Check out my fiction - http://www.jaletac.com
Check out my science fiction series - The Fall of the Altairan Empire

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Chocolate GF Sponge Cake

I'm experimenting with a wheat-free diet. My health issues are getting the best of me and I'm willing to try anything that might help at this point.

So I decided to start this wheat-free diet on my birthday. While I have guests in the house. And all sorts of other crap going on in my life. Not a good idea. Extra stress is not pleasant.

But it did give me the option of playing around with my GF sponge cake recipe. It's easy, fairly quick to pull together, and makes a delicious cake. I made one on Saturday that was gone before everyone got a slice. It was vanilla, filled with coconut cream, whipped topping, and fresh berries. Today I shall attempt chocolate sponge with chocolate whipped frosting.

*Note: This cake is more dry than the vanilla version. It's best to underbake it a bit, then after it cools, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Frost and serve the next day. Mine also didn't rise nearly as high as the vanilla one. Still tasty.

Chocolate Gluten-Free Sponge Cake

7 eggs
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. cocoa powder
1/4 t. salt
1/3 c. rice flour
3/4 c. almond flour

Heat oven to 325. Grease a 10-inch springform pan and set aside.

Separate eggs, being careful to keep the yolks out of the whites. Set the whites aside.

Beat the yolks until very thick and creamy, at least 3-5 minutes. Add sugar and salt. Beat for another 1-2 minutes. Stir in flours. Set aside.

Beat whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold egg yolk mixture and cocoa into the whites until the bits of white foam are all incorporated and cocoa is mixed in.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes, just until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool 10 minutes in the pan, then gently release the cake. Finish cooling on a baking rack.

Once cool, split the cake into two layers. Fill with half of the chocolate frosting. Use the rest of the frosting to decorate the cake. Refrigerate to set.

Store in the fridge.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Monday Promo!



I've got a friend with a book going FREE for one day only. If you enjoy clean romance, check out this book. (She even has a great title - I've got a Second Chances story out, too. Great minds...)

Second Chances by Donna K. Weaver

Thirty-seven-year-old Francie Davis is sure her luck has changed when she lands a job on campus that will pay her tuition. But when her handsome new boss yells at her on the first day of work, Francie learns that the last person you expect to fall in love with might be the one that’s the most perfect for you.




Thursday, August 10, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Hawaiian Haystacks

This is another of those build-it-yourself recipes. Everyone puts their own together with whatever they like. It's easy to adapt to various food allergies and preferences. It's also easy to cook, which is always a win in my book.

Hawaiian Haystacks

4-5 boneless skinless chicken breasts (I use the frozen ones straight from the freezer)
2 c. water
1/4 c. cornstarch
2 T. chicken bouillon
1 T. dried parsley
1/2 t. dried oregano
1/2 t. turmeric
1/2 t. paprika
1/2 t. rosemary
1/2 t. thyme
2 c. white rice
1 t. salt
4 1/2 c. water

Put the chicken in a large crockpot. Cover and cook on low 3-4 hours or high 2-3 hours, just until the chicken is barely done.

Remove chicken from the crockpot, leaving the liquid behind. Cut the chicken into bite-size chunks and put back into the crockpot. Mix the 2 c. water, cornstarch, bouillon, and herbs together, then gently stir into the chicken. Cover and let cook on low for another 45 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, combine rice, salt, and 4 1/2 c. water. Bring to a boil then cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 20 minutes or so until rice is done. Or just dump everything in your rice cooker and let it do its thing.

Serve chicken gravy over rice with any or all of the following toppings. Season with soy sauce to taste.

Toppings (not limited to this list, use your imagination):
sliced celery
shredded carrots
pineapple tidbits
green onions
chopped bell pepper
chopped daikon radish
sliced water chestnuts
bamboo shoots
sliced almonds
raisins
coconut
corn
sliced olives
shredded lettuce
chow mein noodles


Monday, August 7, 2017

Random Images from my Phone

Okay, not totally random. These were just the latest four that were downloaded to my laptop.

This is the famous Teapot Dome Gas Station in Zillah, WA. We stopped on our way to Husum, WA, where we went white water rafting on the Little White Salmon River. High adventure for me and my hubby.
 The gas station is now a historical site. It wasn't open when we were there so we couldn't buy any keepsakes inside the little station, but we could walk around and look at it. Cute little building.
 And check out the prices! I haven't seen gas that low for decades!
I also made totoros for a friend's children. If you haven't seen the movie, it's a cute one from Studio Ghibli. My Friend Totoro is a good one to watch with kids, although it might give them a few ideas...

What have you been up to?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Saucy Potatoes in the Slow Cooker or in Foil on the Grill

Grilling potatoes just doesn't work for me. Yeah, I could wrap them up and make baked potatoes, but I still haven't got the temperature thing right. They are usually burnt on the outside and raw in the middle when I try.

I came across this recipe and thought it would be worth trying. They were tasty and mostly done without being burnt, but some were still crunchy. We decided this dish would work a lot better in the crockpot. Or else you could try boiling the potato slices for 5 minutes or so to pre-cook them before wrapping it all up in foil.

Saucy Potatoes

6 medium potatoes
1/2 c. mayonnaise
2 T. grated parmesan or romano cheese
2 T. dried parsley
1 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. paprika
1/2 t. black pepper
1 small onion

Scrub potatoes really well, then slice into 1/4" slices. Place in a large pot, cover with hot water and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and cover. Set aside while you prep the sauce.

In a large bowl, mix together mayonnaise, cheese, parsley, garlic powder, paprika, and black pepper.

Peel the onion, then slice into thin rings or slices. Add to sauce.

Drain potatoes. Add to sauce. Toss gently to coat.

To grill: Divide potatoes between two large pieces of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Fold up into flat packets. Grill over medium heat until potatoes are tender - 20-30 minutes. Makes two large packets.

For slow cooker: Dump the potato mixture into a large crockpot. Cook on low 3-4 hours, until potatoes are tender.

Serves 4-6 people.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Black Currant Jelly is da BOMB!

I picked my black currants. My little bush produced almost a gallon of berries. By themselves they weren't that sweet, but in jelly? Delicious!

So, if you're lucky enough to have fresh currants (or gooseberries or nanking cherries or anything similar), make some jelly. It's worth the time and effort. Here's my step-by-step process:

1. Pick the berries. Pretty self-explanatory.

2. Wash the berries. Pick out the spiders and slugs and other creepy crawlies. Get rid of the dead leaves and stems. Get them as clean as you can.

3. Dump them into a large pot. Add just enough water to cover the berries. Bring it to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

4. Remove from the heat, cover, and let them sit for a couple of hours.

5. Use a big spoon and smash the berries. Don't worry too much about the seeds and skins and stuff, you want to free up as much juice and flavor as you can at this point.

6. Place a large colander over a large bowl. Once you've smashed the berries, pour the berry smash through the colander to strain out the seeds and skins and stuff. You want just the juice. Leave the colander over the bowl and let the juice keep dripping for an hour or so. Stir the berries every once in a while to help the juice get through.

7. Once you have the juice strained, measure it and figure out how much jelly you need to make. At this point, follow the directions on your pectin. I'm really liking the Ball pectin in the large jars. For jelly with that, you need 1 1/3 c. juice, 1 1/2 T powdered pectin, and 1 1/2 c. sugar for each pint of jelly. Don't make a batch larger than 7-8 pints, though. Even if you have a giant pot that won't boil over with that much juice and sugar in it, it's hard to get the pectin and sugar to completely dissolve and cook right. The jelly won't set right, so just do multiple batches if you have more than a couple of quarts of juice.

8. Figure out how many pints you are going to need, then add one. Put that many clean jars in a sink full of really hot water. (If you're using smaller jars, figure out how many you will need. I don't recommend jars larger than a pint for jelly. It doesn't set right in the quart jars.)

9. Once you have the juice measured out, stir in the pectin. Cook it over high heat to a full rolling boil, it should keep boiling even after you stir it. Dump in the sugar all at once. Cook and stir over high heat until it comes to a full boil again. Boil and stir for 1 minute. Turn off the heat, move the jelly off the stove, and carefully pour into hot jars.

10. Wipe the rims of the jars clean, then seal and process following the directions for your altitude and your equipment. If you don't want to bother with this step, put the lids on the jars and let them cool on the counter. Once cool, refrigerate. Eat within a month or so.

