cooking

Signs of Success and Failures in Cooking

Image from Pixabay

Every expert has started out knowing little to nothing about his or her field or hobby, including chefs and people who cook in general. Before someone succeeds in something, he or she will struggle and need help along the way, especially when he or she starts out.

I am no different. I’ve started cooking at age 12, after taking a home economics course in middle school. In my early cooking days, I would constantly throw away foods I made. A little later, like in high school, I baked or cooked more items that people could enjoy, including myself. Now I can make just about anything that people would like.

These are the signs of success in a cooked creation:

-Experiencing a great taste

-Coming back for more

-Making the item again with the same recipe

Of course, this is more common for me now and in recent years. That being said, there are still rare occasions where I throw my cooked items away.

Which brings me to the signs of failure in cooking

-Finding the taste or texture of the food just okay or not good at all

-Letting it sit untouched

-Having to toss it in the trash not long after

Don’t worry if you fail to cook something good. If you keep at it, you will improve, just like with anything.

Writing

A New Process Has Come for My Writing: It Involves More Outlining and Fewer Drafts

I wish I had come up with this technique earlier. I don’t know if it’ll work, but I suppose it is worth trying.

Why am I choosing this process, you might ask? It’s because I want to write my novels a little more quickly, but also keep the quality high. Okay, okay, I get what you’re probably thinking. Writing a good book takes time, and sometimes, that can mean several years.

I agree with that. There have even been authors who worked on their novels for at least ten years. But for me, writing my third installment of my fantasy book series for nearly four and a half years, and still not being finished with it, is now tiring. Of course, I will keep at it until it’s the best it can be.

However, for my next installment, the fourth book (no title yet), I don’t want it to lag. So, I’ve decided on a new way of producing the following story and all future books. Here is the plan:

1: Write a super-sloppy and short first draft (I’ve done that already).

2: Write and revise synopses for the WIP until I am satisfied with one and think it’ll work.

3: Write the story using the best synopsis at the moment, but let the writing be sloppy and weak, if necessary, just so the words can get on the page.

4: Strengthen the writing to a good-quality kind, and once it feels right, submit it to an editor.

5: Repeat steps 2 to 4 until the story is completely great and is ready to be published.

If you want to try this process, it’s better if you already know the writing craft rules and have excellent skills at it. And that can (and almost always) take several years.

I started learning the writing craft when I was about eighteen and it took me over seven years to produce great-quality stories with great writing.

Now when I say great, I mean it. Books with just good or decent writing didn’t satisfy me when I published them. They were good, but not excellent. I ended up removing them from the market. The experience was not as satisfying as I’d predicted. It may be different for others, but it wasn’t for me.

Anyway, if you are a writer with great writing abilities, it is probably okay to find a shortcut with getting your story down and ready for publication more quickly.

I’m actually teaching myself to work on two projects at once. In the past, I’d only work on one at a time. But I’m changing my mind about that. I don’t want to keep readers waiting too long for the next installments of my series or any other books I may write. So, I’m working on both my third and fourth installments at the same time.

Writing

Why Names Rarely Have Purposes in My Writing

Many authors choose names for their characters based on their personalities. The names often have meanings for each character based on their behaviors and backstories.

I, however, am not normally like that. I usually choose names for my characters simply by how much they appeal to me. Of course, I take into consideration the characters’ races, religions, ethnicities, and generations when I name them.

While I never name characters based on their personalities, there are a few times my characters’ names had purposes.

For example, in book 1 of my “Magical Missions” series, the main antagonist is Beau Duchamp. I chose Beau so that kids could pronounce his name more easily for a French man.

Another example is Errol, the villain in book 2 of my series. He was inspired by the Grim Reaper. He was also originally named Peril and was eviler in early drafts of the story. However, editors have said that he wasn’t wicked enough to be called “Peril.” So, I changed his name to something that rhymed with his original name.

In my third installment, the main villain has a made-up name: Boo-Champ Corey. The name represents a combination of two other bad guys from my series world.

