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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thursday Recipe - Spiced Sugar Cookies

Some of my books are on sale this week for only 99 cents! Check them out and a whole lot of other books in multiple genres -

I am in love with spices. And sugar cookies. And my husband. And chocolate. Some of those I can share with you. Not my hubby and not my chocolate. Sorry. Not gonna happen.

But I will share these luscious and easy sugar cookies with you, especially with the holiday season happening. These do call for some out-there spices, so if you don't have them on hand, you can be safe and just use cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Most people have those in their kitchen, right? Or am I weird with my giant spice collection?

Never mind. If you like spices, give these a try. If you want to experiment with spices, this is a good recipe to try. Plus, they smell divine while baking. Like a slice of Christmas. Or Thanksgiving.

Spiced Sugar Cookies

1/2 c. butter, softened
3/4 c. sugar
1 egg
1 t. vanilla
1/8 t. salt
1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. poppy seeds
1 t. anise seeds
1/2 t. ground black pepper
1/2 t. ground cardamom
1/2 t. ginger
1 1/4 c. flour (You can use 1/2 whole wheat flour in this recipe)

For topping:
1/4 c. sugar
1 T. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. allspice or ground cloves

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. This takes about five minutes. Don't skimp on this step or your cookies won't have that creamy soft texture of really good sugar cookies. Add the egg, vanilla, salt, baking powder, and spices. Beat until very smooth and fluffy. Gently stir in flour just until mixed.

Scoop dough by tablespoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. Gently flatten with your hand until they're about 3/4 of an inch thick.

Mix together the topping ingredients in a small bowl or shaker. Sprinkle over the cookies before baking.

Bake at 350° for 9-11 minutes, less time if you like them soft, more time if you like them crispier.

Cool and devour. Makes about 24 cookies.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Music Video Wars

My kids and I have this thing every once in a while where we post music videos to each other's FB feed. The one who posts the most horrendous one wins.

So my son and I were playing this the other day. My other son jumped in. Someone got rick-rolled. Horrible music videos from YouTube were unearthed and posted. Things got ugly fast. This video was the front-runner:

Then my daughter got involved and found this one:

Same song but so much worse. She wins the war.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thursday Recipe - Nutty Granola

My family adores granola but it's so pricey and the store varieties I can afford aren't that exciting. So I made my own granola the other day. It's surprisingly easy and affordable. Plus you can adjust it for whatever ingredients you have on hand. And bonus! this recipe has no wheat in it.

I had nuts in my freezer - a few walnuts and lots of hazelnuts. We have family and neighbors who grow walnuts and we have several hazelnut bushes in our yard so we have plenty of these things around. I added in some sliced almonds from Costco to make a really scrumptious nutty granola.

Be warned; this stuff is very filling.

Nutty Granola

3 1/2 c. rolled oats, either old-fashioned or quick cooking
1/2 c. shredded coconut
1/2 c. walnuts, smashed into a fine powder
1/2 c. hazelnuts, chopped
1/2 c. sliced almonds
1/4 c. vegetable oil
1/3 c. honey (or use pancake syrup)
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. maple flavoring
1/4 t. salt
2 t. cinnamon

Mix oats, coconut, and nuts in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, mix together oil, honey, sugar, vanilla, maple flavoring, salt, and cinnamon. Pour the sludge over the oat mixture. Stir until well coated and liquid is spread evenly through the mixture.

Spread on a large baking sheet. Bake at 300° or 30-40 minutes, stirring every ten minutes. Granola should be lightly browned.

Let it cool on the baking sheet after the final ten minutes. Break it into crumbles and store in an airtight container. If you like dried fruit in your granola, stir it in after the granola is cooled down.

Now to come up with some variations. White chocolate chips and craisins? Dried pineapple and mango? Cherry and extra vanilla? The possibilities are endless...

Monday, November 16, 2015

Movie Review - "Cowboys and Aliens" and "Home"

Movie binge time again at my house. The Netflix DVD option may be my downfall. But since we rarely make it to the movie theater and it takes forever to get the movies on Netflix streaming, if ever, so ordering DVDs works for me. Up this week: "Cowboys and Aliens" and "Home."

