Sunday, August 28, 2016

Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo

Once more, as we speed around the sun, National Novel Writing Month AKA NaNoWriMo approaches. Yes, November is coming and coming fast. Are you ready?

Of late I have repeatedly said, I'm not going to do it this year.  And, of course, each year I plunge into extravaganza event, thrashing about, ignoring sociability and family in my pursuit to write 50K in 30 days.

Seems this year will be no different except I've decided early on to engage in wild abandon.

How many years have I entered into this pursuit?  I can proudly say I started participating in 2000. That was the 2nd year of its existence.  I'll be honest, I attempted to do a cookbook. Let me tell you a little about that - DON'T ever try to write a cookbook for this event.

The following year my father passed away in October and I considered attempting it but realized I had too many obligations to ignore... so I didn't participate.

Okay, first year I failed to complete the 50K words, but I did get 35K written.  Good attempt. The following year I skipped out for personal reasons.

Since 2002 I have participated and completed the challenge.  That's right, folks.  I have 13 novels written.  And, yes, some of them have been published... not only self-published, but also via other publishing companies.

Now for the sordid truth. Some of those novels are so bad. In fact, once of them I went back and deleted almost 35K words. There are those who would claim that the effort was an obvious waste of time if I deleted all that text. Not really. I got the story down. I know what I want it to be. I deleted what I don't want and now need to rewrite what I do want.

Call it editing. I have several of those novels that have some text deleted that I wrote just to get my 50K words in. They were finished stories. They weren't the best stories. BUT they are being edited to make them better stories. Four of them have been published. So that leaves me with 9 novels to be edited. Let's just say they are in various stages of completion at the current time.

So, how to prepare for this event?

1. Get your research out of the way. Do it now. Get it all saved, printed, stored, whatever - so you can access it quickly and not waste a lot of time. Make copious notes.

2. Prepare you mind. Going in with the proper mindset is critical. You have to know you can do this. Thinking you can will work against you. If you want to win, you have to see the finish line and that means you have to know you will do it.

3. Realize that each day you will need to write a minimum of 1667 words. I set my goal at 1700 words each day with a final word count of 51K.  That allows for some gravy on the word counting app to verify your winning at the end.  I made myself a little word counter printout that I'm willing to share, if you're interested. It is 1700 word per day. Simple to use. Know today's date? See the number of words you should have written to be on target. Get It Here! Print it out and give copies to your friends. I've had mine taped to my desk hutch upright for about 8 years now.

4. If you fall behind, apply yourself and catch up.

5. If you're having a good day writing and can actually write more than the required word count, by all means, do so. I've had days where I was able to write 5, 8, even 10 thousand words. Now, if you do have a great day like that, don't sit back on your laurels because you're ahead - stay ahead. The next day, write the required words.

6. Remember that Thanksgiving Day (that's for all U.S. residents) is during the month. The family will expect you to come out of the cave and socialize. Be sure to shower and cleanup before doing so and enjoy the day.  Of course, there is a two-fold blessing to the holiday. If you work, you most likely will have off that day and maybe the Friday, too.  Use them to your advantage - WRITE.

7. Now this is the one that really is hard. Don't edit. Don't go back and fix. Don't . Don't. Don't. I mean it. The object is to get the story down - bad or worse... uh, er, I mean, good or bad. If you need to correct something - make it a note and continue on. I changed my main character's name about half way through - I typed: (RSN-NAME CHANGE - Mark is now Daniel, go back and fix) and continued writing.

8. When stumbling for a name of a character or place that you can't remember - do as I do. Type your initials and what you want.  For me that would RSNFirstName, RSNName or RSNCity and continue on.  When it is time to edit, the first thing I look for is "RSN" and see what I need to fix.  Did you note the RSN in my #7 rule?  Whenever I need to make a note, I toss my initials out there, that way they're easy to find later on.

