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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thursday Recipe - Ninja Turtle Soup and Roasted Garlic

Looking at all the snow outside and hearing the forecast for New Year's Eve (Brrr!), I think soup is in order. This one is easy, fast, and you can either simmer it on the stove or toss it into the crockpot. And it's healthy, too. Oh, did I forget to mention it's delicious? This is one my kids, even the little ones, request. Except for one daughter, but she hates split peas.

The name came about years ago. Split pea soup is very economical. With less than $5 of ingredients, you can make a giant pot that will feed a large family. We're talking ten people at my house. It's also great for using up those bits that aren't quite enough for other recipes. Or for that ham bone from the Christmas ham. You saved it, didn't you? This recipe is almost worth buying another ham, cooking it, and saving the bone so you can make this soup. Ham is on sale this time of year. Stores are clearing out all that Christmas fluffery, including the hams. So go buy a bone-in ham roast. This soup is that good.

Oh, wait, I was talking about the name. My oldest was about four. I served the soup and she wouldn't eat it because it was green. So I told her it was made from ninja turtles. That did the trick. She and her siblings requested ninja turtle soup. It gives you super powers. Really.

Ninja Turtle Soup

1 12 oz bag dried green split peas
1 small onion, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 ham bone, plus any ham that is still on the bone
1 t. dried oregano
2 bay leaves
1/2 t. ground black pepper

Put everything in a large pot. Add about 8 c. water, just enough to cover vegetables and most of the bone. Cover and simmer for about 1 hour. Add more water if it gets too thick. Stir occasionally so it doesn't burn on the bottom. After 1 hour, remove ham bone. Let cool for a few minutes. Remove meat and discard bone. Shred meat and add back into the soup. Cook for another 10 - 20 minutes, until vegetables are very soft and peas turn to mush. Stir, add salt if needed, and serve with croutons, crackers, toast, corn chips, or whatever you like.

Crock Pot version: Put everything in a large (4-5 quart) crockpot. Cook on high about 4 hours, low about 8 hours. Then remove the ham bone. After you add the meat back in, cover and cook at least 1 hour.


Substitute 1 lb bulk sausage for the ham. Brown, drain off grease, and add to soup.
Substitute 1 lb ground turkey for the ham. Add several strips of bacon, cooked and diced, for flavor if desired

Add whatever vegetables you have that need used:
That single raw potato - chop small and add
Old celery - slice thin and add
Green onions - substitute for the other onion, or use as a garnish
Cabbage - shred 1-2 c. cabbage. Stir in the last 15 minutes of cooking time
Bell peppers - chop and add the last 15 minutes of cooking time
Canned vegetables - stir in the last 15 minutes of cooking time - corn, green beans, etc.
Parsnips or jicama or other starchy vegetables - peel if needed, chop and add
Mushrooms - wash and slice 8 oz mushrooms, any variety
Garlic - smash a couple cloves and add with the onions, or add some roasted garlic

Feeling exotic? Try some other spices in the soup:
Mediterranean - add 1/2 t. each thyme, basil, rosemary
Indian - add 2 t. curry powder
Hot and spicy - add 1/2 t. cumin, 1/2 t. chili powder, and cayenne pepper to taste

And for a bonus recipe -

Roasted Garlic

Several heads of fresh garlic
Vegetable Oil

Slice tops from garlic heads, just until bulbs show. Remove excess paper from heads if desired. Place garlic heads, cut side up, in foil lined baking dish. Crimp foil to keep heads upright if needed. Drizzle oil over heads, about 1/2 t. per head. Bake at 350° F for 1 - 2 hours until heads are browned and bulbs are soft. Let cool for at least one hour. Remove bulbs from heads, squeezing usually works but it's messy. Use disposable gloves if you don't want your hands to smell like garlic for a week. Pack bulbs into clean glass jar. Add enough oil to cover. Screw lid on tightly and refrigerate for up to six months.

Use roasted garlic for making garlic bread, adding to soups or casseroles, mashing into potatoes, or anywhere else you like garlic. Roasting brings out the natural sweetness of garlic and cuts the bitterness.

To make garlic butter - soften 1/2 c. real butter. Add 1/4 c. roasted garlic cloves (don't worry about adding the oil from the jar, it tastes good, too) and 1 t. salt. Mash with a fork until it is all squished together into a smooth paste. You can add 1 t. dried parsley for color if you want. Spread on French bread, toast under a broiler (watch it carefully, it burns very fast), and enjoy.

How about having garlic toast with Ninja Turtle Soup? Mmmm, now I'm hungry.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How much would you pay?

I was really bored this weekend. I made this:

Yes, that is Cthulu. Yes, he is crocheted. And yes, he is covering a roll of toilet paper on the back of a toilet. The perfect bathroom accessory for just about anyone.

My question is, How much would YOU pay for one of these beauties? If I have enough interest, I'll make more and find a way to sell them to you.

Please leave your price quote in the comments section. One random commenter will win something, maybe even this lovely bathroom accessory if I have enough entries.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Reviews - 4 fun titles to try

I'm catching up on my reading, maybe. I just received a whole pile of new books. I set the goal of reviewing every book I finished this year, though, so here are the latest ones. Just for the legal whatever thingie, I don't make any money off these reviews. I get an occasional free copy of a book, but that's as far as it goes.

Secret Sisters by Tristi Pinkston

Ever wonder what the Relief Society presidency in a small town gets up to? This book explains it. Sort of. It's a fun, light-hearted mystery with no gore, swearing, or bloody corpses. Ida Mae is only trying to help a family in need. Let the hijinks ensue. Each new twist leads to even more outrageous behavior. I enjoyed the book. It's a sweet read with some very silly moments and engaging characters. If you're looking for a fun escape and don't mind the LDS references (no preaching in this book), Secret Sisters is a great choice.

Bride of Tranquility by Tracy S. Morris

Jake Coletrane, sheriff of the small town of Tranquility, just wants his wedding at the newly refurbished hotel to come off without a hitch. But with a UFO believers' convention the same weekend and all sorts of haunted encounters at the hotel, it doesn't seem like that is going to happen. One murder leads to another, and all of them are blamed on ghosts.

This book is like a mashup of Psych, Eureka, Ghost Whisperer, and Inspector Closeau. Wacky, weird, and very entertaining. Another great escape.

Dimensional Shift by Frances Pauli

I never knew hotel housekeeping could be so entertaining and dangerous. Chloe is happy to work at a tiny motel in a backwater resort town, even though it means tight budgeting and no work during the winter. She's ditched her life as a corporate stooge in the big city in exchange for peace, quiet, and the scent of pines. But her wacky neighbor, who believes in UFOs and alien abductions, may be more correct than anyone suspects. A stranger in a very nice designer suit offers Chloe a job at a hotel she can't resist, an interdimensional travel stop between worlds.

That's not the end of it, though. Chloe gets caught in the middle of a power bid bigger than anything she ever suspected. But who's telling the truth? And which side is right?

Dimensional Shift is another great book with plenty of quirky characters and interesting ideas. I'm seeing a trend here in my reading.

Child of Balance by Alice Gaines

Alice usually writes erotic romance, a genre I don't read, so when I won a book from her in a blog contest (those giveaways are addictive, go check out writer's blog and win some great books! I'll have to host a giveaway sometime on here, any suggestions?), she kindly offered to send me a copy of her fantasy book that was recently released. Child of Balance reads like a romance that doesn't know it's a romance. The story drew me in, capturing me in the strange world that was feudal/industrial Britain but wasn't. Arine works well as a sympathetic and strong heroine who just wants freedom and peace. The magic is mysterious, the setting intriguing, the characters are engaging. It's another great read.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Bonus Recipes! Merry Christmas

My family had their annual Christmas potluck party last night. We did soup and salad. These two soups I made were a big hit. Here are the recipes, as best I can remember. I'm a dump and stir cook, dump it in and stir it until it looks right, so trying to remember what I put in gets to be a challenge. My husband once accused me of never being able to make the same dish twice, mostly because I couldn't remember how I changed the recipe. This should be pretty close. You may need to tweak the spices for your own personal taste.

Chicken Mushroom & Leek Soup

2 or 3 leeeks
2 T. butter
2 c. carrots, peeled & sliced
2 chicken breasts
1 t. oil
10 - 12 medium crimini mushrooms
1 t. curry powder
1/2 t. turmeric
2 t. lemon pepper seasoning
1/2 t. paprika
1/8 t. cayenne pepper powder

Trim roots and tops of stems from leeks, discard. Slice leeks in half lengthwise. Soak in large tub or sink of cold water for 10 - 15 minutes, rinse very well to remove all sand and dirt. Drain and slice crosswise into thin slices. Melt butter in large saucepan, add leeks, cover and cook for 10 - 15 minutes until leeks are tender. Add carrots and 4 - 6 c. water, enough to cover. Leave on low heat. Heat oil in frying pan over medium high heat, add chicken breasts. Cook until lightly browned and meat is mostly done. Cube chicken into bite size pieces, add to soup mixture. Wash mushrooms, slice, and add to soup. Add all spices and enough water to cover vegetables. Cover and cook on low 1 - 2 hours. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Kale Soup

1/2 c. diced onion
3 - 4 slices thick-cut bacon
1 lb. ground turkey
4 - 5 medium potatoes, cubed, about 6 c.
4 - 5 medium carrots, peeled and sliced, about 3 c.
1 t. ground sage
1 t. rosemary leaves
1 t. thyme leaves
1 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. black pepper
2 t. salt
1 bunch kale

Cook bacon in frying pan until well-done (thick cut bacon won't always crisp, which is fine for this recipe). Remove and set on paper towels to drain. Add onion to bacon fat, cook until tender, about five minutes. Remove onion and place in large stock pot. Cook turkey in remaining bacon fat until meat is done, crumbling it into small pieces. Add turkey to pot with onion. Slice bacon into small bits, add to mixture. Add potatoes, carrots, and seasonings to pot. Add enough water to barely cover vegetables. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, cover and cook for 1 - 2 hours, until potatoes and carrots are soft. Wash kale and chop crosswise into strips. Add to soup, cover and cook for 5 more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thursday Recipe - Jello Cookies

Or whatever you call them. These fun cookies use flavored gelatin, so go wild. Make them any flavor/color you want. I've run across several different versions of these, but this one has worked best for me. I made strawberry and lime for this Christmas picture. Ignore the sorry tree, it's my son's personal one he got from a Cub Scout leader years ago. It's a tradition for us to have hokey/dorky Christmas decorations. You should see the real tree. Wait, no you shouldn't. I'd be embarrassed.

