Tag Archives: writing

Never Mind, It’s ‘Gourmet’

This weekend we had a family birthday, and as usual I made a birthday cake. I love making birthday cakes; partly because, hello, it’s cake, and I get to make lots of different flavours throughout the year; and partly because it’s usually divided among a large enough group that I can’t pig out on it.  (Much.)

This time it was confetti cake.  The cake turned out fine, and after it cooled I mixed up the ermine frosting and started spreading it on.

Sometimes I wonder whether it’s better to wear my glasses so that I notice oddball details; or not to wear them and be happily oblivious. But for better or worse, I was wearing my glasses, so I noticed the odd little… things making lumps in my frosting.

I hadn’t put any things in it when I mixed it up, so I tasted one and determined that it was a tiny dumpling of over-cooked flour. (Ermine frosting is a velvety-smooth, not-too-sweet frosting that starts with milk and flour cooked together.)  And there were lots of those little rubbery bits, ranging in size from a pinhead to a popcorn kernel. Grrr!

I’ve been making birthday cakes for years without a problem, so I have standards.  I scraped that batch of frosting off the cake and relegated it to the fridge for non-public use. (Hey, it was still yummy buttery frosting — I wasn’t going to throw it away!)

I mixed up a second batch, only to discover to my chagrin that it had things in it, too. (I blame the flour – it wasn’t my usual brand.)  Fortunately the things were smaller, so I slapped the frosting on the cake and served it up, and nobody noticed. Or they were too polite to comment. Either way, I’ll call it a win.

When I confessed the debacle to Hubby later, he laughed. “I’ve seen weirder stuff on a menu,” he said. “If anybody notices, just tell them it’s ‘gourmet’.”

So that’s my new go-to excuse for failed recipes, to be spoken in a tone of utmost snootiness: “It’s gourmet cuisine. I don’t expect you to understand.”

Now, please excuse me while I sneak into the kitchen and help myself to that tub of ‘gourmet frosting’.  😉

What’s your favourite birthday cake and frosting combo?

I’m no professional, but I have fun decorating cakes anyway!

Big news:  The audiobook version of The Spy Is Cast (Book 2) has just been completed!  It should be available through Amazon /Audible within a few weeks; and the audiobook for Reach For The Spy (Book 3) is in production now.

Book 15 update:  I’m halfway through Chapter 16, and Arnie’s loyalty is being tested…

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Artificial What?

I’ve been pressed for time this week, so I was late getting started on the draft for this post. As I paced the floor wondering what to write, Hubby piped up helpfully: “You know, you need an AI program to create your blogs for you.”

That made me laugh, for a couple of reasons. First, I grew up on a farm. Long before anybody ever thought of calling computer programs ‘Artificial Intelligence’, AI stood for ‘Artificial Insemination’. That might be apropos, considering that some of my posts are pretty screwy; but the accompanying mental image is, um… let’s just say unwholesome.

The second reason for my laughter is that my blog’s spam folder is full of AI ‘creativity’. (Just to clarify, I’m referring to Artificial Intelligence in this case; although considering some of the eye-popping porn in there, both definitions of AI may be equally accurate.)

Here’s one of the (non-X-rated) gems from my recent spam:
“An unconfused perk of living in a multicultural gentry is the wide-ranging variety of foods that enhance ready. X Field notes may document empirical details, methodological issues, dear thoughts, prolegomenon analyses and working hypotheses. Some are within the Checklist to ensure angelic physical environment mistress’s authority over, others not.”

Wow, I wish I’d written that! (Or not.) On the up side, I learned a new word: “prolegomenon”, which is “a critical or discursive introduction to a book”. Who knew?

But that aroused my curiosity. How do spammers develop their content? So your intrepid reporter dove deep into the questionable waters of the internet, and guess what I discovered? There are online generators for everything! Random words, nouns, adjectives, names, numbers, phrases; even complete sentences. So of course I had to try them out.

Fun was had and time was wasted, but despite my dedicated research I didn’t uncover any intelligence, artificial or otherwise.

