Friday, December 18, 2015

#FoodieFriday: Black Bean Hummus #appetizer #vegetarian #vegan

I thought I'd treat you lovely readers to one of my own recipes today. I first had it at a friend's house, and I asked her for the recipe. She's a self-proclaimed "dump cook", i.e. she doesn't do much measuring and just adds things to taste, which can work out well for some folks but frustrates me to no end. I like to know amounts, and then I can play around with a recipe from there.

So, after much Googling for similar recipes and experimenting (no hardship, trust me--I enjoyed the taste-testing), I came up with a version of her Black Bean Hummus that I was extraordinarily happy with. 

Sorry, I've never taken a picture of the finished product, so here are two cans of beans from my pantry instead.

I'll be honest--the finished recipe isn't the most attractive thing. It's a grayish paste (think, well, hummus, but gray because of the black beans), and sometimes takes some convincing for people to try it. Serve it in a pretty bowl to help with the "eat with your eyes" thing.

Bonus: This recipe is vegetarian at the very least, and quite possibly vegan, so everyone at your party should be happy. I'm not a vegetarian or vegan, so I haven't verified this, so don't quote me. It's tasty and there is no meat or dairy, at any rate. You can likely make the whole thing with organic ingredients too (I just noticed that some spices at the store were organic). Do what works for you.

Some tips: 

The party-sized recipe makes a ton (3x the regular amount) so I pared it down for personal consumption--there are two amounts listed for each ingredient to make it easy. It also keeps for a while in the fridge, and I'd advise making it a day or two before to let the flavors blend.

I'd recommend making it in a good-sized food processor or a powerful blender. You'll need something that can power through the beans and other ingredients--it gets quite thick, and I take no responsibility for burning out your wimpy food processor in the midst of holiday celebration prep.

Tahini is ground sesame paste. It's kind of oily on top (like natural peanut butter) so give it a good stir before you measure it out. Please don't drain the oil; mix it in. You'll likely find it near the peanut butter or even in the international aisle. If you can't track it down, ask someone at your grocery store to help find it.

If you're averse to cilantro, try the recipe as written first. It's not overpowering. 

And yes, please use fresh lime juice. It might take a bit to get enough lime juice for the recipe, but it's worth it. I've done the "cheat" method and used bottled lime juice before; it's not the same and made me sad. Another tip: buy a bunch more limes than you think you'll need. Sometimes they're very dry inside; sometimes they're really juicy. It's the luck of the draw, really, so be prepared. Worst case, you can always use the extras in drinks, or to make some snazzy flavored water, or to prevent scurvy on your ocean voyages.

The ingredients are easily customized and more to taste than anything, but these are good starting points. The recipe is amazing as-is, but if you like more garlic, add more garlic. Love cilantro? Add more! You get the idea.

Though serving it with cut-up vegetables is good, my favorite vehicle for this hummus is blue corn tortilla chips.


Black Bean Hummus
Ingredients (party-sized recipe in parentheses):
2 cans of black beans, rinsed well and drained (6 cans for a party)
¼ C fresh-squeezed lime juice (3/4C for party)
3T + 1t tahini (10T for party)
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped (12 cloves for party)
pinch red pepper flakes (1/4 t or to taste for party)
2 T olive oil (6 T for party)
1 ½ t ground cumin (4 ½ t for party)
2 T cilantro, roughly chopped (1/3 C for party)
1 t salt (3 t for party) or to taste—can depend on how salty the beans are
1/4 t black pepper (1 t for party)

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a food processor, and process until a very smooth paste forms. Scrape sides and stir as necessary.  Serve with tortilla chips, bread sticks, bread slices, or a veggie platter.

Let me know if you make this! I'd love to know what you think.

xoxo Sarah

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Writing Goals and When to Beat Yourself Up (or not)

I have a confession to make--I recently failed at a goal I'd set for myself. A writing goal, to be precise.

It was sometime in October or November that I set it, and I don't think it was an entirely unreasonable goal: To outline and add in scenes to Fate's Awakening from another character's perspective.

But things got in the way--mental exhaustion from the busy year we've had, holiday prep, less-than-ideal (for me) writing conditions. All legitimate reasons to fail. And some not-so-legit ones, too--Netflix, finishing Buffy and devouring Jessica Jones.

No matter how you slice it--fail fail fail fail fail.

In case I wasn't clear...

The carrot at the end of this was to enter a writing contest I was interested in. The deadline was sometime in mid-December.

But first, let me be clear--the contest involved an excerpt from my story that wasn't going to change, so it's not like I needed to meet my goal before entering. I consider my story finished, but going through rewrites due to feedback I've received. It'll add to the word count, sure, but it's more to add depth and polish the story.

So, the day of the contest deadline, I sat and stared at my computer. I really wanted to enter, but I felt I needed to punish myself. How else would I know I meant business? I needed to be held accountable for my failure. Missing out on this opportunity--good exposure, sure, and if I did well in the contest, yay, but the feedback would be good either way--would teach me a lesson.

Didn't make your writing goals? That's a paddlin'.

I debated, alternately beating myself up over it and convincing myself that it was a good idea to do it anyway, until (literally) the eleventh hour.

Eventually I tracked down the husband and I explained my problem and why I was being so melodramatic. This is more or less how the end of the conversation went:

Me: "But should I enter the contest? I really want to, but I didn't meet my writing goals like I promised myself."

Hubs: "Was the goal unreasonable?"

Me: "No, not really."

Hubs: "You got some done though, right?"

Me: "Yeah, I finished the timeline of events and have a few pages of character study so I can get a better idea of who he is."

