Jamberry Nails Intro and Advice

So a few weeks ago I discovered Jamberry nails through a friends Facebook party.  I’ve always loved nail decoration, even when I could care less about makeup, but am continually frustrated by the fact that I can barely get pol
ish to last 24 hours.  I have finally found a solution!  I love these things so much that I’ve now become an independent consultant with the company, so maybe I can make a few bucks off the fact that I’m going to tell everybody I encounter about how awesome these things are.

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My first application of Jamberries in Black and white damask

What are Jamberry Nail Wraps?

They are a product unlike any other that I am aware of.  At first, I was all “Oh, they’re like those Sally Hanson things.”  Nope.  Those are essentially nail polish in strip form.  These are vinyl decals for your nails.  Yup, very thin vinyl that forms a watertight bond to your nail that last up to 14 days on your nails (or 5 weeks on your toes!) They are totally non-toxic and don’t harm your nails.

How do they work?

The Jams come in a sheet of 18 strips, each strip can do at least two nails.  The sizes are varied for everything from pinky to big toe and you can cut them to fit if necessary.  They have adhesive that bonds to the nail via heat and pressure.  

How do you apply them? Is it difficult?

Ok, I’m not going to lie.  Application is neither quick nor particularly easy.  The first time may be fairly frustrating, especially if you only go by the brief instructions on the package.  But I find I enjoy wearing them so much and they work so well it’s totally worth spending a little time while watching TV applying them.  There are a lot of different methods and tips for application, and I recommend searching around and watching some YouTube videos.  But here are the important things I think you need to know.

1. You need to push your cuticles back and not apply the jams to any part of the cuticle or skin.  This is the main mistake I made when I first applied, and I had to replace 3 nails entirely the next day when they came off.  The jams don’t bond to skin or cuticle, so if you overlap them with your skin, they will lift up, water and oil will get underneath, and the adhesive will loosen.  It’s better to have a sliver of bare nail showing than to place them over the cuticle.  This is the most challenging part of placing them, and I’m still getting the hang of it.

2. Clean each nail with alcohol or nail polish remover RIGHT before you apply the jam.  Any oil from your skin will make the adhesive not work as well, so prep each nail individually right before you place the jam.

3. Heat the jam for as long as you want.  The instructions I originally read said 3-6 seconds, but I would do more like 20 seconds, depending on your heat source.  At first I was afraid of warping or melting the jam, but they’re vinyl and that’s not going to happen.  Heat away.  You can use a hair dryer or the Jamberry mini heater (I’m looking forward to trying this as I’ll get one soon) OR you can use a household iron if you don’t want to fill your house with hot air.  Just be careful with the iron because I totally burned myself doing that.

4. Cut the jam with scissors or nail clippers as close as possible to your nail.  This is a bit awkward on your dominant hand, but I’ve gotten a lot better at it with 2 applications.  WAIT TO FILE your nail until it has cooled.  If you file it right away, you can lift the jam.  Also file ONLY in a downward direction.   

5. Once all of your jams are applied (or ok, as you do each one, but I think it’s easier to do it at the end) seal the edges of your nails by applying direct heat.  I learned this from YouTube, and there are a few ways to do it, but the way I like is to heat up something metal (tweezers or a small screwdriver) on your iron and then touch that to the ends of your nails, pressing down.  Just touch the tweezers or whatever to your iron for a few seconds and then hold it against the edge of the nail/jam.  This ensures the jam is sealed against your nail.  You can also use this to smooth the edges if they are ripply and it worked around the cuticle as well, just be careful not to burn yourself.  Normally the tweezers aren’t hot enough for that, but caution.  I’ve also used this method to reseal my nails if they start lifting around the edges after several days.  At a certain point (it was 9 days for me) the adhesive won’t stick that well, especially if water or oil gets under the edge, but it will give you a little longer.

Do they really last?

YES.  I wore my first set for 9 days before I removed them.  Only a couple of the jams were coming up at that point, and I could have replaced just those because the rest were really well stuck on.  And I am HARD on my nails.  I’m a seamstress and use my hands constantly, plus I’ve been hand-sewing, painting with my fingers, and I’m always typing AND wash my hands a lot.  My nails normally break, chip, and peel like crazy, but the Jamberries actually protect my nails and they haven’t broken at all since I started wearing them.  They make my nails SO MUCH stronger.

