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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

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 yolks 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.

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.

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.


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.

Monday, March 6, 2017

New Story Release - The Genesis of Madame Yosefie

I'm excited to announce the release of a new story - The Genesis of Madame Yosefie. It's a novelette, so longer than a short story but not even close to a novel.

Madame Yosefie was one of my favorite minor characters from my Altairan Empire series. I just had to find out who she was and where she came from, so I wrote her back story. It's a fun romp with plenty of intrigue and plotting and fight scenes.

It's only 99cents so grab your copy today!

All she wanted was to share her fashion sense, but what Jojo got was involvement in political scandal and assassination attempts.

Jojo came to Linas-Drias with a dream—to share her sense of fashion and beauty. But the closest she can get to high society is as a janitor cleaning the floors of the VIP space lounge. Until one night, she overhears a plot to assassinate political rivals and finds herself entangled in a web of deceit and espionage with the mysterious Commander Lowell.

An Altairan Empire prequel story.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Pickled Beets

I absolutely love pickled beets. Not the canned things that restaurants put out on the salad bar sometimes, but real pickles made from beets. This is the best recipe I've come across. If you make it, seal it up and hide it for at least a month. It tastes much better once it's aged.

Star anise is a little different than anise seed or anise flavoring. I found mine in the Hispanic section of the grocery store. They look like wooden star flower things. They are pretty and the flavor they add to the beets is really nice.

Pickled Beets

2-3 lbs fresh beets
1/2 c. water
1 1/4 c. vinegar
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 t. salt
3 star anise

Wash beets. Trim tops and roots. Place in a large pot, cover with hot water, and simmer over med-low heat for 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and rinse in cold water. The outer skin should peel off easily at this point. Peel the beets and discard peels.

Chop the beets into bite-size hunks. You should end up with about 5 c. of beet chunks. Place in the saucepan, add barely enough water to cover and simmer until tender, about 10-15 minutes longer. Drain the beets.

Wash and dry 3 pint canning jars. Place a star anise in the bottom of each. Divide the beets between the three jars.

Mix water, vinegar, sugar, and salt in a saucepan. Bring to boiling, stirring to make certain the sugar dissolves completely.

Carefully pour over the beets, filling each jar and completely covering the beets. Leave a 1/2 inch or so of headspace at the top of the jar. Wipe the rims clean and place a new lid on each jar. Screw on the ring, then process according to your altitude. (At just about sea level here, it's only 12 minutes for pint pickles.)

Store in a cool, dark place for at least a month before opening.

Makes about 3 pints.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Software Review - MuseScore 2

Where do I start? This isn't the typical software that gets reviewed. MuseScore is a musical score composing program. I'm really enjoying playing with it, so I thought I'd post this here in case someone else is looking for this kind of software.

Screenshot from the MuseScore website.
I've messed around with arranging music compositions off and on for years. I originally did it on sheets of manuscript paper, by hand. It took forever and wasn't easy to read. So I found a music font and did a drag-and-drop, cut-and-paste version. It was just as laborious and only slightly easier to read. Then I got involved in other things and dropped that hobby for a while.

Last summer I picked it back up. I was asked to play the accompaniment for a choir piece. I wasn't happy with the version and neither were most of the singers. I found other versions of the same hymn, but they weren't what the chorister wanted, so I offered to make a mashup version.

The song was seven or eight pages long, much too long for my previous methods of composing. I went on a search for software, because I figured that in the last twenty years, someone had to have invented a much nicer way of doing it. I tried messing with some of the music composition and audio mixing software I have, like GarageBand, but none of them could generate a written score. Enter the internet. I found several programs and tried them out. I bought myself a cheap midi keyboard. In the end, I kept MuseScore instead of the others I found. Even though it was mostly a drag-and-drop entry, it was easier to use and more intuitive than the others. It also has a great set of help forums.

It produces a nice, clean copy. It's got a lot of features buried in the program. I'm just scratching the surface of what I can do. I love that I can create not just piano scores, but full orchestral scores, or choir and accompaniment. It also breaks each song into individual parts so I can print out just a vocal score, or the flute part, or whatever parts I have.

I've used it for four different arrangements now, plus at least a dozen simplified versions of songs for my piano students. The interface is simple enough you can jump in and be creating music within a few minutes of installing the software. I've found plenty of tutorials and help forums for more complex questions. It's a very robust piece of software.

