cooking

Perfect Brownies from Scratch: They’re So Hard to Make as Good as the Boxed Mixes

Image from Pixabay

Brownies rule! Of course, you shouldn’t eat them all the time. But they’re delicious in moderation—just like everything else is, including healthy foods.

You know how people say everything tastes better homemade? Well, that is true for most things. Except…brownies. I don’t understand why. But brownies from scratch almost never taste like the boxed mix. I wonder why no one has found or created a kopy kat recipe for boxed brownie mixes.

I’ve experimented with so many brownie recipes from scratch. Nothing came close to the boxed mix nor did anything taste nearly as good. That was…until the end of 2017. I found a recipe which I liked. So, I used it to make brownies. They were almost like the boxed mix.

But the baking soda made the tops too crunchy. I don’t mind crunchy-topped brownies but these were too crusty. Luckily, at the New Year’s Eve party I went to, people enjoyed them very much. They said that those brownies were better than any other dessert there.

But to this day, I have still yet to find a brownie recipe exactly as good as the boxed mixes. Maybe I could try a flourless brownie recipe. Flourless chocolate cookie recipes often worked out for me. So, I see no reason why a flourless brownie recipe would not.

Writing

Save Time with Shorthand Writing

My handwriting has always been sloppy. I have also written big and not very quickly. Sometimes, in school, I fell behind in handwriting assignments.

I also have preferred to handwrite my stories at times. Why? Because there are no computer distractions, such as the internet, and I found my handwriting speed to be, ironically, faster in recent years. However, because of the quicker motions, my hands often hurt. So I couldn’t write as much as I wanted, even if I abbreviated things (i.e. u for you).

I discovered shorthand writing when looking up ways to hasten up my handwriting. At first, I was resistant to it because I felt it would’ve involved too much work. But boy, was I wrong. It didn’t take a very long time to learn. In fact, it almost became a default habit.

I started out with writing the alphabet in shorthand. Then I wrote short phrases such as “I love you” and “happy birthday”. After that, I moved onto short songs that don’t repeat phrases and that I knew by heart. Although it was no longer holiday season, I translated the lyrics to “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” into shorthand. Hey—no one was going to see it, anyway. Nor would anybody know what the sentences said. I also translated a couple showtunes into shorthand. Finally, I did entire first pages of books, such as “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”.

Due to other things happening, I haven’t used shorthand writing in a long time. However, I will come back to it. It’s good to keep up with something that can expedite your handwriting, as long as you don’t have to share the works with other people.

art

Mini Art Show: Squid Piñata

In my senior year of college, I took a sculpture class. For our first assignment, we had to make piñatas. Our professor discouraged the traditional donkey piñata and filling it with candy. He wanted us to be more creative.

I intended to make an octopus piñata. But it ended up looking like a squid. So I made it a squid. Although squids are often pinkish gray, I made mine orange.

We were supposed to start off with smaller models. But my practice one was kind of big. So I got to turn it into my final project.

It was no joke that this project involved a ton of work. From putting the cardboards together, pasting paper onto it, and filling it, I would spend hours at night working on it.

Because squids have ink, I chose to fill my piñata with pens. And not just regular ones—colored pens. You know why—to make more artsy.

We hung up our piñatas at an event. Sadly, it rained later. But I did hear that someone got to hit my piñata and get the pens out.

Originally, I wanted to give the piñata a hat. But due to the work involved and the tight deadline, I had to abandon that plan. I do love putting humor in art, though. Nevertheless, I got a good grade.

Writing

Why I Differentiate My Characters from Myself

Image from Pixabay

Many authors base their characters off of people they know. A high percent of people also base their stories off of real-life experiences. However, I am different. I rarely or never do any of those things.

One: I find my life experiences too ordinary and straightforward. Two: I find it more exciting to make them very different from me.

For example, the MC of my novels is Irish Catholic, blonde, and has had a tragic life. I am Indian and Hindu, dark-haired, and has lived a typical life with hardly any tragedies. I lost my paternal grandpa when I was 2, so I don’t remember him. My maternal grandpa died when I was 22 but I didn’t cry. I only experienced shocking pain for a few hours. That’s really it for the sad moments in my life.

I could explain my MC’s tragic life. But that is within the novels. You can find them through reviews, excerpts, or if you choose to purchase the books.

Anyway, I find varying and differentiating things far more fun than making them like me. After all, the world would be a boring place if we all thought the same things, even if that meant little to no conflicts. I could be wrong, though.

Differentiating characters from myself also opens more room for growing knowledge, even if that means extra research. If I wrote about Hindu characters, I probably would not have to do as much research. But I would also get bored. And if it’s boring to write, it’s usually boring to read.

While I rarely make characters similar to myself, I never base them off people I know. But that will be for another post. That being said, I do give some similarities occasionally, such as food tastes. Overall, though, I differ from other writers.

art

Simple Shapes vs. Outlining Drawings

Who has drawn before? Pretty much all of us. We learned it in school. However, only a section of us have developed a passion or talent for them.

Most of us were probably taught to outline our drawings first as children. And that is fine. But if you go into illustration or animation, you’ll have to learn about drawing using simple shape blocks. Why? Well, consistency. The smallest can be greatly noticed by the general public.

While I still outline some drawings, when I want to be serious, I now use simple shapes. The image below shows a drawing I did using simple shapes.

It wasn’t meant to be finished as it was used as a reference template for someone I’ve worked with. Yet, you can see the simple shapes as building blocks for each character or element.

There are times where it’s acceptable to outline or be very simplistic. Like in math, you may have been asked to draw out problems but not use details. The focus was the problem and not the art. But I’m no math expert.

Anyway, if you’re in a hurry, by all means outline everything first, like you were probably taught as a kid. But if you’re a serious artist who wants to hone your illustration or drawing skills, then simple shapes are a must. I was taught this in college.

I don’t have a picture that I clearly outlined. Well, I’ve practiced using other drawings. But I threw them all away due to space issues in my room. Also, they weren’t my ideas.

Yet, I can tell you the technique. I would select a semi-realistic image and decide on the person’s age range and gender. The choices for age range were baby/small child, older child, teen/young adult, middle aged adult, or senior. I would use an image from the face to chest instead of the whole figure. I would tell myself to observe the outlines but not to trace. Pretty much no image came out exact. However, most did turn out similar. And I accepted that.

I would practice at least a couple times a day. Then I would move to the next level of making them look like cartoons of themselves. That was very, very difficult.

Why semi-realistic, you may ask? One, it’s the style I’m most attracted to. Two, it’s neither too realistic or too cartoony. Many people prefer cartoonish style over realistic. But I feel cartoonish is a little too easy for me.

I would like to return to that soon. You could try these techniques too. Good luck.

Writing

Unintentional Symbolism and Messages I’ve Made in My Writing

Image from Pixabay

Have any of you wrote something and didn’t realize anything significant about your work until long after? I have. They are symbols and messages I didn’t discover until a lengthy time after writing the projects.

For instance, in my first book, “The Frights of Fiji” (formerly, “From Frights to Flaws”), there are mermaid-like women, but with dolphin tails, who sing certain songs as a way of informing others of their presences. Those songs ended up relating to the situations they were encountering or leaving.

In my second book, “The Uncontrollable Curse” (formerly “Wizardry Goes Wild”), my MC wants her dog to attack the antagonist, who is a skeleton. At the time I wrote the story, I tied that dog vs. skeleton situation with historical context—not because of the “dog-eating-bones” stereotype.

