Yarn Over: Crazy Legwarmer, Luna Lovegood, and Halloween In General

It’s been years since I’ve trick-or-treated, but nevertheless Halloween has become a time every year around which I must put together and wear a costume.

I usually pick one fandom every year and choose one favorite character. One year, I was Twelvetoes from Schoolhouse Rock, last year I did Jojo the Food Critic from Flipline, and so on. This year it was a throwup between Harry Potter (which I only read for the first time this year) and League of Legends, but I decided on Harry Potter since I am still relatively new to LoL and a costume from LoL would take time I didn’t have.

Find Luna MemeOnce I had chosen Harry Potter, it was a no-brainer which character I’d be–Luna Lovegood. She is the character I relate most to, and I cannot express how much I understand her and am like her. Plus, she has the most distinctive wardrobe from her world.

I chose a particular outfit from the movies to roughly emulate–luckily it was just time to buy fall clothes and I could buy a skirt I would wear normally anyways. I had blue leggings from being Jojo, and my sister has a pink raincoat that I fit into, if not on the small side.

lunaLovegood

I spent [a little too much] time on creating Spectrespecs from a template, cardboard, white cardstock, recycled plastic from a Q-tips box, a metallic gold candy wrapper, and multiple pink markers, but they turned out quite amazing. My sister helped me attach them to my own glasses, making them easy to wear. On one hand, I can’t see very clearly out of them anymore, but I can marvelously detect the Wrackspurts!

I also printed out part of a fan-written 2011 issue of the Quibbler. It’s hard to read but it has actual articles (doubly silly due to the nature of the Quibbler and the fan-made aspect of it).

A small detail that I added was a Butterbeer cork necklace. I found a screw eye in our toolbox and screwed it into a cork, and piece of yarn made an incredibly simple necklace. In the books, Luna is actually described as wearing a necklace of Butterbeer caps, but in the movie she has a cork. That’s alright with me, as we don’t have bottle caps lying around, but we did have a cork in our old science kits.

Cork Necklace

While reviewing my costume I realized how much I was going to be relying on props for recognition, but it would be quite distinctive with all of them. The last prop that I had, was, in fact, her wand. Last December, I was told quite suddenly that we were visiting Harry Potter World, and I needed to read the first book. By the time we went there and ‘had to’ get a wand, I had only read the first book and had to choose one based on which I thought looked the prettiest. Quite coincidentally, I chose Luna’s, even though I didn’t know who she was yet, and she turned out to be my favorite personality from the series when I finished reading the next month.

Luna's Wand

Also in this outfit were these amazing blue legwarmers–or socks, I couldn’t tell which. But legwarmers have been in my pattern queue forever, and I finally saw an opportunity to make them, and simultaneously stash-bust. I decided to go extra crazy and choose every 1-inch ball of blue yarn I had, and make uneven, out-of-control stripes. Unfortunately, I only made one in time, but Luna has an excuse for that–the Nargles are behind the ‘disappearance’ of her other one. (I plan to finish the other one eventually for a complete set.)

Blue Stripes Legwarmer

I always seem to knit or crochet something for my Halloween costume–last year it was a black wool beret with blue satin ribbon. My favorite thing is that I can always wear pieces throughout the year normally–the hat has seen other uses, and I still wear the blue leggings. The skirt I am wearing for Luna will be used normally as well. I have fun piecing together legit, but homemade costumes each year.

And I’ve been feeling extra-teenagery recently and I have this big candy craving, so heck, I’ll be going trick-or-treating tonight.

Yarn Over: Crazy Legwarmer, Luna Lovegood, and Halloween In General

Spasmodic Baking: Lemon Bars

As a general rule of thumb, I’m not to be trusted in the kitchen. However, I’m slightly better with the oven. I sporadically bake cake and cookies and the like (you can count on it around my birthday), and it usually turns out kind of tasty. In “Spasmodic Baking”, I share recipes I’ve done.

This week, I had a strong, sudden need to bake something. I suppose I was thinking of trying to find a recipe that could be my recipe, something simple that I could just whip up at any time when potluck-type things bloom out of nowhere. However, I subsequently decided that was a bad idea, limiting myself to just one recipe when there is an endless amount of them to try. I don’t think I’m going to find a stick to a regular recipe any time soon, but nevertheless I still wanted to bake this weekend since there was a spaghetti dinner for my cross country team.

I literally just started looking through baking recipes on Food Network to see what there was–I was looking for something not too complicated, but tasty, maybe a cookie, I didn’t know. Eventually I decided on lemon bars.

