Comfort Food. My way.

DISCLAIMER: Not a picture of my shepherd’s pie. Why not? Explanation at the end. This is a delicious Pixabay stock image (credit: RitaE)

Who wants a food post? I hope you do, because you’re getting one. Yes, this fiction author  is blogging about food again. Why? Because making food always leads to stories.

This story is about comfort. I don’t like restaurants OR cooking (or baking, for that matter) but I crave the comfort of a good meal. I crave it most  when I least wish to work hard.  Like, oh for example, when I’ve just gotten home from a 3-day convention bookended by 6-hour solo road trips. Yeah. Like now.

I have found many ways to make work in the kitchen as painless, practical, and fast as possible.  I am big on pan bakes & bar cookies, casseroles, stews, & other pantry put-togethers — things that can be assembled in 10 minutes and then leave to cook on their own….while I go write or something. See? Writing tie-in.

(Plus easily-distracted people are not the best cooks to put in charge of stir-fry, easily-burned sauces, or anything requiring precision measurements or timing. Yeah. Me.)

ANYWAY. Today’s entry in comfort food stories: a meal I call shepherd’s pie even though the only ingredient it shares with the traditional dish is potato. Its main appeal is that it can be thrown together in no time, feeds me & Spouseman for two dinners, and we both love it.  The ingredients can be conveniently kept on-hand in cabinets & freezer.

Spouseman makes it for me most times, on Bad Days like when I’ve just gotten home from a road trip and am thoroughly stressed. On other occasions I enjoy the think-free accomplishment of assembling asimple meal.

So here you go. One of my favorites.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  1. We use a 2 1/2 qt Corning casserole dish. Quantities were based on the dish.
  2. Dump into the casserole dish:
  3. 1 16 oz bag frozen vegetarian “meat crumbles.” No, I don’t thaw them. LAZY ME.
  4. Add enough wine/ketchup/barbecue/soy /Worchestershire/whatever flavors you like in a savory sauce. (Or, in my case, whatever’s in the fridge)  Make it fairly soupy.
  5. Stir in garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper to taste.
  6. Once you have that base stirred together, layer in the following in order
    • 1 c frozen corn
    • 1 c frozen baby peas (or sub another niblet-sized frozen veggie if you are pea-averse)
    • most of an 8 oz bag shredded cheese. Mild cheddar is my fave.
  7. Make enough instant mashed potatoes to cover the top & load them in. How much? To taste. Depending on how thick you want.
  8. Shake the remaining cheese over the insta-tater layer.
  9. Bake for at least 45 min.

Ten steps.  I swear it takes longer to read these instructions than to make once you get the hang of it.


  • when it comes to choose abrand of “Let’s go vegetarian because too lazy to fry up ground meat and then have to wash the fry pan) crumbles, we’re partial to Morningstar Farms chipotle black bean. Really, any ground meat substitute will do.
  • Making mashed taters takes me zero time because we have an on-demand hot water maker. (Best. Gadget. EVER.) Anyway, if you have to boil water, you might want to start it when you preheat the oven. To save time. Because that’s what this is about.
  • Like most casseroles, this is excellent/even better after a cool & a second bake. So it’s perfect for make-ahead meal too.

Why no picture? I don’t take good foodie photos. When I attempt casserole imagery  the photo ends up looking like something pre-eaten. I don’t find that appealing. VERY NOT.

Holiday ginger cookie fun

Here be the latest installment in my ongoing Quest For the Perfect Ginger Cookie. I posted a picture of the experiment on All The Social Media, and the next thing I knew, people were asking for a recipe. I don’t really use recipes so much as demolish them, but I have recorded the process here and include a link to the original at the end.  Read on!

It requires chilling, so you don’t need to start the oven until you’re ready to bake. It also calls for diced-up crystallized ginger. I diced up a whole package a while ago while watching TV because I hate doing the work right before I bake. 

1. Whisk/sift together & set aside in a bowl:

  • 2-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2+ teaspoons ground ginger. I always go heavy on the ginger.
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda (NOT baking powder, do NOT substitute)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • a little nutmeg. How much? A pinch.  10 passes on my big spice grater. Yes, I have a whole nutmeg. Don’t judge.

2.  In your mixing bowl, cream together:

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar,
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar. (Light? Dark? Your choice. I went with light because I had it. Dark will add a stronger molasses-y flavor to the cookies)
  • 1 cup butter and/or vegetable shortening.  I used 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)  & 1/2 cup Crisco. More butter=crispier cookies, more shortening=softer.

3. When the sugar & fat are creamed together all light & fluffy, add  & mix together well:

  • 1 large egg

3.5 then blend in:

  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • as much very finely diced crystallized ginger as your heart desires. I used about  1/3 cup. A handful.

4. Finally, add in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.  Dough will be stickier than sticky. (If you over-mix, the cookies will come out tough)

5. Chill at least 1 hour. I chilled it overnight because that’s how I roll.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees (F). Line your baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon…or be prepared to end up with a horrible, baked-on mess. Non-stick baking sheets might work, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

6. Put some white granulated sugar in a bowl. How much? Depends on how many cookies you’re baking. 1/2 cup for the whole batch should do.  I suppose you could use coarse decorating sugar or raw sugar if you wanted. I never have any.

For random fun, here’s a link to sugar descriptions & uses: All Different Kinds Of Sugar.

7. Scoop out  dough in 1/2″ blobs (about the diameter of a nickel)  roll into balls and coat with sugar before setting on the baking sheet.

8. Bake 8-10 minutes, until the cookies flatten out completely.  Cool on the sheet until they’re firm enough to transfer to a baking rack. Try not to eat them all while they’re still hot enough to burn your tongue.

I liked these enough that I immediately made notes and am putting it into my regular rotation of “cookie doughs to prep & keep in the freezer at all times.”

Maybe you’ll like them too.


Note: this recipe is heavily modified and reformatted from one I found on a wonderful website which is home to many delicious ideas. You can also find gorgeous, excellent how-it-should-look photographs for this recipe there:

Crispy Ginger Cookies recipe from Once Upon A Chef

The original recipe called for some spices I don’t put in my baking (allspice & black pepper) didn’t have any crystallized ginger (the horror!) and it described making 36 BIG  cookies while I prefer making 50-60 small nibbly cookies from the same amount of dough.


Habitica & Me

True confession part 1: I love productivity tools & time management toys. Daytimers, to-do lists, reminder programs, bullet journals, planners, calendars, I adore them all.

True confession part 2: I never use them. Every tool designed to get life organized requires its own maintenance. They all add layers of structure and labor atop the labor involved in completing the actual tasks, which is the last burden I need when I’m already struggling to Do The Work.

Purgatory is having “keep track of work” be its own job on top of all the other jobs. Not only do I have to feel guilty for not getting the bathroom cleaned (for example) but I have to feel guilty about either a) putting it on the list and failing to check it off,  b) failing to even get the task onto a list or c) losing the list AND not getting The Thing done.

Then there’s the hassle of going through all the work of making new lists that look just like the old lists, bulleting all the usual points over and over, copying last week’s reminders onto this week’s sheet…over and over again, day after week after month…

<weeps from sheer exhaustion>

Enter, the only productivity toy I’ve ever used longer than a week.  I love this thing. I love it with a full and overflowing heart, so much so that I recommend it to total strangers. It’s free, and it works. Yes, FREE.

What is it? It’s the gamification of getting things done, and for me, it’s the best reminder/planning/to-do thingie EVER. Mileage varies, always, but this is my space, so Imma tell you all about why I love it.

FULL DISCLAIMER: I do not use at anything like its full capacity.  I don’t even play the actual game part, (I haven’t played a video game since Spyro the Dragon was cool)  and there is a whole social media support element I avoid with every social avoidance bone in my body. They look really useful and fun, but they aren’t for me.