Hubs: "Okay, that's good. But you didn't finish the scenes?"

Me: "No. That's why I'm conflicted--I was hoping to be done with it all. But I don't need them for the contest. That scene is done and dusted minus editing."

Hubs: "The way I see it, you should enter it and stop beating yourself up. Just because you don't have a completely polished product doesn't mean you shouldn't try. Tech companies like DARPA go to trade shows all the time with incomplete tech and show off what they have--like that freaky robot dog you hate--even if it's not perfect."



He had a point. The story was done but not perfect; I was just beating myself up. And I'd done some important work with the character study and all, things that were necessary for writing the scenes I'd promised myself.

So I did it. I entered the contest. I still feel bad about not making my goals and getting what I wanted anyway. I almost--almost--wish I could say I stuck to my guns and didn't enter, but I'd be lying. Though I've always been very hard on myself when it came to things like this.

As for my story and goals, they will get there. I don't normally set out to do something that can't be achieved, but maybe in the future I need to make more bite-sized goals as part of a bigger one. This has been a learning experience, that's for sure.

Also, that DARPA dog still freaks me out. Good luck sleeping tonight after watching that video.

*shudders*

How do you set your goals? Any good tips you can share? I'd love to hear what your thoughts and strategies are!

xoxo Sarah



Friday, December 11, 2015

#FoodieFriday: Date Nut Pinwheels #ChristmasCookies

Okay, I'm hearing a lot of hate for the traditional sugar cookies--you know the ones. Thinly roll out a big rectangle (okay, blob) of dough, push cookie cutters through, and decorate before or after they come out of the oven.

I remember making them with my mother, but I'll take a drink of that haterade--if you're making them with kids, get ready for a gigantic mess; they're pretty bland for what should be a fun cookie; and the shapes fall apart (decapitated reindeer, anyone?).

No wonder she always made rum balls afterward...

Enter something different--Date Nut Pinwheels. These are my father-in-law's favorite cookie, and I finally had a chance to eat them this past winter. His mother (one of my husband's grandmothers) would make them for the holidays, and my mother-in-law doesn't really care for baking, so it was at my husband's aunt's house that I got to sample them.

YUM.

I'm not sure why I thought it would be a crispy cookie, but it was nice and soft and a little chewy, made even more chewy because of the date filling. The mouthfeel--yeah, mouthfeel--of these cookies is lovely.

And I'm a procrastinator of the highest order, so about a week ago I finally got around to asking one of hub's cousins if she could get the recipe from her mom. (Thanks, Beth!). I'm not sure what cookbook it's from, but below are the pictures she sent. I don't claim ownership of the recipe, but I'd assume it's from Gold Medal Flour given the product placement. Please don't sue me, Gold Medal Flour.

The first picture is for the base recipe for the cookie dough, and the second is for how to use that cookie dough to make the Date Nut Pinwheels.

Some cookie tips: don't skimp on the chilling. It says chill until firm; throw that dough in the fridge and chill it! What does that even do? It helps the dough not spread too much when baking. If the dough is warm, you'll get date nut blobs, not pinwheels.

I realize the recipe is a little vague on what kind of nuts to use (very vague--just says "nuts"), but I'd probably go with pecans or walnuts.

And use yourself some parchment paper. Trust me. That stuff makes baking a whole lot more enjoyable.





Let me know if you make the recipe! I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

xoxo Sarah



Friday, December 4, 2015

#FoodieFriday: Oven-Baked Chicken Fajitas

I love fajitas. The problem is that they're obnoxious to order in a restaurant (they simply take up too much real estate on the table, but sometimes I just don't care). If you're making them at home, sometimes the weather outside just doesn't cooperate. The best ones I've made have a tequila-lime marinade, but these, like most, require a grill.

Pic from Life in the Lofthouse
Enter these Oven-Baked Chicken Fajitas from Life in the Lofthouse. They're are absolutely perfect for a busy day (long work day, holiday stuff, you name it)--they take very little prep time, have the meat and veggies built in, and have a lot of flavor for some simple ingredients. And, as you probably guessed, they're made right in your oven.

A few tiny changes/adaptations I made: I used no-salt-added diced tomatoes, and added a little salt to the spice mix to have more control over how much was added to the dish. You could also add a can of diced green chilies, or diced tomatoes that have them already in there.

Make sure to generously cut the peppers and onions. If you slice them too thin, they'll be too soft and flexible after baking and will have lost that satisfying crunch you want. I'd say slice them about a half-inch thick. I was very happy with how ours came out. And use whatever color peppers you want--whatever's cheapest at the store, or whatever looks good.

Even with the two of us, this dish will provide a few days of leftovers. Yum!

xoxo Sarah




Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Interview Time with Keira Andrews! @keiraandrews

Hello, lovely readers! Today I want to introduce you to the fantastic Keira Andrews. She writes M/M romance (male/male, for those who aren't familiar), and she does it well. She's one of my favorite authors. 


Hi, Keira! Thanks for stopping by my blog. Can you tell everyone about yourself and how you got started writing?

Thanks so much for having me, Sarah! When I was a kid, I’d always make up elaborate stories for my favorite soap characters. I was writing fanfic and didn’t realize it! As an adult, I wrote more fic for various shows, and then branched out into publishing original novels in 2006 with Love Match, about two male pro tennis players who fall in love.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts about being a writer?

Now that I’m able to write full time for a living, my fave part is the freedom to set my own schedule and work from anywhere I can bring my laptop. I also love bringing the stories in my head to life. The worst part is all the sitting I do. I really want to get a treadmill desk.

