Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Scents and sensibility and soap

My husband and I agree completely on keeping a well-stocked pantry. (He calls it "survival prep." I roll my eyes, and call it a well stocked pantry, but it comes to much the same thing.) He believes in well-stocked stores of ammo, to the point I shake my head, smile, and let it go. Similarly, he shakes his head, smiles, and lets go just how many bars of soap I accumulate.

Yes, I have a large store of handmade soap. It's handy stuff, soap, stores well, and you're going to use it all up eventually. (Not unlike ammo, really.) But it accumulates almost accidentally. You see, my skin and lungs don't agree with a lot of stuff off the shelf, so I buy from small batch soapmakers - as the people who make it on a "Sell at the farmer's market / RenFaire / coffee shop" level use their own product, and are invested in making something that's gentle and beautiful.

Peter has long ago learned that I walk a zig-zag path among stalls - to the other side of the path and quickly avoiding the reek of incense that emanates from one tent, steering wide of the scented candles at another... and when I find I'm passing a soap-maker's booth that doesn't make my sinuses hate me, I go "Oooh!" and hook a quick turn in, hand on wallet.

This means I come back from vacation with a handful of bars of soap, instead of the usual tourist trinkets... and when I've used up a bar, I can pull out the stockpile and sort by scent, whim, and memory, like pulling out vacation photos. Here's the bar from the tiny town's founder's fest in rural Tennessee, here's a bar from vacation with friends in Colorado. (That one's really good for dry skin.) This one comes from the middle of a very long road trip, when we stopped at a tiny town in Texas far off the main highways, and found they had a wonderful cafe with awesome mochas sharing space with a Christian bookstore, in a building that had been standing (and falling down) since the early-1800's...

I just unwrapped a bar of lemongrass for the shower from the Davidson County Fair in Tennessee, where we also got stone-ground cornmeal from a watermill that'd been moved to the fairgrounds. (There was a generator powering the pump that moved water from the pond below the water wheel back up to the mill race. Awesome, ingenious, and gloriously good cornmeal.) And Peter learned what demolition derbies were, even if he wasn't sure why his wife was whooping and hollering along with the rest of the crowd. He also learned a lot more about chicken breeds, and why I believe revenge is best served as steaming hot soup, with a side of garlic bread.

Good times. Good soap, too.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Tuscan Bean Soup

A friend was told by the docs he was low in potassium, and needed to be on a heart-healthy diet that includes no salt, no fat, and a lot of carbs. Not only has said diet been proven to be harmful to a lot of people, but my brain hurt, and my mouth exploded. "So, you're not getting enough potassium. Magnesium, Sodium, and Potassium are what we call 'electrolytes', because it's a fancy name for 'salts'... and they're putting you on a no-salt diet? WTF, Chuck?"

So I promptly ignored the doctor's diet, and made him a nice tasty meal with lots of potassium, and no bananas. Due to scheduling issues, the soup was a little late to the table, so the appetizers (log of goat cheese rolled in chopped pistachios and drizzled with sourwood honey, and a dip made of spinach, chopped water chestnuts, ranch dressing mix and sour cream as an alternate for crackers) and the dessert of cubed watermelon and cantaloupe hit the table first, and people enjoyed themselves while I cooked up the main course.

Tuscan Bean Soup

6 strips bacon, diced (55 mg potassium per slice. Bacon is health food!)
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 cups mushrooms (223 mg potassium per cup)
1 Tbsp garlic, minced
 1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 sprig rosemary
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup white wine
3 cans white beans, drained (580 mg potassium per cup)
4 cups chicken broth (I used homemade turkey broth, 'cause I had it on hand)
1 cup diced chicken
 lite salt & pepper to taste (lite salt has potassium chloride to bulk and not be sodium chloride, for the same salty taste.)

Stick white wine in fridge to chill (freezer, if you didn't plan ahead.) Chop up bacon, toss in stockpot/dutch oven. While it's cooking and rendering out all its delicious grease, chop up the onion, celery, and mushrooms. Add them to the delicious bacon fat, saute.

When they're fairly well sauteed, toss in the minced garlic, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, and rosemary.Saute about 30 seconds, until garlic is turning deep golden to a little brown at the edges. While that's happening, open the wine bottle.

Deglaze the pan by pouring in 1/2 cup of white wine and scrubbing the bottom with a spatula, until all the tasty brown bits come off. Pour a little more wine for the cook, serve the rest to your guests.

Add the chicken broth, the beans, the chicken, and enough water to thin it out to your preference. Simmer for 10 minutes, lite salt and pepper to taste. Warn guests about the rosemary & bay leaf, serve to happy stomachs.

