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

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?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Signings, hats, and living with children

I spent Saturday doing two book signings. Biggest lesson I learned? Make sure you have big name authors at your signings. Sitting between Tracy Hickman and Larry Correia really helped my sales. Nine authors, all SF/F, and me the only girl and the newbie on the list. It was very successful for me. All of the authors are great friends and nice guys. I'll be in their signing line-up any day.

Topic two - hats. I hate hats. I never wear hats, except for my Apple logo baseball cap I wear when I'm at my summer job serving space camp food. That's when I'm not being Hakh P'Tui of the house K'Chen, the Klingon lunchlady. That appearance was way too much fun, although the stupid wig was too long and kept getting in the pizza. And July is not the month to wear heavy boots and a thick jacket, no matter how Klingon they are. I put hats in the title as a metaphor, mostly because this blog post on Momentum Gathering has been on my mind a lot lately. I wear too many of them during the day. I have too many job titles. I'm still working on trying to eliminate a few, but it's not working. If I could just keep the one my boss gave me, Ultimate Queen of the Galaxy, I'd be content, because that would mean I'd have lackeys to do my bidding. And my other jobs like: carpool chaffeur, cook, laundress, office slave, maid, publicist, etc. If I were Ultimate Queen of the Galaxy, I could just order all of you to buy my book and love it. And you would, because if you didn't, I could have you shot into a star or stranded on an asteroid by my lackeys in their tight leather outfits. Um, wait. Now I'm channeling a Christmas episode of Black Adder.

Finally, living with children is hard. They are so messy and organic. They demand attention, more than houseplants and cats. They require regular feeding. They need taken to school and other places. They cost much money. At least mine are past the bum-wiping stage. Are they worth it? I think so. Eventually they become fun to talk to and play games with. Eventually they learn how to do their own laundry and cooking and cleaning. Of course, by the time they start doing that consistently, they move away. Then they just bug you on Facebook, asking for money and books and other stuff. But I wouldn't choose to give any of them away. I've got great kids.

Being a writer and doing all these things is hard. My kids keep wondering which dead body they were in that last book I wrote. Or which obnoxious character. Or animal. Or slimy spot in the forest.

I'll never tell. But all writing devolves from real life. That's what makes it good, when those people and places in my head become real to other people, not just me.

Enough rambling. I need more ibuprofen and less work...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Thursday Recipe - Healthy Brownies and Toffee

I promised you something decadent and chocolate and wonderful this week. So I'm thinking. Hm. I'm trying to avoid decadent for weight and blood sugar reasons. How about a compromise? A lower fat, lower sugar version of a decadent dessert? Or you could just cut smaller pieces.

How about my healthy brownie recipe and a bonus toffee recipe? So you make toffee, then brownies, then top the brownies with lowfat whipped topping and crumbled toffee. Sounds like a good compromise to me. But then I'm a sucker for toffee.

A bit of family trivia for you: At our house we call the canned whipped topping snort. If you ask for snort, we give you a shot of whipped topping. We call food all sorts of weird names, though. My kids wouldn't touch shrimp. When I found shrimp poppers really cheap at the store, I loaded up. I called them breaded arthropods. They gobbled them up until one day, the breading fell off. My daughter, six at the time, glared at me and said, "These aren't arthropods, these are shrimp!" She wouldn't touch them after that. Technically, shrimp are arthropods, but she didn't want to argue semantics.

Here's the recipes:

Toffee (not recommended for anyone under age 12 to cook, it gets REALLY HOT)

1 T. butter, for greasing pan
1 c. sugar
1 c. butter (use the real stuff)
1/2 c. water
pinch salt
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Butter a baking sheet with a generous amount, about 1 T, set aside. Melt butter. Stir in sugar, water, and salt (use just a tiny pinch - less than 1/8 t.).  Cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly, until it reaches hard crack stage. It will turn a darker color. Keep stirring. It's a fine line between crunchy and burnt. When it is a caramel color and a tiny bit dropped into ice water is crunchy, pour it out onto the buttered baking sheet. Careful, it is very hot. Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top. Let sit for about 5 minutes. Spread chocolate over the top. Set aside to cool for about 2 hours.

