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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Apple Blueberry Pie

Time to get patriotic. Baseball, apple pie, peanut butter... Let's stick with apple pie. I adore apple pie. It's my absolute favorite. How about some patriotic apple pies? Make a plain one for the white, a blueberry apple pie for the blue, and a cherry apple pie for the red. With both blueberries and cherries in season right now where I live, and apples available all year round, it's definitely pie time!

A word about the apples - use a variety of apples. They cook differently. Golden delicious pretty much dissolve, so one or two are great to add to thicken up the filling. Granny Smith are very tart and hold their shape. Fuji and Gala are somewhere in between. Honeycrisp are very sweet so you can add less sugar. Red Delicious are red, but I don't consider them delicious. I usually skip them unless they are extremely cheap. Even then, I use them in cooked things like this.

Apple Blueberry Pie

2 T. lemon juice
4-6 apples
1-2 c. fresh or frozen blueberries
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. cardamom
2 T. cornstarch OR 2 T. tapioca
1 double layer pie crust (or just do a top crust)

Put the lemon juice in a very large bowl. Add 3-4 quarts of cold water. Peel, core, and slice the apples, dropping them into the lemon water as you go. This helps keep them from turning brown.

Once you have the apples prepped, drain them and put them back in the mixing bowl. Add the brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, and cornstarch. Toss gently until mixed and apples are coated.

Spoon apples into prepared bottom crust. Add blueberries over the top to fill the pie. Add the top crust. Crimp the edges, place it onto a foil-lined baking sheet, and pop into a 400° oven for about 45-55 minutes. When the crust is browned, the filling is bubbling, and your house smells delicious, it's done. Remove from the oven and let it mostly cool before eating.

If you use tapioca in the filling, it won't set up until it's completely cool which takes 3-4 hours.

For plain apple pie - increase apples to 6-8 and omit blueberries.

For cherry-apple pie - substitute 1-2 c. pitted pie cherries for the blueberries. Toss with sliced apples in the filling. Or use 1 can cherry pie filling spooned over the top of the apples.

Monday, June 26, 2017

New Aspect of an Old Hobby - Crochet Patterns

I've been crocheting for over 40 years. I'm finally trying my hand at writing a pattern. If you crochet, please try out this pattern and let me know how I can improve it.

Unicorn Fingerless Mitts

This pattern makes LARGE mitts. To make them smaller, work 15 or 16 rows instead of 18. You want it to fit comfortably around your hand just under the fingers and around your forearm as high up as the mitt goes. It should be a little loose around your wrist. Keep in mind that this stitch will stretch more than regular crochet.

If you want the mitts to go farther up your arm, just increase the number of HDC for each row. Starting chain should be number of HDC plus 2.

The pattern works vertically up and down your arm, not around it. The finishing row makes a seam up the side of the mitt from your wrist, around your thumb, and just under your first finger. The chain pattern on the surface of the mitts is from the top of the HDC row before.

*Sport yarn worked with fur yarn OR regular worsted weight yarn (I used sport yarn and thin fur yarn worked together)
*H hook

SL ST - slip stitch
SC - single crochet
HDC - half-double crochet

Row 1 - Ch 27, HDC in 3rd ch from hook, 24 HDC across. Ch 2, turn. (25 HDC, ch2 does NOT count as first stitch)

Row 2-17 - In back loop of row before, 25 HDC across, ch 2, turn.

Row 18 - In back loop of row before, 25 HDC across, ch1, turn.

Row 20 - This row stitches the side seam together. Match up top and bottom of piece. Work 1 SC through both the last stitch of Row 18 AND first chain of Row 1. Work 3 more SC the same way. 
Using ONLY the beginning CH, work 6 SL ST. Skip 6 stitches on Row 18. In next stitch of BOTH rows, work SC. This makes the thumb hole. Continue working SC together to the end of the row (15 SC from thumb hole to end). This should stitch both together and leave a thumb hole. One SL ST to the side of the finished seam, then fasten off yarn. Weave in ends to finish.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Grilled Lemon Chicken Thighs

I'll admit I'm not very skilled at grilling anything beyond hot dogs. I haven't done it much, mostly because we haven't owned a decent grill until we moved. Last summer, we did some grilling, just enough for me to realize I don't know what I'm doing most of the time.

So today I decided to jump into the deep end and try grilling some chicken thighs. They're cheap, but can be delicious, and because they are fattier than breast meat, they hold up to longer cooking times without drying out.

Mixed success with grilling them. I should have left them cooking for another 5-10 minutes. They were done in the middle, just barely. I prefer them cooked just a little bit more. They did taste good. Now I just need to clean off the grill...

Grilled Lemon Chicken Thighs

2-3 lbs chicken thighs
1 fresh lemon
2 t. salt
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. smoked paprika
1 t. dried rosemary
1 t. lemon pepper seasoning
1 t. dried parsley
1/2 t. dried thyme
1/2 t. rubbed sage

The day before: Remove skin from the chicken thighs and discard. The skin, not the thighs.

