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

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Thursday Recipe - Hawaiian Ketchup

This turned out tasty. It was pretty easy and fast, too, which always helps. If you want it to be more like normal ketchup, send it through the blender. It's got a sweet and sour flavor going with the tomato flavor.

We served it with pork and rice, but you can try it on fries or fish sticks or chicken or whatever you like to put ketchup over.

Hawaiian Ketchup

1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 c. crushed pineapple
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. soy sauce
2 T. lemon juice
1 t. garlic powder
2 t. ginger
1/2 t. black pepper
3 T. cornstarch
1/3 c. cold water

Mix everything except cornstarch and cold water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 15 minutes, until it darkens a little and thickens just a bit.

Mix cornstarch and cold water in a small bowl until smooth. Bring sauce back to a boil. Stir in cornstarch. Boil and stir for one minute. Remove from heat. Serve warm or cold.

If you want it smoother, send it through the blender. Makes about 1 1/2 - 2 cups of sauce.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Monday Musings

Not much is happening on the writing front. I'm too busy doing homework and keeping my house in one piece and remembering my kids' names. School is intense. I'm loving it, though. It's very different going back to school when you're older, and graduate school is a different environment and experience on top of that. This semester I've got a freshman geology class (Geology of the Planets, woot!), an upper division physics class (Operating the planetarium and telescopes 101, so much fun!), a print design class (with an educational emphasis), introduction to research, and simulations in education. The differences between the classes is extreme, at least in how specific the syllabus is and the kinds of homework and tests that are given.

Two of the classes require programming. I've done enough to know that I really don't enjoy programming. But I'm hoping it won't be too overwhelming. It's all object-oriented languages and both classes are group work. Last week, I got my hands on the lighting controls for the planetarium. We immediately decided to start programming in a rainbow fly-through for the show we need to put together. We're doing a pre-school basic show - What's in the Sky? Flying them through a rainbow feels like a fun idea. And the programming wasn't too hard. My partner in that class is a computer science major. That really helps.

My point of this post is that you're never too old to learn new things. Whether in a formal situation, like graduate school, or on your own, education has never been so accessible for everyone. The explosion in online courses and information is incredible.

I spent an hour researching why my chickens are losing their feathers. Turns out they're just molting and it's normal. Thank you, google search.

Have you learned something fun lately? Please share!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Thursday Recipe: Pepper Spice Shortbread

I have this weird craving for cracked black pepper. That sweet spicy hit was perfect the other day in these cookies. It's based off a recipe I found somewhere on the web, but by the time I was done with it, the cookies didn't even resemble the original recipe. It's my usual method. Here's the recipe as close as I can remember.

Pepper Spice Shortbread

1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. soda
1 t. fresh-ground black pepper, more if you like a real bite to your cookies
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. anise seeds, as crushed as you can get them without a spice grinder or mortar-n-pestle unit
1 1/2 t. fennel seeds, see above note
1/2 t. ground cloves
2 1/2 c. flour (use whole wheat if you want)

Heat oven to 375°. Spray a 9x13 cake pan and set aside.

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg, salt, soda, and spices. Beat until smooth and creamy, about three minutes on high. Stir in flour until mixed. Dump into cake pan, then even out and pat smooth. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until barely set. Let cool before cutting into bars and enjoying.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Typing with a Cat in my Lap is *not* Fun

This post brought to you on a post-migraine hangover headache. And if anyone tells me that a migraine is "just a bad headache," then I'll tell you that chopping off all your arms and legs equals "only a flesh wound." I'd rather have the flu. Or chickenpox again.

We have a very large cat named Chunkalicious Rex, King of Lard. He's mad at me for sitting in "his" chair so he's lounging in my lap making it very difficult to type. But he's purring and not biting so that's an improvement over his usual reaction to me. Some days I wonder what the cat is really thinking.