9. Some writers will suggest that you lock yourself in your room or designate a certain amount of time at a certain time of day. That doesn't work for me. My life is hectic and varied. I write when I have the free time and free time means sitting at the doctor's office, riding to work or home on a bus, late in the evening, early in the morning, during lunch. You'll be amazed how much writing can be accomplished in 15 or 20 minutes. When I worked in the big cities and would get caught in rush hour traffic or an accident snarl, I would dictate into a small cassette recorder. (I know, giving away my age here.) Use your cellphone and when you get home, type it into your laptop.  Of course, if you have your laptop with you, depending on the situation, you 'could' attempt to enter it direct, but I'm not really suggesting that. Much easier, safer and conscientious to dictate.  Oh, I don't recommend dictating while driving. You want 50K words, not 50K words of spoken eulogy.

10. Enjoy yourself. If you don't succeed in the event, don't beat yourself up. Remember, if you only have 18K words when November 30th arrives, that is 18K more words than you had one month earlier. If you do succeed, congratulations, you now have a novel that needs an immense amount of editing, re-editing and maybe another set of eyes to review before you edit yet again.

Now, I need to get busy on my research. I have a great story to write this year. Getting excited. In fact, I think this novel will easily reach 80K without any trouble - maybe even bigger!  I won't give all the details right now but I'll tease you - it will be somewhat historical and is based on a segment of "Aliens" I watched on the History Channel. Giorgio Tsoukalos and that gang can get my imagination jumping and then, can I write fast enough to get it all down?

Until next I ramble on...

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Quick Cooks

Somebody once asked me how I come up with my recipes or how I get a meal to come together and will I share a simple recipe or two.

I never really thought about it.  I just cook what sounds good and planning is critical for large meals.  I say this because I've cooked or overseen others cook for large groups of people.  What exactly does that mean?  I have cooked for 60-70 people on campouts with the Boy Scouts.  I've managed Boy Scouts who cooked meals for the sponsoring club - The Ruritans - and it was about 30 people.  I've also watched and minimally assisted them when cooking for family events involving upwards of close to 80 people.

First, know how many you are going to cook for.  Second, make sure you have your recipes and how much they will feed.  Remember, some recipes will say 1/2 cup is a serving... and you know there is always that person who heaps about 4 of those servings on their plate.  Also, consider seconds for some people.  Watch your time and calculate accordingly for your schedule.

When offering multiple choice - like Swiss steak and Bacon-wrapped Chicken, most people seem to want both. You cannot assume it will be an either/or situation.  I calculate 75% each.  If serving 50 people, I will make sure I have 40 steaks and 40 chicken.  At one meal I watched a gentleman take 2 steaks and 1 chicken... the woman behind cut a chicken in half and the woman behind her cut a steak in half.  You can only guess — make it your best.

Now, as to recipes.  One of the best and simplest of recipes is my Couscous Soup.  That base is two basic items: broth and couscous.  From there, the possibilities are limitless. First, decide if you want chicken or beef — that will decide your broth flavor, if, indeed you wish to have a meat in the soup. I've used beef with finely diced steak, and chicken shredded in chicken broth. To give you an idea of portioning, I used one chicken breast, baked in the oven with basil, rosemary, and thyme. I shredded that one breast and made soup for 10-12 people. Here is where the flavors blossom. If you want an Oriental flair, add a little ginger, soy sauce, shredded carrot, bean sprouts, celery, onion, and garlic. If you'd prefer a more European taste, add basil, rosemary, (of course, if you did up the chicken like I did, you won't need to add the basil and rosemary), cut up green beans, celery, shallot, and garlic. Now, for a Moroccan experience, use chickpeas, cinnamon, cumin and carrot and of course, garlic,

Remember, this is a soup, a broth-type item. It is NOT a stew. When I said chickpeas, I mean, maybe 2 or 3 chickpeas in a small cup of soup.  Even the couscous is limited.  When I make it for my wife and I, I use 2 cups of broth, maybe a 1/4 cup of couscous, a couple of bean sprouts, maybe a half (if that much) rib of celery diced up real small, and a baby carrot shredded.  It's about the broth and the flavors, not about filling you up.  Think — wonton soup. It's not loaded with eight or ten wontons but usually one lone, maybe two wontons in a rich, flavorful broth.

Again, this soup is what you make it. I usually cook the couscous ahead of time. It's so difficult to make — one cup hot water, 3/4 cup couscous, cover and let sit for 5 min. Voila! Done!  By the way, that is a lot of couscous. As stated above, for the two of us, I use only a 1/3 cup of couscous to cook.

