One Pot Zucchini Mushroom Pasta

zucchini

So, idk about you but for the last few months I’ve been seeing these one-pot pasta recipes popping up everywhere. First they were on Pinterest, and then they migrated into facebook, and now I literally cannot seem to escape them.

So, I guess here I am. Trying my first one-pot pasta recipe.

I decided to give it a first shot using this One Pot Zucchini Mushroom Pasta from Damn Delicious. Honestly there’s no real reason why I chose this first. I found it on Pinterest and the pictures looked tasty.

I’m kind of an easy sell.

Prep was as easy as promised by the “one pot” moniker – You just chop everything up and throw it all in.

before stirring

I would recommend putting in the pasta close to the beginning instead of waiting for the end. I was hoping to get one of those artsy “Everything piled separately in the pot” photos, and while it looks okay – it was kind of hard to ensure the pasta was completely covered in the liquid once I poured that in because I guess uncooked pasta is hard to stir.

Who would have thought.

All in the pot

Anyway… I did make a few alterations as I went… because it wouldn’t be me if I actually followed the recipe to the letter.

I am good at many things. Making a recipe as written is not one of them.

So for starters, I threw in some vegetable stock instead of water (I used Better Than Bouillon to make the stock) hoping that this meant I could avoid salting it and also bypass the heavy cream so that it would be better for reheating. Idk about you, but I feel like cream sauces never quite taste right after they’ve been reheated.

I also left out the peas. Not for any particular reason. I just forgot them.

The result was nice and tasty, and of course, most importantly – quick and easy. The alterations worked just as I had hoped they would – although I will say that maybe I’d add less bouillon to the stock next time… I eyeballed it, and it turned out to almost be a little too salty for my tastes.

The only other thing is that this recipe makes a LOT of food. I’ll be eating this for days. So it’s probably best made if you’re cooking for at least two people instead of one.

one pot pasta

But overall, I’d call this recipe a success.

Have you cooked anything good lately?

So… Horizon Zero Dawn Feels Really Important.

So buckle up, birdies, because this post is going to be a little… all over the place. I don’t quite have my thoughts fully sorted on this matter, nor have I finished the game yet… but the bottom line is that Horizon Zero Dawn feels really important to me and I feel like I need to tell someone.

Horizon_Zero_Dawn

As far as video games go, it’s pretty impressive for all the typical reasons games can be impressive. The visuals are beyond beautiful, the soundtrack is great, the battle mechanics are interesting and unique, the enemies are legitimately terror inducing, and even on the easiest difficultly level (because while I love video games, I’m super bad at them) still pose enough of a challenge to keep the fighting exciting… The game is critically acclaimed for all the usual stuff.

And yet it still just feels so much more important than that to me.

The main character Aloy has a lot to do with it. The fact that she is THE scripted main character matters. She’s a fixed element in the story, as opposed to a player character that is chosen and sculpted by the player… and she’s a she.

horizon-zero-dawn-two-column-aloy-03-ps4-eu-22jun16

As a female who has been into video games for a long time, this still seems pretty revolutionary to me. It shouldn’t, but it does. While I can think of a handful of other games where this has been the case (Tomb Raider, for example), the fact that even now, in 2017, this still feels important is indicative of a much broader issue within the gaming world. Having a female protagonist is still seen as a risk, and as a result, it’s not often done.

This shouldn’t still be a risk. Women make up at least half (according to some numbers, more than half even) of the gaming demographic, and we’ve been playing as and relating to set male characters for years, so I really don’t see why having male players play as and relate to a set female main character should be a risk for the industry. And that’s a problem that goes well beyond gaming and into plenty of other media – starting with children’s books even… But that’s a matter for another post. That I’ll probably never get to.