Obviously how long they last will vary depending on your nails, the application, and what you do with them.  The more you use your nails as tools, the more likely the ends will be to lift up.  But I think I’m pretty damn hard on my nails and I’m thrilled with how they last.  

Do they feel weird on?

At first they feel a little different from bare nails.  I also think they take a little while to really set because they feel slightly delicate at first.  So I try not to wash my hands immediately after applying and to avoid scratching with my nails for a few hours.  But then they either seem to really harden or I just get used to them because they feel totally natural.  Or actually BETTER than natural.  My nails naturally SUCK.  These things feel much better because I’m not constantly in danger of bending my nail back or having it splinter.  I really like how they feel.  So, yes, I’m totally addicted at this point.

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My second wraps.

How do you remove them?

Basically you have to lift the edges up (or wait till they lift on their own) and then soak them in either warm water, nail polish remover, or oil.  I used oil because it’s supposed to be the best way.  Mine were really stuck well still and it took some work to get them off even with the oil.  But it only took a few minutes and there was no damage to my nails at all.  

Aren’t they a little expensive?

Each sheet of Jamberries costs $15.  That is always the price, unless you get them free for hosting a party.  Each sheet will get you AT THE VERY LEAST 2 full applications of your fingernails, and probably also 1-2 applications for your toenails.  You can get more if you are willing to cut the larger ones down to fit your nails, or get creative in cutting to get more than two nails out of a strip.  So let’s say it’s 3 manicures for $15.  That’s a LOT cheaper than salon prices.  It’s more expensive than nail polish, but not by all that much, considering high quality polish can cost $10/bottle and how many times do you ACTUALLY use each color?  Plus they last SO MUCH LONGER than polish.  

I originally almost didn’t buy any because I do live on a budget and thought this was a frivolous thing to spend money on.  but I splurged with the rationale that they would be great for when I cosplay at conventions and my polish is always chipped by Saturday.  Now these make me so happy to wear on a daily basis, that I consider it an allowable luxury.  I love looking down and seeing that my nails look awesome, plus how much better my nails feel being protected.  

What’s with the parties?

Jamberry Nails parties function just like any typical direct sales party. (Tupperware, Pampered Chef, Avon) Parties can be either real life in person parties or Facebook parties.  There is always a party host, who invites the people who are attending.  The host receives free gifts/credit depending on the amount of sales at a party.  Facebook parties are super simple and just involve inviting your friends to a FB event that will last a certain amount of time and any sales during that period are added up to go towards hosting gifts.  Everyone orders directly from the website and their products are mailed directly to them.  If anyone wants to host any FB parties or even in-person parties, let me know.  I promise to be as non-obnoxious as possible while still trying to sell things.

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So if you want to try them, you can purchase any of the hundreds of styles at my personal Jamberry website.  

 

If you have any other questions, I’ll be happy to answer them.

 

 

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Video Game Review: Heroine’s Quest

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In the midst of my health insurance crisis, there was one thing that made me feel a little better.  It’s nice when facing financial problems to find a really awesome game that is totally free.

I had heard of Heroine’s Quest in retro adventure game circles, but lost track of it.  Then I stumbled on it on Steam.  The game is an homage to the classic Sierra game series Quest for Glory (originally called Hero’s Quest, but changed after D&D sued them).  The Quest for Glory games are some of my favorite games ever.  They are hybrids of classic adventures and RPGs with traditional quests and random monster encounters.  I love the stats system of these games, since instead of earning XP and leveling up to increase your skills, you just practice them.  Need to get better at climbing?  Try climbing some trees.  Magic skills too low?  Practice your spells.  

Heroine’s Quest sounds like it might be some kind of statement piece about female video game characters, but actually it just means your player character is female.  End of deal.  No one even comments on your sex, they just call you heroine and move on.  Otherwise it’s extremely easy to believe you are just playing another entry in the Quest for Glory series.  It even includes lots of in-jokes for fans of the series.  The quality of the game is extremely high, absolutely up to the classic games.