Here are some books with talking animals: the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, or Tailchaser's Song by Tad Williams, or Alice in Wonderland, or the Narnia books. What others would you add to the list? I know a lot of children's books feature talking animals, but what semi-grown-up books use them and do it well?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Thursday Recipe - Pickle Testing Time

It's been five months since I went on a pickling frenzy. Time to test the recipes to see how they really turned out.

Mustard Pickles - Not quite what I remembered but still very tasty. For some reason, the mustard sauce was thin and not quite as mustardy as I wanted. The recipe is good but needs some tweaking. Maybe pickled mustard cauliflower next summer?

Curry Pickles - These had a mild curry taste to them. I may make them again if I've got extra cucumbers. Not my favorite but a nice change.

Zucchini Bread and Butter - I made these with zucchini and with those big old cucumbers that you usually don't use for pickling. I think I need to rinse them better after soaking them in brine. They turned out much too salty and not as sweet-n-sour as I remember. Maybe I'm losing my pickle mojo...

Quick Dill Pickles - Quick as in "quick to bottle" not quick to pickle. They need to sit for a couple of weeks minimum, several months is better. These made a nice strong vinegary pickle with a good load of dill taste. It's another good recipe to use with larger cucumbers, not the giant ones but the medium sized ones.

Spicy Dill Pickles - (See the bottom of the Quick Dill post for the recipe) - These are so good. They really have a great kick to them but it takes a couple months to develop. Definitely on my "make it again" list.

JalapeƱo Nacho Rings - These are by far my kids' favorite pickles from last summer. We tried a couple of different recipes but the plain old pickled peppers were the best.

Pickled Cauliflower - I can't believe I didn't post this recipe. I tried two versions. The plain old pickled cauliflower was just kind of meh, but the sweet-and-sour version was absolutely delicious. My kids fight over the jar when I let them open one. Next year, if I get cauliflower for a good price, I'm making this by the quart.

Sweet-n-Sour Pickled Cauliflower

Cauliflower, washed and cut into small pieces (2 or 3 heads will make several pints)
3-4 carrots, peeled and cut into slices
4 c. vinegar
2 T. mustard seed
1 c. sugar
2 t. celery seed

Stuff pint jars with carrot slices and cauliflower. Set aside.
Mix vinegar, sugar, mustard seed, and celery seed in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to make sure sugar is completely dissolved. Pour over vegetables in jars. If you run out of syrup, you can make more as needed. One batch of syrup will make 4-6 pints, depending on how tightly you pack the vegetables.
Process in a boiling water bath for 10-20 minutes, depending on your altitude, to seal. Let sit in a cool, dark place for at least a month.
Open and enjoy.

You can try adding sliced celery or sweet peppers or pearl onions to the mix if you want more of a garden mix.

Monday, January 13, 2014

What is Truth?

In one of my classes, we're discussing the philosophy of science. It's interesting even if it makes my head hurt and my eyes bleed some days. It's an exploration of why scientists do what they do more than a discussion of what or how they do it. What motivator drives people to explore or to explain what they observe? Is there an absolute truth to things that we can discover?

Science by its nature is a search to disprove ideas. You can never prove a hypothesis absolutely correct and true, you can only prove its falseness.

So what is truth? Is it an idealized realization of a concept or idea? Is it an abstraction of observed phenomenon? Or is it something we can never truly measure or understand? According to science, we can't know truth, we can only know un-truths. But even then, do we truly know if it's untrue or do we just know that our experiments and observations don't match what should be if our hypothesis is a good explanation or approximation of whatever we're trying to explain? This is why philosophy makes my brain hurt.

Here's my take on the situation. Science is a way to try to explain what we observe. We come up with hypotheses, explanations for phenomena we can measure and test. We make predictions based on our models. If those predictions work, then we claim our model is valid. Until something happens that doesn't fit. Truth, in this sense, is unquantifiable and, therefore, unknowable. Only error or falsity is measurable and quantifiable. But a hypothesis can be partially false so the whole question of its validity is not a yes/no question but more of a scale.

