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Check out my science fiction series - The Fall of the Altairan Empire

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Thursday Recipe - Slow-Cooker Refried Beans

Beans are healthy and they can taste good. It's even better if they're easy to cook. Many people shy away from using dried beans. They can take a long time to cook, but they are very economical and good for you. Let your slow-cooker do the work for you with this recipe.

Slow-Cooker Refried Beans

1 1/2 c. dried pinto beans (you can use other kinds, pintos just make the best refried beans)
5 c. hot water
2 t. salt
1 t. garlic powder (more or less, if you like it use more, if not use less)
4 c. hot water (no, it's not a mistake)

Place dried beans and 5 c. hot water into a 2-qt saucepan. Bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover, and let them sit for an hour.

Drain the beans. Rinse a few times. They should be mostly plumped up by now.

Dump the beans into a small slow-cooker - 1.5 to 2 quart size should be about right. Add the salt and garlic powder. Bring the 4 c. hot water to a boil. Pour over the beans, just enough to cover. You may need a little less or a little more.

Cover and cook on high for 2-4 hours, adding water as needed to keep the beans covered.

Stir the beans and check how soft they are. If they aren't soft enough to start smashing, add a little more water if needed and cook them longer.

Stir the beans about once an hour. They should start falling apart as you stir them, so do it vigorously. Keep cooking and stirring the beans until they are the consistency you like.

Check the seasonings, adding more salt and/or garlic to taste.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Author Interview - Mark Engels

Please welcome Mark Engels to the Far Edge of Normal! His book, Always Gray in Winter, is up for an award. Check it out here...

Boyhood interests in trains and electronics fostered my career as an electrical engineer, designing and commissioning signal and communications systems for railroads and rail transit agencies across the United States. Authoring articles for rail industry trade magazines inspired me to write novel-length fiction for my beloved anime, manga and anthropomorphic fandoms. Growing up in Michigan never far from one or another of the Great Lakes, my wife and I today make our home in Wisconsin with our son and a dog who naps beside me as I write.

I belong to Allied Authors of Wisconsin, one of the state's oldest writing collectives, and the Furry Writer’s Guild, dedicated to supporting, informing, elevating, and promoting quality anthropomorphic fiction and its creators.

How can we find you?

Tell us about your writing - What genre do you prefer to write? What books, stories, other publications that you've written are your personal favorites? Anything new coming up?
In my paranormal sci-fi thriller ALWAYS GRAY IN WINTER, first in a family saga series, the modern day remnant of an ancient clan of werecats is torn apart as militaries on three continents vie to exploit their deadly talents.  This was the story I had in my heart to write, the kind of story I wanted to read and couldn't find.  I've recently finished the draft for the next book in the series called FOR WHILE THE TREE BE GREEN.  Editing it now before sending out to my critique partners.

What about you as a person? What do you do to relax? Favorite movies or tv shows? Hobbies?
I've been an anime, manga and anthropomorphics fan for decades, though these days I only watch shows that my grade-school age son and I can enjoy together.  We really dug Wakfu and I'm hoping to get him hooked on RWBY (loved the first season and eager to share it with him.)  He and I go train watching near our home over the very territory I used to work on before I left the railroad to begin work as a consultant.  We also volunteer on a track gang (a.k.a., "the section") at a 15"-gauge live steam train near our home, whose tracks and rolling stock are about one-quarter full scale.  

What gets your creative juices going? Do you write to a music, and do you want to share your playlist?
A number of songs inspired me during the creation my books’ characters and their individual stories.  As I page through a copy of ALWAYS GRAY, for example, I can tell you scene-by-scene which song on Def Leppard’s 1996 album Slang each correlates to.  The album was, in fact, one of my primary inspirations for this book and the ones to follow.  The fact that the band’s name is derived from the name of another big cat?  Purely coincidental.  Though strangely apropos as one of the werecat fight sequences will be forever choreographed in my own headcanon with Guns ‘N Roses’ 1987 hit “Welcome to the Jungle” from Appetite for Destruction.

Other tracks which inspired portions of my book include da Lepp’s “White Lightning” from Adrenalize, “Miss You in a Heartbeat” from Retro Active and “Gods of War” from Hysteria.  Dire Straits also fostered my creative processes with several tracks off their 1985 release Brothers in Arms, namely “Ride Across the River”, “So Far Away”, “Why Worry”, and the titular track.

And when the final fight sequences between my werecats play out one Christmas Eve in a port town in Eastern Europe?  Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo" plays in my head on a continuous loop, of course.

All that said, when I'm actually writing I require complete silence.  I have to hear my characters voices, have to be able to eavesdrop on their conversations.  I can't do that if there is music playing!  Sometimes I even start a fan going--the white noise helps me focus.