Black currants make a wonderfully flavorful, deep red-purple jelly. I can't wait for next year and hopefully a whole lot currants.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Grilled Tri-Tip Steak

We did this on our grill for dinner. Very tasty, although my kids complained it wasn't as well done as they preferred. But with tri-tip, if you cook it too long, the meat gets really tough. Tri-tip steaks are fairly lean and usually cut fairly thick. You want to cook them somewhere between medium-rare and medium, still very pink to red in the center. After they are cooked and rest for a few minutes, slice them nice and thin against the grain. You don't want long strings of meat, but very thin slices. It helps the tenderness of the cut.

Grilled Tri-Tip Steak

2-3 lb tri-tip steaks, cut 2-3 inches thick
2 t. lemon pepper seasoning
2 t. salt
1 t. ground black pepper
1 t. paprika
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. dried rosemary

Mix all the spices together. Rub into the steaks, making sure to cover both sides and the edges. Let them sit on a plate for a couple of hours.

Heat your grill nice and hot. If you have a thermometer, you want it at 500-600°F. Slap the steaks on the grill and cook for 2-3 minutes per side, this should give you a good char. Move the steaks to the upper rack if you have one, or off to one side away from the direct heat. Cover and cook for another 20-30 minutes over the lower heat until the meat is done to your liking, or almost done. You want it slightly under-done. Set the meat on a cutting board and cover loosely with foil. Let it rest for 5-10 minutes.

Slice against the grain into thin slices. Serve warm.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Berry Picking Report

Fresh gooseberries!
Last summer, I planted a whole row of berry bushes, partly to see what grew well, and mostly because I have a thing for berries. We already had a few raspberries in the yard, so I didn't need to add those. I put in red currants, black currants, elderberries, gooseberries, sand cherries, and blueberries. We got a few currants and raspberries last summer, but not much else. These bushes take some time to get established and start producing.

So far this summer, I noticed I planted most of them too close together. These bushes can get huge. I shall have to keep pruning them into small trees and short, wide bushes so they all fit in the space. The elderberry is supposed to become a small tree and so is the sand cherry, so they're okay. The others will need regular pruning to keep them smaller.

We have already harvested loads of raspberries. They are spreading like crazy. Some of the canes are eight feet tall. I have no idea what variety of raspberries these are, but they are mostly thornless with huge red berries that are delicious. It looks like they're producing all summer, too, so they're everbearing. They are also spreading under the fence into the neighbor's yard and he's not to happy about it, so we'll have to keep an eye on that situation. But I have seven pints of raspberry jam already tucked away in the pantry. RazBarb is one of my favorites - half raspberry and half rhubarb (which is gigantic!).

I picked the red currants last week. They made some tasty jelly. Only three pints, but the bush is small still. It was loaded.

The blueberry bushes are still really small. One of them has a few berries on it. I ate the two ripe ones last night. Absolutely delicious. I can't wait for more to get ripe. I'm not telling my kids or hubby about that bush. Those are MY berries.

I picked gooseberries this morning. They are so good. Not very many, so I think we're just going to eat these. Not quite enough for one small batch of jelly.

The black currants will be ripe in a week or two. I can't wait. They were my favorite last year. The bush isn't too loaded but I should have enough for some jelly.

The elderberries won't be ripe for a couple of months still. We have some nice clusters, hopefully enough to make more jelly. But we can always head to the mountains to pick wild elderberries to go with them.

This weekend we're hoping to get out to the mountains to pick huckleberries. I can't wait!

What's your favorite berry?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Maple Oatmeal Bread

This is an adaptation of a bread machine recipe. I enjoy the bread machine mostly because it makes bread easy. Sort of. My loaves usually come out looking lumpy or caved in or looking like some weird alien creature. They still taste good.

So I adapted this recipe to make a loaf of bread in my regular oven. It's easier to adjust flour and liquid when you're mixing it by hand or in a stand mixer.

The maple flavor come from pancake syrup. I like it, but if you want the traditional taste for this bread, use honey instead. I was out of honey when I tried to make it once so I used pancake syrup and liked it better.

Maple Oatmeal Bread

1 c. warm water
3 T. pancake syrup
2 T. butter
1 t. salt
2 T. powdered milk
2 t. yeast
1 c. oatmeal
2 c. flour (white or 1/2 whole wheat)

Dump everything in a bowl. Mix until it comes together in a soft dough. If it's too dry, add a teaspoon of warm water. If it's too wet, add a 1/4 c. flour.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead five minutes until the dough is elastic and smooth. Place it in a greased bowl, cover with a damp dishtowel, and let rise for about an hour, until it's doubled in size.

Punch down the dough. Knead a few times to smooth it out. Place in a greased loaf pan, cover, and let rise again, about 30-40 minutes.

Bake at 375°F for 20-25 minutes, until loaf is golden and sounds hollow when tapped.

Serve warm with plenty of fresh jam.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Another Audio Book Hits the Shelves

Woohoo! Brain Candy is now available in audio!

I found a great narrator for the stories. He's got a lovely drawl that works so well with these stories. Plus, he had fun reading them. I hope you have fun listening!


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Easy Cheesy Eggs

Simple, basic recipe for scrambled eggs, but they are a one pan, one spatula, one cheese slicer recipe.

Easy Cheesy Eggs (1 serving)

1/4 t. butter
1 egg
1 T shredded cheese (or the equivalent small slice)
1/2 t. diced green chilies
salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a small frying pan. Crack egg directly into pan. stir with the spatula until as mixed as you like for scrambled eggs. Add cheese and green chilies. Stir and cook until egg is done and cheese is melted. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with salsa or ketchup or hot pepper jelly.
Makes 1 serving.

For four servings - use 1 t. butter, 4 eggs, 1/4 c. cheese, 2 t. green chilies.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Fun New Website

Want to gamify your life? Gain experience for checking items off your to-do list. Set goals and get points for reaching your milestones. Battle evil villains with every task you finish. Collect random crap, I mean gear, and raise pets. Then head over to www.habitca.com and join the fun!

It sounded fun so I joined in. It's actually getting me to do some of those things I've been putting off forever. But the whole system runs on your personal integrity. Want to create stupid tasks just so you can level up faster? Go right ahead. I put "get dressed before noon" and "drink water" on my list. Easy enough to do, but still things I sometimes need motivation to accomplish.

There is some interesting research on gamification of things like school and life. Here's just one example. Short answer is yes, it can work. But a lot of users will drop it once the novelty wears off. Some of the research found that over the long run, gamification actually decreases involvement. People come to expect a reward for doing things that they did before the game without reward. Make the reward too difficult to get or not rewarding enough and people quit.

Check it out if you're interested. For me, it's working for now. When it stops working, I'll find something else.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Salisbury Steak

This is a good dinner recipe - serve it with mashed potatoes and a salad and you've got a full meal. It's hamburger, but not just another burger or spaghetti sauce. It's also fairly easy to throw together and can sit over low heat for a while.

It's one of those old fashioned dishes. Basic comfort food.

Gluten-free options are given in paranthesis.

Salisbury Steak

1 lb hamburger
1 c. croutons, crushed (1 c. quick oatmeal or 1 c. gluten-free bread crumbs or croutons)
1 egg
1 t. salt
1/2 t. black pepper
1/2 t. worcestershire sauce
1 small onion, sliced
1 c. sliced mushrooms, optional
3 c. hot water
1 T. chicken bouillon
1/2 c. cold water
2 T. cornstarch

Mix hamburger, crouton crumbs, egg, salt, pepper, and worcestershire sauce until blended. Shape into 8-10 patties like you would for hamburgers.

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add a teaspoon of oil, if needed to keep patties from sticking. Brown patties on both sides. Don't worry about them being cooked all the way through. Remove them from the pan and set aside.

Add onions and mushrooms to the pan. Cook in the meat drippings for 3-5 minutes until the onions are tender. Add the patties back into the pan.

Stir bouillon into hot water then pour over patties. Cover the pan and turn heat to low. Let them simmer for 15-20 minutes until cooked through.

Stir cornstarch and cold water together. Add to the pan. Stir and cook until the gravy thickens.

Serve over mashed potatoes. Makes 6-8 servings.

Monday, July 3, 2017

And I'm Still Cursed...

So I've been working on getting my back list out in audiobooks. Audible was great to work with, until about a year ago. Then they got really slow. And started rejecting finished audio books. And taking forever to get things approved for sale. Then my narrators started having issues with things. And the website didn't send messages even after I hit send repeatedly. Things got lost and overlooked. I'm bashing my virtual head against the brick wall here.

