Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Oxtail Soup (in slow cooker)

2 pounds oxtail
3 carrots
4 stalk celery, chopped
1 onion
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can great northern (white) beans (low-carb, skip this)
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
2 Bay leaves
1 cup red wine
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp oregano (or thyme)
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 Tablespoon beef bullion
2 cups turkey broth (or beef. Or water)

olive oil

Note before you start: this is one of those things that really, really works better with 12 hours in the crockpot. If you only have 6 hours, make something else.

Start by roasting the oxtails. Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C), coat oxtails in salt, pepper, olive oil. Stick in oven for 15 minutes. Contemplate this would probably work broiling. Worry about it. Open the door, poke at them, then give them another 5 minutes to get really nice and brown.

While they're roasting, pull out a 4-quart slow cooker. (You can always make it bigger by adding more stuff). Chop carrots, celery, onion. At this point, you can saute them first for greater flavor, or you can just dump them in for greater ease.

Add tomatoes and beans to slow cooker. (You could always chop up a potato or two and add that instead, or a handful of barley. Or be low-carb, and stick with just the carrots.) Add wine, Worcestershire sauce, and spices. Take oxtails out of oven before they burn, add them & their fat & pan juices to the slow cooker.

Dump a tupperware of turkey broth on top, to clean out your deep freezer, and add a heaping spoonful of beef better-than-bullion on top, to cover the turkey taste with beef. Or, if you don't need to clean your deep freezer, add some water, beef bullion, and maybe a little more wine. And drink some wine. I used a nice chambourcin. Don't cook with anything you're not willing to drink!

Turn the slow cooker on low, and leave it alone for at least 8 hours. Then pull the oxtail chunks out, and shred the meat off the bones. If you left it for 12 hours, this pretty much consists of the meat falling away in lovely shreds while you fish the bones out of the soup. If you didn't, return the meat to the soup. Serve!

I served it with a salad & the rest of the bottle of wine. And some oyster crackers on top, because I felt like it.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Happy Hanukkah

When all seems darkest, and the only choices appear to be a spread of dystopias, when it seems that all is blood, and fire, and ashes, and persecution...

Remember, the Children of Israel are still here.

They've seen Assyrians and Hittites, been slaves in Babylon and exiles in the Siberian gulags. They've wandered down into deepest Africa, and across the sea to undiscovered continents full of howling wilderness. And still they carry the Torah with them.

Despite being conquered, again and again, enslaved, and massacred in many languages, by many tribes, as the words changed from pogrom to genocide, they still light the candles on the menorah.

And so, let us celebrate again that though world has burned before and will yet burn again, still hope will live on with laughter, light, and love long after today's conquerors are tomorrow's dust.

And so goes the heart of many a Jewish holiday: "They tried to kill us. They failed. Let's eat!"

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The past is another country...

Tonight, we were going through boxes in the storage unit that haven't been opened in years (two moves? three, for some!)

Peter broke out in surprised laughter, and waggled a picture frame at me. "Here! I can't believe I still have this! Can you find me in here?"

I took it, and immediately was stymied by my inability to read Afrikaans. The military class standing proud in their uniforms, though, was perfectly clear. I looked at it, and there, near the end of one row, were a pair of appled cheeks and two ears he'd grow into. This was clearly long before the next picture I know, which shows him among a group of very dirty, bearded, bedraggled and triumphant men standing on captured Russian equipment, but the cheeks are still the same. As I pointed at it, and he confirmed with a chuckle. "Is this back when you were a bright-eyed innocent and unworldly young man?"

He cast his eyes up, and the grin deepened in his white and silver beard. "Further deponent sayeth not!" He took the frame back, while I ruminated on that very South African variation of "no comment."

But as he packed it carefully away in the very small pile of things to keep, he took one long last look at it. The smile fell away to something much sadder, more wistful and quiet. "That was before I learned that I wasn't bulletproof."


He gently put the picture facedown, and left the past staring into shadow.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Low Carb Cheesy Garlic Breaad

It's not exactly like the pizza place down the street, no, but it's pretty close. Beware and be warned, though, that this paired with a salad was slightly more than two very hungry people wanted to eat for dinner. (Swapping all the carbs for protein makes it really filling!) Must remember the trick of adding yeast for bread flavour in other recipes...

