05 April 2016

D is for Drinking

4/4/16 Scotch update - I've pretty much switched to Lagavulin. Not cheap at over $100 a bottle, but well worth the indulgence. In my opinion, drink good spirits, or don't drink at all.

4/4/15 My main characters, J. Lindsay Calhoun and Megan MacGregor are obviously of Scottish descent, so it makes sense at least one of them would be a Scotch whisky drinker. Right? Of course, the author would have to do a bit of research before choosing just the right Scotch for them, right? Right?

One would think that could be a pleasant job, save for a tiny little issue. I got horribly sick on Chivas Regal during a college night out. It took me almost 40 years to give this drink another try, and then only at the behest of my hero who simply insisted.

It turns out I have rather a fond taste for smoky liquors and the peaty single malt Scotches from Islay suited me just fine. I soon had a bottle of Laphroaig in my own cabinet. (Although yesterday I tried Ardveg and decided I might like it better.) I also decided the law firm of Calhoun and Sons would serve their clients a Highland single malt Scotch called The Dalmore. I chose it because the stag on the label is very similar to the Calhoun clan crest. I also don't like it, and neither do I like Lindsay's father, Daniel Calhoun, the head of the law firm who favors this Scotch. It gave me one more reason to villainize him.

As to the heroine, she really doesn't much care for Scotch at all, except perhaps Drambuie, an herbal variation made with heather honey, which she uses strictly for medicinal reasons. It's quite lovely in herbal tea. You should give that a try.

Do you go to such research lengths when deciding details for your own characters? I find it's half the fun of writing. What's more to say? Except perhaps Sláinte.

04 April 2016

C is for Colorado Country and Cattle

4/3/16 We took a few more trips around the state, and I think I've found an imaginary location north of Denver that might work. We have yet to take a hike through Pawnee Buttes, and after that, I'll decide which of the landscapes most inspire the written descriptions in the novel. I'll probably combine characteristics and maybe even do some paintings to get the visuals clear in my head. Because what's the fun of creativity if you can't turn every project into a grand drama? 

4/3/15 When my protagonists were newly married, they spent their honeymoon traveling across America looking for the perfect place to build Viridian Farms, an intentional community and organic farm that would supply nearby cities with fresh locally-grown produce. Although both Lindsay and Megan had successful careers in major cities, they yearned for a different, more natural and sustainable lifestyle, and they had like-minded friends who were tired of their hectic modern lifestyles as well.

Seeking that perfect, special place to land eventually brought them full-circle back home to Colorado. I knew I would have to explore the state a bit more before settling on a location for them to call home, so I started to explore some options for the setting of this romantic mystery novel. It had to be a place that made sense for my characters who were highly-educated and fairly sophisticated people, with well-established and prosperous lifestyles. They could afford to spend a bit of money on their dreams.

It also had to be  place that provided logical conflicts with believable antagonists, and a landscape that provided not only visual beauty, but a place to hide dead bodies! Mountains nearby would be good, or at least rolling countryside with groves of trees.

So we started to explore areas of Colorado we thought might work - much of it dedicated to cattle production. I didn't realize the extent of that "production" until we headed north toward Greeley where large corporations raise and process hundreds of thousands of beef cattle yearly. (You can read more here.) On my stretch of the eastern plains, herds of cattle are spread out over thousands of acres and lead relatively peaceful and bucolic lives. Not so in this north central sector of Colorado where miles of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) like these are common.

The smell was unbearably eye-watering and throat-clenching, and this on a cold winter day! I can only imagine how toxic the environment in the heat of summer. One thing I did know about my characters without reservation - none of them would willingly move to a place like this!

So my hunt for the perfect location continues, because I believe "place" has as much presence in a novel as the characters inhabiting that setting. If I don't find something just right, I'll probably create an imaginary county and town to suit my needs. A few more tours, and I'll have enough fodder to create a great mash-up. Then I'll be ready to plant my characters in a place where they can really blossom.

And considering the ecological and social themes in my stories, I'll probably make a few prickly comments about cattle feeding operations like these, which I find to be more than a little disgusting. What about you? Please do leave me a comment.

02 April 2016

B is for Brownies

4/2/2016 I lost this recipe right after copying it a few years ago, and am thrilled to find it again!

4/3/2013 Because who doesn't love them? This easy peasy recipe crept into my kitchen via Pinterest:

EASY BROWNIES from Pampered Cooking with Rachael. Never buy boxed brownie mix again. Follow the recipe below and make brownies for approximately $.30 a mix. So simple, so easy. Not just frugal but cuts out the unknown ingredients.

1 Cup Sugar
1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Cocoa
1/4 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Baking Powder

At Baking Time Add:

2 Eggs
1/2 cup Vegetable Oil ( I used coconut oil)
1 tsp. Vanilla

Bake @ 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes in an 8x8 or 9x9 pan. Store premade mix in plastic bags or mason jars.

What about you? Have you found any really great recipes on Pinterest lately? Do you include food and recipes in your writing? I find I always like people more if they enjoy food - cooking and eating it - as much as I do. Not just characters in books, but real people too.