This version is by Ina Garten, and just as a summary: the crust is mainly butter and the filling is mainly eggs, with some flour, sugar, and lemons in the middle there somewhere. It personally took me a while to make (forgetting about room temperature ingredients, trying to use a beater instead of a mixer, poking the heck out of lemons in order to squeeze them), mainly because I am not a very techniqued baker. But since I at least have some baking experience, and there weren’t too many ingredients, it came together, in time.

Ingredients:

  • For the crust:
    • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 2 cups flour
    • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • For the filling:
    • 6 large eggs at room temperature
    • 3 cups granulated sugar
    • 4 lemons
      • 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
      • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
    • 1 cup flour
    • (optional) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 large bowls (or 1 bowl and the willingness to wash and dry it in the middle)
  • method of creaming butter with sugar (I was inefficient and used an electric beater and a chopstick)
  • measuring cups and spoons
  • whisk
  • 9 by 13 pan
  • board (a large cutting board or mixing board will do)
  • knife
  • zester
  • measuring cup

Some very helpful tips: Get the butter and eggs to room temperature ahead plenty of time, probably at least an hour in advance. Aids in lemon squeezing are cool, too, if you have them. Otherwise get yourself a lot of time.

As I said last time I baked, I don’t heat the oven at the beginning because I never prep quickly enough. But when you’re ready to preheat it, put it at 350 F. For this particular instance, I warmed it up in the middle of the filling prep–after the ingredients were readied and before I mixed them together. Do it as you like, according to your own speed at kitchen-y stuff.

  1. Cream the butter and sugar together. I used an electric beater, but here’s some advice on doing it otherwise. The key here to not taking 20 minutes on this step is to have the butter completely at room temperature.
  2. Add the flour and salt and finish mixing together. If your beater/mixer and butter were cooler than mine, keep going with that. After I finally got fed up with my beater (and the fact that I hadn’t put the butter out ahead of time), I just got in there with my hands and finish mixing it.
  3. Finish kneading on a board, and then form into a ball-ish lump. Press it into your pan, covering the bottom evenly and making a ~1/2 inch border up the sides. No foil or nonstick spray required, it starts as quite unattaching butter and ends as a baked crust. Stick it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. You can keep going, in the meantime.
  4. Zest and squeeze the lemons. I chose four large lemons and zested and squeezed every last drop of life out of every one of them, and made the 2 tbsp and 1 cup exactly. (Also, without a lemon juicer or anything, poking to exhaust the juice out of these created another 20 minute step for me. Be more techniqued than me, friends!)
  5. Combine the flour, sugar, eggs, and lemons with a whisk until sufficiently combined.
  6. Whenever 30 minutes in the fridge has elapsed for the crust, if it happens during steps 4 and 5, or whether you have to kill some time after 5 to finish, stick it in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until it is “very slightly browned”. The moment I saw any color on it, I took it out. Let it cool down a little bit. (Leave the oven on.)
  7. Pour the filling into the crust. It’s okay (and good) if the edges of the crust disappear under the flood.
  8. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Let it cool, and cut it up into triangles. Dust it with confectioner’s sugar. (If you choose to put the sugar on before you move them to the serving platter, like I did, it’s likely a lot will fall right back off.)

My batch tasted quite good right off the pan. The crust was beautiful and crumbly, and the filling was quite, quite sweet (on the some-people-will-not-be-able-to-stand-it but anyone-who-doesn’t-detest-sugar-won’t-shy-away-from-it side). One slight downfall was that at the very end of eating it, in the back of your throat, that lemon is still biting hard–a lemon type of acid bite, not a pleasant acid bite. It’s a small price to pay, though, to eat the rest of it, besides confirming that fresh lemons were indeed just used.

Most of the edge pieces had a bit of a brown edge, since the filling contracted a little while baking and exposed the pale crust to the atrocities of direct oven exposure. I didn’t notice any difference in taste, but it did mean a little bit of cutting around the edges of the pan to get it loose (it didn’t stick at all to the bottom).

I was able to cut it into a total of 48 small triangles, and take approximately 2/3 to the spaghetti dinner, where a good amount went (there were still a few when I left). After I brought the plate back home and refilled it with the rest of the squares, there were a scant few left. Combine that with Dad getting to the plate between when I arranged them and charged the camera to take pictures and I don’t have very impressive pictures, but there was approximately 3 to 4 times as much as there are depicted.

A random note is that the filling baked into a beautiful firm top, so the bars are easy to grasp top and bottom and still have the sticky, jelly sweetness in between.

Spasmodic Baking: Lemon Bars

Food Fallacies: Whole Milk vs. Skim Milk

You come to the refrigerator aisle, and behind the glass doors a collection of plastic jugs awaits your choice: whole, 2%, 1%, or skim milk? Well, surely whole milk is out of the picture–that’s too much fat; 2% and 1% sound better, and skim is the best for a diet, right? Uh, no.