Original recipe here, http://www.cutthewheat.com/2013/05/cheesy-garlic-bread-grain-and-gluten.html?m=1

Ingredients (for bread base):

1 1/4 cup almond flour
1 Tbsp coconut flour
2 eggs
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup warm water
1 tsp yeast (or 1 pack)
1 tsp sugar (for the yeast to eat, not you)
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp xanthan gum (optional, to prevent crumbling)

Ingredients (for topping):

1 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
3 Tbsp butter, melted
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 cup chopped crispy bacon


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a small bowl, combine warm water and sugar and stir until dissolved, then add yeast. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, combine almond and coconut flour, salt, baking powder, garlic powder and xanthan gum, stir well.

4. In another bowl, crack the eggs and scramble.

5. To the flour mixture, add olive oil and yeasty water mixture and stir well.

6. Add beaten eggs and stir. Then add the 1/2 C mozzarella shreds and mix gently until cheese is mixed well throughout.

7. Grease a 9x9 square casserole dish or large cookie sheet well. (If you want deep-dish-style dough, use an 8x8 casserole dish.)

8. Spread dough in casserole dish, or make a square / desired shape on cookie sheet.

9. Bake at 400 degrees for approx. 15-17 minutes or until the sides of the crust turn golden brown. (The top may still look uncooked.)

10. While base is baking, rinse the yeasty-water bowl, melt the butter, and add the garlic powder, italian seasoning, and salt. Mix well, so you can brush over the top of the garlic bread base. If you don't have a brush, use a spoon to gently dribble in a grid pattern, so you get the whole surface. This'll stay molten when placed on top of the oven/stove.

10.5 This is also a good time to make the salad & set the table, and spoon half a cup of marinara sauce into a bowl for eating with the breadsticks.

11. Pull base out, contemplate hitting it with the pizza cutter to make discrete sticks for easy cutting later. Decide that's too much work.

12. Top the base with the bacon & the rest of the cheese. I also added some mexican cheese mix, because yummy.

13. Bake at 400 degrees for about 8 minutes or until cheese is melted.

14. For the final 2 minutes, turn broiler on to brown the cheese. Beware! Cheese goes from melty to smoking in .45 seconds flat - keep an eye on it!

15. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Moroccan Fish Tagine

For the carb-lovers, this is awesome over rice or couscous. For the carb-avoiders, this is just fine without.

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1-2 yellow onions, diced
1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced. (Or about a cup of the smaller colorful sweet peppers.)
1 teaspoon salt (omit if your broth is really salty)
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 can diced tomatoes (I prefer fire-roasted)
1-1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon paprika (smoked paprika is awesome)
4-6 cups chicken broth (start with 4 cups. If you want it soupier, add more)
1-1/2 pounds cod fillets, cut into spoon-sized chunks
2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms (one of the little supermarket boxes)
3 tablespoons tahini
1 lemon's worth of zest + juice
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, or 1 Tablespoon dried
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, or 1 teaspoon dried (optional)

Open the bag of fish, pour cold water in so the fillets start to thaw. Dice the onion & chop the pepper. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat, saute onion & pepper & salt until soft but not browned, about 8 minutes. Start thinly slicing all the mushrooms, set aside. Add the garlic and can of tomatoes, cumin, paprika, and simmer for 1 minute.

Pour in stock (or mix in bullion and then add water). Turn heat to high, start stripping cod fillets out of their vacuum packaging. Cut into chunks. When mixture is boiling, add the mushrooms & fish. When tagine reboils, reduce heat to simmer. Cook until fish is opaque, which is about 5 minutes.

Get fresh cutting board & knife not contaminated by fish. Zest lemon, chop parsley & cilantro. Shake / stir tahini jar. If you don't have a zester, use a peeler and dice the lemon zest fine. When the fish is cooked through, stir in tahini, zest, lemon juice & cilantro. Ladle into bowls, serve immediately.

But remember to blow on it to cool it off before eating immediately...

(Serves at least 4, up to 6 if you added the second onion and had it with rice or couscous.)

Friday, August 21, 2015

Street Food and Scars

Sometimes it's the little things that shock me. I like street food, and since it's a commonality from Venezuela to Turkey, India to Germany, I didn't understand my husband's deep culture shock at the concept of coming out of a concert and buying loaded hot dogs from a cart on the corner.