And best of all, it's free. Yep, totally free to download. Available for Mac or Windows or even Linux.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Cheese Muffins

I found my recipe book from my junior high Home Ec class. It's got some great old classics in it. The trick to tender muffins is to stir them as little as possible after you pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones. If you do overstir, they'll still taste good, they just might be a bit chewy.

These muffins are only slightly sweet. You need to use a very sharp, good quality cheese to really get the flavor. They go great with chili, soup, or salad. I think I'm going to go whip up a batch right now...

Cheese Muffins

1 3/4 c. flour
2 T. sugar
2 1/2 t. baking powder
3/4 t. salt
1 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 egg, well-beaten
3/4 c. milk
1/3 c. oil
dash of tabasco hot sauce

Heat oven to 400°. Put paper liners in 12 regular muffin cups and set aside.

Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the cheese shreds. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine egg, milk, and oil. Beat together.

Make a hole in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour in the wet ingredients. Stir gently just until the flour is moistened. You will have lumps! This is okay. DO NOT stir until well blended. You will get tough muffins if you do.

Scoop batter into the muffin cups, filling each 1/2-2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes, just until lightly browned and a toothpick comes out clean.

Makes 12 muffins.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Pickle Report

I tried out a lot of pickle recipes last summer. Most of them I posted here. Now that they've been sitting in my pantry for a few months to develop maximum flavor, and now that I've had a chance to taste them all, here are the results:

Sweet and Sour Pickled Cauliflower - Definitely a YES! But then, I adore pickled cauliflower.

Mississippi Chow-Chow - Oh, YEAH! This is by far the best relish type recipe I have. I eat it plain. Next fall, when the huge heads of sauerkraut cabbage appear in the stores, I'm buying one so I can make several big batches of this chow-chow. Mmmmm... (The other versions of chow-chow I tried were not nearly as tasty. This one has the balance I like.)

Nacho Jalapeño Rings - Yep, although I'm hoping our jalapeños next summer aren't nearly as spicy. These were way too hot for me, but that was the peppers, not the recipe.

Pickled Okra - This was a blech. The vinegar was much too strong. Next summer we shall try again with a tweaked recipe. I'm definitely growing okra again. Much too pretty not to.

Pineapple Hot Sauce - YES! This stuff was amazing. Sweet but spicy with a big tang of vinegar. When I find pineapple on sale for cheap, I'm buying it so I can make more of this deliciousness. One thing I would do different is to chop everything MUCH smaller. I left the pineapple chunks too big last time.

Bottled Bean Salad - I love this stuff. Very much. Nobody else in my family does, though, but that's okay. It means more for me. It turned out sweet and crunchy and so much better than the deli stuff. I'm planting beans so I can make more next summer.

Pepper Relish - My bell pepper plants struggled last summer so I didn't get any of this made, but the stores have been putting peppers on sale for really cheap prices lately, so I may be stirring up a batch of this very soon. It's a wonderful change from the usual relishes. If you like it spicy, throw in spicy peppers with the bells.

84-Hour Pickles - These were amazing! Until I processed them to seal the bottles. They lost their crunch. Next summer, I'm only doing these fresh. Sort of. They'll keep in the fridge about a month after they finish brining. And they are very crispy. So that's how we'll enjoy them.

Pickled Beets (forgot to post the recipe last summer, so it's coming) - Really good, but I'm the only one who eats them. The juice is really fun to add to things like potato salad or pickled eggs. It turns everything bright pink. I think I still have one bottle left...

We still have dill pickles, pickled carrots, pickle relishes, and lots more jam and jelly in my cupboard. But this list of pickles were the best ones so far.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Galoop Hotcakes

This is an old recipe I got from my dad years ago. I think they're called Galoop Hotcakes because you put a big galoop of the batter on the hot pan to make them.

They're loaded with all sorts of good stuff like oatmeal and dried fruit. They definitely fill you up and keep you going for a long time.