And make extremely rude gesture in the direction of the doctors who told him he has to eat no salt but will need to take salt in pill form, and that I can't make tasty food for people I love. Go on. You know you want to!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Italian Sausage & Bean Soup

I am getting closer every day to defrosting the deep freezer. But as I cook through chicken, pork, and beef cuts, I'm reminded my husband really likes sausage. We have quite a few pounds of the stuff. Lacking a grill to make him go do meat & fire things, I decided to try a recipe that called for uncasing the sausage and turning it into soup.

Full disclosure: I doubled this recipe, due to massive amounts of sausage, and only then realized how much soup that'd make. So I ended up with two soup pots simmering away... and after feeding 5 people for dinner, along with cheesy garlic low-carb bread, I only had enough left for three tupperware leftovers. It's a lot of soup, but if you're feeding hungry men, you'll need side dishes!

Original Here:
https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/236616/tuscan-bean-chicken-and-italian-sausage-soup/

Italian Sausage & Bean Soup

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 pound Italian sausage, thawed
1/2 cup red wine
1 Tbsp garlic, minced
1 onion chopped
1 Tbsp better than bullion, chicken (or 1 can broth)
1/2 package frozen okra (or yellow squash. Or both!)
1/2 package frozen chopped spinach
1 can northern white beans, drained
1 can flame-roasted diced tomatoes
1Tsp Italian seasoning*
Water, if needed, until it's appropriately soup consistency.
Parmesan for garnish (The parmesan-pecorino mix is awesome, stuff in a green can works fine, and as this is a garnish, can be served without.)

*I used Tuscany Bread Dipping Seasoning from Amarillo Grape & Olive. You're looking for black pepper, red pepper, rosemary, basil, oregano, and parsley at the least - if your own Italian seasoning is lacking one of those, add to taste. Careful with the salt, given the canned stuff & broth.

Step 1: uncase the sausage. I just squeezed the sausage out of the casing onto a paper plate, one little soup-ball-sized lump of meat at a time. Heat some olive oil in a large soup pot, and fry up the sausage. (I had to do it in batches.) While it's frying, chop the onion.

Step 2: Remove sausage, deglaze pan with wine. Add onion, saute until transparent. Add garlic, saute 30 seconds more until it's smelling awesome.

Step 3: Add sausage back in, along with everything else. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, let happily blend flavours to itself on simmer for at least 15 minutes. (I did it for an hour, and it was delicious.)

Step 4: taste soup, adjust seasonings, serve with Parmesan on the table to garnish.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The spoils of the art show


My dearest darling husband looked inquisitive but accepting when I tugged on his wrist after a panel. "Come with me! I have to show you something!"

Off we went to the art show, around three corners, into the booth with Melissa Gay's art. "See it?"
"I see it." He was waiting for the next question, patiently.
"So, what do you think of it on one of our walls?" This is a question that makes artists stop and perk up, and gallery owners hustle over.  Melissa wasn't there, but I saw three other heads nearby come up fast and orient on us. Good reflexes on those artists!
Peter, the darling man, looked from me to the painting and back again. "Dear... I gave you money for the con for a reason. If you want it, you get it!"
"Yes, but it's your house, too, and I want to make sure you're happy with it." I ignored the one artist who was making "Oh-Ghu-They're-Cute" faces at the other.
Peter looked at it again, and said, "I think it'll go excellently where the Tolkein painting is hanging."
"Ooh! Yes!" And that was that. Well, okay, there was a kiss to deal the deal, but that because I'm ridiculously in love with my man.

If you want to see a much better non-cell-phone pic of it, see here!
http://www.melissagay.com/gallery/fantasy-art/21628630

LibertyCon 2018 AAR

It's interesting how space shapes human interactions. For example, take 750 people, at least 500 of whom are introverts, and put them in a hotel designed in Modern Hotel Awful with small rooms, a sparse cluster of uncomfortable chairs put in the center of the lobby, and a convention center designed on Big And Open For Huge Masses Of  People... and watch 500 people try to find a corner. And not be able to. Corners were not only at a high premium, the design of all niches and private rooms was so small that any group or gathering of introverts promptly felt overcrowded and had to explode out into the open spaces.

The con, as a result, had a rather frenetic feeling to it, and conversations were rushed, hurried, and half-done when people had to move on. There were no good areas other than where the smokers' roost outside to just sit and chat, but we made do. Also, the usual problems that come with ignoring tens of thousands of years of ergonomic design and making everything including shower faucets sharp-angled and rectangular... I'm still finding bruises from all the sharp-cornered things I encountered.

That said, the people themselves were definitely the reason I was there, not the hotel. And the people were awesome. We made the decision not to plan this year out, but go with the flow... except for two author dinners, a wedding reception, and a Christening. And the panels Peter and I were on. Which ends up being pretty scheduled anyway, but... I felt no guilt or "I gotta be there!" about missing panels, and indeed barely made it to any at all. But I found a lot of people, got and gave a lot of hugs, met a lot more people, learned a few things, had really interesting conversations, promised to go to the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop next year. (Seriously. When you find yourself in a conversion with Douglas Loss and Les Johnson, and they say we should go? We should go!)

