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

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Thursday Recipe - Flourless Peanut Butter Zucchini Brownies

Yeah, you read that right. Flourless peanut butter zucchini brownies. I have zucchini because I planted some and it grew. I'm still proud of my green thumb. I've been known as the zucchini killer for quite a few years now. Nice to know that a change of location also changed my black thumb green.

I was making zucchini brownies (and banana brownies with this recipe) because I had a pile of zucchini and a pile of overripe bananas. My youngest is allergic to wheat but she loves brownies and chocolate, too, so when I stumbled across this recipe, I knew I had to try it out. But since this is me cooking, I couldn't do it the way it was written. What I came up with is very tasty, not vegan, but wheat-free. This is my version.

Flourless Peanut Butter Zucchini Brownies

3/4 c. peanut butter (I used chunky)
1/4 c. honey
1/3 c. sugar (because I like it sweeter, you can leave it out if you want)
1 c. finely shredded zucchini (don't squeeze out the water! You need it)
1/4 c. cocoa
1 egg
3/4 t. baking soda
Chocolate chips (I used milk chocolate to help boost the sweetness)

Mix everything except chocolate chips in a bowl until well blended. Spread into a greased loaf pan (I used an 8 inch loaf pan). Sprinkle chocolate chips generously over the top. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.

Let cool completely in the pan. Refrigerating overnight is best. Cut into bars and keep what you don't devour immediately in the refrigerator.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Chemical Free Aphid Repellant

I don't like using chemicals in my yard. My husband has no problem spraying and tossing around chemicals like there's no tomorrow, which if he keeps it up, there might not be. But that's a dystopian future story I'm not going to write. Yet.

So we compromise. We use minimal chemicals, mostly to spray the nasty spiders and wasps. Everything else gets to live, mostly. I do sprinkle epsom salts on the slugs, partly to watch them shrivel and die and partly because it's a magnesium booster for the plants, something our soil is lacking. We use diatomaceous earth on the ants, because this area is overrun with ants and I'm tired of getting my ankles eaten every time I go out to work in the yard.

Recently, I noticed aphids on my roses. Not happiness and joy. Aphids are evil. Not as evil as wasps, but getting there. I didn't want to hose my roses with dish soap once a week for the rest of the summer, a great trick I learned from my dad but not feasible in that area of the yard. I didn't want to use a systemic bug killer treatment on them because one, those are some nasty chemicals, and two, I want to cook with my roses.

Then I remembered something a neighbor told me a long time ago. We were visiting on her front porch and I complimented her gorgeous roses. Then I asked her why she had banana peels in her roses. Were her kids being lazy? Turns out she threw banana peels under her roses any time she ate bananas. They kept the aphids away.

I tried it. Guess what? It works like a charm. No more aphids in my roses. No chemicals, no fuss, no spraying, and bonus, I'm composting banana peels.

So if you see black banana peels under my rose bushes, don't worry. I'm keeping the aphids away.

On that same note, that's why I have marigolds growing among my cucumbers and melons and onions growing in the middle of the green beans.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Thursday Recipe - Apricot Jam

I was gifted a giant bowl of the cutest little apricots ever. My friend grew them on her tree. They are tiny but very tasty. We ate them like candy.

I took what was left and made apricot jam.

Rum Apricot Jam
*disclaimer - no actual rum is used, only rum flavoring. My kids love this on pancakes and waffles.

6 c. apricots, pitted and chopped fine
2 T. lemon juice
3 c. sugar
1/4 c. powdered pectin (I use the Ball brand canisters of pectin, but it can be optional. I just like my jam a little more firm.)
1 t. nutmeg
1 t. rum flavoring

Mix the apricots, lemon juice, and sugar. Cover and refrigerate overnight. This helps draw out the juice. You can skip the step, but your jam will be chunkier.

Stir in the pectin. Cook the mixture in a large pot over high heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium. Cook for 15-25 minutes, until jam thickens. Stir often! Remove from heat when it reaches the thickness you like. To test, drop a small bit onto a cold plate. Let it chill for a few seconds, then test the thickness. Remember, apricot jam sometimes takes up to a week to fully set so if it's close, go ahead and take it off the heat. And if it stays runny, use it as syrup instead.