The first misconception is that whole milk has nowhere as much fat in it as it may sound. This isn’t exactly the fault of the consumers, though; whoever named it way-back-when is at fault. “Whole milk” just sounds like ‘wholly fat’, ‘100% fat’, and ‘just plain a lot of fat’, but that’s misleading. Milk is not completely made of fat (although I was certainly fooled into thinking so when I was younger); depending on the breed of cow, whole milk can be somewhere from 3.0% – 6.0% fat. The stuff on the supermarket shelves is usually somewhere around 3.25%.

So there’s the first thing out of the way–the percentages aren’t that different. But when it comes to health, what’s best? If you’re trying to cut back on calories, isn’t it better to choose milk with less fat? Well, maybe not. Your body feels it when you’re not getting enough fat calories, and compensates by getting you to consume more carbohydrates and simple sugars, which have been shown to be clearly more weight-putting than fat calories. Thus, those who drink skim milk are actually much more likely to be overweight than those who drink whole milk.

Death to misconception: Whole milk is 3.25% fat, and skim milk is actually more likely to help you put on weight.

But okay, maybe you’re drinking skim milk to try and lower your risk of heart disease. The old rumors say that saturated fat is linked to high cholesterol and the like, but of course, that’s since been disproven; it’s the partially hydrogenated, or trans fats which aren’t so cool. In total, though, it’s still up in the air on whether skim or whole milk is truly better for your heart.

Other small points for each side are that whole milk has many nutrients that skim milk no longer does, but the absence of fat in skim increases the ability of your body to absorb calcium from the milk itself.

So, in the end, weigh out the benefits of each side, and choose for yourself. Kids are probably better with whole milk (so that they are at lower risk of being overweight) and elders are probably better with skim milk (because of the heart disease stuff). Personally, I’m compromising with 1%. And come on, doesn’t anyone else think skim milk tastes absolutely gross?

Citations:

Food Fallacies: Whole Milk vs. Skim Milk

YouTube Limelight: jacksfilms

I spend so much of my time watching YouTube videos, that, hey, it’s become one of those things that defines me. In YouTube Limelight, I’ll feature a content creator whose work stands out to me. Roughly put, the majority of YouTubers can be categorized as Vloggers, Gamers, or Musicians. Here are my favorites.

Another sub-category not mentioned in my intro that I quite roughly (and not literally) place under Vloggers is Comedy. There are a select few comedy channels I enjoy, but I think I’ve have discovered some entertaining ones. jacksfilms is one of them.

Combining a good taste of deadpan, music, legitimately funny cheesy effects, and a little bit of self-deprecation, Jack conducts many series of videos all with the same running theme. Just a few of the running jokes on his channel involve his channel sucking, his ‘biches’ (a YGS #1 mispelling that has become the name for his fanbase), him being gay (he has a girlfriend), and light switches (more on that later).

Some other short things about Jack: he’s fond of his dog, Klondike, his girlfriend, Erin, and green screens. Somehow, he is the only person who convincingly makes me want to listen to his sponsor plugs, even though I am disinterested in what he advertises; they’re gripping in a surprising way.

A word of warning: Jack’s channel is not exactly clean language, but the good thing is that the ‘bad words’ are not the brunt of the comedy or what makes it funny. He’s also a drinker, but he’s also an adult. It’s funny sometimes.

One of his most famous series is Your Grammar Sucks, in which his fanbase sends in horrible YouTube comments, Facebook posts, tweets, etc. from all over the internet, and he reads them aloud comically. Here is one episode:

His second most famous is probably JackAsk, in which people send in questions to him, but unlike other Q&A vlogs, he answers them satirically.

Most recently started, he is running YIAY, or Yesterday I Asked You. Each day, he posts a short video less than 2 minutes long reading comments as usual, which are answers to yesterday’s question (often a prompting question that calls for creativity in humor). At the end of the video, he asks the next question. These are incredibly hilarious for such short videos; he even mixes it up, sometimes adding music or special challenges for the comments. What I appreciate most is that he does it every day, it seems like an easier, shorter video for him to produce, and as a viewer, I don’t have to watch a long video to pack a huge punch of entertainment. (And for the light switch joke, check out YIAY #21 and YIAY #54.)

He also has a hodgepodge of other videos which he collectively calls PMS: parodies, music videos, and sketches. There’s rarely anything that isn’t funny. Here’s a demonstration of his original music videos; this one stemmed from YGS.

A small series that happened that I really loved was called News in Haikus, in which Jack boils down huge current events into haikus. Unfortunately, it kind of trailed off and there were only 5 in total. Here’s is the last of those:

Jack is also a well-connected guy, dating back quite a couple years, he is friends with many gamers, vloggers, and singers, such as Tobuscus, Grace Helbig, and Tay Zonday. His friends have been periodically featured on his channel. He also appears on other channels, most notably TheFineBros, for YouTubers React and MyMusic.

