Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Full Contact Cooking

It's time for my latest post over at An Army of Ermas!

Full Contact Cooking:

I didn’t try to become a good cook. I never sat perusing my mother’s cookbooks, thinking, “Golly, I’d love to learn to make a nice au jus sauce someday.” I don’t ever recall being at a restaurant and exclaiming, “I just MUST learn to make this!” It wasn’t intentional at all.
And yet, my kitchen evolution has gotten me to my early forties, where I can cook the heck out of just about anything. Give me five ingredients, and I’ll create a meal worthy of being ... Read Full Article

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Scandalous Miss Lydia Bennet

I'm pleased to announce that The Scandalous Miss Lydia Bennet, my Jane Austen-inspired short, is available for download!

I've always felt Lydia got the short end of things in Pride and Prejudice, and that there was no way she was really as foolish as everyone thought she was. And as if it wasn't bad enough to have all of Meryton (and much of Brighton as well) thinking you're an idiot of questionable virtue, she got stuck married to Wickham, who is clearly a gambler, a rakehell, and a vile seducer of innocent maidens. But what if all of Lydia's foolishness was a facade? What if there was far more to Lydia than any of us ever expected?

Find out what Miss Lydia Bennet was really up to when she was flirting with Wickham, laughing too loudly, and horrifying her sisters with her outrageous behavior:

Download The Scandalous Miss Lydia Bennet for 99¢

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What $15 Buys at a Farmer's market

Don't think you can afford to eat locally grown organic food? Here's what I got at the Farmer's Market yesterday for $15:

6 ears fresh corn = $2
6 banana peppers = $1
2 heads garlic = $1
2 lbs new potatoes = $1
1 lb honey = $6
Homemade barbeque sauce $4

I didn't really need the honey, but I like chatting with the bee people, so I bought it anyway, even though I still have half a jar from last time.

The BBQ sauce lady gives you 50 cents off a jar if you return her old jars to her.

The banana peppers are actually 5 for a dollar, but the nice Amish guy always puts six in the bag.

This is two dinners worth of food for my family - I can use a pound of potatoes and three ears of corn, and a couple of peppers paired up with some pork or chicken out of my freezer, and there's a meal. Heck, I can even use the honey and the BBQ sauce at the same time, and there's always room for garlic.

So basically, $7.50 for most of a meal that feeds five people. Even if I factor in, say, a small chicken breast for each of us or a pork chop, and a salad made out of stuff I grew in the back yard, that's a pretty cheap meal.

Don't buy into the whole "you can't afford to eat organic" myth, because it's just not always true.

Gluten Free Banana Fritters

The other day I had a hankering for banana fritters, so I whipped some together. They're amazing as a side dish if you're doing a cool island-style dinner (which I did), or if you want to throw together an afternoon snack. My friend Bean calls them the ultimate stoner food, so keep that in mind if you've got the late night munchies and don't feel like driving to Circle K to stock up on Cheezy Poofs and Slim Jims.

As always, many of the measurements are approximate. I don't really measure things, I just toss stuff in a bowl until it looks right.

You need:

2 Cups (more or less) Gluten Free flour - I use the King Arthur brand
2 Tbs sugar
A pinch of salt
A pinch of baking powder
1 egg
Canola oil for frying

Combine all your dry ingredients in a bowl, and then whisk in your egg.
Add milk until it looks like batter. Honestly, I have no idea how much milk I used, I just poured it in until it looked right. Maybe 3/4 Cup?
 Chunk up yer 'nanners.
 Coat your banana chunks in batter.
Drop them in hot oil, a few at a time, to fry them.
Flip 'em if you have to, because you want them to be this lovely golden color all over.

Drizzle with honey and eat while still warm. You can also sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar, but I'm a fan of the honey because I buy it from a local guy. That means local bees.

Seriously, these are amazing warm - the bananas get all gooey inside. If you don't eat them all, refrigerate them in an airtight container, but warm 'em back up in your microwave before you eat them.


Lydia Bennet is on Her Way

A few months ago, I had the chance to submit a short story to the annual Chawton House competition, which is a fairly big deal. The challenge was to write a short story based on the heroes and villains of Jane Austen's work. While my story, The Scandalous Miss Lydia Bennet, didn't win, I was still pretty pleased with the way it turned out.

I've always thought Lydia got the short end of things in Pride and Prejudice, and that there was no way she was really as foolish as everyone thought she was. And as if it wasn't bad enough to have all of Meryton thinking you're an idiot (and one of questionable virtue, at that), she got stuck married to Wickham, which would be like waking up next to a big pile of asshattery every morning.