There are a few differences from the QFG games, though.  Heroine’s Quest is set in Midgard, and the story revolves around Norse mythology.  Fimbulwinter has set in and Ragnarok is at hand, due to a frost giant’s machinations.  The game therefore includes a new problem to contend with: it’s freaking cold.  Your character can only be out in the snow for a limited time before they freeze to death.  The cold eats away at your stamina, making basic survival a challenge at times.  In fact, the game opens with your first task to find food before you starve, which is made more difficult by the fact that you can’t take much cold exposure.  My poor rogue died a couple of times before I finally managed to beg food off someone.  

It is possible to turn off the cold and hunger penalties by setting the game difficulty to easy.  I’ll admit that I did this at the beginning of the game because my rogue could barely walk around the woods.  I found there was a pretty big gap in difficulty between easy (which is actually way too easy: two hits and everything falls over) and the next step up, but eventually my rogue got skillful enough to handle combat. 

One fault I found with the game is that it doesn’t seem to have been designed for playing hybrid characters.  My first choice of character in QFG games is a magic-using thief, and although I was able to give my character magic and find some spells, I couldn’t use those spells in combat.  I also couldn’t complete some mage-only quests because I didn’t have access to the right spells.  So my magic ended up being useless.  

The thief specific activities were also really difficult.  I only managed to successfully pickpocket someone when I was about 90% done with the game.  Otherwise a fail is instant death, so that sucked.  Also they make it very difficult to burglarize any buildings by having guards and dogs outside all buildings almost all of the time.  If I hadn’t looked online I would have never gotten past them.

Another difference of this game from the classics is that all the NPCs move around all the time.  Which means that if you need a healing potion, oops the shop is only open at certain times of day.  I spent way too much time walking around waiting for people to be where I needed them to be to do what I needed to do.  Like, I need the thieves guild guy to be INSIDE the thieves guild so he can fence a stolen item, so that I have the money to then go to the potion store (the next day at the right time) to buy my potion.   It got annoying.  The end of the game got a bit tedious as a result of needing these kinds of specific interactions.  

But don’t listen to my nitpicking.  Overall this game is EXCELLENT and highly highly recommended for anyone who liked the Quest for Glory games.  And since it’s free I encourage others to try it out.   I’m looking forward to replaying as a mage at a later date.  (I never play as a fighter.  Hitting things is boring.)  

This also makes me really excited about the other QFG influenced indie games which are in the works: Quest for Infamy and Mage’s Initiation.

Video Game Review: Moebius: Empire Rising

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Moebius: Empire Rising is the new adventure game from Jane Jensen, the woman behind the incredible Gabriel Knight games.  I’m a rabid fan of hers, so naturally when she launched a Kickstarter to fund her own game studio I was all over it.  

So I’m in the position of having been a beta tester on this game for the last year.  I’ve had a blast doing it.  Getting each new chapter was so exciting.  So I haven’t actually played the final version of the game yet.  I’ve played parts of it several times, in different versions, and I’ve played the whole game in pieces.  But there are little bits I haven’t seen and there was some roughness in the versions I played (though a lot less than you’d think.)   I’ve downloaded my copy of the final game and played about the first 20 minutes of it, just to see what the final version looked like.  

So, the first thing to keep in mind about this game is that despite the fact that it’s made by one of the big names in adventure games, it’s an indie game developed on a small budget.  The game uses the 3D engine of Phoenix Online Studios, another indie studio.  It’s an ok engine, but it’s not going to win any awards for being state of the art.  The graphics of Mobius, therefore, leave a little something to be desired, IMO.  The backgrounds are gorgeously painted.  They’re realistic, but more colorful, prettier than photorealism.  My problem with the graphics is with the 3D character models.  They just are awkward and always a little off.  The arms and legs are too thin, the shoulders and totally weird…they kinda squick me in an uncanny valley way. Graphics, in my opinion, are one of the least important aspects of any game when it comes to quality, so I’ll shut up about them.  But like I said, there’s a tendency to forget this is a small budget game, but there are still little imperfections that will remind you.