Stir in nutmeg and rum flavoring. Pour into hot, clean canning jars. Process and seal according to your altitude. I process my pints for 12-15 minutes. Makes about 4 pints of jam.

Apricot Rose Jam
This is one I ran across online and couldn't wait to try. We have some very fragrant roses we planted so I have plenty of organic fresh rose petals to play with. Don't use roses that have been sprayed or treated with systemic chemicals!

4 c. apricots, pitted and chopped fine
2 c. sugar
1 T. lemon juice
2 T. pectin
1/4 c. rose petals (don't pack them tight, measure loosely)

Mix apricots, sugar, and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Stir in pectin. Cook and stir over high heat until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium. Stir in rose petals. Cook and stir until mixture is at desired thickness. (See above recipe.)

Pour into hot, clean canning jars. Process and seal according to your altitude. Makes about 3 pints of jam.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Awesome Video Channel

I don't know how I missed this channel on YouTube. It is the most awesome, amazing, wonderful thing ever! All it needs is music...

What are you waiting for? Subscribe already!
Hubble visualizations and animations of space travel.

Starting with a fly-through of the Orion Nebula.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Thursday Recipe - Nanking Cherry Jelly

I love Nanking Cherries. They are big bushes that grow little bitty cherries right along the stems. My dad had one in our front yard. It produced a couple of gallons of cherries every summer and we loved to them into jelly. Sweet but tart and such a pretty shade of red.

My friend has several enormous bushes. She was generous enough to share with me. I picked a couple of gallons of cherries and we barely touched one bush. I really wanted to get more but my life got crazy busy.

If you are lucky enough to have Nanking Cherries, try this jelly. It's pretty easy to make, although it can be tricky to get to set up. If it doesn't set up, it makes wonderful pancake syrup.

You could probably get similar results from pie cherries, those bright red, almost clear looking tart cherries. They are larger, but the taste is similar.

Nanking Cherry Jelly

6 c. Nanking cherries
3 c. water
1/2 c. powdered pectin (I buy the canisters and just measure out what I need)
4 c. sugar

Wash the cherries and pick out any leaves, stems, or bad ones. Discard those. Place the rest of the cherries in a large saucepan. Add the water. Cover and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let it sit for about 30 minutes.

Stir the cherries to help release the juice. Mash them around if needed. You want to squeeze all the juice from them so turn that pot of stuff into a pulpy mess.

Strain the pulpy mess through a cheesecloth lined colander. Go ahead and squeeze it if needed. You want all the juice you can get but not the pulp or the pits.

Measure your juice. You need 4 c. for this recipe. If you are short, add water to make up the difference. If you have too much, add the extra to some cold apple juice and enjoy apple-cherry juice.

Measure the sugar and set it aside.

Prepare your jars. You need 3-4 pint jars for this recipe. Starting with clean jars, place them in a sink full of the hottest water you can get from your tap. Let them soak while you cook the jelly. This heats up the glass and reduces the chance of a jar breaking while you are filling it.

Put your juice into a large pot. Add the pectin. Cook on high heat, stirring constantly, until the pectin dissolves and the juice comes to a full rolling boil. (It doesn't stop boiling when you stir and it bubbles up.)

Add the sugar all at once. Cook and stir until it comes to a complete boil, like before. Boil and stir for one minute. Remove from the heat. Carefully pour or ladle hot jelly into the prepared jars. Wipe the tops clean and add lids and rings.

If you process the jars to seal them, the jelly will last for several years (unless it all gets eaten which is highly likely). Process them in a boiling water bath for 10-20 minutes, depending on jar size and your altitude. This is a great link for how to process jars, this one gives the basics on how to figure out your processing time based on your recipe. I live close to sea level now and I was using pint jars, so I processed them for 10-12 minutes and got a pretty good seal. Before, I was at 5500 feet so I processed my pints for 18-20 minutes. Whatever you do, be safe and follow the recommended directions for your canner and area.