And Peter had a nice chat with another author about collaborating on a book. More on that later...

Minor personal notes: a year of weightlifting has paid off. Not just in the ability to walk all this without a cane, but also when a nurse friend waves at my torso and says "Your spinal curvature is so much better! Your carriage has improved!" Thanks, Amanda.

And I got a delivery from ACME, via an awesome minotaur courier. Given the first thing I saw him deliver, several cons ago, was a pair of fuzzy pink handcuffs to Sarah Hoyt (very long story, hilarious, but required knowing the jokes her fans were making), I was expecting something off the wall and hilarious. Peter got a book on medieval torture, which made for a lot of laughter. Ian got a bag of 3/8" nuts marked for "quarternutitis", and then had to explain why he was so utterly delighted - the story is best described here: https://thelawdogfiles.blogspot.com/2007/04/its-dead-jim_25.html
So I was a little worried when I opened mine at what I'd find... and found a bottle of Hennessy. Either I'm hard to get joke gifts for, or someone really likes me!

It did not survive the night unopened. :-)

And best of all, what really made our whole con? Was when this nice couple told us that when they'd come to our indie workshop several LibertyCons ago, we told them they ought to go ahead and publish... what did they have to lose?
They did, and they've sold over 17,000 books since then, and it's really helped their income and life.

That right there makes everything worth it.



Saturday, June 23, 2018

Want something to read?

Raina escaped to Freeport with a tour booked under a stolen ID, and a plan to lose herself in the city. Instead, she found a city in revolt, and now both sides are after her to control the alien gifts engineered into her DNA.

Her only ally is an offworld investigator trying to get to the bottom of the explosive mix of on-planet and alien politics... but his secrets are even deadlier than her own.

From the back alleys of the souk to the depths of alien ruins, they're now in a desperate fight to stop the revolution before everything is lost!

 Get it here! https://amzn.to/2MTcXZY

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Beef kofta, sumac edition

Today I decided to make kofta again, but since one of the North Texas Writers, Shooters, & Pilots Association has unhappy reactions to cumin, I needed a new recipe for the group dinner. Internet to the rescue!

I found one that called for green cardamom pods and sumac. These are fairly exotic ingredients, unless you live near an Indian store (or import store with an Indian section.) Then, the "rare and expensive" ingredients are hard to buy in less than a pound, and aren't that expensive. And... three years ago, I visited such a store, and have green cardamom pods and sumac still in my pantry, awaiting more recipes. See, love? I didn't spend thirty dollars on spices just for one dinner!

(Okay, one dinner and quite a few loaves of pulla, because nothing makes as awesome bread as fresh-ground cardamom, right out of the coffee grinder repurposed for only spices.)

Original Recipe here: https://www.themediterraneandish.com/kofta-kebab-recipe/

Modified recipe to follow:

Kofta Meatballs in the oven, with tzatziki

Kofta:
1 large onion
1 large handful parsley
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb hamburger
1 lb mild country sausage
1 tsp salt, divided
1/2 tsp pepper
1-1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp green cardamom pods (or ground cardamom, if you don't have)
1 tsp sumac
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp smoked sweet paprika* (If you can't find smoked, use regular)
1 egg

Tzatziki:
1 cucumber
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp meyer-lemon infused olive oil* (Or regular, if you don't have that)
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp fresh mint, stripped off the stem & diced
2 cups greek yogurt

First, peel the cucumber, grate it, and put in a fine mesh sieve/colander. Sprinkle salt on top. Weight a mixing bowl with water, put on top. Leave to drain.

Defrost the meat. 

Dice onion, chop parsley. Saute with 1/2 tsp salt & olive oil, until onion is translucent & parsley wilted. Add garlic and stir for 30 seconds more. (The parsley wilting is automatic if using greenhouse parsley, but for parsley that survives outdoors in June in Texas, it's about as tough as crabgrass. Takes more time.) Set pan aside to cool.

While onion mix is cooling, remove weighted bowl from cucumber. Dump water. Put cucumber in the bowl, add the rest of tzatziki ingredients, stir to mix. Stick in fridge.

Set out two pans, either with silicon mats or aluminum foil liners for easier cleanup. Grind the cardamom pods.

In separate bowl, mix meat and the rest of the kofta ingredients. (Helps if you have gloves on.) Add the sauteed mixture, one spatula-full at a time, mixing into the meat. (This cools down the hot onion, and prevents cooked bits of meat or burned hands, as well as providing thorough mixture.)

Form kofta mixture into meatballs (I do about 1/4 cup of mixture per ball, slightly more). and put on tray.