One of the things that makes Habitica special is that (unlike other similar apps) it does not penalize me for going my own way.  I can use the bits I like and ignore the rest, and it still works perfectly. It  does everything I need it to do and does it with style.

Basically I am the little old lady who drives back and forth to the grocery store in a Ferrari.

There’s a website plus phone & tablet apps, so you always have access to your toolkit and your lists and so on. The integration is seamless, and they all use a goofy, adorable 8-bit graphic interface.  It has all the game trappings that make a thing fun, from a cute avatar I can dress to demonstrating success by leveling up.

For me it works because it divides Things Needing Doing into three categories: Habits that I do a lot (or want to do a lot, or want to STOP doing a lot)  but not necessarily on a schedule, “Dailies,” meaning anything I should do on a regular, repeated basis–whether it’s changing a water filter once a month, vacuuming the house every 9 days, sending in a quarterly report,  or getting in 10k steps daily–and To-Dos with or without a specific due date.

Tasks I add to each of those categories are infinitely personalizable.   The set-up offers all the usual sub-categories like Work, Health, etc, but I created my own too (whimsy, f’rex) and I don’t have to use any of their starter ones. Then I assign each task as trivial/easy/medium/hard, which determines how much I gain for getting it done.

Completing tasks gets me gold, experience points, and magical mana, plus a random chance at things like hatchable pet eggs, potions, and foods for pets.  All those rewards are  designed for the game aspect, but I don’t care. Seeing a bar go up and hearing that alert chime is a lovely nerotransmitter hit. Plus I do enjoy hatching the pets and feeding them.

The best part? I never have to REDO or REMEMBER a regular task.  Dailies reset and keep track of themselves, and Habits sit there patiently to be clicked or not.  And you can change your mind on things, even the nature of a task. I recently created a Buy Food task in the Habit column  because I noticed I kept putting it in as a to-do once a week.

Habitica takes all the tedious, time-consuming bookkeeping out of my hands, and every day presents me with a tidy page of check boxes. No mess, no fuss, no worry about forgetting.  I’m outsourcing much of the time-management emotional labor and stressful physical upkeep to the app. Ahhhhhhh, freedom.

Not doing Dailies dings my health and mana, as does clicking on negative habits.  The task is color-coded too, based on how successful I’ve been at getting them done.   But I can buy magic healing potions as rewards with my gold–so getting credit for succeeding at ANY thing takes some of the sting out of failing a specific thing. It nicely reinforces the idea that I don’t have to be perfect to deserve goodness.

I can create rewards too — I put “check sales” and “peek at Facebook feed” down as bad habits but ALSO use them as rewards that cost a certain amount of gold so I can give myself a guilt-free treat for completing something else. It also means if I want to avoid recording a bad habit backslide, I can pay for the privilege. So to speak.

If I have a big project to monitor, I might make To-dos, Dailies AND Habits for it.  Thus, ‘open WIP” is on my Dailies, I get to click on a plus and earn points every time I work on it for at least an hour, and if I have a scene to complete or a particular goal I want to reach, I’ll add that as a To-Do.

In summary, I love Habitica. Did I mention it’s free?  (It’s FREE!)

Full disclosure, I eventually coughed up the cash for an annual subscription, but not because I was missing any features. Subscribing was just my way of showing pocketbook appreciation for all the hard work involved in developing and maintaining the program. I’m using it, I can afford to pay a reasonable fee, and so I did.

And yeah, I also got subscriber “gifts” and a stash of gems that let me buy treats for my pets. Because PETS AND POTIONS.


Not tired of my words yet? My published works are available on Amazon and all the other usual online retailers, or you can take free peeks at them on my website on this page 

Science-fiction thrillers, science-fiction romance, and science fantasy, full length novels and shorter works. So many choices! Here be direct links to the published stories that have escaped the confines of Amazon.