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

Monday, August 29, 2011

Random Musings

I'm listening to bellydancing music, surfing for Bollywood movies, and looking for African recipes. Isn't the internet a wonderful thing? Instant access to every culture in the world. Those who never look beyond their own neighborhood are really missing out.

If you haven't noticed yet, I love to cook. I love to play with my spices and experiment with new ingredients. I shop the ethnic markets sometimes although my local grocery store carries a pretty wide assortment. You don't need fancy ingredients, though. You need to know how to mix the spices. It's amazing how many cultures use cinnamon and how different the dishes taste. Want to eat Indian cuisine? Here's a great website:

When's the last time you watched a movie that was not Hollywood or even American? My kids watch a lot of Japanese anime shows. Very different culture and very different storytelling. It's fun to immerse yourself in new ideas. I've got several of the Chinese movies - House of Flying Daggers and Forbidden Kingdom are the two close at hand. The stories are a bit weird because they're traditional tales sort of fixed up for American audiences. I love the costumes and the settings. They make you think differently about storytelling.

And the bellydance music? I was bored with my usual playlist. I have a lot of ethnic music on iTunes. It was Peruvian flute music a couple weeks ago, mariachi music before that, classical guitar and mandolins before that.

What does this have to do with writing? Everything. My writing mojo has been off for months. I finally finished my last have-to writing project. Despite lots of very cool projects looking for submissions, I think I'm taking a break. I need to refill my writing inspiration well. I need to read folktales and mythology from other cultures. I need to wrap my head around some ancient Egyptian art and far East costumes and Persian spices. I need to watch history shows about ancient mariners and Micronesian primates and deep sea fish. I need to read articles about archaeological digs and speculation on ancient Mayan rituals. I need to lay in the grass and watch the night sky. I need to find my roots and my sense of wonder again.

This doesn't mean I'm going to stop writing. I have several projects still in production, including book two in my series. This just means I'm taking a vacation. We all have to do it sometime. What do you do to find inspiration?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thursday Recipe - Freezer Cookies

No, these aren't a weird variant of no-bake cookies. These are cookies that used to be really popular but you just don't see them anymore, except in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Pillsbury sort of filled the niche. The homemade version of icebox cookies is so much better.

Mix up a huge batch on a day when you've got lots of energy or help, wrap the logs of dough, and freeze. Then on those lazy days when you just don't want to move, pull a roll out, slice, and bake. Tasty homemade cookies in no time. Here's the basic vanilla recipe, which turns out a lot like sugar cookies, and lots of variations. If I can get moving, I'll make a batch and post some pictures. Except mine tend to look like mutant alien heads. But they still taste nummy.

Freezer Cookies
1 c. butter
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 t. salt
3 c. flour
1 t. vanilla

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and salt. Beat until very light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla. Add flour. Stir just until mixed. Divide dough in half. Color as desired. Shape one half into a roll 2 inches in diameter and about 7 inches long. Wrap tightly in waxed paper or plastic wrap. Freeze at least 4 hours, or up to one month.

Heat oven to 400°. Cut roll into 1/8 inch slices. Bake on lightly sprayed cookie sheet for 6-8 minutes. Cool one minute. Remove from cookie sheet and cool on wire rack. One roll makes 2-3 dozen cookies.

Instead of vanilla, use:
Lemon: stir in 1 t. lemon flavoring. Sprinkle cookies with dry lemon jello just before baking.
Orange or lime: same as above except use orange or lime flavoring. Color dough as desired.
Eggnog: add 1 t. rum flavoring and 1 t. nutmeg to dough. Dip cooled cookies into vanilla glaze.
Almond: add 1 t. almond extract. Sprinkle with chopped almonds if desired.

Peanut butter: use 1/2 c. butter and 1/2 c. peanut butter. Use 1 c. brown sugar instead of white.
Graham: use whole wheat flour and brown sugar instead of white.
Coconut: add 1/4 c. shredded coconut and 1 t. coconut flavoring. Substitute 1/2 c. brown sugar for the white.
Peppermint: add 1 t. peppermint flavoring, add coloring as desired.
Dip cooled cookies in melted chocolate, add sprinkles, coconut, chopped nuts, etc.
Make into sandwich cookies - spread jam or frosting on the bottom side of one cookie. Top with another cookie.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Game Reviews - Ticket to Ride Europe and Tales of the Arabian Nights

I attended SpoCon last weekend, a great SF/F convention in Spokane WA. It was their first year in a hotel. Things were a little crazy. I ended up not attending many panels, partly because few of them interested me and partly because things were so spread out and the rooms for the panels were tiny it was hard to get a seat. I still had a great time.