Autumn Visions finally was approved and is out for sale. Dark Dancer is in limbo. Again. Priestess of the Eggstone is rolling along. I hope. Now I'm waiting on final approval for Brain Candy. The narrator did an awesome job. But at this point all I can do is twiddle my thumbs waiting on QC to approve it for sale. Just FYI, but ACX (the production side of Audible) gives me NO control over pricing. Once I approve the audio files, I only get to sit and watch while ACX does their thing.

So I'm waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

Watch for an announcement about the audiobook being up for sale. Sometime. Soon. Ish. I hope.

Don't hold your breath...

Meanwhile, enjoy the lovely cover. And pop over to Smashwords.com for their annual July sale. You can pick up some great free books this month. (And a link to my author page, if you're curious what I've got on there.)


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Apple Blueberry Pie

Time to get patriotic. Baseball, apple pie, peanut butter... Let's stick with apple pie. I adore apple pie. It's my absolute favorite. How about some patriotic apple pies? Make a plain one for the white, a blueberry apple pie for the blue, and a cherry apple pie for the red. With both blueberries and cherries in season right now where I live, and apples available all year round, it's definitely pie time!

A word about the apples - use a variety of apples. They cook differently. Golden delicious pretty much dissolve, so one or two are great to add to thicken up the filling. Granny Smith are very tart and hold their shape. Fuji and Gala are somewhere in between. Honeycrisp are very sweet so you can add less sugar. Red Delicious are red, but I don't consider them delicious. I usually skip them unless they are extremely cheap. Even then, I use them in cooked things like this.

Apple Blueberry Pie

2 T. lemon juice
4-6 apples
1-2 c. fresh or frozen blueberries
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. cardamom
2 T. cornstarch OR 2 T. tapioca
1 double layer pie crust (or just do a top crust)

Put the lemon juice in a very large bowl. Add 3-4 quarts of cold water. Peel, core, and slice the apples, dropping them into the lemon water as you go. This helps keep them from turning brown.

Once you have the apples prepped, drain them and put them back in the mixing bowl. Add the brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, and cornstarch. Toss gently until mixed and apples are coated.

Spoon apples into prepared bottom crust. Add blueberries over the top to fill the pie. Add the top crust. Crimp the edges, place it onto a foil-lined baking sheet, and pop into a 400° oven for about 45-55 minutes. When the crust is browned, the filling is bubbling, and your house smells delicious, it's done. Remove from the oven and let it mostly cool before eating.

If you use tapioca in the filling, it won't set up until it's completely cool which takes 3-4 hours.

For plain apple pie - increase apples to 6-8 and omit blueberries.

For cherry-apple pie - substitute 1-2 c. pitted pie cherries for the blueberries. Toss with sliced apples in the filling. Or use 1 can cherry pie filling spooned over the top of the apples.

Monday, June 26, 2017

New Aspect of an Old Hobby - Crochet Patterns

I've been crocheting for over 40 years. I'm finally trying my hand at writing a pattern. If you crochet, please try out this pattern and let me know how I can improve it.

Unicorn Fingerless Mitts


This pattern makes LARGE mitts. To make them smaller, work 15 or 16 rows instead of 18. You want it to fit comfortably around your hand just under the fingers and around your forearm as high up as the mitt goes. It should be a little loose around your wrist. Keep in mind that this stitch will stretch more than regular crochet.

If you want the mitts to go farther up your arm, just increase the number of HDC for each row. Starting chain should be number of HDC plus 2.

The pattern works vertically up and down your arm, not around it. The finishing row makes a seam up the side of the mitt from your wrist, around your thumb, and just under your first finger. The chain pattern on the surface of the mitts is from the top of the HDC row before.

Materials:
*Sport yarn worked with fur yarn OR regular worsted weight yarn (I used sport yarn and thin fur yarn worked together)
*H hook

SL ST - slip stitch
SC - single crochet
HDC - half-double crochet

Row 1 - Ch 27, HDC in 3rd ch from hook, 24 HDC across. Ch 2, turn. (25 HDC, ch2 does NOT count as first stitch)

Row 2-17 - In back loop of row before, 25 HDC across, ch 2, turn.

Row 18 - In back loop of row before, 25 HDC across, ch1, turn.

Row 20 - This row stitches the side seam together. Match up top and bottom of piece. Work 1 SC through both the last stitch of Row 18 AND first chain of Row 1. Work 3 more SC the same way. 
Using ONLY the beginning CH, work 6 SL ST. Skip 6 stitches on Row 18. In next stitch of BOTH rows, work SC. This makes the thumb hole. Continue working SC together to the end of the row (15 SC from thumb hole to end). This should stitch both together and leave a thumb hole. One SL ST to the side of the finished seam, then fasten off yarn. Weave in ends to finish.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Grilled Lemon Chicken Thighs

I'll admit I'm not very skilled at grilling anything beyond hot dogs. I haven't done it much, mostly because we haven't owned a decent grill until we moved. Last summer, we did some grilling, just enough for me to realize I don't know what I'm doing most of the time.

So today I decided to jump into the deep end and try grilling some chicken thighs. They're cheap, but can be delicious, and because they are fattier than breast meat, they hold up to longer cooking times without drying out.

Mixed success with grilling them. I should have left them cooking for another 5-10 minutes. They were done in the middle, just barely. I prefer them cooked just a little bit more. They did taste good. Now I just need to clean off the grill...

Grilled Lemon Chicken Thighs

2-3 lbs chicken thighs
1 fresh lemon
2 t. salt
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. smoked paprika
1 t. dried rosemary
1 t. lemon pepper seasoning
1 t. dried parsley
1/2 t. dried thyme
1/2 t. rubbed sage

The day before: Remove skin from the chicken thighs and discard. The skin, not the thighs.

In a gallon ziplock bag, mix all the dried spices. Shake to mix well. Add the chicken and shake again until the spices are evenly distributed on the meat. Slice the lemon thin and add it to the bag. Seal the bag and squish it around for a while to work the lemon juice into the meat. Pop the whole bag into the refrigerate for at least overnight and up to a day or so.

45 minutes before you want to eat the chicken: Heat your grill to somewhere between 300-400°F. Oil it, if that's your thing. I usually skip it, which is probably why my chicken sticks to the grill. Slap the marinated chicken thighs on the grill. Squeeze the lemon slices over the chicken, then discard the slices. Close your grill and let the chicken cook for about 10-12 minutes.

Open it up and use tongs to turn the thighs over to the other side. Close it up and let them cook for another 10-12 minutes.

Now comes the tricky part. Use a knife to cut the thickest one right near the bone. If the meat is still pink, close up the grill and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Check the meat again. You want to cook it until its not pink anymore, then let it cook for a few minutes longer. Then turn off the heat and close up the grill. Let the chicken sit for 5-10 minutes.

Serve hot.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Curse is Lifted!

I am so happy to announce that Autumn Visions is FINALLY out in audio book. It's been a long journey getting to this point. It's only three short stories, but my narrator and I kept running into issues.

By the way, she does an awesome job narrating these stories.

These are different from most of what I write, which is one reason they're in their own collection.


Please share with your friends who might enjoy them.
And please, please, PLEASE, leave a review! I need all the reviews I can get at this point. Yeah, I'm shamelessly begging...

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Balsamic Herb Chicken

This is a strange dish, kind of like Italian sweet and sour chicken. It's pretty tasty, though. We served it over rice with fresh steamed asparagus on the side. They all went really nicely together.

Balsamic Herb Chicken

1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into serving size chunks
1/3 c. balsamic vinegar
2 T. brown sugar
1 t. dried parsley OR 1 T. fresh chopped parsley
1/2 t. dried oregano OR 1 t. fresh oregano leaves
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/4 t. dried rosemary OR 1 sprig fresh rosemary
1/4 t. dried thyme
1/4 t. dried marjoram, if you have it

Place chicken chunks in a smallish crockpot - my 1.5 quart was perfect. Mix together vinegar with sugar and herbs. Pour over the chicken. Cook on high for 2-3 hours, low for 4-6 hours.

If you want a thicker sauce: 30 minutes before serving, stir 2 T. cornstarch into 1/4 c. cold water. Stir into chicken and sauce. Cover and cook the remaining 30 minutes or until sauce thickens and turns clear again.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Yet Another Con...

I just returned from FyreCon. It's a brand-new conference in Utah mostly aimed at writers and artists. Lots of great ideas presented and discussed. Lots of old friends and new friends. Good times. I'm hoping to return next year. This promises to be a great networking event.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended Furlandia in Portland. If you haven't encountered furries before, it's a different world in a lot of ways. These are the people who like to dress up in full animal costumes and have fun. I had a great time at the convention and sold a lot of crocheted cuddly animals.