It didn’t do much for my own intelligence, either. I could practically feel the IQ points slipping away; which may explain why I’ve developed a disturbing tendency to lose focus and stare blankly off into space waiting for my brain to reboot. (It’s not advancing age. Or so I keep telling myself.)

And on that note…

Lately I’ve been spread too thin, so I’m going to scale back my internet presence and concentrate on writing Book 15 for the next little while. I’ll post regular progress notes to prove I’m still alive and working, and I’ll write sporadic ‘real’ posts when I have time.  And of course, I’ll look forward to your comments as always — your comments are the best part of this blog!

“Talk” to you soon!

Book 15 update:  I’m on Chapter 14 and going strong!  Arnie’s having a tough time, but Aydan and John are there for him as always.

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Going Bananas

You know how you’ll be cheerfully going on with life, and suddenly the fates deliver a spate of occurrences related to the same obscure item?  Well, for the last couple of weeks it’s been bananas.  Actual bananas; although things have been a bit bananas in the metaphorical sense, too.

Digression:  Why do we say ‘going bananas’?  What makes bananas crazier than any other fruit?  We don’t ‘go apples’ or ‘go peaches’.  Although now that I think of it, I kinda like ‘going kumquats’.

Back to my point:

I realize bananas aren’t particularly obscure. They’re always in fruit baskets and grocery stores; but they lurk unobtrusively in the background (at least, as unobtrusively as any large yellow phallic object can lurk).  But lately they’ve been popping up in my life repeatedly.

It all started with Hubby. And no, I’m not going to make an off-colour reference to his banana popping up; though the temptation is strong. (Yikes, maybe I’m finally growing up! But probably not.)

Anyway, you may recall that we’ve been experimenting with tomato wine and cider. It’s too soon to tell whether any of it will be palatable, but as a preemptive (or maybe defensive) action Hubby has been researching wine conditioners, i.e. ‘anything that will make vile rotgut tolerable enough to swallow’.

And guess what? A lot of people condition their fruit wines with banana wine.  To me, that sounds like starting with shit and adding new shit in the hope of creating something that doesn’t taste like shit; but what do I know?

That was the first banana-related occurrence.  Next I went out to visit my step-mom. One morning as I reached for the fruit basket, she said, “You do know how to open a banana correctly, don’t you?”

I hesitated, wondering if this was the setup for a joke or the introduction to an etiquette lesson (because everybody knows that ‘ladies’ eat bananas sideways in public). Turned out it was neither.

“I saw it on TV,” she said. “You hold them by the stem, parallel to the floor with the tip curving up, and then snap your wrist down and the banana will open.”

And damn, she was right.  After more than fifty years on this earth, I finally know how to open a banana.

Flushed with my new knowledge, I suggested to Hubby that it would be an efficient way to peel a bunch of bananas if he decides to go ahead with the banana wine.

He raised a skeptical eyebrow. “What if the bananas are really ripe?” he inquired. “Like they are when you make banana bread.  Because that’s how ripe they need to be for wine.”

“Oh,” said I, crestfallen. “No, that would probably end up more like ‘squish-splat’.”

From there the conversation devolved into speculations about banana-bombs and other forms of domestic warfare.  We never did get back to banana wine; but it’s probably for the best.  The smell of fermenting bananas would drive me kumquats.

Have any bananas popped up in your life lately?

Book 15 update:  At last, some quality writing time!  I’m halfway through Chapter 12 and John has just saved the day… for now…

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Gardening and Other Extreme Sports

We’ve finally put the last of the garden to bed. (Well… kinda. The parsnips and carrots are still out there, but they’re fine with some frost so we’re not in a hurry.)  It’s a relief, because this year’s garden felt like an extreme sport — long gruelling hours of hand-watering, weeding, picking, processing, canning and freezing.

I grew an extreme watermelon:

That’s a 40-pound watermelon, in case you’re wondering.  And for the first time in my life somebody said to me, “Nice watermelons!”  (Okay, she actually said ‘watermelon’, which isn’t quite the same; but I took the compliment nonetheless.)