Preheat oven to 425, then bake meatballs 15-20 minutes depending on size of meatball and on oven.

While they're baking, make a quick, simple salad. Put tzatziki and salad on the table, and dinner is ready when you are. (I also made a caprese salad for appetizer, and my darling man set the table.)

Serves 6.

*Amarillo Grape & Olive sells these, along with mesquite-smoked salt. Excellent store, excellent spices. Yes, FCC, I paid for 'em with my own money, and quite happily do so again every time I run low! The meyer-lemon-infused olive oil is awesome on the caprese salad, too!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Coming Soon...


Raina thought she could leave everyone hunting her on the other side of the planet and lose herself as a tourist in the big city. Then she walked out of the spaceport as a car bomb went off, and found out paradise was worse than anything but her past.

Now she's caught up in a local revolution coming to a head, and the only person who can help is an investigator trying to get to the bottom of the explosive mix of on-planet and alien politics. Worse yet, his secrets are even deadlier than her own...

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Change of Plans and Pesto Dip

Today's dinner for the guys started off with great plans: caprese salad appetizer, scotch eggs and salad, watermelon for dessert...

But after covering a shift yesterday instead of having the day off, I was trying to combine Monday's cleaning and Tuesday's cooking. And really? I didn't want to get out of pajama pants and ratty old super-comfy t-shirt that was good enough to clean the house, but not good enough for public... at least, not until I was ready for friends to come over for dinner. Thus was born the Mission: Don't Leave the House, but still make a tasty dinner.

So instead of scotch eggs (I need to get another dozen eggs to make those), I put the boneless leg of lamb in the crockpot, as per this recipe:
https://www.ruled.me/succulent-slow-cooked-lamb/

(I had already thawed it because I forgot I was working an extra shift yesterday, and had planned to make it for Monday's dinner.) Minor changes: subbed local mesquite honey from the gun shop for the maple syrup, doubled the mustard, doubled the garlic, and swapped dried rosemary for 3 fresh sprigs straight off the bush in the backyard. And used an entire sprig of my Growing-Very-Well-Thank-You mint, which I have yet again failed to kill. Call it doubling the number of leaves called for. Then again, I think the lamb was closer to 4 pounds than 2, so it all worked out.

...No, if you want to make it yourself, you don't have to get mesquite honey from the gun shop. It just feels wrong to pop into the gun shop and leave without something in hand, but I'm really not going through my .22WMR or 9mm fast enough to justify clearing more space to hold it. They had local honey from someone's hive on sale at the counter, so I walked out with a bottle of honey instead of yet more ammo. It's all consumables, right?

The salad fixings from last week's grocery run got tossed yesterday, so to heck with low carb, time for a filler starch. I have some Yukon gold potatoes left over from making stew, but not enough to make a big pot of smashed potatoes... so those got scrubbed, stabbed, and went into the microwave to become baked potatoes.

And I was going to do a caprese salad for appetizer, but my husband objected. Besides, I'd have to leave the house to get tomatoes. Well, the basil is still trying to bolt and run riot, so it needs harvesting anyway... clearly I needed to make something with pesto!

So I made a pesto dip:

3 cups basil leaves, stripped off their stems and packed in the food processor,
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup feta
1/3 cup parmesan pecorino mix (really any hard-grating Italian cheese. I had this in my fridge.)
 1/4 cup olive oil
1 pinch kosher salt
1 block cream cheese

Mix everything but the cream cheese in the food processor. Scrape into bowl. Mix with cream cheese. Stick in fridge until ready to serve.

And served it with celery sticks, green pepper slices, and three stray slices of sourdough bread I'd found in the deep freezer and thawed.

As for dessert... I was planning on watermelon. I actually had the watermelon. But then the urge for chocolate struck. So I made a 8x8 pan of brownies from scratch, and pulled it out of the oven right as the lamb was carved and starting to be served. They were still warm by the time we got to dessert.

Cooked 'em 35 minutes because I got distracted, did not frost, and they were awesome. Only change: subbed raw cane sugar for the refined stuff, and added a glug of pusser's rum for flavour along with the vanilla.
https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/10549/best-brownies/

Mission: don't leave the house. Accomplished!

Only minor issues: forgot to make a steamer bag of veggies for the table. Not to worry, people cleaned out all the celery sticks and the pesto until there were no more celery sticks.

Also, when cooking for 6? This meal's only leftovers was the pesto dip that had no celery sticks left to scoop it up and eat it.They liked it... and I guess I have to go get the eggs tomorrow, so I can make scotch eggs to take to work!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

A Good Day

It's a good day. The sun is shining, the weather's warm (even if the grass out there is waiting to be cut), and I have a husband who loves me and two cats who have a temporary truce over the open window.

