Friday, June 15, 2012

Sarah's Fancy Stir-Fry Ramen

So, due to popular demand, I am going to cook for you guys today. Better yet, I am going to teach you guys how to turn this:
 Into this:
Making ramen exciting is a particularly handy skill when:
  1. You're a poor, starving writer
  2. Any money you do get is going towards buying a couch before the big sale ends
  3. You're eating instant ramen all the time anyway
  4. You have that faint hope that your ramen tasted different for once
I'm sure we've all been there at least once. Am I right? *crickets chip* Yeah . . . I'm totally right. So let me teach you guys how to spice up instant ramen!

Sarah's Fancy Stir-Fry Ramen
In order to make this delicious meal for two people, you will need:
  • 2 packets instant ramen
  • 2 hard boiled eggs (peeled)
  • Delicious veggies of your choice
  • Sesame oil
  • Soy sauce
  • Rice vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic (minced)
  • 1 green onion stalk (chopped)
  • Fresh ginger (minced)
  • Sesame seeds
Yes, you may notice the distinct lack of measurements in that ingredient list. This is because cooking this dish consists mostly of winging it. But don't worry, everything will turn out okay.

Right-o. To start with, we're going to make shoyu eggs, as seen on the excellent Japanese food blog, Just Bento. Why eggs in a noodle dish? They add protein and I love them.

To make these babies, you're going to need some soy sauce and your hard boiled eggs. In this case, I have 2 eggs and 2 tablespoons soy sauce. Heat the soy sauce in a small pan. Once it starts foaming, add the eggs and roll them around with a spoon so they get evenly coated in the soy sauce. When they're done, they'll look something like this:
Yum! Remove from the pan and chill in fridge. This will let the soy sauce set a little bit and make the eggs easier to slice later.

Next, pull out your delicious veggies. In this case I'm using ½ cup frozen corn and ½ cup canned bean sprouts, but I'm also a huge fan of Asian stir fry frozen veggie medleys. Pretty much anything can work though--peas, carrots, brocoli, edamame, water chestnuts, cabbage, etc. Just sauté the veggies of choice in a little butter until they're all warm and delicious. Set aside.
Now it's time to get the actual noodles out of the way. If you're feeling particularly skilled, you can do this while you're sautéing the veggies. If not, well, it's not big deal. Just place the ramen noodle bricks in boiling water, cook until done, strain, and set aside.
For a quick recap: at this point we've made shoyu eggs, sautéed our delicious veggies, and cooked our noodles. Next comes the sauce, which will tie the entire dish together. You will need all of this stuff:
Top row: sesame seeds, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil.
Bottom row: ramen seasoning packets (chicken flavor), minced garlic, chopped green onions, and minced ginger.

Okay, so it looks a little intimidating (and expensive), but it's not that bad. Really. The bottled ingredients will last you quite a while and the fresh ingredients are A) not that expensive, and b) add a kick that their powdered counterparts lack.

So to get this started, add the garlic, ginder, and a dollop of sesame oil to your pot. When making this sauce I usually adjust ingredients based on taste, so unfortunately I'm not going to be much help when it comes to measurements. The thing about most of these ingredients is that, while having more or less of one will change the flavor of your sauce, it won't ruin the dish. Don't be afraid to experiment--too much or too little of something never killed anyone.

Anyway, I like to cook the ginger and garlic in the sesame oil until they get soft and a little browned. This seems to help the flavors come out and make them taste delicious. . . but I really have no idea what I'm talking about. Just do it.
Once that's done, it's time to add the rest of your ingredients. Start off with a splash of soy sauce and rice vinegar. You want to have enough liquid to cover your noodles, so make sure to at least cover the bottom of your pot. Mix in some sesame seeds and the two ramen seasoning packets until everything is well combined. Add the green onions and give them the opportunity to soften a little. This is a good time to taste test and adjust the levels of sesame oil, soy sauce, and rice vinegar to get the perfect flavor.
When everything is to your satisfaction, add the cooked veggies that you set aside earlier. Get them all nice and covered in sauce, and then add your noodles. When you're mixing everything, make sure to get the noodles completely covered in sauce. You should have little to no liquid left over and your noodles will visibly change color when they are properly sauced (feel free to compare the color in this next image to the image of the cooking noodles above).
Almost done! Dish out your lovely creation into two bowls. Cut the shoyu eggs we made earlier up into pretty slices and place along the side of your bowl. And look at that, you're done!
Now doesn't that look delicious? Of course it does! Alternatively, if you're feeling particularly ambitious, you can pan fry up some chicken tenders in a little sesame oil and soy sauce, slice them up like the eggs, and have another element to your noodles.

