The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell: Review

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Netflix’s recent spooky additions during October this year included a baking show called The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell.

Christine McConnell, the show’s main character and real-life baker, gained recognition as a self-taught baker who’s Instagram baking posts showcase her creepy (and delicious) desserts. Her show on Netflix is an interesting mix of baking how-to and spooky, puppet-filled plot.

I enjoyed the quirky, dark humor of the show and the subtle world-building. In fact, the two things this show does best are world-building and baking.

Watching this show will definitely make you hungry as you watch McConnell make her spooky (and delicious) creations. She makes everything from chocolate-peanut butter “bones” in the first episode to a cake replica of her house. Seriously. McConnell's house

10/10 for edible spooky houses.

She also makes some other craft projects throughout the course of the show, including items like this creepy candle with a face, and a stunning, hand-made red dress for a date. There’s no denying that McConnell is incredibly talented at making lovely, spooky-themed creations, both in real life and on this show. By taking the time to show how she makes these items, the mood tends to stay pretty light-hearted and relaxed.

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The other thing Curious Creations does well is world-building. From set design to spooky characters, the world (and, specifically, the house) McConnell lives in is fascinating. The subtle layers of world building keep you guessing at the mysteries of this universe. How did McConnell come to live in this house? What is the rest of her family like? (To this question, we do see some answers in later episodes). How did all of these creatures come to be here? What or who is Christine McConnell exactly? And what kind of world does she live in? So many questions.

In one episode we see Christine in her bedroom, just waking up for the morning. It seems that she is “sleeping” with her eyes open, looking almost dead. This small detail gives interesting hints about the world of Curious Creations. I genuinely loved the idea of this creepy house and the kind-hearted, though dark and mysterious, woman who lives in it. I also love how she treats the creatures who live in her house like family, bring in the trope of the gathered-family and true warmth to their relationships and interactions.

McConell

From details like the spider-web cupboards to the reappearing skull (of a previous mailman, apparently) and all the creatures living around the house, world-building gets a 10/10 here. Quirky, spooky, and mysterious, Curious Creations aces this test.

On the other hand, while I enjoyed watching The Curious Creations, I did feel like it took its genre-breaking a little too far. In some ways, breaking the genre molds of typical baking shows and typical spooky shows is what makes Curious Creations so unique and fun. But breaking the genres like this comes with a price.

Curious Creations doesn’t fit very well in any genre. Is it a baking show? Yes, but it doesn’t give quite enough detail to become actually useful as a baking show. I felt that a few too many steps were jumped over in the recipes for anyone to actually try to follow along with unless they are a professional baker with professional tools. In an attempt to showcase McConnell’s creations to the fullest, the show jumps over a few too many minor steps to be a really good baking show.

Is this show a children’s show? The rating is PG, but some of the content seems a little bit too raunchy or scary to make it a really good children’s show.  I mean, serial killers welding axes does seem a little scarier than PG, and let’s not even talk about the time they tortured a neighbor in the basement. (I’m also not going to talk about my feelings on Rose (an undead raccoon) as a character. I understand that she was written to be obnoxious, but she crosses the line into highly annoying a few too many times for me to like her very much. I’m not sure she helps to make this a “kids show” either, although they might find her the funniest of all audiences.)

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Is it a fictional, spooky show with a plot? Technically yes, but the plot is left underdeveloped so the show can focus on the baking. I wish they would have given more screen time to some of the other quirky characters living in McConnell’s house and addressed more some of the other intriguing plot points. By always cutting back to the kitchen so McConnell can talk about baking, the plot felt like it was cut a little bit short.

Breaking these barriers leaves Curious Creations in a strange, new territory for a spooky show. Who is the intended audience for this show? Children? Parents and children together? Young adults looking for something slightly spooky? I can’t help but feel that all audiences will be left a little confused and disappointed by how this show has divided itself between baking and fiction.

Final Thoughts:

If you love baking and spooky shows you will enjoy this one! It has a lot of super interesting concepts surrounding it that add to the mood of the show and help make it truly unique and fun. I really enjoyed both Christine’s baking and the idea of her house, but I didn’t fall in love with the show itself.

It is still a really good show to watch to get in the spooky mood!

Happy watching!

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes (Vegan!)

