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

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Thursday Recipe - Focaccia Bread

This is one of the easiest yeast breads ever. It requires a minimum of kneading. It's supposed to be sticky so you don't have to worry about getting too much or too little flour in the dough. It's supposed to be lumpy and misshapen. You don't need any special mixing equipment or really much of anything other than simple, basic ingredients. It's also pretty fast and doesn't require much rise time.

It's a great accompaniment to minestrone or spaghetti. Top it with everything but sauce to make a quick pizza. Try out whatever flavor combos you want.

Focaccia Bread

1 c. warm water
1 T. yeast or 1 package yeast if you use the little packets
3 T. sugar
2 t. salt
2-3 c. flour

Mix warm water, yeast, and sugar. Let sit for 5 minutes. The yeast should blossom, which means it turns into a brown foam. That's a good thing for bread. Stir in the salt and 2 c. of flour. Mix well. Stir in enough more flour to make a very soft sticky dough. Set it aside for 10 minutes.

Grease a cookie sheet. Dump the dough onto the cookie sheet. Use your fingers to spread it out more or less evenly on the sheet. You want a fairly flat dough about half an inch thick. Stab some deeper fingerprints into the dough while you work. It makes the bread look more authentic. It's supposed to be lumpy looking.

Sprinkle with your choice of toppings such as Italian seasoning mix, garlic salt, sesame seeds, thinly sliced onions, thinly sliced tomatoes, grated parmesan, etc. Set it aside for 15-20 minutes until it starts to look a little poofy.

Bake at 400° for 15-20 minutes, until lightly browned and not doughy in the middle. Use a pizza cutter to slice it into breadsticks. Serve hot for best taste.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Author Interview - Maria Hoagland

 Please welcome Maria Hoagland to the Far Edge of Normal.

How can we find you? 
I love to hear from readers and writers alike. I can be found pretty much anywhere, but I frequent these online hangouts the most.

Tell us about your writing - What genre do you prefer to write? What books, stories, other publications that you've written are your personal favorites? Anything new coming up?
I’m so excited about my latest completed project! Last month, I released my third novel, Still Time. Still Time is inspirational women’s fiction with a medical twist. It is realistic and uplifting. It is about a middle-aged LDS woman who is fighting moving into the next stage of life. She’d love to be able to keep her kids small, herself young, her marriage strong, but challenges keep getting thrown at her. She has her own hopes and dreams that somehow seem to keep being back-burnered, but the most important thing to her is taking care of her family—it’s just that she’s not sure what is best for them. I think most readers can relate to that, and I don’t know about you, but sometimes I want to see how other people deal with adversity because it makes me feel less alone and gives me hope that I too can prevail.

I can't relate to wanting to keep my kids small, but keeping them from growing up too fast? Yeah, I can relate with that.
What about you as a person? What do you do to relax? Favorite movies or tv shows? Hobbies?
Of course, reading is the ultimate relaxation for me. My favorite places to that are in a big bubble bath or by our neighborhood pond under the willow tree. I definitely prefer movies (especially chick flicks) over TV shows (but I do like crime shows)—and pretty much anything with a plot supersedes things without (ESPN and reality shows are not my favorite). As for hobbies—I would ask if cooking dinner counted, but since I don’t actually like doing that, I’ll have to come up with another one. How about spending time with my husband, supporting my kids, running occasionally, and redecorating houses.

I totally want to join you under that willow tree. What gets your creative juices going? Do you write to music, and do you want to share your playlist?
I’d have to say photographs, more than music, get me going. And yes, I do share them. You can find my inspiration boards on Pinterest for each of my books. I keep them private while I’m writing, but then make them public after I release the book. I think they’re fun because you can see some of the things I mention and get a feel for what was important to me while writing it. In fact, here’s a link to my inspiration board for Still Time:

"All writers must have cats, especially if they write fantasy or speculative fiction." Do you have a stand on this one? Any cute pictures of your kitty or other pet?
I’ve never heard this quote, but I’d have to agree. I have a cat, Zucchini, who loves to sit on my desk while I write. In fact, my husband and I had to switch desks so that I could have the bigger one to share with Zuch. He has a bad habit of typing for me, especially if I leave my desk unattended for any length of time, and he pushes everything else over the side of the desk! But at least he, usually, leaves enough room for me.

Zucchini? I'm sure there's a story behind that name. What organizations do you recommend for those wanting to become writers? Any advice you'd like to share about writing?
My biggest help getting started was first, to attend a writer’s conference. I attended the LDStorymakers conference and, while there, met a bunch of great writers who were supportive and knowledgeable. It’s from that group that I found my critique group and support group in Authors Incognito.