I figured it must be related to his civil war, but put off asking until I served him fish tacos. It's rather time-consuming to make good fish tacos, because I have to dice and chop the everything. Cabbage, red onions, green onions, tomatoes, cilantro, slices of limes, chunks of avocado... and have to make the lime-juice-mayo before I start any of this, so it has time to meld.
He explained gently that there was one street food in the townships, a bowl of corn porridge and if you were very lucky, some meat. But never in any of the white areas. It wasn't the paranoia of civil war that denuded his earlier life of fried pastries, things on sticks, things wrapped in foil or in paper... it was apartheid. Because the sheer utter evil that strangled his country would have found it unthinkable to let food vendors of any other race into white-only areas.

The man eats all his food with a knife and fork not because Britishness, but because the scars of evil prevented him from ever learning the careful dance you do to avoid getting the grease on you while enjoying the night. There were no ice cream trucks in his youth, no fried chapatis stuffed with more spice than meat, no fish and chips at the wharf cooked fresh from the catch coming in, no tacos or burritos out of the food truck, no hot dogs loaded with sautéed onions and peppers, no polish sausages oozing sauerkraut juice and mustard out of the lining, no cornish pasties, no pirogies, no blini rolled up and dripping powdered sugar and lemon juice, no corner coffee stands with paninis, no tapas, no currywurst, no fritters or kebabs, falafel or rice balls, mochi, or steamed pork buns...

I understood apartheid resulted in the shootings, the disappearances, the training the police dogs to eat the faces off of victims, and all the horrors we associate with great evils.

But I still find it small and sad to watch a man eye a fish taco with trepidation, and take the first bite due to love and faith, because he's never known the wide an wonderful variety of the food world on the streets.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Morning Sights Around Here

My next door neighbor has some oregano that's so ignored it'd best be described as feral. She told me I was "welcome to take all you want, anytime."

Now and then, she sees me skulking past in the bright morning light, wearing an oversize t-shirt and boxers, barefoot and bedhead sticking about wildly, with scissors in one hand and a couple sprigs in the other. For some reason, she's usually laughing when I notice her...

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Chicken and artichokes with kippered lemon sauce

Chicken and artichokes with kippered lemon sauce

1/3 cup olive oil
3 Tablespoons butter
1 tin, drained, kippers in oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
zest & juice of 1 lemon
2 pounds chicken, diced
1 jar (33 ox) artichoke hearts, drained, rinsed, and quartered
1/2 teaspoon dill weed dried, or 1-1/2 tsp fresh
1/3 cup parsley & basil, rough-chopped
salt & pepper to taste

Combine chicken chunks and artichoke quarters on a rimmed baking pan, add some salt and pepper & dill weed. Add juice of the lemon you're zesting, set aside.

In skillet, combine butter & oil, heat. After butter melts, add the kippers, and mash with the back of wooden spoon until they're roughly paste-like. When the paste is bubbling rapidly, turn off heat and add lemon zest and garlic.

Turn the oven broiler on high.

Drizzle oil mixture over chicken & artichokes. Mix well to coat. Stick in oven, set timer to 15 minutes. At least every 5 minutes, stir well to take the lightly browned bits to the bottom, and the raw bits to the top. When it's all done (roughly 15 minutes), pull out, garnish with parsley & dill, stir, serve.

Goes well with a salad.

4 servings, roughly 68 grams of protein, 61 grams of fat, 14 grams of carbs. (Not counting salad)

...okay, fine, the original recipe called for anchovies. But I like kippers, I had kippers, and it tasted good. Any strong tasting fish, including sprats, ought to do just fine.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cashew With Coconut Chicken

That sounds so mild and innocuous, doesn't it? IT'S NOT.

This all started when I wanted to make a special meal or three for Calmer Half. He loves Indian food. A Lot. So I picked up a cookbook called Indian Home Cooking that promised to simplify the ten thousand ingredients and 15 hours per dish into something Americans could cook for their South African husbands. (Sourcing some ingredients is still a challenge. "12 fresh or 16 frozen curry leaves? Arrrgh. Thank goodness I live in a city that has a Patel Brothers Import Grocery near the zoo....")

The first dish was a korma, and it was a great success! Yay!

Then I tried Murgh Kaju, or Coconut Chicken with cashews. My husband was in heaven. My stomach, after about the 8th bite, was trying to bodyslam me against the gates of hell, screaming "Why did you do this to me? WHY?" So my husband happily ate his bowl, my bowl, and heroically refrained from thirds in the name of diet while I fled the field with tums, ginger ale, and eventually giving up low-carb to see if ice cream might help.

