Monday, December 14, 2009

Stockings!



I've not been the type to decorate for the holidays in the past, but this year, something happened to me and I found myself wanting to make decorations up the wazoo. Fortunately, my local craft store was either out of or doesn't normally have foam wreath forms, so my vision of a sparkly wreath didn't come to fruition.

Instead I just made stockings.

I used Joel Dewberry's Manzanita fabric, which I got on sale for $2.49 or so a yard. Each stocking used a total of 1/2 yard, for the outside and the lining. I put fusible fleece in the middle, though you could use batting if you felt like quilting them. I didn't trust my drawing ability, so I downloaded a free stocking pattern I found on the Internet. The top parts are acrylic felt and they are attached to the staircase using ribbon loops and quick ties. All told, they cost less than $6 for the pair.

If you're looking for more holiday decorating ideas, check out my article on DIY Holiday decorations, over at Life123.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

English Muffin Challenge Part 2

A few months ago, I said I was going to try out three different English Muffin recipes and determine which one was the best (in my opinion). I started with the recipe from Vegan Brunch: Homestyle Recipes Worth Waking Up For. While those muffins were definitely edible, they fell a bit flat in the taste department and were physically a bit flat.

This week, I attempted the English Muffins from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything . He uses his standard sandwich bread dough to make English Muffins. I have to say two things. First, that I am a bit skeptical of Bittman's bread recipes, though I think he is awesome at most everything else in the kitchen. Second, I altered his recipe a bit. I used powdered milk in place of regular milk and active dry yeast instead of the instant. All this means is that I added the milk powder with the flour and salt and mixed the yeast with the water before adding to the flour mixture. Also, his method of cooking was a little different and I didn't follow it. He tells you to heat a griddle over the stove, sprinkle it with cornmeal and then place the hot griddle in a 350 degree oven. Instead, I sprinkled cornmeal directly on the muffins, put them in a cast iron skillet on the stove for a minute or so, flipped them over, cooked them a bit more, then placed them on a baking stone in the oven.

The results were pretty good. They're much more puffy than the Vegan Brunch ones and have a better flavor. However, I'm not certain that the extra puffiness works in their favor. Actually, I'd say that no, it does not. As you can see in the final photo, they are not as "nooky" as your typical English Muffin, and so, like the Vegan Brunch ones, lose points for that.

The next and final recipe in the English Muffin Challenge is the one in The Bread Bible. Let's see if that one proves to be the English Muffin recipe to end all English Muffin recipes.

Photos below of the cooking and serving process of the muffins:






Friday, December 4, 2009

Some New Articles

It seems a bit strange to follow yesterday's post about content writing with articles I've written but here goes:

1. I love pilates. I'd been taking a class in it for over a year when my instructor, citing lack of students and funds, closed up shop. I'm still looking for a replacement class and perhaps, missing the practice a lot, wrote an introductory article on the subject.

2. Make your own cleaners. Super easy and inexpensive.

3. And, finally, in follow up to my vegan cake post a few months ago, I wrote an article that actually contains the recipe.

That should be a decent amount of reading material. Click away.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

More Thoughts on Content Writing

Ok. I've been reading and thinking a lot lately and I'm on the fence about writing content. First off, the word "content" is so vapid and implies that there isn't much of value going on. Second, the rates paid are incredibly low. I mean, DS is the highest, and they max out at $15 per article.

Third, and most importantly, SEO crap kinda scares me. I read this article in Slate about Aol.'s (let's pause a minute to laugh at their rebranding effort) new business plan, in which they plan to produce "news" stories based on search keywords. Which, as this Wired article points out, is pretty similar to what DS does. Although, I think an important difference is that DS stuff (or at least the stuff I write for DS) isn't news. I'm not a journalist. Hell, I have the distinctive curse of being a "creative writer," meaning that, yes, I can craft a decent academic paper, but much of my education was about breaking the rules. Commas? Hell with them. If a sentence gets particularly lengthy, I just say I was being Faulkner or German, and shrug it off. I didn't know until recently that the verb to be should be avoided if possible. Huh. But anyway, back to the topic at hand, the Slate article brings up Associate Content, calling it the worst news site ever. And probably they're right. Is furiously googling reporting? No. Is furiously googling proper research? No. And that's really all one can expect from a writer being paid (at most) $15 per article or at least "residuals." I've learned to fear and avoid residuals. Really, do you click on ads in websites? No? Me either.

Quality suffers. Quality suffers when we writers are compelled, to validate being paid so little, to churn out articles at a rate of 2 an hour. Quality suffers when we rely on other blogs and reports to get our information and don't have the time or inclination to go out and dig for the facts. Quality suffers when we keep churning out the same stuff, keyword stuffed or SEO-ed so that it jumps to first on the Google queue and our publisher gets a bunch of ad revenue from all the clicks.

That said, will I stop writing content? No. For one, I need the income. For two, people will always go after and like crap. I may not be proud of my articles, but they may be valuable for someone. I'm not dispensing inaccurate or useless information. In fact, I think content writing needs more writers like me, writers who want to produce content that, while not earth shattering, will correct people's thoughts on certain things (for example, no you cannot season stainless steel cookware and Pyrex is not extremely dangerous). I also appreciate when I have the chance to write articles on theater for people. I'll avoid news articles, because, well that's not my area of expertise. I'm pretty sure, as is Slate, that Google will wise up to the SEO keyword crap and prevent worthless articles from jetting to the top of the search results page.