So what is the game about?  The main character is a man named Malachi Rector (yes, really) who appraises antiques.  He’s basically the Sherlock Holmes of the antiquities world, using his massive intellect and observational skills to spot forgeries at a glance.  He’s also a total misanthrope and pretty much a total bastard.  It was entertaining during the beta process to see people become annoyed with the character for being too unlikable.  I think it’s a brave storytelling choice to have your main character be, essentially, a total ass at the beginning of the story.  It’s a starting point with the potential for real character growth and discovery.  

Malachi gets hired for a job by the mysterious pseudo-government agency FITA.  His job is to investigate modern day people and determine if they match any important figures from history.  The main idea behind the plot being that history repeats itself and people essentially match certain archetypes across different times in human history.  It’s obviously a difficult to explain premise, but one that has the advantage of being totally unique.  The entire situation is only slowly revealed over the course of the game, so I don’t want to spoil anything here.  

In the course of his investigations Malachi meets a man named David Walker and ends up hiring him as security.  Much of the character and emotional content of this game revolves around the developing relationship between these two men as they get to know one another and better understand what the hell is going on around them.  

The gameplay is pretty standard for a classic point and click adventure, although it’s fairly light on inventory puzzles compared to the classics of the golden age.  Instead there are two different unique puzzle interfaces (oh, actually make that three by the end of the game) that recur throughout the game.  The first is the way in which Malachi observes people (and sometimes objects) when he encounters them.  You’re give an image with several highlighted areas.  You have to select the area and then choose the conclusion that is correct.  For example “Her clothes are worn” and you select “she has low income.”   Sometimes these choices are really obvious, other times they are more obscure.  There’s no penalty for being wrong except you have to try again and you’re not told which selection is incorrect.  This interface underwent several revamps during development and I think it works really well now.

I’m not as happy with the other analysis interface.  When Malachi has to compare his subject to historical figure to determine if there is a match, there is a complex interface that compares the people across several data points.  The problem is that it’s very simple to see who the correct answer is very quickly so there’s no real challenge to these analyses.  I’m pretty disappointed that this issue was never solved, although some things were tweaked to slightly improve it.  But since this task is so plot centric it’s kinda a let-down that it’s so easy.

I think that will be a main complaint of adventure gamers about this game: it doesn’t offer enough challenge.  There’s a difficult middle ground between too easy and too frustrating and what you think of this game will probably depend on your gaming experience.  Personally, I’m here for the story, so I don’t care all that much.

As for the story, there are some really interesting things in this game.  The characters as they are slowly revealed and the developing friendship and trust between Malachi and David are really fascinating.  The mysteries of the plot are also revealed on a slow time-table.  That’s kinda the feel of the whole game.  It’s a leisurely introduction to these characters and this world and these ideas.  I like the pacing and that it doesn’t feel rushed.  Unfortunately it means that this game just feels like an introductory chapter, the first in a long series.  I was left desperately wanting more.  Some may consider this fairly unsatisfying if they expect a complete and finished story.   

It very much reminded me of the first book in an intended lengthy urban fantasy type series.  It does make me a little nervous, though, since it’s a lot more difficult to get game sequels and series made than novels.  I feel like I NEED more of these characters in my life, because I’ve just gotten good and attached to them.  Hopefully Jane can make that happen.  It was pretty obvious that she intended to make more Moebius games when the subtitle “Empire Rising” was added to this one late in the process.

Also, I have a code to share with you for 20% off this game for the next two weeks at the Phoenix Online Store.  Use code CSGMOEB20OFF to get your discount.  The game is also available through Steam and GOG, but without the discount.

 

 

Anime: Planetes

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In my constant search to have something to watch or listen to while I sew, I have just finished rewatching the anime Planetes.  (Planetes is Greek for “wanderer” which makes the title make a little more thematic sense.)  This series is one of my favorite animes, and it’s one that not many people have seen.  

It’s a slice-of-life sci-fi show about a group of  in the year 2075 who clear space debris.   They are essentially space trash men with the lowest status in their company.  The department is a refuge for misfits whose wacky character traits give the show much of its humor.  