So anyway…

It’s not just the fact that Aloy is a girl that makes it feel important. It’s the fact that Aloy is female, and yet in the context of the story that doesn’t matter. Her gender is completely irrelevant, and is left as such. Her character design is practical, as are her outfits, and we are not constantly reminded of the fact that “oh shit, Aloy has ladyparts,” whether that be through a sexualized character design (*coughLaraCroftupuntilRiseoftheTombRaidercough*) or constant reminders that she’s filling a role that’s not typically female (e.g. comments from NPCs in surprise over her gender, or deriding her gender). As a gamer who also has lady parts and identifies as female, it’s kind of an awesome experience, to be honest. It’s revolutionary because of the simple fact that it doesn’t present the decision to have a female player character as different or revolutionary. It just simply is. And that fact alone is striking me as unique, and – if I haven’t said it enough yet – important.

Because it’s something even the best, most inclusive games sometimes miss the mark on when writing strong female characters. Even my beloved Bioware occasionally misses the mark in their super-progressive Dragon Age series. Despite culturally existing in a world that has seemingly eliminated most gender norms (and in the places they’ve been kept, they’ve often been flipped – for example the “church” of the world is matriarchal instead of patriarchal) while playing as a female Warden, Hawke, or Inquisitor there are still these moments that crop up where your character’s competence and fitness to lead are questioned on nothing but the basis of being female – bits of dialogue and implications in the way things are voiced that play out very differently when playing as the male counterpart. They’re moments that can feel very out of place in a world as egalitarian with regards to gender as Dragon Age seems to set itself up to be – moments that sometimes feel to me like reality is bleeding in and upsetting the world-building a little.

horizon-zero-dawn-screen-31-ps4-eu-20oct16

In Horizon Zero Dawn, I haven’t yet had one of those moments. Not one. There were a couple moments where an NPC would flirt with Aloy a bit, but everything is written in such a way, and the world is set up in such a way that I’m confident that those moments still would have happened regardless of her gender – because that’s just normal human interaction. And somehow that makes the lack of super set gender roles even cooler?

And all of this is to say nothing about the seemingly effortless diversity of the NPC cast. Which also feels super-duper important to me. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever before encountered a game that is this nonchalantly racially diverse, and I freaking love it. And it really is the nonchalantness of it that gets me. It’s not mentioned, questioned, commented on, or fussed about… it just simply is. And oh my goodness, it’s so amazing.

I could easily go on for several more pages about the things in this game that feel important to me, but I think at this point I’ve gone on long enough for one post that’s basically just a rambling brain-dump. Additionally, I have not finished the game yet – I’m taking my sweet time and being a bit completionist, so I’m only about half way through. It might very well be that the impressions I’ve gotten so far don’t maintain themselves through the rest of the story, but I guess we’ll see. I just needed to gush a little over how awesome this game is.

Have you played Horizon Zero Dawn? Did you notice any of these things? Or do you see them differently than I did? Are there actually plenty of games out there like this already, but I’ve just managed to miss them because I’m picky about gameplay mechanics? Is there something big and glaring that I’m missing in my enthusiasm? (*Since originally writing this post, I’ve read several interesting commentaries by Native American authors on both sides of the “is it cultural appropriation?” debate, which I must admit is not something that would have even occurred to me had I not happened across it on Tumblr.) I still haven’t finished the game (so try to avoid spoilers), and am still formulating my thoughts. I feel like I’ve sort of danced around points here… like they’re on the tip of my tongue but I just can’t find the words to properly convey them – so I would love to hear how other people see it. Maybe it will help clarify this overwhelming bubble of nebulous “this is important” that’s bubbling up in my chest as I play (but please keep it respectful)!

(Clicking on the photos will bring you to their source)

Book Review: Sabriel by Garth Nix

Sabriel

So I finally got around to starting Garth Nix’s Abhorsen Trilogy. Sure took me long enough. I’ve been pushed and prodded by so many people on these over the years, and after seeing them come up once again a few months ago after the publication of his latest book Clariel, I’ve finally gotten off my ass and started with Sabriel. Overall, I’ve enjoyed the ride thus far.