So, how do you guys feel about instant ramen? Is it one of those foods that you avoid like the plague? Have you ever had the opportunity to eat real ramen in Japan? And, most importantly, do you have any alternative ramen recipes worthy sharing? Tell me in the comments!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

WIP Wednesday: Week 25

Holy crap, I've been doing these things for almost half of a year?!

Days Worked On: All but the weekend . . . which is becoming pretty standard
Morale: Mostly cheerful
Total Word Count: 100,827 (+1284 from last week) plus 14,677 words in the story bible

What I Worked On: World building forever. Then, when all of the character profiles wrapped up, I looked at that horrible beast called chapter 8 again. Sigh.

Thoughts: Well, I continued writing out extremely detailed character profiles . . . so now I know everything there is to know about everyone thus far. Doing this was pretty damn boring (14,000 words of it!), but I think it'll be helpful later on . . . especially for characters that didn't have fleshed out backstories yet.

Then, instead of doing location profiles (because holy crap that sounds horrible right now), I went back to chapter 8. You guys remember chapter 8, right? The one that inspired a corkboard timeline, made me want to rip my hair out, and basically sent me into a spiral of misery?

(Melodramatic? Hah! What're you talking about? I'm not being melodramatic)

Wish me luck.

Writing Song of the Week: Deb Talan's Rocks and Water. The vocals are so clear and it makes such a lovely song about survival and learning from experience . . . and then there's the parts with a male vocalist in the background! *happy shudder* Makes me think of Eva.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Writerly Tools: Pinterest

Yes, this is a Pinterest post.

If you've been following pretty much any blog for the last six months, you've already seen at least one version of this post, so you're welcome to move on. If not, stick around an I'll tell you how Pinterest can be useful to you (and your writing).

Now the idea behind Pinterest was to create virtual pinboards for everything that you as a user thinks is worth pinning. Get it? Pin + Interest = Pinterest. Haha.

At first glimpse, Pinterest looks a whole lot like Tumblr because the entire website is an explosion of pictures. This is why it took me so long to get interested. What was the point of dealing with another social website when it was so close to Tumblr? The answer to that question is because Pinterest is a bit more self-centered than Tumblr.

At its core, Tumblr is just another blogging platform, though it does have a huge emphasis on sharing content. Pinterest, on the other hand, is an easy way to organize online content that you enjoy. Tumblr uses want followers because they want to share their content, while Pinterest users seems a bit more focused on collecting things they like.

Make sense? Maybe a little interested to hear more? Good, since this is the part where I cut to the chase and tell you five reasons why using Pinterest might be in your best interest:
  1. Pinterest is your inspiration board
    Remember when I did a WIP picture spam post? Well Pinterest allows you to easily cultivate images and ideas for your writing . . . or anything else really (and if you're curious, here's a link to my WIP board).
  2. Pinterest is a haven for writers
    So many authors have Pinterest accounts that it's not even funny. Want to see what kind of things that Laini Taylor associates with Daughter of Smoke & Bone or Beth Revis's with her mysterious new WIP? Well now you CAN.
  3. Pinterest lets you organize like a champ
    You can definitely have more than one pin board, which allows you to organize everything your heart's content. Want a board for every WIP? For the tastiest looking recipes? For everything related to comics books? Totally doable.
  4. Pinterest makes browsing easy
    Of course Pinterest has the standard search function, but you can also scroll through pins based on genre/category. Better yet, you can follow other people's boards and let them find all of the best content online.
  5. Pinterest is only what you let it be
    Maybe you'll use it for WIP inspiration, or maybe you'll use it to procrastinate from working on your WIP. Maybe you'll get some new hobbies or save every beautiful picture you find online. If nothing else, Pinterest is versatile.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

WIP Wednesday: Week 23+24

Days Worked On: Probably most of them . . . once again, didn't pay attention
Morale: It was low, then it got higher
Total Word Count: 99,543 (-485 from last week) and several thousand words in the story bible

What I Worked On: World building. ALL THE WORLD BUILDING.

Thoughts: In case you're wondering, there was no post last week because there was really no point. I hadn't done anything and there wasn't anything to say on the matter. I figured I wouldn't bore you.

This week, instead of working on the same nightmare section that I've been looking at for the past forever, I worked on something different. It was fun and therapeutic and reminded me that I actually do enjoy writing. What did I do? Worked on the story bible . . . which I have been ignoring for a long, long time.

Thus, I've been writing out super detailed sections on culture, class structure, character histories, locations, etc, etc, etc. It takes forever, but I think recording all of this information can be super helpful for several reasons:
  • It's easier to look up small details without searching through the text
  • Plot holes show their faces, so you can fix them now
  • Editing is better when you already know everything there is to know
So, you know, that's what I've been doing. Yay!