If you have a higher spice tolerance than me, and you have a food processor to make it, enjoy!

Murgh Kaju

1 cup roasted cashews for grinding into a powder
1/4 cup roasted cashews for garnish
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (Bob's red mill brand at Kroger's, down in the baking section by their rye flour and gluten-free mixes)
4 dried red chilis (I used 1/2 tablespoon of red pepper flakes, as I was sadly out of chilis for some strange reason, like NOT COOKING THINGS THIS SPICY)
1 inch piece of cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
3 tablespoons coriander seeds (Which roll all over if you bump the spoon. Just saying.)
8 garlic cloves. (or 10. or 12, if they're small.)
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 medium onion, diced

1/3 cup canola oil (or coconut; you're looking for a high smoke point)
1 teaspoon black pepper

2-1/2 pounds chicken breast or thighs, sliced crosswise into sections
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt, "or to taste"

Grind 1 cup of cashews to powder in a food processor. Dump 3/4 of that cup and all the rest of the first chunk o' ingredients into a nice huge saucepan over low heat. (I used a smaller dish than I should have, forgetting this turns into a one-pot meal.)

Toast everything, stirring, until the cashews and coconut have turned light golden. (About 10 minutes on low.) Then, find a bowl big enough, dump everything in it, and grind it all to a paste in your food processor. Wipe out the pan if you didn't get all the bits out, and dump the paste back in with the oil and black pepper. (If your food processor is small, like mine, just keep the heat low while you're processing in batches and dumping it in.)

Cook for about 10 more minutes, stirring frequently, until everything turns deep golden brown. If using a nonstick pan, life is good. If not, keep a cup of water by the stove to splash about a teaspoon at a time and deglaze (scape up the spices what stick.)

After it's all deep golden brown, add the remaining cashews and cook, stirring, 5 more minutes. Add the chicken, trying to nestle the slices down to the bottom of the pan with all this spice paste running around, and cook until the chicken is opaque (5 more minutes).

Add the water, salt, and bring it back to a boil. Then simmer 15-20 minutes until the chicken is tender. If you slices the chicken into medallion-sized slices, keep it to the 15-minute end of that. If you cut giganto Sam's Chicken Breasts of Doom into 3 pieces, maybe 25 minutes. A lid helps here, because it spatters!

Garnish with that last 1/4 cup of cashews, and serve. I suggest over rice with peas or spinach as a side, but that's because that's how my husband blissfully fixed it.

But beware, he described it as "A lovely curry! About medium, to my taste; it didn't have me perspiring buckets."

...Yeah, I'll just leave ALL the leftovers for him.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Memorial Day

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

When I was very young, I learned to play the trumpet. One of the first songs I was set to, after learning scales, was Taps. It is all open C, all in the position of your jaw and lips, no valves pressed. This makes it very challenging for the beginning student, because you have to learn position, breath, and tone to play it. And I could never get it right, because I knew, deep in my heart, what it sounded like. It was right out of memory, one of the first sounds I can remember, and I was so close, but not there even when the teacher said I passed.

Dad would leave the house when I tried to play it. No matter if it was right before dinner; if I was going to practice trumpet, dad was suddenly... elsewhere. He also became a staunch supporter of me switching to piano lessons - possibly the only time in my life when I got frustrated and wanted to quit something, and he didn't even try to get me to tackle it harder instead.

Years later, I figured out that I never could get it right because I was trying to play the bugle with a trumpet, and waiting for the crack of firearms, the sound set to a splash of vivid green of grass and white of the folding chairs' seats right at my eye level as I toddled past white stones taller than me.

And I learned why dad left in a hurry. Oh, G-d, did I learn.

We will remember them.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


Day 1 of self-employment.

Laundry, laundry...
ok, time to think very hard about changing the cover on the newest book, in order to better match with the first Laredo book.
While folding clothes.

New art found; Peter's readers asked which they prefer

More Tea.
And now for something completely different: sorting mail!
Brain break: making a loaf of bread from scratch.

...the sudden blinding realization that I can have poppy seeds again, without worrying about random drug tests!

Followed by the call to ask if I can help medicate Gremlin, as he is putting up a very effective feline protest. "When you're off work." Ah, the temptation to say 'I'll never be off work again!'

