Friday, February 20, 2015

Children's authors have the BEST questions

Authors tend to have lots of questions - often about marketing, advertising, formatting, and other nuts and bolts. And then there are the technical questions: making zombies plausible via virus, escape scenes with people shooting at a swimmer, plane crash survivability...

Then there are the children's author questions.
"I understand that, when boiling down maple sap to make syrup, the fumes cover everything with sticky sap. Has anyone made maple syrup at home, and if so is this true?

If you had a dragon creating the flames to boil down the syrup, what would be the best way to clean off the dragon? given that dragons are immune to fire, would making a big fire around the dragon work, or would it just crystallize the sap into maple sugar?"
For the pedantic, yes, the author was corrected that it only produces a lovely-smelling steam, not sticky vapors. However, the quantity of splashes and spills can produce a dragon who needs cleaning anyway.

If you are interested in kid's books with dragons, fairies, and trolls (and I'm mighty curious about the maple-syrup-making dragon, but it's clearly not fully written yet), see Becca Price's books here:

Dragons & Dreams

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Soft blows

My neighbor gave me the most interesting version of the hairy eyeball today. It could be because I was outside in the uncharming outfit of long-sleeved shirt advertising the Kodiak Crab Fest mountain biking race, a fluffy purple cap, yoga pants, and socks with sandals. Yes, you now have an excuse to drink and get that frazzled housewife image out of your head. You're welcome.

Or it could be because I was holding a rubber mallet, carefully working my way down the length of my car and tapping gently on the ice encasing it. I'd already broken a door free, so I had the car running as I tapped at door handles, pillars, roof racks, and side panels. When it comes to uncasing a car, this isn't my first rodeo. As long as you're very gentle, tapping just enough to fracture the ice, you can get large sheets of ice to break loose and crash painfully down on sock-footed sandals. The more ice broken loose, the faster the car will warm up and deice the glass, the lights, and the general rest of the car you don't want to try thumping with a mallet.

I smiled at my neighbor, trying to be friendly despite the stare. "Always best to get the ice off before it gets really cold and freezes down hard, eh?" The neighbor drew back a little, and proffered an uncertain smile.

When my feet were quite cold enough, I wandered back inside for a cuppa while leaving the car running. The defroster had gotten the windshield clear-ish by that point (the wiper blades were another story). As the tea kettle clicked off, I heard the most interesting WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! from the neighbor's driveway, like someone was wailing away on the inch of ice encasing their minivan. Then their engine started, and idled in the driveway just like mine.

Was I supposed to offer my rubber mallet?

Monday, February 16, 2015

If you can't walk on it, don't drive on it.

Mostly, this applies to ice. Now, many of you in the north are currently driving something equipped with studded tires or really good all-weather treads, and if it's a pickup (and quite a few sedans) there's a bag or three of kitty litter / pea gravel over the rear axle. This enables you to drive normally on truly cold ice and scraped snow. It doesn't help as much as you'd think when it gets right around freezing/melting point.

In the south, "snow" and "ice" never gets very cold - it's always right around that 28-34 F range that even Alaskans dread. Southern ice usually comes with "running water on", but since it's such a rare event, they don't distinguish in the many categories northerners hold. This, along with unfamiliarity, is why they're such terrible drivers on ice and snow: even in Anchorage, I did not look forward to driving on running water on ice, and stayed home if I could.

No matter where you live, if you're going to fall on your butt (hopefully) or shoulder with a wrenching and tearing feeling (hopefully not) when trying to get to the car or through the parking lot, it doesn't matter how well you drive... you still shouldn't be out.

This is like "Nothing good happens after midnight." It's a good rule of thumb that keeps people out of trouble.

If you can't walk on it, don't drive on it.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Low Carb Clam Chowder

Low-Carb Clam Chowder

Cook time: roughly 15 minutes

Kitchen stuff used:
heavy stoneware stockpot, large
stick blender
casserole dish
tea kettle (for boiling water)


1 head cauliflower, raw
1 medium onion (yellow is better)
2 medium turnips
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup bacon, crumbled
1 tablespoon dry sherry
2 tablespoons chicken better than bullion + 4 cups boiling water
(use low-sodium chicken broth as a substitute if need be)
2 cups cream (half and half will make thinner soup for lower calories, but a smidge more carbs)
1 tsp cajun seasoning (tony cacheres, to taste)
1 squirt Worcestershire sauce (1/2 tsp?)
3 cans of clams (6.5 oz cans)
1 tbsp parsley flakes
optional: shredded cheese to top

Caveats: all measurements are approximations, based on handfuls, good sized splashes, healthy dollops, and to taste.

First, chop the cauliflower head up finely, stopping to scoop up the bits and dump them in a casserole dish. (Or, if you have a food processor, use that.) Add two tablespoons of water and cover with lid / plastic wrap with holes poked in. Microwave for 12 minutes. Don't worry if it finishes before you're ready to use it; that just cools the dish down enough to handle easily.