"All writers must have cats, especially if they write fantasy or speculative fiction." Do you have a stand on this one? Any cute pictures of your kitty or other pet?
Growing up my family had a cat and a dog, but my adult life my wife and I have only ever had dogs.  We still have one now, in fact.  Picture attached of my writing buddy Toby.  He keeps my spot on the sofa warm until I'm ready to sit down and write.

What organizations do you recommend for those wanting to become writers? Any advice you'd like to share about writing?
A critique group is frequently a good choice, either in real-life or online.  Because all of us have our blind spots.  Good chance a writing group will have at least one person who excels in what you lack, and will be willing and able to help you hone your craft.  Though understand while all writing advice and feedback is worth considering, know what was useful for them/there/then may well be neither practical nor helpful for you/here/now.  Stories are just as unique as the authors who write them.  A line credited to martial arts legend Bruce Lee has stuck with me throughout my creative life cycle: 

Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is specifically your own. 

Write the story you have in your heart to write.  Remember it may well not be the story any one reader had in their hearts to read.  And that's okay.  Seek out those who have in their hearts to read the kind of story you've written and get it in front of them.  Apply Jesus' wisdom from his Sermon on the Mount:

Cast not thy pearls before swine.

What writers inspired you to become an author?
Gene DeWeese from his Adventures of a Two-Minute Werewolf.  Robert C. O'Brien's Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.  Steve Gallacci's anthro comics Erma Felna, EDF and Birthright.  Stan Sakai's long-eared ronin Usagi Yojimbo.  I'd consumed content for so long and felt obligated to give something back in return.

Any special appearances or events coming up that you want to mention?
Hope to see several of you at Furry Weekend Atlanta 2018 April 5-8!  Where I'll be reading from my book along with several other authors.

If you could travel to any time in history, when would you visit?
Post-WWII United States.  The waning days of the steam locomotive's Gilded Age!

If you could have dinner with any of your characters, which ones would you choose? What food would you serve?
The combined Katczynski-Oporowo clan and I would sit down together one Christmas Eve for a traditional Wigilia feast.  With one empty chair at our table for yon wayward traveler, of course.

If you could travel anywhere, on earth or off, where would you go?
Białowieża Forest and Belovezhskaya Pushcha, straddling the border between Poland and Belarus.  Because that's where werecats come from!

What color would you wear if you had only one choice?
Navy blue. Just like the US Coast Guard's Operational Dress Uniform.

Describe your dream writing spot.
The shore of Bois Blanc Island's "West End", gazing out over the Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Bridge.  While seagulls cry, the lake breeze blows, and lake boats pass by close enough to skip a rock off their hulls.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Thursday Recipe - Easy Biscuits

These lovely basic biscuits are made with oil instead of butter so no cutting in the fats, just stir the oil in with the milk. If you want a butter flavor, you could use half melted butter and half oil.

Baking Powder Biscuits

1 c. flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/3 c. milk
3 T. oil

Heat oven to 425° F.

Grease a cookie sheet, set it aside.

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl.

Add milk and oil. Stir just until it forms a soft dough.

Sprinkle 1/4 c. flour on a counter top. Scoop the dough out of the bowl onto the flour. The flour is just to keep it from sticking. Don't try to work all the flour into the dough.

Knead the dough 10 or 12 times.

Pat the dough out flat, until it's about 1/2 inch thick.

Cut the dough into 4-6 biscuits.

Place biscuits at least 1 inch apart on a greased cookie sheet.

Bake 10-12 minutes, until golden brown.

Serve hot with butter and jam.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Monday Musings

I asked my 14yo daughter what I should post about. She said, "Cats." Isn't that what the internet is for? Cats? Invented by Whiskers R. Pussington, so everyone could bask in the beauty, grace, and intelligence of cats.

So here you go. Cats.

(I don't take any credit for these. I posted them from various sites. Click on the image if you want to visit the site yourself. Have fun, but don't blame me when you realize you've just spent the last four hours looking at cat memes.)

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Thursday Recipe - Dairy-free Lemon Pudding

I got my hands on some Meyer lemons recently. These are dark yellow, sweet lemons. They are also extremely juicy. Three of them gave me a full cup of lemon juice. They still have that lemon tang. This pudding is delicious with Meyer lemons. If you can't get them or you have regular lemons, you may have to add some extra sugar to sweeten it to your taste.

Dairy-free Lemon Pudding

1/3 c. sugar (up to 2/3 c. depending on how sweet you like your pudding)
3 T. cornstarch
1/8 t. salt
2 c. coconut milk (the drinking kind, not the cans)
2 egg yolks
1 T. fresh lemon zest
1/2 c. fresh lemon juice
Optional for a creamier pudding - 3 T. coconut oil or butter if you don't mind a little dairy

Mix sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan. Add coconut milk, egg yolks, and lemon zest. Stir until smooth.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. You won't need to bring it all the way to a boil, but don't stop too soon or it will stay really runny. You want a thin pudding or thicker custard consistency.

Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and butter. Let it cool for 20-30 minutes. Stir the pudding until it is smooth and glossy.

Pour it into a serving bowl. Place plastic wrap over the top, gently pressing it onto the surface of the pudding. Refrigerate until completely cold and set, about 2 hours.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Bubble Wrap Kids

Personal rant warning...

What is it with eating laundry detergent? How did this become cool? Don't these kids realize the harm they're doing to themselves when they eat those things? Maybe not.

It's a natural instinct to protect our babies, to keep them safe from anything that might harm them. I think we've gone too far, though. It's also natural for our babies to grow up and start finding out for themselves what will harm them and what is safe. The problem is that we're not letting them experiment while the stakes are low and the dangers are small. We wrap our kids in bubble wrap to the point that they never experience the thrill of danger. They expect everything in their world to be safe. They expect words to never hurt. They expect to never fail.

And then we wonder why teens and young adults are eating laundry detergent.

Kids need to be able to experience danger. They need to explore, to leave the nest and stretch their wings. We, as their parents and the adults in their lives, should provide guidance, but we should also let them experience the consequences of their actions and choices. I'm not talking about "toddlers playing in traffic" danger, that would be stupid, short-sighted, and definitely wrong. I'm talking about letting kids climb trees and venture out of our narrow little safe zones. I'm talking about letting them explore. I'm talking about letting them fail on an assignment because they forgot to do it or being tardy to school because they didn't make it to the bus stop on time. I'm talking about letting them suffer when the consequences are small and their mistakes are small. How are they going to learn to handle the large things if we never let them experiment with the small things?

My 17yo son has a hard time waking up in the morning. I was stressing out because he was perpetually late. I had to call him multiple times every morning. And then one day I realized he's old enough to deal with the consequences. He has an alarm clock. He doesn't need me to wake him up. So I didn't. I warned him the night before. And then I didn't wake him up. I didn't call him down for breakfast. I sat and read a book and let the minutes slip by. His sister finally woke him up because she was worried about being late to her school. I assured her that if she was ready on time, I'd take her to school. She wouldn't be punished because her brother couldn't get himself out of bed on time. He was a half hour late to school that morning. And it wasn't my problem. It was his. I let him own it and suffer the consequences. He had to call his teacher and explain why he was late. Was it easy for me? No, but I decided to let go. It's good for both of us. I should have done it years earlier.

So maybe it's time to remove some of that bubble wrap. Kids don't magically become responsible adults on their 18th birthday. They have to be taught. They have to experience decision making. They have to deal with consequences. So let them wear mismatched clothes. Let them leave their jacket home on a rainy day. Let them get an F. Let them suffer a little.

Let them learn that not everyone is going to speak kindly. And that's okay. They aren't going to die from a few harsh words. Teach them compassion instead. Maybe that rude clerk was having a rough week. Maybe that teacher was right and they did a sloppy job and could have done better. Maybe their friend isn't really their friend.

Let them fail when they make bad decisions. Do it when the consequences are small. Let them spend their three dollars on a cheap toy that breaks before you get home. And don't replace it no matter how upset they are. Let them learn from the experience. Don't wrap them in bubble wrap.

Trust your instincts as your child's parent. You know them best. You know when they need support and when you need to pull back. Tears won't hurt them. They will help them grow. That doesn't mean turn your back and let them suffer alone. Offer sympathy and encouragement. Help them learn to acknowledge their mistakes and then give them the support they need to move on and do better.

And then maybe we won't need safe spots at colleges. Maybe our kids will learn to create their own safe spots inside themselves. Or maybe they'll develop the resilience and maturity to move beyond those moments.

And maybe they'll quit eating laundry soap.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Thursday Recipe - GF DF Hot Fudge Sundae Slow-Cooker Cake

So, I was bored the other day and wanted hot fudge cake, but wanted to make some my daughter could eat, too. This turned out so delicious, and it was so easy. Just dump into the crockpot and let it cook. Serve it with ice cream, whatever your choice.

It's ugly, but oh so tasty.

GF DF Hot Fudge Sundae Slow-Cooker Cake

1 box Betty Crocker GF chocolate cake mix
1 c. milk, I used coconut drinking milk
1/4 c. oil
2/3 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. cocoa powder
2 c. boiling water

Turn the crockpot to high. Dump dry cake mix into a 3 or 4 quart crockpot. Add milk and oil, stir until smooth. Spread out into the crockpot. Sprinkle the brown sugar and cocoa over the top. Pour the boiling water over that. Slap a lid on it and let it cook on high for 3-4 hours, until the cake is done. There will be a thick fudge sauce underneath, that's the hot fudge part of the recipe. Serve hot with ice cream.