So, I decided to take this fun little story about Lydia and what I imagined she was really up to, and make it available as a digital download for folks to read on their nooks, Kindles, Kobos, iPads, or e-Whatevers. It's only about 2,800 words, and should be available in the next week or so, once all the formatting is confirmed as being correct, and so forth, so I'll keep you all posted.

Meanwhile, here's a peek at the cover.

Curious yet?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ten Books I Can't Live Without

Someone sent me one of those "What one book would you take to a desert island?" things the other day. Naturally, my response was Boat Building and Navigation for Dummies, but apparently that's not a real answer. So instead I started thinking about it, and realized that there are so many books I love, and which one I need the most really does depend on my mood. Sometimes I want something that requires no thought at all - some kind of romantic romp with good looking men, feisty heroines, and hot sex. Other times, I want something that's going to make me think, questioning my very existence. Still other times I crave information and facts.

So I decided rather than commit myself to That One Book to take with me when stranded, I'd cheat a bit and put together my list of ten. Technically, since I have an e-reader, if I was stranded somewhere I'd have about 300 books in hand, at least till the battery died, but then I'd be hosed. These, therefore, are the ten books going in my tote bag when I board Oceanic Flight 815. And Sawyer, I'll gladly share many things with you on that island, baby, but my reads ain't part of the deal.

In no particular order:

1. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon.

Outlander is the story of Claire Randall, a World War II combat nurse, who finds herself transported back to Scotland shortly before the battle of Culloden. Once there, she's pushed into marriage with the delicious Jamie Fraser, who is one of the sexiest beasts ever to populate a page. The two of them marry, eventually fall in love, and have adventures that span a couple of centuries, several continents, and at least eight books. Read the whole series. They're more than just romance, and you'll fall in love with Jamie and Claire.

2. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre' Dumas.

The ultimate tale of revenge and redemption. Edmond Dantes is a poor sailor who just wants to marry the lovely Mercedes. His best friend, Fernand Mondego, wants to marry Mercedes too. Dantes is accused of high treason, and banished off to prison for ever, but Mercedes is told he is dead. Once Dantes escapes, he recovers a treasure, thanks to an old friar in prison, and reinvents himself as the ostentatious Count of Monte Cristo. Once he's established his place in society, he begins exacting his vengeance upon those who wronged him.

 3. Persuasion, by Jane Austen

I know, I know, it's practically blasphemy, but Persuasion is my favorite of Jane's novels. I love how Anne Elliot, a 27-year-old spinster (with a dreadful family) who has lost her bloom, finds herself thrown back into the company of the man she rejected nine years ago. Meanwhile, Captain Wentworth is back in town with a fortune in hand, and everyone wonders which of society's eligible young ladies will scoop him up - because certainly, that boring old Anne must be beneath his notice. Austen's wit and wisdom shines in this one, and Capt. Wentworth writes one of the best love letters of all time. Who wouldn't swoon for a man who says, "You pierce my soul...." ?

4.The Carmina Gadelica, compiled by Alexander Carmichael.

Back in the 1800s, a census taker named Alexander Carmichael roamed around the Scottish highlands on foot, jotting down names and birth dates. More importantly, he collected stories, poems, songs, and incantations in Gaelic, and what he assembled was an oral literary history of the Scottish countryside. What's fascinating about the Carmina Gadelica is that Christian prayers and hymns sit side by side with Pagan rituals and charms. There's something in the CG for pretty much any occasion, whether you want to bless your cows, marry off your sister, or celebrate the vanquishing of invading Sassenachs.

5. A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and it was a really bad time to be a member of the English aristocracy stuck over in France. The story of Charles Darnay and his lovely (if somewhat dim) fiance, who find themselves trapped in the middle of the French revolution. It's a true story of redemption, though, in the form of the degenerate Sydney Carton, who - conveniently enough - looks an awful lot like Charles Darnay. Carton has been a dreadful person all his life, but when he finds love, realizes he can find absolution for the sins of his past.

6. The Stand, by Stephen King.

Thankfully, this was written back when Stephen King was still drinking, because it's probably his finest work. A killer virus takes over the world, and a ragtag band of survivors try to stay alive. But! There's another band of survivors, and they're led by the skeevy and scary Randall Flagg (who may or may not be Evil Incarnate), and pretty soon it's a post-apocalyptic Lord of the Flies.

7. Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor.

