

That was technically what they were. But there were more blueberries than raspberries and blackberries. So, I guess they could have still been called blueberry muffins.

I ate them like crazy. That’s right, they tasted that delicious. I probably will remake these muffins again, regardless of when restaurants in my area reopen their dining sections.

Since making these muffins, I’ve sometimes been swapping out water or whole milk with half and half and heavy cream with other recipes. You could try that, too.

Writing

Developing Protagonists and How I Did it

Every writer develops his or her protagonist his or her own way. Some are inspired by real people, which is how I think Lewis Carroll developed the character, Alice, for “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. According to a magazine, His heroine shared the same name with a real girl, also called Alice.

While many of us know that J.K. Rowling came up with the basic idea of “Harry Potter” on a delayed train, she used some of her own life experiences to build Harry.

As for my protagonist, Alyssa McCarthy, the development of her goes back further than anyone could imagine. In fact, the inspiration for the character dates back to when I was in 2nd grade, and it came from a source that nobody would have expected: An early reader book.

That was “Morris Goes to School”. After reading it, I got inspired to do my own version of that story, but with an upright polar bear named Spike. I evolved Spike into a child polar bear who went to school with human children. One of those extras was a girl with long blonde hair, who got her own spinoff in my mind, where she lived in a house in a jungle and had animal friends. The girl could talk to those creatures, too. I envisioned that creation from maybe third grade and all through fourth grade, but abandoned the idea in fifth grade. Like my MC today, her name was also Alyssa.

For the next several years, I lost interest in creative writing since everything I thought of sounded no good after. However, that changed in early eleventh grade.

While in the shower, the same idea of what I daydreamed about in fourth grade of a girl called Alyssa with long blonde hair who had a supernatural ability hit my mind. After that, I brainstormed ideas and wrote a story similar to my childhood imagination. Sadly, no one else liked it.

Fast forward to my freshman year of college and I scrapped the original idea and turned it into something more appealing. It took a while to create another tale of a girl named Alyssa with long blonde tresses, but with better ideas from me.

While she does have a few similarities to me, such as her sense of style and some food tastes, Alyssa, my current protagonist, is also quite different from me. I developed her personality with a combination of some of the Disney princesses. I also got a ton of inspiration from the “Harry Potter” series for Alyssa’s life and the events that happened to her as well as what goes on in the stories. In fact, readers have constantly compared my “Magical Missions” series to the “Harry Potter” franchise since they share a lot of similarities, but not enough to be exact.

That is the true history of how I developed my main character.

travel

My Top 3 Unique Travel Moments

Image from Pixabay

I’ve traveled so many times throughout my life that I’ve learned so much about other areas, cultures, and much more. I can’t even keep track of how many places I’ve been to.

Anyway, when you travel a lot, you may experience unique moments or activities. So, without further ado, here are the top 3 unique moments.

3: A trip to a cooking school and getting to prepare a meal

Now this one was not out of town, although I still consider it unusual, but in a good way. When I was in 10th grade, the students who took Italian as a foreign language got to go on a trip to a small cooking school several minutes away. We were assigned different foods to cook. After we finished, we got to eat. I got the polenta group (we worked in teams), but when I ate it, I didn’t like the taste. Nevertheless, the trip was fun.

2: Visiting the “Harry Potter” exhibit in Discovery Times Square

Unfortunately, Discovery Times Square has gone out of business and the space is now for a National Geographic Museum. However, I went to Discovery Times Square in 2011, and there was an exhibit with the “Harry Potter” films’ props, costumes, and more. No phone use, touching, or photographing anything was permitted. Yet it was still exciting to see the items used in the movies. I was especially surprised and amazed at the life-sized Hagrid model. It stood so high that I found it strange that Hagrid never seemed to get stares in the muggle world in either the books or the movies. I remember thinking that real people that size would probably receive tons of stares in public, which would make me feel sorry for them.

