Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Travel Diary: Healing Vacation in Huntington Beach Day 1

Anytime is beach time when you're in Southern California. Sigh.

9:37 a.m. - I arrived at John Wayne airport. A long line at the rental car pickup counter plus having been up since 2:50 a.m. meant I was dragging a little. A friendly conversation with a cute guy in line perked me up a bit, though. :)

10:15 a.m. - Google Maps quickly got me to Mother's Market on Beach Boulevard where I ordered a green juice and picked up some vegan salads from their deli for lunch (lentil salad, dilled rice and lima bean salad, and a cup of raw kelp-noodle broccoli Alfredo made with cashews. Yum.)

11:00 a.m. - sat in my rental car and just vegged out, munching on the salads and enjoying the warm sunshine and moment of solitude.

12:30 a.m. - pushed my seat back and napped in my car until 1:30 p.m. like some weird homeless person. Hotel check-in wasn't until 3:00 p.m. and I felt like a puffy beached whale from a long morning of traveling, not drinking enough water, and not being rested.

1:30 p.m. - put my hair up in a hair elastic, rolled up my pants legs, and went for a brisk walk down Beach Boulevard and back with the ocean breezes blowing in my face. Felt refreshed enough to drive out to my hotel and see if I could check in a little early.

3:30 p.m. - in my room and all unpacked, I made my goals list, my menu for the week, and shopping lists. Went to all my favorite stores in Huntington Beach (Dollar Tree, Mother's, Whole Foods, and Big Lots) to buy what I needed to be able to cook for myself in the kitchenette all week.

6:00 p.m. - back at my room, exhausted and cranky, made rice and poached veggies with fresh dill for dinner.

8:30 p.m. - soaked and gave myself a mini facial. All was suddenly right with the world again.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

What To Eat At The Airport If You're Vegan (and Sugar-Free)

Waiting for a flight, bored and starving? Been there.

I'm doing a fair amount of traveling these days and the question that always comes up when I'm packing is what, if anything, should I take with me to eat in the airport?

My Options


1. Eat before I go and try to fast on hot tea until I get to my destination.

2. Sit there in the terminal watching everyone else enjoy the fast food, bags of convenience store snacks, or fajita bowls in the food court, starving and bored (me, not them. They're having a great time.)

3. Search the fast food joints for something that won't make me tired, irritable, and/or bloated. Find that there is nothing. All the salads have meat and/or cheese, and all the "fruit" smoothies are loaded with chemicals and sugar.

4. Try to find a restaurant that has a vegan option or at least something halfway decent that I can ask them to leave the meat, cheese, and/or sugar off of (if I have time to sit in a restaurant) and pay too much money for food I probably didn't enjoy that much anyway.

5. Wish I would have just packed my own snack.

Packing My Own Snacks


This also poses some problems. What can I pack that won't be utterly destroyed or disgusting by the time I sit down and dig it out of my carry-on? Also, it can't take up a ton of room or be too heavy, and it has to be tempting and filling enough to keep me out of the Asian Grill line.

I sometimes pack vegan sugar-free baked goodies I made myself, but most of these things require some sort of plastic container (which takes up precious space) or they end up flattened or just destroyed. Not that I won't still eat them, mind you, because the minute I find my gate and sit down I'm looking to munch for some unknown reason, but ugh.

So here's my current solution. It's easy, light, filling, and doesn't bloat me up like a balloon.

1. Ezekiel Bread + Vegan Cheese Sandwich. Ezekiel 4:9 bread (regular, not the low-sodium version) is an obsession for me since I started recovering from TMJ pain enough to chew it. It's delicious with two slices of Chao vegan cheese, and if I want to spice it up a bit I add a few pickled jalapeño slices. Seal it in a baggy and you're done. It's lightweight, and Ezekiel bread is tough enough to stand up to being jostled and smashed in my backpack purse or laptop bag with aplomb.

Also, I am definitely not too proud to pack two or three of these babies for my trip. I don't like going hungry!