Both of these cons cost me money. I didn't sell enough to even come close to the cost of the gas to travel there, the cost of the hotel room or meals, or the other incidental costs of attending. But I feel like I got my money's worth at both. I'm there not just to sell my book, which ends up being more about letting people know I write and getting exposure than it is direct sales. I'm there to meet new people, to gain new perspectives on writing and art and the world at large, and to just have fun.

So if you have a convention or writer's conference in your area, go attend. You'd be amazed how nice the people are. Go make some new friends. Network. Have a great time.

Now to plan a writer's retreat for this summer so I can actually finish writing some of these books I'm working on so I can get to the new story ideas I've got stewing...

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Deviled Eggs

I posted about nice hard boiled eggs last week. If you have trouble getting your eggs to peel, go check it out. It might help.

This week, I'm going to share my secret recipe for deviled eggs. These get devoured at my house where hard-boiled eggs tend to just sit in the fridge and smell.

If you like your middle creamy, use a mixer to cream the yolks with the mayonnaise and mustard. Stir in the pickle chunks after you mix it up.

As always, feel free to mix this up according to your taste. Try different pickles and relishes. Try different spices and sauces. Experiment to your heart's delight.

Deviled Eggs

8 hard boiled eggs
1/3 c. mayonnaise or sour cream or cream cheese (lowfat or spread works best)
2 T. prepared mustard (yellow is traditional but feel free to use brown or spicy or whatever mustard you like)
1/2 t. onion powder
1/2 t. garlic salt
1/4 c. chopped pickles or relish
smoked paprika for garnish

Slice the eggs in half lengthwise. Pop the yolk out and drop it in a small mixing bowl. Set the white on a plate. I have cool egg plates that were wedding presents. I never would have bought them for myself, but I really like them. Not necessary but they keep the eggs from sliding around too much.

When you have all the yolks in the bowl, add the mayonnaise, mustard, onion powder, and salt. Mash with a fork until smooth (or use a mixer). Stir in pickle chunks. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Try a dash or two of tabasco sauce. Or some sweet chili dipping sauce.

Carefully spoon the yolk mixture into the whites, dividing it out evenly between all 16 halves. Dust the tops with a light sprinkle of paprika. Refrigerate for about an hour to help them set up.

Serve cold. Makes 16 halves.

If you really want to be fancy, skip the pickles in the yolk mixture. Cream it good with your mixer, then spoon into a cake decorator tube with a wide star tip. Pipe the filling into the whites, swirling into a fancy star thingie. Garnish with thin pickle slices cut and folded into flowers. If you use bread and butter pickles, you can use the red peppers in the pickles to make roses and use the pickles for leaves. I'm not this fancy.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Game Review - Cookie Clicker

This is why my post is late, one of the reasons anyway. My family's been hit with the flu. I've been procrastinating because I'm dealing with other issues. The weekend got away from me. I forgot I didn't have anything scheduled to post today. Yeah, lots of excuses. And then I got distracted by Cookie Clicker.

It's a dumb idle game. You basically click to bake cookies which lets you save up to buy grandmas to make cookies for you, which lets you save up to buy more stuff to make more cookies. When I hit almost 2 billion cookies per second, I had to quit. It had been running on  my computer for over 80 hours straight and was slowing the processor down, especially since I'm trying to pull together some presentations for FyreCon this weekend. Photoshop does NOT like sharing processor power with anything.

But the game is amusing. Try it out HERE.

Or go play the other game that's got me distracted - Word Cookies. Make words with letter shaped cookies. Good for building vocabulary and frustrating yourself. If you like games like Boggle, you'll probably enjoy it. My only tip is to play it with data and wifi off on your phone. Otherwise the ads gets really creepy and annoying really fast.

I think I have cookies on my brain...

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Hard Boiled Eggs

Yep, just plain old hard boiled eggs.

I've struggled with this for years. Mine never peeled nicely no matter what I did. I added salt and vinegar to the water. I boiled them for different lengths of time. I started them in cold water and hot. I tried really fresh eggs and not so fresh eggs. Nothing seemed to make much difference.

Until I moved to Washington. The water here is much softer than our Utah water was. Even with a water softener there and no water softener here, our water is softer now. And my eggs almost always peel without problems.

This really isn't that important of a problem, unless you like deviled eggs and want to serve some that don't look like mutant eggs of a spawning demon.

So here are the tricks and tips I've found to help you boil the perfect eggs.

Hard Boiled Eggs

6-12 eggs
1/4 c. vinegar
1-6 t. salt

Fresher eggs really are better but not too fresh. If you buy them at the store, use them within a week for the best results. If you get them straight from your own chickens, refrigerate them for 3-5 days before using for hard-boiled eggs.

Put your eggs in a largish pot. You want enough room for them to wiggle a little but not too much. Cover them with room temperature water. You want about half an inch of water on top of the eggs. Add vinegar. Add in salt. Go with 1-2 t. if your water is fairly soft, go with more if you have hard water. If you don't know, be safe and use about 3 t. of salt. Regular table salt works just fine for this.

Bring to boil over high heat. Turn heat to low, cover the pot, and let the eggs simmer for 16-20 minutes. Altitude makes a difference. Lower altitudes need shorter times, higher ones longer cooking time. Preference matters, too. If you like your eggs completely hard, cook them for the longer time. If you like your yolks bright yellow and just barely set, cook the eggs for the shorter time.

When the eggs are done, drain the hot water off. Stick the pot in the sink and turn the faucet on to cold. Let it pour over the eggs, dumping out the pot and refilling it several times. You want the eggs to cool down as fast as possible. Let the eggs soak in cold water for a few minutes, changing the water if it gets warm at all. You can even add ice to the water if you want.

Skip this next step if you're coloring the eggs for Easter. Cracked eggs let the color inside the shell and you get colored egg whites.

After about 30 minutes, pour off the water. Gently crack the shells by dropping the eggs on top of each other or stirring them around the pot. You want lots of small cracks. Fill the pot with more cold water and let the eggs soak for another 5-10 minutes. You want water to get inside the shell at this point.

Pull out an egg. Leave the rest in the cold water. Gently roll the egg on the counter to crack the shell the rest of the way. The shell should separate and pull right off. There is a membrane just inside the shell. If you can get your thumb inside that, the shell slides right off the eggs.

Repeat with the rest of the eggs. You should have pretty, smooth, perfectly peeled eggs. If you don't, you can always chop them up for potato salad or egg salad or creamed eggs. Or just make some ugly spawn-of-alien-demon deviled eggs.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Food Review - Voodoo Doughnuts

So I'm in Portland at a convention for the weekend. I'm selling mostly crocheted stuff at this one along with some friends of mine. I've heard about Voodoo Doughnuts on the Food Network shows and always thought it would be fun to go there someday. I still haven't made it to their shop but I did buy a doughnut from their mobile shop. It pulled up out in front of the hotel and we made a run for the parking lot.

I bought a No Name Doughnut - raised doughnut with chocolate icing, rice crispies, and peanut butter drizzle.

I give them four stars. Tasty doughnut, good flavors, but the rice crispies weren't very crisp.

If I ever make it to their shop, I'll give a full review.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Teriyaki Noodles

This recipe comes courtesy of my 14yo daughter. She even took a photo of it for me. This is one of her favorite quick meals to fix for herself. The serving size is one, so feel free to double or triple it.

Teriyaki Noodles

1 serving of pad thai rice noodles (about 1/8 of a package)
1 T. soy sauce
2 t. ponzu sauce
2 t. lemon juice
1/2 T. butter
1/2 t. sesame seeds
1 egg
green onions
bell pepper slices

Cook noodles in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In small frying pan, toast sesame seeds in butter for about 5 minutes, just until lightly brown. Mix in soy sauce, ponzu sauce, and lemon juice. Stir together. Add noodles, cook over med-low heat for another 5 minutes until noodles are tender.

Put noodles in a serving bowl, set aside.

Fry an egg in the pan, over easy or sunny side up is best for the dish. Place the egg on top of the noodles. Garnish with green onions and bell pepper slices.

Eat hot.
Makes one serving.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Writer's Conferences

I attended Write on the River Writer's Conference this past weekend. It was fun to hang out with old friends and make some new ones while we all learned about the craft and business of writing.

That, my friends, is why you should attend writer's conferences if you want to be a writer. Even if you've never been published, or even if you've never really finished a story, if you want to learn how to be a better writer, the classes at these conferences are wonderful for all levels of writers.