As to other recipes.  Really, the internet is full of wonderful ideas and a plethora of recipes. Give it some thought and then go searching for something out of the usual.  I found a great way to "up" the ante on carrots.  Chop up raw carrots any way you want, give them a flair even.  Then boil them until crisp tender, drain and put butter (not margarine) to melt over them.  Add a little cinnamon, a pinch of brown sugar and a dash of nutmeg.  Now you're cooking.

Potatoes?  One can have the same-o, same-o mash taters or take it a little of out the ordinary and add cabbage to the mix... or cauliflower... or even carrots.  I have taken potatoes and cabbage, boiled them together, added some glazed diced onions and minced garlic, and mashed it all together.  Just remember the cabbage won't mash completely down to that silky smoothness, so you don't have to try to attempt that with the potatoes.  Sometimes lumpiness is nice.  When I added the carrots, it was just a few and of course, the mashed potatoes took on a nice orange color.  Now, for the potato and cauliflower, that whipped up nice and smooth and it had that difference to keep the guests on their toes.

Cooking is about taking the ordinary and moving it into the extraordinary in the simplest way.

Green beans. Everyone boils them and tosses some bacon bits on them. Voila! Sidedish - done. Now, take it to the next step. Rather than boiling them in water, use chicken broth. Right before serving, add a dash of sesame oil (just a couple of drops) and let simmer in the bowl on the table. If you want to throw bacon bits at the mixture, you can, but they really will stand on their own without them.

So, what is my secret to cooking? Read the recipe.  Read the recipe again and figure out what it is doing. Read the recipe yet again to understand how it is made. Read the recipe once more to see how it can be improved.  Make it according to directions.  Taste it.  Next time, adjust it to make it yours.

I once asked my chef mentor - a well-known TV chef of the 70s - how much wine to add to a recipe. He told me: Enough to make it feel wanted.

That is true of all ingredients. You add enough of each to make it compliment the others.  A pot of water tastes good by itself. But, if you add a potato, it tastes better. Add a carrot.  Add some corn. Add some meat.  Add some...  Each ingredient is great on its own but together, like a symphony, it will make a beautiful mixture.

Until next I ramble on...

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Tiny Home Syndrome

My wife is hooked on all those cute, quaint little homes - you know what I'm talking about. Those homes that are maybe 200 to 500 square feet in space. I think they're neat, built on a frame with wheels so they can be moved as wanted or needed.

But the prices!!

I watched a show where the couple was adamant it had to have wheels, be no more than 250 square feet in size and, this is the clincher for me, be under $110K.


They picked one. It was cute, about 210 square feet and cost a mere $119K - just a tad over budget.

My wife thought it was perfect.  I had to give her a wake-up call.  We own an RV.  Yes, the driving kind. It is a 28 foot Allegro. Okay, a little older, it is a 1998 model but I've had it for 10 years and it suits our needs just fine.  Our 28 x 8 traveling home has 224 square feet of living space, plus it has all the "basement" storage under it along the sides outside.  I'll be honest - I spent $25K for our used RV.

We've considered upgrading to one with a slide or two and maybe a tad longer, but not over 32 feet, though.  That would give us a lot more space - almost 300 square feet.  Again, that does not include all the storage space underneath.

Even if a person considered a camping trailer or 5th wheel, they'd be further ahead and saving money rather than buying a tiny home.  Better yet, buy a manufactured home aka a trailer.

Take a close look.  A tiny home is nothing more than an over-glorified trailer that is too heavy for most vehicles to move.  They need to hire a semi.  That costs money.

An RV can be driven where you want it and it won't cost you $10K or more to move.

Have you seen some of the RVs??  They're stunning with full-sized stoves, dishwashers, refrigerators and washer and dryers.  I mean, some even have ice-makers and wine-coolers.  And don't forget the fireplaces, either.  I looked at a used RV that offered 2 bathrooms and all the counters in it, that would be the bathrooms and kitchen, were solid granite.  In fact, the 'master' bath had 2 sinks, a shower, AND a tub, not to mention a walk-in closet.  The recessed lighting and the recessed 50-inch flat screen television was awesome.  The place was magnificent with double slides n the living room.  I should note the price was under $100K... in fact, it was under $75K and was only 2 years old.

