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Monday, February 27, 2017

Software Review - MuseScore 2

Where do I start? This isn't the typical software that gets reviewed. MuseScore is a musical score composing program. I'm really enjoying playing with it, so I thought I'd post this here in case someone else is looking for this kind of software.

Screenshot from the MuseScore website.
I've messed around with arranging music compositions off and on for years. I originally did it on sheets of manuscript paper, by hand. It took forever and wasn't easy to read. So I found a music font and did a drag-and-drop, cut-and-paste version. It was just as laborious and only slightly easier to read. Then I got involved in other things and dropped that hobby for a while.

Last summer I picked it back up. I was asked to play the accompaniment for a choir piece. I wasn't happy with the version and neither were most of the singers. I found other versions of the same hymn, but they weren't what the chorister wanted, so I offered to make a mashup version.

The song was seven or eight pages long, much too long for my previous methods of composing. I went on a search for software, because I figured that in the last twenty years, someone had to have invented a much nicer way of doing it. I tried messing with some of the music composition and audio mixing software I have, like GarageBand, but none of them could generate a written score. Enter the internet. I found several programs and tried them out. I bought myself a cheap midi keyboard. In the end, I kept MuseScore instead of the others I found. Even though it was mostly a drag-and-drop entry, it was easier to use and more intuitive than the others. It also has a great set of help forums.

It produces a nice, clean copy. It's got a lot of features buried in the program. I'm just scratching the surface of what I can do. I love that I can create not just piano scores, but full orchestral scores, or choir and accompaniment. It also breaks each song into individual parts so I can print out just a vocal score, or the flute part, or whatever parts I have.

I've used it for four different arrangements now, plus at least a dozen simplified versions of songs for my piano students. The interface is simple enough you can jump in and be creating music within a few minutes of installing the software. I've found plenty of tutorials and help forums for more complex questions. It's a very robust piece of software.

And best of all, it's free. Yep, totally free to download. Available for Mac or Windows or even Linux.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Cheese Muffins

I found my recipe book from my junior high Home Ec class. It's got some great old classics in it. The trick to tender muffins is to stir them as little as possible after you pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones. If you do overstir, they'll still taste good, they just might be a bit chewy.

These muffins are only slightly sweet. You need to use a very sharp, good quality cheese to really get the flavor. They go great with chili, soup, or salad. I think I'm going to go whip up a batch right now...

Cheese Muffins

1 3/4 c. flour
2 T. sugar
2 1/2 t. baking powder
3/4 t. salt
1 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 egg, well-beaten
3/4 c. milk
1/3 c. oil
dash of tabasco hot sauce

Heat oven to 400°. Put paper liners in 12 regular muffin cups and set aside.

Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the cheese shreds. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine egg, milk, and oil. Beat together.

Make a hole in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour in the wet ingredients. Stir gently just until the flour is moistened. You will have lumps! This is okay. DO NOT stir until well blended. You will get tough muffins if you do.

Scoop batter into the muffin cups, filling each 1/2-2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes, just until lightly browned and a toothpick comes out clean.

Makes 12 muffins.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Pickle Report

I tried out a lot of pickle recipes last summer. Most of them I posted here. Now that they've been sitting in my pantry for a few months to develop maximum flavor, and now that I've had a chance to taste them all, here are the results:

Sweet and Sour Pickled Cauliflower - Definitely a YES! But then, I adore pickled cauliflower.

Mississippi Chow-Chow - Oh, YEAH! This is by far the best relish type recipe I have. I eat it plain. Next fall, when the huge heads of sauerkraut cabbage appear in the stores, I'm buying one so I can make several big batches of this chow-chow. Mmmmm... (The other versions of chow-chow I tried were not nearly as tasty. This one has the balance I like.)

Nacho JalapeƱo Rings - Yep, although I'm hoping our jalapeƱos next summer aren't nearly as spicy. These were way too hot for me, but that was the peppers, not the recipe.

Pickled Okra - This was a blech. The vinegar was much too strong. Next summer we shall try again with a tweaked recipe. I'm definitely growing okra again. Much too pretty not to.

Pineapple Hot Sauce - YES! This stuff was amazing. Sweet but spicy with a big tang of vinegar. When I find pineapple on sale for cheap, I'm buying it so I can make more of this deliciousness. One thing I would do different is to chop everything MUCH smaller. I left the pineapple chunks too big last time.

Bottled Bean Salad - I love this stuff. Very much. Nobody else in my family does, though, but that's okay. It means more for me. It turned out sweet and crunchy and so much better than the deli stuff. I'm planting beans so I can make more next summer.

Pepper Relish - My bell pepper plants struggled last summer so I didn't get any of this made, but the stores have been putting peppers on sale for really cheap prices lately, so I may be stirring up a batch of this very soon. It's a wonderful change from the usual relishes. If you like it spicy, throw in spicy peppers with the bells.

84-Hour Pickles - These were amazing! Until I processed them to seal the bottles. They lost their crunch. Next summer, I'm only doing these fresh. Sort of. They'll keep in the fridge about a month after they finish brining. And they are very crispy. So that's how we'll enjoy them.