I learned how to bump up my story by fleshing out the active plot, the crunchy bit of my story, and beefing up the emotional plotline, the chewy bit. The author presenting had some great ideas on how to get the two to work together to make a much more compelling and powerful story. This is something I need to apply to Shadow Nothings and to Winterqueen's War. I'm excited to edit them, now. I have a much better idea how to fix the issues with them both.

On the business side of things, there were great classes on marketing and publishing and pitching to agents and publishers. Loads of wonderful tips and ideas to help writers reach the next stage of success in their careers.

Speaking of success and careers, there were also great classes about why we write and how we define success. For me, I will probably never be rich or famous at this, and that's okay. I write because I enjoy telling stories and creating new worlds and making things up. I write because I want to fly a spaceship across the galaxy and ride unicorns into battle and cast magic spells that transport me to other worlds. I publish because I want to share those stories with people who also want to do those things.

Conferences are not good places to find readers for your work, but they are great places to network, to make connections to other people who share your passion and interest in writing. Write on the River has members all ages, from high school to long past retirement; and authors in all genres. It was a great conference. Hats off and a big thank you to the volunteers who made it possible.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Baked Rum Spice Doughnuts

My son decided on doughnuts for his birthday. We're all trying to eat healthier so we decided to make them ourselves. I have a lovely doughnut cooker, one of those countertop models kind of like a waffle iron except it makes doughnuts. We adapted a spice cake recipe and came up with something extremely tasty. The frosting and toppings are totally optional, but I loved the coconut ones.

And the rum is just rum flavoring. It added just the right touch to the rest.

Baked Rum Spice Doughnuts

1 c. white flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. sugar
1 c. yogurt (vanilla flavored works really well)
1/2 c. butter, softened or melted
2 eggs
1/4 c. milk (I used coconut milk)
1 t. rum flavoring
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1 t. ginger
1/4 t. ground cardamom

Dump everything in a mixing bowl. Beat on low speed just until blended. Beat on high speed for about a minute. It will be very thick.

Preheat your doughnut maker or grease a doughnut pan and heat your oven to 350°. Scoop in the batter and bake as directed for the cooker or for the pan.

Frost while still slightly warm. Sprinkle with coconut or sprinkles.

Vanilla Frosting

2 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. butter, softened
1 t. vanilla
2-4 T. milk

Mix sugar, butter, vanilla, and 2 T of milk in a large mixing bowl. Beat on low speed until blended. Add another teaspoon of milk if the frosting is too thick. Beat on medium-high speed, adding milk as needed, until desired consistency. Continue beating until soft and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.

If it gets too thin, add powdered sugar 1/4 c. at a time until thickened.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Dream Journal

I really should start a dream journal. Not a journal of my hopes and aspirations, but a journal of the weird dreams I have. My dreams are full-color, wild adventures involving all sorts of things from pirates to zombies to spaceships to angry cats to swarms of preying mantises. These are not nightmares. Nope, my nightmares are beyond creepy and scary. Those make Criminal Minds' serial killer crime scenes look like happy kids' pictures. My nightmares are why I refuse to take Percocet or watch/read dark horror or even a lot of intense thrillers.

I've had a lot of dreams lately. I think it's my subconscious telling me I really need to step up my writing. I need stories. I need imagination running wild. Now to find the time and energy to make it all happen. And words. Yep, words are important, too.

Meanwhile, I'm still typing away at Winterqueen's War. It's turning into a convoluted mess. I'm losing track of storylines and characters and important events. I'm starting to think it will never make sense and it's a pointless pile of crap. This makes me smile because it means I'm on the right track. About half to two-thirds of the way through any of my books, this is what happens. I go back, re-read the story so far, and realize that it's much better than I thought. I'm still shooting for having this one out by the end of the summer.

Meanwhile, I've got a pile of audiobooks in the works. Fingers crossed that Autumn Visions gets approved this week.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Tortilla Roll-Up Sandwiches

I had a request for more kid-friendly picnic foods. This is an easy one to change up to suit your family's tastes. The nice thing is you can use any size tortilla and put whatever you want inside it. You can slice them into pinwheels or serve them as long rolls.

Go light on the spreads and wet ingredients like pickles, though. Unless you don't mind liquid dripping out the back end of the roll.

Corn tortillas don't work very well with this recipe, they tend to split and break apart. If you want a gluten-free version, you can try the GF tortillas that are similar to flour tortillas, or you could use rice spring roll wrappers and make these more like fresh rolls.

Tortilla Roll-Up Sandwiches

12 6-8" flour tortillas OR 6 10-12" flour tortillas
1 8-oz package cream cheese, softened
1 c. shredded cheese (sharp cheddar or swiss are the normal choices, but use whatever you like)
1 T. fresh parsley, chopped fine (totally optional but makes it more pretty)
1 12-oz package of lunch meat (bologna, turkey, ham, salami, roast beef, etc.)
2-3 c. salad mix - shredded iceberg lettuce, baby greens, spinach, etc
Optional toppings - pickles (drained and patted dry), sliced olives, chopped or shredded veggies, thinly sliced apple, mustard, horseradish sauce, etc.

Mix cream cheese with shredded cheese and parsley. Feel free to add some mustard or horseradish or green onions or chives or dill or other herbs to this mix. Spread over tortillas as thin or thick as you like.

Layer sandwich meats over the top of the cream cheese. Add optional toppings as desired, but keep these to a minimum. Too many of them will make your roll-ups fall apart. You can always serve them as salad on the side.

Roll up the tortillas as tightly as you can. If they don't stay rolled up, dab more of the cream cheese mixture on top of the fillings to help them hold together. Cover and refrigerate the sandwiches for a couple of hours before serving, especially if you want to turn them into pinwheels.

For pinwheels, slice the tortilla rolls into thick slices and turn cut side up to show off the pretty layers in the middle.


Monday, May 8, 2017

Things I Saw Driving the Interstate

I was on another road trip this weekend. Driving ten hours, many of them across Idaho. The state has some lovely scenery and fun places to visit, but I-84 isn't any of those. It is one of the most boring stretches of freeways I've ever been on. The scenery is mostly sagebrush and fields of grass. At least it's green this time of year.

We amused ourselves by watching the other trucks and cars driving the same stretch of boringness. Most of that was boring, too.

On a trip a while back, we saw a little old guy in a battered pickup that looked like it was ready to disintegrate any minute. The best part was his dog, though. He was a gigantic Great Dane trying to fit in the front seat of the little truck. He kept turning around and around with his head banging into the roof of the cab. His face would be smooshed against the passenger side window while his tail was whacking this little old guy in the face. We laughed for a solid forty-five miles watching the antics. Then the old guy took an exit and we drove one with just the memories.

This trip we only saw a couple of semi-trucks with fun logos.

One was a tanker truck with red letters on the back that looked like someone had done them with duct tape strips. They said LIVE TROUT. We had a good discussion for a while whether this was a call to action (Live!, trout.) or a statement about the state of trout or some other weird slogan. Then we got alongside the truck and saw the company logo - somebody's Trout Farm. The tanker truck was full of live trout. It makes sense when you think about it. All those fish need to be delivered somehow so they can stock the rivers and streams where people like to catch the fish.

Then we saw this truck:


Notice the logo - D&D Transportation Services. I have no idea what the D&D in this logo stands for, but we immediately jumped to Dungeons and Dragons.

So I present to you The Truck of Holding.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Italian Pasta Salad

This is a classic for a lot of reasons. It's easy. It uses up all sorts of vegetables. You can lighten it up by using less oil. It won't spoil nearly as fast as a mayonnaise coated pasta salad. And it just plain tastes good.

Enjoy!

Italian Pasta Salad

1 large box of pasta - bowties or the little salad ones are both good in this
1/3 c. red onion, diced small
2 T. red wine vinegar, or use another mild vinegar like rice vinegar
1 cucumber, peeled and cut into small chunks
1 c. cherry tomatoes, sliced into quarters
1 c. bell pepper, chopped into chunks, use a mix of green, red, and yellow
1 c. sliced olives
1 c. sliced radishes or daikon
1 c. shredded carrots
1 c. mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes

Dressing:
1/2 c. white vinegar or red wine vinegar
1/4 c. vegetable oil
2 t. salt
1 t. ground black pepper
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. dried basil
1 t. dried parsley
1/2 t. garlic powder

Start by making the dressing - put everything in a bowl or shaker bottle. Beat until blended. It will separate quickly, so just whisk it together again or shake it up good right before you pour it.