Second, start the stockpot on medium heat, with the olive oil inside. (If you don't have bacon crumbles, skip the olive oil and cut up some bacon to make bacon crumbles and oil.) Peel and dice the turnips into small chunks, toss 'em in. Dice the onion and toss it in, too, then mince the garlic and add it with the bacon crumbles.

Once the diced onion and turnips are rapidly turning sauteed, add the dry sherry and deglaze. (Scrape the browned deliciousness off the bottom of the pot.) Then, add in the chicken better than bullion and mix it until it coats everything. Add the water fresh out of the teakettle. (Or, if you don't have a teakettle, resign yourself to adding hot water and waiting for the mix to come back up to simmer.) Stir well to deglaze the bottom again. Add the cream, stir, and then add the cajun seasoning and squirt of Worcestershire sauce.

Open two cans of clams, and add them, including the juice. Get the cauliflower out of the microwave, and add it to the pot. Get out the stick blender and blend everything to a thick chowder consistency. Open the third can of clams and add it, including the juice, so you still have some nice chunky clam meat.

Realize this isn't going to look perfectly white like high-carb clam chowder, and throw in parsley flakes and stir to make it look prettier. Dish up, and add shredded cheese on top if you want to, just because you can.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Growing Up

Today is the day I just took another important step into adulthood.

Today, I bought my first torque wrench.

It is a CDI, not a full Snap-On, though you don't know how much I miss chasing the Snap-On truck like a parade of sled dogs following the bearer of the doggie chow. (Isn't that an automatic reflex in everyone? I know you can make every head pop out of any nook and cranny in an airplane shop just by calling "Snap-On truck's pulling in!")

I was flat-out astounded that my husband had never before, in his entire life, used a torque wrench. All through my formative years, this was one of the things that marked the transition from shop help to apprentice; the trust to be given a job that required a torque wrench. And the fully certified mechanic saying "Let me see your conversion math. All right, you got it. Now, this is the right torque wrench for that job. If you drop it, I break you. Let me watch you set it." I knew I was getting competent when I was allowed to borrow the torque wrench without being double-checked (and you'd better believe I checked my inch-pound to foot-pound math very, very carefully.)

Calmer Half, though, learned his wrenching in the African Bush Mechanic school of hard knocks. This apparently involved more shooting at things with teeth while changing your tyres, and digging out, and "Is it tight enough? Stomp on the wrench again!" and "Well, if it won't move, use the tank to tow it."

So I carefully explained the caveats to him - that there are lots of tool brands I don't know, and I have no rigorous tests or reviews to prove anything. However, my Daddy kept a small basic stash of Snap-On tools and advised "Ten bucks saved on the tool costs a thousand an hour in the emergency room." Also, every airplane mechanic I knew in Alaska used 'em. Sure, they had a lot of other brands, and some things heavily modified by torch and welder to be the perfect tool for the job, but the strong advice was "Get Snap-On as soon as you can afford it."

Calmer Half smiled at me, and said thoughtfully, "I'm going to use it for an AR-15. It's only working on something four inches away from my favorite pair of eyes. I think that's recommendation enough."

Wow. My very own torque wrench!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Adventures in food you can't read

I popped into the Romanian import store to get a treat for my husband while he's sleeping, and found a can I didn't recognize mixed in with the pate selection. Intrigued, I flipped it over and noted it was marked $2,54 on the bottom - so whatever it was, it'd be a relatively lighthearted, cheap adventure.

The store owner perked up as she bagged my pate tins, and waved it at me. "You'll like this! Is wonderful!" I grinned, and we giggled over the joys of surprising people we love with food. She understands that Food Is Love, after all.

When I got home, I cracked open the mystery can to try it, and was surprised by little headless fish in oil. Squinting and bringing the can up to bright light, I found the 4-point english font required for import among the Cyrillic: "Smoked sprats in oil."

Shrugging, I decided to try some with cheese. And that's when my shins were tackled by twelve pounds of all-consuming hunger in cat form.


By the way, they're tasty with a nice sharp cheese. Just lock up the cats before you crack the can, lest you have to excavate cat claws from your thigh.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The ritual words are important

I know, I know, Calmer Half and I share our bank accounts, our home, our marriage, pretty much everything (except the turkish delights, those are all his, and the kalamata olives are all mine). And I knew exactly what I was getting for Christmas (I'd already held it and tried it), and it was a toss-up as to which of us would pay for it, because shared accounts.

That doesn't matter. There are still important rituals that must be performed.

So Calmer Half dutifully ignored the gentle laughter of the gun store employees as he lifted the box, pressed it into my hands, and said "Merry Christmas."

Of course he got a kiss!

...and being a wise man, he was not at all slow to deny any possibility that he was going to make his wife wait until Christmas to shoot it.