For hard sciences, I can understand this and it makes sense. In my field, the science is soft and squishy at best. We're working with people, who don't follow and obey natural laws the way chemicals or forces do. Except chemicals and forces have unexpected outcomes sometimes that end up changing our whole idea of how the universe works.

The only time I can make a declarative statement is when it comes to religion. Faith is not the same as scientific knowledge. In science, we can claim that our hypothesis appears to be valid since the predictions match the measured outcomes and nothing else we measure contradicts it. But with faith, I can state unequivocally that I know and believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God. That knowledge is not based on a measured process but on an internal belief system. The two types of knowledge are not mutually exclusive. I can question the formation of the solar system but still believe that a Creator was behind the process.

The hard part of education is where the two intersect. People have beliefs and faith and emotions and all sorts of motivators that are difficult if not impossible to measure and quantify. People are also individuals. What affects one person may affect another in a completely different way. That leads into a discussion on agency vs. determinism. We only skirted that one in class.

Either way, no matter how unbiased we may claim to be, everyone has biases. No matter how carefully the science experiment may be structured, it will have biases. Being aware of these assumptions and biases will help us make better informed decisions. And isn't that the real point of religion AND science? To help us live better lives and be better people.

Truths come in different sizes. Small truths can be as simple as, "The grass is green," or "Granite is composed of silicate minerals," or even "I enjoy eating Parmesan cheese on my noodles." My small truths may not be the same as your small truths because of my experiences and beliefs.

Larger truths tell us more about who we are, as individuals and as humans. To use an example from class, the small truth may be that a picture on the wall is crooked. The larger truth may be that the wall is skewed or that the picture is hung wrong. An even bigger truth may be that we as humans prefer right angles which is why the crooked picture bothers us enough that we notice it.

The biggest truth of all is that we are children of a God who loved us enough to allow us to question Him, who loved us enough to send His Son to atone for us.

We can each determine our own truths, based on faith or science or whatever we choose. That's the real beauty of philosophy. Even if it makes my eyes bleed some days when I try to understand.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Thursday Recipe - Dairy-Free Citrus Pudding and Meringues

This recipe is based off the filling for lemon meringue pie out of my trusty old Betty Crocker cookbook. It makes a great dessert for this time of year. It's cold and nasty outside. We get horrible inversions that just make the air gunky and trigger all sorts of health problems. This pudding is a refreshing way to remember that spring will come and summer won't be far behind and then we'll be complaining about the heat. It's always something.

The meringues are to use up the egg whites, plus they add some texture to the dish and an extra touch of sweetness. Meringues can be a little tricky. If done right, they bake up light and fluffy with a nice crunchy exterior. The trick is to let them cool in the oven. Bake them last thing before you go to bed, turn off the oven and leave them inside to cool overnight. Once done, store in a loosely covered container. Don't seal them up or they'll go soft.

If you like tart, use the lesser amount of sugar. If you like it sweeter, add the higher amount of sugar.

Dairy-Free Citrus Pudding

1 to 1 1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. cornstarch
1 1/2 c. water
3 egg yolks, beaten smooth
3 T. butter
enough lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit, etc to yield 1 1/2 c. juice (use just one kind or mix and match)

Mix sugar and cornstarch together in a medium saucepan. Stir in water. Whisk until smooth, then turn on the heat to medium high. Cook and stir until the mixture thickens and boils. Boil for one minute, stirring the whole time. Remove from the heat. Stir about 1/3 of the hot mixture into the egg yolks. Whisk it smooth. Stir the egg mixture back into the hot stuff in the pot. Bring back to a boil. Boil and stir for one minute.

Remove from heat. Stir in butter and citrus juice. Whisk until very smooth. Pour into serving bowl or dishes. Cover loosely and refrigerate until set, at least two hours.

Serve with meringues. Garnish with citrus peels, fresh lemon slices, chocolate curls for orange, or whatever you'd like.