I must admit that at first it was a little slow going. It took me a little longer than usual to get the hang of the world – the Old Kingdom, the Wall, the Charter, charter symbols, charter magic vs. free magic… I felt like I couldn’t fully wrap my head around things properly until about halfway through the book. I’m not sure if it’s because the world building was actually a little slow, or if it’s because I started it immediately after I finished My Lady Jane, which was a VASTLY different kind of writing and tone. I’m inclined to blame it on the latter, since I quite literally closed My Lady Jane and opened Sabriel. I probably should have taken a day or two to get my head out of alternate Tudor England before I started.

So that might be my bad, but it also might not? I guess I won’t ever really be able to tell without going back and rereading after I get some distance from it.

But regardless, once I did get all the pieces in place world-wise, I sped through the rest of this book. Just lovely. Nix crafts a really exciting, suspenseful story that pulls you right to the end. But while the story kept me riveted from that point on, even as the action drove me forward I did find myself wishing for a little more in some parts (mild spoilers ahead). My small qualms are mostly in regards to character development… or, lack thereof (which, to be honest, would have been far less noticeable if I had actually read the book when I actually still fell in the “young adult” age demographic… but I’m a crotchety full-fledged adult now, so here we go).

Specifically, I will say that I very much wish Touchstone was developed just a little bit more as a character, and that the relationship between he and Sabriel was a little less… instantaneous? Miraculous? Basically, there’s not really much of a transition period for Sabriel to go from “Oh he’s pretty but, ugh, annoying.” to “this dude is now a fully developed individual, and I love him.” And while it was admittedly nice to read about a strong, young, female protagonist where a romance subplot doesn’t really end up becoming the focus – the lack of development there did make the overall relationship seem a little unnatural. The few romance or sex oriented scenes/asides that were there ended up feeling really quite out of place.

But, all that said, as jarring as the “romance” part of the book was, it was also such a small part that I’m not sure it really mattered too much in terms of shaping my overall review. That facet of the book took such a massive backseat to the rest of the plot that what would normally be an enjoyment-ruining character development problem for me wasn’t actually that bad.

My only other qualm – which is not so much with Sabriel itself, but rather with the trajectory of the trilogy – is that while her development is also a bit slow in the beginning (but that might also be a result of me struggling to grasp the world), I did grow very attached to Sabriel (the character) by the end. And because of that I also must admit to not being in a super big rush to start the sequel since it seems to both time jump and introduce a new main character. That said, I’ve ordered it and do intend to start it as soon as I’m finished working through the tome of a biography of HRH Elizabeth II that I’m currently reading. Because while I definitely want to read more about Sabriel, I hope I’ll like Lirael just as much.

In summary: Sabriel is a fun fantasy adventure through an interesting world that is definitely worth a read, even if it does let character building fall to the wayside in its relentless drive towards the final confrontation.

Overall rating: 3.75/5 stars

Would recommend to: Fans of fantasy.

My Christmas Gift Tags

Gift Tags

Considering that Tuesday was Valentines Day, I’m uhhhhh a little late on this, but I did want to share with you my Gift Tags for this past Christmas, as I was really happy with how they came out.

I kind of stole part of the idea from my Aunt, who has always taken her gift wrapping super-seriously. Her christmas gifts are basically works of art. Perfectly matching ribbon, fancy tags, and always, ALWAYS, a themed ornament as a wrapping decoration/part of the gift.

Her appreciation for the presentation of the gift is something that’s rubbed off on me, and the last few years I have also picked up this meticulous wrapping style, complete with keepsake ornament decoration.

Problem was that this year, while I found a wrapping paper theme that I loved – I just COULD NOT find tags that matched that weren’t either super expensive, or super cheap looking.

And then one day I was doing some organizing of my craft supplies (read: making a massive mess tearing them apart in the search for something specific), and I found a fabric remnant that I bought years ago featuring a repeating white silhouette of a deer. And wouldn’t you know it, it happened to match my black/white/red/green/woodland wrapping theme for this year perfectly.

Well, considering that this past year I’ve gotten back into embroidery after a 20 year hiatus (full post on that is in the works) – I had found my perfect solution. Some 3 inch hoops, some shimmery embroidery floss, and some hot glue and felt later I had managed to kill two birds with one stone – providing not only perfect personalized tags, but my traditional yearly ornament in one fell swoop.

