Thursday, May 17, 2018

Basil basalmic strawberries

In the interests of cutting down sugar, I made dessert with berries instead of ice cream. In the interest of harvesting some of the basil before it rises up in revolution (it's already growing riotously), I paired it with strawberries and white balsamic vinegar. You can use standard black balsamic vinegar, but it doesn't look quite as pretty. Tastes just as good, though!

Berry Balsamic Basil  Dessert

1/4 cup white basalmic vinegar
1 tsp fresh-ground black pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil (I julienned it, but you don't have to)
2 Tbsp honey (I used Killerbees Sourwood honey, which is awesome in this recipe.)
2 lbs strawberries, tops removed and sliced into quarters

In a ziplock bag, mix vinegar, honey, pepper, and basil. Let stand about 5 minutes to make sure it's really well mixed.
Top and quarter strawberries, and add to the bag. When finished, seal the bag and turn until all the strawberries are coasted.
Stick bag in fridge for somewhere between 15 minutes and 1.5 hours. Serve chilled, alone or with whipped cream or (for the high carb among us) vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Low Carb Borscht

I know, borscht brings to mind just beets and potatoes, right? Except, I've had this before from a wonderful woman who was taking Russian 101 as her easy-A while struggling through an English class. She remarked that this was the borscht her grandmother dreamed of making... and here in America, where you could not only afford to buy beef, but it's also actually available, too! Hers still had one defiant potato, removed here in the interest of carbs.

Low Carb Borscht

8 strips bacon, or 2 Tbsp bacon grease
2 lbs hamburger, or diced chuck roast
1 large onion
2 stalks celery
1/2 large cabbage head (or a whole small one)
10 cups of water
3 large beets (or 5 medium)
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tbsp honey (you can omit, or sub in 1 large grated carrot)
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
sour cream to taste (at least 1/4 cup per person)
salt (at least a tablespoon)
pepper (generous amounts. Maybe 2 teaspoons, maybe 4.)
pair of disposable rubber/latex gloves.

Serves 6

Fry up the bacon in a large pot - I like my enameled dutch oven.  When it's fried sufficient unto giving up all its grease, remove and set aside. (You can crumble it and add back in later.)

In hot bacon, brown the hamburger. Add the salt and pepper now, and you won't have to worry about it later.

Chop the celery fine and dice the onions, add them into the browning hamburger. If using carrots, dice 'em or grate 'em and add 'em in.
Chop the half a cabbage head in half for easier handling, and dice it, then add it in.

When it's looking good and sauteed, add water to cover. Works best if preheated in a tea kettle.  Bring to a boil.

While the water is heating (or earlier) Chop the beets so you still have 1 inch of stem left if the greens are on (if not, nevermind), scrub really well to get all the dirt off, and plop them in the water. Add more water if needed to cover.

Once it hot a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and let it simmer for 1.5 hours.

After it's simmered for 90 minutes, uncover, and pull out beets. Let cool, don gloves and rinse them off. Then peel the beets, using gloves to prevent your hands from turning purple. Dice beets, return to pot. Return pot to boil.

Clean up all beet bits before removing gloves, or resign yourself to purple hands. Toss stained gloves.

Once pot boils again, add vinegar, lemon juice, and honey (if using), reduce to a simmer, and let simmer 10 more minutes. Add dill shortly before serving, have sour cream available on table for people to add their own. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Cursum Perficio

I have finished writing the second book. Of course, when I finished, it was just shy of being a novel by a couple thousand words (the official cutoff is 40,000 words.)

So I sent it to some alpha readers who'd helped me with the technical stuff. Unsurprisingly, Old NFO had completely different points and notes on the ambush Peter helped me with, and Peter had rather a lot of notes about the buying arms going sour in a souk that LawDog had helped with... So it goes!

By the time I added all the changes from what the alpha readers came wanted me to fix and clarify, it's made the cutoff for a novel... by 56 words.

It's now at beta readers, and I'm hunting about for cover art. With Peter doing 3 releases in 3 months, this is not the highest priority to get out the door, but I'm hopeful that I'll get the ebook out in the next month and follow later with the print version.

Friday, April 27, 2018


You know, when facing down writing a combat scene, I can either try to cobble it together from various action books and lectures recorded at cons and "how to write a thriller"...

Or I can head over to my husband's office, and say, "Um, honey? So, if you were to need to set up an ambush on a set of switchbacks..."

He perked right up, and said, "Oh, do you have a way to get ahold of some heating oil? Even better if you can cut it with cooking oil and soap flakes!" And promptly erased my preconception of what goes where with a very thorough description of a "bloody good ambush." There doesn't seem to be a lot of "theoretical", especially not when he's being extremely specific. "And then, of the two that bailed out the back, if one freezes, the minibus will actually roll back on top of him. It was lovely. Poetic, even. But the one on the uphill side, if he dodges into the brush, he's now less than ten yards away when he's shooting at you. Exciting, that."

...Right, okay, one Bloody Good Ambush scenario now firmly noted down, I just have to write the thing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Roast Beet and Goat Cheese Salad

Tonight was supposed to be a simple, easy meal. I had already planned to take the box of beer-battered cod fillets out of the deep freezer and pop 'em in the oven. It cleaned out one more thing from the deep freezer, making it one item closer to defrosting easily, while making dinner easy.

