Saturday, June 25, 2011

2012 Llewellyn Goodies - Hooray!

I swear, my poor UPS man probably lives in fear of being molested by me every time he rings my doorbell, because I'm always genuinely happy to see him. Thankfully, he's a good sport, and he's learned just to toss me the package and run once he hears me go SQUEEEEEEE!

This weekend's offerings brought me not one but TWO goodies, sent by the good folks at Llewellyn Worldwide. Last summer I was invited to contribute to the 2012 Witches' Calendar and the 2012 Sabbats Almanac, and I'm happy to say my contributor copies have arrived, and they look magnificent.

My contributions to the Sabbats Almanac include a series of short pieces on folklore for each of the eight Pagan holidays:

Samhain: Magical Bats
Yule: Io, Saturnalia
Imbolc: The Hearthfire
Ostara: Labyrinth Magic
Beltane: Legend of the Rowan Tree
Litha: Native Sun Stories
Lughnasadh: Goddess of the Grain
Mabon: Mabon Apple Magic
For the 2012 Witches' Calendar, I've written a piece entitled Individual Honors, which looks at the way contemporary Pagans can honor the old gods in a way that's appropriate to the needs and demands of the gods themselves.

There are also some fantastic offerings from Ellen Dugan, Elizabeth Barrette, Raven Digitalis, and other Pagan authors.

So anyway, I was thrilled to get these from my poor bedraggled UPS guy! You'll be able to pick these up in bookstores beginning in July, or you can order them directly from Llewellyn and have them shipped to you: 2012 Sabbats Almanac and 2012 Witches' Calendar.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Maybe I'll Just Stay Home

I never understood why my parents were so exhausted when we returned from vacations. Typically, about six to seven days in, everyone was grouchy and cranky – my brother and I fighting about who was over the line in the backseat – and I couldn't figure out why this was the case.

And then I became a parent:  An Army of Ermas: Maybe I'll Just Stay Home

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Big Hats and Martinis

I recently saw that in April 2012, there will be a re-release of the James Cameron movie Titanic, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ship's sinking. I've already suggested to my friends that we need to go to this in full costume, with big hats, bustles, martinis and life vests (see, I'm planning in advance). After all, who wouldn't want to wear that fantastic white and black striped ensemble that Kate Winslet wears as she's arriving at the docks in Southampton? WANT.

Now, here's the great part of all this. When you're looking at period costumes, from any era, it's really hard to picture yourself and what you would look like in them.

I, fortunately, have an ace in the hole. I bear a very strong resemblance to my great-grandmother's sister, Rose Wagner. And I've just found a photo of Rose which is dated 1910, when she was about twenty.

THIS, my pretties, is what I plan to wear:

It almost seems a shame to wear a life vest over something that lovely, so I may well be going down with the ship, martini in hand. See you all on the Promenade Deck!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Gluten Free Peach Cobbler

When I first found myself facing the issue of gluten-free cooking, one of the biggest hurdles for me to overcome was the fact that a lot of gluten-free recipes call for a significant number of ingredients. Where previously I could whip up a biscuit using five items, now I was being told to use two dozen. Cakes and breads became a bizarre blend as many as twenty dry ingredients, all just to get the equivalent portions to a point where you'd have something edible.

And I hated it.

I've got three kids, two part time jobs, and a husband who works weird shifts. I don't have the time or the inclination to spend an hour just measuring out ingredients before the food actually gets mixed up and stuck in the oven. So what I began doing was selecting a few gluten-free flours that I really like the flavor of, keeping those on hand at all times, and finding ways to use them in a way that was tasty and creative -- and most importantly, simple.

I always have tapioca flour, white rice flour, brown rice flour, and soy flour in my pantry. On occasion, I'll pick up coconut flour if it's on sale. That's pretty much it. If I can't bake something with these staple ingredients, it probably won't get made.

So anyway, I bought a bag of peaches on my way home from the Farmer's Market, and was going to use them to make a cobbler. I discovered upon biting into the first peach that they weren't quite ripe yet -- good enough to snack on, but not really conducive to cobbler-making. However, I always have canned fruit in my pantry in anticipation of the coming Zombie Apocalypse, so I used a 29-oz can instead. Fresh would have been better, but I wanted peach cobbler NOW, not in a week.