We got extreme beets:

And you already know about our extreme tomatoes, which have almost completed their primary fermentation and are on the verge of being filtered and bottled for cider:

But now that all’s quiet on the garden front, I feel a little flat.  There are still a few outside chores to be done, but the ‘extreme’ part is over for the season.  Dang, what am I going to do for an adrenaline rush?

So I consulted the internet.

Extreme sitting (sporthocking) sounded like something I could nail without too much practice, but after watching the YouTube video, I decided against it.  I want to be able to use those parts of my anatomy for a good long while, and that looks like an ideal way to break one’s butt (among other things).

Extreme ironing seemed a possibility (although not necessarily a good fit; since I use my iron maybe once or twice a year).  But no.  My rock-climbing, sky-diving, and scuba-diving skills just aren’t quite up to par.  The video also mentioned extreme vacuuming; but I’ve never been fond of vacuuming.  (Nor of hurtling down a hill on a household appliance with no steering or brakes.)  So that was out.

Chess boxing could combine my love of kickboxing with the more cerebral pursuit of chess, but I’m not good enough at either of them.  And anyway, Hubby didn’t want to play.

So I guess it’s down to toe wrestling.  It might be a bit hard on the bunions, but at least if Hubby and I have nothing else to do during our long rainy winter, toe wrestling might lead to other, more interesting indoor ‘sports’.

Any other extreme sport suggestions?

*

P.S. I’m travelling until the end of the month so my next post will be November 6, but I’ll be checking in here regularly.  ‘Talk’ to you soon!

Book 15 update:  Chapter 9 is well on its way, and I made good strides with the plot this week.  It’s lucky that Aydan stays fit – she’s going to need it in this book!

 

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Tomato Wine

My dad grew up in the Depression years, so if anything could be conserved and/or reused, our family did it.  Wasting food wasn’t quite a cardinal sin, but we mourned the occasional demise of a leftover with the regret most people would feel over losing a $5 bill.

I inherited the food-conservation compulsion.

So.  You may recall that Hubby and I grew a gigantic and successful veggie garden this year.  The tomatoes were particularly prolific.  We ate fresh tomatoes with almost every meal, and I canned quarts and quarts of them.  Then I made salsa, ketchup, tomato paste, and green tomato pickle.  I gave away tomatoes to friends, neighbours, and the food bank; and the tomatoes just kept coming.

We still have so many tomatoes that for once in my life, I’ve stopped worrying about wasting them.  (Okay, not really; but at least I’m slightly less obsessive about it.)  So I’m trying something new:  Tomato wine and tomato cider.

It may not be as weird as it sounds; or at least we’re not the first to attempt it.  I have no idea whether it will be tasty, barely drinkable, or vile rocket fuel; but at this point I have nothing to lose but a couple of pounds of sugar and a package of yeast.

Wine-making vocabulary always makes me wonder whether I’m fermenting a beverage or describing some kind of medieval torture: Pitching the yeast, racking off… it all sounds painful and barbaric.  But drinking our tomato hooch might actually turn out to be akin to medieval torture; so maybe the vocabulary is more appropriate than I realize.

Even if it fails, it’s an interesting experiment; and at least I tried to Not Waste Food.  I think my dad would be pleased:  His chokecherry wine was legendary.  (Keeping in mind that ‘legendary’ can be astoundingly good or abysmally bad.  It was definitely memorable.)

Anybody else ever made tomato wine or cider?  Or have more ideas for using another twenty pounds of tomatoes?  Maybe tomato ice cream…?

Book 15 update:  Another good writing week!  I’m in the middle of Chapter 9 with flashing lights and sirens, and Arnie’s found another feline friend.

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Awkward…

I have to confess:  A couple of weeks ago I swore at a shoe saleslady because I thought we were just joking around.  Apparently I was wrong.  Awkwardness ensued.

So…

I went to the running shoe store and explained to the saleslady that I buy runners based only on comfort.  Style is irrelevant, as long as my feet are happy.

“Oh,” she said snarkily.  “It’s my lucky day.  You’re going to make me drag out every pair of shoes in the store, aren’t you?”

I was slightly taken aback, but I decided she must be joking.  After all, dragging out shoes is her job.  So I laughed and said, “Yep, probably.  Sorry about that.”

She brought out a couple of pairs and I tried them on.  She immediately pointed to one pair.  “Those are the ones.  I like the way they look on your feet.”

“They’re nice,” I agreed.  “But they don’t fit.  Do you have any others?”

She made another remark about how I was inconveniencing her, and I dutifully laughed.  She returned with a couple more pairs, and again pointed out the ones she liked; and again I explained that their appearance was irrelevant.

“Wait, I have the perfect shoes for you!”  She scurried off and returned with another box.  “Here!  These are beautiful!”

She triumphantly displayed the ugliest shoes I’ve ever seen.  I mean, we’re talking about some unholy union between a giant marshmallow and neon bedroom slippers; and if you’re having difficulty visualizing that, you’re lucky.  The reality was retina-scarring.

I burst out laughing and exclaimed, “Those are hideous!”

“They’re beautiful,” she insisted.  “Just put them on.  You’ll love them.”

So I put them on, because if they had fit well I would’ve bought them no matter how ugly they were.  To my everlasting relief, they weren’t comfortable.

“Nope, sorry,” I said.

“But they look so lovely on your feet!  Just walk around in them a bit more.  They’re so beautiful!  These are absolutely the right shoes for you!”

And that’s where I screwed up.  I was sure she was joking.  Why else would she hard-sell the shoes when I’d already clearly said I hated them and they weren’t comfortable?

“Oh, stop with the bullshit!” I said with a grin.  “I’m up to my neck in it!”

A chilly silence ensued.

I did buy a pair of runners (not the hideous ones), but it was awkward.

I feel vaguely guilty.  One might argue that if she wasn’t joking, then she deserved a verbal slapdown; but that’s not how I roll.  If I had known she was serious, I would have politely deflected her like any other annoying salesperson.

This ‘social interaction’ stuff is ’way too complicated.  Maybe I’ll just order everything online from now on.  And if that limits my contact with other human beings to once or twice a year, well, what could possibly go wrong?

At least if I really offend somebody and have to run away, I’ve got a snazzy new pair of runners…

Book 15 update:  A productive writing week!  Chapter 7 ended with a bang, and Aydan and the gang are off and running (literally).

 

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Bruce Can Fly!

In my previous post I introduced Bruce, our newly-minted sourdough culture.  At the time, I mentioned his godlike power of raising the bread; but I didn’t realize that was only a fraction of his abilities.  Last week, I discovered that Bruce can fly.

As you might guess, this was not a happy revelation.

For the last forty-some years I’ve made my bread by hand; but Graubrot is new territory for me, so I was following the recipe.  And the recipe said ‘It’s best to use a stand mixer with dough hooks’.

Right there:  That’s when I should have asked some probing questions.

“It’s best” implies “it’s better than something else”; but the recipe didn’t specify “better than what”.  The whole fiasco was probably better than undergoing a root canal performed by a drunken chimpanzee; but since I’ve never had a simian dentist (inebriated or otherwise), I can’t accurately state that the dough hook experience was “best”.

Blindly optimistic, I scraped my rye starter dough and wheat starter dough into the mixing bowl and added the liquid and seasonings.

(Useful knowledge:  Wheat flour has a lot of gluten, which makes its dough elastic.  Rye has very little gluten, and its dough is like modelling clay.  Bruce occupied the rye starter dough.)

Even at their lowest speed, the dough hooks rapidly churned the wheat starter into a compact springy ball while the rye starter formed a slurry with the liquid.

Then (in a fit of temper or maybe malicious glee), the dough hooks seized the ball of wheat dough, flung it high, and slapped it down into the slurry at approximately thirty miles per hour.

And Bruce flew.

Oh, my, did he fly.  Ev-er-y-where.

That would have been bad enough, but the starter doughs have to ripen for at least eighteen hours before use.  So if I wanted to bake that day (and I did), I had to salvage the slurry.