01 April 2016

Welcome A-Z Blogging Challenge Pals

4/1/2016 Update. It's surprising to me how quickly time flies, but how some things stay much the same. It's springtime in the Rockies, and though I don't have very many tulips in bloom, I do have the wet and heavy snow that's common this time of year. In a few days it'll be in the 70s. Of course I want to garden. This year, I'm going to try to focus on this huge property one last time. By next year, I might be living on one of the coasts with a much smaller yard. Fingers crossed.

I'm skipping Camp NaNoWriMo as I'm up to my ears in end-of-life issues with several aging family members. I need to edit, and just can't focus on it right now. Sometimes you just have to put the writing aside.

I'm not sure how much new blogging I'll do this month, but I thought it might be fun to revisit some of the old posts from previous A-Z Challenges. Hope to see you here and at the BBT Cafe over at Facebook where others are participating in this mini-challenge.

4/1/13 April is so full of newness to me, even when Old Man Winter hasn't quite left my backyard. I want to garden, and make things beautiful, and start all kinds of new projects!

This year, I'm joining writers at Camp NaNoWriMo to try and crank out the first draft of a mystery novel I've been moodling for quite a long time. I've worked on it in fits and starts, but I'm hoping to get down at least 50,000 words this month.

This blog is part of the social media platform for that writing project, and it's languished along with the book. But there is no better time to get a marketing platform in order, than long before a book is published. That's why I plan to post daily in the A-Z Blogging Challenge. Fingers crossed that I can do it - it's a lot of hard work but so worth it!

I'll post about lots of other things, too, like what's going on in the garden, in the news, in my kitchen (expect a few recipes!), and what I'm reading. I hope you join the conversation.

So Happy April Fool's Day, a curious non-holiday if ever there was one. Are you a fool on Facebook? Let's connect over there. Leave me a comment with your handle, will you?

29 January 2016

#FitnessFriday Raw Milk and How To Make Ghee

I am lucky to be able to get raw milk from my neighbor's Brown Swiss cows.

Raw milk is much healthier than modern processed milk, and even my husband, who is lactose intolerant, can drink it without issue. I confess, neither one of us is a big milk drinker or cold cereal fan, so I find other uses for its many health benefits.

We do drink a lot of smoothies, so I make several quarts of homemade yogurt each week, making sure I don't overheat the milk, which destroys many of the digestive enzymes. You can read more about the raw milk health benefits here.

This week, I decided to make butter for ghee (a.k.a. clarified butter), a lovely and delicious oil useful for many European and ethnic dishes. You can buy ghee, but here's how I do it at home:

I love that we exchange reusable glass gallon jars with the farmer. Ecology first!

I scoop the cream (yes, cream on the top of the milk!) into a blender:

Then I run the blender on high, checking every few minutes to see what's happening, and soon the butterfat separates from the milk, looking like this. Depending on the time of year, the coagulated butter can be colored pale yellow to a deep golden tone. The fat content also depends on the point of lactation. These cows are at the end of a nursing cycle, and will soon be on "vacation" until the next time they are bred. Therefore, we get less cream with lower richness. And soon we won't get any!

I scoop the butter out of the blender with a slotted spoon, and rinse in ice water to get out as much leftover milk as possible. I'm especially careful about this if I'm going to use the butter for toast, as the leftover milk makes the butter go rancid very quickly. You can also add salt at this point, but I prefer the taste of unsalted butter. Added tip: Use the leftover butter from the spoon as a hand balm - it'll make your skin soft as a baby's!

To help keep the butter longer, and for a real cooking treat, make ghee. Over very low heat, melt down the butter, and continue heating until all the milk solids are crispy brown, and you can strain off the remaining oil. It will slightly solidify at room temperature and stay fresh for a long time - though it will probably only last a few days, it's so delicious.

One gallon of milk will yield only half of this very small container! Making this yourself shows what a precious commodity it is. Not only is the flavor very good, but it has a very high heat index making it ideal for very hot cooking. Click here to read about all the health benefits of ghee.

Next week, I'll share other uses for my locavore raw milk bounty. Some of the ideas might surprise you!

18 January 2016

The Revision #MondayMotivation

In 1946, sportswriter Paul Gallico wrote, "It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader." 

For me, the bleeding comes with revising and editing. No matter how much we write, eventually all writers have to edit. This year, I actually have an almost-complete novel to work with thanks to National Novel Writing Month.

I also purchased Scrivener at a great discount because I achieved my NaNoWriMo goal. It's not an easy novel-formatting program. So I bought a Kindle Scrivener how-to, and checked out Scrivener for Dummies at the library. My goal is to have the novel, now residing in over 40 Word files, transferred to Scrivener by the end of the month. 

Pour yourself a glass of something strong and get to your editing. I'll join you. We can do this!

13 January 2016


Clarabelle says, "Don't smash your computer screen because you are frustrated about Google Chrome not responding."

She is a wise kitty.

Is anyone else having this problem? How did you fix it?
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