If you just put the jelly in bottles in the fridge, it will last for about a month. So eat it up or give it away. It's good stuff.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Awesome Dream

I love it when I have awesome dreams at night. Last night I dreamed I was Dace, the main character from my series, and I was on a secret mission.

The first part of the dream, I was on the spaceship talking with my crew. It seems that Harper (the engineer from Andromeda) had convinced the health inspector to condemn our kitchen because he didn't like doing dishes. He was realizing that that meant he had to eat only pre-prepared foods, like salad, and he hated that. My ship crew also included Zoë and Wash from Firefly and a whole bunch of other random people from different Sci-fi tv shows. The ship's galley looked like it came from a new-style Klingon ship—all dark shadows and sharp angles and weird cabinet doors and bulkheads. It was very cool.

Then I was in a monastery that looked like a giant square room made out of adobe. The monks were discussing their upcoming chocolate festival. I knew someone was going to try to bomb them so I was watching for the bad guy. He was young and very good-looking, kind of like James Bond but better, and he tried to persuade me to join him. I beat the tar out of him and saved the monastery. My commanding officer, Hannibal Smith from the A-Team, was very pleased with me. We all had a big dance party involving fake belly-dancing and lots of veils which we used to cover our escape.

I love it when my imagination is working over time. Now to find time to make this into a story and write it all down...

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Thursday Recipe - Zucchini Patties

Look at this! I have zucchini from my yard! I know what you're thinking: Why is she celebrating that? Everyone has zucchini in their yard. No one wants to take any more off my hands.

I have killed zucchini every time I planted it for the last twenty years. Seriously. I plant it and it dies. I haven't been able to grow it at all. Until now. New house, new yard, new gardening zone—everything is growing here. Except my oregano which died this week but I think that has to do with it being in a bucket and getting baked in the late afternoon and not getting enough water.

Back to zucchini. I picked the first two yesterday. I only planted three seeds, but they are huge and beautiful and producing already. I can't wait to have more zucchini than I can deal with. That will take a lot of zucchini. My freezer is still mostly empty and I *love* zucchini bread and zucchini cake and stuffed zucchini and zucchini patties...

Here are links to zucchini recipes:
Stuffed zucchini
Sautéed zucchini
Zucchini cheese pie
Minestrone soup
Zucchini bread and butter pickles
Zucchini bread/muffins
Zucchini fudge cake

Today's recipe also features zucchini. It's a cross between potato pancakes and egg foo yong, except it features zucchini. I like to serve them like pancakes, except with salsas instead of syrup.

Zucchini Patties

4 c. grated zucchini (larger grate rather than finer, you want big shreds)
1/3 c. grated onion
1/3 c. grated carrot
1 c. flour
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. dried oregano
2 eggs
1/4 - 1/2 c. milk

Toss vegetables together. Add flour and spices. Toss to coat. In separate bowl, beat eggs until smooth. Stir in 1/4 c. milk. Pour over zucchini. Stir to coat. You want a really thick mess. If it is dry, add milk 1 T. at a time. It needs to be wet enough to stick together, but not thin enough to drip.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Scoop out 1/3 - 1/2 c. of the zucchini mixture. Drop into the pan and gently pat to spread it out into a patty. It will stick, so use your mixing spoon or another spoon. Fry for 3-4 minutes, until golden brown on the bottom. Gently flip over and cook for another 3-4 minutes until browned well on the other side.

Serve hot with plenty of salsas and/or spaghetti sauce. Or just eat them plain, that's what I like.

*You can make this with gluten-free bisquick instead of flour and it works great! You can also substitute rice milk or almond milk or even water for the milk, just don't use the vanilla or chocolate flavor.

*You can add 1 c. of shredded sharp cheddar if you want a cheesy patty. Just toss it in with the vegetables.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy Independence Day to the USA!

Fireworks, picnics, family time, and a celebration of our freedoms—that's what July 4 means to me. It's time for patriotic hymns and a reminder of what we enjoy in the USA. It's time to remember our military who fight to preserve freedom. It's time to reach out in friendship and peace to others. It's time to remember that our country was built on tolerance and respect for others, even when they disagree with us.

So in honor of Independence Day, let me share a few music videos of songs that I love.

Happy fourth of July. May you have peace and joy.