I ended up hanging out in their game garden with my daughter. They had stacks of games to try, everything from cards to dice to board games to ones hard to classify. I found two new favorites that are now part of my personal game collection.

Tales of the Arabian Nights is a complicated storytelling game crossed with a board game. Don't let that scare you off. It's a lot of fun to play. Every turn you have an encounter. Based on where you are, which card you draw, and your dice rolls, you look up different story bits from the Book of Tales. Choose your reaction and all sorts of fun things happen to you. My first mission was to trade in three cities. Ha! I ended up insane, on a pilgrimage, and diseased. I had to buy the game so I could play more. This game is not about strategy or winning, it's about telling stories and having fun. It's a bit pricey, but well worth the money. I'd suggest this is for people with patience and good reading skills, probably age 10+.

Ticket to Ride Europe is an interesting strategy game. You and up to four of your friends are building railroads through Europe. You get points for the length of each segment you build as well as finishing specific routes between cities. My daughter begged me to play with her. I gave in and ended up liking it enough to buy it. Another pricey game, but again, more than worth the price. Even my 8yo figured it out although the cards were a little hard for her to read. Plus, bonus, they learn pre-WWI European geography. A game lasts around an hour.

(I apologize for only giving Amazon links. If you have a specialty game store in your area, see if they carry either of these. You get a great game to play and they make a bit of money. Win-win, in my opinion.)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thursday Recipe - Jungle Salad with Poppy Seed Lime Dressing

Years ago, I decided to throw a party based on one of my favorite movies - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I love it. It's so over-the-top and cheesy and fun. Spiders and snakes and evil priests and magic rocks and INDIANA JONES. I have a thing for the young Harrison Ford. Tasty...

Anyway, the focus of the party was not me drooling over Indie, but the food. Five course meal based on the dinner scene - sautéed beetles, jungle salad, eyeball soup, snake surprise, with chilled monkey brains for dessert. Mmm, tasty.

I'll have to post the rest of the recipes later, but here's the salad:

Jungle Salad with Poppy Seed Lime Dressing

1 lb Spring Mix Greens
1 small head of leaf lettuce
2 tangelos or oranges, peeled and cut into small chunks
1 pomegranate OR 1 red bell pepper and 1/2 c. strawberries, washed and sliced.

Wash leaf lettuce and rip into bite size pieces. Arrange on platter. Sprinkle Spring Mix over top. Arrange tangelos in circle on top of greens. Sprinkle pomegranate seeds over top (or chop pepper fine and sprinkle over whole salad, arrange strawberries inside ring of tangelos). Serve with dressing.

1/3 c. sugar
1 1/2 T. vinegar
1 1/2 T. fresh lime juice
1 T. lime zest
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. dry mustard
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 T. poppy seed

Mix sugar, vinegar, lime juice, zest, salt, and mustard with electric mixer until sugar dissolves (about 3 minutes). Beat oil in gradually. Keep beating until dressing is thick and smooth. Stir in poppy seed. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. (If dressing separates, just mix well before serving.)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thursday Recipe - Pickled somethings

My daughter and I are on a road trip visiting friends and attending a con. The drive was very long so when we found an old used bookstore in the middle of nowhere Montana, we had to stop. We found a wonderful cookbook - The Complete Book of Pickles and Relishes by Leonard Louis Levinson, Hawthorn Books Inc., 1965. I'm in love already. I want to make just about every recipe in the book. (Sorry, the Jerusalem artichoke pickles will never happen at my house. I detest Jerusalem artichokes.) I even found recipes for pickled crabapples and Lady apples. Mustard pickles, fruit pickles, vegetable pickles, relishes galore - this book is making me drool. I love pickles.

There's one page the book opens to. Here's the recipe on that page. I'm making this one as soon as I can find the ingredients. I'm making as many of the others as I can. I'll post recipes and my results as I do it. If not this summer, definitely next.

Curry Pickle Chunks

3 lbs. 4-5 inch pickling cucumbers
1 2/3 c. white vinegar
1 c. sugar
1 1/2 t. curry powder
2 T. mustard seed
1 1/2 t. celery seed
2 t. salt (pickling salt preferred. The iodine in regular salt can make pickles turn a funky brown color.)

Wash cucumbers thoroughly, cut into chunks.

Combine remaining ingredients and mix well. Heat to a boil. Add cucumbers. Heat just to boiling point; then simmer while quickly packing 1 hot sterilized jar at a time. Fill to 1/8 inch from top. Be sure vinegar solution covers vegetables. Seal each jar at once. Makes 4 pints.

