Archive for February, 2009

Domestic Whine

Yes, that’s whine, not wine. Though I am quite fond of the latter, too.

Over the last year I’ve been broadening my cooking horizons dramatically, particularly with slow cooker recipes. Since I’m now living on less than half my previous income (no day job now, just writing full time), I’ve tried to find ways to keep the grocery expenses down, and the slow cooker is also great for that. I may have gone a little too far, though…

There are many great slow cooker recipes for chicken. I have always bought boneless, skinless chicken breasts when making them–preferably the fresh ones from the meat counter, not the frozen bags (though I certainly resort to the frozen ones when the other isn’t handy). So…I was reading a crockpot cooking blog and saw instructions for how to cook a whole chicken in the slow cooker. Once cooked, the poster said to strip off all the meat by hand and use it for slow cooker chicken recipes, chicken salad, chicken tortillas/burritos/tacos, etc. Since whole chickens can be bought on sale as low as $0.79 per pound, it seemed like a good idea. Seemed being the important word here.

I bought a 4.25 pound whole chicken. It fit perfectly in my medium-sized cooker. I prepped all the spices to rub on and then cup open the chicken bag.

Can I just say…YUCK! As in…squick. Gross. Revolting.

I have found I do not, absolutely freaking NOT like cleaning fowl. I should have known this. Since my formative years I have pretty much refused to eat any meat that remotely resembles the living being it used to be. I do best with ground meat — no sign of a cow there. I can deal with filet cuts and even steak on a bone (still doesn’t look much like cow). But I try not to look at the turkey on thanksgiving (I wait for the meat to come out on a platter, already carved, then snag some white meat). I am not the type to stick my hand into the crevice of a chicken and pull out the slimy parts. Or to peel off the skin or break the bones and cut off wingtips.

Still, I can’t afford to waste food these days, so I persevered. Mostly with my eyes closed. It’s a wonder I didn’t loose a finger.

Thankfully I finished and the chicken actually turned out quite good — very moist, and falling off the bone, which was good because pulling off all the meat to use in other recipes was almost as bad as cleaning and dressing the bird in the first place.

I smiled. I had a nice big tupperware of meat that looked nothing like a bird. Then I read the rest of the recipe — how to use the carcass to produce homemade chicken broth. Aha! Another way to save money, since many of my recipes call for chicken broth. Also, since I hadn’t added salt, my home made broth would be much healthier (i.e., low in sodium) than the canned stuff from the grocery store.

Little did I know the horror had just begun. I added water and some new recommended spices to the carcass and put it on low for another 10 hours overnight. The next morning, just before I needed to finish up the broth, I got a search call. I had to switch the broth off and put the crock in the refrigerator until afternoon. By the time I got home, I had a cold, slimy dead chicken swimming in cold, slimy broth with congealed fat on top.

Not to be deterred, I closed my eyes again and dug my hands in–after a nice wash with antibacterial soap, of course–to peel the remaining meat off and find every single one of those disgusting, annoying little bones.

Again. Gross.

Anyway, the chicken is done and the broth is done. I don’t think I’ll be trying that again, though. I’ll just pay a few cents extra for the frozen chicken breasts and canned broth.

In the meantime though, keeping the horrific memories of cold chicken carcasses carefully out of mind, I am enjoying the chicken meat.  I have had several chicken sandwiches, made a chicken noodle casserole, and today I’ve got a nice crock of one of my favorite recipes, chicken tortilla soup, steaming for lunch. I’ll also make chicken and spinach quesadillas to go with it. And I still had enough meat left to freeze several cups for the future.

Mmm. Smells good in here. So good it’s hard to concentrate on writing. May have to make it an early lunch.

Here’s the very easy chicken tortilla soup recipe for other slow cooker devotees:

Chicken Tortilla Soup

 

4 cups water

1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes

1 cup shredded chicken (I used one cooked chicken breast)

1 can (4 oz) chopped green chile peppers

1 envelope (2 oz) noodle soup mix with chicken broth

½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp salt (I omit)

½ tsp black pepper

½ cup grated Monterey Jack cheese

1 onion, chopped

½ cup tortilla strips or crushed chips (I used Fritos)

 

Combine water, tomatoes, chicken, chile peppers, soup mix, salt and pepper in crockpot. Cover and cook on low for 4 to 6 hours. Top with cheese, tortilla strips and onion.

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Unexpected

Ever have one of those days where something totally unexpected occurs? Not a big thing like you win the LOTTO, but just a small thing that shakes you out of your routine? Well, I tried this new slow cooker recipe on Sunday: Pork Chops with Apple Chutney. The plan was to put it on in the morning so that it would be ready around 2:30 because I needed to leave shortly after 3 pm for team training (search and rescue dogs). Then I would also have another small serving around 10 pm when I returned. Sort of a late lunch / late dinner schedule.