Any special appearances or events coming up that you want to mention?
While BYU Continuing Education Week is not having a book signing this year (I was there last year), my new book will be available in the BYU Store, and I will be there the whole week attending the conference. If you contact me at any of the provided links in this post, I’d love to sign it for you.

What color would you wear if you had only one choice?
What an interesting question! I would have a really hard time with this, I think. I love changing the colors of what I wear to correspond with seasons and holidays. It’s kind of like my writing—I love every stage of the writing and publishing process. Just as I’m about to finish one, I’m edgy to start the next phase. It keeps me moving forward and keeps life interesting!

Describe your dream writing spot

My dream writing spot. I suppose it sounds cliche, but I’d love a beautiful, quiet place in nature—with the perfect temperature, of course, bright sunshine but not glaring, and the whisper of trees in the background. Whether it’s a beach, the mountains, a lake, it doesn’t matter as long as it fits the other criteria.

Thanks for stopping by, Maria, and best of luck with Still Time. I'll keep it in mind for the future when I want something without aliens, zombies, or fairies. Because reading is like a box of chocolates, you want to sample ALL the flavors.

Make sure you check out Still Time.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Thursday Recipe - Italian Herb Mix

This is another spice mix. You can buy Italian herb seasoning in the store, but if you've got the dry herbs, it's just as easy to toss together your own blend. That way you can adjust it to your own preferences. Feel free to play with the balance of herbs in this.

It's a great blend to add to a basic vinaigrette. Sprinkle it over chicken and serve with marinara sauce on the side. Sprinkle it on cheese pizza. Mix a tablespoonful into bread dough for foccacia. Ha! There's another recipe idea to post.

Italian Herb Mix

1 T. salt
1 T. dried oregano
1 T. dried parsley
1 T. dried basil
1 t. dried rosemary
1 t. dried sage
1 t. dried thyme
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. onion powder
1/2 t. marjoram
1/2 t. lemon zest
1/2 t. ground black pepper

Mix everything together. Store in an airtight container. Use in any recipe that needs Italian herbs.

Monday, August 11, 2014

WIP Tag! - Dark Dancer

I was tagged by Maria Savva for this. She writes some very interesting stories, part warm fuzzy and part shiveringly creepy. Check out her stories. You won't be sorry, though you might have nightmares. If you want to know what she's up to, check out her WIP blog post.

So now on to the rules for this - Post the first three sentences of the first three chapters of your current WIP, or work-in-progress in author-speak. Since I'm sure my latest academic drivel would put everyone to sleep, I'll post the teasers for my latest fiction work. And the good news is that this book should be up for sale by the end of August.

So enjoy Dark Dancer, a steampunk fairyland adventure tale full of magic, metal men, betrayal, and monsters who are more than they seem.

I'm going to cheat and give you more than just one sentence, because my sentences need each other like tomatoes need bacon and lettuce.

Chapter 1 - The girl spread her arms wide, drinking in the summer sun. Her bare feet flashed as she danced across the meadow, twining through the ring of mushrooms sprouting from the soil. She sang a wordless song to the trees and flowers, her only audience. She twirled her thread-bare skirt, setting the fabric swinging around sun-browned legs.
Mist gathered in the center of the mushroom circle, lavender gray, thin as smoke. The girl paused in her dancing to stare. A window formed in the mist, circular and wavering. She stepped closer, curious and unafraid. She peered through the strange portal into a room cluttered with plants, books, scrolls, and all kinds of odd things.

Chapter 2 - Winter wind howled around the cabin. Sabrina glanced up from her homework. She'd grown into a lanky ten year old. Her honey-colored hair strayed from its pony tail. She twisted her finger through a loose strand.
"Finish your spelling," her mother said. Her needle flashed as she worked mending a neighbor's shirt.
Sabrina bent her head dutifully over the paper. Another gust of wind rattled the windows. She jumped. The lantern on the table guttered.
"Sabrina, it's just the wind."

Chapter 3 - "Come on, Katie, slow poke." Sabrina raced ahead, hands and feet moving surely over the rough rocks.
"You're half spider," Katie answered. "Nobody can keep up with you." She picked her way up the rock wall on an easier path.
Sabrina lounged at the top, blue eyes laughing down at her cousin. "But you're better at music. I've got no sense of rhythm."
Katie pulled herself over the top, rolling onto her back and breathing hard. "You've got rhythm, just not the same as anyone else."
"What are we going to do this summer?" Sabrina nibbled on a handful of trail mix. "I don't want to spend my summer watching your brothers play video games again. Think Dianna will let us take a road trip, just the two of us?"

Available soon on Kindle, Smashwords, and in paperback.