You know how everyone has that one book that they love to read, but they don't want anyone else to know they love it? Yeah. This is mine. I first discovered Amber St. Clare when I was about thirteen, and remembered thinking at the time OMG THIS IS RAUNCHY STUFF MUST READ MOAR. Written in the 1940s, it's so hot it was actually banned in cities across the country. But it's FABULOUS. The ultimate bodice-ripper, Forever Amber follows the evolution of Amber St. Clare from some podunk village in England to the stages of Drury Lane to Newgate prison tothe court of King Charles. It's rich in historical detail, the characters are fascinating, and every time I re-read it I love it even more. Excuse me while I go feel shamed.

8. Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry.

Lonesome Dove is probably one of the last true epic western novels, and it's brilliant. It's the story of two aging Texas rangers, Gus MacRae and Woodrow Call, along with their friends, enemies, and women. It doesn't take long for McMurtry's rich imagery to draw you into the story, and takes even less time to make you truly care about the characters. When Lorena is kidnapped, or Newt questions his parentage, or Gus and Call have to hang an old friend for horse thieving and murder, you genuinely feel for everyone involved. It's the long, final adventure of a couple of men who have led a rich and fulfilling life.

9. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card.

Ender's Game is now required reading at some high schools where I live, as well it should be. On the surface, it's the story of poor little Ender Wiggin, who is a Third (as in third child) and therefore worthy of pity and not much else. However, when he gets invited to the elite Battle School as a student, people begin to take notice of Ender. He's good at what he does, which is killing aliens in the simulator. However, after a while Ender and his friends realize there's more to Battle School than they thought. It's a stunning commentary on war, childhood, and everything in between.

10. The Complete Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

OK, this might be a "cheat" because it's actually got a ton of stories in it, so it's not just a single book. However, Doyle's tales are as awesome today as they were when he wrote them over a hundred years ago, and Holmes is the ultimate anti-hero. He's a bit sociopathic, not terribly friendly, pompous, and most likely a drug addict. He's also brilliant, and Dr. John Watson serves as his perfect partner when Holmes takes on the evil Dr. Moriarty.

So there you have it. These are going in my carry-on bag, so when I end up on my desert island I'll have reading material along with my toothbrush.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Check Out the Smashwords July Sale!

Smashwords is offering a special deal through the entire month of July, where a number of books are offered at discounts of up to 75% off by participating authors.

Want to check out a copy of MacFarlane's Ridge? It's available at a 50% discount, which means you'll be able to download it for only $3.00. Use the code SSW50 at checkout for 50% off during this site-wide promo! (Offer good thru July 31, 2011)

MacFarlane's Ridge: Cameron Clark's life was just like everyone else’s, until the day she stumbled across a pre-Revolutionary War journal. Suddenly, she was on the run from a killer, escaping to a place she had never imagined – the past.

Cam’s attempts to return home, coupled with her
knowledge of war and battles to come, send her on a quest through the Virginia of 1775 – a quest which becomes more complicated when she falls in love with a man who lived over two hundred years ago. To make matters worse, Robert MacFarlane is being hunted by the British government, charged with rebellion and piracy.

Cam learns that life was far from easy in the 1700’s, but before she can return to the present, she finds herself caught in the middle between two centuries, and two men – one of whom proves to be deadly.

Download your copy today by clicking HERE.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Harry Potter and Parents

So last night I hauled my younger heathens off to the midnight movie - their first such experience - and we followed the rest of the country into a theater to watch the final installment of the cultural phenomenon called Harry Potter. The final movie, Deathly Hallows Part 2, was amazing and explosive, and wrapped up the series just as it should have. This is not a review of that movie, but watching it did inspire a few thoughts as I sat with my kids and realized the finality of this final film.

SPOILER ALERT: This content will include references to things that happen in all seven books and all eight movies. There is a statute of limitations on spoilers, however, and because the final book was released FOUR YEARS AGO, anything is fair game. If you don't want to know how things end, stop reading right. this. minute.

One of the things that has always struck me about the HP series - book or movie - is that while on the surface people tend to dismiss it as "children's literature," that does not mean it has no value to adults. In fact, I've come to recognize that one of the reasons I, as a parent, enjoy these stories so much is because of the strong role of the parents that JK Rowling has created.

In many kids' books, the parents are non-existent, an afterthought, the butt of jokes and hijinks, or (worse yet) the enemy. They're often one-dimensional and serve no purpose other than to give the kid protagonists someone to laugh at/fight with/ignore. However, in the Potterverse, most of the parents serve a pretty valuable purpose. While they are not defined solely by their parenthood (any more than non-parent characters are defined by their lack of offspring), they are often motivated by it, and thus the role of parent in a HP story is one that has a great deal of influence on other characters.

James and Lily Potter: Before the tale even begins, Harry's parents are dead. While he may be The Boy Who Lived, he is an orphan. However, it becomes clear very early in the series that the reason he is The Boy Who Lived is because of his parents and the actions they took in the final seconds before their deaths. Lily, in particular, is crucial not only to Harry's life but to his final quest to defeat Voldemort. Although the Potter parents are physically dead, Harry interacts with them when he needs them most -- in fact, just before the final showdown he meets with James and Lily (along with his godfather Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, both substitute father-figures) and they tell him that they have been with him all along - and will continue to be there. If it wasn't for the love of his parents - particularly his mother - Harry would have been The Boy Who Died.

The Weasleys: Arthur and Molly Weasley are two of my favorite characters. They've cranked out a whole bunch of kids, but that doesn't mean they have no room in their hearts for more. And if a small boy wizard shows up as their youngest son's best friend, then he too becomes part of Clan Weasley, and they will literally fight to the death to protect him. Harry's lack of family -- because, certainly, Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon don't count - makes it all the more significant when he is welcomed into the Burrow.

More importantly, Molly and Arthur have a deep and unabashed love for their biological kids, no matter how much mischief is managed - Molly rules the roost with an iron fist clad in a colorful knitted jumper,  and will do what she has to in order to guard what is hers. In the final scene between Molly and Bellatrix Lestrange, the audience in my theater burst into applause. Why? Because Molly is a badass, that's why.

The Malfoys: Lucius Malfoy is, point blank, an awful dad. His wife, Narcissa, isn't very high on the Good Mom list either. They're long-time supporters of the Dark Lord, total classists and racists (keep the wizarding world pure!), and all-around asshole parents. It's no wonder their kid, Draco, is such a shitbag. He's mean and petty and cruel, and he's all of these things not just because his parents are mean and petty and cruel, but because he really appears to *enjoy* being mean and petty and cruel. Draco's an ass, raised by a pair of bigger asses.

However - and this is huge - towards the latter end of the series, his parents begin to wonder if perhaps they've backed the wrong horse in the battle of good vs. evil. After a stint in Azkaban prison, Lucius is well on his way to being a hot mess, and Narcissa is seriously questioning her own motives in offering her son up as Voldemort's hitman. By the time we get to the final book, it's pretty clear that the two of them just want to escape alive, with their kid in tow.

Arguably, we could even say that Narcissa is the stronger and braver of the two. Why? Because after Harry's showdown with Voldemort, it is she who tells her master that Harry is dead -- all because she learns that Harry is the one who has saved her son. It is this betrayal of Voldemort on Narcissa's part that allows Harry and the rest of the forces of good to ultimately triumph - and it allows Narcissa, Lucius, and Draco to flee Hogwarts before they can be killed in the battle.

Hermione, Neville and Luna: Although Hermione Granger is one of the three main characters in the series, we never really have much interaction with her parents. They are Muggles - non-wizarding folks who happen to be dentists -- and it's always been my thought that Hermione wasn't especially close to them. However, in the final installment, Hermione performs a sacrificial act of love, and uses the Obliterate charm on her mother and father, sending them off to a life without memories of having a child. In the movie, the scene is particularly well done, and highlights that however much of an outsider Hermione has always felt herself to be, she was raised to be strong and compassionate and brave. She's probably the strongest female character in the series, because she is so active in her own fate, rather than reactive. Hermione DOES things, instead of waiting for things to happen TO her, and it's pretty clear that she's been raised to think for herself.

Neville Longbottom's parents are absent. In fact, they were prominent members of the Order of the Phoenix members until Bellatrix Lestrange got hold of them. Neville was raised by his grandmother, and what's fascinating to me about Neville is that so many things in his experience at Hogwarts are related to what happened to his parents. In an early book, a professor asks him to perform the Cruciatus curse on a spider, and Neville refuses - after all, his own mother and father were victims of same. Neville, however, has a strong sense of right and wrong, and his moral convictions may not always make him popular, but he doesn't seem to mind. At one point, Albus Dumbledore awards Gryffindor points for Neville - because while it takes great bravery to stand up to one's enemies, it takes even more to stand up to one's friends. In the final installment, Neville comes into his own, kicking ass and taking names - his bravery with the sword of Gryffindor earned rousing cheers from the HPDH2 audience.