2. Bag of organic mixed raw nuts and pumpkin seeds. Mix together any raw, unsalted nuts you like - I like pecans and walnuts if I need softer nuts and almonds, Brazil nuts, and hazelnuts if my jaw can take the pressure of chewing something harder. I like raw organic pumpkin seeds tossed in as well for the magnesium, zinc, protein, and other nutritional boosts they add.

Now, at home I limit my nut intake because they are expensive, fattening, and not cleansing like fresh veggies, but for the airport they do the trick of filling me up and not leaving me feeling deprived as I do when I sit there munching on plain lettuce (yes, I've done this) while everyone around me is wolfing down pizza slices and Quizno's subs. A baggy of mixed nuts is a huge treat to me, so this is one time I indulge. Again, this is a snack that can survive the backpack or laptop bag just fine. Pro tip: pack a small plastic spoon inside the baggy if you're like me and it weirds you out to stick your fingers in your food after you just touched everything in security, the handrails on the escalator, anything in the restroom, your own luggage that's been dragged all over God knows where, etc.

[A caveat about nuts in airports: I have been stopped in security once for having a baggy of nuts in my laptop bag. All they did was look at it and then give it back to me. The TSA agent said it was fine to have it but that I should have taken it out of my carry-on like you do with liquids. Also, some countries will not let you take them through customs, but for your flight BEFORE customs, it should be fine.]

3. Tea bags (and an alternative plant based sweetener, if desired.) Yes, sometimes you can get decent herbal teas that aren't chock full of chemicals (I'm looking at you, Allegro,) but I much prefer bringing my own mixed baggy of choices (current faves: Tazo brand Calm Chamomile, Ecotea's Yerba Mate, Numi Tea's Moroccan Mint, Trader Joe's Mint Melange, Yogi Tea's Berry Detox tea (amazingly good tasting for a detox tea, and helps with travel bloat,) and Yogi Tea's Green Tea Kombucha (I take bags in regular and decaf. Hey, I never know if I need or want caffeine or not.) Buy a cup of hot water to steep it in at the airport (and/or ask for one on the plane later) and voilá. Lusting after everyone else's Mocha Lattes while you're sitting there bored is a thing of the past, or at least the edge is taken off.

[Side note about my tea that I take with me: I have been asked more than once by a flight attendant what kind of tea I was drinking because it looked/smelled so good, apparently. It happened just this past weekend when I was flying and asked for hot water for my Allegro "Energize Your Brain" tea. (Not listed above as one of my favorites because it has a lot of unknown "flavors" in it, but I am going to use up the box I bought for sure.)]

So that's it...on my trip home from Oklahoma this past weekend, I sat down at my gate with my little cheese sandwiches, a hot Yerba Mate, and bag of mixed nuts, feeling pampered rather than deprived. :-)

I'll add to this post as I discover more options, but for now, this will get me to my next destination just fine.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

My Fat Burning Mixed Baby Green Salad with Avocado and Flaxseed Oil

A beautiful bowl of vegetable goodness. 

Loaded with superfood nutrition, omega-3s, and antioxidants, this easy salad will satisfy your craving for healthy, fresh raw veggies, aid in digestion, and cleanse your system. I use flaxseed oil because I want the benefits it provides--according to this article by Dr. Axe it assists in weight loss, keeps you regular, fights cancer, removes cellulite, is good for your skin, and boosts heart health--but flaxseed oil is also really delicious on fresh, raw veggies. I like it even better than olive oil on salads, and trust me, I'm a huge fan of olive oil.


I like to make this salad before dinner and munch on it while I cook, but it would also make an excellent warm-weather lunch.