You all have a wonderful Memorial weekend, and celebrate the good things in life, the people you have with you, and the ones who died so we could enjoy this.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Beef Leek Soup

My darling man wanted a soup with beef and leeks. (Specifically,we were grocery shopping and he went "Oh, those leeks would be lovely in soup!") However, come the day to make the soup, and he was not feeling up to standing at the stove for all the prep time.

So I abstracted a recipe from four different sources, and came up with something that he, and company, enjoyed.  Better yet, SpaceX was launching iridium satellites to orbit yesterday, so I got to watch a rocket rise and low earth orbit deployment shots in between cooking. Between a glass of wine or two for the cook, a fire in the sky, and happy company and husband with full stomachs, life was wonderful.

Beef Leek Soup

3 strips of bacon, diced.
2 pounds roast, diced into chunks
salt
pepper
2 leeks, chopped, white and green parts, rinsed thoroughly before chopping
1 onion
1 cup fresh mushrooms, diced or sliced
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 cup red wine
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
1 sprig fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp died)
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped (or to taste, dried)
2-3 bay leaves
1 Tbsp smoke paprika (sweet)

3 medium yukon gold potaoes (because this sort of soup needs a garnish of potatoes), diced large

First, dice the roast into bite-sized chunks. Put on a paper plate with paper towels, so it's dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper generously. In a large heavy pot, cook the diced bacon until it gives up its delicious fat. Remove cooked bacon, and brown the beef one batch at a time, so it gets nicely browned.

While the beef is browning, cop up the leeks. Get a big colander, put chopped leeks in, and rinse thoroughly to get the last of the find soil out of 'em. (There's always some.) Dice up onion, too - you can just throw it int the colander with the leeks to keep everything together. If you have time, chop up the parsley and strip the thyme off its stems, and heap that in a little bowl with the rosemary twig and bay leaves.

Once the last batch of beef is browned, remove it and dump the onion & leek & mushrooms into the pot. If necessary, add some extra fat - olive oil or butter is fine - to help it all saute. (Depends on how fatty the beef was). Rinse off and chop up the potatoes, leaving skins on. When the leeks and mushrooms are limp and the onion is transparent, add the garlic, and the tomato paste. Once the garlic is sauteed (about 30 seconds), add the wine to deglaze the bottom of the pot. Scrape to make sure all the tasty brown goodness comes up.

If you have an electric tea kettle, this is an excellent time to fill and start it. Add the herbs, bay leaves,  potatoes, paprika, and water to cover. Bring back to a boil (this is where the pre-boiled water makes it easier), and then set it to simmer. Cover with a lid, and check on it every fifteen minutes or so. Let simmer for at least 90 minutes. (I let it simmer for two hours, and the beef was utterly tender, but this is the kind of stew that could simmer all day in a pot and as long as the water doesn't evaporate off, it just gets tastier. You could do it in a slow cooker, but you'd likely need to add Worcestershire sauce in order to make up for the lack of browned bits when sauteing.)

Taste to see if you need to add any extra salt or pepper, and serve. (I just put salt and pepper on the table, so people could salt to preference.)

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

Ambush

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.

https://www.chelseasmessyapron.com/roasted-beet-goat-cheese-salad/

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."

Monday, April 2, 2018

Brigid's back!

Brigid has re-opened Mausers and Muffins, and is posting again!

And today, she's letting guys in on the secret of why women spend so long in the bathroom. Hilarious, and true!

https://mausersandmuffins.blogspot.com/2018/04/why-women-take-so-long-in-bathroom.html

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Decatting the keyboard

I have found a lovely way to distract the cat, and free up my lap and right arm from demands for lap time and lots of attention - much less my keyboard and laptop!

I sacrificed a large chunk of my desk surface to a fluffy towel straight out of the dryer, free of any cat fur.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Spring snacks for cats

Yep, spring has sprung. The day before the mulberry tree started putting out leaves in earnest, I woke up to the sound of crickets outside the bedroom window. The mint has once again defied predictions of "I think I really killed it this time", and even the sage managed to survive the "It's dead, so no point in watering it."

The cats have gone from complaining that a closed garage door is an abomination unto Bast, but hurriedly changing their minds upon it being cracked, to wanting to spend hours in there. I was a little stymied - after all, we didn't change much over the winter (it's cold in there.) And there's no kibble in there, and Ashbutt tends to orbit the food dish like a growing kitten.

Did I mention the crickets are back? Ashbutt brought one back in from the garage to share with us, but when we weren't interested enough, he had the crunchy snack himself. 

*sigh*

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Kicking a Ball

So, I have a house. (This is a good thing.) It has a guest room, with bed - because my darling man and I wanted to put up guests as they came through. I may have had to explain "I gotta repay my couch karma!" to my husband, but he definitely agreed with the plan and the principle of the thing.