I got the meal in as planned in the morning, and the apples and brown sugar smelled soooooooo sweet all day that it totally distracted me from getting anything else done in the house. My stomach rumbled everytime I walked by the kitchen. It was like apple pie and apple crisp and apple struedel all rolled up in one.

At 2:30 it was ready and I was dying to try it. I don’t eat a lot of sweets, but it had smelled so wonderful all day that my mouth watered for some sticky-sweet apppley gooey pork chops.

Then I took my first bite.

Wow, was it hot! Not just oven (or slow cooker hot), but spicy hot! It actually burned my throat. The cayenne pepper totally overwhelmed the brown sugar and cinnamon, even though I had put in a full six tablespoons of brown sugar! After I caught my breath and downed a few big gulps of water, I tried the chutney again, a little more cautiously. It wasn’t bad at all — just completely different from what my palate had been expecting. Imagine being blindfolded, having someone tell you they’re going to feed you a chocolate covered strawberry and then sticking a jalapeno pepper in your mouth!

The pork chops were terrific. Extremely moist and tender. The chutney was very good — just a little hot for my taste, but still edible and very flavorful.

Verdict: I’ll try this one again for sure. I’ll just cut the cayenne pepper in half!

Here is the recipe:

PORK CHOPS WITH APPLE CHUTNEY

4 pork loin chops (I used boneless)
1/4 teaspoon salt (I omitted)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
6 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (Cayenne) — Did I measure wrong? It was soooo hot!
1/4 cup dried cranberries (or cherries or golden raisins)
2 medium baking apples, peeled and chopped (about 2 cups)

1)Spray 3-4 quart slow cooker with cooking spray (I never do this). Sprinkle pok with salt and pepper, place in slow cooker.

2)In small bowl, mix brown sugar, vinegar, ginger, cinnamon, red pepper and cranberries. Sppon over pork in cooker. Top with apples.

3) Cover; cook on LOW for 4 to 4.5 hours.

Per serving: calories – 400, Total Fat – 13 g, Sodium – 220 mg, Dietary Fiber – 1 g

Writing and Music

The ability to write is somehow connected to listening to music. It’s always been that way for me. My first books were written to classical music. Don’t they say listening to Mozart increases a person’s IQ by several points? I’m not sure listening to symphonies made me any smarter, but it did free up the log jam of daily worries, bills to pay, phone calls needing to be returned and mental lists of things to remember to pick up next time I go to Wal-Mart. Somehow the rhythm creates the flow, and with the flow come the words.

Later I branched out from my 2 classical CDs. I still needed music without lyrics to avoid being distracted, but I started listening to a lot of movie soundtracks. CARVED IN STONE came to life while I played the soundtrack to Phantom of the Opera on continuous repeat. For FLESH AND STONE, I alternated between Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind. Weird combo, I know. My latest (not yet released) LEGACY OF STONE was written to the haunting tones of the Lord of the Rings CD.

All this time, I’ve been writing to music with few or no lyrics. So why is this latest story, working title THE UNICORN MAIDEN, breaking the pattern? I have no idea. All I know is I can’t get a word down without Train’s “Drops of Jupiter” playing in the background.

It strange how each book has its own personality, and somehow the music has to match that personality. Like I said…there is a connection.

So I wonder what I’ll use for inspirational white noise when I tackle that big, dark thriller I have in mind this summer? Hmm. I wonder if there’s a soundtrack for PSYCHO!

Happy reading, writing or whatever you’re doing this Wednesday.

Writer’s Block

A day or two ago Kristina posted a comment in response to one of my blog entries that was such a good question, I decided to turn the answer into a whole post instead of just replying to her comment where other people might not notice it. I think there are a lot of people out there who have the same issues as Kristina and I.

Here is Kristina’s question: What do you do when your having an off day in writing? What I mean is how do you get through writers block? I start great ideas for stories, but then I feel like the story isn’t good enough or some aspect of it completely destroys the rest of the story. After that no more ideas evolve on that project.

I hate to use the phrase writer’s block because it feels so ominous. Like this big dark shadow hanging over you, a harbinger of doom. So instead, I’m just going to say sometimes I get stuck in my writing. It doesn’t feel as daunting.

When I get stuck, I can usually attribute it to one of three things. The first two are relatively easy to fix. The third is what I think Kristina is referring to, and it can be a little longer term project to overcome. So let’s start with the easy ones first.