Meringues (Pavlova)

3 egg whites
1/4 t. cream of tartar
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 t. vanilla

Heat oven to 225°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside

Beat egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. Add sugar, 1 T. at a time, beating really well after each addition. Add vanilla. Beat on high until stiff and glossy. This takes at least five minutes. Don't underbeat it. It looks like really stiff whipped cream.

Spoon onto the baking sheet. It should make about a dozen mounds. Bake for one hour. DO NOT REMOVE FROM THE OVEN. Turn the oven off and let them cool inside for at least an hour and a half. Remove the sheet from the oven and finish cooling on the counter. They should be very very lightly browned and may crack on the outside.

Store in a very loosely covered container.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Cover Reveal! And an update

Nexus Point is now out of print. The ebook is still available but the paperback is no longer published. I'm working on a revision for it, but it's slow going. I'm embarrassed by how bad the writing is. I think I'm good at characters and plot, but the writing itself sucks. Big time. Fortunately, writing is something you improve with practice. Lots and lots of practice.

So, here's to improved writing and better story flow. For those of you who read Nexus Point and still loved the story, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for wading through that horrible prose and sticking with it enough to see the story and fall in love with the characters.

As soon as I'm done revising book one, I'll pick up book eight and get it published. My original goal of one book a month has been derailed by school and health issues, but I only have four more in the series. Thanks for your patience.

If you enjoyed the series so far, please tell your friends. Word of mouth is really the only way anyone finds books anymore. If you would post reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Scribd, B&N, Smashwords, and anywhere else, I will love you forever, no matter how many stars you give my books.

Okay, whiny writer rant over. How about a look at the new cover for Nexus Point? I'm in love with this one.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Thursday Recipe - Creamed Grinch Soup

What better way to start off the New Year than with a recipe involving my favorite Christmas story? The Grinch was always my favorite one to watch on TV.

Here's the story behind the recipe. It was late. Everyone was hungry. I was tired and didn't want to cook. So I started scrounging. I had leftover ham, some frozen broccoli, a couple of packages of noodles, and some other random bits of food lying around. I thought, what about a cream sauce with broccoli and ham to go on the noodles? My kids love that. But wait, I'm trying to avoid dairy. Maybe if I cream the broccoli with a blender... That's much too runny. How can I thicken it? Hm, cornstarch didn't work so well. *cue light bulb* I have Cream of Rice in the cupboard that really needs to be used. It thickens things.

I'm lucky I didn't end up with green splatters across the ceiling the way I was cooking. It didn't end up as a sauce, more of a soup. But it was much tastier than I expected. My kids ate it and asked for more. It still needs tweaking, but for now, here's the Grinch, creamed.

Creamed Grinch Soup

1 16 oz package frozen broccoli (chopped or chunks or whatever, it won't matter in a few minutes)
2 c. frozen cauliflower, if you've got it
4 c. hot water
1/4 c. Better-Than-Bouillon, chicken flavor
1/3 c. Cream of Rice granule thingies
1 c. chopped ham (spiced glazed spiral cut adds a lot of nice flavors to this soup)

Dump broccoli, cauliflower, water, and bouillon in a large pot. Bring to a boil. Boil for a couple of minutes until the vegetables are mostly tender. Use a stick blender to cream the heck out of them. Be careful not to splatter yourself because that stuff is boiling hot and will burn you. (The marks have mostly faded...)

Sprinkle the cream of rice over the boiling mixture, stirring the whole time. Use the blender to cream out any lumps. Cook and stir until the soup is thick and creamy. Stir in the ham. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve. Threaten children who make fun of your strange cooking methods.

Feel free to add to this soup. Some things that come to mind:
Shredded carrots
Chopped green onions
Cheese - parmesan is really good, or a sharp cheddar (unless you're trying to avoid dairy)
Fresh spinach or chard, just to add to the green color