Mixed Baby Greens Salad with Avocado and Flaxseed Oil

Ingredients - adjust all amounts to your personal liking

About two cups mixed baby greens, coarsely chopped to bite size (I usually go for a spinach combo of some sort. You can also just use baby spinach.)
1 TBS sliced green onion
1 TBS chopped red bell pepper
1 small red radish, sliced thinly
1 cup broccoli florets, broken down into bite size pieces
1/2 roma tomato, cut in half again and sliced
1/4 cup cucumber, peeled and diced
1 TBS shredded carrot
1 TBS sliced celery
1/2 ripe avocado, diced
Handful italian parsley, coarsely chopped
Sea salt, to taste (a pinch or so)
Fresh ground pepper, to taste (a few twists)
Flaxseed oil, to taste (I use about 1/2 TBS)
Fresh squeezed lemon juice, to taste (I use about a teaspoon)

Put all veggies in a large salad bowl, then sprinkle with sea salt. I would start out with less salt than you think you might like, because you want the flavors of the avocado and other vegetables to come through. Add a few twists of fresh ground black pepper, and then drizzle flaxseed oil all over. Squeeze a few drops of the lemon juice on last (don't overdo. It's strong.) Toss lightly and enjoy!

Delicious and so good for you.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

To Seduce an Assassin Cover Reveal!

My, what a big sword you have.
The sequel to Kiss of the Assassin finally has a name AND a bright, shiny new cover! I'm currently hard at work finishing up the first draft of To Seduce an Assassin, Yavi and Graciella's story, and am still on schedule for a release date in late June 2017.

The premiseYavi and his identical twin are the last surviving Zulfikars, the traditional royal line of Nandala. They were hailed emperors of their poverty-stricken, wintery homeland when they led a rebellion against the evil ruler Thakur, who murdered their father right before their eyes. Yavi’s brother Yajna found love with farmer’s daughter Jiandra in the first Omaja Series book, but Yavi’s sworn off seducing innocent young women since a jealous sorceress killed the girl he was romantically involved with in Kiss. Jiandra’s younger sister Graciella has had a crush on Yavi since she was 14, and knew he saw her as a child when she shyly asked him for a dance at her sister’s wedding to his brother. She hasn’t seen him in six years. Now she’s 20 and ready to try again, this time determined to make sure there’s no doubt in his mind she’s a full-grown woman.