1) I’m just too tired. In my college days I could work all day, study all night, play on the weekends and never run out of energy. Not so much, now. People think writing is an easy task because you’re sitting on your tail all day. But that’s not really true. Generally you’re not writing about people brushing the dog and organizing their silverware drawers. You’re writing about people going through tough times in their lives. Turmoil and angst and danger abound. As a writer you feel some fraction of what your characters are going through. You have to in order to make the reader feel it. It is draining. The solution for this one: go to bed. It will all be easier in the morning after a good night’s rest. Trying to force it day after day is not good for you or the writing. Trust me on this one.

2) Your subconscious is telling you there really is something wrong with your story. Maybe you don’t know why your character is acting a certain way, or his actions don’t feel right. Maybe you aren’t sure what should happen next. Maybe you know you’re skirting around a tough issue that is difficult to write about or maybe you don’t know your character well enough to know how she would act or what she would say in the situation you’re plotting. Their are many solutions for this one. One of them is to revert to number one (go to bed). But instead of falling asleep with the TV on, make yourself think about your characters — not in exactly the situation you’re having trouble writing, but in their everyday lives. You can actually even train yourself to dream about them. But even if you don’t try that, the twilight time just before you go to sleep and just after you wake up but before you’re really with it is the time your conscious and subconscious minds are closest. The problem, or at least the resolution, will occur to you. Other ways to do this are to go for a drive in the country with the radio turned off or do something repetitive and boring like painting a fence (again with the radio off) so your mind has to entertain itself. Imagine your characters in everyday life. If that still doesn’t work, try writing diary entries as if written by your character. Don’t overthink it. Just jot down whatever is on her mind. If the problem is between two characters, throw them in a room together, lock the door and tell them they’re not getting out until they hash through the problem between them. Write down the dialogue as if you were a tape recorder. Don’t write down their thoughts, their actions and don’t describe them, their clothes or the room. Just what they say. Once you know your characters a lot better, it’ll be easier to write them when you get back to your story.

3) This is the big one — we all think we’re not good enough. I’ve talked to writers who’ve written 50 books, won great awards, made bestseller lists. We all think it must have been a fluke and we’re not nearly good enough to do it again.

I have a totally unscientific theory on why this is true. When we write a story, it is never as good on paper as it is in our head, so we think it’s not “good enough.” We are way too tough on ourselves.

The reason it doesn’t feel good enough is not because of the writing. It’s because of our language. We have something like a billion brain cells. So when we imagine a story, it is incredibly rich with detail, emotion and depth. But there are only about 150,000 words in the English language. No way can so few words relate the story with the same vividness as we imagined it. Think about a sunset over the sea, for example. Picture it in your mind. It’s beautiful, right? Now try to describe it in writing. In your head, their were an infinite number of colors as the pink and yellow and orange and blue blended from one to the other with an infinite number of hues between them. On paper we’re limited to…well…pink and yellow and orange and blue.

So no story will ever be as rich on paper as it is in your head. So we sabotage ourselves and let ourselves believe that it’s because we can’t write good enough. Wrong — it’s because our language isn’t broad enough.

The good news? And this is where a real light bulb came on for me a few months ago — our language doesn’t have to be broad enough to represent all the depth those billion brain cellss were able to create. The reader will do it for us! When the reader reads pink and orange and yellow and blue sunset, her billion brain cells will take those words and convert it  back to the indescribable beauty you had in mind. Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to write strong description and use precise verbs to try to evoke the right picture in the reader’s mind. But you don’t have to do all the work. The reader will do most of it.

Think of it like an hourglass. The side part at the top is the story in our mind, created by our billion brain cells. It’s very rich with detail. Then we write it, and that’s the narrow part in the middle. Our language limits our ability to create the story on paper with the same detail is it lives in our mind. Then the bottom wide part is the reader. As the sand (the story) trickles from the top through the narrow gap (the book) to the wide bottom (the reader’s mind) it fills out again and there is room for all that richness.

Trust your reader’s imagination to take your words and flesh them back out from 150,000 to a billion. She will. It’s why she reads. She’ll see that sunset as beautifully as you did. And it WILL be good enough.

I have no idea if I’ve conveyed my thoughts clearly on this. I’m just saying don’t put all that pressure on yourself that your story has to be good enough, because on paper, it will never be good enough. But once it reaches your reader’s mind, it will be!

Once you’ve taken that pressure off yourself to create a story as rich on paper as it is in your mind (an impossible task), the writing gets much easier. You don’t have to write perfectly. You just have to write!

Hope that made sense. And by the way, I realized from your post, Kristina, that my email is not listed anywhere on my site. You can reach me at vickie.taylor @ gte.net without the spaces (trying to keep the spam bots from picking it up).