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Low Carb Hot Chocolate

It's come to my attention that there are women out there who are desperately unhappily under-chocolated, because they think the low carb diet precludes chocolate. However, if you remove the sugar, it's not that carb heavy. So, here, make yourself and the rest of the people in your life happier!

Hot Chocolate:

1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup half & half (or cream)
1/2 cup boiling water
1 squeeze from a bottle of sucralose, or packet of splenda if you must
salt (kosher is best)
vanilla extract
optional: 1 Tablespoon protein powder, vanilla

Boil water.
Dump cocoa & pinch of salt into mug (Salt removes bitterness.) Add water, stir. Add dairy goodness. Stir. Add splash of sucralose or the splenda packets, a tiny bit of vanilla extract, stir. Taste. If bitter, add more salt. If not chocolately enough to satisfy, add more cocoa & salt.

It's 8 grams usable carbs per mug, which is quite low for chocolate. If you add the protein powder, you can call it a breakfast shake at 15 grams of protein to balance the carbs. If you add a little bourbon (or rum), it's a happy, happy way to take an edge off. Instant coffee crystals make it a mocha...

Thursday, April 30, 2015

On being awesome

In an exchange with Cedar Sanderson and the lovely Mrs. Correia this morning, they helped clarify something that's been rattling around the back of my head for a while: Awesome is in the eye of the observer.

The core of being awesome is this: "I wanted to do it, so I found a way and did it."

To the person doing it, whatever it may be - writing a book, keeping a blog going ten years, learning to swim from youtube videos, flying a plane four thousand miles, staggering the last five yards in a timed 12-mile march in full combat load after your body has flat given up... this is rarely awesome. Mostly, it's a lot of frustration, a lot of time and effort and pain and just getting up again and again after every setback. And then figuring out what went wrong or could go better, and tackling fixing that. Then, getting up and doing it all over again.

It's everyone else who hasn't done that but always wanted to, who judges the effort and often the results awesome.

Keep doing. Keep finding a way. Keep going. You'll get where you want to go. But you won't recognize just how awesome you are to other people... because it's not your judgement.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Because she's awesome

It's a friend's birthday today. I'm planning to make cookies for him. Where do you go when you want a great cookie recipe? I could go to allrecipes, to find reviews by other bakers and adjust the written recipe to suit. Or, I could go to one of the best bakers I know, a woman who still takes the time to make croissants from scratch.

Come to the dark side. Brigid has cookies!


Oh, what cookies!


and then there's the brownies...


She also has a new book out!

Saving Grace is a series of thoughts, writing almost poetic in its ability to create a song and assemble entire pictures out of shadows on love, and the family we're born with, the family we meet along the way, and the families we make ourselves.


Kindle book should follow in the next few days!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Low Carb BBQ sauce

It's not absolutely low carb, but it's a whole lot less without sacrificing the flavor. As always change to your taste.

Low Carb Barbeque Sauce

1 tsp minced garlic
1 onion, diced fine
1/4 cup butter (even better, if you have it, substitute 1 tablespoon of this with bacon grease.)
2 Tablespoons baking splenda (the bulked-up stuff), 2 packets normal splenda, or two squirts of liquid sucralose
1 teaspoon salt (If you have penzey's smoked salt, use this and skip the liquid smoke flavouring)
1 teaspoon dry mustard (the spice, not the prepared condiment. If you don't have this, add a tablespoon of mustard condiment and cut the vinegar further down the list by the same amount.)
1 teaspoon paprika (smoked paprika is better, if you have it)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon blackstrap molasses
1-1/2 cups water
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 Tablespoon prepared horseradish
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
1 Tablespoon liquid smoke flavouring
1 Tablespoon Bourbon

Saute the garlic and onion in a saucepan until soft, preferably just short of caramelized. Stir in everything but the last 3 ingredients. Combine, let simmer 15-20 minutes. Add the last 3 ingredients, and stick the stick blender in. (Or whisk it all together. Either way.) Simmer for 5-10 minutes. Let cool, transfer to jar with tight-fitting lid, store in fridge.

It's around 64 grams of carbs for the batch. You do your own figuring on what a "serving" is.

The basic start for this recipe came from Dana Carpender's 1001 Low Carb Recipes, which has a much higher ratio of recipes I like and recipes that don't need much modiufication to be great. Look it up!