Ooh, that's a good idea! I have to set a timer so I make sure to get up every so often when I'm working.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other writers?

Take criticism and learn from it. Never stop learning.

Do you prefer silence or to have music on when you’re writing? What kind?


I write in silence or to the soothing drone of my white noise machine, depending on how noisy my neighbor is being.

Your books are very sexy and extremely moving, and the characters are fleshed out and relatable. How did you find such a great voice in M/M romance?

Thank you so much! I think part of it is that there’s more freedom in M/M to break gender stereotypes that are often present in M/F romance. I also really love the themes of coming out and the struggle for acceptance and freedom. Not all my characters are initially closeted, but obviously the fight for LGBT acceptance around the world is ongoing. I love giving gay characters their happy endings after all the years of tragedy in gay books and movies.

Is there any advice you’d give to M/M authors specifically?

Be respectful of the LGBT community, of course. I think just make your characters as real and relatable as possible. I suppose that goes for all genres!

Torrance Coombs as David
I have a friend who writes Amish romance, but I think yours is the first I’ve seen in the M/M subgenre. How’d you get the idea for A Forbidden Rumspringa?

I was chatting with Jay, who runs the Joyfully Jay M/M review site, and she mentioned that she got a lot of search hits for “sexy Amish men.” We joked that there was an underserved demographic out there! But then I thought about how tough it would be to be gay in the super restrictive Amish world, and Isaac and David’s story blossomed from there.

I just have to fangirl for a moment—right after I finished A Forbidden Rumspringa, I immediately bought A Clean Break and A Way Home. David and Isaac’s story kept me coming back for more, and I found myself rooting for them. Their families (both in the English and Amish worlds) make for a great supporting cast too. Okay, now a real question: Who did you picture as David and Isaac?

I’m so glad you enjoyed David and Isaac! Thank you. In my head, Dylan O’Brien from Teen Wolf and Maze Runner was Isaac, and Torrance Coombs from Reign was David. Dylan’s hair is darker than Isaac’s, but he was the inspiration. And Torrance has those killer blue eyes.

Great casting! That's part of the fun of writing, I think. 

I just finished Valor on the Move and really enjoyed it! Part of why your books (including the GAR series) are so engrossing is the amount of research that goes into them. I picture you spending hours looking up details on Amish life and what it’s like to live in the White House. What’s your research process really like?

Pretty much exactly like that! Taking out a ton of books from the library, googling, and watching documentaries and movies.

Dylan O'Brien as Isaac
What are you working on right now?

My new book, If Only in My Dreams, is out November 19. It’s a new adult Christmas romance about two former BFFs who haven’t spoken in years but are forced to drive cross country to make it home for the holidays. I just started an untitled novel about a boy bander who quits a world tour in Australia and rents a private jet to fly home. Of course it crashed on a desert island, and he and the pilot must join forces to survive. They also just find themselves strangely attracted to each other!

I can't wait to pick those up!

Where can we find you on the interwebs?


Where can we find your books?

Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/author/keiraandrews

Here's the blurb for A Forbidden Rumspringa, the first in Keira's Gay Amish Romance series! 


When two young Amish men find love, will they risk losing everything?

In a world where every detail of life—down to the width of a hat brim—is dictated by God and the all-powerful rules of the community, two men dare to imagine a different way. At 18, Isaac Byler knows little outside the strict Amish settlement of Zebulon, Minnesota, where there is no rumspringa for exploration beyond the boundaries of their insular world. Isaac knows he’ll have to officially join the church and find a wife before too long, but he yearns for something else—something he can’t name.

Dark tragedy has left carpenter David Lantz alone to support his mother and sisters, and he can’t put off joining the church any longer. But when he takes on Isaac as an apprentice, their attraction grows amid the sweat and sawdust. David shares his sinful secrets, and he and Isaac struggle to reconcile their shocking desires with their commitment to faith, family and community.

Now that they’ve found each other, are they willing to lose it all?


************************************************************

Thank you so much for stopping by, Keira! Everyone, go check out her books--they're all awesome!

xoxo Sarah

Monday, November 23, 2015

"Jessica Jones": The Most Progressive Show on TV? #Marvel

Marvel and Netflix teamed up earlier this year to bring us the awesome original series, Daredevil. Husband and I watched it, and, as other collaborative series were announced (namely Jessica Jones and Luke Cage), we held our breath--though Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter on ABC were good, with Daredevil, they'd set the bar high. Was it too much so?

Image from comingsoon.net
Jessica Jones was released in full (Netflix releases all episodes of their original series at once, unlike traditional television) this past Friday. With Melissa Rosenberg at the helm as show-runner (she's a fantastic producer/writer whose previous finest work includes some of the best episodes of Dexter, and she also wrote the screenplays for the Twilight Saga, but, hey, not everyone can hit a home run each time), the show was in good hands.

We spent the weekend watching all thirteen episodes, each one better than the last. Krysten Ritter was fantastic as the title character, and David Tennant was delightfully evil--chillingly so--as Kilgrave.

The show as a whole surpassed Daredevil, at least in my opinion, as Marvel's best series to date. Possibly even their best work, period.

I would also assert that Jessica Jones is one of the most progressive shows I've seen--maybe ever. The rest of this post is below the break, and thar be spoilers, matey! I will try to keep them minimal, but don't say I didn't warn you. Also, it's moderately NSFW, so you probably shouldn't read this post on your work computer.