Jello Cookies

3/4 c. butter, softened
1/3 c. shortening
1 c. sugar
1 3 oz. pkg. flavored gelatin
1 t. vanilla
1 egg
1 t. baking powder
3 to 3.5 c. flour

Heat oven to 400°. Cream butter, shortening, sugar, and gelatin until well blended and fluffy. Add vanilla, egg, and baking powder. Beat well. Stir in flour. If the dough is really sticky, add that extra half cup. It should be a soft dough, but not a really sticky one. If you're concerned, go ahead and bake one cookie. If it spreads too much, then add the extra flour. Scoop by Tablespoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 400° (you preheated the oven, right?) for 8 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let the cookies set up for 3-5 minutes before removing from the cookie sheet.

Hint: Don't mix gelatin flavors in the same batch. Do separate batches.

I pulled out about 1/3 c. of the mix before I added flour and used 2/3 c. rice flour to make cookies for my wheat-allergic daughter. It worked quite well. That's why I'm not quite sure how much real flour it takes. So if you're gluten-intolerant, you can substitute rice flour (a little gritty but not bad) or your favorite flour blend.

Optional stuff to make them fancy: Dip the tops of the cookies into colored sugar, extra jello, or colored sprinkles (the ball kind) before baking. Talk about festive!

Enjoy the cookies. I think I'm going to find some grape and berry blue jello to try next...

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Night Before Christmas

*WARNING* If you're easily offended by people making fun of traditions, don't read this post. This is the version of the Night Before Christmas that had my kids snorting juice out their noses at the dinner table.

Lemme see, I think it was the night afore Christmas. The old wife and I had got all the kids tucked into the bed and we was fixing to do some Christmas celebratin', if you catch my drift, ceptin she started snoring to beat all. So I jest rolled over and shut my eyes.

Somethin landed on the roof with a sound louder than thunder. I grabbed up old Bessy and headed for the front porch. The hounds were a howlin under the porch. I stamped a few times, til the porch threatened to collapse and send me down with the hounds. "What in tarnation? Shet up, Old Blue!"

I didn't see nothin, so I stepped on down. There waren't no snow, cause it don't never snow here. It gets colder than all get out, but it don't never snow. Rain? Buckets of it, but not that night. The moon shone like a giant lightnin bug up in the sky. I turned to get a gander at my roof.

Some idjit parked a sleigh up there! One pulled by a bunch of deer. Stupidest thing I ever did lay eyes on. Them deer just looked at me, like they wuz where they belonged. Deer don't belong on no roof. I raised old Bessy and blasted the front three. They slid off the roof, draggin the rest with 'em. All eight deer landed in a pile, tangled up in the reins. I unloaded another couple buckshot into the mass until it quit twitchin. The sled landed with a big ole crackup. Make good kindlin, I suppose.

I pulled out my huntin knife and set to work on them deer. Bounty like that don't come along too often. I strung 'em up in the shed, then went back for the sleigh.

That's when I heard somebody banging around inside my house. "Fern?" I called, hoping it was just the wife changing her mind. She didn't answer. I snuck up on the door, Old Blue and the other hounds followin at my heels. I eased open the door, careful of the squeaky hinge.

A fat man in a red fur suit was playing in my underwear, hung to dry over the old stove. He was shoving stuff inside, all the while chucklin and a laughin fit to beat all.

"Hey! You! Stop messing with my clothes!" I raised old Bessy.

The fat man stopped. He turned around. "Have you been a good boy, then?"

I didn't want no perv in my house. I clobbered him with the butt end of old Bessy. He dropped like a rock. I dragged his sorry butt outside, rolling him off into the ravine. I had deer to skin.

I finally made it back inside afore the sun rose. Fern blinked her eyes.

"What did Santa bring?" she asked.

I stopped dead in my tracks. Well, too late now. "Lots of venison, sweetheart. Merry Christmas."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thursday Recipe - Spinach Salad

Guess what? It's National Eat Bacon Week! So in honor of that new holiday—

What do you mean it isn't a real holiday? It should be. Okay, I admit I just made it up. Bacon is one of the four basic food groups at my house. The others are chocolate, cold cereal, and granola bars.

Bacon can be healthy, if you add in enough other vegetables. Here's one of my kids' favorites with bacon.

Spinach Salad

1/2 c. red onion, sliced very thin
2 T. white vinegar

6 slices bacon
6 c. fresh spinach
1/2 c. dried cranberries
1 small can mandarin oranges, drained
1/2 c. roasted salted pecans, chopped
Poppy Seed Dressing (see below)

Put onion and vinegar in small bowl, set aside (if the onion is really mild you can skip this step). Cook bacon until crisp. Cool and crumble into small pieces. Arrange spinach on a large platter. Drain vinegar from onion. Top with cranberries, oranges, and onion. Serve with dressing.

Poppy Seed Dressing

3 limes
1 T. vinegar
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 t. ground black pepper
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. dry mustard
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 T. poppy seeds

Grate the zest from the limes, you need about 2 t., then juice the limes. Measure 2 T. lime juice into a small mixing bowl. Add the zest, sugar, pepper, salt, and mustard. Beat with a mixer until the sugar is dissolved. Slowly add the oil, beating well after each addition. Dressing should thicken when you're adding the oil. Stir in poppy seeds. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. If it separates, just stir before serving.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Book Review - The Sapphire Flute by Karen E. Hoover

The Sapphire Flute is the story of two young women who find their destiny the hard way. It's magic and save-the-world high fantasy with plenty of evil to go around. For Ember, it's a search for her father and her own magical gifts. For Kayla, it starts with guardianship of the magical Sapphire Flute. She itches to play the beautiful instrument but has promised not to. Ember's insistence on attending the mage trials leads to her kidnapping by agents of C'Tan, her aunt who wants the child dead. Kayla can't resist just blowing into the flute, enough to activate its magic and bring her to the attention of C'Tan herself, who wants the flute's magic for her own.

I enjoyed the book. I've read a lot of high fantasy. Though the world is not that different from many fantasies, Karen's twist on the quest story was unique. Her young women are women first. Many fantasies feature male protagonists and questers. Women usually play a secondary role. If they join the quest, they are hardened warriors with little femininity. Karen's girls aren't that way. Kayla is as frilly and sweet as they come. Ember is more of a tomboy, but still very much female. C'Tan, the evil witch of the story, is very feminine, too. The change was refreshing, although it made for some interesting dilemmas. Girls and women aren't the ones who long for quests, not the same way boys do. Karen manages to pull very believable motivations from her characters.

My only complaint is that the characters are supposed to be 16 and 17. They read more like 11 and 13, but it still works.

If you have a girl age 10+ who likes fantasy, magic, and save-the-world quests, this one is a winner. I give The Sapphire Flute a solid 4 stars. I'm also looking forward to the next book in the series, which says a lot for the story.

Thanks for sharing, Karen! And for those who care, I met Karen at a book signing and we traded books.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Holiday Cheer at a big Holiday book giveaway!

Want to win books? Check out the contest organized by my friend Darcia Helle. Lots and lots of free books and easy to enter. Come support the indie authors who donated their books to her giveaway. You can find anything to suit your tastes on the list.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thursday Recipe - Candy Cane Cookies

Here's my December cheer moment. These cookies are not those time-consuming, delectable butter cookie creations shaped like candy canes. These are my answer to all those candy canes lying around your house that no one will eat. It is also a great recipe for relieving stress and anger. And it tastes really good when you're done. Because they are chocolate chip cookies, nobody cares if they are lumpy and misshapen. So, don't stress. Not everything has to look perfect and tidy this month. You should see the way I'm wrapping presents this year. I'm letting the 7yo do it for me. I just need a lot more tape than normal...

Candy Cane Cookies

12-20 candy canes, any size but please don't mix the peppermint with the fruit. That's just plain nasty. Use one or the other.
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. shortening
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. white sugar
3 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
3 c. flour
1 c. chocolate chips, milk preferred this time

Unwrap all the candy canes and stuff them into a plastic bag. Don't use a ziploc or anything that seals tightly. Clean bread bags are great. Triple bag the bag with candy canes in it. Twist the top loosely to keep them from exploding out the top. Take a rolling pin and beat them into smithereens. Work out all that built-up aggression. You want nothing bigger than a chocolate chip when you're through. Set the candy cane remnants aside.