Pickled Beets (forgot to post the recipe last summer, so it's coming) - Really good, but I'm the only one who eats them. The juice is really fun to add to things like potato salad or pickled eggs. It turns everything bright pink. I think I still have one bottle left...

We still have dill pickles, pickled carrots, pickle relishes, and lots more jam and jelly in my cupboard. But this list of pickles were the best ones so far.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Galoop Hotcakes

This is an old recipe I got from my dad years ago. I think they're called Galoop Hotcakes because you put a big galoop of the batter on the hot pan to make them.

They're loaded with all sorts of good stuff like oatmeal and dried fruit. They definitely fill you up and keep you going for a long time.

Galoop Hotcakes

2 c. flour (white, whole-wheat, or any combo of the two)
1 c. powdered milk
4 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1/2 c. sugar (white, brown, or whatever you have)
1 c. oatmeal
3 eggs
about 2 c. water
OPTIONAL ingredients:
spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cardamom, fennel, anise, cloves)
nuts (1 c. of chopped pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, sliced almonds, etc.)
dried fruit (chop it up if it's large, but any dried fruit works in this, raisins and dates are traditional)
fresh fruit/veggies (grated apple, grated carrot, shredded zucchini, chopped plums, peaches, pineapple, apricots, cherries, fresh or frozen berries of any sort, etc—just make sure it is in small pieces so it can cook)
1/2 c. coconut

Mix all the dry ingredients together. Add the eggs, 1 c. water, and any of the optional ingredients that you want. Stir together. Add enough additional water to make a thick batter. (If you use fresh fruit, you will need less water. If you use dried fruit, you may need to add more water.)

Scoop out by large galoops onto hot griddle (about 1/4 c. per hotcake). Cook until bubbles break and don't fill back in, about 2-4 minutes. Flip carefully. Cook until browned on the other side and not goopy in the middle, about 1-2 minutes longer. If they are getting too browned, turn the heat down. These are better if you cook them slower on a lower heat than normal pancakes.

Serve hot with plenty of butter, jam, syrup, honey, yogurt, pudding, ice cream, sliced fruit, etc. Or just eat them plain.

Monday, February 13, 2017

How the Internet Changed the Way I Cook

I thought about making that a click-bait headline, but I resisted.

I have a large collection of cookbooks, several dozen at least, some from before 1950, most from the 1980s. But they mostly just collect dust these days. If I need a recipe for something, I just turn to my trusty friend Google. The biggest drawback to cooking with Google, though, is that I'm real comfortable having my laptop on the kitchen counter next to things that could potential kill it, like eggs or milk or hot stoves. So I can either keep it on a table away from the food, which means running back and forth to check the recipe, or I can kill a tree and print it out. And then end up with a giant stack of papers for recipes that I may never make again because next time I have the urge to cook that thing, I go to Google, not the messy stack of printouts in my recipe bin.

Every once in a while, I will pull out the cookbooks and just browse through them. The pictures are gorgeous, except that one 70s cookbook where everything is just kind of creepy and weird, even the food. I'm not looking for a particular recipe, I'm looking for inspiration for something new, something different than my usual recipes.

That's the trouble with Google—most of the time you have to know what you are looking for. Recipes can be an exception. I'll decide I feel like making an Indian dish and end up in an ethnic recipe rabbit hole for several hours. It's a fun trip and I usually end up with a pile of new ideas to try. Usually, though, it's just too much. Too many different directions, too many choices.

So, this boils down to a question for you, my readers. Should I take my recipes I publish here every week and turn them into a cookbook? Should that cookbook be paper or ebook? Long or short? Should I do multiple cookbooks that each focus on one thing, like cookies or hamburger dishes? What would you be willing to pay for such a book? If there is enough interest, I'll do it.

Last question, mostly for fun—What's your favorite go-to recipe collection (website or book)? Mine is my old trust 1970s Betty Crocker Cookbook.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Chocolate Fudge

I have done it! I have conquered the elusive Fudge Beast!

My attempts at fudge in the past were pathetic at best. Sure they tasted great. And they spread like frosting. The best fudge I made was what set up on top of cakes when I attempted chocolate fudge frosting.

I did manage this recipe for Butterscotch fudge a year and a half ago, but it only really worked with white chocolate chips or butterscotch chips. They have more wax and fats in them. When I tried the recipe with chocolate chips, it turned into a grainy thick mess that wasn't even close to fudge. So I did some tinkering and Voila! Success!

Chocolate Fudge

1/2 c. powdered milk
2/3 c. hot water
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 T. butter
1/2 t. salt
7 oz marshmallow creme
1 1/2 c. chocolate chips

Mix powdered milk, hot water, sugar, butter, and salt in a 2-qt saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a good boil. Boil and stir for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Stir in marshmallow creme and chocolate chips. Keep stirring until it is smooth. Pour into a buttered pan (I like to use a glass pie pan) then refrigerate until set.