Healthy Brownies

1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter, melted
1 t. vanilla
4 eggs
2/3 c. baking cocoa
1 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1/2 t. cinnamon
1 1/3 c. whole wheat flour

Heat oven to 350°. Mix sugar and butter. Add vanilla, eggs, cocoa, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Beat by hand until well mixed. Stir in flour. Spread in greased 9x13 baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes. If you use a mixer, the brownies will be more cake-like. If you stir by hand, they will be fudgier.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Convention Etiquette for Mad Scientists

I spent the weekend in Dallas TX at FenCon. I had a marvelous time- lots of friendly people, lots of fun, lots of men in kilts *giggle*, and lots of other stuff. The theme was mad science, so here's some rules for you mad scientists out there.

1. If you are an evil mad scientist and plan to take over the world, do not announce this in a room full of heroes. Keep your evil plans secret until your minions are in place. That way you can destroy all the heroes at the same time, before they have a chance to stop you.

2. Mad scientists can work for the good side without a loss of too much dignity. Life expectancy is much higher if you work for a hero creating gadgets because you rarely have to leave your secret lab.

3. Mad scientists are required to have crazy hair or be completely bald. Hair gel or cheap wigs can be used to great effect, just watch out for that bunsen burner. Burning hair is quite entertaining--on someone else.

4. If you are a scientist but not mad yet, you can either work at a daycare center until you go crazy or you can get involved in local politics, depending on which definition of mad you are trying to achieve.

5. Wear a white labcoat if you want everyone to know you are a scientist. With the hair from #4, no one will be able to mistake you for any other occupation. If you really want to make sure, add funky protective goggles and gloves to your ensemble, then cackle madly.

6. You must practice your evil laugh. Everyone knows mad scientists must use their evil laugh at every opportunity. It can range from a demented chuckle to a bass "Mwuhahahahaha!" Rubbing your hands is also compulsory.

7. Mad scientists must have an entire lab full of strange bubbling beakers and colorful liquids. Things such as assorted body parts, strange electrical devices, rats, and hunchback assistants only add to the general atmosphere. Most can be acquired from your local supermart for a decent price. They tend to be on clearance in the spring.

8. Don't bother getting a science degree. Universities tend to focus more on real science and less on aesthetics. Everyone knows that mad scientists don't actually do any science. See the above 7 rules if you have questions.

Good luck on your mad science projects!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Thursday Recipe - Yeah, I know it's Saturday, here's Travel Gorp

I spent all day Thursday in airports and on airplanes. Got delayed in Phoenix for an hour and a half while they fixed the plane, we were still sitting in it! Then the plane landed in San Antonio. Does Southwest do this on purpose? Nothing on my ticket or anywhere else indicated a stop in San Antonio. Weird. Finally got to Dallas. They say it's cool, but I'm melting. I'm too used to Utah's cool weather and no humidity. But it's lovely. I've met so many nice people. My bookmarks are disappearing from the freebie table faster than I expected. I may run out. Oops.

So, apologies for the delay. I'll make up for it with a spectacular, lavish, decadent recipe next week. For this week, something very simple - travel gorp. Great for keeping you going when you have no idea when or if you'll be able to get a decent meal.

Travel Gorp

1 c. craisins
1 c. assorted other dried fruit of your choice
2 c. mixed nuts, peanuts, or whatever nut you like (sorry, hubby, not you-you won't fit in the bowl)
1 c. M&M's, skittles, or other small candies, chocolate covered anything is good, but it tends to melt. Go with a candy shell type. Gummy bears get too dried out.

Toss everything together and put into snack size baggies.

You can add other stuff if you want - mini marshmallows (which go hard and crunchy but still taste good), small cereal like Cheerios or Chex (I'm a fan of Captain Crunch Berries myself), rice crackers, cheezit crackers, pretzels, or anything else you might find in a trail mix.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Random Sampler Book Reviews

I've been catching up on reading the last few weeks, so I have book reviews for you. Some of the books are new, some are older. I'm not a professional reviewer. This is just my personal opinion of the books.

At Knit's End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much, by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, 2005

This is a fun little book, full of quotes and life observations. I don't knit, I couldn't if my life depended on it. I've tried. I do crochet and quilt, though, and all of her observations about knitting too much fit quilting and crocheting and other needle arts. I enjoyed reading snippets, laughing over most, crying over a few. Much of the book reminded me of Erma Bombeck's writings, except shorter. If you have closets full of yarn/fabric/art projects, this book is one for you.