The final character is a wizard mentor called Mr. Reuber. He was inspired by Hagrid from “Harry Potter”, so his last name sounds similar to Hagrid’s first name, Rubeus. Of course, he isn’t a representation of J.K. Rowling’s creation and he does differ from Hagrid, as well.

However, since book 3 hasn’t been published yet, I don’t know if those characters will make it to the final draft. Hopefully, they will.

Other than these examples, my characters’ names were chosen purely based on what I liked.

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.

Writing

Don’t be Shy and Give it a Try: Research by Asking Real People

With research, you look for more than just the craft rules. Those include the setting your story takes place, the laws of that society, and much more.

While I have researched common things like how detention works in schools, one thing I needed to learn more about involved a minor backstory error in both the first and second installments of my novels.

However, I am resolving it by adding a twist to that mistake in the third book. It will reveal how that incorrect statement had been false the whole time.

If you can’t find anything relevant to the research needed for your project, sometimes it is best to ask someone who is an expertise in that specific field. Just give him or her enough information about your project as well as your question. I did that for the little error I made in my books due to not performing careful research on it.

You can also join writing forums for help, as well. The one I participate in when I have questions has a research section. That is where I asked about things I had to know, and would be harder to seek through Google.

That is also where I found out how detention works in schools, since in my series’ second installment, my main character lands in it. However, I never got detention in school, which is obviously a good thing. But I still received useful answers.

Another topic I needed to learn more about was how much stress it would take for somebody to end up in shock. Unlike the detention subject, though, this element did not make it into my first book, where it was intended to go.

While the Internet may be there 24/7 (for the most part), you can always ask real people for research questions whether it’s one person or on a forum.

art

Why Reference Images Make a Difference for Art

What is a reference image, you may ask? It is an image an artist uses to help him or her create something by making it similar, but not exact. For example, if you use a house photo as a reference image, you may draw some things the same, but maybe change the shape of a window, remove a decorative touch, or use a different color for the roof.

For me, when I want to draw a person whom I have a specific envision for, I refer to different pictures to create the subject. I may use one picture for the face shape, another for the eyes, nose, mouth, and so forth. And guess what? Referring to photos makes a big difference for the aesthetic of the drawing I make.

Below is a drawing I did of my book’s main character with hardly any reference material used.

I find this sketch to be very unattractive. Not because of the photo lighting quality or the pencil marks, but because the face doesn’t look appealing. Proportions are kind of off.

So, here is a revised sketch I did of this same character. That’s another tip: revise your drawings if you feel it’s necessary.

It’s a little better than the previous drawing. However, the eyes are too big, and when I tried to adjust them in Photoshop, it just made the girl uglier. And she’d supposed to be more beautiful to me.

So, here is the third revision for the image:

She is starting too look more attractive, but the forehead is a bit too big. Also, this looks like it was cut and pasted on a solid-colored background. Honestly, I think it appears amateurish.

Now onto the final and best portrayal of my protagonist.

This is where I got serious into using as much reference material as possible. Hardly any of the features drawn were from my imagination. Of course, I didn’t copy anyone or make the girl resemble any real person. But thanks to the different approach, this is the best drawing out of all four. It kind of reminds me of a “Charlie the Unicorn” style. You know—the YouTube series about a cranky unicorn who gets taunted by two hyper ones. All right, that may be beside the point.

Anyway, for those of you who draw, you may want to consider the advice of reference material and revising your drawings. Hope this helped.

cooking

The Most Delicious Homemade Brownies Ever…it’s a Miracle!

Homemade cooking involves less preservatives and more control from you. And with the coronavirus forcing people to be in their homes pretty much all the time, I have to do most of my own cooking. I do love going out, and I will admit that prior to the covid-19 crisis, I barely cooked and spent more time eating out, and a lot.

However, now that dining out is no longer an option (only takeout and delivery are available in New York), and I’ve been cooking at home, I’ve noticed that I feel more energetic and am losing weight again.

Okay, this is not a health post. But all of that is true. Anyway, let me talk about the brownies I made.

They taste kind of like the ones made from boxed mixes. I’m not kidding. The only difference is that their textures at the top aren’t flaky, and most importantly, I know what went in them.