In a gallon ziplock bag, mix all the dried spices. Shake to mix well. Add the chicken and shake again until the spices are evenly distributed on the meat. Slice the lemon thin and add it to the bag. Seal the bag and squish it around for a while to work the lemon juice into the meat. Pop the whole bag into the refrigerate for at least overnight and up to a day or so.

45 minutes before you want to eat the chicken: Heat your grill to somewhere between 300-400°F. Oil it, if that's your thing. I usually skip it, which is probably why my chicken sticks to the grill. Slap the marinated chicken thighs on the grill. Squeeze the lemon slices over the chicken, then discard the slices. Close your grill and let the chicken cook for about 10-12 minutes.

Open it up and use tongs to turn the thighs over to the other side. Close it up and let them cook for another 10-12 minutes.

Now comes the tricky part. Use a knife to cut the thickest one right near the bone. If the meat is still pink, close up the grill and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Check the meat again. You want to cook it until its not pink anymore, then let it cook for a few minutes longer. Then turn off the heat and close up the grill. Let the chicken sit for 5-10 minutes.

Serve hot.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Curse is Lifted!

I am so happy to announce that Autumn Visions is FINALLY out in audio book. It's been a long journey getting to this point. It's only three short stories, but my narrator and I kept running into issues.

By the way, she does an awesome job narrating these stories.

These are different from most of what I write, which is one reason they're in their own collection.

Please share with your friends who might enjoy them.
And please, please, PLEASE, leave a review! I need all the reviews I can get at this point. Yeah, I'm shamelessly begging...

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Balsamic Herb Chicken

This is a strange dish, kind of like Italian sweet and sour chicken. It's pretty tasty, though. We served it over rice with fresh steamed asparagus on the side. They all went really nicely together.

Balsamic Herb Chicken

1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into serving size chunks
1/3 c. balsamic vinegar
2 T. brown sugar
1 t. dried parsley OR 1 T. fresh chopped parsley
1/2 t. dried oregano OR 1 t. fresh oregano leaves
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/4 t. dried rosemary OR 1 sprig fresh rosemary
1/4 t. dried thyme
1/4 t. dried marjoram, if you have it

Place chicken chunks in a smallish crockpot - my 1.5 quart was perfect. Mix together vinegar with sugar and herbs. Pour over the chicken. Cook on high for 2-3 hours, low for 4-6 hours.

If you want a thicker sauce: 30 minutes before serving, stir 2 T. cornstarch into 1/4 c. cold water. Stir into chicken and sauce. Cover and cook the remaining 30 minutes or until sauce thickens and turns clear again.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Yet Another Con...

I just returned from FyreCon. It's a brand-new conference in Utah mostly aimed at writers and artists. Lots of great ideas presented and discussed. Lots of old friends and new friends. Good times. I'm hoping to return next year. This promises to be a great networking event.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended Furlandia in Portland. If you haven't encountered furries before, it's a different world in a lot of ways. These are the people who like to dress up in full animal costumes and have fun. I had a great time at the convention and sold a lot of crocheted cuddly animals.

Both of these cons cost me money. I didn't sell enough to even come close to the cost of the gas to travel there, the cost of the hotel room or meals, or the other incidental costs of attending. But I feel like I got my money's worth at both. I'm there not just to sell my book, which ends up being more about letting people know I write and getting exposure than it is direct sales. I'm there to meet new people, to gain new perspectives on writing and art and the world at large, and to just have fun.

So if you have a convention or writer's conference in your area, go attend. You'd be amazed how nice the people are. Go make some new friends. Network. Have a great time.

Now to plan a writer's retreat for this summer so I can actually finish writing some of these books I'm working on so I can get to the new story ideas I've got stewing...

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Deviled Eggs

I posted about nice hard boiled eggs last week. If you have trouble getting your eggs to peel, go check it out. It might help.

This week, I'm going to share my secret recipe for deviled eggs. These get devoured at my house where hard-boiled eggs tend to just sit in the fridge and smell.

If you like your middle creamy, use a mixer to cream the yolks with the mayonnaise and mustard. Stir in the pickle chunks after you mix it up.

As always, feel free to mix this up according to your taste. Try different pickles and relishes. Try different spices and sauces. Experiment to your heart's delight.

Deviled Eggs

8 hard boiled eggs
1/3 c. mayonnaise or sour cream or cream cheese (lowfat or spread works best)
2 T. prepared mustard (yellow is traditional but feel free to use brown or spicy or whatever mustard you like)
1/2 t. onion powder
1/2 t. garlic salt
1/4 c. chopped pickles or relish
smoked paprika for garnish

Slice the eggs in half lengthwise. Pop the yolk out and drop it in a small mixing bowl. Set the white on a plate. I have cool egg plates that were wedding presents. I never would have bought them for myself, but I really like them. Not necessary but they keep the eggs from sliding around too much.