***Excerpt - Graciella the Spy***


There was only one explanation for his hurry to rid himself of her and rush off to his own quarters, Graciella thought.
            Her name was Kitran.
            Graciella paced in front of her fireplace a moment, trying to decide what to do. Surely Kitran was meeting him in his bedroom this very moment, and before long, she’d be on top of him, rubbing herself on him as Jiandra had seen with the Omaja stone when she'd read Kitran's thoughts.
            No, no, no! Graciella had been almost certain the meal she’d served him was winning him over to her side. He hadn’t even looked up when Kitran was bringing out the food, was more absorbed in his wine. By the end of their dinner, his body was relaxed, he was making a lot of eye contact, and she’d seen his gaze linger on her mouth more than once. When they’d stood up from the table, she’d been so sure he was going to invite her to sit by the fire in his study and chat, as had been their habit over the past week.
            It had to be because of Kitran. With Yajna and Jiandra gone, no doubt Yavi had seized the opportunity to arrange a tryst with the beautiful washing girl. What, hadn’t he as much as admitted he had absolutely no plans to marry any time soon? Spoken like a true rakehell. Oath of celibacy, my arse. The reason Jiandra doesn’t know he’s knobbing Kitran is because he waits until she and Yajna are off the premises!
            She had to move fast to find out the truth. She hopped on one foot, tugging off her boots, and put on her soft slippers. She opened her bedroom door just a crack, then poked her head out to see if any guards were lurking about.
            It was all clear, so she slipped out and closed the door, then hurried down the hallway out of Yajna’s wing, heading toward Yavi’s side of the palace. Before entering the passageway that led to his study and his bedroom, she flattened herself against the wall and peeked around the corner. There was no one in sight, so she tiptoed past his study to his bedroom.
            When she reached the door, she pressed her ear against it to check for the sounds of moaning Jiandra had described. It was quiet for the moment, but she kept listening for any sounds of a woman’s voice, movement on a bed—
            Back down the hallway, the door to Yavi’s study opened. Graciella panicked and opened his bedroom door to slip inside. The orange glow of firelight revealed the bed to be undisturbed and free of washing girls, but footsteps were rapidly approaching the door. She glanced around for some place to hide, hurrying to the far corner of the room to crouch behind a trunk just before the door opened.
            Graciella shut her eyes tight, mortified. Now you’ve done it, Graciella. What will he think when he finds you snooping in his room? She sent a desperate mental prayer to Zehu as she heard the door close.
            It was quiet for a moment, but she didn’t dare raise up to look or even breathe. Yavi could be standing right on the other side of the trunk for all she knew—he moved like a panther when he wanted to. However, there was a slight possibility the person who entered was a servant, and if so, she could invent a lame excuse and hopefully escape before Yavi returned. She would wait until she heard a sound somewhere else in the room, and then raise up to see who was there.
            Finally, she heard movement across the room, on the other side of the bed. Water pouring into the washstand. Carefully, oh-so-slowly, she rose up just enough to see over the lid of the trunk. Yavi set the large pitcher down and tugged his white lawn shirt over his head, tossing it to a chair, and Graciella’s mouth went dry. Layers of thick, well-defined muscle covered his arms, shoulders, and chest. Apparently training every day in the courtyard pays dividends. Gorgeous ones.
            He reached for the placket on his trousers, and she ducked back down to give him some privacy. After a few moments, she thought she heard the sound of him rummaging in a drawer, and inched back up to take a quick peek.
            Six and a half feet of male splendor stood by the armoire, naked except for the emperor’s ruby around his neck. His backside was facing her direction, and she couldn’t help but stare. His buttocks looked firm, sculpted in muscle, with a slightly concave plane on either side of his trim hips. He wrapped a towel around his hips before turning to pace toward his washstand, and she ducked quickly. Soon there was a sound of water splashing, being squeezed from a sponge, splashing again.
            She risked another peek, and was rewarded with a second view of his backside as he stood in front of his washstand. His bed was between them, so she could only see him from the thighs up, but there was plenty of muscular naked flesh to stare at from that vantage point. And stare she did, watching his back muscles flex as he sponge-bathed from neck to groin.
            He finished washing and used a towel to dry himself, then wrapped the towel around his waist again. When he turned away from the washstand to walk back to his armoire, she caught a view of the bulge of his groin. It strained against the towel, pushing forward as if it wanted to escape, as if it were beckoning her to come rip the towel off him and climb on. And she wanted to answer its call, by Zehu; she wanted to dive onto his bed and beg him to take her right then and there, like some slattern.
            And speaking of slatterns, the horrifying thought came to her that it was possible he was washing up for Kitran, who hadn’t arrived yet. He rearranged his belongings for a moment, shut the armoire, and went to open a window. He stood there in his towel, allowing the frigid air to blow over his face and chest a few moments before closing and latching it. He turned toward the bed, and she sank back down out of sight. She heard the bed creak lightly under his weight, waited a moment longer, then rose up just enough to see with one eye. He was lying on his back, the bedspread covering him up to his waist. He lay still a moment, resting one hand over the emperor’s ruby on his chest.
            The clock on the far wall ticked loudly in the silence. Three, four minutes passed, with no appearance of the washing girl. Relief began to wash over Graciella in hopes that she’d been wrong about the tryst. Now if she could just wait until he slept and manage to slip out of his room without him waking up, she’d be golden.
            He turned over on his side, putting his back to her, and resettled his head into his pillow. Graciella wondered briefly what he would do if she slipped into bed beside him and snuggled up to his back. He might throw her out in disgust for sneaking around in his room, so she decided against it, and rested her chin on her hands on the lid of the trunk to just stare at his muscular back and wait.
            Thirty minutes later she realized she was dozing a little, and her eyes flew open. The fire in the fireplace had died down to just a few glowing embers, and she could see from Yavi’s outline in the shadows that he was still in exactly the same position as before, on his side facing away from her. She cautiously rose to her feet, tiptoed around the trunk in the darkness, and stealthily approached his bed. His masculine scent of musk and bergamot reached her senses, and she had another strong urge to climb into bed with him. Instead, she leaned over the bed to try to hear his breathing.
            Finally, she heard it: steady breath in, steady breath out. Steady in, steady out. She crept to the door, turned the door handle oh-so-gently, and pulled it open just wide enough to slip into the hallway. She shut the door as silently as she’d opened it, and then hurried out of his wing as fast as her slippered feet would carry her.
            Back in her room, she stripped down to wash up for bed, then threw on her nightgown and brushed out her hair. She blew out her candle, slipped under the blankets and the covering of Filstoc fur, and lay still in the darkness thinking about what she’d learned tonight.
            One, he hadn’t arranged a tryst with Kitran. That was foolish paranoia on her part, and she was ashamed of herself. However, it didn’t mean he wasn’t involved with Kitran for certain, so Graciella would still have to be alert for any clues about the nature of their relationship.
            Two, he hadn’t wanted to spend any more time with her after dinner than was necessary. That meant she still had some work to do in attracting him, so she needed to make good use of her last night alone with him before Jiandra and Yajna returned.
            Three. She’d witnessed his glorious naked body, and it was good. He had a warrior’s build, and every inch of him was well-proportioned from head to toe. Every inch, especially the generous inches that stood out from his groin. It made her squirmy and warm just thinking about it. She knew she should feel guilty for spying on him and invading his privacy in such a way, but she wouldn’t trade the view she’d gotten for anything in the world.
            She rolled over, sighing. She needed a plan. Tomorrow she’d do her best to get invited to his study after dinner. Once there, she’d casually suggest they sit together on the couch, and in the midst of conversation, make another attempt to go in for a kiss. All she knew was, if she didn’t get some kind of affectionate touch from him soon, she was going to explode. She pictured herself hiking her skirts up and straddling him on the couch, then desperately hugging his face into her bosom, with him looking up at her like she was addled.
            And with that picture in her head to amuse her, she drifted off to sleep.