Cowboys and Aliens was a huge disappointment. It had Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford. It had cowboys. And aliens. And explosions. But even with all that, I can sum it up in one word: Boring. Everything was grim and dirty. Everyone was grim and Serious. Notice the capital S. They were all Serious. It was like the entire cast was constipated and needed a truckload of prunes so they could loosen up and have fun. Daniel Craig looked old and angry. Harrison Ford looked older and angrier. The movie should have been fun. But it wasn't. It was painfully boring. You don't have to be silly to have fun, but when the actors look like they're sitting on porcupines covered in napalm the entire movie, it's just sad to watch. And boring. Porcupines covered in napalm would have made the movie so much better.

Another nitpick of mine: Why are these aliens who are supposedly advanced enough and intelligent enough to travel between stars always naked and always just roar and growl? Why do they kill people with giant claws when they have all sorts of cool tech and weapons at their disposal? They don't have to be human or humanoid, but PLEASE, for the love of Pete, make them more than just rampaging monsters. Or else have a really good explanation WHY they have the brains of rabid squirrels but can still fly spaceships.

Cowboys and Aliens was a huge bust for me. I give it a giant tomato and raspberry. If I want to watch grouchy old men fight things in the wild, I'll watch "Up." At least he was a likable old grump.

"Home" was highly entertaining. The story is really predictable and childish and in-your-face with the moral, but the characters were so much fun that I didn't mind. There are some really funny one-liners, too. The aliens were childish, but very believable. Smart but very stupid at the same time. Like small children. Or the Paklids at the space center. For an animated kids' movie, I thoroughly enjoyed it as an adult. It wasn't dark and dismal and depressing, and no one was Serious, at all. I laughed, and yes, I cried a couple of times. I cared about the characters. I wanted to take them home and make them my friends. That's when you know a story is successful, when the audience makes that emotional connection with your characters.

I give "Home" an A. It's definitely finding a place in my movie collection.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Thursday Recipe - Sage and Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash

Whoops. I can't read a calendar. Too much on my mind. Here's the recipe for this week:

I need to make this stuffing as just stuffing. It is so flavorful and tasty just by itself, but stuff it in the squash and it's beyond delicious. This makes a hearty winter supper or, if you can find some tiny squash, you could make it as a fancy dinner party offering.

For the record, this is a vegetable stuffing. It has no bread in it so if you're gluten-free, it should be fine for you. If you want a traditional stuffing, toss bread crumbs with the vegetables then add enough chicken or vegetable broth to moisten it. The vegetables have some liquid in them so don't add too much or you'll have soggy stuffing.

For the sage, I grow it in my yard as an ornamental plant. It has these really fun fuzzy gray thick leaves. And it smells really good. It also grows in places too dry for most other ground covers. If you don't have fresh sage and can't find it at the store, you can substitute 1 t. dried sage for 1 T. fresh sage.

Sage and Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash

1 large acorn squash (about 8 inches across) or 3 small ones (3-4 inches across)
2 T. pancake syrup
4 large or 6 small pre-cooked sausage patties, diced into 1/4 inch cubes
1 small potato, peeled and diced into 1/4 inch cubes
2 carrots, peeled and diced into 1/4 inch cubes
1 granny smith or other tart apple, cored and chopped into small bits
1/4 onion, chopped small
2 T. fresh sage, chopped small
1/4 c. chopped pecans (optional)
fresh nutmeg

Arrange squash cut side up in a baking dish. Drizzle with syrup. Set aside.

Mix together sausage, potato, carrot, apple, onion, sage, and pecans. Stuff this mixture into the squash halves. You can mound it up but try to keep it all inside the squash. (If you don't have enough stuffing, you can chop up more potato or carrot to fill up the squash. I had way too much so I let it fill the pan between the squash halves but it ended up burning.)

Sprinkle salt and pepper over the stuffed squash. Keep it light. Sprinkle just a pinch or two of nutmeg over each squash half. Be very stingy with the nutmeg. A little goes a very long way.