The main character, at least at the beginning of the series, is Ai Tanabe, an idealistic young woman who is just starting at debris section.  As the show continues much of the focus shifts to Hachirota “Hachimaki” Hoshino, her senpai, an irascible young man who dreams of owning his own spaceship one day.  

While both a slice-of-life anime focusing on character stories and a comedy, the show also tackles a lot of serious issues.  It’s got a very philosophical core, and stories about topics such as death, war, poverty, class, suicide, and terrorism are common.  

So it’s a must watch for anyone looking for intelligent and thoughtful storytelling.  I also recommend it for fans of hard sci-fi and those who, like me, get lots of feels from stories about realistic space exploration. 

 

Exactly HOW does this count as health insurance??

Just when it seemed like things were going ok…

Recently I’ve been working on our finances a lot.  I’ve started using You Need A Budget and it’s FABULOUS.  I’ll probably do a whole post about it.  And due to getting severance pay from Justin’s old job and him immediately starting a new job, we have extra money to pay off some bills, get ahead a month, and buy things we want/need.

Until the other shoe dropped.  On Monday I got the first written documentation of our new insurance plan in the mail.  Justin’s new employer is a small individual owned company, and there is only one option for insurance.  Well no one felt the need to tell him, even when he asked about it, that this is basically a castastrophic only plan.  The deductibles are $5000 and $10,000 and apply to everything, meaning we were out of pocket for the first $10,000.  Well we both have chronic conditions (collections of them, in fact) and take lots of meds.  Yeah, this is not flying.  The cost for one of my husband’s medications is $1400 (for a three month supply or $600/month).  That’s an amazingly huge chunk of our monthly income.  

So I freaked the fuck out for a day and a half and then I settled down to be a grown-up and figure out an alternative.  I went through the ACA and found us a plan that will cost us a little more in premiums, but which will give us much better care.  I could have gotten an HMO plan for what we’re currently paying in premiums, but none of our doctors were included in it, so I had to go with a more expensive PPO plan.  

Needless to say, I’ve learned a LOT about the ACA in the last 4 days.  Many people think they can’t use the marketplace if they have employer coverage.  That’s not true.  Anyone can buy insurance through it, but you won’t get any government funded assistance if you have access to “minimum quality plans” through your employer.  The catch is that no one is really sure what minimum quality plans looks like.  Justin’s employer claimed this plan meets the criteria, though I am skeptical.  The qualifications is that it has to meet 60% of health care costs of the average plan subscriber, and can’t exceed 9.5% of your income in cost.  The problem is that I can’t find anything about deductible cost.  And this only applies to the employee, not the family.  So while Justin’s plan is pretty cheap, my plan is outrageous.  And the latter isn’t taken into consideration.  Hopefully this gets tweaked to be more fair in the future, but it’s the government, so no breath-holding.

So I’m not getting any cost assistance with my plan, but it’s still a better option than what we had otherwise.  But it means our financial situation isn’t looking NEARLY as bright as it was 5 days ago.  *sigh*

 

 

 

 

Resurrecting this Blog from the Dead

So it’s been over three years since I posted to this blog.  What happened is that I got into Steampunk, learned to sew, started a steampunk blog (steamingenious.com), started a costume making business and that’s what I do now.  

Previously, the purpose of this blog was to talk about my life post-work.  After having to quit my job in mental health due to a chronic back condition, I wanted to explore and embrace the idea of being a feminist housewife.  That slowly failed, honestly, due to the fact that I was, in fact, disabled.  All the cooking that I did for this blog ended up eating all my time and energy.  Making dinner started at 3PM and was the only thing I could accomplish in a day because it was so difficult with my disability.

I learned to embrace the idea that my disability actually limited me and work with it.  After failing to be awarded any disability income (for reasons that are BS and I’m sure I’ll talk about  here eventually) I embraced my newfound love of sewing and corset making as a way to make SOME income.  My business continues to grow but I’m still limited by my condition in how much I can work.  

