Other-other things

Last Friday was St Patrick’s Day, or as my dear, dead friend used to refer to it, “Amateur Night.” How did we celebrate this oddball holiday of glitter shamrock hats, rude tee-shirt sayings & excessive consumption of radioactive-green beer here at Chez Herkes?  Decadently.

Spouseman had an extra nap, it being his max-fatigue day at the end of the radiation treatment week. I made soda bread, sort of.

For background, you should know I can trace ancestors to both the North & South of Ireland, I wore orange on March 17th most of my childhood, and I was raised to know that American celebration of this “Irish” holiday has as little to do with Eire as Easter does with bunnies. Possibly less.

Nevertheless, I can get behind any excuse for indulgence in the gray pre-springtime. Even a pseudo-holiday is sufficient permission for baking experiments.

I found a delicious recipe on Smitten Kitchen for Soda Bread Scones and promptly messed with it to a) use ingredients I already had, and b) NOT require using a mixer. Here’s the result. I blame my friend Tess for the booze part. Her soda bread recipe involves whiskey. I wanted part of that action, but the mini-loaf recipe I cribbed didn’t have any whiskey in it. Enter ingenuity.


Not-Really-Irish Soda Bread for the Not-really-Irish Holiday

Step 0. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F  and put parchment on a half-sheet baking sheet. Or two smaller ones. Or four teeny ones…you get the picture. The main thing is the parchment. Or cooking spray.  Non-stick. That’s the thing.

1. In a small bowl, dump 1 c. cranberries* to soak with a splash of hot water and a hefty splash of sweet whiskey–Irish, bourbon or blended, maybe rum, NOT SCOTCH OH GWADS NOT SCOTCH. I have a lot of bourbon lying around (long story)  so I used that.

2. Sift together in a Really Big Bowl (I’ll explain later):

  • 3 1/2 cups-ish of all purpose flour
    • NOTE: I wish I’d been taught to bake using a scale but I wasn’t, so I don’t have the reliable flour-by-weight measures for you. I start with 3.5 cups and set aside a half-cup for putting on my hands when kneading and in case the humidity goblins are mischievous and the dough is unworkably sticky.
  • 2 tsp baking powder (which is baking SODA plus cream of tartar, ICYWW)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 c. sugar

3. Add in and work into dry ingredients with fingers or pastry blender or fork :

  • 1/2 stick butter (aka 4 tbsps)  diced into bits.  Keep at it until it’s throughly worked in. “Like coarse meal” the cookbooks say. Whatevs.

4. Mix together in any large-enough receptacle:

  • 1 egg or egg white ( I can taste yolk in baked goods and leave it out any time I know it won’t affect the baking chemistry. Like here. Your choice.)
  • 3/4 cup  milk.
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt  (See, no need for buying WTF “buttermilk” or curdling milk with sour, nasty vinegar… ew. Yogurt. Plain.)

5. Tip the wet ingredients + the boozy fruit into the dry ingredients and stir — gently, scraping from the outside of the bowl and scooping up from the bottom —  until everything is just mixed enough there’s no dry flour showing and the fruits are decently distributed.

6. Now….this is where every other recipe said, “turn dough onto a floured work surface and knead five or six times to form into a flat round.” NOPE. I am FAR too lazy to scrub countertops before and after, so this is where the Really Big Bowl comes in. I flour up my hands and knead the dough in the bowl. Easy-peasy.

This kind of “kneading” is not an exacting process or a long one.  Work the dough until  you can just make it hold a proper shape. Too much kneading and the baby goes blind. Er, I mean the dough toughens up and you get scones like hockey pucks.

7. Cut the dough round into eight wedges with a sharpish blade (yes, in the bowl)

8. One by one, mush the wedges into rounds you can glob onto the baking sheet. You can tell from the phrasing this isn’t going to be more sticky than neat&tidy, right? Right.

Cut crosses in the tops if you want them to look fancy. It works. I was impressed

9. Bake 20-ish minutes (I set the timer for 18, ended up being 22 total, parchment slows baking time a bit.)

If you really want to get fancy, melt some butter, swish in a bit of whiskey and drizzle the combo over the tops of the cooling mini-loaves. I didn’t bother. I was too busy eating one of them still steaming hot from the oven.

They were tasty. Lovely bite of bitter soda and tart tang from the yogurt, bourbony-cranberries sweet enough without overwhelming the dough. Yum. They keep for a couple of days and toast beautifully.

*Yes, cranberries. I despise currants, the traditional fruit found in soda bread. Spouseman loathes raisins, the traditional sub-in for currants. We both like cranberries. You could leave out the boozy fruit & sugar entirely and the bread still would be scrumptious.