Heat oven to 375° F. Cream butter, shortening, and sugars together. Add eggs, soda, salt, and vanilla. Beat until smooth and creamy. Stir in flour, chocolate chips, and candy cane bits. Scoop dough by tablespoonfuls onto well greased cookie sheet. Bake 8 - 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Let cool 1 - 2 minutes, then move to a cooling rack. Don't let them cool on the pan or you'll be sorry. Melted candy canes are not only VERY HOT but sticky and messy. They stick to cookie sheets when they set back up. Let the cookies cool at least 10 minutes before you eat them. Did I mention the candy cane bits will melt and get VERY HOT?

Have a great holiday. I'll have to post other traditional Christmas recipes as I remember them or my kids ask for them.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday - Nestor Maronski, noted book critic, has disappeared!

Nestor Maronski has been abducted. While it doesn't surprise those of us familiar with his scathing reviews of independent authors or those who have met him personally, it has come as a shock to others who have never met the man.

I had an interview scheduled with writer Richard Jameson, but after his involvement with Nestor Maronski surfaced, I worried that he might back out. Instead, he answered more questions and even allowed me to interview his wife, Lily.

Richard Jameson, indie author of the book The Red Barn, joins us today on my blog.
Tell me, Richard, what prompted you to write your book?

‘The Red Barn’ means so much to me.  I was inspired to write it when my friend Dar Templeton told me he’d written a book.  He had a bit of success with it when he self-published, and it was looking as if he would get a publishing deal.  I’d always loved creative writing but had never seriously considered that I could write a novel.  Then one day, my wife was busy with our new-born daughter, and I was alone in my room.  I started to get the basic idea for a story.  I started writing and never looked back.

Tell us a bit about it.

It’s semi-autobiographical.  I based the main characters on myself and my wife.  A young couple moving to a new town when they got married.  They come across a derelict barn, not far from their house, and they hear rumours that the barn is haunted by the ghost of a man who was murdered there.  No one would go near the barn for fear of seeing the ghost.  Another rumour is that once a year, on Halloween, the ghost returns to seek out a victim and kill them.  It’s not far from the truth.  Lily and I used to live in a small town, and there was an unused church at the end of our road which was said to be haunted.  Every few months we would hear wailing sounds coming from inside, and no one was brave enough to go inside.  Until one day, the police were investigating a crime and searched the church.  They found many dead bodies in there, all in various states of decomposition... some had been lying there for years.  It was frightening.  We moved out of that town after we married so I don’t know what happened to that church, although I have heard that it was demolished.

Why self-publishing?

I had heard that these days, because it’s so hard to get a publishing contract with a mainstream publisher, it’s best to self-publish and then once you have kept a record of your sales, and have built up a following you can approach agents and publishers... they are most interested in investing in books that will sell well.

I know this may hurt but, your book is a total flop. In fact, I can't find it anywhere. Does this have anything to do with the review written by the noted literary critic Nestor Maronski?

Definitely.  It’s all because of his review.  He is influential.  The Post has massive circulation, and Nestor Maronski is very rich and knows a lot of people.  He can make or break an author.  I was shocked when I heard that he was going to review my book.  I was trying to avoid that because he had reviewed my friend Dar’s book ‘Day of The Vampire’ and given him 1 star.  Dar became suicidal over it.  I knew what a jerk Maronski is, so I didn’t want him to get anywhere near my book.

So why did you let Maronski review your book? Was it just chance or did he go looking for it? Did someone give it to him for review?

I didn't send him my book.  I deliberately avoided sending it to The Post.  I sent it to a couple of newspapers hoping for reviews.  It turns out that one of the directors at The Post, Sal Waters, also works on another magazine, The Literary Month, where I sent ‘The Red Barn’.  Sal sent me an email saying that he’d sent the book to Nestor Maronski for review.  I was so angry, but there was nothing I could do about it.

Nestor disappeared recently. You were named as a person of interest. In fact, he disappeared right after reviewing your book. Can you comment?

All I know is that he disappeared.  I saw him the night before, because I had a book signing at The Book Nook which was next door to the bar where Maronski always did his reviews.  I knew he was going to be reviewing my book, so I went in to speak to him.  My wife suggested it.  She said if I got to know him, gave him a signed copy of my book, he’d be less likely to write such a scathing review.  It didn’t work.  He still wrote the worst review ever.  The bastard.

What about your wife and daughter? Did you think of them before getting involved?

Involved?  What do you mean?  Are you trying to implicate me?  No.  You’ve got it all wrong.  I don’t know where you get your information, but I know nothing about Maronski’s disappearance.  Nothing.

You were seen arguing with Nestor at a bar the night before his first attack.

Arguing?  No.  I was talking to him.  We didn’t argue.  Journalists like to add something to make a story more interesting.  There were witnesses there.  The barman will tell you that Nestor was arguing with him... something about not putting any cherries in his brandy.  I had a very polite conversation with Nestor.

Be honest now, his review of your book was scathing. Surely you were angry at his brutal evisceration of your book?

I was angry, yes.

Angry enough to kill Nestor Maronski?

No.  I could never kill someone.  Even Nestor.  I will say this though, he deserves to die, and whoever has killed him has done us all a favour.

Oh?  So you know he was killed?

No.  I didn’t mean that.  I don’t know what’s happened to him.  But I mean, if he is dead he deserves it.

Share the juicy gossip, please. My lips are sealed. This interview is only going on my blog, which is read by only a handful of indie authors and personal friends. Tell us what really happened that night.

You promise it won’t go any further?

I promise.

Okay, I wasn’t involved with the initial attempt to kill Nestor, but I know who was.  I’m not telling you that.  I did get involved later... briefly.  Let’s just say a group of friends of mine who all had grudges against Nestor wanted him dead.  We did talk about the possibility of killing him.  But I realised that it wasn’t worth going through with it.  I have a wife and 3 year old daughter to think of.  I bailed out.  I have no idea what happened next.

Thank you, Richard, such an honest interview. You've really peaked my interest.

We also have the rare privilege of interviewing Mrs. Lily Jameson, wife of author Richard Jameson. Welcome, Lily. Can you tell us what it's like being married to an aspiring author?

He’s always writing.  All the time.  It’s his life.  Sometimes I wonder if it means more to him than Lacy and me.  He’d risk his life to get revenge for a bad review... even if that meant Lacy having to grow up without a dad.

What do you mean by ‘risk his life’.  Are you saying he was involved in Nestor Maronski’s disappearance?

No... no... of course not.  I was speaking metaphorically.  You get used to speaking in metaphors when you’re married to a writer.

What was the metaphor exactly? 

Can we change the subject, please?  It’s hard dealing with all the controversy surrounding Maronski’s disappearance.  Ever since Rich was implicated... he had to go to the police station take part in an ID parade, you know.  It was so hard.  We feel like people are pointing fingers at us because Rich was the last person to see Nestor Maronski before he was taken into hospital.  You have to understand, Rich works hard, his writing means the world to him... when he finished writing ‘The Red Barn’ he said to me that it was the culmination of his life's work. Not just as a writer, but as a human being.  That did make me wonder whether the writing meant more to him than me and Lacy.  I mean, surely having a child would mean more to him than writing a book?  Go figure, these writers live in a different world.  Sometimes I wish he would show as much passion to me as he does to the books he writes.

That sounds like a painful life. How do you cope?

Don’t get me wrong, I love Rich, and I know he loves me and Lacy.  Yes, it can be hard sometimes when all he talks about day and night is his writing, his books, the reviews, his writing sessions at the local library... I don’t mean to sound bitter.  I am 100% behind him and his writing.

So you have your own career that pays the bills at home. Does that affect your relationship at all?

I work hard.  And yes, I suppose I pay most of the bills.  But Rich has a day job, too.  He hates it though, and tells me that at every given opportunity.  Writing means everything to him.  He seems to be on a mission, driven to try to succeed in the publishing world.  I support him most of the time.  Of course, we do argue about how realistic it is...  Every now and them we have a major row and don’t speak to each other for a few days. 

Really, you can be honest here.

Okay, I’ve threatened to leave him a few times.  When he was writing ‘The Red Barn’ he used to shut himself away in his study for hours on end, hardly eating or sleeping.  He looked like one of the living dead, but he kept repeating that when the novel was published we’d be rich.  Of course, I knew that wasn’t a guarantee, but Rich didn’t seem to see failure as a possibility.  He said he knew that he would finally be recognised in the literary world.  He’d based the book on our relationship, which I found flattering at first until I read it and saw that the female protagonist was brutally murdered at the end of the book.  It does make me wonder where his mind is at sometimes.  But that said, I know that Richard is proud of his work and to fail is like a dagger in his heart.

So, Richard finally resorts to self-publishing. Reviews are initially good, then Nestor Maronski got his hands on the book. Were you hoping for a good review from him? Did you not know his reputation for skewering indie authors?

Of course we knew what Nestor Maronski was like, everyone knows... on Bestsellerrebound there was a whole group of indie authors who wanted him dead

Please continue.  What do you know about

Nothing, I know absolutely nothing... I just heard Rich mention something about a website that he’s heard about on the internet where indie writers talked about books.  Didn’t interest me at all, and Rich didn’t go on there either, he just heard about it.  He would never join anything like that... too busy writing.