1,001 Low-Carb Recipes: Hundreds of Delicious Recipes from Dinner to Dessert That Let You Live Your Low-Carb Lifestyle and Never Look Back

Friday, April 10, 2015

Scattered NRA Notes

Viridian now has an answer to my biggest objection on their lasers: their C-series lasers have the on/off button under the tip of my pointer finger when drawing the gun. This isn't just much better, this is Actually Useful. The full-frame guns' X-series switch switch is still well forward of where my tiny hands can reach, so it's only useful if I have time to stop and fiddle.

On the other hand, the "activates when moved away from holster" sensor is now available as an adaptation kit for custom holsters! I'll bet Dragon Leatherworks could build that in to the next holster. (I saw Dennis today, though all too briefly. If I'm not careful, I might slip and accidentally order another custom holster... and Calmer Half might not fall for "It followed me home, I have to keep it...")

The lady running the Gun Totin' Mamas booth was delighted to see one of her purses was holding up fine and pretty after 3 years of use. Also, though I never paid attention, the heavy-duty hardware securing the straps is apparently a giveaway for people who know what they're looking at. This is the second time I've been stopped by someone who recognized my purse. This time, it was an older gentleman, terribly polite, who wanted to know if they were at the show as "My wife ordered me to find their booth."

You know you're in the media room when you're watching the keynote speeches, and the phrases around the table include "He's going off-message again", "Man, the lawyers certainly scrutinized that speech carefully!", "Excellent speechwriter, flat delivery." and so on. The critics of The Voice, we were not, but the politicians were getting graded on content, delivery, and actual performance.

It was wonderful to meet bloggers I knew only in comments before, and the company for dinner was awesome. On the other hand, when the music is so loud the server gets your orders wrong, well, I end up spending most of it trading pilot and Alaska stories with Murphy's Law, because pilot stories are half hand-motions anyway.

Sadly, this means I didn't get to hear Old NFO, Ambulance Driver, LawDog, DW Drang, Aaron of The Shekel, or any of the other awesome people there talk, because I could hardly hear myself think.

At least we did get caught up with DaddyBear's Den earlier in the media room!

I should post a lot more, but my throat is declaring a mutiny from trying to shout over the music, and I'm tired. I fall down go boom now, and see if I can speak in better than a croak tomorrow.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


I've been an attendee at conventions. I've been a staffer. I've been a volunteer. I've been a boothie (also called merchant or vendor, depending on the convention.) That only leaves media and sponsor.

I just picked up my media credentials for the NRA annual meeting. No, not for this tiny little corner of the internet - I'm affiliated with my Calmer Half's blog, Bayou Renaissance Man. I'm still shaking my head and giggling over the idea of me as media, but the NRA is pretty social-media savvy, and they wanted to make sure everyone on the high-traffic blog authors were included.

It's promising to be an interesting convention: the vendor floor is huge and easily as crowded as The Alaska Airmen's Annual Trade Show, with lots of small business booths and few huge dominating ones. No gigantic floor displays, though, unlike the auto or construction conventions. The programming tracks are very sparse and have a lot of repeats, completely unlike GenCon or Dragon*Con.

The entertainment track, though, is taking over the arena next door, as well as a street festival outside. The mind, it boggles slightly at the logistics. I'm impressed at their scale.

My main focus will be keeping Calmer Half in as little pain and as much enthusiasm as manageable. We've scouted out parking, food, places to sit down, the comfortableness of intended shoes, and medical resources.

Anything y'all want me to find or go see and tell you about, from the non-gunnie spousal viewpoint?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Don't Fear The One-Star*

Authors pretty universally hate, fear, and loathe one-star reviews, which makes them humans, and creative people who identify with their stories. However, from the customer's perspective, A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to The Forum... I mean, one-click buy button. And that is, bad reviews help sell books.

You see, your customers are internet-savvy. They understand that if a thing looks too good to be true, it probably is. If you have a book that has 50 reviews, all five-star, you will have to work harder to sell the book than if you had 15 reviews, 4.2 out of 5 stars. The latter looks authentic, because we instinctively know there's one in every crowd that hates the thing everybody else loves.