Set the dressing aside.

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the pasta. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside to finish draining.

Put onions and vinegar in the bottom of a large bowl. Let it soak for at least 5 minutes.

Add the vegetables and cheese to the onions. Toss to coat with vinegar. Add the pasta. Pour half the dressing over the top. Toss everything gently. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Toss salad again. Add more dressing if desired. Serve cold.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Audiobook Release - Interagency Cooperation

My F.B.I. files short story is now available in audio! The narrator did a great job. I about died laughing the first time I heard his voice for Shondeen, the seven-foot tall Marilyn-Monroe-as-a-linebacker black elf FBI agent. Yeah, in my universe, FBI stands for Fairyland Border Investigations.

Watch for more FBI file stories coming later this year. And hopefully by Christmas, my taco truck elves novel, the first featuring the FBI, will be finished. Definitely silly, and very fun to write!


Interagency Cooperation

Tess gets an abrupt introduction to the Fairyland Border Investigations agent Shondeen when two redcaps sneak through a portal into the human world, Goose Creek to be exact, and go on a murderous rampage. Somebody has to stop them. Using whatever means she can devise.

Download a copy today!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Saag Aloo

Saag Aloo!

Sounds like something Tigger would shout across the 100 acre woods. It's pronounced sog ah-LOO. What it is is delicious.

Saag Aloo is an Indian dish that is basically fried spiced potatoes with creamed greens. Saag is the creamed greens part. There are various versions of this around. Any Indian restaurant you go to will have a different blend of greens and spices in it. Saag Paneer is the creamed greens with breaded and fried goat cheese chunks. It's really tasty, but I finally figured out why I get sick every time I eat it. I'm allergic to goat milk.

Aloo is the Indian word for potatoes. I think I'm going to start calling them that all the time. Aloo. Aloo. A-loo-oo. It's too much fun to say.

I'm still in the process of figuring out how I like this the best. You can mix and match the greens using everything from spinach to mustard greens to other greens. I'm not sure lettuce would work but you could try it if you wanted. I'm going with chopped chard this time because that's what I've got handy. I think the local stores carry collard greens so I could try it with that. Feel free to use what you've got growing or what your local store carries. Beet greens would probably work in this as well.

Here's recipe #1, based loosely on this one:

Saag Aloo (Indian Fried Potatoes and Creamed Greens)

2 T. oil
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced (about 1/2 c.)
1/2 t. garlic powder
1 t. ginger OR 1 T. fresh ginger, grated
1/2 t. ground mustard
1/2 t. cumin
1 t. turmeric
1 t. salt
2 medium potatoes, scrubbed and cut into large chunks (about 3 c.)
1/4 c. water
2 c. spinach leaves, washed
2 c. mustard greens OR chard OR collard greens
salt

Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add onion and cook over medium-low heat until onion is soft and starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the potato chunks, spices, and water, cook for another 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are almost done.

Stir in the greens. Add the water. Cover and cook on medium-low for 3-4 minutes, until the greens are soft. Remove the cover and cook until the liquid is gone.

Salt to taste and serve.

Monday, April 24, 2017

More Book Reviews - The Hunger Games

I finally read the Hunger Games trilogy. After watching all four movies and getting caught up in the story, I wanted to see how the books held up. I wasn't disappointed.

In the movie, Peeta is a whiner. I could not understand how Katniss could ever have a moment's hesitation about picking Gale over him when she finally had a free choice. In the books, Peeta is noble, brave, and a whole lot better than in the movies.

Katniss is much more likable in the books. Since they are written first person from her point of view, you get a window into what she's thinking, her logic behind her choices. She's still not the nicest person ever, but she's at least sympathetic. The movies fail on this point.

The story is a pretty standard YA dystopian story but it's so much more than a twisted love triangle story. The books are more about getting caught up in a revolution, fighting for what you believe, and searching for enough faith in that belief to keep fighting when things go wrong. Katniss is an accidental hero. She's fairly selfish and self-centered when you start poking holes through her logic. She's doing it for her family, yes, but only her family. Even towards the end, when she's become the Mockingjay, the face of the rebellion, she's still more concerned with her family and her own love interests than anyone else. But she also comes across as human. She's not a larger-than-life hero. She's just a girl caught up by circumstances in a war she doesn't want. She wants comfort and security.  Even at the end, when Katniss is free, she's still making the "safe" choice, the selfish choice, because it's comfortable for her. She doesn't want to emerge from her shell or grow into what she could have been.

The writing is solid, too. Suzanne Collins knows how to put words together to tell a compelling story.

The books are pretty dark. There isn't any humor anywhere and hope only makes very rare, brief cameos, usually for someone other than Katniss. Grim is a good word for the story, but then, it is about watching kids kill each other gladiator style. It's about repression and abuse and all sorts of grim things.

The books are worth reading, at least once, but I don't think they'll stick with me. Katniss was not the hero I wanted. No one in the books really was, except maybe Cinna.

If there's a market out there for hopeful YA stories with heroes who actually step up and stand for something other than themselves, I have yet to find it. I want hope in the stories I read. I want characters that, while flawed, are still trying to be good people who do things for good reasons. I want characters I like and can respect.

While Hunger Games has good writing and a compelling storyline, I wasn't a fan of Katniss. Am I sorry I read it? No, I did enjoy reading it and the books added much more depth and nuance to the story. Would I recommend it? Yes, but only if you enjoy dark, moody, grim stories.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Creamed Eggs

This is one of my favorite reasons to make Easter eggs - you get to use them to make creamed eggs a few days later.

The recipe was originally one my sister brought home from her home ec class in junior high. I've sort of done my thing and changed it up. It's great over toast or rice or biscuits. If you want a dairy-free option, use shortening and coconut milk instead of butter and milk. If you want it gluten-free, check out the second version below.

Creamed Eggs

6 hard-boiled eggs
1/4 c. butter
2 T. finely chopped onion
1/4 c. flour
3 c. milk
1 t. salt
1/2 t. black pepper
several drops of tabasco sauce
chopped chives, optional garnish

Peel eggs, chop into chunks. Set aside.

Melt butter in a 2-qt saucepan over med-low heat. Add onion. Cook until soft, 2-3 minutes. Stir in flour. Cook and stir until smooth and bubbly. Stir in milk, salt, pepper, and tabasco sauce. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture thickens and boils. Remove from heat. Stir in chopped eggs. Cover and let it sit for 2-3 minutes to let eggs heat up.

Stir again and serve over toast, hot cooked rice, or biscuits. Garnish with chopped chives.

Also good to stir in with the eggs:
1/2 c. frozen baby peas, thawed
1/2 c. chopped cooked asparagus
3 T. bacon bits or crumbled cooked bacon
1/3 c. ham, cut into very small cubes
1/2 c. shredded asiago, parmesan, or romano cheese

Gluten-Free Creamed Eggs

Instead of flour, use 3 T. cornstarch. Stir into the cold milk and set aside.

Cook onion in butter. When soft, stir in milk mixture, salt, pepper, and tabasco sauce. Cook and stir until mixture thickens and boils.

Continue cooking as directed above.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Basket of Book Reviews

I told you I was reading a lot again. My daughter convinced me to go to the library with her a couple of times. And I discovered the discarded book sale.

Our library is awesome, but it's a little hard to just browse unless you're looking for really popular or brand-new books. The branches are pretty small and only have a limited selection of books on the shelves. But you can go online and find anything you want from any branch and request it. They will contact you when it's at your local branch waiting for you to pick it up. Really nice, if you know what you want.

So here's what I found to read:

Red Queen
Victoria Aveyard

Not my usual type of book, but my daughter had read it a few months earlier and I sort of starting reading it then. It's a YA post-apocalyptic dystopian, similar to Hunger Games. Very dark, very violent, very depressing in a lot of ways, but so beautifully written I couldn't stop reading.

Betrayal, power games, blood feuds, mystic powers, revolution—this book has all that, plus love triangles, people trying to escape their destiny, and a main character who gets railroaded into most of the plot. She's a pawn with no real power. She makes very few decisions and the ones she does make all go wrong. She mostly goes where she's pushed and does what she's told, even when she's inwardly rebelling.

The book is told in first-person present tense, which usually bothers me, but Aveyard's writing is so flowing that I didn't care.

4 stars for beautiful writing, PG-13+ for violence and just being really really dark.

The Man Who Fell From the Sky
Margaret Coel

This is a murder mystery similar to Tony Hillerman's Navajo series. The plot and story are as much about Wild West history, ala Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Indian culture, mostly Arapaho with a little Shoshone thrown in, as it is about a murder.