Apart from making hilarious comedy, Jack stands out as a great YouTuber because of who he is as a person. Both as part of a sponsorship and improving his lifestyle, Jack took part in a health challenge that considerably changed his health and living. Even though he comes off as a huge joker, he is quite obviously a hard worker as well. Jack has one of the most reliable schedules any YouTuber can boast, much better than many others I follow. Staying on top of a self-imposed schedule is impressive. In his comedy, Jack may come off as jester, but sometimes he’s almost there at role model status.

The last thing that really sets Jack apart is that he is truly connected to his fanbase, and it shows. Nearly every YouTuber constantly thanks their viewers for supporting them and watching them, and mention how they wouldn’t be where they are without them, but Jack doesn’t do that; instead, he thanks everyone by simply being in there with them and constantly being friends. The majority of his videos rely on comments submitted or collected by his viewers, which he personally reads and selects, and especially with YIAY happening daily, he’s reading comments daily. One of his long-running outros for YGS was a video of him and a bunch of fans singing the song. It’s safe to say Jack’s videos couldn’t even exist without viewers’ participation, and that makes it so much more personal and special.

So, if you can be above crude language and drinking for the sake of comedy (and this is one of the smallest for the sakes ever), I’m not sure who Jack couldn’t make laugh. He’s, at the time of writing, currently on the rise to 2 million subscribers, and will certainly be there soon.

YouTube Limelight: jacksfilms

Leisure Literature: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda

When I can find extra moments, there is always a list of books I want to read. Some I anticipate for months, some for years before I find the time to get to them, and some of them live up to the hype and some don’t. Leisure Literature is a book review column that details my thoughts on my recent readings.

I heard multiple positive reviews about this new book over the past few months, and between how well-liked it seemed and the different type of themes it had, I figured I should put Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli on my queue.

For the author’s first book, it’s pretty awesome. Albertalli has a strong sense of voice and style, even if it isn’t particularly unique. And yes, this is definitely a pioneer book; there isn’t much YA out there, let alone general fiction that deals so closely and so mainly with LGBT characters. But other than being one of the first of its kind, this book was rather unordinary. There was little other than the normal high school drama spiced up with some risque borderline explicitness.

Quite unfortunately, every character but Simon rolled together into an indiscernible lump. It took forever to sort out who was who at Simon’s lunch table, his sisters were hard to tell apart at first, and nearly every girl was the same person (only towards the end of the book could I tell apart Taylor, Abby, and Leah). There also seemed to be quite a bit of trash littered around, not completely cleaned up. Theo, Alice’s boyfriend, served but one tiny purpose for a metaphor on how Alice needed to come out as straight, so many unnecessary people were introduced at theater who were never used, and extra names at the lunch table seemed to be nothing but extra names (and mystery solution possibilities).

There were also some unexplained niches that I wanted to know about–why Harry Potter was referenced so much (just an author’s obsession?), for example. Also, I think the author lost me in that I have personally never heard of the Homosexual Agenda, so I do not know what she references in the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Yet, it makes for a hooking title.

While I was still reading, I didn’t understand Martin–his motives were so simple they confused me. As I saw him repent, it didn’t seem anywhere near sincere enough; it didn’t seem like it would make up for anything, but you see him cry in some beautifully written imagery, continue living, completely defeated by his actions, and after the book was closed, I couldn’t help but feel so sorry for him. I guess it’s something strange I like to do, but I often like to envision books as plays or movies, and imagine playing each character. And undoubtedly, if Simon were a play, I would want to be Martin. I would like to pretend to be him, and see his grief from his point of view.

One problem I had with the whole thing with Blue was that Simon fell into every pitfall and trap of the internet and writing over the internet, and became far too blunt with his wishes and hopes to meet the real Blue. Additionally, it was very hard to connect the character of the writer of the emails with the IRL Blue. But I do say that through any number of legitimate and foamy devices, Albertalli is very convincing about the fact that Simon has fallen in love with Blue over email.

The worst thing about the end of the book is that there is no closure–we don’t find out what happens to Cal, or why in the world this strange band was formed as a plot point, or what Simon does in terms of Martin (I’m only left to assume Simon has no forgiveness left in his heart at all, something I disagree with). It almost is calling for a sequel itself, although it appears quite standalone.

Overall, Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda was a pretty good book, but wasn’t extraordinary. Eventually, its market will be saturated with other books like it, and the societal views about LGBT in this book will eventually become dated, but it will be known as one of the pioneers of its genre and theme. Read it anyway, for today.

Leisure Literature: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda