Friday, February 26, 2016

My 2015 Project

I had a writing project last year.

The author commissioned the tiger painting - he says he's the little tiger on the right.

Obviously, I did not write this book. I was the editor who helped whip this book into shape before it was sent to the publisher.  And while I wish that I had had one more run through on the book and I would like to re-organize the first chapter, I am still proud of what I did. (And doesn't every editor/writer wish they had time for just one more pass?)

If you are looking for a military blow-by-blow, detailing troop movements and strategy, this is not the book for you. This is more of a coming of age story, with firefights, brothels, bad jokes, incredibly brutal training, and a lot of cheating at cards.  It's funnier and more erudite (lots of Nietzsche) than you might expect for a book about war.

I'm honored that I got to spend so much time with the author (both in person and on the page). He is a witty, well-travelled man, with an enormous fund of stories (many more than went into the book) and a fascinating person to get to know.

If you're interested, The Tales of Six Tigers is available on Amazon here.

The proceeds from the book will be going to the TLC Brotherhood, a veteran's organization for those who served in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Weekend in the Country

Two years ago, a friend of mine decided to provide for her retirement by purchasing a farm. She's going to get back to nature and grow organic vegetables.  This weekend, I got to see the farm that I had heard so much about.

It's still February, so it's not as pretty as it will be later in the Spring, but she has some lovely oak trees.

Part of the farm was once a church camp, so there are some unusual outbuildings.

This was the bath house. I loved the faded blue paint.
The former camp office. This is where we spent the night.
While we were there, I helped plant radishes, lettuce and three rows of beets. But I did not get to drive the tractor. Anna got there first.

the queen practicing her wave
We voted on what color flooring to put in the house. (No decision as yet.) We drank a lot of wine. We also did some crafts, aka painting pine cones.  Tip: Don't dip the pine cones in paint, they soak up so much liquid they actually close up.

We hung the pine cones on the fig tree to dry.
When it was dark we roasted marshmallows. Some people made s'mores, but I maintain that a well-roasted marshmallow is perfection in itself, adding chocolate and graham crackers is gilding the lily.

I proved myself to be a useless city slicker, and fell asleep around 8pm. But that meant I was the first one up, and I got to watch the sun rise and commune with the farm cats: Angie (black) and Peanut Butter Cup (tortoiseshell).

They were miffed that I didn't know where their human kept the cat food.
The next day, I went home with three painted pine cones, a bag of brownies and an aloe vera plant. But not before I met the neighbors.

How was your weekend? And does anybody know what you do with painted pine cones?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A vision not quite achieved

I was noodling around the internets and I found a recipe for a single serve microwave cake. I don't cook in the microwave so much as heat things up, but the idea of a single serving cake appealed to me.
Cooking as a single person is all about dealing with leftovers. Most recipes make enough for six, and while having extra chicken, or roasted vegetables around is not a problem, having dessert for eight is a temptation I don't need.
And suddenly, I had an idea, a vision, of a cake split in two, the middle filled with curd, the top covered with a beautifully rustic frosting. And I was going to flavor it with grapefruit, because I love grapefruit.
I spent Saturday afternoon making a grapefruit curd, which is just like lemon curd, but with grapefruit juice. I was slightly disappointed that it was a pale yellow, even though the grapefruit juice itself was pink. But food coloring fixed that.
I should have known better when I saw that the ingredients for the cake included spelt flour. Who has spelt flour on hand? I did it with all purpose flour and this is the result.

The most depressing vanilla scented pucks ever to come out of a kitchen.
But the vision had taken hold of me and I was not ready to let go. Besides, I already had the grapefruit curd.
I went to the supermarket and got a cake mix, and while it was baking, I put together a grapefruit frosting, flavored with zest from the grapefruit I had juiced for the curd. (I'm frugal like that.)
Sometimes, cooking is an exercise in figuring out what you did wrong, so that next time you can do it right.  These aren't bad, they are relatively tasty, but they are not the grapefruit cakes of my imagination. The curd is grainy. The cakes are lopsided and I wish they were browned on the edges. I would put zest in the cake next time, instead of the frosting. And obviously, I need to learn how to frost a cake.

Next time, these will be much, much, better.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Valentine's Day Weekend Re-cap

Hello and good morning!

I hope everybody had a good Valentine's weekend, single, paired, or "it's complicated". I went to a singles party - something that I normally wouldn't do, because the whole idea of going to a large, noisy event with a bunch of people I don't know just makes me itch.  But I'm trying to be more like Shonda Rhimes and say yes to things that make me uncomfortable.

I don't know if I've achieved any personal growth, but I did get to dance some salsa, met a former priest (he now works in IT - so people are still coming to him with their problems) and heard a really funny story about a funeral. I didn't find love, or even like, but it wasn't as miserable an experience as I thought it would be.