More details soon! Let me know what you think of the cover in the comments below. I think the model my graphic artist used for Graciella is absolutely gorgeous. Reminds me a little of Elizabeth Taylor!

P.S. Follow my Pinterest Board for To Seduce An Assassin here!



Saturday, March 11, 2017

How I Get Healthy, Shiny Hair in My 40s

I'm turning 48 in March, and if there is one thing I do not want to go wrong at this stage in the game, it's my hair. Throughout my life I've had my fair share of bad hair days/months/years. I used to tightly perm my hair in the 80's and 90's (WHY???) even though it looked terrible on me. I have asked stylists to whack my hair off in a whimsical (or desperate) moment of utter cluelessness about what length of hair or cut best flatters my face. And, of course, I have tried to cut my own bangs multiple times with unattractive results.

Finally, I reached age 40, and I started wising up. I got real about how I really like to wear my hair (long, no perm, no bangs,) and I now know what to say/do when it's time for a cut. I figured out what products to use to keep my hair from looking dry and dull (a serious problem for most women after age 40, including me.) I also figured out what to spend big $$$ on and what products don't need to cost a fortune for me to have great hair.

Everyone's hair is different, and you have to do some experimentation to figure out what works best for your hair type, your skin/eye/hair color combination, your own personal style, and what you can work with in terms of styling technique. I'll share here what works for me, in hopes that you can get some ideas and inspiration (and probably save a little money too.)

My Basic Hair Care Routine

1. I always wash my hair with "damage repair shampoo" even though my hair isn't really damaged. My current go-to is L'oreal Total Repair Extreme Reconstructing Shampoo and Conditioner, although their Total Repair 5 is very similar and works well too. (I give these links so you can see the exact products I'm talking about--I don't have any affiliate relationships with any companies or with Amazon at the moment!) These shampoos and conditioners are usually less than $10 a bottle at drugstores and supermarkets. I have spent tons of money on expensive shampoos at salons and beauty supply stores, and trust me, L'oreal's Repair line is way better than anything else I've tried, for way less cash.