Gluten Free Peach Cobbler

For the peach filling, you'll need:
1 29-oz can peaches
1 Tbs lemon juice
1/4 C. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp tapioca flour

Put the peaches, juice and all, into a bowl. Dice the peaches so they're bite-sized.

Add the brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and tapioca flour.

Whisk it all together.

Oh, while you're doing this, preheat your oven to 425.
Pour your peach filling into a lightly greased 8x8 baking pan. I'm a big fan of Pampered Chef stoneware pans, because everything cooks so uniformly, but use what you have.


In another bowl, make your cobbler crust. You'll need:

1/2 C white rice flour
1/2 C brown rice flour
1 C tapioca flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbs sugar
2 tsp baking powder
4 tsp butter, diced into chunks
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 C milk

Blend all of these together until you've got a batter, like so.
Glop the batter (yes, that is a technical term, why do you ask?) into the peach filling with a spoon. Let it sink down in there between the peaches for extra cobblery goodness.
Bake for about 25 minutes at 425.

Let your cobbler cool for about ten minutes before serving.
Serve it up with a big helping of your favorite whipped topping, or better yet, vanilla ice cream.

Optional: sprinkle  a bit of cinnamon sugar on top.

Seriously, try this - it's the perfect summer cookout dessert, and your non GF-eating friends won't even know that it's gluten free.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Farmer's Market Dinners

I'm a big fan of locavore cooking, in that if I can get something that's been grown or harvested in my area, I'm far more likely to use that than something imported from hundreds of miles away. This is why I love - so very much - my local Farmer's Market. Every Saturday morning, from May 1 until November 1, these hard-working people are down in the town square with their tents and tables, selling things that have just come out of the ground. I've found all kinds of wonderful things there, and naturally, the selection changes with the season. If I want some sort of produce that I didn't grow myself, I can nearly always find it at the Farmer's market.

It's not just the produce I love about Farmer's Market Saturdays. It's the people. Everyone's friendly, and I've learned so much just by chatting with these people. There's a lady who grows shiitake mushrooms in logs under her house, and another woman who has answered a number of questions for me about the chickens I hope to have some day. I've hung out with the bread guy, discussing different types of flours such as millet and quinoa, and I periodically find some sort of leafy green thing that I've never used in a meal before, so I always grab a bit to try.

Today's finds were some really nice goodies indeed. I got some nice fresh Siamese Dragon greens, garlic scapes, pod peas that were on a vine just twelve hours ago, and -- oh joy of joys! - quail eggs! They're so small and pretty, and look like little balls of cookie dough. So tonight's dinner will be something Asian inspired, most likely with some quail-egg fried rice. I've also got some peaches I bought from a roadside stand on my way home, so I'm thinking a cobbler for dessert.

That's the beauty of locavore cooking. I can hit a market in the morning, and base my evening meal on what I find on the tables. It's something I enjoy tremendously, and if you've never had a chance to plan your meals that way, go find a farmer's market, and give it a shot. Try something completely new. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Kody Keplinger is Giving Away Books!

Kody Keplinger is an incredibly gifted college student who not only has her head on straight, she's got a published novel under her belt (and another one on the way). Over at Kody's blog, she's giving away copies of The DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) to three lucky winners.

If you haven't read The DUFF, you really should - it's teen fiction, and it's Really Flippin' Good.

Read about Kody's contest here (and it ends at midnight tonight, so hurry!): Kody's Blog

Gluten Free Donuts

Donuts are awesome - they're a perfect snack when you need a quick sugar high, they make a great breakfast grab-n-go, and every once in a while, when you've been living on salads and fruit, a donut is the perfect decadent indulgence.

Unfortunately, they're also on the No List for those of us who have a gluten sensitivity. There are a couple of commercial GF donuts available -- Kinnikinnick's vanilla glazed ones are delicious, but they're a bit pricy. At $6 for a box of half a dozen, I'm paying a buck a donut. So I decided to see if I could come up with my own variation on the standard donut recipe, using stuff I already had in my pantry.

And I did.

And lo, it was tasty.

Gluten Free Donuts:

1 box Betty Crocker Gluten Free Yellow Cake Mix
3/4 C granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 C sour cream
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tbs melted butter

Preheat the oven to 425.

Dump all the dry ingredients in a bowl, and mix them up until they're loosely blended.

Add the sour cream, vanilla, eggs, and melted butter.

Beat until combined.
Spray a donut pan (or two) with cooking spray, and fill each donut cup about halfway with batter.