Friday, November 20, 2015

#Thanksgiving Bonus #FoodieFriday: Roasted Carrots

Okay, I couldn't resist posting another one. Hey, next week is Thanksgiving, at least for those in the U.S., and who doesn't enjoy good food?

I've been seeing a ton of "Help! What should I make?" posts on the Internet (jeez, Facebook, haven't you ever eaten a Thanksgiving dinner?), and I thought I'd help out a little.

A lot of the questions are wondering what to make for a vegetable side. Most people say they're
Pic from the Food Network
already having the standard green bean casserole and/or sweet potato casserole, so they want something different or something that's not a casserole, too.

My suggestion would be to make these amazing roasted carrots. The recipe is from the Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten.

I often mix the carrots with parsnips, which creates a pretty orange and cream dish. I usually cut the parsnips slightly smaller than the carrots because they're more dense, and that way the whole thing will cook at the same rate.

This dish transports well, too. In the past I've served it out of warmed-up Corningware (or whatever you have that's oven-safe), put foil on top, and brought it with me. It warms up nicely if it does cool off as well. I've brought it to a few Thanksgivings, and have been asked for the recipe each time. People are always shocked by how simple the dish is.

And I'm a big fan of "everything in moderation", but if you or someone you know is trying to keep their Thanksgiving intake on the lighter side, this dish is perfect for that. No cream or heavy butter (as much as I love those things) and though these carrots are good in their own right, they don't distract from the main event--that fabulous turkey.

A quick word about leftovers: The carrots are great warmed up, and, if you have enough of them, I would also suggest finding a good carrot soup recipe and pureeing them to make that. They're very versatile.

Enjoy!

xoxo Sarah



#FoodieFriday: Double Chocolate Banana Bread

I hope you liked the coconut bread from last week, because I have another awesome recipe from Smitten Kitchen today: Double Chocolate Banana Bread.

It's a crime against humanity not to make this bread.

This is, hands down, the best banana bread--and maybe the best quick bread--I've ever made.

It's rich and chocolaty, and comes together quickly and without much fuss. It's moist (yes, you all should know how damn much I hate that word, but it's so perfect for this bread so shut up), and pretty much like eating chocolatey cakey bananay goodness that you shouldn't even be allowed to consume.

Pic from Smitten Kitchen
Your guests and/or gift recipients will beg you for the recipe, and this is the perfect quick bread with which to make people owe you favors.

The loaves even freeze well, in case you don't manage to inhale them like we do.

I'll add the same note about bread sizing as before: if a bread makes one 9x5 loaf, it will make two 8x4s. And, if you're making mini-loaves, it will likely make 4 of those. Just make sure the batter is distributed evenly. I have a mini-loaf pan and will typically do one spoonful in each, then a second, than a third to make sure they're all the same size.

I'm going to keep this short, because any more time reading this and fewer minutes baking this amazing bread would be an absolute crime. 

Let me know what you think! Have you made this bread before? 

xoxo Sarah


Friday, November 13, 2015

#FoodieFriday: Coconut (Quick) Bread

I promised you lovelies a couple of gift-worthy quick breads before the holidays, and that's what I'm aiming to deliver. One this week, one next week. Get your loaf pans ready!

Pic from Smitten Kitchen
For the uninitiated, a quick bread uses leaveners other than yeast to make the bread rise: baking soda/baking powder, etc. Because there's no yeast, there's no rising period, and the bread can be made quickly. Quick bread. Get it? They can be sweet or savory, but are generally very forgiving batter-wise and end up tasty.

First up: Smitten Kitchen's Coconut Bread.

This quick bread baked up beautifully, golden and crunchy. It was fantastic warm and with some butter.

The coconut flavor is noticeable but not overpowering. I'm not a huge coconut lover--I'm not necessarily going to order a pina colada, for instance--but I love this bread.

Plus, it's something different. Everyone around the holidays makes gingerbread, or pumpkin bread, or some kind of bread that involves nutmeg and cinnamon, and those can get tiring after a while. Don't get me wrong; that's one of the things I love around the holidays, but this bread will be a breath of fresh air.

A quick note on the size: if a bread makes one 9x5 loaf, it will make two 8x4s. And, if you're making mini-loaves, it will likely make 4 of those. Just make sure the batter is distributed evenly. I have a mini-loaf pan and will typically do one spoonful in each, then a second, than a third to make sure they're all the same size.

Happy gifting (if they even make it that far--you'll probably eat them all first and have to make a second batch).

xoxo Sarah

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Leveled reading systems=pigeon-holed students? #amreading

Let me preface this by saying that I'm not a parent, and I haven't frequented schools where reading systems were prevalent in over twenty years.

So let me tell you a story.

I was recently chatting with a friend who does have elementary-school-aged children, and we got to talking about the books we enjoyed when we were in school, required reading or otherwise. Island of the Blue Dolphins, Hatchet, My Side of the Mountain, etc. She--I'm not feeling creative today, so I'll call her Polly Parent--is active in volunteering in her kids' classrooms and around the school as well.

I mention remembering the little numbers on the backs of children's books--not the ISBNs, but the reading level. Polly tells me that reading levels still exist, but they're broader now; more...encompassing. Restricting, even. I ask he what she means, and she says that, in her kids' school, they use a leveled reading system. I don't know whether it's this one from Scholastic, but there are a bunch out there. Anyway, I don't remember if she said they use letters or numbers to signify levels, so I'll go by the numerical method to keep things simple.

