Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A Clean Eating Shopping List

Fresh produce is my go-to.
I cook almost every night, for two reasons. Maybe three, actually. One, I want to eat clean, healthy, fresh food. Two, I'm eating a vegan diet with a bunch of other restrictions like no sugar or white flour. Three, I love cooking. I LOVE it. To me it's creative, relaxing, and exciting, and I love my own food.

And since I cook almost every night, I have a well-stocked refrigerator and pantry, which means lots of grocery shopping and grocery-list-making. I keep a running grocery list in my kitchen junk drawer in a little notebook so I always know what I'm getting low on and need to buy soon.

I love lists, and I love making lists, so I'm sharing my basic grocery lists with you here. (I buy all organic produce, and buy everything else organic as much as humanly possible.)

Weekly Grocery List

Yellow squash and/or zucchini
Yellow onion
Red bell pepper
Potatoes - red and/or gold
Sweet potatoes
(And sometimes: mushrooms, eggplant, fennel, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, fresh peas, red onion, or whatever other organic produce is in season and looks good.)
Toasted coconut-almond milk (really kind of addicted to Califia brand right now. It's sweetened with monk fruit.)

Pantry and Fridge Staples I Keep On Hand

Vegetable broth and/or bouillon
Fine Himalayan sea salt
Coarse Celtic grey sea salt
Extra-Virgin olive oil
Coconut oil
Canned coconut milk
Coconut butter
Applesauce (in 1/2 cup packs)
Canned diced tomatoes
Tomato paste
Canned whole tomatoes
Canned strained tomatoes
Canned beans (cannellini, garbanzo, black beans)
Dry lentils
Black olives
Basmati rice
Short-grain brown rice
Wild rice
Arborio rice
Gluten Free pastas (Trader Joe's Brown Rice Penne is my fav right now, and Barilla's GF Spaghetti)
Breakfast cereals - Bob Mills' Brown Rice Farina and Creamy Wheat
Oat flour
Almond flour
Whole wheat flour (use occasionally)
Brazil nuts
Lakanto white and Lakanto golden (natural monk fruit sugar substitutes)

Of course I have other odds and ends in my pantry, but these are my basic things I keep stocked all the time so I can make all my favorite, healthy dishes.

Speaking of which, time to go make Sweet Potato Biscuits (from this amazing recipe at to go with my Lentil-Vegetable Stew with Fresh Thyme!

Friday, July 15, 2016

My Sweet, Sweet Barbarian

So this guy shows up in your back yard, only without the helmet, axe, or chest armor. What's a girl to do????

This summer I'm obsessively working on my third romance novel, working title "Sweet Barbarian." It's a time-travel romance in which a 5th-century Visigoth warrior (Valamir) is sent forward in time by a Druidic priestess in order to save his life, and he ends up in December 2015 in Green Mountain Falls, Colorado, in the middle of a snowstorm. He's wounded, so he stumbles down the side of Pike's Peak looking for any sign of life, and ends up passed out in the back yard of my heroine's mountain cabin.

Her chihuahua is outside going nuts, so Karly thinks there might be a bear out there, but she can't really tell what it is--it's just a big lump of something lying in the snow out by the spruce tree. She ends up going outside far enough to check, and finds this huge, muscular, mammoth of a man who's unconscious and going to freeze to death if she doesn't drag him inside and try to tend his wounds.

She saves his life, and when he wakes up, she starts using charades and gestures to teach him a few English words so he can communicate with her. She needs to figure out who he is, why he's dressed like a Skyrim cosplayer, what happened to him, and where he belongs so she can get him home.

That plan of course all goes awry when his story starts coming out in broken English, and he claims to be from "Gallia Aquitania" (modern-day southwestern France,) from the year 483. Other than that story, he doesn't seem crazy, so Karly's not sure whether to take him to the mental hospital or the homeless shelter. Or, just keep him around and drool over his hunky physique, his sweet smile, and lion's mane of hair. Plus, when her druggie ex-husband shows up high and hell-bent on manhandling Karly, it comes in handy to have a 6 foot 6 barbarian around to bounce him right on back to his Hummer with a bloody nose.

Anyway, I am having a BLAST writing this novel and can't wait to put it up for sale.