So back to this blog.  I have been wanting somewhere to share my thoughts and feelings that don’t related to steampunk or costuming.  These are often about disability and living with it.  But I also want to talk about crafting and DIY and some upcoming home remodels I have planned.  

Finally I also want to keep my thoughts on the various media I consume: books, TV shows, video games, I do intact a lot of media.  And due to some recent unpleasant events at a group blog I was participating in, I’m now even more motivated to have my own space to talk about things.  

So here it is: my new (old) personal blog.   I’ll try to get things spruced up as I go.

The ATK Massive Holiday Post

Ok, so I haven’t written up any recipes for this blog since before Thanksgiving. I handmade the majority of my Christmas gifts and so the whole month between Turkey Day and Christmas was lost to that. But I was cooking the whole time, and I have lots of recipes to discuss. I’m going to put all the holiday recipes in one post, for my sanity and hopefully yours.

For Thanksgiving I found myself tasked with cooking everything but the turkey. The dressing is a secret family recipe, and my famous squash casserole recipe originally came from the web. But for everything else I used America’s Test Kitchen recipes. For Christmas, I reversed the deal and made the turkey while my in-laws made everything else.

Candied Sweet Potato Casserole
I have actually made this before, for last year’s Thanksgiving. I love sweet potatoes, but am not too fond of the tradition canned yams topped with melted marshmallows. This recipe is a great improvement, using fresh sweet potatoes and a candied pecan topping. The only complaint I’ve gotten about it is that it is too sweet or too much like a dessert. I don’t consider this a problem. In fact, it would make a good dessert substitute. This is also a pretty easy recipe to make ahead of time and finish right before the meal. You peel the potatoes and cut into cubes. They are cooked in butter, brown sugar, water, salt and pepper on the stovetop for 45-60 minutes. I did this the day before, then transferred it to a baking dish and refrigerated it until the next day. The topping is pecans, brown sugar, egg white, salt, cayenne pepper, and cumin. You mix all that together, put it on top of the potatoes and throw in the oven for 10-15 minutes. (The instructions for making ahead have you microwave the potatoes for 3-5 minutes before putting in the oven to bring the temp back up. I did this and it worked fine.)

From ATK Blog

Apple Pie with Double Crust Pie Dough
I’ve never made an apple pie, and I’ve never made pie dough from scratch. But since there’s a whole pie section of the book, Thanksgiving was a good time to start. The pie dough was pretty easy, actually. It calls for using a food processor, but mine is tiny, so I had to use the hand mixing method. This involves grating frozen butter into the dry ingredients with a box grater and then using two knives to “cut” the mixture until coarse crumbs form. Rolling it out was a bit trickier. It didn’t end up exactly round, but I eventually got a blobby shape that would fit the pie pan with some maneuvering. The Book recommends using pyrex pie pans to get a perfectly crispy crust every time. So I bought two.

The apple filling wasn’t very hard either. It calls for McIntosh and Granny Smith apples, sugar, flour, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. I couldn’t find McIntosh apples at the store so I bought Fuji apples since they were on sale and in season. Since I ate quite a few on their own I can confirm that they were yummy and sweet. To bake, you preheat a baking sheet and then put the pie on that, baking on 425 for 25 minutes and then at 375 for 30-35 minutes. The pie looked gorgeous when it came out. Unfortunately, it wasn’t perfect. The bottom crust was gummy and not crispy and the filling was very tart. It was edible, and I tend to like some tartness in pies, but it was too tart. I assume it was the lemon juice/ zest and not the apples. I’m not sure why it ended up that way when I followed the recipe. Next time I make an apple pie (and I will because I love apple pie), I’m going to try Alton Brown’s recipe.

From ATK Blog

Pecan Pie with Single Crust Pie Dough
My husband and I have made a bunch of pecan pies for holiday celebrations in the past. We’ve usually used the recipe in the Betty Crocker cookbook, although last year we used the recipe Neil Gaiman called “The Best Pecan Pie Ever.” (That was disappointing.) The single crust pie dough recipe was easy after the double crust recipe. The only problem I had was not having enough edge to make a pretty rim. The crust is pre-baked. I don’t have pie weights or a bunch of pennies (as the book suggests) but I used dry beans as recommended by Alton Brown.