From what Polly tells me, each student is assessed for their reading level. Well, okay, that seems standard--I can remember having to do that when I was in elementary school, and so did Polly. But after they're assessed, the school is stricter about allowing the students to branch out from their "assigned" level; at least that's Polly's impression. She says she's seen kids who won't even go near a book designated with a higher level than they were assessed at, even if it was on a topic they might find interesting. Example: If a kid is assessed at a level 4, they'll avoid a level 5 book like the plague. She's not sure if it's just the kids, or something they're being told (i.e. "Don't read a book at a higher level until you're assessed at that level"), but either way, it's disconcerting. They're being pigeon-holed; even if it's not explicitly stated, the restriction is communicated in some way.

Here's where it really gets depressing--Polly said that she'd heard that a class of students had gone to the school library, and when the teacher went to gather her class to take them back to the classroom, she noticed that a student had checked out a book at a higher level. "You can't read that!" the teacher told the student. Whether the teacher took the book from the student or the student was "allowed" to keep the book wasn't discussed.

At that point, I saw red. How was this happening?

Books are for everyone. Reading, like most things, takes practice--doing things that are more difficult is how we get better at it. I can remember taking books out of my school library, or my town library, or grabbing them from my family's shelves, that I'd have difficulty with. Guess what? I either read them with someone, or bumbled through it on my own with occasional help from someone else. I'd poke through old National Geographic magazines (I can't be the only one whose families stockpiled these like they'd make great burning material for the coming apocalypse), which are obviously written for adults. But I'd use my "context clues"--the words I did know, and the amazing pictures--and infer what the articles were about.

How do we expect kids to get better at reading--and learning--if their access to the materials they want to read is so carefully guarded and controlled? "Teaching for the test" and "common core" are already screwing us over; why is reading going the same way? If their natural curiosity is being stifled in such a way, do we really expect students to be passionate and interested in things as they get older? People already complain that our younger generations are too tightly monitored and don't develop coping tools or adequate levels of independence; could this be because--gasp--they aren't allowed to learn (in some ways) as they want to? To explore and experiment and find their interests? Reading is a vital part of development and communication, and we're taking that away and making it more regimented? Telling students they "can't" read something? How is that supposed to help educate and impart knowledge?

I say, kids should be able to read whatever they'd like if it's developmentally appropriate and they have access to it. If you're a parent, make it clear to your school (and the board of education, if necessary) that you want your child to be able to read to challenge themselves, check out whatever books they want from the library, and that, even though the students are assessed for reading level (as they should be), that that shouldn't define what they can do.

Your thoughts on this?

xoxo Sarah





Friday, November 6, 2015

#FoodieFriday: No-Knead Crusty Bread

Want to dazzle your guests with your home-made bread skills this holiday season? Never baked with yeast and making your own bread terrifies you? Think you can't make your own bread without a bread machine? Just looking for something to have with your soup?

If the answer is "yes" to any of those things, sit yourself down right now and listen up.

This No-Knead Crusty Bread recipe from Simply So Good deserves to be in your regular rotation.

A single batch of bread dough, risen for 18ish hours--sharp cheddar and dried dill.
Before I had made it, I was terrified of baking with yeast. I can make quick-breads with the best of them (and, oh, do I have some good ones for YOU, which I'll be sure to post on other Foodie Fridays before the holidays because---INSTANT GIFT!), but the idea that I had to add something alive (and therefore touchy and hard to control) to my food was nerve-racking. What if my water was too hot and I killed the yeast? What if my water was too cold and the whole thing stayed a floury glob that never rose?

But I tried it anyway--this recipe is surprisingly forgiving--and, oh man, is it good. It's also served as a gateway drug to my making other yeast breads with more confidence.

Our favorite variation is to add shredded sharp cheddar (about 1-1.5 cups) and some dill weed to it. That's the bread that I've shown in the pictures here. And search the Simply So Good page for variations including rosemary/Gruyere/lemon and cranberry/orange/almond. It's a very neutral-based bread, so you can make it sweet or savory. Have fun with it!

The recipe even doubles nicely.

Finished cheddar-dill bread! Gorgeous and crunchy.
A word on the cooking pot. You don't need the most expensive thing out there to make this recipe. I'd make it in my Le Cruset if I could, but I don't own one. However, I do have a great one from Lodge that gets a ton of use (I want another one, husband if you're listening...) between the bread and making soups and stews and even for frying things because it keeps such a nice even temperature. It's 6 quarts and blue and gorgeous. The red one is calling my name.

Ahem.

My point being, you don't have to break the bank for a cooking pot just to use to make this bread, but if you do get one, that's the one I'd recommend for the price and for the amount of use it would get. You'll seriously cook things just to use it. Cleans up like a dream, too.

Have you made this bread before? What's your favorite variation?

xoxo Sarah

Monday, November 2, 2015

Good luck, #NaNoWriMo writers! #amwriting

I just wanted to wish all the brave writers tackling National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) the best of luck!

I did NaNo in 2013, and I'm still not convinced I'd want to do it again. My feelings were mixed on it even halfway through the whole thing. I'm super proud that I did it and hit the 50K word goal, but I don't think it fits my writing style at this point. Not to say I won't do it again, but I'm sitting it out this year.

May your muse be with you and may the words flow from your bleeding, cramped fingers like a leaf down a mountain stream.

Wow, that was poetic.

But seriously, good luck!

And, if you're participating in NaNo this year, leave your username in the comments so other writers can link up and you can cheer each other on!

xoxo Sarah

Friday, October 30, 2015

#FoodieFriday: Goat Cheese and Roasted Pepper Crostini

I'm a big fan of tiny food--something you can eat in a bite or two. Tea sandwiches; tiny tarts, what have you; there just has to be enough of it to make a meal, or at least a substantial part of it.