Another unintentional message I ended up making in that installment was about history repeating itself. I’m not going to spoil anything, of course (“The Uncontrollable Curse” hasn’t even come out yet), but the book does tie a lot of Puritan and Salem Witch Trials content. My MC is cursed with involuntary magic. When she does it, others misunderstand and become afraid of her. This ties to how people during Pilgrim and witch hunt times were miscomprehended and feared when they were just different. While people who were found guilty of witchcraft were hanged and/or burned, the “witch” (my MC) is penalized for her sorcery by getting detention at school, suspended, excluded from activities, and more (I won’t give away anything else).

I have yet to discover any accidental messages or symbols in my third book. But hey—it might happen.

Writing

Characters: When All of Their Flaws Are Too Hard to Apply

Image from Pixabay

Ah, characters: you’ve got to love or hate them—or have some opinion on them. They also shouldn’t be perfect. The hero should do wrong things and get disliked at times and the villain should get liked at times.

However, this is super-difficult—at least for me it is. I have a tendency to protect my main character in my novels. I like her a lot. I feel sorry for her. And because of those, I tend to make her hardly flawed. At most, she may do a few wrong things and at milder levels. The worst she has done in my book series was unauthorized filming and lying about not doing it. That’s actually a serious offense.

Anyway, I’m probably not the only writer who has trouble making certain characters flawed. Of course, there are characters who are unfriendly, but not evil. And obviously, there is conflict in my stories. But I think I know why I have difficulty getting my protagonist to misbehave.

One: it wasn’t until the plot of my first book’s first edition was nearly complete when I found out that protagonists should behave badly or do wrong things. When rewriting my first book after removing it from the market, I couldn’t make my main character more flawed as the major elements had already been established. Two: I have recently become very uncomfortable around conflict. Not just in real life, but also in fiction. Yes, I have stopped certain books and movies because I loathed how the characters were being treated. Now while writing my third book, I have no plans to make my MC do really bad things. Yes, she won’t be perfect. In fact, she will have trouble controlling her emotions. But I will stop there on that.

Writers fall in love with their heroes. They become attached to them. So they may have trouble making them behave badly. However, someone told me that the best books have characters who misbehave a lot.

Now if you’re creating children’s stories, there are limits to how badly the characters can act. Of course, it would be acceptable (and would probably engage readers) if the protagonists started food fights at school, got sent to the principals’ offices, and were punished by their parents. However, you could not have them do something that would be inappropriate. Not just drugs or drinking, but also activities that could lead to death or serious injuries. Otherwise, parents won’t want their kids reading your books.

Do you notice that lack of perfectly behaved characters in fiction? Most likely. And that’s because people want flawed characters. In fact, sometimes that’s essential to the storylines.

I’ll give a few examples from Disney movies. In The Lion King, when Simba talks to Scar about that shadowed area that his father forbade him to go, Scar says that only the bravest lions would enter. “Brave” is the big, main keyword. That was what encouraged Simba to check it out, and, of course, that led to conflict crucial for the plot. If Scar had said that only the dumbest lions would go there, Simba might not have gone because he wouldn’t have said, “Well, I’m dumb.” He was in too good of a mood to say such a thing. And then, there would have been a lot less conflict. And without enough conflict, the story would’ve been dull, and the film would’ve drastically failed—or maybe not have even been green-lit.

In Beauty and the Beast, after the beast releases Belle from the dungeon tower, he leads her up to her new room and says that she can go anywhere, except the forbidden west wing. Later Belle is curious about the west wing and enters it, discovering the enchanted rose and the portrait of the beast when he was a person. The beast catches her and forces her out.

Spoiler:

At the end, when the beast transforms back into a human, Belle recognizes him from the painting. Then they live happily ever after.

If Belle had listened to the beast, or the beast had not prohibited her from going to the west wing, then the ending might’ve resulted in the prince re-explaining how he’d become a beast. Or—he might not have changed into a better character. Therefore, Belle wouldn’t loved him, and he would’ve failed to break the spell he and the servants had gone under.

So there you have it. Notice the pattern in both examples? Let that help you.

cooking

Cookie “Dough” Balls and How I Made Them

Have you ever eaten cookie dough? I used to, even though I wasn’t supposed to. Luckily, I never got sick.