And now…drumroll

1: Running into a former school classmate and doing an activity with her

This was back when I was in 5th grade. A girl who was in my 4th grade class and I ran into each other in Cozumel, Mexico. I recall that she’d left my elementary school starting in 5th grade. Not only did I hang out with her for a bit, but we also participated in a dolphin-swim that same day. What a miracle! Not many people run into former school classmates on vacations and get to do activities with them.

So, there you have it.

art

Drawing Proportions from Face to Face is Anything but a No-Brainer

Image from Pixabay

Pretty much all of us have drawn in our youth whether it was required in school or for pleasure. Regardless of that, only some of us have taken our artistic activities seriously and honed them to produce quality work.

This post will focus on the face and why it can be difficult to create with accurate proportions. And no, that doesn’t count the simple smiley faces or the stick-figure heads. Anyone could make those easily. This will be about drawing the face as best as possible.

One fact I learned when creating faces was that the eyes are separated by one imaginary eye shape. In other words, you could fit a third eye in between the two real ones.

The mouth is also difficult to line up where it belongs. Not only because people move their mouths and have different shapes of them, but also because getting them in the center is challenging. So, it’s a good idea to have lines to guide you when you draw.

But the biggest struggle with the face is probably the nose. You want it to look attractive and, at least, kind of realistic, depending on your artistic skills. But you also might not wish to make the human look like he or she is wearing a nose costume.

What I do for that is shade or draw one line that leads up from the nose toward the eye area. It all depends on your style or plan as well as your talent.

So, yeah, the face can be a bit of a challenge. However, it can also be fun. After all, many folks like creating different variations of different subjects.

Having reference material can also help. You use it as inspiration, but not copying (unless that’s your intention and only for personal use).

I hope this post helps.

Writing

Coming Up with a Terrific Title

Image from Pixabay

Ah, titles, you’ve got to love them—or dislike them. Titles matter a lot for a book to sell, whether it’s commercially or self-published.

In traditional publishing, the publisher comes up with the titles for books. But in self-publishing, the author is responsible for his or her book title. And that can be a big challenge.

If you don’t know, authors who take the commercial route have to give up control (if they even get accepted, which is super-difficult) for their manuscript. The publishing house decides everything. But if a writer chooses to self-publish, he or she gets to retain full control.

That being said, he or she needs to do homework and research on what would work for getting his or her book to sell. While self-publishing is receiving a better reputation that before, unfortunately, it still has a kind-of weak one. Too many indie authors don’t take careful consideration for their products and will decide on ideas that just appeal to them.

That was an issue with me when I first published the beginning installment of my “Magical Missions” series in 2013. I wanted to use alliteration, so I titled the story, “From Frights to Flaws.” Little did I know that it was a weak title and people said that it hadn’t made sense. When I revised and re-published the new version in 2018, I kept the original title, but added 2nd edition to it. Sales improved, but not to my satisfaction. Once again, I was told that my title made no sense.

So, I did a poll somewhere and came up with an alternate title, “The Frights of Fiji”. The new title pleased people more and got the most votes. I then changed the title, as well as made a few minor updates to the cover, blurb, opening chapter, and even got to have the story be perma-free.

Titles can be difficult to brainstorm. So, now I come up with a few ideas and have people vote for which they think is the strongest. This can be a good idea for when you need to title your book(s).

cooking

It Starts Bitter…Then it’s Sweet…Healthy Pudding

It was not until recently that I cleaned up my diet and lost my sweet tooth, which I’ve had forever. And it wasn’t a conscious decision.

Anyway, before that time, a few months ago or so, I experimented with healthier desserts. One was chocolate pudding that had almond milk instead of regular milk. I don’t recall all the ingredients, but I do remember it being a healthier alternative.

Regardless of that, when I first tasted the pudding, it was kind of bitter. I had to keep eating it in order for it to get sweet. Sounds like a treat Willy Wonka could make, huh? Well, the bitter to sweet taste actually happened. I’m not exaggerating.

After some time, though, I think I might have had to throw the pudding away. I may have possibly consumed a little more after, but I don’t remember.