So, what was your husband’s reaction when he heard that Nestor Maronski was going to review ‘The Red Barn’?

He was shocked to say the least.  He had sent the book to a couple of newspapers hoping for reviews, but had deliberately avoided sending it to The Post.  One of the directors at The Post, Sal Waters, also works on another magazine, The Literary Month, where Rich sent ‘The Red Barn’.  Sal must have decided that the book was more suited to The Post than the magazine.  He sent Rich an email saying that he’d sent the book to Nestor Maronski for review.  Rich almost fainted.  When I saw the email I told Rich he should try to get in touch with Nestor.  Everyone knows that Nestor frequents the bar next door to The Book Nook every Friday night.  I told Rich he should try to chat with Nestor, maybe give him a signed copy of his book. 

Why did you encourage your husband to do this?

I thought it was for the best.  I knew his world would be shattered if he got a 1 star review from Nestor Maronski.  Some of the things Nestor puts in his reviews can really cut deep.  He’s so influential.  I said to Rich that if Nestor could see the face behind the book, maybe he’d be a bit kinder in his review, when he knew he was dealing with a person’s feelings rather than just an inanimate object.  It didn’t work though, and I regret it now.  Somehow, when Rich went to see Nestor, it all became a bit more personal.

What do you mean ‘personal’? Are you saying Rich wanted revenge?

No... no, you’re putting words in my mouth.  By ‘personal’, I mean Rich was more offended by the review because he’d met Nestor... nothing more than that.

Okay, so when you and your husband read the review, what were your initial thoughts?

I wanted to kill Nestor.  I even said to Rich we should kill him...

Did your husband feel the same way?

Initially, yes.  But we would never have gone through with that.  I don’t think the rest of the group would have either, it was just words.

Who are the rest of the group?

Oh, did I say that?  You have to excuse me, my mind has been all over the place since Rich became a suspect in Nestor’s disappearance.  I was just speaking metaphorically again.

I know the police have asked you not to say anything, but what's the real scoop with Mr. Maronski's disappearance?

I only know what the police told me.  But if I’m honest, I hope the evil pig has gone to hell.  Obviously someone was brave enough to attempt what every indie author would love to do... kill Nestor.

So you do think he’s been murdered?

Er... as I say, I don’t know anything for sure... just that he’s disappeared.  I do hope he’s dead though.  Vile creature.

Anything else you want to add?

My husband is innocent.  He wouldn’t hurt a fly.  Well, I know he kills people in his books but he is a real softie.  I wish the police would leave him alone.

For more information on this investigation:

This t-shirt design was recently located uploaded to an online store. The alias links back to the infamous topic #777:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thursday Recipe - Cranberry Sweet Potato Muffins

And a plug for a great holiday giveaway! Hundreds of books, lots of authors, lots of fun. Stop by and enter for your chance to win one of the fabulous books.

Now, on to the recipe. I've been chatting with a friend who lives in South Africa about the importance of pumpkin pie to Americans. She wanted to experience it, but had no access to pumpkins. Guess what? Butternut squash, banana squash, sweet potatoes or yams, acorn squash, pretty much any orange colored squash, can be substituted for pumpkin. They will have slightly different flavors and textures, but overall, can be exchanged freely between recipes. My kids really prefer butternut squash or yams instead of pumpkin in the pies.

To prepare fresh yams or any of the winter squash, like those listed, just scrub them to remove any surface dirt, jab with a fork a few times, then roast at 350° until they are tender. Yams take anywhere from an hour to two, depending on size. If you want, cut the squash in half and remove the seeds, then bake. If you turn them cut side down, they don't dry out. You can also put a tablespoon or so of butter into the seed cavity and bake them cut side up. Squash takes anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 minutes depending on thickness and size of pieces.

Take them out of the oven and let cool just long enough to handle, or longer if you prefer. Scoop out the insides and toss the peels. Now you have big buckets of squishy orange deliciousness. Serve it plain or with a bit of butter, salt, and pepper. Or use it in one of the recipes calling for canned pumpkin. Use 1 c. baked squash or yams in place of 1 c. canned pumpkin.

And canned yams? Ew. We tried them one year and no one would eat them. Buy them fresh and bake them if you can. The baked innards freeze quite nicely in freezer bags or containers. They'll keep for 6-9 months. Just thaw and use.

Cranberry Sweet Potato Muffins

2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. ginger
1 c. cooked sweet potato
1/4 c. oil
1/4 c. orange juice
2 1/2 c. flour
1 c. chopped cranberries, fresh or frozen or dried

Cream sugar and eggs. Add salt, soda and spices. Cream until fluffy. Stir in sweet potato and oil. Add cranberries and flour. Stir just until mixed. Scoop into muffin cups. Bake at 400° 13-15 minutes for mini muffins, 18-20 minutes for regular muffins. Makes 2 dozen regular muffins, 5 dozen mini muffins. Use paper muffin liners, trust me, it makes life so much easier.

Substitutions (because that's what I'm all about when I cook):
Dried Cranberries - dried cherries, blueberries, currants, or other dried berries, chopped if necessary, semi-sweet chocolate chips, chopped nuts
Fresh Cranberries - fresh or bottled cherries, fresh or frozen blueberries, semi-sweet chocolate chips, chopped nuts
Cooked sweet potatoes or yams - cooked squash or pumpkin

Monday, November 29, 2010

Why Nanowrimo?

For any of you who haven't heard, November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Thousands of people sign up for the competition. This is really about competing against anyone else. The goal of NaNo is to write a 50k word novel during November.

A writer posted an article (wish I could find the article and link it, but it's lost in my browser history somewhere) declaring that NaNoWriMo was a terrible waste of everyone's time. All those amateur writers attempting to write absolute drivel should just not bother. Agents and editors cringe in anticipation of the flood of horrible manuscripts about to be submitted. NaNo should be a NoNo.

I say, what's the harm? I'm all for NaNo. Anything that encourages people to reach higher, to try something new, to be creative, is a good thing. So what if 99.99% of what's written is crap? It's the process of creating it that matters. If only "professional authors" were allowed to write novels, we would very quickly run out of stories to read.

What if we told all those people taking painting or drawing classes that only "professional artists" should create pictures or paintings? Where do you think these professionals come from in the first place? Everyone started somewhere. I'm sure Michaelangelo's first drawings were absolute crap. The point is that he tried it, liked it, and stuck with it. The rest of us benefit from encouraging creativity.

I'm not saying that all those aspiring writers participating in NaNo will become creative geniuses. Most of them won't ever be published. And that's just fine. For those who attempt NaNo, it's an eye-opener to how difficult the whole process of writing a book can be. Those who finish have a sense of accomplishment.

This is only my second year doing NaNo. Last year, I was derailed by a book release. Yes, I'm already published. Guess what? It doesn't matter. NaNo this year gave me the push I needed to get writing novels again. I needed something to get my story moving, to give me enough momentum to finish it.

As for all that crap being produced under such a rushed deadline, so what? There is a freedom to the writing that happens when you don't worry about editing and making it perfect. Too many writers stop after a few chapters, realize what they've written is crap, and go back to edit. The story rarely gets beyond chapter three. NaNo pushes you to just keep going. You can go back to fix it later. That's what editing is all about. For November, just get that story written.

Any honest author will also tell you that the first few manuscripts they finished were awful. Writing is learned by doing. You can learn techniques and skills in classes, true, but the only way to really learn to craft a good story is by doing it. So write one for NaNo, shove it in a drawer, write another one next year. Each draft will improve.

As for that novel release of mine, Nexus Point is my first book in print. It was #18 in my draft pile.

I salute all of you that attempted NaNo this year. It's a worthy goal to write 50k in one month, even if no one but you ever reads it. You've reached outside your normal life to try to create something. That is a goal worth applauding, whether you achieved it or not.

For those who did write 50k, WOOT! Now go write more...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thurday Recipe - Favorite Thanksgiving leftovers

Did you have a great Thanksgiving? We did. I've got a fridge full of leftovers now. And here are some of my favorite ways to eat them:

Double Turkey Gravy

2 c. leftover gravy
2 c. leftover turkey, cut into small chunks
leftover rolls, stuffing, potatoes, etc.

Heat gravy and turkey, serve over the other stuff. Easy, but my kids favorite leftover preparation.

Turkey a la King

1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. flour
3 c. milk
salt and pepper to taste
dash of tabasco sauce
1 c. cooked turkey, chopped up
1 c. leftover green vegetables (broccoli, peas, beans, etc.)
Rolls, noodles, or potatoes

Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in flour. Cook and stir 1 minute, until very bubbly but not browned. Whisk in milk, keep whisking until smooth. Cook and stir until mixture comes to a full boil. Boil and stir for 1 minute, it should thicken up. Remove from heat. Stir in turkey and vegetables. My kids like peas the best, use frozen if you don't have any leftovers. Season to taste. Stir over low heat until everything is nice and hot. Serve over rolls, potatoes, noodles, or whatever else you like.