I'm supposed to tag three other authors, but most of my author friends are busy with other projects. So, if you are an author and want tagged, leave me a note in the comments and I'll tag you.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thursday Recipe - Sautéed Zucchini

I think my black thumb curse is finally lifted! Or at least changed to a brown thumb. One of the dozen zucchini seeds I planted survived. I have zucchini in my garden. Only one plant, but with zucchini, that's plenty. I also have tomatoes (HUGE bushes with LOADS of green tomatoes right now), a few spindly hot pepper bushes, a few onions, a very short row of yellow wax beans, and some popcorn. It's the best garden we've grown in years.

Back to the zucchini. There are several ways to deal with it. Giant baseball bat size zucchinis are great for stuffing or grating up and using in recipes like zucchini muffins, fudge cake, or zucchini pie. Medium size ones are great for chopping up into pickles. And teeny little ones are great for slicing and sautéing. This recipe makes a great vegetable side dish for a summer dinner party.

Sautéed Zucchini

3-5 small zucchini, sliced into circles about 1/4 inch thick
2 T. butter
1 t. Italian herb mix (make your own with oregano, basil, sage, thyme, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, garlic, and dried onions. And maybe a pinch of lemon zest. That recipe sounds good for next week...)
salt to taste

Heat butter in a large frying pan over medium-low heat until the butter is melted. Toss in the zucchini slices. Fry for a few minutes, stirring often, just until the squash wilts and some slices get browned. Sprinkle the herbs over the top. Salt to taste. Toss it once to mix in the herbs then serve.

This also works great with crookneck squash, yellow squash, pattypan squash, or any other summer squash with a tender skin. Use the tiny baby ones if you've got them.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Monday Promo Time!

Are you ready for something completely different? My space opera series, The Fall of the Altairan Empire, is finished and published. So I'm switching gears. I started this story a couple of years ago as a Nanowrimo project and was inspired by a book trilogy by my friend Frances Pauli (check it out here). I had no idea what I was writing or where it was going to end up. I'm happy with how it turned out. But then, who wouldn't be happy with elves in fairyland who use magic to power steampunk airships and giant robot men?

Here's a teaser for it. I'm shooting for a late August publication date. It is a stand-alone book, but the world was so much fun to play in, I might just expand it.

The Seligh crushed,
The captives found,
The barrier broken,
The balmorae freed.

A strange prophecy haunts the Seligh lords, rulers of the Fey and controllers of all magic in the Summerlands, a prophecy that foretells their fall.

A banished Seligh lord rules the Winterlands with an iron fist and his pets, the balmorae, patrol the borders against all intruders, guarding the secrets hidden beneath his icy lair.

A young woman rediscovers her heritage, a gift of magic and dancing that opens portals between worlds. She holds the fate of magic in her hands. All who live within the lands of the Fey must choose where they stand—beside the Dancer or opposed to her.

And trust that she won't destroy their world.

Dark Dancer coming soon.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Thursday Recipe - Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars

When I was back in grade school, back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth if you ask my kids, the lunch ladies used to bake cookies from scratch. They also made soups and stews and all sorts of good things that don't happen anymore. We had a short little Dutch lady as the lunch lady for a while who made the most delicious split pea soup. But that's beside the point.

These peanut butter bars are the same ones the lunch ladies used to serve. Moist and delicious and slathered with chocolate frosting, these are fast and easy. They don't last long at my house.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars

1/2 c. shortening (you can substitute 1/4 c. butter for half of it, but if you just use butter, the cookies don't stay nice and soft)
1/2 c. peanut butter, crunchy or smooth, your choice
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 t. vanilla
1 egg
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 c. flour, white or wheat
1 c. oatmeal

Cream shortening, peanut butter, and sugars until nice and fluffy. Add vanilla, egg, baking soda, and salt. Beat a couple more minutes until very smooth and fluffy. Stir in flour and oatmeal. Spread in a greased 9x13 pan. Bake at 350° for 18-20 minutes, until set and barely brown. Let cool.

Spread with chocolate frosting. Let it sit for a while to set up. Slice and serve. Pizza cutters are great for slicing these.

If you double the batch, spread it out on a large baking sheet. They'll be thinner so bake them the shorter time.

Chocolate Frosting (or use this recipe)

1/2 c. butter, softened (not melted if you can avoid it)
1/4 c. baking cocoa
1 t. vanilla
2 c. powdered sugar
2-4 T milk

Cream butter, cocoa, and vanilla. Add powdered sugar. Drizzle in milk while beating. Add just enough milk to make it spreading consistency. Beat for another 2-4 minutes until very light and fluffy.