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!