Turkey Poop Soup

4 c. leftover turkey (usually the very last bits, so all you have left is the poop. Family story behind this one...)
2 c. carrots, peeled & sliced
1 T. butter
1 c. celery, sliced
1/2 c. onion, chopped
8 c. chicken or turkey stock or broth
1 bay leaf
1/2 t. ground black pepper
1/2 t. ginger
1 t. dried oregano leaves
1 t. dried parsley
1/2 t. paprika
1/2 t. turmeric
2 c. noodles, uncooked

Saute onions and celery in butter in a large soup pot until tender. Add everything else except noodles. Bring to a simmer. Cook for 1 hour, until vegetables are tender. Add salt to taste. Turn heat up to high. Add noodles. Cook just until noodles are done. Remove from heat, serve immediately. We love it with croutons on top.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Book Reviews: The Last Man Anthology & Writers of the Future XXVI

It's been my week to rediscover anthologies. Years ago, I tried reading several anthologies. Two or three of the stories were good, but most were just sick and twisted. Too many authors tried to be edgy and push the boundaries far past good taste or decency. I gave up on anthologies. I've tried several since then, mostly because I had friends with stories in the collections. Their stories were good and enjoyable but the rest of the anthology lived down to my expectations. I found a few good stories, but most were trash. One of the reasons I hate anthologies is because most of the stories fall well in the R-rated area for language, sexual scenes, or extreme violence.

So it was with trepidation that I picked up these two. I am happy to say I was pleasantly surprised by both of them.

Writers of the Future is an organization started years ago by L. Ron Hubbard to promote new talent in SF/F. This volume, number twenty-six, features the twelve story winners for 2009. Brad Torgerson, a friend of mine, was one of the winners. His story, Exanastasis, was quite enjoyable. It's an interesting twist on the Adam and Eve story. I decided since I owned the book I might as well try the other stories. I wasn't expecting much. The stories delivered much more than I anticipated. Every one was enjoyable, thought-provoking, and well-written. The majority are science fiction. The story premises are original. It's encouraging to see real talent being displayed.

And the rating? PG. No profanity, vulgarity, explicit nude scenes. Just some really original stories.

I have a copy of The Last Man Anthology because I'm one of the authors. I was thrilled when they accepted my story, but I have to confess, writing it was a stretch. I don't do catastrophic or dystopian stories. I like my stories happy, at least by the end. I hate books where everything is bleak and hopeless. This anthology celebrates the End--of the world, of humankind, of bookstores, of you-fill-in-the-blank. I expected it to be dark and depressing but it isn't. The stories are beautifully written, haunting in their imagery. The emotions behind them range from anger and dismay to acceptance and hope. And yes, there are a couple comedies included.

This book really is a beautiful collection of short stories and poetry. I'm honored to be included with notable authors Ray Bradbury, C J Cherryh, Edgar Allen Poe, as well as contemporaries both known and unknown.

These are two anthologies that won't disappoint. Both are well worth the time to read.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thursday Recipe - Hmm, Oatmeal?

Next week I'll post Thanksgiving leftover recipes, promise. Today, though, due to another stomach virus and other ickiness, I'm sticking with something basic.

Oatmeal is one of those foods that's good for you, so most people hate it. If it isn't cooked right, it is nasty and bland. Add the right stuff to it, and it becomes a wonderful breakfast full of goodness and deliciousness.

Try this recipe if you want to really experience oatmeal.

Oatmeal Supreme

4 c. hot water
1/2 c. raisins
1 small apple, cored and chopped
1/3 c. brown sugar
pinch of salt
2 c. plain instant oatmeal
2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ginger, optional but tasty

Bring water to a boil. Add raisins, apples, sugar, and salt. Bring back to a boil. Stir in oats. Reduce heat to low. Cook and stir for 1 minute. Add cinnamon and stir well.

If it is too thick, add milk or water to thin. If too thin, cook a few minutes longer.

Optional toppings:
1/2 c. chopped nuts
1/2 c. dried fruit - blueberries, currants, cherries, dates, mango, pineapple, whatever you want to try
1/2 c. ripe pear, cored and chopped
1/4 c. maple syrup
Extra spices - try just a pinch or up to 1/2 t. of nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, or allspice.
1 t. vanilla
1/2 - 1 t. rum flavoring
1/2 - 1 t. almond extract

The whole idea behind cooking is to experiment so don't be afraid to play around with spices. The worst that will happen is you'll make something inedible.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Writing Tips

Today's column is an excerpt of an article written by Nestor Maronski. He threatened to beat me with my own book if I didn't post it.

1. Don't write when you aren't in the mood. This ensures that you will never actually write much of anything. According to quite a few people I've heard from lately, this will make the world a better place. We need fewer writers who think their plebian, stale assemblage of words are worth reading. If you must, let your dog read your writing. He'll appreciate it much more than the rest of the world.

2. Write only with a very dull crayon on large pieces of newsprint. Writing real stories is something that should only be left to professionals, like Shakespeare and Jane Austen. You might hurt yourself.

3. Everything worth reading has already been written. Why should we care what happened to YOU or what YOU think of anything? Writing is not about YOU, the author, writing is about ME, the critic.

4. If you do manage to create a story that somehow, through a major miracle, is published, don't ask me to read it. I'm sure it's drivel because the entire publishing industry is full of moronic editors and writers who think we need new books to read. We don't. We have the classics.

That's enough, Mr. Maronski. With tongue firmly in cheek, I say, ignore his advice. Let your inner creative spirit soar. Write that book you've been meaning to. And don't let anyone else tell you differently. This is your chance to create something uniquely yours. Whether you pursue a career or not is your choice. Do it for your inner creative genius.

Speaking of submitting, I'm still looking for stories featuring wild and evil tumbleweeds. Information and ideas are all here:

Send them in! Submission deadline is December 31.

Psst - find out more about Nestor Maronski at this site.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thursday Recipe - Thanksgiving Favorites!

You've only got two weeks. Are you ready for the hordes of relatives? This year, I'm going to stay home and make it a very relaxed holiday. No fancy dishes or decorating, just good food, my sister and her family, and maybe a few friends. We'll hang out, watch movies, play some games, and eat good food.

I realized I've posted quite a few Thanksgiving recipes over the last year. Like roast turkey, basic homemade bread, pumpkin custard (which is the pie without a crust), ginger honey cookies, and green tomato mincemeat cookies.

What's left? Most people have their own sides they love and their traditional ways of cooking them. So, here are three more that I love.

Cranberry Sauce

1 lb fresh cranberries
1/2 c. orange juice, fresh squeezed with pulp if possible
1 T. grated orange zest, the orange part of the peel.
1/3 - 1/2 c. sugar, to taste
1 stick cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg

Put everything in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the berries pop, about 10 - 15 minutes. Cool for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes. It thickens on its own. Remove cinnamon stick before serving.

Roast Yams (You can prep these several days ahead of time. Add the topping just before baking the final dish.)

2 - 3 large whole yams
1/4 c. orange juice
2 T. butter
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. chopped pecans

Jab yams several times with a fork. Place on a foil covered baking sheet. Roast at 350° for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until liquid bubbles from the holes and yams are very soft. Let cool for 2 - 3 hours. Remove peel and chop yams into chunks.

Place yams in a greased 2 quart casserole. Pour orange juice over the top. Mix butter, brown sugar, and pecans. Sprinkle over the top of the yams. Bake at 350° for about 40 minutes, until yams are hot and topping is bubbly. Serve hot.

Any extra plain baked yams can be packaged in freezer bags and frozen for up to 6 months. Or you can use the baked plain yams in place of the pumpkin in the pumpkin custard recipe.

My Favorite Stuffing

2 T. butter
1/2 medium onion, chopped fine
1 c. celery, sliced thin
1 lb bag garlic croutons
1 lb bag onion croutons
1 carrot, grated
1 lb mushrooms, sliced
1/2 c. dried cranberries
1 t. dried sage
1 t. dried whole oregano
2 - 3 c. turkey drippings (see Turkey recipe) or chicken stock

Saute onion and celery in butter until soft, about 5 minutes. Put everything except drippings in a large bowl. Toss together. Add drippings, just until croutons are moistened. Scoop mixture into a large, greased casserole. Bake at 350° for 35 - 45 minutes, until hot through and lightly browned on top. OR put the mixture into a 3 - 4 quart crockpot. Cook on high for 1 - 2 hours.

Have a fun holiday!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Book Review: ...The Twain Shall Meet, J Guevara

This is what happens when you write the blog post at 2 am, you forget stuff.

...The Twain Shall Meet, J Guevara

Part philosophy essay, part homage to Mark Twain, part quirky character studies, this book is a light-hearted romp through the Florida Keys in modern times with none other than Mark Twain. See, he never died, he was carried away on Halley's Comet. Returned to earth with the comet for only a few weeks, he describes our modern times with humor, wit, and biting insight. If you are easily offended, don't bother reading this book. I don't agree with many of the viewpoints expressed in this book, but it's not a diatribe of hate and anger that's presented. Rather they are expressed with gentle humor, sometimes pointed, but never vilifying.

If you're looking for something quirky and entertaining but with deep thought, try this book. I had a lot of fun with it.

Book Reviews - The Presence, Paul Black, and Enemies & Playmates, Darcia Helle

It's 2 am and insomnia has me in its grasp. My house makes funny noises in the night, especially when the wind is blowing and a storm is moving in. The cat paces restlessly, adding his own set of noises. I know if I don't go back to bed soon, I'll never make it to work in the morning. When it gets really bad, I read books until I can sleep again. Just a warning, neither of these books will let you sleep.

The Presence, Paul Black

I met Paul Black at FenCon last September. He was nice enough to give me an ARC copy of his book to read. We have something in common: we both published a book titled Nexus Point. He didn't have a copy of that one handy, besides his is book 3 of a trilogy, so he handed me The Presence instead. If this book gives any indication of how he writes, I may have to squeeze money to buy the other trilogy.