Galoop Hotcakes

2 c. flour (white, whole-wheat, or any combo of the two)
1 c. powdered milk
4 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1/2 c. sugar (white, brown, or whatever you have)
1 c. oatmeal
3 eggs
about 2 c. water
OPTIONAL ingredients:
spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cardamom, fennel, anise, cloves)
nuts (1 c. of chopped pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, sliced almonds, etc.)
dried fruit (chop it up if it's large, but any dried fruit works in this, raisins and dates are traditional)
fresh fruit/veggies (grated apple, grated carrot, shredded zucchini, chopped plums, peaches, pineapple, apricots, cherries, fresh or frozen berries of any sort, etc—just make sure it is in small pieces so it can cook)
1/2 c. coconut

Mix all the dry ingredients together. Add the eggs, 1 c. water, and any of the optional ingredients that you want. Stir together. Add enough additional water to make a thick batter. (If you use fresh fruit, you will need less water. If you use dried fruit, you may need to add more water.)

Scoop out by large galoops onto hot griddle (about 1/4 c. per hotcake). Cook until bubbles break and don't fill back in, about 2-4 minutes. Flip carefully. Cook until browned on the other side and not goopy in the middle, about 1-2 minutes longer. If they are getting too browned, turn the heat down. These are better if you cook them slower on a lower heat than normal pancakes.

Serve hot with plenty of butter, jam, syrup, honey, yogurt, pudding, ice cream, sliced fruit, etc. Or just eat them plain.

Monday, February 13, 2017

How the Internet Changed the Way I Cook

I thought about making that a click-bait headline, but I resisted.

I have a large collection of cookbooks, several dozen at least, some from before 1950, most from the 1980s. But they mostly just collect dust these days. If I need a recipe for something, I just turn to my trusty friend Google. The biggest drawback to cooking with Google, though, is that I'm real comfortable having my laptop on the kitchen counter next to things that could potential kill it, like eggs or milk or hot stoves. So I can either keep it on a table away from the food, which means running back and forth to check the recipe, or I can kill a tree and print it out. And then end up with a giant stack of papers for recipes that I may never make again because next time I have the urge to cook that thing, I go to Google, not the messy stack of printouts in my recipe bin.

Every once in a while, I will pull out the cookbooks and just browse through them. The pictures are gorgeous, except that one 70s cookbook where everything is just kind of creepy and weird, even the food. I'm not looking for a particular recipe, I'm looking for inspiration for something new, something different than my usual recipes.

That's the trouble with Google—most of the time you have to know what you are looking for. Recipes can be an exception. I'll decide I feel like making an Indian dish and end up in an ethnic recipe rabbit hole for several hours. It's a fun trip and I usually end up with a pile of new ideas to try. Usually, though, it's just too much. Too many different directions, too many choices.

So, this boils down to a question for you, my readers. Should I take my recipes I publish here every week and turn them into a cookbook? Should that cookbook be paper or ebook? Long or short? Should I do multiple cookbooks that each focus on one thing, like cookies or hamburger dishes? What would you be willing to pay for such a book? If there is enough interest, I'll do it.

Last question, mostly for fun—What's your favorite go-to recipe collection (website or book)? Mine is my old trust 1970s Betty Crocker Cookbook.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Chocolate Fudge

I have done it! I have conquered the elusive Fudge Beast!

My attempts at fudge in the past were pathetic at best. Sure they tasted great. And they spread like frosting. The best fudge I made was what set up on top of cakes when I attempted chocolate fudge frosting.

I did manage this recipe for Butterscotch fudge a year and a half ago, but it only really worked with white chocolate chips or butterscotch chips. They have more wax and fats in them. When I tried the recipe with chocolate chips, it turned into a grainy thick mess that wasn't even close to fudge. So I did some tinkering and Voila! Success!

Chocolate Fudge

1/2 c. powdered milk
2/3 c. hot water
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 T. butter
1/2 t. salt
7 oz marshmallow creme
1 1/2 c. chocolate chips

Mix powdered milk, hot water, sugar, butter, and salt in a 2-qt saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a good boil. Boil and stir for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Stir in marshmallow creme and chocolate chips. Keep stirring until it is smooth. Pour into a buttered pan (I like to use a glass pie pan) then refrigerate until set.

Store fudge in the fridge.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Sales Tactics, or How Not to Be a Used Car Salesman That Everyone Hates

This whole rant was triggered by an advice post on a blog for indie authors wherein (there's that academia writing again!) they advise you to get in the prospective customer's face and shove your book in their hands, because if they are holding your book, YOU ARE 90% CERTAIN OF A SALE! And it's all about money, right?