No, I didn't buy it but I wanted it.  My RV gets about 10-14 miles to the gallon and that is really, REALLY good mileage.  I calculate my trip costs at 10 mpg and usually have excess cash when I finish the trip.  That RV was heavy and only got ... as the salesman said, About 5mpg if you've got a good tailwind and going down the hill.  If you don't know RV sales code, that means, don't expect to get 5mpg too often... more likely 2 or 3 miles per gallon.  It had a 150-gallon tank.  That would mean I'd get about 450 miles per fill-up.  My current RV is 60 gallons and I can drive well over 600 miles on a fill-up.

But, I digress.  After explaining all the above to my wife, she agreed.  If we're going to downsize, we'll move into an RV and live full time that way. For $50K-75K I can have a mansion.  So why put out so much money for a dinky tiny house?

I'm including pictures of  an Allegro RV. Look at that spacious living space w/ one slide-out.

And a great bed and on the other side is a wall of closets with mirrors to get full-length looks.  There is also a nice bathroom with a shower, sink, and toilet.

And here is the inside of a tiny home... looking at the entrance. Don't you love the blue "couch?"

If you look under the bed, the double doors are probably the pull-out potty.

Both of these are probably in the $60-$75K range.  Which would you want to live in on a full-time basis?

Until next  ramble on...

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Harvest Time Goodies

Harvest time has hit the grocery stores.

My garden is a wee bit slow on coming to harvest. I mean, the peas were great early on but, as of now, nothing else has really come to fruit.  There are plenty of tomatoes on the vines - they're loaded but nothing red, only green.  Trust me, I'm fighting the urge to pluck and fry them.  The garlic has once again done its disappearing act and the onions are struggling to grow.  Guess I'm not to grow onions and garlic.  Not going to even try next year.  The beets are still growing.  My son's mother-in-law has huge beets growing in her garden. Me?  They look like baby beets.  Oh, I noticed yesterday that the pole beans are finally starting to blossom.  Yay!

Of course, I'm in no big rush to get out there and harvest since it has been hotter than Hades around here the last few weeks.

Me? I'd prefer to go to the state park and camp.  Yup, enjoy the cool lake breeze waft through the pines, maples, oaks and other trees. (I'm rambling...)

So, anyway, the grocery stores have started to lower prices on produce.  I went to the store last week and they had cabbage for 19¢ a pound. At that price, it was time to make Cabbage Balls.  I made about 20 of them and they are now residing in the freezer for a yummy winter treat.  Of course, I'm not that dumb, we had some that same night - just to make sure they were good. They were!

Peppers (the green ones) which normally go for upwards of 89¢ each, well, they were 5/$1.00.  And they were HUGE!  That can only mean one thing - Stuffed Green Pepper Casserole. I normally make stuffed green peppers, but found doing a casserole stores easier.  So I made up a huge pan full, uh, my wife baked cakes and we still have the 12x18 sheet cake pan.  That's what I used.  We froze up 6 quarts.  And again, we tasted the fruits of the effort. I can't believe I'm saying this - C'mon snow!!

Using the above two ingredients, my wife, the expert at making freezer slaw aka Sweet and Sour Coleslaw, used one head of cabbage and one large green bell pepper. She made up 8 freezer bags of this food of the gods.

Another use for cabbage?  Egg rolls.  I love egg rolls.  So, I made up some egg roll filling and wrapped up a total of 36 egg rolls.  I put them into hot oil to parboil them, sort of. Then I placed them on a cookie sheet and into the freezer.  Once frozen, they got shuffled into gallon bags.  Notice I say bags. My daughter-in-law, granddaughter and great-grandson came over the next day after I made them — to make sure they were of the proper quality.  Okay, my great-grandson is only 10 months old so he didn't really test them. My wife, my daughter-in-law, my granddaughter and I did.  And they passed the test with flying colors.  Delicious, a perfect filling — nice tight roll, not greasy, great chicken/pork/cabbage ratio and flavor.

Broccoli was on sale. Not the ones with the huge stem still attached.  No, these were the crowns, the florets with only enough stem to keep the florets together as a head.  And they were huge, too. I bought a lot of them - uh, six. So, I made Cheesy Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole using the above mentioned cake pan. Froze up 6 quarts of these beauties, too.  Needless to say, yummy.