Dushau (Dushau Trilogy #1), by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, 1985

The Dushau live practically forever. The Allegiancy picks them as it's scapegoat when civilization begins to crumble. Human Krinata is caught between her admiration and love of the Dushau and her loyalty to her Emperor. Dushau starts off strong, with lots of interesting aliens and tense situations. Jacqueline says in her bio that she's a big fan of Andre Norton and her writing shows it. The book is reminiscent of Norton's works while still being very original. However, the story and characters bogged down about halfway through. The action slows to a standstill while the characters struggle with philosophical issues. I really wanted to love this book, but it just didn't deliver what the beginning promised. I still enjoyed it and the action does pick back up for the end. It's a solid read, an original science fiction adventure story with plenty of aliens and action.

Graceling, by Kristin Cashore, 2008

Katsa is Graced with killing, her uncle's pet assassin. Until she meets Prince Po and finds a better reason to live. I enjoyed Graceling. It's a marvelous coming-of-age story with unique characters and a riveting story set in a magical world. My only complaint about this book is it's anti-marriage message. I can understand why Katsa refuses to even consider marriage, it fits the character. But everyone else thinking marriage is bad? Nitpicky reason, but I can't give an overwhelming positive recommendation because of it.

Ending an Ending, First Book of the Laurian Pentology, by Danny Birt, 2008

If you like epic fantasy, this series fits the bill. Sanct has no memory of who he is or where he came from. He possesses powers he shouldn't. The mysterious setup to this story had me intrigued but I found the writing style too distracting. I'm not a big fan of epic fantasies and this book didn't change my mind. However, if you like fantasies with different settings and new twists on the old quest stories, this fits the bill. If you like books that wrap with a neat ending, this one doesn't. The story doesn't resolve at the end of book one, it leaves you hanging. Danny has built a solid world, very believable, with engaging characters. As I said, if you enjoy multi-book fantasy quest epics, this is a good one.

The Tears of Ishtar, by Michael Ehart, 2010

Based on Babylonian myth, this book tells the story of Ninshi. Her lover is held prisoner by the Manthycore, a beast that eats men. Ninshi must keep luring people for the Manthycore as she searches for a way to free herself and her lover from the curse. I enjoyed this sword and sorcery tale. The fights do become a bit repetitious, but I was engrossed in Ninshi's character enough that I wanted to know how she resolved things. She is on a quest to find the Tears of Ishtar, a set of rubies with magical powers that might be enough to free herself and her lover from the Manthycore. After hundreds of years wandering the land as its servant, Ninshi hates fighting, hates killing, but does it because she has no choice. Michael Ehart has created a very sympathetic and strong female warrior.

West on 66, by James H. Cobb, 1999

A mysterious young woman walks into the truck stop where off-duty police detective Kevin Pulaski has stopped for dinner. He senses something sinister to her request for a ride to St. Louis. Before he knows it, he's deeply involved in her flight from a life ruled by organized crime. Set in 1957, this murder mystery is a fast ride along old US Route 66 as Kevin and Lisette run for their lives from a gang of mobsters intent on revenge. It kept me turning pages, trying to find out what happens next and what happened years ago to Lisette and her family. James Cobb keeps the tension going all through the book.

As I said, it's a random sampler. These are the books I've read in the last month or so. I hope you find something to suit your tastes in the pile.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Thursday Recipe - Bubble & Squeak and Spotted Dick

I'm not British, never even been close to the UK, but when I heard about this dish, I couldn't help figuring out how to cook it. My kids request this one. It's a fast and easy dinner if you add a fruit salad and bread. Spotted Dick is a raisin bread pudding. Nice dessert. Here, I'll give you all the recipes.

Bubble & Squeak

12 oz. link sausage or 12 oz. Kielbasa sausage, sliced
1/2 c. sliced onion
4 c. shredded cabbage
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper

Fry sausage until cooked through. Add onions, sauté until soft. Add cabbage, cover and cook until crisp-tender. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Serve nice and hot.

Winter Fruit Salad

1 can mandarin oranges
1 can chunk pineapple
2 kiwi fruit

Drain oranges and pineapple. Peel kiwi and dice. Toss all together.

Spotted Dick

6 slices soft bread
1/3 c. raisins
1/3 c. brown sugar
3 eggs
1 c. milk
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg

Tear bread into bite size pieces. Toss with raisins. Place in a greased 2 quart casserole. Beat sugar, eggs, milk, and spices until blended. Pour over bread. Bake at 350° for 35 - 45 minutes, until knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let sit for 30 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tuesday Teaser

This is the beginning of a background story on some characters in my novel, Nexus Point. The story will eventually end up on the series website as a free read, so let me know if you like it. Some days I'm so close to the trees, I have no idea what the forest is like.