I hate being a sales person. I hate shoving my books at people and screaming, "See what I wrote? You're going to love it! Throw money at me! NOW!" The people who do this at conventions really annoy me. I know I'm not alone. Anyone who's gone to a con lately knows who I'm talking about - that indie author who rents a hall table for the whole weekend and accosts you every time you even get close to their table, the one that you avoid making eye contact with because it might trigger the crazy again.

I am definitely not against indie authors. I am one myself. I'm not against people renting hall tables to hawk their wares. I enjoy talking to those people. Usually. They make cool stuff and write cool books. I am against those people who act like used car salesmen, the ones who shove it in your face every freaking time you walk past until you start avoiding that end of the hotel entirely. I have friends who bought the book just so they could safely walk past the table. They'd wave it at the author who was poised to launch another assault on them. I think most of them threw it away when they got home.

I'm sure I've missed out on lots of sales because I can't do that. Don't get me wrong, I'm passionate about my stories. I have drive and ambition. I'm also an introvert with social anxiety. I can't make myself get in people's faces and shove books at them and demand payment. I also want them to buy the book because they want to read it, not to get me to quit bothering them.

I'll be honest, my writing is more of a hobby that makes pizza money than a career. I do put lots of sweat and tears into writing. I spent years writing at least six hours a day and churning out lots of stuff. I sent it off to publishers and when that didn't work out, I published it myself. I'm proud of my lengthy and respectable Amazon author page. But the sales just aren't rolling in.

Which brings me to my conclusion. My sales tactics are to write what I enjoy reading and do my best to get the word out using the low-key tactics I can stand doing. So, if you enjoy my writing, please leave a review on Amazon. (Even if you didn't enjoy it, please leave a review!) Tell your friends about the book. Help me spread the word.

And thank you for reading.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Beer Rocks or Bierocks

Bierocks or Beer Rocks, as they shall henceforth be known at my house, are hot sandwiches. Sort of. They're related to Piroshky and empanadas and calzones. They're the watchagot dishes of the sandwich world.

Bierocks are German comfort food. Stretchy bread dough is wrapped around a filling of cooked hamburger, onion, and cabbage, then baked. I went untraditional because I like more flavor in my sandwich and I had bulk sausage thawed, not hamburger. These are definitely on my make-it-again list. Very tasty and not really that much work. They do take some time, but it's worth it.

(This is easier with a stand mixer or bread maker, but if you don't have either, you can make the dough by hand. It's just going to take a while to knead it smooth. Warning: I've killed several stand mixers trying to make bread. Unless yours is specifically designed for making bread, it won't be able to handle this dough. I have a Bosch and it works great. A KitchenAid with a dough hook would also work great.)

I based my recipe loosely off this recipe.

Beer Rocks or Bierocks

1 1/2 c. warm water
3 T. powdered milk
1/4 c. butter
1 1/2 t. salt
2 1/2 c. white flour
2 c. whole wheat flour
1/3 c. brown sugar
4 t. yeast

1 lb bulk sausage (just a regular flavor breakfast sausage is great)
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 head green cabbage, shredded
1/2 t. black pepper (optional)

First, make the dough. Add everything in order listed to either a bread maker (one that can handle a 2-lb loaf and has a dough setting) or a stand mixer with a dough hook. Turn on the mixer (or start the bread maker on the dough setting) and let it run for 10 minutes. If you don't have either, dump everything except the flours in a large mixing bowl and beat together with a spoon. Add the flour and mix until it forms a soft dough. Turn it out on a floured surface and knead it for a good 10-15 minutes, until it is smooth and very elastic.

Set the dough aside and loosely cover it with a damp towel. Let it rise for about 2 hours, until it is very poufy and at least double in size.

Punch the dough down and set it aside while you make the filling.

Brown the sausage and onions in a large frying pan until the sausage is almost done and the onion is soft. Add the cabbage and cook for another 3-5 minutes, just until the cabbage wilts. Stir in the black pepper if you want it a little spicier. Remove from the heat and let it cool while you roll out the dough.

Roll out the dough into a large rectangle. It should only be about 1/4 inch thick. Take your time rolling it out. It will be stretchy but you don't want to tear holes in it. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into 16 larger squares or 24 smaller squares.

Grease two large baking pans (if you went with larger squares) or two muffin tins (the larger ones that make a dozen muffins each, if you went with the smaller squares).