2. I use a lot of conditioner. I comb it through my hair in the shower and let it marinate for 3-5 minutes while I wash my face, shave my legs, etc.

3. I gently wrap and twist my hair in a towel when I get out of the shower. I do not "scrub" my hair dry or rub it between my hands with a towel.

4. I use about a quarter-size drop of Argan oil (Organix makes an inexpensive one that I like, under $10 at Walgreens, and I am also liking Garnier Fructis' Shine and Sleek, which I think I only paid $5 for at Albertson's last week) and run it through my wet hair with my fingers.

5. I blow-dry my hair while combing it with a wide-tooth comb, about 25 strokes on each side of my head (not the top - save that for upside down drying for volume,) and then I flip it over to finish drying it upside down.

6. I either a) straighten my hair with an expensive ceramic flat iron, or b) spray on some heat protector (right now I'm using Chi heat protector, which I really like) and curl my hair with a cheap Walmart curling iron, being careful not to hold the curling iron on my hair longer than 3-5 seconds at a time. (Besides trying not to fry my ends, my hair takes curl easily, and I don't want my curls to be too tight.)

I don't use the Chi heat protector when I straighten my hair because the guy who sold me this $195 iron swore to me this iron would not, could not damage my hair. He demo'd that by lighting a flame, laying a strand of my hair on the ceramic, and then showing me you couldn't burn the hair even with a flame against the ceramic. True story. Also, when I use heat protector with this iron, I don't like the texture/shine level I end up with as much as without.)

7. I don't brush my hair out after I style it. Wide-tooth comb or fingers only, until next wash, or if I'm putting it up.

8. I use very minimal (or no) hairspray. I am pretty devoted to Big Sexy Hair Spray and Play, although the nozzle clogs like crazy here in Colorado and it will spray in all different directions (your face, the ceiling) unless you pick at it with your fingernail pretty much every time you use it.

9. I put my hair up in a large fluffy scrunchie for sleep, directly on top of my head, looping the scrunchie only twice so it doesn't leave marks. I make sure that loose bun is lying on the pillow, not under my head while I sleep. I take it down in the morning and I have good volume on top as well as well-preserved style. This works well for me whether I straightened my hair or curled it.

10. I don't wash my hair again until it is absolutely necessary, usually 3-4 days here in Colorado where the climate is so dry.

My Color and Cut

I use inexpensive box color to do my own brown and cover gray roots, but I get professional highlights at a salon (AL.KA.LI in Santa Ana, California, with Audrey Taylor, to be exact :).

1. I LOVE Clairol Age Defy box color in Medium Brown 5. This shade matches my natural color very closely, and it's the perfect mixture of shine + gray coverage + moisturizing. I'm getting a fair amount of gray coming in nowadays, so I have to color my roots every 4-5 weeks. I only put brown color on the rest of my hair the month before I get new highlights.

A close second for me is L'oreal Excellence Creme in Medium Brown 5. I like the Age Defy better mostly for the color--Excellence Creme comes out a little darker than I like.

2. I get professional highlights done once a year, at the beginning of summer. I usually ask for blond highlights, and they will usually vary between a dark blond to a light caramel on top of my brown box color. I let these highlights grow out all year, into a kind of balayage look. (In the photos above and below, my highlights are 9 months old.)

3. To get a good cut, I almost always ask for a "slight trim" at the stylist and I say "I want to keep the length." I say, "I like face-framing layers around the front, but not bangs," and "I want my hair to look smooth and shapely when I flat-iron it." You have to specifically say aloud what you want, and even if I've been going to the same person for a long time, I don't assume they can remember exactly what I want from amongst all their clients and/or can read my mind. I spend $$$ on hair cuts because I think a good cut is tantamount to beautiful hair, but I only need them about 3-4 times per year so I don't mind the splurge.

Hair selfie.

So to sum up, I spend a little extra money on certain things (cuts, highlights, that damn $195 flat iron, Big Sexy Hairspray, Chi heat protectant) and I save money on others (shampoo, conditioner, argan oil, box color for roots/base.) I don't skimp on products just to save money though--I buy what works. And the boost of confidence it gives me to still get compliments on my hair at the age of almost-48...is totally worth it!