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‘Tis the season for all things pumpkin spice! Last week, in celebration of fall, I made vegan pumpkin spice cupcakes to take with me to share at work and eat after going to a local haunted house. (You can’t go wrong with something sweet after something scary!)

I followed this recipe from lovingitvegan. It was easy to make and has a great vegan buttercream frosting to go with it.

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Unfortunately, I realized only after I began baking that I didn’t have any pre-mixed pumpkin spice. So I combined the spices together myself- which gave it a more personalized flavor. Just use cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. You may also use allspice to add extra spice to your mix. Add these spices together until you get your desired taste. (Mine was a little heavier on the ‘spice’ part of the pumpkin spice, and in the future, I would definitely be more careful with the cloves!) This recipe called for 3 1/2 tsp in the cupcakes themselves and a bit extra for the frosting, so keep that in mind if you are thinking of making your own.

I also made a flax egg for the first time as an egg replacement. It works incredibly well to bind the batter together, just like an egg would. To make a flax egg, mix 1 tbsp ground flax meal with 3 tbsp water and let it sit for a minute or so until it starts to thicken.

I had some extra batter after I made a batch of twelve regular-sized cupcakes, so I made an additional eight mini-cupcakes as well. I actually loved the mini-cupcakes even more than the regular cupcakes. Cupcakes usually have too much sugar for me to handle, so a mini-cupcake makes it easier to eat (especially if you are watching your sugar, but still want dessert).

Here is the recipe:

Making Homemade Einkorn Bread

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Einkorn, an ancient strain of wheat similar to spelt and emmer, appeared on a documentary I recently watched about the sustainability of current farm practices, including the growing of wheat. (This one! Right here! Its called Sustainable.)

Why is einkorn important?

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Einkorn is a grain that promotes genetic diversity in the grain crop, which helps nearly every element of the farm from the land and animals, to the crop itself. Regular wheat is one single strain of grain that is constantly mass produced, draining the soil, forcing the use of pesticides, and losing nutrition from the wheat itself.

On the other hand, a grain like einkorn helps restore the soil, and because it is genetically diverse, limits the need for the protection from bugs or disease that pesticides provide. It also hasn’t lost its nutrient value like regular wheat has. Eating einkorn provides more protein and potassium (along with other nutrients) than regular wheat.

The documentary discussed how this kind of wheat grows so well and interviewed a baker who uses einkorn in his bakery every day. I was very curious to try some einkorn bread of my own, so yesterday I made my first loaf. (In the future I’d also like to make more bread using other kinds of ancient grains! The taste is similar to whole-wheat bread, rather than regular white bread flour, which is exactly what I love from my bread).

How to make einkorn bread:

I followed this recipe from Live Simply.

The ingredients are very simple:

Water, yeast, olive oil, honey, and salt along with all-purpose einkorn flour. (You may use whole wheat, but the author of the recipe, Kristin Marr, suggests using the all-purpose for this particular recipe.)

After the yeast has been activated, the ingredients combine quickly into a sticky dough. It is important to not overwork the einkorn dough because it won’t rise correctly if you do.

The bread then proves for an hour before another 30-minute prove in the loaf container. Finally, it goes into the over at 375 for about 35 minutes. When I pulled my loaf from the oven, I was initially worried it was burnt. Actually, it really wasn’t burnt (well, maybe just a tiny bit on the very top), since the einkorn flour turns a darker color after it has been baked.

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Overall, this first try at making einkorn bread was a success! I definitely want to make another loaf, since this one is mostly gone already and I plan to eat the rest with some homemade soup tonight. This particular recipe doesn’t make an overly sweet or salty bread, so it goes well with nearly any dish.

Here is some more information about einkorn!

 

The Underground Girls of Kabul (An Inside Look into the Lives of Afghan Women)

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The Underground Girls of Kabul, written by journalist Jenny Nordberg, is a look into Afgan culture and the lives of Afgan women. Nordberg specifically explores the phenomenon of families dressing their daughters as boys, or bacha posh.

In Afganistan, a girl child is called “dokhtar” (daughter) while the boy is “bacha” (child). The girl is not the chosen child, she is “other”. The phrase “bacha posh” means “dressed like a boy” and is the term for those children who are neither son nor daughter. They are the girls dressed as boys.