The Presence is near future science fiction. Sonny Chaco is an agent of the NSA, a net jockey, surfing the expanded and intricate waves of the future version of the internet. He's set on bringing down Albert Goya, big businessman with links to organized crime. He romances his information source, the beautiful Deja Moriarty, trying to walk the line between milking her for information and falling in love with her. Enter a mysterious man that has no past, no records, nothing, and a beautiful and highly illegal clone of Goya's wife, and the story spirals out of control, pushing the characters into places they never expected to go.

The book is fast-paced and well written. Paul pulls futuristic tech into a believable and seamless world. Although it was a bit confusing at first, because the characters understand the tech and feel no need to explain it, the story pulled me in, submersing me in the world Paul created. I'd recommend this book for anyone who wants a fast read with a complex world and storyline. It's not a thick book, but it's loaded with action.

One warning, the book uses the f-bomb, sometimes to excess.

Enemies and Playmates, Darcia Helle

I confess, I didn't finish this book. Not because of the writing or characters, both of which are well crafted, but because the subject is just too dark. I read for escape. I prefer my books light. Enemies and Playmates is neither. It deals with abuse very frankly.

Lauren Covington's father is a highly successful businessman who shows the world a face of compassion. But to his family, he is brutal, vicious, and unforgiving. Lauren wants to escape, to just live a normal life of a college student, but feels trapped by her mother's helplessness and the need to protect her younger brother. She meets Jesse at a bar, feeling an instant attraction to the man, without realizing that he works for her father, handling contract jobs her father wants kept off the book and out of sight.

Darcia doesn't hold anything back in this story. This story went places I just didn't want to go. I couldn't finish it. If you want a compelling story dealing with abuse, I'd recommend this book. If you want a beach read, try something different. This book will give you nightmares.

Language warning on this one, too, although not as frequent as The Presence.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Thursday Recipe - Pumpkin, pumpkin and more pumpkin...

7yo daughter: Mom, is that Mr. Pumpkin? Are you going to chop him up? Are you putting him the oven?! Are you cooking Mr. Pumpkin?!?! Can I eat him now?

I had a 20+ lb pumpkin we bought for Halloween and never got around to carving. I finally got around to chopping it up and baking it the other day. Now, I've got pounds of pumpkin waiting to be used. I thought I'd share some pumpkin recipes for you. 'Tis the season and all that. Enjoy!

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

After chopping the pumpkin in half, use your fingers to scoop out the seeds. Try to remove as much of the stringy orange goop as you can. Put the seeds in a flat bottomed colander. Fill a sink half full of cold water. Set the colander in the sink. Rinse the seeds, picking out any remaining goop. Lift the colander. See how easy it is to wash the seeds this way? Set the colander on a towel so the seeds can drain and dry for a while.

Meanwhile, scoop out the rest of the inside stringy goop from the pumpkin. Chop it smaller if needed. Line a baking sheet with foil, you want one with sides because pumpkins release lots of water while baking. Set the pumpkin pieces chopped side up on the baking sheet. Bake at 350° for about 1 - 2 hours, until pumpkin is soft. Set pumpkin aside to cool.

Heat 2 T. oil in a large frying pan. Add pumpkin seeds to the oil. Fry for 15 - 20 minutes. Dump seeds into a metal mixing bowl. Add 1 t. smoked paprika and 2 t. seasoned salt. Toss to coat.

Heat oven to 400°. Spread seasoned seeds on a baking sheet. Roast for 10-15 minutes. Seeds will start to make popping sounds and smell like popcorn. Watch closely when they start to do this, checking every minute or so. They burn easily. When they turn golden brown, remove from the oven and cool. They should be crispy.

Pumpkin Custard

1/2 c. brown sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ginger
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. salt
1 eggs
1 c. cooked pumpkin
1/2 c. orange juice or milk

Heat oven to 400°. Put everything in the blender. Whirl on high until smooth. Pour into a greased casserole - 2 quart for a single batch, 9x13 glass baking pan for double batch. Just use the blender twice and measure everything twice for a double batch. Don't try to double everything in the blender. It won't fit. Can you tell I tried once? Huge mess. And a hand mixer won't make it smooth enough.

Bake at 400° for 15 minutes. Don't remove it from the oven. Turn heat down to 325° and bake for 45 - 60 minutes longer, until it begins to crack on the top and a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.

Serve warm or cold with whipped cream. It's like pumpkin pie without the crust.

Variations: Play with the spices or the liquid you add. Whatever you do, don't add bananas. Trust me on that one.
You can also use other orange squash like butternut (really sweet and creamy), banana squash, acorn squash, or even yams/sweet potatoes.

Pumpkin Cookies

1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. shortening
1 c. brown sugar
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. ginger
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 egg
1 c. pumpkin
1/4 c. orange juice
2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. white flour
1 c. quick oatmeal
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 c. chopped walnuts or pecans, optional

Put pumpkin, egg, and orange juice in the blender. Run until smooth. Cream butter, shortening, sugar, and spices until smooth and light. Add baking powder, soda, and pumpkin mixture. Beat well. Add flours, oatmeal, and chocolate chips. Stir by hand until mixed. Drop onto greased cookie sheet by Tablespoonfuls. Bake in a 350° oven for 11 - 13 minutes, until set and not sticky on top. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from cookie sheet. Makes 5 - 6 dozen.

Enjoy the pumpkin goodies!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Monday New Release Party!

Check out a basketful of new releases over at

The Last Man Anthology is listed there, because it's the new release I knew about in time to set this up. But I wasn't able to get a copy to put in the giveaway basket, so Nexus Point is in there instead.

Stop by and comment and you could be a winner!

Author Interview - Daryn Cross

Today, I'd like to welcome author Daryn Cross to my blog. Welcome, Daryn.
 How can we find you? Website, blog, Facebook, Twitter?

What do you currently have in print and where can we find them?
I have a time travel, Civil War period, CRAIG LEGACY under my co-written pseudonym, Terry Campbell available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble online and my new debut romantic fantasy, IT’S MAGIC by Daryn Cross & L.J. DeLeon, published by Crescent Moon Press and also available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble (the print will release around Thanksgiving). I have three books on backlist as Terry Campbell, MR.WRONG, FAT CHANCE and INTIMATE INVESTOR that should be released on Kindle early next year.

Those sound like fun. What genre do you write? 
Now I have a two-pronged career in fantasy and suspense. I am marketing my suspense series, set in the small Southern town of Climax, Virginia, but have not sold it yet.

Do you have cats or other pets? Why or why not?
I love cats but am allergic to them. Instead, I have a Chocolate Lab, my third one. The “nutkin” has a sock-fetish and runs our house.

So you can explain what happens to all those single socks. Blame it on the dog. What inspires your stories?
I like to say all my books have a theme of the fight for truth over lies, justice over unethical behavior, the light defeating the darkness

Those are some deep themes. How do you like your romance, sweet or spicy?
I like them both depending on what I’m in the mood for. I am not an erotica fan, though I do find some of it intriguing as four of my friends, in a writing group I’m in, share snippets (hello, Sophie Oak, Jennifer August, Shayla Black and Kris Cook!). The sex I write is sensual but not close to erotic, and that is what I also tend to read.

What is your current WIP?
Right now I’m writing the sequel to IT’S MAGIC and need to complete in November. Since I don’t actually have a deadline for it, I got waylaid with writing a novella and planning two more. But, I have to put this baby to bed. It’s about two aggressive snack company execs, workaholics that the mysterious matchmaker Maxwell Magic plans to match. Magic is Santa on his offseason. These two execs have all sorts of family and past-history issues and Magic’s having a heck of a time bringing them together, but he knows he will because Magic knows everything. In my first in the series, IT’S MAGIC, the two lovers are a feminist writer of the books, “Prince in Rusted Armor” and “Why Do Dogs Put Up With Them?” and a man’s dream radio psychiatrist on a show, “Men Talk to Me First.”

Here’s the blurb:

Can true love exist between a man who believes a woman is capable of sticking a shive in his heart while making love and a woman who is convinced men think with only one head? Maxwell Magic, an eccentric mysterious matchmaker swears it can and he’s the man to provide the stimulus to make it happen. Kasey Bell, feminist writer, and Guy McLane, radio’s famous chauvinistic psychiatrist, are his targets. Even with carefully executed plans, the road to true love is strewn with mishaps, mirth and money-hungry nighttime talk show hosts. Will Kasey and Guy risk their reputations by exposing secrets buried beneath layers of shame and self-doubt for a desperately needed big money pay-off? Or, will they claim what has evaded them their entire lives—a love that lasts forever?

Okay, I'm interested. Sounds like a fun read. What characters are your favorites from your books? 
How do you pick a favorite child? That being said, some of my favorites include Honey Blood Draper, my heroine in my yet to be contracted book, HONEY BLOOD AND THE COLLECTOR. An elf with rare blood joins with her intended mate to defeat an evil wizard threatening to destroy their race. Honey Blood has what they refer to as kickassitude, the kind of female who will go where other fear to tread. In my latest book, IT’S MAGIC, I fell in love with my hero. Guy McLane is a cocky man who believes he can conquer the world and who, instead, falls to his knees for Kasey. Smart to a fault, he falls in love with both the heroine and her children and even abides the Lab who sh**s in his shoes.