Anyway.

Happy experimenting.

Postscript:  remember, when I’m not massacring recipes, I’m writing books. You can buy my books on Amazon & other online retailers. Or order paperbacks from your local bookstore or library, even.  I even have links here on the blog. Go figure.

 

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Holiday & post-holiday doings

The usual lists of media I’ve absorbed and activities completed, plus all the dull personal doings that that don’t fit under the writing, publishing, or authoring headings.

Books

Lots of fluffy froufrou to balance out the Monstrous Tomes of Weber from last post.

  • The Perks Of Loving a Scoundrel Jennifer Mcquiston
  • Chasing Lady Amelia Mary Rodale
  • A Season Of Ruin Anna Bradley.

All 19th century British society romances. Great dialogue, fine characterization, and plots as simple and predictable as sunrise. Just what my brain needed.

And a delightful find: A NEW AUTHOR TO LOVE: Genevieve Cogman.

  • The Invisible Library
  • The Masked City

Alternate-worlds fantasy. The Library sits between variant worlds. Librarians seek out unique books, Dragons champion logic, Fae thrive on chaos & narratives…secrets lurk in every corner.  The third book in the series comes out January 10 and I can’t wait.

Movies

I haven’t seen a new theater release in ages now. The group prefers a theater I physically cannot bear. (I tried. I did. Four separate occasions, four separate instances of back and leg pain requiring the Big Aleves for two+ days. No movie is worth that.)  Plus I am not a fan of opening night dinner+movie eventing. I am not wholly hoopla-averse, but  expensive/ loud/ large group dining plus a crowded theater is 1.5 crowds enough to wreck me.  My wallet and my nerves prefer breakfast & a matinee if dining out before a movie at all.

So I’m not getting out, and if I don’t see a movie the first weekend, I usually end up waiting until it hits home viewing. That’s a longwinded lead-in to explain why I am seeing movies at home, mostly on DVDs from the library.

Let me move onward to this year’s holiday marathon:

  • Die Hard 1 & 2
  • Lethal Weapon
  • A Christmas Carol (B&W Alastair Sims 1951)
  • Bells of Saint Mary’s
  • We’re No Angels
  • It’s A Wonderful Life

Others:

  • Finding Dory
  • Spiderman 2 (the most recent incarnation)
  • Secret Life of Pets

Television

Sherlock. The only show worth noting from this time period. I re-watched the whole series around the weekend of New Year’s, and hosted an afternoon of foods+ (another)re-watching of season 3+the long, long long overdue season 4 premiere on New Year’s Day. I could say many things both complimentary and snarky about the new episode, but a) I’m sure others on the interwebz will do better analysis and b) I’m avoiding all critique until the season is done.  Until then, I’m happy to sit back and see where the writers go with with the glorious, fascinating, eminently watchable mess they’ve made.

Kitchen Magic

So much baking. All the fun. brown sugar oat brittle. Christmas sugar cookies. Various breads. Chocolate-chip caramel cookies. Swedish butter cookies.  The oatmeal cherry cookies were a hit with the Sherlock watchers, so I’ll be making & freezing more of that dough for sure. Maybe I’ll make scones for episode 2.

And soup. It’s soup season. Last week it was split pea with Christmas leftover turkey & bacon. I’ll do chili this weekend.


 

I’ve put my first book into the “finished in 2017” list.  I’ll try to list books on Goodreads more diligently than I have in the past.  No promises.

And if you want to read MY first novel,  I dropped the sale price to 99 cents in Kindle format through January 8th.

Why? Why not? I can afford the occasional loss-leader, and I enjoy making it available. No, running a steep discount is not devaluing my work or books in general, nor is it “ruining the market for everyone else.”  If having sales devalued merchandise then…no, no, not getting into economics & market theory today. That’s all the shares for this round. I’m done.

 

Complicated Occasions

You know how excited some kids get about their birthdays and Christmas etc? I was not that child. Events of Consequence, Special Ceremonies, and other social spotlight situations have filled my heart with dread for as long as I can remember.

People expected Proper Reactions. I don’t do those, not naturally. As an adult I know how to behave in social situations–I’m pretty damned good at it, if I do say so myself–but the knowledge came from observation, imitation, and rote repetition without any deeper emotional understanding of why. When I react naturally, most of the world stops, blinks, and edges uncomfortably away. It took decades to learn the skills I have.

As a child the transitive association got ingrained fast.

  1. Special Occasions=Super-High Chance of Bad Reactions.
  2. Bad Reactions=>Humiliating Corrections
  3. Special occasions = Humiliation.