But what to make for a side dish?

Being currently possessed of a troublesome tooth and a Monday dental appointment, I wanted something soft, so roasted vegetables seemed like a good idea. But I haven't roasted veggies in a while, so I wanted a good reminder on sizes and cooking times. Off to the internet! Where a "related recipes" brought me to an idea that sounded utterly scrumptious.

The only changes I made to the recipe were omitting the nuts entirely (tooth), and the mandarin oranges (never did like them). And doubled the dressing, which it turns out I didn't need to do (but hey, this way it used up the whole orange, and I can use that dressing on other salad. It's good!) I also roasted nine beets instead of six, because I was dubious if I had large or small beets (my first time working with the fresh, dirt-still-on veggie.) And I bout 11 oz of goat cheese because I can always eat more goat cheese. They must be large beets, because I only used about half the chopped beet on the salad.

One person at dinner elected for just beets and goat cheese, and the "feeds 6" fed three people at the table, and I threw in some extra spring mix veggies, extra goat cheese and beets into a tupperware for a fourth person, complete with a little tiny tub for the dressing. And the last 3 pieces of cod, because the ravening hordes plowed through those and stopped just in time to leave a few pieces for AepilotJim.

Dessert was a single large starfruit, sliced and spread in a circle on a platter, and half a pack of raspberries in the center.And people seemed pretty happy with ti, so I think I'll do this again.

...But after an hour of scrubbing, roasting, peeling, chopping, and so on, I'm not sure I can call it an easy clean-out-the-freezer meal anymore!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Rosemary Success

For several years, I have struggled to keep a rosemary plant alive. Okay, about twelve years. Okay, a succesion of rosemary plants. See the part about struggle!

Along the way, I have learned a bush from the mediterannean does NOT like too much water (Tennessee counts) or winter (Tennessee again). In fact, left outdoor in Tennesee, it joined the summer squash in having mold grow on its leaves. In full sunlight. Apparently, in a humid enough climate, mold will grow on anything, anywhere.

Moving to Texas, I never had to worry about overwatering again! On the other hand, I have now learned that if left unwatered for extended periods in dry heat, just when I'd swear it was dead, add cooler weather and water and it puts forth new sprouts. (The mint, too, is thriving for the third year after twice of "Well, finally killed it this time.") Add three inches of ice pellets or heavy frost? As long as you've got North Texas's mercurial weather that'll swing back to merely cool in a few days, it bounces back. 

I have also learned that heat concentrates the oils a plant produces. I knew this in Alaska - we could never really get the peppers as hot as the ones from the Southwestern USA, even using the same seed. Now I'm getting the other end of it - where recipes call for a full sprig, I have to use a quarter that much, or less, or it'll overpower the dish!

Yesterday, though, I achieved a significant milestone in culinary and gardening achievement. My husband was making a chicken and mushroom stew, and held out a spoon to me. "This needs something. What does it need?"

I tasted it, and said, "Rosemary. Use some fresh rosemary."

He looked at the fridge, then looked at me. "Have we got any?"
"Right outside!" And I grabbed the kitchen shears, went out the door, and nipped off a tiny sprig end of the bush, handing it to him. He hadn't cooked with the fresh herb before, so was dubious - but he trusted me enough to let me try that when we had a friend coming over for dinner. (Slightly higher stakes than just us. If we ruin dinner for ourselves, we laugh and decamp to the Mexican restaurant for good food and margaritas to console.)
It turned out excellently, and now my husband may use it in more dishes! Which is, of course, the entire point of keeping a kitchen garden alive - tasty food!

Speaking of, before I even contemplate last post's zucchini, I need to get planters set up for basil. Because the thyme, rosemary, mint, and oregano overwintered, but the basil, alas, never does. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

And Another Thing!

Winter this year is like a moody hormonal teenager who desperately wants to get the last word in and make a dramatic exit with slamming doors, but hasn't reached the end of the argument. So there's A shout of cold, a finality, then they come storming back in with a deep frost after a day of terrible wind that blow all the warmth away, yelling "And another thing!"

I guess it's just as well that I didn't get the square foot garden materials acquired yet: last night put a frost on all the wilting new leaves on the bushes. Fortunately, it's a strong north wind trying to bring winter storming back down from Calgary, so the just- transplanted rosemary, oregano, and sage on the south side of the house, snugged up against the brick wall, are relatively sheltered.

Alma Boykin of Cat Rotator's Quarterly and I were discussing gardening, and I revealed my cunning plan to her: There's a small section of yard hemmed in on two sides by fence and the third by house, shaded for most of the day, severely unwatered because of the overhanging eaves, where nothing will grow except a few goatheads and a mesquite tree that laugh at my weed treatment. Well, If I plunk down a weighted tarp to keep the mesquite from from getting any sun, and to keep the goatheads from growing, I might as well make it a little 1.5 sq. ft garden, right?

But with such heavy shade and need for watering, It'll have to be something that I will enjoy if it lives, and won't care too much if it dies. Sounds great for a tough vegetable plant. Since we're doing fairly low carb in this household... why not zucchini? I object to paying for the stuff anyway, after living places where it appears in your car if you leave the doors unlocked - and nobody seems to do that here.

Alma thought about it for a moment, and declared, "You need an intervention."