Sunday, February 26, 2017

Kiss of the Assassin Sequel In The Works! + Teaser Excerpt

The original "Omaja Stone" cover had both twins on it, wearing armor (one of them is in shadow over the shoulder here.) 
Oh, by the way...I started writing a sequel to Kiss of the Assassin February 14th. It's the story of Yavi and Graciella, about six years later, as the Y Twins (now 30 years old) and Jiandra (now 28) are struggling to get Nandala back on its feet again as a nation. Gracie's just turned 20, so she is old enough for her own romance novel. (Rafe is now fourteen and still under the care and training of the monks in the Tylvan monastery north of Darpan, Nandala - I plan to give him his own book at some point, when he is old enough to be the hero.)

I don't know the title yet, so my working title is KA2 (Kiss of the Assassin 2) at the moment. I'm not plotting this one out like I did Sweet Barbarian. I feel that I write better twists and turns when I don't have overly detailed preconceived notions about where a storyline is going, and even though I love SB, it doesn't have the same level of action and adventure as my other two novels, and I feel it has suffered a little in the reviews because of it. (Caribbean Jewel and Kiss never get deemed "boring," at least not in the Amazon reviews.) The advantage of plotting everything out in advance, for SB, was speed and ease in writing. I wrote the first draft in four weeks. (And I can't really complain about how things turned out, because SB is by far my best selling novel at the moment; it has remained on the Bestsellers list for Time Travel Romances on Amazon for two months now, ever since it came out December 23rd.) But I just know how my mind works, and I know that my creativity is at its best when I don't know what is going to happen next.

So far, I've written 15,000 words (three chapters) in less than 2 weeks in KA2, and it has flowed much easier than I expected since the only plotting I started with was "Yavi and Graciella fall in love in this one." I've never written a sequel to anything, so I guess I didn't realize that with the world and the characters already built, you can just jump in and start writing. "Seeing" all the familiar faces has been a blast. As soon as I wrote the first sentence for the novel, which describes Yavi rappelling down from a window in the White Palace in Darpan in the middle of the night to go on some mission, I was like, why hello, Yavi, my old friend. It's been a while. :)

[You can see my Pinterest Board for KA2 Inspirations here!]

Here is a teaser excerpt from chapter 3 of KA2, the last scene I wrote last night:

Yavi killed the remaining bandit, slicing through his chest with his scimitars, and tossed the body into the nearby ditch. He strode over to the coach and pulled back the curtain, but the inside of the carriage appeared to be empty. He grabbed the torch from the driver’s seat, held it up to see inside better.
              Luminous light hazel eyes stared back at him, and a full, soft pink mouth parted in surprise. Dark, shiny hair was piled loosely on top of her head, and her sweetly rounded breasts heaved a little with shortness of breath.
              “Graciella?” he rasped, in disbelief that the beautiful woman inside the coach was really her. She was definitely not as he remembered her from six years earlier.
              “Are…are you Yavi, or Yajna?”
              “Yavi. Are you all right?”
              She clutched her chest, offering him a wry smile. “I will be, as soon as I can breathe again.”
              He turned to retrieve her dagger from the side of the road, where the bandit she’d stabbed in the throat had left it. He cleaned the unusually dark-looking blood off on the shirt of one of the fallen mercenaries, then handed it to her by the blade. “You’d better keep this wherever you had it. It seems to have come in handy.”
              “Yes.” She raised the hem of her skirt a bit and bent forward to tuck the small dagger into her boot. Her breasts pressed together inside her neckline, jiggling a bit with the movement. “I thank you.”
              Yavi stood frozen at the doorway, catching himself glancing down at the creamy smoothness of her leg just before she let the hem of her skirt back down. He looked up and cleared his throat. “Well, so much for a warm welcome into Nandala. I’d best get you to the palace before the others realize I’m gone and start to worry.”
              She nodded, swallowing. “Do you want me to—to stay in here?”
              “Yes. I’ll drive the coach. Let me get my horse tied to it, and we’ll be off.” He closed the door, then reopened it and held up the torch again to see her face. “Do you need anything? Sure you’re all right?”
              “I’m fine.”
              “Call to me out the window if you need anything before we arrive.”
              “Okay.” She smiled then, a fetching grin that lit up her lovely face and showed off a row of pearly white teeth.
              Yavi cleared his throat again, shut the door, and went to get Sikar.
              The bandit she’d stabbed had survived and escaped, but Yavi didn’t want to waste time chasing him down at the moment. His sole mission now was the safe delivery of Graciella to the palace.
              Kitchen help, his arse. If he had his way, the beautiful creature inside that coach would never dirty her delicate little hands in his kitchen.