I've found I have to fall in love with them if I want my readers to fall in love, too. Sounds like you've hit the magic combo with your characters. If you could travel anywhere, fictional or real, where would you go?
Let’s see, how about Shangri-La? Who wouldn’t want to find a virtual paradise in the valley over an icy steep mountain trail, where everyone remains young and all is at peace?

I think I'd like to visit there, too, except for the icy mountain and everyone almost dying on the way there. If you could time travel, what is one event you would want to see in person, either future or past?
Wow! I love history and have just planned some alternate history events. I’d really love to go back to post World War II and travel to Las Vegas in the great days of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack and go to the Crystal Bay Club to see John Gary. I used to hear his music on old vinyl records of my dad’s.

That does sound like a great party. Anything else you'd like to add?
Just that I believe I’ve only just begun and hope some of your readers will follow me. Please come by and visit my blog or see me on Twitter. Thanks for inviting me.


Thanks for stopping by, Daryn. It's great to meet you!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thursday Recipe - Green Tomato Mincemeat Cookies

It's that time of year, when mother nature bites the garden with frost. It never fails. My tomato plants are just starting to really produce, then, WHAM! Frost and snow. What to do with all those green tomatoes hanging onto those forlorn vines? Make this recipe, of course.

The mincemeat can be made ahead, it's actually better if you let it sit for a day or two before making the cookies. If you're into canning, it can be bottled and processed. Follow the guidelines for your area if you decide to seal the bottles for storage.

Either way, 'tis the season for these flavors. Enjoy!

Green Tomato Mincemeat

9 c. finely chopped very green tomatoes
1 tart apple, like granny smith, peeled, cored, & chopped
1 c. raisins
1 c. sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
2 T. minced orange zest, the orange part of the peel
1 t. salt
2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. ginger
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. vinegar
1/4 c. lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a large, heavy stockpot. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to med-low and simmer about 1 1/2 hours until mixture is thick and goopy. Stir every ten minutes or so. Remove from heat and bottle, if desired. Otherwise, cool and refrigerate in covered containers. Makes about 5 pints. (You can cut the recipe in half if needed.)

Mincemeat cookies

1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. shortening
1 c. sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
2 1/2 c. flour

Cream butter, shortening, and sugar until very fluffy. Add in egg, baking powder, salt, and vanilla. Beat well. Stir in flour just until mixed. Form dough into two rolls about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap well with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 12 hours, or up to 2 months.

To make cookies:
Heat oven to 375°. Let dough defrost for about 15-20 minutes. Slice dough into 1/4 inch slices. Place on greased cookie sheet. Top each cookie with 1 T. mincemeat. Top with another cookie slice. Seal edges using a fork. Cut two or three slits in top crust. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes, until lightly browned on edges. Let cool before eating.

One cookie recipe makes about 3 dozen cookies and uses about 1 pint of green tomato mincemeat.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Book Review - The Viper of Portello, James C. Glass

I enjoyed The Viper of Portello. It mixes political intrigue, military action, and family relationships to create a fast-paced ride. Set in the future, sometime after other planets have been colonized, the government of Nova Brazilia has become corrupt. Revolutionaries are set to overthrow the governor. The League military is poised to invade and restore order. Everything rests on the decisions and actions of one man: Eduardo Cabral, sometimes called Culebra, or the Viper of Portello.

The book isn't your typical save-the-galaxy space opera. Though full of action sequences, the main focus is on the characters. Choices affect who we become. Sometimes the choice is forced by circumstances, but how we react says more about who we are than what we've done. Jim Glass takes us inside the heads of the people of Nova Brazilia as their world begins to crumble. It's a well-written and enjoyable story with characters I won't soon forget.

And Jim Glass is a very nice person. I met him at SpoCon last August. He's still upset over what the government did to NASA and manned space travel. I'm sure if you ask, he'll be happy to share his opinions.

Buy it direct from the publisher here:
Or Amazon here:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thursday Recipe - Coleslaw

How exciting can coleslaw be? That's a question. My kids like coleslaw plain. You can dress it up spicy or sweet. I'd never had fruit in coleslaw until I had my mother-in-law's version. This time of year is a great time to make your own, if you live in the north. Cabbage is in the stores, fresh and cheap. Don't bother with red cabbage. Green cabbage is fine. If you like more of a lettuce texture, buy Napa cabbage. We're supposed to eat more vegetables, so why not try some of this salad?

Basic Coleslaw

1/2 medium head of cabbage
1/2 c. mayonnaise, use light or fat free if you want
1 T. lemon juice
1 T. lemon pepper seasoning

Rinse the cabbage in cold water, drain. Slice into very thin strips, then cut them to be about 2 inches long. Mix mayo, lemon juice, and seasoning. Add cabbage. Toss just until cabbage is covered. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.

That's it. Simple but delicious.


Spicy - add 1 t. smoked paprika and cayenne pepper to taste
Extra veggie - add 1 c. finely chopped raw vegetables - carrots, broccoli, onion, cauliflower, zucchini, bell pepper, etc.
Pickled - add 2 T. chopped dill pickles
Fruited - add 1 c. chopped fresh fruit - banana, apple, pear
Herbed - add 1/2 c. sliced celery, 1 t. dill weed and 1 t. celery seed

Go be creative. What versions do you like? Feel free to share your recipes in the comments.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tuesday Bonus!

Hi! I found a really fun new blog today. Holly lists bargain ebooks - nothing over $5. So, if you've been thinking of trying some ebooks but didn't want to pay much, check out her listings. She's going to start posting them over the next few days.

If you're an author with an ebook out there, she takes submissions for her list.

Check it out! I'm looking forward to some great new reads.

PS - Nexus Point is currently listed at $4.99, or close to that, most places. Watch for a price drop in November for two reasons. 1 - It's NaNoWriMo month and to celebrate all those aspiring authors, I'll give them a piece of my fiction for cheap. 2 - Book 2 is coming next year. Read book 1 so you don't miss out on any of the story. If I get enough people clamoring for book 2, my publisher might fast track it. 2 - Because it's my book and I feel like lowering the ebook price.

Come on in and join the fun! You can find links for Nexus Point here:
including ebook purchase links.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Book Review: The Golden Cord, Paul Genesse

I met Paul Genesse two and a half years ago at a local convention. I was dithering about submitting at the time. I had a manuscript that I believed in, but the established authors at the con all had the same message: Don't bother. Publishing fiction is hard and very few succeed. Very discouraging for a fledgling author to hear. It didn't help that I was clueless about submissions or pitching a book or anything else other than writing. I was ready to stick the manuscript in a folder and forget it. Until Paul talked me out of it.

He spent several hours with me, giving me the advice and encouragement that I needed. My novel, Nexus Point, is in print mostly because of that pep talk. I'll buy all of Paul's books just for that reason. He's a genuinely nice guy with a passion for storytelling.

The Golden Cord is the first in a series. I'm not much of a fan of epic fantasy, especially when the main character is an angsty teen/young adult and the world is a dark, gritty place where everything wants to either kill you, eat you, or both. This book fits solidly in that category. I still enjoyed it.

Paul builds a world that is fully believable. Danger lurks behind every tree, if not in the tree or on the tree or *is* the tree. Not a world I'd want to live in. His main character, Drake Bloodstone, is a troubled young man. He's also loyal and tormented by his need to keep everyone in his village safe. He failed to protect his friend years ago and the failure haunts his every thought. His quest, in this book, is a reluctant choice to save the world in order to save his village. Or so he thinks. It's as much about saving his own soul and letting go of the past as it is about present dangers.

The Golden Cord is a solid book. I could hear Paul's voice in the words, his passion and excitement over the story spilling into each scene. I can't honestly say it's one of my favorites, but it's a good read, one I'd recommend to anyone looking for a fantasy quest novel that isn't your usual Tolkein clone.

Want to hear why it took me two years to finally read the book? Sure you do. It was in the short pile of Books-to-be-read-very-soon (as opposed to the books-to-read-sometime-in-the-next-decade pile, both are much too tall). Of course, that meant it was in plain sight of my children and my husband. I went to read it one night and couldn't find it in the pile. I found it in my husband's hands. So I waited for him to finish. Then one of my boys discovered the book. After chasing it back out of three different bedrooms, I have multiple children who read any book that looks good especially if it's in my pile next to my bed, I finally got my hands on it last spring. Between work, my own writing deadlines, and life in general, it took me several weeks to start reading it. I was just getting into the story when I left the book in a motel room in Lewiston ID. I hope they enjoyed it because they never admitted to finding the book even after multiple phone calls. I bought another copy a few weeks ago and threatened everyone in the house not to touch it until after I'd finished it. It was worth it. I wish I'd dragged it out of those bedrooms a long time ago or threatened my kids with horrible punishments, like doing the dishes, if they touched it before I read it.

Now, where did I put book two? The Dragon Hunters continues the quest and if I can find the book, I'll read it. It's in someone's pile at my house...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Thursday Recipe - No-Bake Cookies, or Gorilla Poops

I started cooking when I was nine. I distinctly remember my first batch of cupcakes from scratch. They looked odd and tasted funny, but I was so proud of them. My family grumbled a bit but ate them anyway. Later, I realized I'd mistaken 3 t. to mean 3 tablespoons. Three times too much baking soda equals not good cupcakes. Hey, I was nine.