Note: If you fill it too high, the donut will end up baking over the hole, and you'll have weird little cupcakes instead of donuts. Trust me on this.

Bake at 425 for about ten minutes. Pull donuts from the oven when they're a nice light golden color. Don't overbake, or they'll get chewy.

Let them cool about five minutes in the pan.

Flip donuts out onto a cooling rack, and let them sit another five minutes. See how pretty they are?

While your donuts are still warm, melt some butter, and blend together 1/2 Cup sugar, and1/4 C cinnamon.

Dip the top of the donuts in the melted butter, then roll them in the cinnamon sugar.

What do you get? An amazing and totally delicious cinnamon sugar donut. Eat it with a glass of milk, because it's even more fantastic.

Store them in an airtight container, or freeze 'em. I actually think they tasted better and softer the second day, but nothing beats a warm donut fresh from the oven.

This recipe makes about two dozen donuts, for the cost of a box of cake mix and some other stuff.

And your non GF-eating family members will enjoy them too, because they're cakey and awesome!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Why I Love My E-Reader

Years ago, a friend of mine got a first generation Kindle. I remember thinking to myself, "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard of. I like books. I want to read books, not a computer screen." Well, let me tell you, about a year and a half ago, I became a total convert, thanks to the first edition of the Barnes & Noble nook (in the interest of full disclosure, I do work part time at my local B&N).

I get that there are still people who enjoy the feel of a book in their hand - I'm one of them. But I also like to have space on my counters and nightstands and my foosball table. I've bought more books in my lifetime than I can even count, and despite having given away legions of them, I was going to have to start giving away children to make room for any more book purchases (and yes, there were days when that looked really appealing). I can fit 1500 books on my 3G version of the nook, and a few thousand more if I drop $20 on an extra SIM card. If I had purchased the nookcolor, it would hold 6,000 ebooks.

Storage is a huge issue for me, but so is pricing. I love books, but I'm thrifty - perhaps it's my Scottish ancestry to blame for that. Because I'm someone who rarely reads books more than once -- it's got to be REALLY good for me to do so -- I can't justify spending $24.99 on the newest hardcovers. However, I have no problem with downloading them for $9.99. If I had $25 to spend on books, I'd be way more likely to buy four titles at $5.99 apiece than a single front-list novel. (For a great explanation of why e-books are priced the way they are, read Nathan Bransford's blog post)

Finally, as a writer, I love that there are so many publishing houses embracing the e-book format. There are some who do nothing BUT digital editions - the romance and sci-fi genres in particular have always been supportive of digital technology, long before mainstream publishers got on board - and it's a great way for a writer to get their name out in a variety of venues, rather than just hoping someone picks up your novel at the local Big Chain Book Store.

Today, I went and grabbed the new nook Simple Touch, which will hold a thousand books - I just happened to be in the store when the truck arrived, so I was the first one to get mine and bring it home. And I'm in love with it already, because it combines all the features of the first generation nook (e-ink display being awesome) with the convenience of a touchscreen, which I think is kind of the best invention ever. Also, as someone who's easily distracted by shiny things, it's perfect for me, because there's no fancy bells'n'whistles. It's an ereader. It holds my books and lets me read them, curled up on the couch with a cat in my lap.

E-readers aren't taking away your Book Reader privileges - they're just presenting a new and convenient way to store and read stuff. Back around the 1870s, someone came up with the ridiculous idea of using plain ol' paper to bind books, instead of cloth- or leather-bound boards. Everyone pooh-poohed the suggestion at first - after all, who wants to read a book covered in PAPER? But obviously, it revolutionized the publishing industry, because in the 1930s, the mass-market paperback format took off, and now here we are in a world where most of the books you buy are paperback instead of hardcover. Doesn't mean they're any less "book" than the hardcover version. Doesn't mean one format is better or worse. It's just different, and it meets different peoples' needs. Libraries and books aren't going away - they're just CHANGING.

As a similar example, look at what the mp3 file has done to the music industry. If I go for a run through the park, I don't take a stack of cds with me. I take my iPod, set my DriveTime Playlist on shuffle, and crank the hell out of the Beastie Boys in my pocket.

I know, we all want ebooks to smell like real books, taste like real books, feel like real books - but you'll end up with hairy palms and poor eyesight if you keep obsessing over it. Sure, e-readers aren't for everyone. But they're not going away any time soon, and honestly, I'm grateful.