Now, my husband isn't a fan of tomatoes--the closest thing besides red sauce for pasta or pizza or salsa I could get him to willingly eat was "tomato bread" when we were in Barcelona, which, admittedly, was in a class all its own.

I love bruschetta, but I'd be making a disappointingly tiny amount for just me to eat. I'm not opposed to it, but most of the time I make things we'll both eat.

So, I found this recipe for Goat Cheese and Roasted Pepper Crostini on Cook Like A Champion. It was the perfect compromise--tiny bits of bread decorated with snowy goat cheese and pepper confetti.

Picture from Cook Like A Champion

I made a few alterations to the recipe, though. I cheated a bit and bought a jar of roasted red peppers (I thoroughly drained what I wanted to use and they worked wonderfully sliced into very thin ribbons), and I discovered at the last minute that my poor basil had committed suicide (gone moldy) so I didn't use it. I didn't measure the olive oil when pouring it over the baguette slices, but I did use a paper towel to dab it around and somewhat evenly coat the bread. As for mixing the peppers with olive oil and ground pepper, I figured that the peppers were flavorful enough and skipped out on this. I did put some freshly ground black pepper over the tops before serving, though.

Oh, and a slice of baguette cut on a bias to get slightly more surface area worked great--and after cutting a few, I discovered that a thin slice of about a half inch was perfect. Just wide enough to be supportive of the goodies on top, but not thick enough to cut your mouth up on the crunchy slice while chewing.

The garlic is a must-do--my favorite part of making them was to smear the garlic clove all over the hot, olive-oily bread.

We served it with tuna in extra virgin olive oil scooped up with more baguette, and it was a wonderful light meal.

Hubs liked it so much he insisted we make it when we have our (eventual) house warming party, and he's already requested it a second time in the same week.

I think we have a winner!

xoxo Sarah



Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Thank you for a successful auction! @MarylandRomance

Well, the Maryland Romance Writers' fundraising auction ended last night, so this is the last post I'll be spamming you with (until next year, of course!).

All in all, it was a success! We had slightly fewer auction items than last year, but we did well.

My Full of Energy gift basket went for $30, so I'll be getting the information soon to send it to the lucky winner.


Thank you for your support!

xoxo Sarah

Friday, October 23, 2015

MRW Fundraising Auction ends in 3 DAYS on Monday Oct.26! @MarylandRomance

You guys! The Maryland Romance Writers' fundraising auction ends in THREE DAYS!

Come Monday (October 26th at 11:45pm EDT), the time to bid on some awesome services and gift baskets will END.

Click ------------>>> HERE <<<------------to be taken to the auction site where you can bid to your heart's content and raise money to help support a kick-ass group of authors.

Yours truly has a Full of Energy Gift Basket up for grabs. It includes some delicious New Mexico Pinon Coffee, and four boxes of Twinings Tea, plus tasty biscuits! Bidding is up to $30.00 (still a steal based on fair market value!) so get your bids in ASAP.

And in case you need a reminder, here are some of the awesome things you can bid on:

~Query, critique, and agent submissions

~Career counseling and self-publishing sessions

~Wordpress web maintenance

~Goals, motivation, and conflict tutorial

~Gift certificates to awesome places like Teavana, Cheesecake Factory, Amazon, etc.

~Ad-ready art for promotional materials!

~Gift baskets containing anything from coffee, tea, chocolate, books,

~A personalized Scrivener tutorial

~Jewelry

And MUCH more--there are 59 lots up for grabs!

Go forth and raise funds, my dears!

xoxo Sarah




#FoodieFriday: One-Pot Andouille Sausage Skillet Pasta

We normally go grocery shopping on the weekends, though we will pick up fresh produce and things during the week. But when I'm actually AT the grocery store, I prefer to get fresh food for that day's big meal (or for the next night) while I'm there. Nothing like getting home and thinking, "Well, crap. No idea what's for dinner tonight. Should have picked something up."

To combat this, we've started combing through my Pinterest boards for inspiration. I'm often working, so as much as I like food, I like easy meals just as much. Even better are one-pot meals that don't have a ton of clean-up. So a while ago I'd found a bunch of one-pot meals on Pinterest and went crazy pinning them.

One of the first we picked was this lovely recipe from Damn Delicious: One Pot Andouille Sausage Skillet Pasta.

The Andouille--a cajun-spiced sausage that has a little heat but nothing super overwhelming--really makes it. And even better, this recipe re-warms with the best of them. I think we ate it for three or four days straight without getting sick of it, which is a rarity for us leftover-haters. Don't get me wrong--we eat them. We may just not enjoy it as much as some people do.

How about you--do you like one-pot meals? Have a favorite? Share it in the comments!

xoxo Sarah





Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Why Fandom was Important (Happy 10th Anniversary, Twilight!)

About a year ago, I made a series of 3 posts where I basically "came out" as a fan fiction author. If you want to check them out, I'll make it easy--you can read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 here.

All caught up? Okay, then.

I caught some flack for it (as I expected--the fact that people look down on fanfic authors isn't foreign to anyone who writes it) but, in honor of Twilight's 10th anniversary, I thought I'd stick my neck out again and review why the fandom was so special to me and continues to have a place in my little writer heart.

The Twilight fandom gave me the courage to write. Sure, as I mentioned in the previous posts, a good deal of my writing fanfic in the first place was because I was annoyed with the source material--hey, you've gotta start somewhere. But the encouragement from others--positive feedback via reviews and emails, trusty beta-readers to look over your work before posting (kind of like in-between-editors---many authors still utilize them), and even the occasional troll only served to make me a better writer.