I also have an office, large enough for the queen sized inflatable mattress Gay Cynic left. (He, being a mischievous man, was prone to calling it the "blow up... mattress" with a waggle of the eyebrows that rarely failed to elicit a giggle.)

Together, they managed to host friends and their small kids this weekend. The jury is still out on whether the chocolate ice cream stains / chocolate sauce stains will come out of the pillowcase on the first round or not. That two year old's reaction to her first taste of Blue Bell almond mocha fudge ice cream was... enthusiastic. Chocolate everywhere, from diaper to dress to hair, and then a food coma right on top of her brother. And the 4 year old managed to make his disappear so fast that he had plenty of time to hold up the bowl with big huge eyes and a poorly enunciated "Pwees?"

I also have a backyard. Because I like to wander out barefoot or sandal-shod in said yard, I put a lot of effort into killing fire ants, and I also pay good money to make it free of goatheads, thistles, and many other sticky stabby thorny varieties of plant. I miss fireflies, but I do not miss tweezing plant weaponry out of my skin.

Said backyard was just put to its highest and best use yet, and the time and effort spent on its grassy state repaid, with a simple phrase. "Your sister isn't done eating yet. If you're done, you may put on your boots and take the ball out into the back yard."

Yep, the weekend included kicking a little inflatable ball left over from physical therapy for the kids, and watching the hobby horse be "fed" the grass as it was ridden around, and the kids digging for dinosaur bones in the bare patch under the mulberry tree (the important part is keeping a straight face when presented with a twig that does, if you kinda apply a little imagination, resemble a bit of pterodactyl wing, or a piece of marble that must clearly be a T-rex "toof.")

I may not have kids, but beyond producing veggies and giving puppies a place to run, that's clearly what backyards are for, sure as guest rooms are for guests.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Sudden Feline Revelation

Today, I built a cupboard. First, I took all the pieces out of the box, and made sure they were all there. Then, I removed the cat form the shipping box, and put the styrofoam spacers in. Then, I started unpacking pieces from the plastic wrap, one at a time, as needed, and laid them out on the floor. Then I removed the cat from the shipping box, and threw the plastic wrap in the box. Then I removed the cat from the parts I was assembling, and screwed the first pieces together.

Then I removed the loose screws from the cat, and made sure they were tucked in the plastic bag where they couldn't be batted elsewhere. Carefully following directions, I built the left side of the cupboard, then leaned it against the wall and built the right side. Then I removed the cat from between the panels and the wall, so I could stack them a little closer for more space while building the doors.


All was going well (aside from the dirty looks from the cat about the shipping box filling up with not-cat objects), until I reached the magic moment, putting on backing panels, when the cat realized he was no longer looking at a stack of strange-smelling objects, but... A BOX.



The Sudden Feline Revelation meant that work slowed dramatically.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Social positioning and puffed spelt with truffles

"A great many women," I observed to my husband as we sat down to a meal, "hate to cook."

"Well, a lot of them can't cook. They live cooped up in the cities with no kitchens, or in row houses with only one kitchen at the end. There's no place to cook, so they have to eat out." He replied, digging into the steak I had purchased from a vendor in individual vacuum-sealed packaging months ago, and just now thawed, dusted generously with twists from the salt and pepper grinders, and seared in an enameled cast iron pan with virgin coconut oil. (Coconut oil has a very high smoke point, which in a kitchen with inadequate ventilation like mine, is a hefty consideration. I hate washing walls.)

I shook my head. "Reversal of cause and effect. A lot of women have always hated to cook. A lot of them have always been mediocre at it, because it's hard to improve on something you hate doing. But prior to the advent of industrial canning, and especially prior to refrigeration available as a mass commodity, most women and many bachelors had to cook to keep body and soul together unless they lived in a city where they could eat out, or hire a cook. You can see it in the cookbooks from antiquity up through the early 1900's; the vast majority were "Here's how to do that thing you hate well. Or at least well enough to keep body and soul together. And a lot of recipes were bland not just due to the lack of available ingredients, but because they tended to the foolproof 'boil it to flinders and it'll be edible and uncontaminated.' Or otherwise didn't expect that women would go out of their way to get fancy equipment, exotic spices, or techniques. Because many women out have always found it a chore that gets in the way of everything else they have to do."

"Go on." Peter applied himself to the steak, and speared a few baby Brussels sprouts served straight from the steamable microwave bag. I should have taken the time to put them in a serving bowl and dress them with infused olive oil and balsamic vinegar, but I had popped them in as an afterthought while concentrating on the experimental side dish and the steaks. They were quite edible, just not amazingly delicious like they could have been.

