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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 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 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.)