If you make these, please let me know how they turn out.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me

The title should give it away. It's my birthday today. I'm halfway to ninety now. That's a lot of birthdays. And a lot of gifts over the years. I don't remember most of them, shirts and books and movies and chocolate. The best gifts didn't come on my birthday and weren't just a one time thing. Here's a list, in no particular order.

1. The gift of music. My parents paid for four years of piano lessons. I didn't practice like I should have, but I did enough to learn how to play. I still enjoy it even though the antique piano in my front room needs some restoration work and re-tuned. My favorite pieces to play are the old classics - Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky. I've attempted some of the harder pieces but haven't practiced consistently enough to master them.

2. The gift of reading. I taught myself to read when I was four. I can't remember not being able to read. I love books. I thank my mom and dad for keeping a huge library in our basement and letting me have the time to explore all those wonderful treasures.

3. The gift of writing. Thanks to all those patient teachers who put up with me for all those years of school, I know how to put sentences together. Thanks to the great SF writers who taught me to dream and follow my imagination, I write my own stories.

4. The gift of knowing who I am and loving what I am and reaching to become someone better. The best gift I have ever received is my testimony of a loving Heavenly Father who wants me to be the best I can be. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to provide a way for that to happen. He gave us scriptures and prophets to guide us back to Him. He loves us and wants us to find joy.

5. The gift of family. I have wonderful parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and children. I have marvelous in-laws. If you've seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, my wedding looked like her side of the chapel, except both sides were just as full. Large families are great, especially those that treasure their family ties. I may have grumbled over all the family reunions over the years, but I'm grateful my mom made us go. As I look forward to my first grandchild, I'm glad I have that whole fabric of interconnected family links.

The best gifts in life aren't ones you can fit in a box. Thanks, mom and dad, for all you've given me.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Thursday Recipe - Vinagrette Dressings

Buying salad dressing can be expensive. Making your own isn't that hard. Here's the basic recipe for a vingrette, a vinegar and oil dressing:

1/3 c. vinegar
1/2 c. oil
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper

Put everything in a tightly capped bottle and shake well. Refrigerate for one hour to let the flavors blend.

Simple, yes? The dressing will separate, so serve it in the bottle with the tight lid so people can shake it right before serving. Some people will be tempted to cut down on the oil in the dressing because they are watching their weight. Don't. The oil helps the rest stick to your salad. Just use less of it. And make sure you use a good oil, any oil will do but a good olive oil or canola oil will taste good and be good for you.

Now for the fun part - variations. Don't be afraid to experiment. Try a flavored oil or an exotic one. Try a gourmet vinegar. Try other spices or herbs. If you aren't sure, just cut the recipe down and try a little. Here are some ideas:

Sesame dressing: substitute 2 T. sesame oil for 2 T. of the oil in the recipe. Add 1 t. lemon zest (the yellow part of the peel, grated and chopped fine), 1/2 t. garlic powder, and 1 T. toasted sesame seeds.

Italian: Add 1 T. finely minced onion, 1 t. finely chopped garlic, 1 t. dried oregano, 1 t. dried basil, and 1 t. dried parsley.

Ceaser: Use the Italian variation and add 2 T. finely grated parmesan cheese.

Red wine dressing: Substitute red wine vinegar. Add 1 t. dried rosemary and 1/2 t. garlic powder.

Balsamic sweet dressing: Substitute balsamic vinegar. Add 1 T. sugar, 1/2 t. dried thyme, and 1/2 t. rosemary.

Orange ginger dressing: Substitute orange juice for the vinegar. Add 1 t. orange zest (the orange part of the peel, chopped fine), 1 t. ground ginger, 1/2 t. garlic powder, 1/2 t. onion powder, 1 T. soy sauce, and a dash of red pepper flakes. Use more if you like it spicy.

Peanut curry dressing: Mix 1 T. creamy peanut butter with the oil until smooth. Whisk in the vinegar, salt, pepper, 2 t. curry powder, 1 t. onion powder, 1/2 t. garlic powder, and red pepper flakes to taste.

Go try something new with your salad dressing.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Free Flash Fiction!

I went shopping for a lamp this afternoon. We went to the thrift store and looked for a nice hanging lamp to go over the love seat in my family room. No luck. So, my husband suggested we go look at cars, just window shopping, kick a few tires, see what's out there, that kind of thing. Big mistake. I now own a 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan that is replacing my 1995 Dodge Ram 15 passenger van. Anyone want to buy the van?

Because I'm too tired to write anything else, here's a silly piece of flash I wrote a while ago. The idea was triggered by a comment from my son- "Why are they dust bunnies? Why not dust rhinos or dust kitties or dust dolphins?" Enjoy.

Dusting Wars

"General! The left flank is crumbling. What shall we do?"