"Once we had refrigeration in the stores, women and men alike flocked to the TV dinner as a way to avoid doing a chore they hated. The only people who continued to cook, en masse, were the traditionalists, the very poor, and the people who loved it. For two generations, there were women raised deliberately ignorant of how to cook - because having to cook was now a social stigma, and the ability to microwave everything  was seen as a marker of social status. The new feminists would deliberately raise their daughters ignorant of how to cook, because they wanted their daughters to climb the social ladder and become doctors and lawyers and engineers. So they crippled their ability to choose to be home-makers."

I tasted the experimental side dish, and decided that it was best balanced with the slightly bland brussel sprouts - together, they were an excellent combination. "Go forward thirty years, and what do you get? Cooking shows. We now have people flaunting their social status by having a skill that the middle class doesn't - cooking - and their ability to take the time to do it, and spend money on exotic ingredients. And you see it in the cookbooks - we now have a lot of them with 'How to cook exotic ingredients into elaborate dishes.' But even most of those spend a fair amount of time on how to boil water and fry an egg, because people don't have the basic skills.

As with any social status commodity, though, it's quickly made available to the masses, where people still don't have time to commit. So the market is focused on offering both convenience and exotics, for ultimate extraction of middle class money.

And that is why we're eating spelt with button mushrooms and truffle shavings tonight; I wanted to see if the boxed side dish was worth it as a backup 'I need to make dinner within 30 minutes' option."

Personally, I'll probably go back to bulk-bin couscous flavoured with stock and whatever I have on hand that compliment the main dish. The price per serving, and small amount per box, is not worth it when I have sufficient skill and options - but if I were living alone, didn't have a pantry, and were trying to impress a date, it's a nice change from rice-a-roni as a side dish.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Can I count to five?

Game shows are a great example of ordinary people, some of whom are very smart, making less than stellar decisions under intense pressure. I'm afraid I can't point and laugh too hard, because I resemble that remark; in flying, it's why I like my checklists so much.

In the gym, it manifests as a really hard time counting to five. Yes, five. Like the number of fingers on one hand, five. No, I can't move my fingers to track - they have to stay gripping the barbell, because my work set is, by design, the heaviest weight I can handle.

And when my entire focus is on completing this barbell movement, in perfect form, with the heaviest weight I can manage, straining the limits of my ability so I can force my body to adapt to an even heavier weight... it gets really hard to remember things like "Is that the third time I've accomplished it, or the fourth?"

This leads to technical errors, like sets of 6 where I'm so exhausted I flirt with injury as my form gets sloppy... because I was supposed to stop at 5, and lost count. (I default to more reps instead of fewer reps, in a "When in doubt, assume you have more work to do." Fitting right in there with assuming fuel burn is higher than estimated, there are no tailwinds ever, weather is worse than forecast, repairs will end up at double the cost and the time estimated, and there are never enough Eno's fruit salts to cover the whole crew*, it's a good way to make sure you don't get caught short. Some people call it pessimistic; they also tend to wonder why life is fond of hitting them out of the blue with unforeseen problems.) 

I will feel really, really silly if I end up getting a coach again, just so she can stand there and count to five for me. Maybe I'll bribe my husband instead...


*South African advert: "Is the bottom falling out of your world? Take Eno's fruit salts, to stop the world falling out of your bottom!"

Monday, January 22, 2018

Dust storm

Many, many years ago, Peter was dragging me through the hinterlands of the United States on a campaign to convince me where we should mutually relocate upon marriage. Oh, and we were seeing friends, too.

Fresh from coastal Alaska, with its glacier-capped mountains dropping into the sea, days of soft sunshine and weeks of rain, and its taiga in dramatic sweeps of gold and green, moss and lichen and fern, I found northern Texas to be flat, dusty, arid, flat, dull and dun, flat, choked with unfriendly and uninteresting mesquite thickets, dry, dusty, and did I mention flat? Not a fan.

But it did have awesome people. I met LawDog, and then while Peter took a nap, I went out and helped him tear out a ceiling and do some remodel work. Polite and social greetings can't compare to actually working with folks to get to know them, and he was (and remains) really good people, while his lady is just awesome.

When tearing the ceiling out of an old house in Texas, one has to deal with dust. Not like Alaska, where you're thinking of the health hazard and abrasiveness of volcanic ash and glacial silt... no, in Texas, the procedure was to pry a section of ceiling loose, and run. Because as soon as the ceiling came out, the dust that had built up above it came pouring down like a red-brown waterfall. We stood on the porch outside the open front door, breathing the fine fresh air of Texas, and waited for the billows of dust to stop issuing forth before going back in to take out another chunk.

Texas grew on me - even if it's not Alaska, it also doesn't have seven months of winter. It's not the unbearable heat and humidity of Louisiana in the summer, and I'm not increasingly allergic to every blooming thing, like Tennessee. So we moved back here in the middle of their version of winter, and I noted it was just as achingly flat, dry, and choked with mesquite thickets as I'd seen before, but not nearly as bad after exposure to the rest of the Lower 48 alternatives. And it has great friends, which makes up for far more than just the flat and heat.

