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)


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.


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.


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:

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