Bake at 375° for 35-50 minutes, until the squash is tender and top of the stuffing is browned. Let stand for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Cracking the Lid on Audio Books - Second Chances now available!

I finally dipped my toe into the audio book market. Second Chances is now available as an audio book! Others are in the works.

Paltronis wasn't the one who started the fight, but she was the one who ended it. She also ended her career with the Patrol. Until Tayvis, an officer, shows up and offers her a chance to prove she's not a complete screw-up. 

A prequel short story for the Fall of the Altairan Empire series. Find the whole series at

I have codes for free downloads of the audio version. If you're willing to give me a review in exchange for a code, leave me a comment! Act fast, because these are limited to the first ten people to respond.

Today is also the day I defend my thesis. Talk about pressure...

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Thursday Recipe - Peanut Butter Chocolate Whoopie Pie

Every once in a while, I want something decadent. Something that any self-respecting diet book would tell you to run away from, as fast as your chubby cellulite-ridden body can move. Yeah, I hate diet books. Just a warning that this is the kind of dessert to reserve for very special occasions, like the hubby's birthday. I usually try to post healthier recipes, and I did lighten this one up just a little. But be warned: It's a diet killer. But it's sooooooooo good. And not hard at all.

And just in case you're wondering, this is a double layer cake, not pie, but it's called whoopie pie for obscure reasons. If you're really interested in why, go read this article. And yes, I know this recipe isn't technically a whoopie pie, but it's based off another recipe that calls it whoopie pie even though it's a big cake. But whatever you call it, this is really delicious.

Woot! I remembered to photograph it
before it got devoured!
Peanut Butter Chocolate Whoopie Pie

Chocolate Cake:
1/3 c. yogurt, plain or vanilla
1/2 c. powdered milk
1 1/2 c. water
1 T. lemon juice
1/2 c. oil
2 eggs
2 c. sugar
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
3/4 c. baking cocoa
2 c. flour (I used half whole wheat, half white)

Heat oven to 350°. Grease and flour two round cake pans (I used my 10 inch springform pans.) Set aside.

Beat yogurt, powdered milk, water, and lemon juice together until smooth. Stir in oil and eggs. Beat until smooth. Set aside.

In large mixing bowl, mix sugar, soda, salt, and baking cocoa. Add liquid ingredients. Beat until smooth and creamy. Stir in flour.

Divide the cake batter evenly between the two pans. Bake for 25-35 minutes, until cake springs back when lightly touched. (The 10" pans took 28 minutes, smaller diameter pans will take a little bit longer.) Remove from the oven. Let cool in the pans for about 5 minutes. Turn out onto wire rack to finish cooling.

Peanut Butter Frosting/Filling:
1/2 c. cream cheese
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. peanut butter
3-4 c. powdered sugar
2-4 T. milk

Soften cream cheese and butter if needed. Beat together with peanut butter until very smooth and fluffy. Add 3 c. of powdered sugar and 2 T. milk. Beat until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl often to make sure everything is mixed in. If frosting is too thick, add more milk. If it is too thin, add more powdered sugar. You want something soft and spreadable that still mostly holds its shape. Beat the frosting on high for at least five minutes. Check the consistency again and adjust if needed. Once you have a smooth, creamy, fluffy peanut butter filling, eat it with a spoon assemble the cake.

Place one layer of the cake upside down on a serving platter or large plate. Hint: If it bulged up in the center, use a big serrated bread knife to level the cake before assembling. You only need to do this to one layer.

Dollop a very generous amount of the peanut butter delicious filling on top of the cake layer. Spread a little, it should be soft enough to continue spreading on its own when you add the second layer. Speaking of which, place the second layer, right side up, on top of the filling. Let it settle a bit. The filling layer should squish out the edges a little. Dollop the rest of the frosting on the top and gently spread it. Let it drip down the edges on its own.

Now the hard part. Set the cake aside for several hours to let the frosting set up. You can cover it and refrigerate it if you want or if its really hot in the house.

Serve and eat.