I've read a couple other books by the author and enjoyed them. This one didn't disappoint. Not entirely my cup of tea, but still an interesting read.

3 solid stars, PG because it is a murder mystery but it was nice to not run into profanity or graphic violence or graphic sex scenes that seem to fill most other non-cozy mysteries I've tried to read.

Bad Unicorn
Platte F. Clark

Yeah, it's a middle-grade fantasy story aimed at boys. It's silly. It has several fart jokes and at least one poop joke. But it's also really fun to read. Killer unicorn named Princess who likes to eat people? Oh, yeah. Grumpy dwarf who owns a comic book/game store? Check. Clueless boy who is the only living heir of a great wizard who also happens to be the only one who can read the super-magical book? Yep. Two sidekicks, male and female, who exist mostly to be comic relief (boy) and actually competent at anything (girl)? That, too. So except for the unicorn, everything else is pretty standard middle-grade quest fiction.

But the book also involves time travel and squirrels and so what if some of it is pretty standard tropes? It's a lot of fun to read.

4 stars, G mostly. Not super violent and stays pretty light in tone, so unless you get very offended at fart jokes, it's pretty tame.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Gluten-Free Easy Sponge Cake

I never thought Gluten-free and Easy could be in the same title, especially not for cake. Most of the recipes I looked at required weird ingredients or special mixes or something else strange or a tricky baking method. This one is fairly simple. It does take almond flour and rice flour, but both of those are pretty easy to find these days. It's based off one I found in an old cookbook that used ground almonds and lemon zest and had really bad directions. The first time I tried to do this, I ended up with a burnt on the bottom, flat, giant hockey puck. I changed things up and made a much more delicious cake the second time around.

The cake makes one 10-inch round thick enough to split and use for a 2-layer cake. We filled it with a couple of different things, but feel free to go hog wild and do whatever you like in your cake. This would make an awesome strawberry shortcake dessert. Just sayin'.

Gluten Free Easy Sponge Cake

7 eggs, separated
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 t. salt
1 c. almond flour
1/2 c. rice flour
1 t. vanilla or almond flavoring

Pre-heat oven to 325°. Spray a 10-inch spring-form pan or 2 8-inch cake pans. Make sure you get the corners and bottom really well. Set aside.

Separate the eggs. Be careful not to get egg yolk in with the whites. Set the whites aside.

Beat the egg yolks until they are very light yellow and fluffy and thick, this takes about 3-5 minutes. Don't underbeat at this stage. Add sugar and salt and beat again. Stir in flours and flavorings. Set aside.

Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form, 3-5 minutes. Gently fold the egg yolk mixture into the egg whites. You want to keep as much air as you can. Stir gently just until you can't see large puffs of egg white. I use a rubber scraper to stir, lifting up from the bottom to the top. The thicker egg yolk mixture tends to settle to the bottom while the whites are on top. You want to get them mixed evenly throughout but don't go overboard on stirring or you will lose your air, which is what makes this cake rise.

Scoop batter gently into the prepared pan. Smooth out the top.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, just until set and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes. Use a thin knife to loosen the cake from the sides, then turn out onto a serving platter and let cool completely.

Frost and decorate like any other cake.

Note: this cake is more chewy and sponge-y than a normal cake, more like an angel-food cake. Use a sharp serrated knife to cut it.

If you want to fill the cake - 
After it is completely cool, use a long serrated knife to split it into two layers. Carefully remove the top layer, spread on the filling, then replace with the top layer.

Suggestions for fillings:
peach-rhubarb jam (homemade and delicious!)
berry pie filling (raspberry, blueberry, blackberry, etc)
lemon curd
chocolate mousse
pretty much anything you'd fill a regular cake with

Monday, April 10, 2017

Cover Reveal!

Remember when I said I was working on new stuff? And remember that first chapter teaser for a middle-grade fantasy adventure? Well, it's finally done! I'm hoping to have the final draft published in May. I just have to wait for my co-author to finish her edits.

And to whet your appetite, here is the lovely cover. It still needs a few tweaks, but I'm really liking it.


And BTW, if you followed the link to the first chapter and saw the lovely fingerless gloves and want a pair, just let me know. $20/pair plus shipping. Just let me know what color...

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Newari Spice Mix

I ran across the recipe for Newari spice on a blog. It's a Nepalese blend of spices that is very similar to curry powder, but less strong. My kids prefer this blend.

Here is the original post.

This is my version of it:

Newari Spice Mix

1/4 c. dried chopped onions
2 T. garlic powder
2 T. ginger
2 t. cumin
2 t. turmeric
1/2 t. chili powder
1/2 t. ground black pepper
1/4 t. anise or fennel seeds

Place everything in a spice grinder. Pulse until powdered.

Store in an airtight container. Use the same way you would use Curry powder.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Some Days You Just Want to Quit

I've had a lot going on lately, most of it depressing and frustrating. It's to the point I just want to give up and live in a cave somewhere for a while. Too much pressure to do things. Too many things on my schedule. Too many people needing too much of my time. And all I want to do is hide in my closet and pretend I'm not home.

This is what depression and anxiety look like for me. I retreat farther into my private shell. I can be myself in there, without fear of judgment or reprisal. I can express those thoughts and feelings without anyone telling me I'm wrong. Without anyone criticizing me.

Except I have this inner voice that constantly whispers, "You're a failure. You're inept. You're worthless. You'll never be any good."

And I fight back. I stand up to it. I tell myself that I am enough. I am of infinite worth because I am a child of God. If I stumble and mess up, it's okay. I can stand back up and keep trying. I can look forward, not back.

Most of the time it works.

But some days I am so tired and exhausted I just can't do it. Those are the days that I'm tempted to hide in my closet. Those are the days my anxiety spikes and I can't function. Those are the days that every judgmental comment and post on Facebook feels like it was written about me. Those are the days when nothing I do is good enough, when it will never be good enough.

But there are also days when the sun is shining and life is good and I can conquer anything.

I just have to hold on to my memory of sunshine and pray that it will guide me through the darkness. That it will be enough and trust that I will be enough.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Pumpkin Pie Spice Mix

My daughter loves this mix of spices. It's great in pumpkin pie or with sweet potatoes or mixed with sugar and used on cinnamon toast. It's an easy one, since the spices usually come pre-ground so you just have to stir it all together.

Pumpkin Pie Spice Mix

1/4 c. cinnamon
2 T. ginger
1 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. allspice or ground cloves
1/2 t. cardamom

Stir everything together. Store in an airtight container. Use instead of cinnamon in recipes.

Feel free to mix up the proportions to make it what you like. I'm not a big fan of nutmeg or cloves so I keep those to a relatively low proportion. I do love ginger, so I use more of that. Cardamom is a very strong spice and can easily overpower anything so keep it on the low side in this mix.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Basket of Book Reviews

I feel like I keep stalling out on my writing, but at least I'm reading again. I've got a pile of books waiting on my nightstand and a whole lot more on my Kindle, if I can ever pry it away from my daughter. Here are the ones I've read recently:

Hammer of Thor
S. Evan Townsend

I admit I know the author and that's why I bought his books. They also intrigued me. This is the first in an alternate history/reality series. The world is pretty much the way it is now, except some people are adepts who use magical talismans to cast spells. They have their own government and hidden histories that intersect with the normal world and shadow a lot of happenings. Some of history's heroes were actually adepts. Other figures, like Thor, are actual demigods. Overall, the adepts keep pretty much to themselves, fighting each other and trying to stay under the radar of the normal world.

This book takes place from the 1930s through the 1950s. It reads in many ways more like a memoir than a work of fiction. The plot meanders, takes unexpected detours, and doesn't mesh together tightly. Some plot threads are introduced, become very important for a chapter or two, then just disappear and never get resolved. Just like real life. But I liked the main character, Kader, enough to care what happened to him. It kept me reading.

Don't let the cover fool you, Hammer of Thor was a fun read even if the memoir style plotting and storytelling bothered me somewhat. The historical details were a fun touch. Having Hitler hunting for talismans and powerful artifacts smacked of Indiana Jones, but in a good way.

I give it a solid three and a half stars and a PG for mild violence.


Agent of Artifice
S. Evan Townsend

The sequel to Thor's Hammer was a lot of fun to read. Same universe, different characters, years later, 1950s through 1970s. This time, it's an adept who's been burned by his Guild and turned into a pariah. Everyone wants a piece of him. He just wants to get back to his gambling playboy lifestyle in Cuba. And find the girl of his dreams. The government wants to enlist him in the CIA, to get an adept in their ranks so they can figure out how to control the Guilds.