Also, the tone and tenor of the one-star say as much about the reviewer as they do about the product. For example, a steamy contemporary romance getting a one-star "this was a wonderful love story, until the author ruined it by having her two characters engage in out-of-wedlock intercourse!" will sell far better to its target audience, because that's exactly what they're looking for. (That's a true review, by the way, and the sales lift was noticeable, though the author was torn between laughing on the way to the bank and crying over why, why, would a buyer think they were going to get anything else in that subgenre?)

I personally have dropped a hefty chunk of change for a cookbook on the strength of a one-star that said "This has almost no new recipes! It's just a collection of the best recipes from her five previous cookbooks!"

Closer to home: Peter's prison memoir, Walls, Wire, Bars and Souls
The first one star said "I have never been to prison, nor worked in a prison, so I guess I can't really say how I'd feel in his place, but when he discusses 'the criminal type' or personality, he sounds ...kind of disturbing. It made me uncomfortable."

This review did not hurt sales of the book one bit. In fact, it has chiefly functioned to make people who work in law enforcement gigglesnort, and people who are looking for a realistic view of the inside decide the book clearly isn't whitewashing the problems and dangers involved in working with rapists, murderers, pedophiles, terrorists, and drug lords.

Check your one and two-stars for technical issues (or if it hurts too much, have a friend check them). If they're complaining about formatting, you may need to strip the formatting and upload a cleaner version. If they're complaining about spelling (and you didn't write in Queen's english when they expected American english), make sure you ran a spellcheck on the final uploaded file, and then consider running a text-to-speech program to see if any homophones didn't get caught (or were created) by spellcheck. (For instance, did the heroine receive a "twelve carrot" diamond or a 12-carat diamond?) Robotic speech is good at catching homophones that are hidden by regional accent, as well as skipped and doubled words. (If you did write in Queen's English, a disclaimer at the front stating that it is written in British English, and spelling and grammar will vary from American, does a lot to cut down on the complaints. Won't eliminate them, though.)

If it's not a technical issue, a one-star or two-star review simply means this: the word of mouth, reach and discoverability of your book has now grown beyond just the pool of people who will like it (or like you). This is a good thing, because it means more and more people are hearing of your book. You're not shouting into the void; people are finding you.

It hurts, yes? Remember they're not attacking you; they're criticizing your product. The reviews are for other customers, not a direct conversation with the creator. As well, each reader brings their own emotional baggage and personal history to a book, and sometimes what they get out of it is very, very different than what you put in. Rant privately to friends, but do not engage the reviewer. (And if you must, keep it to the polite "Thank you for your review. I'm sorry you didn't find the book to your taste.")

Have a cup of what's good for what ails you, go look up your favorite story and read it's one-star reviews and commiserate that you're in good company. Then sigh, say it's likely to help sales, and keep on writing.

*Caveat: if it's the only review of a story, yes, it can sink the story. Sorry.

Saturday, March 28, 2015


Found myself looking at real estate in Homer yesterday. It's a whole lot cheaper per square foot than Anchorage, and you still have both the mountains and the sea, as well as the road system...

Yeah, still homesick.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Antiques, American Style.

Sarah Hoyt, who is a lovely author and American by choice from Portugal, was recently hit by a moment of cultural shock. On craigslist, she found things from the 1970's advertised as "antique."

When she shared her moment of "Argh! AMERICANS!", Peter agreed emphatically that it's considered mildly gauche to call something that's only 100 years old an antique. I giggled. And then I used math.

America has had a coherent identity since 1776 (arguably), making us 239 years old. Something from 1970 is therefore witness to 18 percent of America's history.

England claims coherency as a nation from "the 10th century." Being charitable, let's say the year 900, which makes them 1115 years old. 18 percent of their history is 200 years.

So if 100 years is the borderline for an English antique, that makes it 9 percent of the country's history.

9 percent of America's history is... 1991.

So, I have t-shirts that are antiques.

I think she wanted to throw some bacalhau at my head. Peter just looked at me when I proclaimed he's not yet an American Antique, because he was imported too recently, and then got the look of a man who desperately wanted a drink.

Welcome to America!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Author Marketing: Velocity vs. Trajectory

This was originally published over at Mad Genius Club, but repostibng here for a couple of you (you know who you are), and so it's easily-findable.

Sarah just informed me that the Giant Obvious Change to Amazon’s algorithms wasn’t so obvious – not to authors who are busy writing and moving. So, let’s talk about organizing book promotions in the current market.