I am pretty sure, however, that the reviews for the pudding recipe were good. My mom taught me to check the overall ratings and reviews before trying the recipes. It makes total sense. Too many times I’ve had to toss my cooked creations without checking the reactions.

I will make pudding and eat sweets on rare occasion. But I will probably not use that specific recipe again.

cooking

My Experience with Cooking Seafood

Image from Pixabay

I love seafood, both fish and shellfish. Now these days, though, I prefer shellfish more, not just because of the taste and textures, but also that they’re quicker to make.

Sometimes, you can have lobsters steamed in the grocery store. However, that varies. Sometimes, you can buy just the tail. Other times, you have to pick something else.

That’s the thing with seafood. Its availability is not always consistent, especially if it’s fresh. I suggest buying the wild-caught kinds as farm-raised seafood can have some issues about them. I’ll stop there with that.

Anyway, there are a lot of ways you can cook seafood. The sky is pretty much the limit. With certain shellfish, though, it’s best to steam them. Those include lobster and shrimp. You can boil them, but then they lose their flavor. Maybe that also removes their nutritional value.

I learned to steam them after boiling them for a while. Guess what? They tasted better—way better. I like to have butter with my lobster and garlic seasoning on my shrimp.

Regardless of all this, some people can’t eat seafood, whether they’re allergic or for other reasons. But it’s rare that I’m in situations like that.

I will admit that driving has spoiled me a bit and made me too lazy too cook at times. Instead, I’m getting takeout. However, I want to change that—at least slightly.

My family has been kind of strict with protein at every meal, certainly when I was a kid. Now they’re more laid back. Yet, because of that guideline from the past, I’ve kind of developed that rule as a routine. If I don’t want meat or poultry, I get seafood.

cooking

Fudge with Just Two Ingredients

Fudge is delicious. It comes in many flavors and those are good, as well, even if they’re kind of expensive at times. While trying to find a healthy dessert recipe, I came across a fudge recipe with only two ingredients: chocolate and almond butter.

You read that right. Here’s how you do it. You melt the chocolate and combine it with the almond butter. I believe it’s an even level of the ingredients (i.e. both being a cup), but I’m not a hundred percent sure. Anyway, let’s presume it is. After combining the ingredients, you spread them in a pan and freeze them. You don’t bake it. Leave it in the freezer for approximately an hour. Then let it thaw for a few minutes, or maybe ten. Then enjoy.

While I usually like fudge, even though I rarely eat it, this one was honestly only okay. I ended up tossing half of it in the trash because I didn’t eat enough of it. And I added a little bit of coconut sugar, which was not part of the original recipe. I wanted to make it just a little sweeter, but not use white sugar.

I don’t recall if there were ratings and reviews. But my mom recommends I use only recipes with great feedback and reactions. I think it’s good advice.

travel

When I Visited the Calgary Zoo in 2015

Four years ago, I went to Calgary for my cousin’s engagement party. On what was Independence Day in the US, I went to the Calgary Zoo. It’s kind of like the Bronx Zoo, but more condensed. You can probably see pretty much anything in one day.

After you’re admitted, you’re near the penguin house. Outside it, has different signs, one saying not to touch the penguins. I was puzzled, thinking, why are they reminding people something they already know? Plus, don’t they make it impossible to touch the creatures? Following that sentence was, “We have a no-touching policy.” In my mind, I was saying, yeah, no duh, all zoos do. That’s common knowledge! That’s like reminding people that animals can’t talk. Also, if you put that in a book, that’ll turn readers off. That’s right, I was thinking about something irrelevant.

But when you enter the penguin house, the tanks are, like, five feet tall. So, while little kids wouldn’t be able to reach the top, adults could. Perhaps, that’s why they needed to remind people that basic knowledge that most three-year-olds already know.

Another unique aspect is that they have a restaurant with sit-down service and good quality food. That’s a big difference from the New York City zoos. And it’s indoors.

At the end of the day, it rained, and the small children screamed and cried, even in the tunnel to exit the zoo. Still, no two zoos are alike.