Paltronis paced the narrow cell. The old-fashioned bars mocked her, closing her off from her dreams. The whole fight was stupid, she could admit that, but the satisfaction of beating the smirk from the faces of Jevis and his friends almost made it worthwhile. Almost, if Commander Haywarth didn't kick her out of the Academy. She rubbed the sleeves of her cadet uniform. She'd made it three years without an incident. The fight with Jevis was her fifth in the last two months, enough to land her behind bars instead of just detention. Or maybe it was the number of broken bones she'd left behind this time.
    Jevis had it coming. She caught him extorting money from other cadets, running his own illegal gambling ring. He'd thrown the first punch, but the fight had given his friend time to hide the evidence. Jevis was in the infirmary as the injured party to the whole affair.
    Paltronis kicked the bars in frustration. The resulting pain only soured her mood further.
    The outer door clanked open. The warden stepped in, giving her a cold stare. "You have a visitor. Be civil, if you have any sense at all." He moved aside, letting the visitor pass. "Last warning," he said as he left the cell block.
    The man stopped just outside the bars of her cell, studying her with dark eyes. His face was a mask, giving nothing away.
    She planted her feet, crossing her arms over her chest. She couldn't help the belligerent set of her face. The man's black uniform and insignia scared her. An officer of the Enforcers meant her situation was fast descending into dangerous territory involving criminal charges, not just expulsion.
    He stood motionless, just watching.
    Paltronis fidgeted, waiting for him to speak. Nervous twitches crawled over her skin. The man was tall, looming over her short, stocky frame without even trying. She looked away, unable to hold his stare.
    "Did they send you to press charges or just scare me with the seriousness of the situation?" She studied his face, the one that could have been used for recruitment posters, except it was too cold, like stone. "I know the Commander won't believe me, but Jevis had it coming. He and his friends are running a gambling ring and stealing from the other cadets."
    The man's lip twitched.
    "What do you want me to say? I'm sorry? Because I'm not." She set her chin.
    His impassive expression didn't change.
    "And the other fights? They had it coming, too." She shifted her weight. "Well? Just tell me how much trouble I'm in."
    His relaxed stance didn't mesh with the seriousness of the situation. Maybe he wasn't there to punish her. And maybe space was full of happy little fishies singing happy little songs. She studied him through the bars, trying to guess his motives.
    Silence stretched in the almost empty cell block. Paltronis fidgeted with her sleeves, wishing he'd say something. He wasn't much older than she was, much too young to be an officer, which meant he either came from lots of old money or he was very, very good. She couldn't guess which. He was impossible to read.
    He extracted a mem sheet from his pocket, passing it through the bars.
    Paltronis took it, pinching the lower corner to activate it. She frowned, expecting legal documents. She stared at the page in confusion. "Floor plans?"
    "If you were to assassinate someone in that building, how would you do it?" His voice was deep, smooth and as emotionless as his face.
    "I'm not an assassin." She snapped the mem sheet closed, shoving it back through the bars.
    "You scored very high in tactics. Prove it." He didn't take the mem sheet.
    She watched his face as she opened the paper again. "You're trying to prevent the attack."
    He nodded.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Thursday Recipe - Date Cake

My daughter recently got married. She's called me several times already for recipes. She's missing my cookbook collection. I've had fights with my second daughter. She does NOT get to take the cookbooks with her. This particular recipe comes from an LDS Ward cookbook from Idaho. It was a wedding present I received almost 25 years ago. It's got some great recipes that you just don't find in other cookbooks.

I love the Date Cake for several reasons. If you use whole wheat flour, it's a good high fiber treat. The flavor is better with whole wheat, too. You can cut down on the amount of sugar you put on top to make it a bit less sweet. This works as a dessert, a snack, or even breakfast. Enjoy!

Date Cake

1 c. chopped dates
1 1/2 c. water

3/4 c. butter (melted or softened)
1 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1-2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. ginger

2 c. whole wheat flour

Topping: 1/2 c. brown sugar
            1 bag chocolate chips or candy bar chunks
            1 c. chopped nuts (optional)

Put the dates and water into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and set it aside.
In a large mixing bowl, mix butter, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, soda, and spices. Cream until mixed. Add flour and hot date mixture. Stir just until blended. Pour into a greased 9x13 cake pan.
Sprinkle topping ingredients over the batter. Bake at 350° for 30 min. Let cool before serving.