Before reading this book I assumed it might be a heart-wrenching look into the confined lives of Afgan women, but this book proves over and over how much of a falsehood that thought was. In many ways, Afgan women are indeed mistreated and confined, but this book is a hopeful look at how their society might be transformed and is in the process of transforming right now.  The presence and existence of these girls proves there is a kind of resistance to the control of society and a subversion of the tightly controlled roles and rules surrounding the behavior of women.

Reading this book also helped to open my eyes to the actual culture of Afganistan and its people and history. To be honest, I hadn’t read that much about Afgan culture before this and I was surprised in many ways to hear stories from the women themselves. Of course, there are some truly horrible and saddening moments in the book, but I understand more clearly why their society behaves this way.

For example, one eye-opening moment for me was when Nordberg points out that in some ways the West is more obsessed with gender roles (in childhood) than Afghans are. A woman she interviewed explains that, in Afghanistan, “people are driven by something much more basic- sexuality. Everything before puberty is just preparation for procreation. That is the purpose of life here.”

Part of the reason that Afghan culture keeps women so tightly confined is that they are in a constant state of war. When everything else is unstable, the Afghan men keep a tight grip on any reasons they have, specifically their reputation and their women. Controlling women means that, to an extent, they have control over life- the literal production of life which can mean safety and future security for their family.

Nordberg’s suggestions in the epilogue of the book as to how Afghanistan can move out of this cultural mindset include two important factors, that the country must enter a sustained time of peace, and that part of the change must begin with “powerful men educating many other men”. The women in Afghanistan won’t be able to achieve economic or political power until they are supported by their fathers and husbands.

This book really changed my perspective on Afghan culture and the Middle East. Nordberg helped me understand a little more clearly what living on the inside of such a culture looks like. Ultimately, there is great potential for hope and progress, but the road towards that goal will be long and difficult.

 

 

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

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On Friday last week I made my first batch of vegan chocolate chip cookies to take with me to a dinner party. They were so easy and fast to make, and they tasted delicious! I also brought the extras in to work the next day—my coworkers loved them too! It’s a nice feeling to know that more people might be able to eat your dessert if they have lactose issues or adhere to a vegan diet.

I followed this recipe.

Ingredients:

2/3 cup refined coconut oil, melted

2/3 cup vegan granulated sugar

2/3 cup packed vegan brown sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

teaspoons vanilla

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

teaspoon baking soda

teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

bag (10 oz) vegan semisweet chocolate chips (1 1/2 cups)

 

However, I’d like to make another batch soon with some chopped walnuts added for a bit of extra crunch and nuttiness.

The steps, posted below, only took a few minutes to follow. (And you can safely eat the dough because there aren’t any eggs! Not that the presence of eggs stopped me before…)

 

  • Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, mix coconut oil, granulated sugar and brown sugar until well mixed. Stir in almond milk and vanilla.
  • Stir in flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt until dough forms. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop dough by slightly rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  • Bake 11 to 14 minutes or until edges are light brown and tops look set. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets. Remove to cooling rack; cool completely. Store in tightly covered container.

 

Recently, I’ve been trying to learn how to bake more vegan desserts and have had a lot of success with both banana bread and apple cake. It turns out that great dessert doesn’t need milk and eggs, it just needs a lot of sugar.

Cheers to baking!

-Sarah

The Book Life: Comparing Bookstores and Libraries

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I recently started a job at a library, meaning that I now work two jobs that leave me surrounded by books. Stacks of them. Shelves of them.

Picture books are returned slightly sticky from young fingers.

The recipe books leave me feeling hungry.

cookbook        everday korean      milkbar life

I spend my time shelving, putting books on hold, and searching for that one book about knitting someone requested. I also see endless amounts of crappy romance novels. The tagline of the day: “Scot rhymes with HOT!” (Yes, it was a romance set in Scotland, if you haven’t guessed it already.)

 

My other job surrounded by books is at a bookstore.

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I love how, by necessity, small bookstores can only offer a curated selection of books. Some of these are the kind you buy to show to others, the ones with the beautiful photography. The ones you keep on a coffee table on a kitchen counter. The travel books and cookbooks.

Some of these books are memoirs, academic books, textbooks, picture books, or religious books. These are the bestselling books, the ones the store hopes it can make a profit on.