Store fudge in the fridge.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Sales Tactics, or How Not to Be a Used Car Salesman That Everyone Hates

This whole rant was triggered by an advice post on a blog for indie authors wherein (there's that academia writing again!) they advise you to get in the prospective customer's face and shove your book in their hands, because if they are holding your book, YOU ARE 90% CERTAIN OF A SALE! And it's all about money, right?

I hate being a sales person. I hate shoving my books at people and screaming, "See what I wrote? You're going to love it! Throw money at me! NOW!" The people who do this at conventions really annoy me. I know I'm not alone. Anyone who's gone to a con lately knows who I'm talking about - that indie author who rents a hall table for the whole weekend and accosts you every time you even get close to their table, the one that you avoid making eye contact with because it might trigger the crazy again.

I am definitely not against indie authors. I am one myself. I'm not against people renting hall tables to hawk their wares. I enjoy talking to those people. Usually. They make cool stuff and write cool books. I am against those people who act like used car salesmen, the ones who shove it in your face every freaking time you walk past until you start avoiding that end of the hotel entirely. I have friends who bought the book just so they could safely walk past the table. They'd wave it at the author who was poised to launch another assault on them. I think most of them threw it away when they got home.

I'm sure I've missed out on lots of sales because I can't do that. Don't get me wrong, I'm passionate about my stories. I have drive and ambition. I'm also an introvert with social anxiety. I can't make myself get in people's faces and shove books at them and demand payment. I also want them to buy the book because they want to read it, not to get me to quit bothering them.

I'll be honest, my writing is more of a hobby that makes pizza money than a career. I do put lots of sweat and tears into writing. I spent years writing at least six hours a day and churning out lots of stuff. I sent it off to publishers and when that didn't work out, I published it myself. I'm proud of my lengthy and respectable Amazon author page. But the sales just aren't rolling in.

Which brings me to my conclusion. My sales tactics are to write what I enjoy reading and do my best to get the word out using the low-key tactics I can stand doing. So, if you enjoy my writing, please leave a review on Amazon. (Even if you didn't enjoy it, please leave a review!) Tell your friends about the book. Help me spread the word.

And thank you for reading.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Beer Rocks or Bierocks

Bierocks or Beer Rocks, as they shall henceforth be known at my house, are hot sandwiches. Sort of. They're related to Piroshky and empanadas and calzones. They're the watchagot dishes of the sandwich world.

Bierocks are German comfort food. Stretchy bread dough is wrapped around a filling of cooked hamburger, onion, and cabbage, then baked. I went untraditional because I like more flavor in my sandwich and I had bulk sausage thawed, not hamburger. These are definitely on my make-it-again list. Very tasty and not really that much work. They do take some time, but it's worth it.

(This is easier with a stand mixer or bread maker, but if you don't have either, you can make the dough by hand. It's just going to take a while to knead it smooth. Warning: I've killed several stand mixers trying to make bread. Unless yours is specifically designed for making bread, it won't be able to handle this dough. I have a Bosch and it works great. A KitchenAid with a dough hook would also work great.)

I based my recipe loosely off this recipe.

Beer Rocks or Bierocks

1 1/2 c. warm water
3 T. powdered milk
1/4 c. butter
1 1/2 t. salt
2 1/2 c. white flour
2 c. whole wheat flour
1/3 c. brown sugar
4 t. yeast

1 lb bulk sausage (just a regular flavor breakfast sausage is great)
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 head green cabbage, shredded
1/2 t. black pepper (optional)

First, make the dough. Add everything in order listed to either a bread maker (one that can handle a 2-lb loaf and has a dough setting) or a stand mixer with a dough hook. Turn on the mixer (or start the bread maker on the dough setting) and let it run for 10 minutes. If you don't have either, dump everything except the flours in a large mixing bowl and beat together with a spoon. Add the flour and mix until it forms a soft dough. Turn it out on a floured surface and knead it for a good 10-15 minutes, until it is smooth and very elastic.

Set the dough aside and loosely cover it with a damp towel. Let it rise for about 2 hours, until it is very poufy and at least double in size.

Punch the dough down and set it aside while you make the filling.

Brown the sausage and onions in a large frying pan until the sausage is almost done and the onion is soft. Add the cabbage and cook for another 3-5 minutes, just until the cabbage wilts. Stir in the black pepper if you want it a little spicier. Remove from the heat and let it cool while you roll out the dough.

Roll out the dough into a large rectangle. It should only be about 1/4 inch thick. Take your time rolling it out. It will be stretchy but you don't want to tear holes in it. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into 16 larger squares or 24 smaller squares.

Grease two large baking pans (if you went with larger squares) or two muffin tins (the larger ones that make a dozen muffins each, if you went with the smaller squares).

Put a scoop of filling on a square (1/3 c. for larger squares, 1/4 c. or less for the smaller squares). Pinch opposite corners together, then pinch the side seams to seal the filling inside. Place the roll seam side down on the baking sheet/in a muffin cup. Repeat until you run out of squares. If the filling oozes out a lot, try using a little less filling per roll.

Once you have them all filled and rolled, set them aside for 15 minutes while you pre-heat the oven to 375°F. Bake the rolls for 25 minutes (large)/ 20 minutes (muffin size).

Serve warm with plenty of mustard and pickles.