The pecan filling requires a little more fiddling than the average pecan pie recipe. You use a glass bowl set in a skillet of barely simmering water. You melt the butter in this bowl, take off the heat, add sugar, salt, eggs, corn syrup and vanilla, and then return to the skillet of water. You stir until the mixture is shiny and hot to the touch, or 130 degrees on a thermometer. I guesstimated since I didn’t have a candy thermometer then. Then stir in the pecans, pour, and bake. The result was really good, definitely the best pecan pie we’ve made.

From ATK Blog

Roast Turkey
I’ve never cooked a turkey. But I’ve been doing pretty damn good at chickens recently, so I figured it couldn’t be much harder. My mother has always make great turkey using a plastic basting bag, but I told her I wanted to do it the ATK way. The Book recommends buying a fresh, natural turkey and brining it yourself. But it says that if you don’t want to brine, to buy a Butterball “self-basting” turkey. I sent Justin to the store with instructions to buy a 10-12 lb Butterball. Unfortunately, the only butterballs they had were 25 lbs. And there’s no way we needed a turkey that big. Luckily, he found a 15 lb fresh natural turkey. Unfortunately, that meant we had to brine. I’ve had brined turkeys that were way too salty. The Book says that happens from brining too long. It recommends 6-12 hours of brining for a turkey. So I decided to only brine for 6 hours. My turkey didn’t fit in my largest stock pot, so the only way I could figure to brine was in a cooler. Unfortunately, this meant that the 2 gallons of water in the turkey brining instructions didn’t really cover the turkey. Even after packing ziplocs of ice around it. I added more water and salt, but I still didn’t end up with a totally submerged turkey. So I’m not sure that the brining really was very effective.

The actual roasting was way easier than the brining. The recipe calls for putting carrots, celery, onions, fresh thyme, the neck and giblets into the bottom of the roasting pan for later gravy use. I have limits to dealing with icky meat and so I left out the neck and giblets. The turkey is roasted in a V-rack covered with foil after being smeared with butter. You start the bird upside down to get the bottom browned and keep the breast from drying out. After an hour you flip the bird upside down and roast until the thighs reach 175 degrees.

The results were pretty, but I found the meat itself pretty chewy and a bit dry. It might have been the actual turkey, rather than the cooking. It’s hard to say. Next time I need to figure out a way to do a proper brine.

From ATK Blog

Easy Turkey Gravy
The gravy is made from the strained pan drippings plus added chicken broth. But first you have to make a roux with butter and flour and cook until dark brown, 15 minutes. White wine, the broth, then roasted veggies, bay leaves and thyme are added and simmered for 25 minutes. Then the gravy is strained. It was quite tasty, but the lengthy cooking time made Christmas dinner late. So if you plan to make this gravy, leave plenty of time.

Big and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
I’ve made this recipe before. The Book describes this cookies as “the ultimate home-baked chocolate chip cookie.” The big difference from the usual cookie recipes is using melted butter and extra egg yolks to make them soft. They are also super thick and jumbo. The recipe calls for dough balls of 1/4 cup. The resulting cookies are huge. They stay soft, with a cake-like consistency. This time I think these cookies were way too big. They were practically chocolate chip muffins. And they were disappointingly dry. I think they would have been better had the dough balls been mashed a bit prior to baking to thin them out. There was also a flavor missing from these cookies that Tollhouse cookies have. My husband had made a batch of Tollhouse to take to work the week before and they were too thing and crunchy, but had a good flavor.

Since making these, I’ve found the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe. It’s from the same people behind the ATK cookbook. It’s the Cooks Illustrated Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie. The recipe is a bit more demanding, but the cookies it produces are the best I’ve ever had. Crispy on the outside, chewy in the middle, caramelized flavor, perfect texture. This is the recipe that should be in the cookbook, but it hadn’t been invented yet. There’s no point making any other recipe again, in my opinion.

Ok, so those are the holiday recipes I made this year. I’ve still got a stack of recipes to write up, but this gets rid of a bunch of them. How did everyone else’s holiday cooking go?