Sure, I loved getting presents, who doesn’t? But I didn’t love the Expectations, capital letter and all. Social infractions were addressed immediately and directly and were used for future lectures and lessons. When Special means abundantly stressful, being absent and/or invisible becomes a practical defense measure. It becomes the preferred state.

Before I lost all my baby teeth, the stress of worrying about my behavior more than outweighed any possible enjoyment.  I still don’t do well under the heavy weight of expectations, and special occasions all come packaged with a big ol’ box of ’em.

Here’s a list of life experiences I avoid and minimize whenever possible:

  • Birthday parties (my own, especially)
  • Planned Parties in general
  • Christmas
  • New Year’s Eve
  • Thanksgiving
  • Parades
  • Recitals
  • Other public skill demonstrations

One important point to clarify:  I love all those things when the focus is on other people. I adore buying gifts, decorating for holidays, cooking for special events and potlucks, watching parades, listening to recitals…being the audience, a spectator, a fan & supporter? That’s all good. Grand, even. Love-love-love-love it.

I adore the trappings of happiness, so I actually adore special occasions–in my own way. From afar. From the corners. What makes me happier than a clam at high tide is people coming to visit, hanging out and having fun in my home while I hang out nearby.

But I can’t enjoy being a participant, and especially not the centerpiece. Active attention in small social settings will always feel like being burned in a fire. I’ve recovered from the worst early terrors, but damage can only heal so far. Wishing will not make it different, and to be honest I don’t wish it.  I don’t miss out– I don’t feel a loss. Scars are usefully numb that way.

I do not want what I am not made to want. So I emphatically do NOT appreciate people deciding they have to “help me get over it,” or “learn to like” games, surprises, and suchlike. Surprise me, and live with the consequences. Friends know this. Friends who don’t respect it do not stay friends.

And I also know other people have the same kinds of issues, which is why there are always at least two rooms plus the kitchen open to guests at my house. One wherever a gathering is officially happening, and another available space, quiet and open to be used.

So if I’m lurking in the quiet room  at my own “party” or finding excuses to check on things in the kitchen, or when  I’m studying your knick-knacks or sitting with my nose buried in a sketchpad, notebook, or electronic tablet– please don’t worry about me or at me.  I’m happy, I promise.  It’s just complicated.

 

 

Celebrate: Christmas (Eve) is here!

It’s the last Adventword, not an order. It’s also another word that leaves me wrinkling my nose.  Celebrate. It really shouldn’t be an imperative. Stress, pressure, tension, baggage–they all conspire to make Special Occasions less than celebratory.

And yet I love to celebrate. I live to celebrate. I only hate forced pep, not genuine joy.  Spontaneity and freedom are the key. Celebrating is not an event. It happens at a lot of celebrations, but correlation is not causation.  The verb is an action.

To celebrate is to magnify happiness. Celebrating amplifies delight by sharing it.  Joy to the world, and all that. I adore that kind of celebrating. It makes life sparkle in a way that doesn’t need vacuuming the way real glitter does.

The flip side of the nihilist “Life has no meaning” philosophy is that life has exactly as much meaning as we give it, so why not bring life some joyous fun? Why bother celebrating? the nihilist asks. Me, I ask, why not celebrate?

Anyway. Genuine glee resulting from any old occurrence or item or act is always worth broadcasting. Doesn’t have to be a big thing. Give me a snack, and I will celebrate it. Just ask Spouseman about the happy food dance.

(I swear I had no idea I did little chair dances when I eat until he teased me. And then I tried to stop, because attention=bad is an ingrained response, but it didn’t work. Celebratory impulses will beat all restraint, even the amazing power of self-consciousness.)

So anyway.

Celebrating at celebration times can be hard when the associations are the opposite of joyful. But it is possible. It’s worth trying and trying again. And share even the small celebrations whenever you can.  Joy has a way of being contagious in ways mere cheer can never imitate.

May your days be merry and bright, and all that. It’s a good blessing.



Click here to see the global #AdventWord event/calendar I’ve been bending to my bloggish purposes: AdventWord

image: epicantus via pixabay.com

 

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Things: Return of the Sun Edition

Home Stuff

The temps fell below zero Fahrenheit three times in ten days. Kitchens are easy places to keep warm if you’re using the stove. Plus holidays and food mix well.

Side note: nothing warms the house like the incineration process of a “self-cleaning” oven, but the marketing label is a foul lie. (shocker, right?) The oven does not rid itself of the ashy corpses of all that accumulated grease. I had to wipe down the interior myself.

