A Very Nerdy Birthday

Today is The Nerd’s birthday.
He’s 26 years old.
Last weekend, we were at my parents’ house, so I decided to pull together a birthday dinner for him.
Of course, it was Star Wars themed.
I got some silly hats and some other fun toys for the kids (and The Nerd) to play with!
Doesn’t The Nerd look like he’s enjoying his party?
My sister and her son, Hyrum, definitely liked the hats!
I made these Red Velvet Cupcakes since they’re The Nerd’s favorite.
I wonder what he wished for…
He got some Transformers toys from my parents.
And not one…
But *two* light sabers from me!
They light up and make swooshing sounds and everything!
His *real* present was the XBox Slim he got a while back.
Once the presents were opened, everyone got down to business: Eating the cupcakes.
River liked the icing.
So did Hyrum!
He’s such a cute boy!
I think it was a good (early) birthday.
Today, we’re heading to QuakeCon to continue the celebration.
I made Peanut Butter Cup Cupcakes (since Reese’s are his favorite candy). I’ll post the recipe later.
Hope you all have a great day!
Happy Birthday, honey!

Waiting on Wednesday: Mockingjay

“Waiting on Wednesday” is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming book releases that we’re eagerly anticipating!
 Today, all I have to say is:
Two weeks until Mockingjay!
Seriously, folks.
If you have not read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins you need to go pick it up now!
It is the *best* book (besides the follow-up Catching Fire, which I loved even more) ever!
And on Aug. 24, all our questions will be answered!
(Well, I hope they will!)
And the most pressing one:
Peeta or Gale?
I’m dying over here!
How about you? What are you waiting on this week?

Red Velvet Cupcakes

The Nerd’s birthday is Thursday, so I decided to whip up his favorite cake in honor of his 26th year.
This time, though, I did it in cupcake form.
I like this icing — it’s not too cream-cheesy. Because Lord knows I hate cream cheese. Yuck.
Red Velvet Cupcakes
2 1/2 c sifted cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 oz. red food coloring
1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 c sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 c buttermilk, at room temperature
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp baking soda
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two muffin pans with cupcake liners.
Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
In a smaller bowl, combine the cocoa and red food coloring to make a sort of paste.
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add in the eggs one at a time and mix after each addition.
Add in the vanilla and mix well.
Mix in the cocoa paste and 1/3 of the flour mixture.
Pour in half the buttermilk and mix well.
Add another 1/3 of the flour mixture…
then the rest of the buttermilk…
and the last of the flour mixture.
In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar and baking soda.
Add it to the batter and mix well, scraping down the sides with a spatula to ensure complete mixing.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans, filling the cupcake liners about half full.
Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcakes come out clean.
Let cool and begin to make icing.
Cream Cheese Icing
1/2 c butter, room temperature
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
2-3 c powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Cream together the butter and cream cheese.
Add in vanilla.
Mix in sugar to taste.
Pipe the icing on cupcakes as desired.
The Nerd loves these red velvet cupcakes — they’re moist and creamy and delicious!