Potato Soup and the Whispering Universe

On twitter yesterday, I posted that I was trying a new soup recipe in the slow cooker: Steak and Potato Soup. Here is the recipe:

Steak and Potato Soup

 

1.5 Lbs. Boneless Beef Sirloin, Cut into Chunks

2 Med. Potatoes, Cut into Chunks

2 Cups Frozen Green Beans

1 Onion

16 oz. Jar Salsa

14 oz. Can Beef Broth

1 teasp. Basil

2 Cloves Garlic

Top with Cheese

 

Throw everything in except the cheese, cover and cook 8 to 10 Hours on Low. Garnish with shredded cheese when serving.

Okay, so I thoughtt his sounded really good. Normally I wouldn’t spend the money for sirloin just to put in soup, but I found some on “manager’s special” (meaning it was marked down because the sell-by date was the next day and they had to get rid of it) at Kroger so I gave it a try. I have to say — the soup was just “okay”. 

I like most soups with a clear broth, but this soup just didn’t seem hearty enough. I think when I re-heat it today I’ll add a can of Cream of Potato soup to make it thicker. I try to avoid the “cream of” soups because of the fat and sodium content…but I guess I’ll make an exception. Hopefully it’ll kick up the steak and potato soup from “okay” to “good.”

Moving on the the whispering universe. One of the coolest things about being a writer is the unexpected way little pieces of a story come together like a puzzle even when you don’t realize it. It’s like the universe whispered directly into your brain and you wrote what it told you without even knowing why until one day everything goes “click” and you smile over the way things turned out. And take credit as if you’d planned it that way all along. 🙂

For example, I created the hero for the upcoming releae LEGACY OF STONE, third in the gargoyle series, years ago when I wrote the first book, He only appears for a few seconds in the prologue, as an infant in his sister’s arms. But he had a name, and it was established, so I couldn’t change it as he showed up again, all devilishly handsomely grown up, in later books. His name was Levi. I don’t know why. I just liked the sound of it. My grandfather’s middlename was Levi, and I’m the only family member who takes after him and his love of equines (he was a mule trader, I’m a huge horse lover). I also have a horse named Levi. I’ll have to post a picture of him one day. He has a white spot on his shoulder shaped like a perfect heart. But I digress.

Over the next book I developed the character of Levi a bit farther. He was separated from his family as an infant. He grew up not knowing about or understanding the shapeshifting ability he’d inherited. He thought he was an abomination — a freak. He thought he was alone in the world. He belonged no where because of his difference. I decided that what Levi really needed in life was to be rejoined with his people. To become part of something and not be alone any more.

When I finally sat down to write his story, I had to decide what type of creature he shifted into when he changed. I decided on a sea monster to go with the theme of him thinking he’s a monster and because I had this kind of cool shipwreck scene in mind for the opening of his book.

Here it is, almost four years since I first wrote the name “Levi” on a manuscript page. Levi’s story is done and in the publisher’s hands awaiting the production process. And I’m researching a new book, doing some online searches on mythology and come across the story of the Leviathan. yes, the LEVIathan. It seems he’s a sea monster. Hmmmm. Never knew that’s what a leviathan was. At least I don’t ever remember knowing that.

Then later I’m flipping through my baby names book trying to decide on a name for a character in my new story and once again I stumble across the name Levi. Would you have guessed that according to my big thick book of baby names, the name Levi means “joined, attached.” As in, I had decided Levi needed to be rejoined to his people and become a part of something, not alone any longer. Yet I had no idea as I decided on that name or wrote the three books.

Weird, huh? But that happens to writers all the time. Same thing is happening on the unicorn story I’m working on now,

Cool.

Back to work now. Someone (something?) is whispering in my ear.

 

          


Available Now!

western romance novel boxed set

7 men as tough as the West. 7 women ready to Cowboy Up

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Psychological Suspense short story with a bonus inspirational short story included

Coming Soon from Vickie Taylor

Fantasy Romance Novella

What am I reading today?

GOOD OLE BOYS - Denise Barker - Just started, but I'm intrigued so far!

Last five books read:

TEXAS GOTHIC - Rosemary Clement-Moore - Awesome! Great fun and spooktastic at the same time!

MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN - Ransom Riggs - Really creative idea. Enjoyed it very much!

BOOTSCOOTIN' BLAHNIKS - D.D. Scott - Very enjoyable, fun book!

THE GOOD DAUGHTER - Diana Layne - Awesome! Get it now!

GOT YOUR NUMBER - Stephanie Bond - Fun little mystery!

What’s on my TBR List?

GOOD OLE BOYS - Denise Barker

Reader’s Guide to E-publishing

Find your next e-book here!

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