About the time Amazon shook up the writing world by releasing a competitor to Scribd and Oyster (namely Kindle Unlimited, or KU), it also implemented a major revision to its sales ranking algorithm. The obvious impact was that KU borrows have the same impact on sales rank as an immediate sale, but no payment is made until 10% of the text is read. This had the effect of decoupling the strict cause and effect relationship between a book’s actual sales and its sales rank.

However, Amazon also implemented a more subtle but much more massive change to the algorithm. The name of the game for promotional visibility is no longer velocity (i.e. the number of sales over a shorter time period like an hour or a day), but trajectory (i.e. the number of sustained sales over a longer period, like a week or a month). The old way to get visibility on Amazon was to promote something by stacking all of your release announcements, advertisements, tweets, and parties on the same day. Now, Amazon keeps track of your trajectory – and the more sudden and sharp your sales spike, the more sudden, sharp, and swift the subsequent decline in rankings. The new way to get visibility is to grow your sales over a period of several days by promoting them across many places and outlets, spreading out the impact of high traffic and large sales.

The objective remains the same: getting your book into the top-100-for-genre, hot new releases, movers and shakers, or top rated lists. The first two are the most important lists for a new release. They’re where people tend to look for new things to read in a given genre. Getting on those lists also gets your story onto the ‘also-bought’ pages of other high-ranked stories in that genre, which will be the major driver of long-term sales.

Why did this change? In a word, Bookbub. Bookbub became so successful at helping the authors who bought a place on its promotional mailing list, boosting their rank higher in the Kindle Store, that it was essentially becoming a new gatekeeper, charging for access to the top-100-in-genre lists. Amazon is customer-centric. It built those lists to be populated by the customers, for the customers. Having a company essentially start taking them over, with entries that were curated by a handful of editors who charged several hundred dollars apiece, was contrary to the very spirit in which the list was built.

This isn’t a new thing: in fact, the same manipulation of lists and ranks was why Amazon changed its associate program to require that no more than X% a month be free downloads, and why it no longer carries your free store rankings over to the paid store when you start charging for a story. (Pixel of Ink was the reigning king in the market during the heyday of free price pulsing as the major promotional tool. However, PoI’s assistance in boosting a free book’s rank no longer carries over to its paid ranking, so it’s affected in the same way as BookBub by Amazon’s new approach.)

So, how has the promotional market responded? It’s learned that a large percentage of promo list subscribers aren’t there for the deal as much as they are looking for an email a day that gives them something they haven’t seen before, guaranteed to be a minimum level of readable. Promo lists have flourished, with lots of small competitors trying to find a better niche and become the next Bookbub. (Personally, I’m rather partial to The Fussy Librarian and Ebooksoda – they have a higher proportion of books that look interesting enough for me to click through and buy them.)

Authors are using stacked promotions across lots of smaller promotional companies, staggering the heavy-hitters on sales to give a better growth curve. When they can’t get into Bookbub (50% of the slots are sold to the Big 5 traditional publishers, so it’s a pretty fierce competition), we stack and stagger the second-tier promo sites like E-Reader News Today (ENT), One Hundred Free Books (OHFB), The Midlist and Free Kindle Books and Tips (FKBT).

A typical savvy non-release promotion, these days, looks like this.

Day 1
Book Barbarian
Free Book Feed

Day 2
Indie Book Bargains
Choosy Bookworm
The Fussy Librarian
Awesome Gang

Day 3
Bknights on Fiverr
Just Kindle Books
Read Cheaply
Mailing List Announcement (that is, sending out a mailing list announcement of the sale.)

Day 4
Genre Pulse

Day 5

In fact, the new bleeding edge of promotions is to keep a spreadsheet of which sites release in which timezone, and arrange the smaller players so they stagger promotions throughout the day. I know people are doing this to great effect, but I can’t guide you there yet, because I’ve been too darned tired with my day job lately to sit down and start playing with the nuts and bolts of that. For more info and links to sites, look at http://www.readersintheknow.com/list-of-book-promotion-sites

For release promotions, authors are staggering the release announcement – first to their mailing list and then to social media (or vice versa). Where they used to try to get all their friends to shout about its release on the same day, and chew fingernails when announcements often came in a day late or as other people had time; now that’s a feature, not a bug.

How long will it stay this way? Until someone else figures out a way to game Amazon, and Amazon responds. But for right now, that’s the word from the marketing trenches.

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.