Books at a bookstore are in pristine condition and are meant to be bought and brought home to find a place on your bookshelves.

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Here, I spend my time helping customers find books and selling them books at the register.

Here, a book might be on sale or 25% off or even as a $5 fiction book. Also here is where some books might be $40 or more (I’m talking about textbooks or books with an expensive binding). Things can start to add up.

A busy day at the bookstore means there was a lot of people. A busy day at the library means there was a lot of books.

Here are the major differences and similarities between the two:

  1. Bookstores are fundamentally a retail setting. This means that there is always some transfer of money happening for the products (and no, I don’t have control over the prices.)
  2. Libraries work as a circulation system, not a one-time sale. There is a constant flow of books going out and coming back in. Unlike the bookstore, the circulation system in the library is constantly flowing and there is almost always more books to be reshelved.
  3. Both host authors and events. And summer reading programs!
  4. Both engage and encourage the community, in slightly different ways. A library is fully open to the community for meetings, but a bookstore can more easily show a movie or host live music.
  5. Both open discussions, spread information and promote learning.
  6. Customer service is very important in both settings. (I was forced to watch a training video on this very subject called “Give ‘em the Pickle”).

In the end, even if being around books every day and can get a little bit tiring, I love seeing what people are reading. I love being part of the process to help people engage with new ideas and stories. I love working at places people can come to get work done or research or just read and relax.

 

So, for now, I’ll just be over here. Living the book life.

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Everything Happens for a Reason (A Look at Dealing with Tragedy)

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The book Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved) is a memoir by Kate Bowler about her life after being diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. Her heavy, beautiful writing discusses her view of faith in the face of tragedy and living life when your sense of certainty has been completely stripped away.

Bowler was a professor at Duke Divinity School, mother of a two-year-old, and wife to the love of her life when she was told she had cancer and had only two years left to live. Her diagnosis ripped away her old life immediately and left her wondering how to live in the face of death.

This book is a perfectly paced story, carefully balancing all the darkest moments with snippets of information and daily life which makes it all bearable. For example, at the end of chapter two, “Object Lesson”, we learn that Bowler had previously had a miscarriage. This moment is one of the heaviest and most heart-breaking in the book. As Bowler shares this moment she says:

“I felt something strange and ran to the bathroom. I started to scream for Toban. As I sat crouched there, everything moved around me in a blur…When we had said all we could say and I had cried all I could cry, we stood there like fools, without language or focus… I could not look down. I was nothing but blood and water.”

But the next chapter begins again with something much more light-hearted: a magic show that Bowler attends wither her friend Blair. By taking the reader from one scene of heartbreak to another, lighter scene, Bowler is able to make this memoir readable and meaningful rather than overwhelming.

Another key part of this book is the two appendixes giving advice on how to interact with someone going through a tragedy. The first appendix, “Absolutely never say this to people experiencing terrible times: a short list”, is full of things to not say to someone (even if you think you are being relatable). Number 5 on the list is the lie “Everything happens for a reason” to which Bowler says:

“The only thing worse than saying this is pretending that you know the reason. So if people tell you this, make sure you are there when they go through the cruelest moments of their lives, and start offering you own [reasons]. When someone is drowning, the only thing worse than failing to throw them a life preserver is handing them a reason.”

The second appendix contains suggestions for positive, helpful ways to interact with someone going through rough times. It includes items like “Oh, my friend, that sounds so hard.” and “I’d love to bring you a meal this week. Can I email you about it?”

Bowler writes about her tragedy and her faith in such a beautiful, vulnerable way. At the very end of this memoir she writes:

“My little plans are crumbs scattered on the ground. This is all I have learned about living here, plodding along, and finding God. My well-laid plans are no longer my foundation. I can only hope that my dreams, my actions, my hopes are leaving a trail for Zach and Toban, so, whichever way the path turns, all they will find is Love.

Zach is beside me in our big bed as I write these words, rolling around like a polar bear cub… It’s another beautiful morning, and it’s time to yell with the pitch of the coffee grinder and make him French toast. I will die, yes, but not today.”

If you are looking for a memoir exploring life during (and through) personal tragedy, Bowler’s Everything Happens for a Reason is excellent and honest. I loved it!