Anyway, this all brings me to a point I've been wanting to bring up for a while. But first, go look at the WIP Wednesday posts by Jessie at Little Bonobo's Book Café. Note the awesome cultural tidbits that she throws in at the end of each post. Is that not awesome? Yes. Yes it is.

Why is this relevant? Well, I've been wanting to throw in similar, interesting tidbits about my WIP in these posts, but I never do because I can't figure out what to share. What's too spoilerish? What's interesting to read about? Do you even care? I've spent the last week fleshing out more of these details, so I want to tell you guys things. SO MANY THINGS.

So please, help me! How do you know what to share and not share when it comes to your WIP? I feel like I'm over thinking this, so I need your voices of reason. Give me a heads up in the comments.

But first! After a lot of brainstorming, let me share something! Presenting a kinda old, mostly but not completely accurate because of the distances, map I drew of the world in my WIP:
Lovely, yes? Click to make it huge!

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Raven Boys book trailer

Once again I'm incredibly impressed by Maggie Stiefvater's talent and skill when it comes to making her own book trailers. I mean, holy crap, just watch this thing, just listen to it:

Gorgeous, yes? Did I get anyone's curiosity piqued? If so, you'll be happy to know that sharing this trailer with your peeps may lead to an ARC of The Raven Boys. Either way, tell me all your thoughts. Is this an effective book trailer? And what about book trailers in general? Legitimate sales technique or waste of time? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, June 1, 2012

2012 May Book Roundup

It's the first of June, and you know what that means. Book Roundup! *thumbs up*

A quick primer: At the beginning of each month I do a quick review the books I read the month prior. But instead of letting myself get too wordy, each book gets a Twitter-length summary and a Twitter-length review. Genres are listed at the beginning of the reviews and my absolute favorites of the month are marked with a star ().

The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima
YA Fantasy--Seven Realms #2. Han and Raisa are both on their way to Oden's Ford, one to discover his heritage and the other to hide from her enemies. § I had problems caring about Raisa because everything Han did was far more interesting. Of course, most of the book felt like setup for later.

The Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams Chima
YA Fantasy--Seven Realms #3. Oden's Ford isn't safe anymore, and now it's time for Han to discover the truth and for Raisa to take her place as queen. § This was Raisa's book. Sure, Han's a manipulative badass, but Raisa steps up and becomes worthy of her heritage and title. Can't wait for book 4!

Ultraviolet by RJ Anderson
YA Sci-fi--Ultraviolet #1. Alison has been institutionalized after she has a frightening psychotic break and admits to murdering a fellow classmate. § Alison has synesthesia, which makes for beautiful and horrifying prose that's just fun to read. The plot line is also delightfully mysterious. 

Black Heart by Holly Black
YA Urban Fantasy--Curse Workers #3. Cassel's a lot of things, but "good" has never been one of them. Now he needs to decide between love, family, and the con. § Cassel really does have some tough choices, but I love his decisions and how he balances the truths and lies. Also, Lila is still a badass.

Wildwood by Colin Meloy
MG Fantasy--Wildwood #1. When a murder of crows from the "Impassable Wilderness" kidnap Prue's baby brother, she must explore a hidden world and save him. § This book is like a folky, American Narnia set in Portland, OR. The pacing was a little slow, but the world was delightful and and adventurous.

Habibi by Craig Thompson
Graphic Novel--The story of Dodola and Zam, two child slaves struggling to survive in a world consumed by fear, lust, and greed. Also, calligraphy and sex. § Gorgeous artwork and webs of symbolism that warrant multiple reads. Not that pleasant to read though, so definitely for mature audiences only. 

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
MG Fantasy--Inspired by her father's stories, Minli sets off an a fantastic journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and change her family's poor fortune. § Fairy tales within fairy tails! *flail* Minli is adorable and her adventure is beautifully interwoven with her society's unique folklore. 

Gate 7 Vol. 1 by CLAMP
Manga--An simple sightseeing trip to Kyoto becomes something more when Chikahito stumbles into a world of elemental magic and historical warfare. § Some interesting potential, but the story was incredibly confusing (and I'm familiar with Japanese history) and reminded me too much of xxxHolic.

Gate 7 Vol. 2 by CLAMP
Manga--Now that Chikahito lives with Hana and her companions, it's only a matter of time before he is drawn into their war over the powerful oni. § This volume was a bit better, if only because we got character development. Still a bit confusing, but I'm interested to see what happens next.

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
YA Post-apocalyptic--Under the Never Sky #1. After being exiled from the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria's only hope for survival is in Perry, a savage Outsider. § People with heightened senses, a post-apocalyptic society with technology, and survival drama! If anything, I want even more world building.