I forgot about the dust.

Until yesterday, when I had the windows open at work, celebrating a beautiful day in the 60's after a week of freezing cold. And looked up from a task, only to find the beautiful blue skies had turned distinctly dun, and the distance was rapidly closing and getting rather... misty.

Ah, dust storms. Fortunately, not as bad as sandstorms, but yech. When the sun is a pale white disk in a brown sky, and the distance is rapidly dwindlingfrom 40 miles to mile and a half or less by blowing dust, the air not only smells of dirt but tastes like it, too, when you open your mouth...

Well, this explains where all the dust came from on that remodeling project!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Ball? Ball? Ball?

So, passing through the kitchen, I turn on the electric tea kettle and walk away. It'll take a while to heat, and instead of standing there, I head over to the doorway to my husband's office, to talk to him.

Kili sees me, hops off my husband's lap, and comes around to the base of the chair. When she sees I'm watching her, she crouches down, does a full wiggle-butt followed by a leaping pounce onto my right foot. Before I can even react, she runs between my legs, and off. I turn, going "What in the world?"

...and find her sitting, facing the garage door, looking back over her shoulder at me.

"All right, cat, I got it." I walk over, and let her into the garage. As I shut the door, I hear the kettle click off, so I walk back into the kitchen...

and find Ashbutt sitting patiently at on the floor right in front of the tea kettle, with his latest string toy. He looks at me, looks at the toy. Looks at me, looks at the toy, bats the toy tentatively... and looks back at me.

"All right, cat, I got it. But I'm making my tea first." So I do, and then I play chase-the-string-toy for a minute or two. Then I let Kili back in, as she's satisfied everything in the garage is still in order, and head back to my computer. I sit down, sip my tea, and hear a thump.

In the doorway to my office, and there's a great mass of black fur, two bright eyes, and a red string toy...

Yeah, dogs don't have a monopoly on "Out? Out? Out?" or "Ball? Ball? Ball? Ball?" at all. Excuse me, I need to go play chase-the-string. Again. And again.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Hot Toddy Time

Peter and I are down sick, and the house is slowly devolving into that "We'll clean it later" state. Right now, I don't care. (In fact, caring about that will be a great sign that I'm getting better!)

In the meantime, in between making a dutch oven of chicken soup and sleeping, there are naps, hot tea, and hot toddies.

The non-alcoholic version:

Take a mug, add about a teaspoon of honey to the bottom. Add a squirt of lemon juice. Top up with boiling water. Stir. Breath the steam deeply, and it will feel and smell wonderful. When the drink is cool enough to sip, it'll taste good and go easy on the throat, too. Stay warm and hydrated!

The alcoholic version, and the "you're sick, so make this easy" setting:

Do as above, but leave enough room for a small dose of whiskey, bourbon, or rum (your preference.) Drink, and after blowing your nose in copious quantities after your sinuses unblock, go back to bed and sleep some more.

Either way, if you have really good honey, this is the drink that will really make the honey shine. Peter's gotten several bottles of sourwood honey from Killer Bees Honey, and it makes the best hot toddies! If you're already sick, use what you have on hand - but if you're stocking up against future sickness, I highly recommend the Sourwood Big Red.


Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year's Resolutions?

This is traditionally the day for taking stock of the year gone by, and deciding how to tackle the next one. For a lot of folks, starting the new calendar is a way to make a clean break and start afresh - but Peter's deep in the latest novel, typing away and trying to get it wrapped up so he can get it out to alpha readers. He's not exactly up for clean breaks and starting over right now, thank you.

Later today, we'll see if the predictions that our gym doesn't get a new year's crowd rush are true - but being a dedicated black iron gym, with lots of weightlifting racks and almost no aerobic equipment, it's not exactly aimed at the planet fitness crowd. When I went in twice last week (I admit, I skipped working out on Christmas), most of the usual crowd was there as well - it doesn't suffer the post-Christmas desertion I'm used to.

But we won't be starting afresh; Peter & I have workout logs and training plans. They've been working pretty darned well in the last 6 months, so we'll keep on keeping on.

Okay! I finally found a place to take stock - just organized the pantry, tossed a couple date-expired things, and made an inventory so I can plan meals to use up the oddball little things that have made their way home. (sundried tomato pesto? Goat cheese filled cherry peppers in olive oil? apple cider confit with calvados? Four boxes of bagged black tea... okay, that'll all be drunk. But clearly I looked in and said "Only one box left" a couple times too many!)

May you all have a wonderful, happy new year! Hope you get the things you want to accomplish done, and make plenty of happy new memories!