It took about half an hour, but I managed to scrape most of Bruce off various surfaces and back into the mixing bowl.  I did try to use the dough hooks again, but when the mixer started to smell like burnt wiring (did I mention that Graubrot is VERY heavy?) I turned the dough out on the counter and kneaded it by hand, as I should have done in the first place.

After all that foolishness, the bread turned out fine; but I’m haunted by the knowledge that there are probably still microscopic particles of Bruce throughout my kitchen.  And now that he’s both all-powerful and omnipresent, I’m really hoping he turns out to be a benevolent deity.

But if there’s no blog post next week, you’ll know what happened…

Book 15 update:  In between rounds of company and dicing with death atop a 30-foot ladder (because our brand-new house needs most of its exterior re-caulked, grrr, don’t get me started), I didn’t make much writing progress this week.  But I’m nearly finished Chapter 5, and hoping for more writing time this week.  Fingers crossed!

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Meet Bruce (Almighty)

Our household has a new member!  We’ve christened him Bruce.

This is where I’m supposed to gush about how adorable he is, and fill my post with photos of Bruce napping and Bruce playing and Bruce looking at us with love in his eyes and Bruce, Bruce, Bruce.

So… here he is:

This is Bruce napping, playing, etc.

Awww. Isn’t he adorable?

No, I haven’t lost my mind (any more than usual). I have, however, managed to grow a sourdough culture.  And in the process of researching recipes and techniques I discovered that it’s traditional to name your sourdough starter, since it’s a living organism you have to feed and care for (potentially for years).

That tickled my funnybone, so I decided to name ours after the main character in Bruce Almighty.  It seemed appropriate, since Bruce has godlike powers:  He can raise the bread.  (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

I learned to bake bread when I was about thirteen, and I’ve been at it ever since.  I enjoy fluffy buns and sweet breads, but my ‘daily bread’ is deliciously packed with whole wheat, flax and chia.

Hubby, on the other hand, dreams of a heavy Black Forest rye like the bread he ate as a kid in Germany.  (He’s a Canadian Air Force brat who grew up mostly overseas.)  Thanks to the magic of the internet we found some recipes, and the inaugural loaf came out of the oven on Monday.

I can only describe it as, um… solid. Dark and aromatic and heavy as lead.  If I hadn’t created a loaf like that on purpose, I’d have hurriedly chucked it before anybody could assume that it was a fair representation of my bread-making skills.

Spawn of Bruce

But Hubby says it’s close.  Apparently the weight is correct and the Brotgewürz (bread spice) is good, but this loaf is 100% dark rye and on reflection he thinks the magic bread was probably Mischbrot (mixed bread) or Graubrot (grey bread) or Bauernbrot (farmer’s bread) — different names for similar breads made with a blend of rye flour and white/all-purpose wheat flour.

So Bruce will be kept busy while I try out more recipes.  And as long as I never find him cuddled up on my pillow in the morning, everything will be fine.

Anybody else harbouring family members in their fridge?  (If the answer is ‘yes’, I’m not sure I want to know…)

*

P.S. Our next round of houseguests arrives on Monday, so my next post will be October 2.  Yikes!  I can’t believe October is that close!

Book 15 update:  Despite the busy-ness of guests and garden, I’m well into Chapter 5.  Looking forward to some good writing time in the next few days!

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More Juggling (But Not With Fish)

September is shaping up to be a crazy month!  (Lucky I’m crazy enough to deal with it.)  I’m still picking piles of fruit and veggies from the garden, and we’re busily socking it away to enjoy throughout the winter.  The considerable overflow goes to our friends and neighbours as well as the Food Bank.

We might have been just a teeny bit over-enthusiastic when we were planting the garden, but… look at all this glorious food!

(Click on photos to enlarge.)

A single picking of tomatoes. (I pick a couple of times a week.)

 

Ten gallons of chopped carrots all ready for the freezer.

 

50 pints of pickles, 22 pints of jam, 7 pints of salsa, 28 pints of beans (another 20 pounds frozen), 24 pints of tomatoes and lots to go, and still a bit of space left for the rest of the beets and tomatoes and pickled hot peppers. YUM!