My passion for editing was also born during this time. I'd edited for a few people in college, but nothing serious. I enjoyed beta-reading for other fic authors and trading proofreading services. And when I ended up reading and approving well-written stories for a Twific website, I knew I'd found a calling. Writing and editing it was.

I very grateful to have met many friends through the fandom. Some were other fic authors; others were fellow readers. A good many I still consider to be friends to this day. I got to know my critique partner. I met people who would eventually become my coworkers. The author's group I now belong to includes several people I met while we were involved in the fandom. These lovely people (mostly women, but there were a few men) were, and still are, wonderfully supportive of others' writing. It was very much a reciprocal relationship; you'd support other writers, and they'd support you. Even better, many of these same folks are best-selling authors, having hit the NY Times list, USA Today, and Amazon categories. It's amazing to see people's progress and success.

So, for me, the Twilight fandom (which would obviously not have been possible if it weren't for Stephenie Meyer and Twilight) was an overwhelmingly positive experience I'm very grateful for.

Like it or not, when Twilight came out 10 years ago, it changed the face of bookshelves everywhere. Paranormal romance, though it had existed before this but was much more of a niche market, went mainstream for both YA and adult audiences. Vampires, shifters of all varieties, were-creatures--you name it, it was written. The same thing can be said for The Hunger Games a few years later and dystopian stories. And there'll be something else soon, I'm sure, and a fandom to go with it.

Without Twilight, I wouldn't be pursuing my dream of publishing my stories. So, thank you, fandom. You rock.

xoxo Sarah




Monday, October 12, 2015

The Maryland Romance Writers' Auction Ends in 2 WEEKS! @MarylandRomance

YOU GUYS!

The Maryland Romance Writer's annual fund-raising auction ends in TWO WEEKS from today!

The clock is ticking, so get your bids in on awesome items like:

~Query, critique, and agent submissions

~Career counseling and self-publishing sessions

~Wordpress web maintenance

~Goals, motivation, and conflict tutorial

~Gift certificates to awesome places like Teavana, Cheesecake Factory, Amazon, etc.

~Ad-ready art for promotional materials!

~Gift baskets containing anything from coffee, tea, chocolate, books,

~A personalized Scrivener tutorial

~Jewelry

And MUCH more--there are 55 lots up for grabs!

If you're like me and snatch people's dreams away from them at the last possible second (seriously--I'm a horrible person when it comes to Ebay...) then put it in your calendar that the auction ends on Monday, October 26th at 11:45PM EDT so you'll know when to swoop in like a majestic eagle and put your bid on whatever you want.

Oh, and here's the direct link to my awesome (if I do say so myself) Full of Energy Gift Basket.

The winner of this basket will receive:
- 4 boxes Twinings of London tea (20 tea bags each): English Breakfast, English Breakfast (decaf), Irish Breakfast, and Darjeeling
- 1 12oz bag of New Mexico Pinon Coffee (ground) (SIDE NOTE: This coffee is amazing!)
- 1 box McVitie's Milk Chocolate Digestives (milk chocolate coated wheat biscuits)
- 1 box McVitie's Milk Chocolate Hob Nobs (milk chocolate coated rolled oat and whole wheat biscuits)
- Decorative basket (measures 13x9x4 inches)

Current bid is up to $25 (well below fair market value), so get your bids in!


xoxo Sarah




Friday, October 9, 2015

#FoodieFriday: Soft Batch Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip Cookies

So, I love writing.

I love editing.

I post about these things a lot (or when I have time).

I also love food and eating and feeding people.

And Pinterest. I do love me some Pinterest, even though I was kind of late to the Pinterest party.

So, I thought I'd try my hand at posting some recipes I've tried and enjoyed, or, at the very least, tried and maybe made a few modifications to.

I'm not trying to step on any "real" food blogger's toes, so I'll just link you lovely people to the recipes.

The first recipe I'm posting is for some of the best chocolate chip cookies I've ever had. They don't last long in our house, so we don't make them often. Seriously--it's like feeding time in a shark tank, especially when they're straight out of the oven.

The cookies--not the sharks.

Anyway, I've made these a few times, and both times they came out beautifully. No modifications needed.

Even better, because you have to chill the dough, you can leave some in the fridge and make what you want--if you want to make 10 cookies now and save the rest, you can do that. I think it keeps about a week. Not that we've tested this--we made the whole thing each time.

Click HERE for the recipe from Averie Cooks.

Let me know if you try them and how they came out!

Have a lovely weekend!

xoxo Sarah




Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Awesome Writing in Media: Mean Girls

Continuing on with the Tina Fey love-fest (Tina, if you're reading this, I swear I'm not stalking you), I couldn't resist posting a bit about one of my all-time favorite movies: Mean Girls.

This is one of those movies I'll happily sit through again and again, and it was actually everywhere this past weekend because October 3rd is, unofficially, "Mean Girls Day". It's from a line in the movie. The voice-over (done by Lindsay Lohan who plays Cady) is talking about a boy she has a crush on who is in her math class. I'll let the picture explain it:


That's it in a nutshell. So, of course, the movie was on, and we watched it. For the record, my husband loves it too. Mean Girls is for everyone.

Quick summary: Cady Heron is the new girl at school after years of home-schooling and living in Africa with her academic parents. Unsure how to navigate teenage social norms, she befriends the "Plastics"--the queen bee clique--and a few misfit students who hate the Plastics and get Cady to spy on them. All goes well until Cady falls for the ex-boyfriend of Regina George, the Plastic's leader. But can she keep from becoming the kind of person she hates before it's too late?