My only fear is that I’ve now set the bar too high, and won’t be able to find a fabric that’s as easily adaptable for this coming Christmas!

Book Review: My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

My Lady Jane

Before we left for Disney, I went into a little bit of a book panic. I was looking to figure out what I’d bring with me for the trip and realized I had absolutely nothing that wasn’t heavy and/or (mostly and) depressing. I have a VERY large book collection that is TBR, but it’s full of topics like the Holocaust, Japanese WWII POWs, Death and the Civil War, and various other horrible, heavy, awful things. Because that’s the kind of history I’m drawn to. Take that for what you will.

Anyway, the point is – none of it is kid-friendly, nor does it seem like appropriate reading for a week at the happiest place on earth.

And so I begged, needled, and cajoled Jim into a last-minute stop at the bookstore after our weekly date night dinner (the bookstore is usually something we do separately, since I could happily spend hours in there just browsing, and he’s more of a goal-oriented book shopper).

Well my aimless content browsing brought me to this gem.

The cover originally is what attracted me to it, but when I read the inside flap I was a little confused. And also a little excited. Because, from my perspective, this book could go one of two ways: it could be confusing and strange and awful, or it could be, hands down, one of the best things I’ve ever read.

Ultimately, I decided to take a chance.

And guys? I’m so glad I did. As a historian, everything in my gut tells me that this kind of revisionist premise shouldn’t have worked. But it did. It totally did. It was entertaining, and clever, and just plain fun.

My Lady Jane reframes the turmoil of the Tudor succession and the English reformation as a conflict not between Catholic and Protestant, but between the magical and the unmagical. It also takes a young female figure who is largely portrayed in history books as a tragic, powerless pawn of the English political game and gives her a voice. Gives her strength and agency and pluck as she fights not just for her own happily ever after, but for a happy ending for everyone she cares about.

And guys, this was just SO. MUCH. FUN.

The writing is witty and clever and funny, and at no point does it take itself too seriously. It pokes fun at itself as it uses common tropes and over the top plot devices, and in doing so makes the ridiculousness of the story entertaining instead of annoying. Throughout reading I couldn’t help but draw parallels to The Princess Bride (book and movie), because it’s got that same sort of self-aware, inching towards parody feel to it.

Honestly, the only even borderline negative thing I can say, is that in retrospect (mild spoilers ahead) I kind of feel a little bad that Mary I ends up vilified again, particularly when they’re already throwing history out the window so heartily. Generally when the English Reformation is dealt with in popular culture, Mary I and the English Catholics end up vilified while the Protestants are cast as the “good guys” – when in reality the whole thing was much more nuanced and complicated and more about the dangers of radicalism than anything else… but that’s just kind of one of my “things” after having spent a lot of time on the English Reformation in grad school and personally finding Mary I to be kind of a tragic figure herself. But even with that said, this book handles it reasonably well, and by recasting the conflict in the manner that it does, actually (I think anyway) keeps the focus a little more on the dangers of radicalism and the power-hungry instead of just presenting it like “them bad, us good.”

That said, one of the overall charms of this book was that it wasn’t supposed to be heavy enough for that kind of criticism. It’s blatantly stated that the goal here was to take the real history – which is heavy and tragic, and horrible in many ways – and basically throw it out the window to tell a much more pleasant, much lighter, and much more frivolous story. And that’s exactly what it does. Even the text itself makes sure not to take itself too seriously – it breaks the 4th wall several times, effectively reminding the reader that, “hey, we’re just having fun here, hope you are too.” If we’re speaking candidly, it’s been a long time since I enjoyed a book as thoroughly as this for no other reason than I had fun reading it.

So yea.

Good book.

In summary: OMG SO MUCH FUN.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Would Recommend to: Anyone. But be sure to go into it expecting fun fiction, not real History or any serious allegories for it. You won’t find them. Special bonus recommendation points if you enjoyed The Princess Bride (book or movie – doesn’t matter which).