Also, cauliflower was on sale and we couldn't pass it up.  We got 4 heads of cauliflower and my wife broke them up into small florets, parboiled them and onto a cookie sheet to freeze they went. We now have two gallons of cauliflower to use with broccoli and/or carrots for veggies during the winter.

I guess I should mention that we also found chicken breast, sausage, ground pork, and ground beef also on sale at different local groceries.  We made the rounds to a total of 5 stores - 2 farm markets for the veggies and 3 grocery stores.  Actually, the one farm market was 60 miles away from our house and is what got us started on this adventure.

We were coming home from visiting our sons up north in the Detroit, Michigan area.  As we came through Toledo, my wife thought it would behoove us to stop at Monettes, a fresh farm market. We did and found some of the veggies.  The rest was history as we stopped at the local farm market day which is held twice a week around the square in Bryan, Ohio.  Then it was a stop at our Chief Supermarket and Wal Mart.  (I think there is a Wal Mart within 20 mi of anyone in the U.S.)  And then off to Montpelier, Ohio, where Miller's was having a huge meat sale.

Sure, we spent more on food this month than usual, but then again, we have more food in our freezer for us to eat.  We'll be able to cut back on food costs during the winter.

Is this method practical?  Let's see.  Sweet and Sour Coleslaw is $3.49/lb at the store. I bought a cabbage head for 83¢ and a green pepper for 20¢ — so basically about $1.  I got almost 5 pounds of coleslaw.  I would say, offhand, I saved about $15.  Yes, there is sugar and vinegar to add in. Let's be conservative on savings and say I saved $10.  Uh, that's ten dollars in MY pocket.  To make this on a whim at some point down the road at say, 69¢ a pound for cabbage and 89¢ for a green pepper? Sure, it is still cheaper than buying, but the cost has gone up almost $3 just on those two ingredients. Go ahead, call me a tight-ass, but a penny saved, even a nickel or a dime, is money for me.

When my tomatoes start coming in, we will be making diced, stewed and sauce.  Also a lot of my wife's famous salsa which I snarfle down during the winter months.

Sweet corn is coming to harvest around here, but it is still the early rush. I'll wait and when the price drops, I'll go get some and we'll freeze up some of that golden delight.  Wal Mart had some for 12¢ an ear — that works out to be $1.44/dozen which beats the crap out of $2.75 for a half dozen at the farmer's market right now.

Lest we forget, the orchards are coming to harvest, too.  Peaches and apples.  Yum!  The next couple of months will be busy as we scurry around like chipmunks, burying our treasures in the freezer or canning jars for the coming winter.

Okay, this one will probably flabbergast you.  Eggs.  Remember my chicks?  All 18 of them?  Well, they are now full-sized hens and laying eggs.  Yes, I'm getting about 12-17 eggs daily.  In other words, about 9 dozen eggs a week.  They've been small but as the months have progressed, the eggs have gotten larger on a regular basis.  My 4 sons have been taking some and enjoying the harvest but even now, they can't keep up with the production.  I'm going to have to put up a sign and start selling some.  Now for the flabbergaster. You can freeze eggs.  One only needs to crack the eggs and put them in ice-trays and freeze.  When frozen, pop them out and toss them into a gallon bag. When you need an egg or two, grab out what is needed.  We're considering this.  Anyone ever done it?  I have six dozen eggs in my frig at this very moment. The boys are all coming this weekend (so I've heard) and that will bring down the stock, but…

I guess I should mention we have two freezers.  One (chest type) is for meats. The other (upright) is for non-meats, okay, for everything else.  Both are getting filled right now.  I'm hoping I can find shrimp and crab on sale again. My stock is running low. As to fish, I have some salmon and steelhead stocked. I want more cod, catfish, orange roughy and perch. Now, I've heard through the grapevine that one of our local grocery stores will be having a huge meat sale within the next 30 days.  I see meatloaf, chicken tacquitos, lemon-garlic chicken, chicken pot pie, cranberry pork, chili, potato soup, beef barley stew, orange ginger chicken and a plethora of other recipes being made en-mass for the freezer.

I think the hardest part of winter this coming year will be deciding which meal to get out of the freezer to heat up and eat.

Until next I ramble on...