When you have all the yolks in the bowl, add the mayonnaise, mustard, onion powder, and salt. Mash with a fork until smooth (or use a mixer). Stir in pickle chunks. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Try a dash or two of tabasco sauce. Or some sweet chili dipping sauce.

Carefully spoon the yolk mixture into the whites, dividing it out evenly between all 16 halves. Dust the tops with a light sprinkle of paprika. Refrigerate for about an hour to help them set up.

Serve cold. Makes 16 halves.

If you really want to be fancy, skip the pickles in the yolk mixture. Cream it good with your mixer, then spoon into a cake decorator tube with a wide star tip. Pipe the filling into the whites, swirling into a fancy star thingie. Garnish with thin pickle slices cut and folded into flowers. If you use bread and butter pickles, you can use the red peppers in the pickles to make roses and use the pickles for leaves. I'm not this fancy.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Game Review - Cookie Clicker

This is why my post is late, one of the reasons anyway. My family's been hit with the flu. I've been procrastinating because I'm dealing with other issues. The weekend got away from me. I forgot I didn't have anything scheduled to post today. Yeah, lots of excuses. And then I got distracted by Cookie Clicker.

It's a dumb idle game. You basically click to bake cookies which lets you save up to buy grandmas to make cookies for you, which lets you save up to buy more stuff to make more cookies. When I hit almost 2 billion cookies per second, I had to quit. It had been running on  my computer for over 80 hours straight and was slowing the processor down, especially since I'm trying to pull together some presentations for FyreCon this weekend. Photoshop does NOT like sharing processor power with anything.

But the game is amusing. Try it out HERE.

Or go play the other game that's got me distracted - Word Cookies. Make words with letter shaped cookies. Good for building vocabulary and frustrating yourself. If you like games like Boggle, you'll probably enjoy it. My only tip is to play it with data and wifi off on your phone. Otherwise the ads gets really creepy and annoying really fast.

I think I have cookies on my brain...

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Hard Boiled Eggs

Yep, just plain old hard boiled eggs.

I've struggled with this for years. Mine never peeled nicely no matter what I did. I added salt and vinegar to the water. I boiled them for different lengths of time. I started them in cold water and hot. I tried really fresh eggs and not so fresh eggs. Nothing seemed to make much difference.

Until I moved to Washington. The water here is much softer than our Utah water was. Even with a water softener there and no water softener here, our water is softer now. And my eggs almost always peel without problems.

This really isn't that important of a problem, unless you like deviled eggs and want to serve some that don't look like mutant eggs of a spawning demon.

So here are the tricks and tips I've found to help you boil the perfect eggs.

Hard Boiled Eggs

6-12 eggs
1/4 c. vinegar
1-6 t. salt

Fresher eggs really are better but not too fresh. If you buy them at the store, use them within a week for the best results. If you get them straight from your own chickens, refrigerate them for 3-5 days before using for hard-boiled eggs.

Put your eggs in a largish pot. You want enough room for them to wiggle a little but not too much. Cover them with room temperature water. You want about half an inch of water on top of the eggs. Add vinegar. Add in salt. Go with 1-2 t. if your water is fairly soft, go with more if you have hard water. If you don't know, be safe and use about 3 t. of salt. Regular table salt works just fine for this.

Bring to boil over high heat. Turn heat to low, cover the pot, and let the eggs simmer for 16-20 minutes. Altitude makes a difference. Lower altitudes need shorter times, higher ones longer cooking time. Preference matters, too. If you like your eggs completely hard, cook them for the longer time. If you like your yolks bright yellow and just barely set, cook the eggs for the shorter time.

When the eggs are done, drain the hot water off. Stick the pot in the sink and turn the faucet on to cold. Let it pour over the eggs, dumping out the pot and refilling it several times. You want the eggs to cool down as fast as possible. Let the eggs soak in cold water for a few minutes, changing the water if it gets warm at all. You can even add ice to the water if you want.

Skip this next step if you're coloring the eggs for Easter. Cracked eggs let the color inside the shell and you get colored egg whites.

After about 30 minutes, pour off the water. Gently crack the shells by dropping the eggs on top of each other or stirring them around the pot. You want lots of small cracks. Fill the pot with more cold water and let the eggs soak for another 5-10 minutes. You want water to get inside the shell at this point.

Pull out an egg. Leave the rest in the cold water. Gently roll the egg on the counter to crack the shell the rest of the way. The shell should separate and pull right off. There is a membrane just inside the shell. If you can get your thumb inside that, the shell slides right off the eggs.

Repeat with the rest of the eggs. You should have pretty, smooth, perfectly peeled eggs. If you don't, you can always chop them up for potato salad or egg salad or creamed eggs. Or just make some ugly spawn-of-alien-demon deviled eggs.