It also gave me an excuse to buy a new pair of earrings (not that I really needed an excuse). Normally, I'm not enthusiastic about heart-shaped anything (I find it kind of cheesy and obvious) but I found these at Charming Charlie's and couldn't resist. Yes, they are a bit on the cheesy and obvious side, but so is Valentine's Day.


And because I have a weakness for patterned socks, I also picked up these.
I can work a theme.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Recipe: French Onion Soup

I have a new soup pot. Isn't it beautiful? And what better way to break it in with a recipe from the late great Julia Child.

I'd never made onion soup before, and was amazed by how simple a recipe it is. It's caramelized onions in beef stock. That's it. The hardest thing about it is slicing up the onions. It does require some time stirring the pot while the onions cook down, but get a good book and the time will fly by. I listened to Imperium by Robert Harris, while caramelizing my onions. A novel about Republican Rome that proves that politics has always been a dirty game, controlled by money, vested interests, spin and swayed by people who are total boors, but mysteriously popular with the public. (Sound familiar?)

All of the ingredients
It is traditional to gratinée French onion soup (meaning bake a crust of cheese over the bowl) but personally, I find it:
  • over the top when eating alone
  • messy, and
  • a waste of cheese, since you always lose some to the oven and bowl
Instead, I did Gruyere croutons, which is simply toasted bread with Gruyere baked onto it. The advantage to this is you can make a bunch of these little toasts ahead of time, store them in the refrigerator, and heat them up (with the soup) when you feel like eating.

One thing I noticed, is that onions are amazingly sweet when cooked down. I actually dug the bag out of the trash to make sure I hadn't used sweet onions by mistake. (I hadn't.) Julia only has you put in 1/2 tsp of salt, but you may want to increase that. It depends on how salty your stock is.

French Onion Soup
(from Julia Child's The Way to Cook)

Note: The house will smell like onions for two days afterwards; not necessarily a bad thing, but if you are going to have company, maybe wait until they're gone.

3 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
8 cups thinly sliced onions (roughly 2-1/2 to 3 lbs)
1/2 teaspoon each salt and sugar (sugar helps the onions brown)
2 Tablespoons flour
2-1/2 quarts beef stock (2 cups of which should be hot)
4-5 tablespoons brandy (optional)
1 cup dry white French vermouth (I used a dry white wine)

Set your pot over moderate heat with the butter and oil, and when the butter had melted add in the onions.  Cover the  pan and cook until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes.

Blend in salt and sugar, raise heat to moderately high, and let the onions brown, stirring frequently until they are a dark walnut color, approximately 25-30 minutes.

Sprinkle in flour and cook slowly, stirring, for another 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for a moment. Whisk in 2 cups of hot stock. When well blended, bring to a simmer, add the rest of the stock, brandy (if using) and vermouth. Cover loosely and let simmer for 1-1/2 hours. Add a little water if it reduces too much.


Monday, February 8, 2016

Drama, drama, drama

Sorry I missed last week, but I had a house full of feline drama.

Since I don't talk about them much, these are the actors:

George - doesn't he look sweet? and innocent? Ha!

Bailey - my gatekeeper, guard cat, and maintainer of standards

I don't know what set him off,  but I came home Friday night to George attacking Bailey. Not playfully, not a game, but a serious attack. Bailey was so completely taken by surprise she forgot that she's 15 pounds to his 10 and ran. He cornered her in my closet, where she lost bladder control.

After a few tries, it became apparent I couldn't let them near each other, so I ended up dividing the house and putting Bailey in the master suite (it's her favorite room) and leaving George in the living room. Bailey was terrified, it took me about two hours to calm her down. I originally thought she hadn't been hurt, but later on, I found blood on the shelf she was hiding on. (Torn claw; it hurts, but she'll be fine.)

Then there was cleanup, since she had peed in several places. I wiped and vacuumed and put down pet odor powder, but ended up borrowing my mother's rug shampooer and triple washing the bedroom and closet carpets. It no longer smells like the vet's office.

I took them to the vet, where they told me that aggression is very common in cats. George (who is now 4 years old) may have been trying to be the dominant alpha male. Or he could have been startled by a loud noise and needed to take it out on someone. It's hard to tell. But he has calmed down, and putting him in isolation every time he was aggressive towards Bailey worked very well. (He loves attention; being ignored is about as horrible a punishment as you could give him.)

My most brilliant move was getting him a collar with a bell. It occurred to me that one of the big stressors for Bailey was that she couldn't tell where he was and she was afraid he'd ambush her. Now she can hear him coming, and it has made a world of difference in her behavior. She's much more relaxed; even lying on her back in front of the fireplace last night.

It took a week of supervised visits, but they are now (mostly) getting along. George is not allowed to sleep next to Bailey yet (she hasn't forgiven him - her foot still hurts) and she still growls when he gets too close, but we are headed back to normal.  

How was your week?