"Buck up, man. We still have the power to beat this thing. Send out the rhinoceros. Bugle call, right flank, close the gap." General DB waved his baton. His troops rallied to his cry.

The rhinoceros charged, gray fluffy bits trailing in his wake. The assorted bunnies and animals followed, bellowing battle cries as they charged toward the fanged mouth of the monster menacing their home.

The monster growled, a roar so loud and terrifying that General DB shivered a whole fluff of cat hair loose. The rhinoceros thundered forward, a huge concoction of couch fibers, hairballs, pet fur, and dust. The monster's mouth swept closer, the roar constant. The sound drowned the screams as the front line troops disappeared into its maw.

General DB's aide froze, eyes wide in terror. The beast decimated the army, sucking whole squads into the bristle lined mouth. "We are going to die."

The troops scrambled backwards in full retreat. The monster slid its mouth closer, metal neck clattering on the floor.

"General, what are we going to do? The thing has our backs to the wall."

"Literally." General DB thumped his baton against the baseboard where the infant dust creatures gestated. "We must save our young. This vile creature must be stopped."

"How, sir?" His aide quivered, shedding bits of fluff and bread crumbs.

"We must sever its power umbilical. It is time to summon the Ferrous Feral One." General DB snapped his baton against the metal grate set into the flooring.

"But, General, he is evil incarnate. They say that he's mad, sir." The aide leaned close. "He even ate his own young."

"Be that as it may, without him, we have no hope. Our entire colony will be devoured by that creature." General DB hammered on the heating grate. "Oy, you, Ferrous One. We need your help."

"What's in it for me?" The gravelly metallic voice rattled through the duct.

"First rights to any coins or metal bits that fall through Couch Clouds."

"Your entire hoard, as well?" A fragment of dusty hair poked through the grill to study General DB.

"If you do not help us, our hoard will be swept away into the belly of the beast, along with our entire colony. We need your assistance, Ferrous One."

"You banished me, claimed I was too contentious for your fuzzy clan."

"Look at yourself, man. Metal bits poking out everywhere. You tore three of us to shreds just rolling past."

The Ferrous One pulled himself from the grate. Staples framed a gaping mouth, twisted into a wide grin. "I like the sharp bits. I used to live beneath a Desk."

"Yes, I know. Hurry, man, or there will be nothing left to save." General DB moved to prod the Ferrous One, but hesitated at the spiky mass of metal paperclips, staples, and thumbtacks protruding from its back.

The mouth of the monster slashed through the dust troops, sucking them wholesale into its belly.

"I shall return. And you shall honor your promise." The Ferrous One dribbled tacks beneath the General as a threat.

"Your courage and bravery shall live forever in our legends." General DB saluted the dangerous dust ball.

The Ferrous One charged towards the bristled maw, trailing staples in his wake. The mouth sucked him in. The monster swept its neck closer to the general and his aide.

"He failed, sir. What now? Do we die, sir?"

General DB squeezed back against the baseboard, spreading his fluff to protect the young.

"It was a pleasure to serve with you, sir."

The mouth swept closer, scratching over the floorboards. The constant roar increased in volume. General DB closed his eyes, pulling cat hair over the googly bits.

The monster screeched. The mouth paused as the belly whined. The mouth stopped, retreating. Sparks flew between the bristles. The high-pitched squeal cut off. The monster lay dormant in the sudden silence.

"What the devil?" The mouth clattered against the floor as something shook the metal neck. "Horace! The vacuum clogged again. You said you fixed it." Giant shoes clomped into the distance.

General DB let out his breath in a long sigh. His fluffy middle sagged away from the wall.

"Are we dead, sir?"

"No, I think we survived, thanks to the sacrifice of the Ferrous One. May his bravery serve to inspire our warriors for generations to come. Let's see who's left." General DB rolled forward.

The bristled mouth of the monster stirred. General DB froze, cat hair dripping from his underside. The monster coughed, a wheezing gasp that spat out the jagged shape of the Ferrous One.

"You've grown," General DB observed as the feral dust creature approached.

"Lots of materials to implement in the belly of the beast." The Ferrous One smoothed his staple smile. "I want payment, General. I lost more than a few of my paperclips in defeating the beast."

"Of course, certainly. Right away." General DB nudged his aide.

"Just drop it through the grate." The Ferrous One paused at the lip of the heating duct. "I have a long memory and I don't forgive easily."

General DB nodded. "We shall not forget, sir."

The heating duct rattled at the passage of the Ferrous One.

"Sir? Where shall I put these?" The aide dropped a dozen bent paperclips to the floor. "Nasty metal bits, all pokey and hard."

"Just drop them down the grate, man. And be grateful that's all he's asked for in payment."

Paperclips rattled as they slid through the vent into the underworld.