Okay, back to writing, because I really want to know what happens next. <3

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Vegan Penne Alfredo With Sautéed Mushrooms

Yes, this tastes as good as it looks. Shown here with gluten-free brown rice penne from Trader Joe's.

I'm committed to eating a vegan diet because I love how I feel when I don't eat dairy--or meat of course (but meat's not a temptation for me.) Doing without Alfredo sauce, however, is a bit of a sacrifice. Or was, until I modified a sauce recipe I found on Simpleveganblog.com and came up with the creamiest, most Alfredo-like dish I could have ever hoped for.

I haven't had dairy since June 2015, but to my palate this is so close to how I remember mushroom Alfredo I am in heaven every time I make it (about once a week at the moment.) Browned garlic, steamed cauliflower, and creamy canned coconut milk combine to make a dreamy delicious white sauce that sets off the earthy caramelized mushrooms and will have you going back for more. Go ahead and indulge--you're basically eating vegetables with a splash of coconut milk over a bed of brown rice.


Vegan Penne Alfredo With Sautéed Mushrooms


Mushrooms

1 TBS olive oil
8 oz sliced baby portobello (cremini) mushrooms
Pinch of dried thyme
Pinch of salt

Pasta

1 1/2 cups dry penne pasta (for gluten-free, I highly recommend Trader Joe's Brown Rice Pasta in this dish. I'm not 100% gluten-free, but I'm white-flour free, so I use this pasta a lot.)

Sauce

1 TBS olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 1/2 cups cauliflower chunks
3/4 cup canned coconut milk (shake the can to mix the solids with the water, or mix well with a fork after you open it. Don't just use the water alone.)
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste (I use 1 tsp salt)
1 TBS nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 TBS fresh squeeze lemon juice

Optional - fresh or dried parsley, to garnish

Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside.

Sauté the mushrooms in hot olive oil over medium high heat. Sprinkle in the thyme and salt while the mushrooms cook, and let them sit without over-stirring if you want them to get really caramelized and brown around the edges. Set aside.

Sauté the garlic in olive oil until browned (I brown it pretty dark because it really adds that pungent cheesy flavor to the blended sauce.) Turn down the heat a little and pour in your coconut milk (fast because it will sputter in the hot oil worse if you pour slowly,) bring it to a boil, then add the cauliflower chunks. Add the salt and pepper and simmer gently with the lid on for 7 to 10 minutes, until the cauliflower is steamed through and soft.

Transfer the hot mixture to a high-speed blender, and add the nutritional yeast flakes and the lemon juice. Blend on high for 30 seconds to one minute, then check the creaminess level. Keep blending 20-30 seconds at a time until it's perfectly silky and smooth. (In my Vitamix, it only takes about 30 seconds to perfection.) If it's your first time making this sauce, you might want to taste it for salt level as well and adjust that before you take it out of the blender.

Other delicious additions/variations with this sauce: a swirl of vegan pesto, sauteéd asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes...oh Lord, the possibilities are endless. :-)

Pour the sauce over the pasta, top with the mushrooms and a generous sprinkle of fresh ground pepper. Garnish with parsley if desired, and enjoy!

If you make this dish, let me know what you thought in the comments below!

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