Put a scoop of filling on a square (1/3 c. for larger squares, 1/4 c. or less for the smaller squares). Pinch opposite corners together, then pinch the side seams to seal the filling inside. Place the roll seam side down on the baking sheet/in a muffin cup. Repeat until you run out of squares. If the filling oozes out a lot, try using a little less filling per roll.

Once you have them all filled and rolled, set them aside for 15 minutes while you pre-heat the oven to 375°F. Bake the rolls for 25 minutes (large)/ 20 minutes (muffin size).

Serve warm with plenty of mustard and pickles.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Thoughts on Trying New Things and Synergy

I asked my FB friends a question the other day - What food have you wanted to cook but haven't yet? I got a whole lot of answers. I was mostly looking for ideas for recipes to try. (If YOU have a recipe you want me to try and post on my Thursday Recipes, just add it to the comments.)

One of the suggestions was Scotch Eggs. I've never tried them before so I did some research and found some recipes. They're hard-boiled eggs wrapped in sausage, rolled in bread crumbs, and baked until the sausage is cooked. A lot of my friends love them, according to their comments. For me, they were just kind of meh.

I adore sausage, especially the bulk breakfast sausage. Biscuits and sausage gravy are one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. Plain sausage patties fried until they turn a lovely dark golden color? Yum! Sausage in scrambled eggs? Bring them on! So when I tried out Scotch Eggs, I was ready to love them. But I didn't. I would have been just as happy, or even happier, with a hard-boiled egg, or even a fried one, and a sausage patty. It would have been faster, too. Scotch Eggs, for me, were just sausage and a hard-boiled egg. Maybe I'm missing something there, but it was too much work for the flavor.

Which brings me to my second thought on synergy. Synergy is when something becomes more than the sum of its parts. Like sausage gravy. It's a basic white sauce with sautéed onions and sausage added. But it's more than just white sauce with stuff in it. It becomes a whole new dimension of sausage flavor and goodness. Add in the biscuits and it's heaven on a plate. Also a heart attack, but we won't go there right now.

Wrapping sausage around a hard-boiled egg didn't become some new magical thing. It was just sausage and an egg. There was no synergy.

Same thing with a lot of movies I've tried to watch lately. They had all the elements of a great story - good actors, exciting premise, good story, etc - but somehow it just never came together into something bigger. The magic didn't happen. It's not something that can be forced, but it can be fostered.

When I write, I'm hoping the synergy happens, that the story becomes more than a series of connected scenes, that the characters become real people in my head and hopefully the reader's head. It takes a certain chemistry between my words on the page and the reader's imagination before it can happen. Since I can't control my readers' minds, I'll just keep putting words on paper the best I can. Some days the magic happens, some days it doesn't.

I've got several projects going right now. I'm aiming for a late spring release for "Blue Mage 1: Shadow Nothings" and I'm working on another short story collection. I'm also working on several other novels and projects that aren't ready to be announced yet. I'm also having fun making jewelry and playing with my yarn collection. I'm looking at opening an Etsy shop for those later this summer. So stay tuned for new releases coming up. My long break, wherein I wrote way too many academic papers, is over. I'm back!

Hopefully, with synergy!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Fresh Rolls

Not to be confused with rolls fresh from the oven, these are cold appetizers served in Thai restaurants. They are similar to egg rolls, except instead of being fried, they are served uncooked. The filling is mostly shredded salad with a bit of cold cooked meat. Feel free to mix these up by adding your favorites. I've given a few options but there are no rules, except make what you enjoy eating.

The wrappers on these are rice wrappers, so if you're GF, these are perfect. I enjoy them because I like to eat with my fingers and salad is usually not finger food. They also taste good. Look for the rice wrappers in the Asian section of your local grocery store, or at your local Asian market if you're lucky enough to have one nearby. They are sometimes labeled "Vietnamese Spring Roll Wrappers." They are round flat things that look like a cross between stiff plastic and wimpy manhole covers.

Serve these with some warm Peanut Sauce for dipping.

Fresh Rolls

12 rice wrappers
Cold water for soaking
4 c. shredded lettuce (I prefer red leaf or romaine for this)
1 c. cooked rice OR 1 c. cooked thin rice noodles
1 c. cooked crab or krab or cooked shrimp (peeled and de-tailed)
1/2 c. shredded carrots
1/4 c. green onion, chopped
Fresh Thai basil leaves, optional

Put cold water in a shallow dish, like a plate with a high side or a large pie pan. You don't need it deep but you do want it big enough to cover a whole rice wrapper at one time.