 

(PS – Happy Valentine’s Day!)

Reassessing for 2017

So any of you who have been around for a while know that my blogging over the last two years has been… sporadic at best. I’ll have a month or two where I’m really consistent, and then go on radio silence for three. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years trying to figure out why I can’t seem to break this cycle, and honestly there are like, a thousand reasons.

I originally had a massively long post typed out listing them all, but I scrapped that because it all just sounded like I was making excuses. And that makes this feel like less of a hobby and more of a job, and goodness knows the last thing I need right now is another job (I currently have four).

So no reasons, no excuses. I’m done looking for them and focusing on them. Instead, I think the time has come for some retooling.

Part of this is to make it work better for me, for my life and schedule, and in a way that doesn’t leave me feeling guilty for not having posted in a while. Part of it is to try to provide more consistent content here.

I do, of course, want to start focusing a little more back on my hobbies – expect more book reviews, hopefully some more project posts… that goes along with some lifestyle changes that I’m trying to make on a more personal level. But I also want to figure out some semi-regular features that can stick around even when I don’t have time to create anything physical.

What form those are going to take, I don’t know. Any suggestions, or well established blog events (things like Blogmus or Throwback Thursday or Friday Favorites) would be welcomed.

So I guess, my question in all this is, beyond project posts, what kind of content do you like? What would you like to see more of from Magpie Making Do? Are there any older posts in particular that you’d like to see more like?

Additionally, I’ve been intending for a long time to switch from wordpress.com to a self-hosted wordpress.org site. I even bought the domain name, and have hosting all set up – but I’ve been holding off until I can be more consistent about content… mainly as an excuse, because switching over seems a little intimidating and scary, and I really don’t want to lose the readers I already have here. Has anyone taken this plunge already, and are there any tips or recommendations you might want to share?

Any and all input (as long as it’s polite!) is welcome in the comments, and I’ll keep mulling over things too!

Book Review – Dragon Age: Last Flight by Laine Merciel

Last Flight

Dragon Age: Last Flight is yet another book set in the world of the Dragon Age video games. Using a nested narrative, it provides an engaging look into the history of Thedas without becoming too much like reading a giant codex.

I will start right off the bat by saying that this is, hands down, the best of the Dragon Age novels that I’ve read so far. I’ve read both The Calling and Asunder, and Last Flight comes in as most entertaining and engaging, by far. It is also, strangely enough, the only one that was not written by a member of the Dragon Age writing team.

Now it’s hard to really pinpoint exactly why that matters, but I can’t shake the feeling that it somehow does. Maybe because Liane Merciel seems to primarily be a novelist by trade, and is maybe a little more skilled with pacing for such a work? One of my only “bones to pick” with the other two that I’ve read so far was pacing – specifically action scenes that dragged on just far too long for the written word (but would probably be AWESOME and of perfect length if executed visually – say like a boss battle or a cut scene in a video game) – and there was no issue with that what so ever in this one. Merciel provides just enough action to keep it interesting, and writes the scenes in a way that the reader can easily visualize things without going overboard on choreography.

Last Flight is also unique in its content. This one is more about exploring the history of Thedas and the Grey Wardens than providing any sort of additional background for already existing characters, which I think was a smart move. So often I have trouble reading franchise books like this because the characters that you have come to know and love just don’t quite ring true in the hands of another writer. And that was one of the big reasons that I liked the other two Dragon Age books I’ve read. They’re written by the lead writer for the series. He knows the characters, and so the characters I’ve come to know and love never seem… off.

So I think choosing to focus on new characters instead of already established ones was a very good move considering they switched up authors. Instead, the plot spends most of its narrative actually going back in time, putting the reader in the middle of the fourth blight and exploring the really rather grey morality of the Wardens in a much more effective way than any of the games yet have. It gives opportunity to not only expand the world, but allow the author enough freedom within it so that nothing feels forced.

In summary: My favorite Dragon Age novel yet, but don’t expect to see any familiar faces in it.

Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Would recommend to: Dragon Age and fantasy fans.