Review: Enders Game

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card is one of The Nerd’s favorite books.
As we started watching all of the nerdy things that he loves — Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, The Big Bang Theory, Stargate (all three of ‘em) — and I start to love them, too, I’m beginning to trust his judgement.
So, I *finally* picked up this novel, expecting to suffer through it.
I mean, I love my man, but his taste in books is not exactly great. He reads all the campy Star Wars novels, for instance. Shudder.
Let me just say — he was *dead on* with this one.
I *loved* it!
We listened to the audio book on our recent trip to Austin, and I didn’t want to get out of the car because it meant I had to stop listening to Ender’s Game.
Ender Wiggin is the kind of character you can relate to. He’s *so* smart — but he’s just a little boy. I had to remind myself constantly that he was just a kid.
This novel is *gritty.* There’s death and violence, and it’s not handled with kid gloves. Heck, Ender isn’t handled with kid gloves. The adults use him and do so intentionally. I can’t imagine the kind of burden this poor kid had to deal with.
The fate of the world is *literally* in his hands. And the adults make no bones about it. If he fails, the world ends. There is no loving, guiding adult that makes everything better, like Harry Potter had in Dumbledore, and even in Sirius. There is only Ender: His witts, his intelligence, his ingenuity.
The story is so complex and the issues it confronts are so unimaginable. I still find myself thinking about it at night.
How could they put that burden on an 11-year-old kid?
How could they sacrifice him — his childhood, his mind, his morals — for the fate of the world?
Was it worth that?
And you see the consequences of this burden in Ender. You can tell he isn’t right in the head. I can only imagine the emotional and intellectual scarring that the situation caused.
The author does an *amazing* job of thinking all that through.
And the ending! Oh my geeze! There has not been a book in a *long* time that surprised me as much as this one. I never saw that coming in a million years.
This is one of the most complex, thought-out stories that I’ve ever read. There isn’t a lot of action, but it’s a purely story-driven read that will have you on the edge of your seat, wondering what happens when the fate of the world is in the hands of an 11-year-old boy.
It’s an amazing story.

Fried Summer Veggies

This dish reminds me of childhood summers. We always planted a vegetable garden, and we’d spend most evenings harvesting okra and squash and tomatoes.
My dad always made this for us in the summer. I remember looking forward to summer just so that I could have this dish.
We always called it “goulash” and growing up, I always thought goulash was deep fried veggies.
Of course, when I went to Prague in college and ordered goulash, I got a very different dish. I bet my face was priceless when they brought out real-life goulash.
So, to avoid any confusion, I’m calling this Fried Summer Veggies. But in my heart (and head!) it will always be goulash.
Fried Summer Veggies
Summer Squash
Corn Meal
Vegetable Oil
Cut up your veggies. Slice the okra and squash.
Cut the tomatoes and potatoes into small chunks.
Mix 1 cup flour with 2 cups corn meal. You may need to mix more if you have a lot of veggies. You’ll want enough to coat the veggies.
Beat the eggs in a small bowl. I used five eggs for the amount of veggies I had.
Put the cut up veggies in a large Ziploc bag.
Add the eggs and squish the bag around to coat the veggies with egg.
Add the corn meal mixture to the Ziploc bag and squish some more to coat the veggies.
Coat the bottom of a skillet with vegetable oil and heat it up.
Fry the coated veggies until golden.
Serve as a side dish to your favorite summer meal.
We served this with steaks hot off the grill.
So yummy!
Our favorite summer vegetables, breaded and deep fried for the perfect side dish. This recipe brings back memories of childhood summers out in the vegetable garden.

Review: Sisters Red

As you can probably tell from my blog, I have a thing for werewolves.
So, when I first heard about Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, I knew this was a story I’d enjoy.
I mean, who doesn’t want to read about a pair of kick-ass sisters who hunt evil werewolves to save the girls in their city from vicious attacks?
“Scarlett March lives to hunt the Fenris–the werewolves that took her eye when she was defending her sister, Rosie, from a brutal attack. Armed with a razor-sharp hatchet and a blood-red cloak, Scarlett is an expert at luring and slaying the wolves. She’s determined to protect other young girls from a grisly death, and her raging heart will not rest until every single wolf is dead.
Rosie March once felt that her bond with her sister was unbreakable. Owing Scarlett her life, Rosie hunts ferociously alongside her. But even as more girls’ bodies pile up in the city and the Fenris seem to be gaining power, Rosie dreams of a life beyond the wolves. She finds herself drawn to Scarlett’s only friend, Silas, a young woodsman who is deadly with an ax. But does loving him mean betraying her sister and all that they’ve worked for?”- From the Jacket Copy