My guess of why they are fudgy and not cakelike is that the flour ratio is sort of smaller than the rest of the ingredients. Not once have I seen that in any other homemade brownie recipe. So, bravo to the creator of this one.

I can’t find the recipe again through my Google search. But I do find that the other recipes have similar formulas, by using less flour. So, if you try one of those recipes, you may be satisfied.

art, cooking

It’s Fun to Draw Cakes

Although it’s unlikely typical for people to want to draw designs for their cakes, no matter the reasons, I enjoyed it in my youth and still do now.

As a creative and artistic person, I’ve constantly come up with various ideas and specific envisions for just about anything.  With cakes, I’ve drawn how I wanted them to look. Sometimes I’ve had my own drawings scanned onto them. During that time, I also discovered that copyrighted images could not be scanned onto cakes. So, I had to stick with my own ideas.

I would also illustrate a few different ideas of one cake. I did that for my sweet 16 cake, and used every possible point-of-view (except the bottom, obviously). The bakery used one of the designs and that pleased me.

Recent years, though, I’ve designed cake appearances for me to bake from scratch. One of my college friends is allergic to peanuts, and unfortunately, there aren’t many commercial options near me that are 100 percent safe for those with nut allergies. It sounds strange, especially since I live close to New York City. But even there, I had trouble finding a place I could trust to be fully nut-free. There are some, but they’re also dairy-free, gluten-free, and so on.

Even though I’ve been cooking since I was 12, some of the cake designs I’ve envisioned were a little too advanced for me, like the ones below.

The gradient technique is called an ombre. It looks beautiful, but I’m not sure if I know how to do it properly (in spite of researching it). And some of the flowers are probably best for elite and highly talented bakers. Here’s another cake image I drew that I felt was too hard to actually do in real life.

It most likely would be easier than the one with the ombre and detailed flowers. However, this would have involved a lot of work.

So, at times, less can be more with designing and decorating cakes, especially if it’s a casual party at your house with a group of friends. I learned that cake appearances can still look dazzling, even with few decorations. That is what I did for my 26th birthday November 2019.

Okay, maybe me looking away from the camera might be kind of distracting. But if you look carefully at the cake I’m cutting, you see only two colors, one type of decorative design, and the writing on a white chocolate bar in the center. That was good enough for me, especially with all the cooking and other preparations I had to do.

So, there you have it.

Writing

When Should You Describe Voices in Your Writing?

Image from Pixabay

Every character should have a unique voice. And by that, I don’t just mean speech patterns, words, attitudes, and so on, I also mean physical voices. For instance, are they high, low, nasal, etc.?

I used to describe what my characters’ voices sounded like in my earlier writing days. And in my book, “The Frights of Fiji,” I do say what a few characters’ voices sound like. Two of them are described with deep voices and one is said to have a high voice. However, those were mainly done for comedic purposes. I originally published “The Frights of Fiji” in 2013 as “From Frights to Flaws.” I now refrain from explaining how my characters’ voices sound, unless it’s important to the stories.

Even my main character’s voice noise isn’t revealed. In the sequel, there is a scene where she sings a certain song. Although I state that she takes chorus at school, I don’t specify if she is an alto or soprano. That is because I want readers to use their envisions to what her voice sounds like.

Many people dislike when characters’ physical appearances are described unless they’re important, otherwise, the readers should get to picture them their ways. I happen to be the opposite with that. I am an advocate for authors to describe their characters with whatever traits they want, as long as it’s not too many (since that can bog down the narrative and be too much to remember), or offensive. I not only believe that writers deserve the right to physically describe their characters, but I also cannot picture characters clearly unless the narrators say what they look like.

That being said, it’s the reverse for voices. Since I first wrote Book 1 of my “Magical Missions” series, I learned more about the writing craft, and chose to give up with explaining how characters’ voices sound, except when it’s crucial. I would recommend that to all aspiring writers. A few voice sounds revealed here and there probably won’t matter. Just be sure not to overdo it, or else, it might overwhelm your readers.