Adventures in cooking continued. As a teen, I went on a weird cookie spree, trying out any and every recipe I had. Food coloring was my friend. The one cookie I've never really mastered? No-bake cookies. Despite careful measuring and stirring and cooking, I have no idea if they'll turn out soft and chewy or hard and crumbly. After one particularly crumbly, messy batch, I gave up trying to make it form cookies and just dumped the entire pot onto a cookie sheet in one big pile.

"What kind of cookie is that?" my sister asked.

"Elephant poop." And so the line of poop cookies were born.

(BTW, when these cookies turn out dry and crumbly, they make excellent ice cream topping or the basis of chocolate oatmeal for breakfast, just add some water and microwave for a minute or two.)

Gorilla poops are normal no-bake cookies. Elephant poops are when you're tired of scooping or it doesn't work so you dump the entire batch in one enormous cookie. Monkey poops are the peanut butter variety. Orangutan poops are chocolate AND peanut butter. Chimpanzee poops have extra goodies added. Are you sensing a theme here? Good, go make some gorilla poops for your kids.

Gorilla Poops

3 c. oatmeal, quick cooking if you've got it
1/2 c. coconut
1/2 c. butter
2 c. sugar
1/2 c. milk or water
1/3 c. cocoa
1 t. vanilla

Mix oatmeal and coconut in a large mixing bowl, set aside. Melt butter in medium saucepan. Add sugar, milk, and cocoa. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture boils. We're talking a rolling boil here that you can't stir down. Boil and stir for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Add vanilla, then pour over oatmeal mixture. Stir quickly to coat the oatmeal. Scoop by teaspoons onto waxed paper. Cool for at least 15 minutes. If it's way too sticky, serve it on a spoon and call it spoon cookies. If it crumbles, make it into an elephant poop and serve over ice cream. If it turns out right, pat yourself on the back.

Monkey Poops - Omit cocoa. Reduce butter to 1/4 c. Add 1/2 c. peanut butter with the vanilla.

Orangutan Poops - Make Monkey Poops but leave in the cocoa.

Chimpanzee Poops - Reduce oatmeal to 2 c. Add 1 to 1 1/2 c. of whatever you want to the oatmeal mix. Suggestions - dried cranberries or cherries, mini-marshmallows, nuts, m&m's, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, crispy rice cereal, cheerios, fruity pebbles, captain crunch berry cereal, chow mein noodles, etc.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Thursday Recipe - Apple Cinnamon Pancakes

Pancakes came up on a discussion board recently over at Bestsellerbound, apple cinnamon ones in particular. So, because authors need to feed their brains, here's the recipe. And if you've got a few minutes, please check out BestsellerBound - Lots of fun authors and readers and a fun community with great discussions on just about everything.

I serve these for dinner many days because they're fast, easy, and filling. Who says pancakes are only for breakfast? Not me. *cheesy grin*

Apple Cinnamon Pancakes

1 c. white flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
2 T. brown sugar
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. ginger
2 eggs
1 c. orange juice
2 T. oil
1 c. finely chopped apple, leave the peel on

Mix all the dry ingredients together (flour through ginger on the list). Add the rest. Stir just until blended. If too thick, add a bit more orange juice.

Cook on a medium hot griddle for about 3 minutes per side. Serve with sliced bananas, hot blueberry sauce, and whipped topping.

Hot Blueberry Sauce

2 c. frozen blueberries
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 t. cinnamon
2 T. cornstarch
1/2 c. water

Mix blueberries, sugar, cinnamon, and cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Add water. Stir well. Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil, stir constantly or it will burn. Boil and stir for one minute. It should be quite thick. Serve warm.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Storytelling in Games and at Work

I'm a fiction writer, a born storyteller. I live with characters, scenes, and stories floating in my head. I see people in the grocery store or in traffic and invent a wild story to explain what I see in that brief glance. When I find a game that captures that same spirit, I'm hooked.

Years ago, I found a game titled "Jack of All Trades." I loved the game, despite a shallow storyline.  (It's still available, pretty much the same game but with some new features added.) You start with a dinky, pitifully weak cargo ship. By delivering cargo, playing the stock market, hunting pirates, etc. you earn money which you can use to upgrade your ship or buy a new one. You determine who you want to work for, where you go, and the rest. There is a bigger storyline built in, so it isn't all just amassing money and getting the biggest ship you can. You are working with an underground spy group, but you can take your time working your way around the galaxy.

I just found a similar game for my iPod Touch. Warpgate from FreeVerse Software The story is a bit more complex, so far, and the controls easier to work, probably because I'm tapping with my finger, not trying to remember which keys work which bit. I'm a total klutz when it comes to games that require coordination, so these two games and their limited need for eye-hand gaming techniques are perfect for me.

What really pulls me in with these games is the story. I confess; I had a major crush on Han Solo, still do. But not just because he's hot, but because he owns his own spaceship and can fly pretty much anywhere. I first saw Star Wars as an impressionable 10yo. Han Solo stole the show. Forget Luke, Leia, and the rest, I wanted to be Han Solo or even Chewie. I wanted my own Millenial Falcon. These two games let me pretend, if only for a while, that I can travel the galaxy.

Is it any wonder that my books follow similar themes? Dace and her ship, flying across the Empire - total freedom. Wait, you haven't gotten to those books in the series yet. She's struggling just to survive. She wants her freedom, represented by her own trading ship. I want that, too. But technology is centuries behind. I'll never have my own starship, except in my imagination.

My day job also lets me pretend, when I'm not doing the mundane tasks I end up with so often. Phone calls, paperwork, copies, all of it is essential to keeping a business running. But I love the days I'm a flight director. I'm a GM for a Star Trek LARP with a very high-tech simulator, video clips, music, sound effects, costumes, actors, and great storylines to back me up. I love orchestrating all of it. My paycheck may be tiny, but the satisfaction of hearing a crew screaming in terror, negotiating with my villain, planning a surprise attack, or cheering in victory is very satisfying to my inner storyteller. It's immediate, too, something that novel writing isn't.

So for those worried that the publishing industry is dying, I say, "Storytelling will never die. It fulfills so many needs deep in the human psyche. The outward form may change, but the need for good stories and storytellers will never change."

Let your imagination run rampant. In my mind's eye, I'm forever young, captain of my own starship, flying free through the galaxy. I'd love to have you share my journey.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bonus Cookie Recipe

These are so easy and fast. You can dress them up or down or whatever you want. Try different flavors of cake mixes with different mix-ins. Either way, you can't beat fresh, hot cookies.

Cake Mix Cookies

1 boxed cake mix, dry
1/2 c. butter, softened
2 eggs

Mix everything together until blended. Scoop by tablespoons onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375° for 7 - 9 minutes, just until set.


Oreos - use chocolate cake mix (double fudge if possible). Put two cookies together with Cream Cheese Filling: Cream 1/2 c. cream cheese with 1/2 c. powdered sugar and 1 T. vanilla. This should be very stiff.

Chocolate Chip - Use white or yellow cake mix and add 1 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Lemon Cream - use lemon cake mix. Frost with lemon glaze: mix 1 c. powdered sugar, 1 T. lemon juice, and 1/4 c. softened butter. Add water if needed to thin it out.

White chocolate, macadamia, cranberry - use yellow cake mix. Add 1 c. white chocolate chips, 1/2 c. chopped macadamias, and 1/2 c. Craisins.

Cherry Nut - use cherry cake mix. Add 1/2 c. chopped maraschino cherries and 1/2 c. chopped pecans.

What variations can you dream up? Go ahead and share in the comments!

Thursday Recipe - Zucchini Bread & Butter Pickles with Pictures!

My kids love these pickles. I ran out of pints one summer and used quart jars. They still ate the entire jar at one meal. These go great with sandwiches, hot dogs, potato salad, ham, just about anything that goes with sweet pickles. It's also a great way to use those monster zucchini you always find in the garden.

Easy and fast, these take only an afternoon, and most of that is letting the vegetables sit in ice.

Zucchini Bread & Butter Pickles (makes about 6 pints)

4 quarts sliced zucchini - don't bother peeling it, just cut it into three or four sections, then slice it lengthwise and remove the seeds, and slice into thin pickle slices.

1 large onion, or 2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced

2 - 3 bell peppers, red is pretty but not necessary, sliced into small strips

1/2 c. pickling salt, use noniodized salt, not regular table salt. The iodine in regular salt makes the pickles turn dark brown.
1 c. water

1 1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. white vinegar
2 T. mustard seed
1 t. celery seed
1 t. ground turmeric

Mix zucchini slices, onion slices, and pepper strips in a large bowl. Mix salt and water, pour over vegetables, scraping out any extra salt. Cover the veggies with a layer of ice cubes. Place a heavy pot lid over the veggies, this is to hold them under the ice/salt water, and let the whole thing just sit for at least 3 hours.

Drain the veggies, squeezing out any extra water.
Mix sugar, vinegar, and spices in a big cooking pot. Bring to a boil, then add veggies. Bring the whole mess to a boil. Pack into jars and process. I usually do pints and 1/2 pints and process for 20 minutes, but I'm also at a high altitude. Larger jars require more processing time. Contact me if you have questions.

Picture version-
 Slicing zucchini...
 Slicing peppers...
 Slicing onions...
 Mixing the salt and water to pour over the veggies...
 Covering the veggies with ice...
 Using the other monster zucchini to weight it down...
The finished pickles, with a jar of pepper relish on the right. Aren't they pretty?