Put one rice wrapper into the water, get one side completely wet, then carefully flip it over. Let it soak for about a minute until it starts to soften. Carefully remove it from the water. It is delicate and will tear easily, but you can always just patch up the holes. Lay the wrapper on the counter or a plate.

Place 1/3 c. lettuce on the wrapper in a log about halfway down. Add a couple tablespoons of rice/rice noodles next to the lettuce. Add in a few chunks of crab. Add a pinch or two of carrots and green onions along the side. Add a few fresh basil leaves if desired.

Now carefully fold up the bottom 1/4 over the fillings. Kind of squoosh the filling tightly together. Fold the sides over to make an envelope. Roll it up into a log shape. This is very similar to making a burrito if you've ever folded one of those together.

Place the finished spring roll on a plate and set aside. Repeat with the rest of the wrappers and fillings. Keep them in a single layer on the plate or use multiple plates if needed. The rice wrappers will stick to each other. Refrigerate for an hour or two or serve immediately with plenty of peanut sauce.

If you want to reserve them for later that day or the next day, they really don't keep longer than that, wrap each individual roll in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

This video shows how to roll them up:

Monday, January 23, 2017

Book Review - The Dragonbone Chair

Tad Williams - Sorrow, Memory, and Thorn trilogy
Book 1 - The Dragonbone Chair

I'm reading through my old favorite books again. This is my third time through the trilogy and I'm loving it just as much.

The Dragonbone Chair starts the story with young Simon, a servant in the king's castle, the Hayholt. Life for Simon is pretty much cleaning and avoiding cleaning and acting like a typical teenage male in most ways. Until old King Prester John dies and his son takes the throne and bad magic starts creeping in and old legends start to come to life.

Despite being over 700 pages long, the book doesn't drag. There is plenty of action and adventure. Tad Williams writes flowing prose, so even the descriptive passages draw you in. He takes his time and lets the story evolve.

If you are a fan of Tolkein's Lord of the Rings or Terry Brook's Sword of Shannara, this trilogy is right along the same track. It's high fantasy with a rich imaginative world, plenty of characters, swords and magic, elves and trolls, good and evil.

My only complaint is that a lot of the names are real tongue twisters.

My rating - a solid 5 stars.
PG mostly for violence

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Frog Eye Salad, Dairy-free and Gluten-free

This is one of those classic recipes. It's called a salad but it's more of a pudding. The traditional recipe calls for canned fruit, whipped topping, and a tiny pasta called acini de pepe. There are lots of recipes out there for it. It's been a staple potluck dish since the 1960s or 1970s. I like it for dessert. It's sweet, but not too much. Plus it's fun to serve frog eyes.

My daughter, the one with food allergies, adores tapioca pudding for some reason. I couldn't stand the stuff when I was her age. So I had an epiphany today. I could combine the tapioca pudding with the frog eye salad and make something she could enjoy along with the rest of us.

This recipe is similar but uses just fruit juice.

Frog Eye Salad, DF GF version

1/3 c. pearl tapioca (tiny little white balls, look for it in the baking section of the grocery store)
1/3 c. sugar
3 c. almond or coconut milk (the drinking kind in a carton)
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1/8 t. salt
1 18-oz can pineapple tidbits in pineapple juice
1 16-oz can fruit cocktail in water or juice
1 8-oz can mandarin oranges
whipped topping (optional)

Mix tapioca, sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt in a 2-quart saucepan. Let sit for 30 minutes. This helps plump up the tapioca so it cooks more evenly and has a smoother texture.

Cook and stir over medium heat until the mixture thickens and boils. Remove from heat and let cool, stirring occasionally. (You just made tapioca pudding if you want to stop here and refrigerate it.)

Open the cans of fruit. Drain. (Save the juice and use it instead of milk in the tapioca pudding half of this recipe. It makes a nice fruity pudding.)

Stir the fruit into the tapioca pudding. Stir in whipped topping if you want a lighter texture, but it's totally optional. Serve immediately or refrigerate and serve later.