Luna Lovegood is all kinds of awesome. She's a bit daffy, she marches to her own beat, and she's been raised by a single dad who dotes on her. She's a bit isolated socially - because of her own uniqueness - but doesn't seem to mind at all. Like Neville, she's true to who she is. Her father is a decent guy who loves his daughter and just wants her to be safe.

Tom Riddle and Snape: Tom Riddle is a sad, sad boy who is raised in an orphanage after his father abandons the family and his mentally unstable mother dies.  Of course, Tom finds out that he was conceived while his father was under the influence of a love potion, and Rowling makes it clear that kids born under such circumstances are a bit dodgy anyway. As a teen, he kills his father and his grandparents for being assholes. Is it any wonder that he grows up to be the king of all things evil? Not only that, his own messed-up childhood makes it nearly impossible for him to understand the power of Lily Potter's love for her son.

Severus Snape, on the other hand, was raised by both parents, but they were emotionally distant and left him insecure and with little to no self-esteem. His father, a Muggle, was absent a lot, and he was raised in relative poverty and loneliness. His first real friend was Lily Evans, and he loved her until the day he died. It's possible that Snape's neglect by his own family was a driving force in his love and loyalty towards Lily, as well as her young son.

Does all of this mean that the entire Harry Potter series is a great big Freudian lesson, in which people are defined by the individuals who raised them? Not at all. But the fact that the parents of these characters were so much more than just shadows - that they had depth and personality and adventures before their kids came along - makes it a series that I can enjoy just as much as my kids do. And that's one of the reasons why Harry Potter will endure long after JK Rowling's original audience has grown up and left childhood behind.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Single Day's Harvest

A lot of people have asked me why I garden. Doesn't it take a lot of time? they ask. Isn't it a lot of work? The most interesting question of all is, Why do you bother? You know you can get all that stuff at Kroger, right?

Well, yeah. It does take time and work, and I supposed in theory I could go over to Kroger or Giant Eagle or wherever the hell I'm buying groceries and spend money on something grown a few hundred miles away by someone I've never met, who has sprayed the food with gods only know what and so forth.

Or I could toss some seeds into the warm, fertile earth, tend the sprouts that come up, water them every day, pull the weeds (a pox upon you, purslane!) that threaten to take over my entire garden, and then reward myself with the fruits - and veggies - of my labor. I have red lettuce, tomatoes, green beans, fat sweet peapods on the vine, fresh herbs and peppers for the picking. When it's time to make dinner, I start with what's in the back yard, and then move to the freezer second. A single day's pickings often is more than we'll eat in that 24-hour span -- in this photo, there is lettuce, green peppers, onions, my first tomato of the season, beans, basil and rosemary. I used the peppers, onion and rosemary in last night's dinner. Today, the tomato and half the lettuce were my lunch, the green beans were my mid-afternoon snack. This evening, I'll probably put the basil into my food processor and make pesto sauce.

There's just something rewarding and gratifying about the whole experience. Sure, the grocery store produce aisle is good for people who want to buy vegetables, no doubt about it. But for people who want to be a part of the food production cycle, rather than just a consumer, growing your own can't be beat.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Guest Post at The Pagan Mom Blog

A huge shout-out to the awesome Angela Pippinger over at The Pagan Mom Blog, who invited me to be a guest blogger. I have the privilege of contributing to her 31 Days of Deity project with a piece on the Celtic battle goddess, The Morrighan. For a hard polytheist like myself, it's always a treat to be part of something bigger than my own immediate pantheon. Thanks so much for letting me contribute!

The Morrighan

I’ve paid tribute to the Morrighan for nearly two decades now, and although my life has changed in so many ways since she first whacked me upside the head with a cosmic two-by-four, I’m still honored that she chose to get my attention.

I first began studying Pagan religions back around 1987. Although most of the information available publicly at that time was NeoWiccan in flavor, I found myself continuously drawn to the Celtic deities of my ancestors. However, I never really connected with a particular god or goddess, so I just plodded along, figuring that eventually I’d have that moment of divine epiphany that everyone assured me would .... Read Full Post

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Celebrate 4th of July with a Hot Scot in a Kilt!

OK, folks, New Concepts Publishing is celebrating this holiday weekend by offering a 25% discount on ALL of their e-books! Naturally, that includes Call of the Clan. Stop over and order a copy any time until noon on July 4th, and you'll save 25%!  

The discount will be reflected during checkout. Don't forget when ordering print books from New Concepts you always save 20% by entering LD8TMW53 in the coupon during checkout.

Celebrate the holiday weekend with some romantic suspense, murder, and a hot Scotsman in a kilt!

Order your copy here: Download Call of the Clan