Clean oven was used to cook all kinds o’things.

  • Casseroles. (Salsa chicken, sausage & tater, and a thing I made from leftover restaurant baked ziti, lotz moar cheez and Extra Spices.)
  • Cookies. (Swedish butter cookies, chocolate-chip caramel-chip, oatmeal-cherry, and brown sugar brittle. There will be Christmas sugar cutout cookies, but I will do that next weekend.)
  • Apples. (some baked plain, and I made what I call faux apple pudding, which is a couple of apples peeled/sliced/cored and a couple of stale apple doughnuts pulled apart. Pieces tossed together with cinnamon sugar, smooshed into a greased baking dish and cooked for at least an hour at 325 degrees. Me, I bake longer, cool, and re-warm it for max deliciousness.)

I perfected my no-recipe  “I’d rather sit in front of the TV than use the food processor” goat cheese dip. Start with a few heaping spoonfuls of plain greek yogurt,  one log of goat cheese, and a few shakes of feta. Let it all soften to room temp. Add at least a teaspoon each of onion powder, dill, thyme, parsley, oregano (all powdered as much as I can using the mortar and pestle of palm &  fingers). Put on a video and watch while applying fork to mixture with enthusiasm until it’s all blended. (Or, you know, use the food processor. Mine is currently awaiting a new blade. Cuisinart. Recall. Google it.)

And then there was snow. I love playing in the snow shoveling the driveway, and that’s a good thing since we have nearly 100 feet of drive. I have requirements.  One, no deadline. Time pressure ruins the fun, and also, I’m slooooooow. Two,  I need good tunes on the headphones. Three, it’s good to have someone with upper body strength to help with the snowplow shit at the street end.

Writing

I know, this is the non-writing post, but I’ve written three full scenes. That’s mega-huge progress for me these days so I’m all puffed up with my piddly accomplishments. I also wrote one of those scenes twice because the POV didn’t work for Alpha Reader the first time, so it’s even more writing than it sounds. No, I’m not dropping word count numbers.

Books

Only two this round. In my defense, they were both Massive Mountains of Prose. At the Sign Of Triumph, and Shadows of Victory, both by David Weber. Safehold series and Honorverse series, respectively. Speaking of respect, while I have the utmost admiration for Mr Weber’s formidable writing skills, I can’t recommend these.  (Both books are on bestseller lists and deservedly so. They were enjoyable. I simply can’t recommend them.)

I won’t dis them the way some reviewers have. They’re ambitious in scope and sweeping in scope, and juggling their casts alone would give me migraines. They are amazing works of story thread-weaving, but there are just so many damned threads. I prefer smaller, tighter stories. Not as truncated and single-track as the plots in the Young Honor series, but something a little less sprawling, yes, please. Three good points:

  1. they’re both bridge books that wrap up a of plot sprawliness and sidelines
  2. Both end with hints of a tighter focus in the next installment.
  3. ONLY ONE MULTI-CHAPTER SPACE BATTLE in the Honorverse novel!!!

I took to reading each “conversation between talking heads” scene the way I browse technical articles for specific data: read first para of a section in depth, wade swiftly through the cluttered verbiage required to meet the “state the premise, build a case, refute the case on points, refute the refutations, re-state the points, restate the premise, declare the conclusion” standard of academic writing in search of critical keywords, settle in for the last few paras of wrap-up.

But it was still slow going. Satisfying in the end, but it tired my brain out.

Television

Game of Thrones Season 6. My favorite line ever. “That’s what I do. I drink and I know things.” This would be my house motto, and everyone would know I meant tea, not wine.

Penny Dreadful season 3. (sob) So much creepy, moody beautifulness.

NCIS. First season I can remember disliking most episodes. I was happy to see DiNozzo leave,  but it looks like the writers left with him. Not a one of the new agents has lines worth reading and I’m not sure most of them know how to handle good lines if they got any. Hard to say. The regulars also sound out of character or fall flat half the time too. Sad.

Movies:

I must have watched one or two DVDs or streaming, but if I can’t remember them, they must not be worth mentioning.

Spouseman and I will  go to see Rogue One, but I’m not sure when.  Opening weekend was too busy with writing, baking, shoveling and hiding from people and the cold to get out. Besides, I didn’t see the first trilogy (Eps 4-6) on opening weekends either. Lots of people didn’t do that in the seventies and eighties. So it’s like a tradition.


And that’s a wrap. Blessed Yule, Festive Festivus, Bright Hannukah, and Happy Birthday, Jesus.

Next week, there will NOT be resolutions, but there might be things.