Makes about 6-8 servings.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Book Reviews - Andre Norton Classics

I've been re-reading my collection of Andre Norton sci-fi (this link takes you to a full bibliography). If you have never read Andre Norton's books, you are missing out. She wrote classic science fiction, time travel, fantasy, cross-worlds stories, adventures, historical fiction, YA, and pretty much everything in between. I discovered her books when I was in sixth grade and I've been a huge fan ever since. Here's my take on the two I read most recently.

Quag Keep, 1978
This was not one of Andre Norton's better stories. It's a novel based on one session of Dungeons and Dragons back in 1976, according to the foreword Norton wrote for the book. The whole story felt contrived and forced to me. It also wasn't one of her books that sucked me in and kept me up until 3 am turning just one more page. So unless you are a big D and D historian, this one is probably one to skip. If you are into D and D history, this blog makes some interesting points about the game and the book.

My rating - 3 stars mostly for bleh plot and characters. It was okay, but nothing wonderful.

The Sioux Spaceman, 1960
Again, not one of Norton's better stories but still entertaining. In this book, Earth has had quite a few nuclear wars that have wiped out almost all white people. The main character for this book is a Native American from the Sioux tribe. This flavors a lot of the book. I found it to be the most intriguing aspect of the story, which is basically humans reach the stars only to find an alien race is more powerful and has enslaved most of the other aliens they've encountered. Our intrepid Sioux warrior makes contact with the natives and concocts a plan to overthrow their alien masters. It was a fun diversion but the tropes which would have been fresh back when this was written are pretty much overdone these days and pretty stale. Norton did have some interesting twists on the idea, though. This one is worth a read if you can find it.

My rating - four stars.

Uncharted Stars, 1969
This is a sequel to The Zero Stone and, in my opinion, it's better than the first book. Murdoc Jern, a pretty useless person with a load of personal baggage, inherits a weird gem in the first book, one that a lot of people are willing to kill for. Strange things happen, and Murdoc ends up stranded in space with a mutant alien named Eet. Things happen and they end up rescued and things mostly sorted out by the end of book one. Book two, Uncharted Stars, opens with Murdoc and Eet on a quest to find the source of the Zero Stones, the weird gem from book one.

The story takes some interesting twists and turns and has plenty of action and adventure. I would have enjoyed it more except the character of Eet really gets under my skin. He's an overbearing arrogant bossy little animal that I really wanted to strangle more than once, but Murdoc dutifully does whatever he's ordered to do. In many ways, Murdoc is the stupid teenager who can't think for himself and when he tries, he screws things up horribly. Eet treats Murdoc as a servant, a lesser being. Eet also has his own agenda that he won't share.

I can't give this one a complete thumbs up mostly because the characters are mainly unlikeable and the relationship dynamics are really messed up. It does hold together and makes sense within the society Norton has created for these books, though. The books are worth reading at least once mostly because the range of planets and ideas hidden within the mediocre storyline are incredible.

My rating - four stars.

I have a lot more Norton to read still. She was very prolific. Many of her books hold up well, despite being written forty or fifty years ago. It also gives me hope to see she wrote some brilliant stories in a huge array of imaginative settings, but she also cranked out some plodding stinkers, too.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches

I had leftover roast the other day, mostly because I'm still cooking for a horde but we have diminished to only half a horde in the house. Plus I found beef roasts on sale for a great price and bought a five-pounder. That was a lot of meat. It was very tasty as a roast, and then again as these sandwiches. I didn't season the roast with a lot of extras when I roasted it, so it worked well for this recipe.

Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches

1-2 lbs leftover beef roast
1 small yellow onion
1 small red onion
2 T. butter
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 green bell pepper
Cream cheese
Shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Horseradish spread
Rolls, whatever kind you want (I used a dark brown wheat one and it was very tasty!)

Slice the beef very thinly. This doesn't work unless the roast is nice and cold. Make sure you are slicing across the grain. If you look closely at the meat, you can see long fibers. Slice across those, not along those. I found it easiest to cut the roast into smaller chunks first, then find the grain and slice it really thinly perpendicular to the fibers.

The roast needs to be warmed up. I used my trusty crockpot, but you could also do this in the oven. Put the slices in your vessel of choice and add 1/3 c. leftover pan drippings or hot water. Cover and cook 1-2 hours on low in the crockpot or 15-20 minutes in a 350° oven.