But there is a way to make cookie “dough”. And no, I don’t mean the mysterious stuff ice cream parlors use. I mean crushed cookies and cream cheese. That’s right.

You can use store-bought cookies. Or you can bake your own. I’d recommend the latter more. Why? Because homemade is always better, of course.

You could bake the cookies longer than instructed, although they may burn a bit. Or bake them soft and let them harden, which I wouldn’t suggest unless you don’t like soft cookies. There are people who prefer crunchier cookies. You might be one of them.

What I do is bake them soft. If I find them just okay or get tired of them after a while, they end up hardening. So instead of tossing them, I crush them, mix them with cream cheese, and roll them into little balls. Then I refrigerate them. Sometimes, I dip them in chocolate or colored sugars. And guess what? They taste delicious. They taste like cookie dough, except that they’re not raw.

So if you want to make your own cookie “dough” without getting sick or trying to find the strange ingredients ice cream shops use, just crush your hard cookies and mix in cream cheese. You can use a blender. In fact, that’s probably better because it expedite the process.

Your cream cheese and crushed crumbs should measure about the same volume. After you mix the two, roll them into balls, like the size of a gumball. Then refrigerate them for about a half hour or so. Then take them out and enjoy, or dip them in chocolate, sugars, sprinkles, nuts, or anything you’d like. Believe me, you’ll feel like you’re eating cookie dough.

Writing

The Dialogue… It’s so Incredibly Difficult!

Image from Pixabay

Why is it so hard? Because it needs to be relevant to the storyline, not offensive, and sound natural to the person speaking it, taking their age, time, where they live, and other demographics in mind. You need to listen to how people speak.

Yet, many people, especially those the ages of middle grade characters, have said little to nothing in my presence. Yup—people watching is tougher than you think, excluding the risk of those folks thinking that you’re stalking them. You could watch movies too, but that doesn’t really help, either. Another option is to read books and see how other authors write their characters’ dialogue.

But the hardest challenge with dialogue, overall, is having characters react believably to extreme situations, especially in fantasy. I write fantasy and I cannot stress enough how difficult it is to make characters react naturally to high levels of danger. No matter how hard I try, readers have said that the characters’ reactions were muted, unnatural, and too accepting. It’s so frustrating!

However, I found a solution, besides receiving help from editors. I print out the story and read the dialogue out loud. I was surprised to discover how unnatural some lines were—just by reading them out loud. So I changed the words.

Observing others is fine up to a certain extent. Also, a lot of people are quiet in public. Many even put on faces in public and might behave differently in their homes. Reading other books could work, as well. But I find reading the dialogue out loud helps the most.

Writing

On Writing my Third “Magical Missions” Novel

This process has been SUPER difficult for me. I meant that. For two years, I couldn’t finish a single darn draft. Then, last year, I discovered that I needed to start shorter and sloppier. I realized that my progress differed from other writers. I needed to simplify things drastically. While others write 100,000 words and have to cut, I will have to write 10,000 words and then expand. But that’s another post.

Anyway, the first installment “The Frights of Fiji” is available on Amazon here. The second installment, “The Uncontrollable Curse” can be pre-ordered right here. The third novel is currently titled “Enchanted for Eternity” (which might change) and still has a ways to go. I am writing a synopsis for the current draft. I’m hoping that plot can work for the final draft. Really—I just want this project to be done. About 3.25 years of this WIP have passed and I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to quit.

Yeah—finding an exciting plot was sooo hard. Even recently, long after I completed a full first draft from January to February last year (2018), I have gotten bored with some of my plots. However, the one I’m working on actually sounds pretty exciting, even though I’m not done with the synopsis.

But the idea has stayed the same. My main character, Alyssa, is cursed with magic that she needs to learn to control and keep permanently. I’ll release more information once the story’s pretty much done and nearing publication, which might be early fall, as of now.