This is a story about love. 
The love between Scarlett and Rosie — a sisterly bond that should be unbreakable but is strained and tested as each sister wants something the other can’t fathom.
The love between Rosie and Silas — a blooming, innocent love that will test the ties between Rosie and Scarlett.
Scarlett’s love of the hunt — it’s what drives her, it’s her purpose in life. She can’t imagine any other way to live, and doesn’t understand why Rosie and Silas aren’t satisfied with that.
I really enjoyed the depth of the character development in this story. I could completely understand Scarlett’s point of view — I mean, the Fenris took her eye! Who *wouldn’t* want revenge? — but I felt so bad for Rosie, pulled into a life she doesn’t want to live, but feels obligated to do so.
The relationships between the characters were really well-developed, too. It was a very different twist on the whole love-triangle, with two girls and one boy. Very interesting dynamic.
And there’s action — boy, is there action. Scarlett is a killing machine and it was fun to see a strong female character with that kind of drive.
As much as I loved the characters, this is a *hard* story. It’s not an everyone goes home happy and rainbows grace the sky kind of story. So, be prepared for that.
But, if you’re looking for an action-packed plot featuring well-developed characters, this one is definitely for you.

In My Mailbox

In My Mailbox is a weekly feature hosted by The Story Siren
It’s a chance for book bloggers to display the books they purchased or received for review each week.
I put together a vlog to showcase the books in my mailbox this week:
Please excuse the sneezing and hacking you can hear in the background. It was George, who has an affinity for sneezing like no other dog on this planet. He probably sneezes 100 times a day.
Featured Books:
So, what was in your mailbox this week?
**Thanks to Tor Books for the copy of The Affinity Bridge by George Mann.**

Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms

Ever since I saw a recipe for stuffed mushrooms on the Pioneer Woman’s blog, I’ve wanted to make them. They looked so yummy!
But – I am *not* a fan of cream cheese. Ick.
I don’t even like cheese cake.
So I searched high and low for a recipe *without* cream cheese, and this gem from Emeril Lagasse is definitely a winner.
These babies were gone so quickly!
Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms
Adapted From: Food Network
24 small white mushrooms, stemmed (reserve 1 cup minced stems)
4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
12 oz hot Italian sausage
12 oz sweet Italian sausage
1/2 c finely chopped onion
1/4 c finely chopped green bell pepper
2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 c plain bread crumbs
1/2 c freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 c plus 1 Tbsp minced fresh parsley leaves
2 tsp Emeril’s Original Essence
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Put the mushroom caps in a small bowl and drizzle with 2 Tbsp of the olive oil, rubbing with your hands to evenly coat them.
Brown the sausage in a skillet. Add in the bell pepper, onion and mushroom stems and cook until softened.
Add in the garlic and cook until fragrant.
Transfer the meat mixture to a blender or food processor. Add in 1/4 c bread crumbs, 1/4 c Parmesan cheese, 1/4 c parsley, Essence and 2 Tbsp olive oil.
Pulse until the mixture is smooth.
You may have to stir it a few times to ensure that it’s blending evenly.
Fill the mushroom caps with the sausage mixture, heaping some on the top.
Sprinkle with the remaining bread crumbs, Parmesan and parsley.
Bake 15-18 minutes, until the tops are golden brown and the mushrooms are tender.
You can also make these ahead of time and freeze. Then, you can just heat them up the day of your party!
These Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms are so flavorful and addicting. You won’t be able to stop at just one!

Friday Finds (7)

Welcome to another Friday Finds!
I’ve been so out of pocket this week, I only have one giveaway to tell you about.
But it’s a good one!
Steph is giving away an ARC of Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare.
I can’t *wait* for this one!
And if you win this giveaway, you won’t have to!
Contest ends Aug. 13.
And since it’s Friday, you know what that means…

Hello my Follow Friday friends — be sure to leave me a comment, letting me know if you are a new follower, and I’ll follow you back!
Let me know if you become a follower and I’ll follow you back!

This week’s question: Do you listen to music when you read? If so, what are your favorite reading tunes?

I don’t listen to music — it’s too distracting when I’m reading. I could never listen to music and study, either.  

Happy Friday!

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