 

But our autumn isn’t only about food.  The flowers are still gorgeous, too, and the bees and other wildlife are hard at work stocking their own pantries:

This little black bear has been feasting on the wild cherries only a few hundred feet from our house. Don’t be fooled by his casual pose — he’s actually about 30 feet up a tree. (He’s a little blurry because Hubby took this shot using a LONG zoom — we have a healthy respect even for small bears!)

 

This little guy has been hard at work snipping off pine cones and stashing them away.

 

I’m not sure whether it was my camera or the tiny white spider (near the centre of the flower) that chased this bee off the zinnia. Either way, he’s buzzing off.

 

The snapdragons are still putting on a show.

 

One of our newest rhododendrons, Medusa, is a bit confused as to whether it’s spring or fall, but she’s beautiful anyway!

 

We’ll have a couple more rounds of houseguests this month, so maintaining my writing schedule for Book 15 will be a juggling act.  (Fortunately not with fish.)  To salvage some time I’ll dial back my blogging schedule to every second week for the month of September, so my next post will be September 18.

How’s your September shaping up?  Are you harvesting any goodies from your garden?

Book 15 update:  I’m bombing along on Chapter 4!  Hellhound would normally be voted “Most Likely To Get Arrested While On Vacation”, but Aydan’s the one who’s ended up in handcuffs…

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A Fishy Tale

I seem to end up looking like a doofus in public more often than most people. I prefer to think it’s sheer coincidence, and nothing to do with me personally.  (Denial:  Not just a river in Egypt.)  Last month it was my disintegrating shoes.  This week I entertained the crowd by juggling a dead fish at the pumps of a PetroCanada gas station.

It could only happen to me:

We had driven down to Victoria, and on the way back we stopped for gas. As I was fuelling up, Hubby’s uncle drove in beside me. That was an unlikely coincidence, since neither of us lives close to that PetroCanada station.  Also coincidentally, he was returning from a fishing trip.

“Hey, I’ve got a fish for you,” said he. “Do you want it now?”

Ordinarily I would have declined, since I have no way of carrying a gutted and beheaded fish home in my car without causing grievous harm to upholstery and equanimity.  But (another coincidence) I had taken a load of vegetables down to inflict on share with our friends, so I had a large empty cooler with ice packs.  I also happened to have a plastic bag, so I could put the fish in the bag and tuck it tidily into the cooler. Easy-peasy, right?

Not even close.

Hubby’s uncle was on his way to the ferry and I didn’t want to delay him, so I hustled his catch-bag over to where Hubby had helpfully opened our cooler.  I grabbed my plastic bag with one hand.  I grabbed the salmon with the other.

You’d think that very little could go wrong in the few inches between fish and bag; but you’d be oh-so-sadly mistaken. Freshly dead salmon are slippery. I had grabbed it just above the tail, and (being fish-shaped and all) it tapered considerably at that point.

That fish shot out of my grip like it was jet-propelled.

I made a panicked grab for it, which accomplished nothing except to add a tumble to its trajectory. Fish-slime flew in all directions, splattering my shirt, face, and sunglasses.  The fish did a belly-flop into our cooler, where it spitefully rubbed its dead self all over the ice packs and the inside of the cooler.

And there I stood in the middle of the PetroCanada station:  be-slimed and befuddled, with the empty plastic bag dangling impotently from my hand.

Then came a short ridiculous scene in which I juggled the frictionless fish a couple more times before finally cramming it into the bag.  (Don’t ask me why putting the fish in the bag still seemed important, since the cooler and ice packs were already thoroughly slimed.  By then I wasn’t thinking straight due to a severe case of the giggles.)

I scuttled into the station to wash my hands and clean my sunglasses, then hurried back to the car and drove away without looking around to see how many people had witnessed the debacle.  I didn’t hear anybody laughing; but I wasn’t listening too closely, either.

I did manage to get the salmon filleted and into our freezer without further mishap, and soon we’ll eat the evidence.

But I might not go back to that gas station for a while…

Book 15 update:  I’m back in action after last week’s hiatus, and looking forward to a good writing week!

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