I liked this one better than Thor's Hammer, although I didn't like the main character as much. He was a little too self-centered for my taste. But he gets what he deserves and grows into a much more likable man by the end. Plus the story has giant fire-breathing pterodactyls attacking the Space Needle in Seattle.

This one gets four stars and a PG for violence.


Shrouded
Frances Pauli

If you read this blog much, you know I love Frances Pauli's stories. She's done it again with a science fiction setting that still manages to be about magic and finding true love. She creates a very believable universe with alien cultures and races that feel real enough that I almost expect to run into them at the grocery store.

Dolfan is one of the Shrouded (from a world named Shroud for the thick atmosphere it has, a world which I found very intriguing to the point I want to write fanfic about it now). They are isolationist to the extreme, except every child born on the planet is male. So they import brides. A ceremony at their Heartstone, a giant crystal, helps them find their heartmate. It's like a giant matchmaker and speed dating all rolled together, except that description made it seem tawdry and stupid and it's anything but that in the story. I'm not doing it justice here. Anyway, Dolfan wants his bride, but he's also a Prince along with eleven other Shrouded men. The first to find his bride will also become King, so it gets complicated.

Vashia wants to escape her father's plans for her future. He's the ruling despot of a planet that deals in slaves, brothels, drugs, and every other vice and nasty thing ever invented. Vashia's dad wants to marry her off to his second in command, Jarn, to cement his loyalty. Jarn is a slime ball. Vashia jumps at the only escape she can find—becoming a bride on Shroud. It's a one-way ticket and she's not sure she's made the right choice.

And then things get complicated.

I give Shrouded a full five-stars with a PG for mild swearing and a few fistfights.


Seen
Frances Pauli

The sequel to Shrouded picks up pretty much where Shrouded left off with more of the Princes and their stories. And adds in even more wonderful aliens and sigh-worthy romances and forbidden loves.

Another full five-stars and PG for less swearing but more fistfights.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Snickerdoodles

I posted a version of this recipe a while back, but it's good enough to post again.

I love snickerdoodles. I don't make them very often mostly because they require all white flour and I just can't do that anymore. You need the white flour to keep them the right flavor and consistency. Whole wheat would make them too moist and chewy. A good snickerdoodle has a crisp outside with plenty of cinnamon sugar and a soft inside. So bake them on high heat for less time than you think they need.

The cream of tartar in the recipe does several things. First, it adds that tang to the flavor that is unique to these cookies. Second, it helps the dough stay white. Third, it's a leavening agent. It helps them rise. You can find cream of tartar in the baking section of your local grocery store.

This recipe is based off an old Betty Crocker one.

Snickerdoodles

1/3 c. butter, softened but not melted
1/3 c. shortening or coconut oil
1 1/2 c. white sugar
2 eggs
2 t. cream of tartar
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
2 3/4 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
2 t. cinnamon

Cream butter, shortening, and sugar until very light and fluffy. Add eggs, cream of tartar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Beat again until very light colored and creamy. Stir in flour by hand.

In a separate bowl, mix together sugar and cinnamon. Scoop cookie dough by tablespoonfuls into the cinnamon sugar mixture. Roll gently to coat. Place on a greased baking sheet.

Bake at 400°F for 8-10 minutes, until just set and very lightly browned on the edges. Remove to a rack to cool.

Optional spiced sugar mix:
Instead of just using cinnamon, I like to mix in a few more fun ingredients. Try adding a dash of nutmeg, ginger, allspice, ground cloves, or cardamom. If you're feeling really adventurous, try this recipe with Chinese 5-Spice instead of cinnamon.

Monday, March 20, 2017

British Baking Shows vs. American Baking Shows




We've been watching The Great British Baking Show. I start an episode and before I know it, the whole family is in watching it with me. It's enjoyable and fun.

Our family loves watching cooking competition shows. Iron Chef, Chopped, Cupcake Wars, and Cutthroat Kitchen, all are on our list to watch. But the competition in those is fierce and sometimes edges over into hostility. They aren't always nice; in fact, the shows encourage trash talk and similar behavior. The chefs are good sports about it, but it still sometimes rubs me the wrong way.

The GBBS, on the other hand, while still being very competitive, has a feeling of camaraderie and support. It's each baker pitted against their own recipes, not each other. In many episodes, when a baker is in trouble, other contestants jump in to lend a hand. No one gets punished for this. No points are deducted. When the judges, Paul and Mary (who are a hoot to watch), judge the dishes, they do expect it to be done correctly and will call the bakers out if the dish isn't up to snuff, but they also compliment those things that worked well. They give positive critiques of the food. And it is all about the food. When the bakers mess up, they own it. No excuses. No blaming someone else or circumstances, even when it really wasn't their fault. They take full blame for the dishes not being good enough. They don't play the victim and whine about it.

The GBBS is a much more positive experience than the American cooking competition shows. I don't know if it's because the bakers are amateurs, although very good ones, or if it's the overall friendly tone of the show. Either way, it's a fun romp through recipes that I probably would never try.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Hot Pepper Jelly

You know that red jelly stuff that goes great on cream cheese? It's hot pepper jelly and it's so easy to make. Our local WinCo had peppers on sale. The green bells were actually the most expensive, so I went hog wild and bought a whole pile of red ones, some orange and yellow ones, and a couple of green ones. Then I picked up some jalapeños, because they were on sale, too. Then I came home and made hot pepper jelly. The hardest part was chopping them up.

Now I have eight pints of it in my cupboard. That should last me about a month, maybe, if I hide half of them behind the pickles...

Serve this with crackers and cream cheese for a delicious snack.

Hot Pepper Jelly

6 bell peppers (red ones are traditional, but feel free to use whatever color you want)
6 jalapeño peppers
1 c. vinegar
1 box pectin
5 c. sugar

Place 4 pint canning jars in a sink full of really hot water.

Wash the peppers. Remove the top and seeds. Then pulse in the food processor, or finely chop, them. You should end up with about 5 c. of peppers.

Place the chopped peppers, vinegar and pectin in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Once it is at a good boil, dump in the sugar. Keep stirring until it comes to a full rolling boil. This is when it foams up and doesn't stop boiling when you stir it. Boil and stir for one full minute. Remove from heat.

Drain the water out of the jars and fill with the hot jelly. Wipe the rims and either seal them using a water bath or your favorite canning method, or put a lid on them and keep in the fridge.

Makes about 4 pints of jelly.

If you like it hotter, use more jalapeños and fewer bells. If you like it milder, use fewer jalapeños. This proportion gave me the heat I prefer - just a little on the spicy side.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Working on New Stuff

I'm signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo for April. The organizers of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) decided that doing it only once a year in November just wasn't enough, so they added Camps throughout the year.

My goal for April is to get at least 50,000 words written for The Winterqueen's War, the sequel to Dark Dancer. So lots more magical steampunk with elves, pixies, automatons, airships, gnomes, and a host of other magical creatures. There will be betrayals, anger, misunderstandings, evil plots, magic crystals, and lots of action.

I even made the cover already. It still needs some tweaking and polishing but I like it.


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Best Ever Peanut Butter Cookies

This is my interpretation of this recipe. I cut the fat and the sugar and did it my way. These are by far the tastiest peanut butter cookies I've ever made. Take them out of the oven a little before you think they're all the way done and let them cool on the pan. They will set up, but they will also stay nice and soft and moist.

I also used only white flour in this one. Whole wheat flour tends to give them a bitter taste.

Best Ever Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. creamy peanut butter
2/3 c. white sugar
2/3 c. brown sugar
1 t. vanilla
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
3 eggs
2-3 T milk
4 c. flour

Heat oven to 375°F. Grease two cookie sheets and set aside.

Cream softened butter, peanut butter, and sugars until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add vanilla, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Beat for another minute or two. Add eggs and 2 T. milk. Beat until very creamy, about 3 minutes.

Stir in flour by hand, just until mixed. If too dry, add additional milk. The dough should be like playdough - soft but not crumbly or sticky.

Scoop dough into balls about 1 inch in diameter, or about 1 rounded tablespoonful of dough per cookie. Space them out on the cookie sheets. Using a fork, flatten the dough in a criss-cross pattern. Don't worry about getting them too close, they don't spread.

Bake for 7-9 minutes, just until set but not browned. Let them cool on the cookie sheet.

I like these with jam or jelly on top.