One of the most quotable movies of all-time (no statistics; just because I said so), the writing (Fey did the screenplay, which is based on a book by Rosalind Wiseman) is sharp and on-point. It's a rare movie that can make you sympathize with the characters so much without becoming overly sentimental and mushy. Quite the opposite; Mean Girls is scathingly funny and clever. It's more than a collection of quotable one-liners; it's the writing in general that makes the movie so memorable.

It captures what it's like to be a teenage girl without jumping the shark (too much). We tag along with Cady as she tries to fit in at her new school, cringe when she makes social faux pas, and smile when she figures out how she fits in in her new life, for better or worse. Part of why it's so engaging is that we've all known people who remind us of the character archetypes: the new kid, the misfits, the queen bees, the put-upon teacher who believes in the students, the mom who goes to great lengths to be her kid's friend and not a parent, etc. We can revisit our own teenage years without actually having to suffer through them again.

And, despite coming out in 2004, the movie even ages well.

As a side-note, if someone tells you they don't want to watch it because Lindsay Lohan stars, they're missing out. Whatever her personal troubles, she's a good actress and shines in her role.

Are you a Mean Girls fan? What's your favorite line? C'mon, you know you have one. Share it in the comments!

xoxo Sarah


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Other posts in this series:

Joss Whedon

Quentin Tarantino

Horrible Bosses

Book of Mormon

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Mad Max: Fury Road

30 Rock



Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Awesome Writing in Media: 30 Rock

Okay, so I've given up with the "Part 7" or whatever in this series. It was too much to keep track of. But don't worry; I'll post the links to the other entries in this series at the end so you can check them out, and will continue to do so when I write each new Awesome Writing in Media post.


This post is about what I'm now pretty sure is my favoritist show EVER. I see you making that "Oh, really? EVER in shouty-caps, you say, Sarah?" face.

Yup. And I'm preemptively apologizing for the love letter that follows.

30 Rock was created by (former) head-writer and occasional cast member of Saturday Night Live (and occasional Sarah Palin impersonator) Tina Fey. It's a satiric comedy loosely based on her time on SNL--30 Rock revolves around a fictionalized live sketch comedy show that airs on NBC. Fey also stars in the series as Liz Lemon. Alec Baldwin plays her arrogant conservative boss and mentor, Jack Donaghy, and Tracy Morgan and Jane Krakowski are featured as Tracy Jordan and Jenna Maroney, two of the actors on the show TGS with Tracy Jordan. Liz Lemon has to juggle them, TGS, and her personal life.

Anyway, I seriously don't know what was wrong with me but up until this summer I'd never seen more than a handful of episodes of 30 Rock, and those were by accident. I'd enjoyed the ones I had seen, and since hubs and I needed something to break up the wall of concurrent episodes of Buffy and Angel we were watching, the timing was ideal.

Netflix came to the rescue, and soon we were partaking in 22ish minutes times 7 seasons of comedy gold.

The show, when it aired, was a hit with critics though it didn't garner huge ratings, but it was consistent and was renewed through seven seasons. Fans were hooked, and we were too.



The writing is superb--there were very few episodes that fell flat, if at all. 30 Rock is a satire as I mentioned above, with its off-the-wall characters (a ridiculous in-house doctor with a just-as-ridiculous name, and a quite-possibly-immortal NBC page--seriously, go look up Kenneth fan theories...) and out-there concepts for episodes.

A few memorable episodes and/or story arcs:

Jenna is in a movie and no one can understand what she's saying when she says the title.

Liz has to travel, takes cold medicine, and hallucinates Oprah.

Jack finds out who his biological father is--and he happens to be a super-liberal professor from New Hampshire who also needs a kidney.

Liz keeps running into a man she can't stand and they end up dating because they can't get away from each other.

Jack insists there needs to be a new cast member for TGS, so he and Liz go to Georgia to connect with "real" America and scout talent.

Tracy finds out he's a descendant of Thomas Jefferson.

Jack's enormous cookie jar collection might cost him a chance at being the GE chairman.

Jenna is shooting a torture-horror movie in Connecticut, and the state says they have to make the movie more tourism-friendly.

Liz is busy on Sandwich Day (a day when the Teamsters get sandwiches from a special super-secret deli for everyone), and someone eats her sandwich. The writing team tries to get her another one.

Jack gets married to a hot Fox News anchor who gets kidnapped by Kim Jong Il.

Tracy's wife gets a reality show.

Jack has to make an important decision, and meets future-Jack and past-Jack.

Jenna tries to get the lead in a Janis Joplin movie, but they don't have the rights to her life or any of her songs.

Liz's sketch, Dealbreakers, takes off, and she's offered a Dealbreakers talk show.

Jack has a perfect 24 hour period of solving problems, and Liz threatens his winning streak.

And many, many more.

I also discovered that Liz Lemon is my spirit animal. She's a writer, loves to eat, is delightfully nerdy,
and, best of all, my husband turned to me after watching an episode (I don't remember which one), and whispered, "She's YOU."

I almost forgot to mention that there are actually two live episodes (yes, they're also on Netflix).

The show is snarky and funny, entertaining, and absolutely worth bingeing in if you can.

Have you seen 30 Rock? Were you a fan? Let me know in the comments!

xoxo Sarah


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Other posts in this series:

Joss Whedon

Quentin Tarantino

Horrible Bosses

Book of Mormon

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Mad Max: Fury Road