Meanwhile, slice the onions into thin slivers. Sauté in the butter over medium heat until very soft and tender. (I used my crockpot for this, too. I got a really nice three crockpot unit for Christmas that works wonders for us. They are on the small side but that's a good thing these days. I put the meat in one, the onions and butter in another, and a side dish in the third. Turned them all to low for 2 hours, and dinner was pretty much done.)

Wash the peppers, remove the seeds, and slice them into thin slices. I like the peppers raw and crunchy, but if you like them cooked, go ahead and sauté them with the onions.

To assemble a sandwich, slice the roll in half, then spread with cream cheese and sprinkle a couple tablespoons of shredded cheese on top. Add horseradish, mustard, pickles, etc, if you want. Then layer on the hot sliced meat, onions, and peppers. Let it sit for a just a minute so the meat can melt the cheese, then enjoy.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Testing Out

I spend a lot of time making stuff, mostly with a crochet hook and yarn. It's something I can do when I'm tired and can't think straight, which is more often than I'd like due to health issues. I can't write at those times, or I would focus on that. So I do other things that I enjoy. But my house overfloweth with yarn doohickies. I don't need anymore. My kids and grandkids receive plenty of yarn objects. I still have loads of things around.

So I'm toying with ways to sell them. As long as I make enough to keep feeding my yarn habit, I'll be happy.

My latest foray is into  People post things they are willing to do for you, starting at $5. I've got a couple of things up there. I'd appreciate it if you would check them out, see if it's something you'd enjoy, and if so, please order something. If not, no worries. I'm mostly testing the waters to see how well the site works for me.

Here are the gigs I've got going:
Itty Bitty Kitties

Rose Petal Sachets

Check them out! If you note in your buyer's instructions that you read about the gig here, I'll throw in something extra for you if you order.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Sweet and Sour Chicken

My daughter loves Chinese food, and most of it is fine for her. But the breaded dishes aren't and those are what we love the most. So when I ran across this recipe, I had to adapt it to my cooking style and tastes and try it out. It was delicious. It takes a bit of work, but the end result is good.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

1/2 c. sliced onion
1/2 c. sliced red bell pepper
1/2 c. sliced green bell pepper
2 c. sliced carrots
1 c. pineapple chunks
1/4 c. oil
2 lbs boneless skinless chicken, cut into bite-size chunks
1/3 c. garbanzo bean flour
1/3 c. cornstarch
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1 egg, beaten
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. ketchup
3/4 c. red wine vinegar or rice wine vinegar
1 T. soy sauce
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. ginger

Grease a 9x13 baking pan. Spread onion, peppers, carrots, and pineapple in the bottom. Set aside. Heat oven to 350° F.

Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.

Put chicken, garbanzo bean flour, cornstarch, salt, and pepper in a large plastic bag. A gallon-size one works great. Shake well until the chicken is evenly coated. Pour in the egg. Shake it around until the egg is evenly distributed. I found this works best with partially frozen chicken.

Drop about 1/3 to 1/2 the chicken into the frying pan. Use tongs to separate the pieces. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until it starts to brown. Flip the pieces over and cook another 3-4 minutes. You don't need it cooked all the way through, just browned and the coating set. Move the chicken to the baking dish when it is browned. Repeat with the rest of the chicken.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the sugar, ketchup, vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger. Stir well. Pour over the chicken and vegetable mixture.

Bake uncovered at 350°F for 30 minutes. Serve over hot rice. Garnish with chopped green onions if you want.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Happy New Year!

It's that time of year where most people spend some time reflecting on the past and setting goals for the future. Most of these resolutions die well before January does, though. I have a terrible track record for following through on my goals, so this year I'm focusing on things that I can accomplish, that I can follow through.

1 - Instead of losing weight, I'm going to focus on eating healthier. Less sugar, less refined carbs, more whole grains. More fruits and vegetables. Smaller portions. And I'm going to work on curbing that horrible snack monster that comes out every day around 3 pm.

2 - I will exercise, even if it's only fifteen minutes a day of stretching. No matter how horrid I feel, I will do at least that much.

3 - I'm going to be kinder and more patient, especially with my own family. I'll stop and think before I speak.

4 - I will do something creative every day. Writing is always good but sometimes it just takes too much energy, so on those days, I'll doodle something or cook something new or take a photo or play with yarn. As long as it's something that gets the creativity moving, however sluggishly, it's good.

I think that's a good list for me. What are you goals? What habits are you working on establishing or breaking?