I'm projecting Fall 2016 for the release. In the meantime, you can see my Sweet Barbarian Pinterest board with all my model inspirations for the main characters, Karly's cabin, Karly's clothes, and her dog here.

Okay, back to play (ahem) I mean, work...

UPDATE 8/20/16: Sweet Barbarian is finished (yay!) and in the final editing stages. Will be up for preorders on Amazon soon!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Vegan Spiced Mini Carrot Cakes

I've been craving carrot cake all summer, since Bon Appetit (who's been sending me unsolicited un-paid-for magazines in the mail for the past six months) published an article with a recipe for their "best" carrot cake (Bon Appetit's "best" anything is guaranteed to be amazing, from my experience with the recipes I've tried so far.)

Of course, their carrot cake calls for 4 eggs, a cup of buttermilk, a cup of sugar plus 3/4 cup of brown sugar, all items that are not on my eating plan at the moment. And I am sure their cake is delicious, but I need to eat a dessert that doesn't require me selling my soul to the devil.

So, I invented my own, and I made it gluten-free, sugar-free, and vegan, and for my palate, it is freaking delicious. What I love most about it is the moist, melt-in-your-mouth texture I was able to achieve right out of the oven. (A lot of gluten-free baked goods have to cool completely before you cut into them or they just don't hold together. These mini-cakes are spongy, soft, and moist right out of the oven. I should know; I just wolfed down two of them before writing this post.)

I am also still on soft foods while waiting for my TMJ disorder to heal, and this dessert totally fits the bill on that account as well. Yay. Once I'm healed up, I will definitely be trying these with chopped walnuts mixed in.

Vegan Spiced Mini Carrot Cakes

(Gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan - makes 10 mini-cakes)

1 large Fuji apple, peeled and cut into chunks
2-3 small carrots, peeled and cut into chunks (8 oz)
1/3 cup Golden Lakanto + 5-6 drops liquid stevia (you could use coconut sugar if you aren't trying to go 100% sugar free but want a healthy-ish sugar)
1 egg replacer (I use "Ener-G" brand egg replacer in this recipe - you mix it with water before adding to recipes)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup coconut oil (no need to melt)
1/2 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour (I use Bob Mills)
1/2 cup oat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
Pinch of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease 10 cups in your muffin tin with coconut oil.

Pulse the apple in a food processor until it forms a coarse puree, then add the carrot chunks and pulse until finely grated. Add Lakanto, stevia, egg replacer mixed with water as indicated on the package, vanilla, and coconut oil, then pulse until you have a well-mixed puree.

In a mixing bowl, mix the two flours, the baking powder and soda, salt, and spices, breaking down any chunks with a fork. Add the carrot puree and mix just until moistened. (You could add 1/4 cup chopped walnuts at this point--would be delicious.)

Divide batter evenly between muffin cups and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the fattest one comes out clean. To keep mine moist, I don't let them bake until they are crispy brown on top, but you might want to let them brown more.

Enjoy with a hot mug of tea!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

How I (Really) Took A Day Off

This would definitely be on my "allowed" list, if the frozen daiquiri were hand-delivered to me by a sexy waiter. 
In searching for solutions to a persistent health problem I'm struggling with, I realized something important this summer about myself:

I never really take a day off.

Oh sure, I have a five-day work week with Saturday and Sunday off during the school year, and two and a half months off over the summer, but every single day of my life--every single day, even on vacation--I have a to-do list. I have multiple to-do lists, actually. Today, for example, I have three. It's a Saturday in the middle of my "summer off" and I have three to-do lists going. I have a to-do list for critical things I want to get done today for sure; I have a "procrastination" to-do list of things I need to get done sometime soon and don't want to forget about; and I have a long-term to-do list or "Action Plan" for my business.

Why, you might ask, especially if you are one of those lucky, free-spirited souls who breeze through life without the compulsion to make to-do lists?

Because I love getting things done. I mean, I really love it. It feeds some sick drive I have to continually be productive. So even on my "days off," I must be doing something productive, or else I feel a weird let-down.

So this summer, I've been struggling with TMJ disorder. I clench my teeth at night sometimes, have for years, and finally in March my jaw said "enough." It kind of feels like a toothache that moves around to different areas in my mouth. So, my dentist made me a new mouthguard (two actually, because I didn't like the first one,) prescribed a few painkillers, and told me to eat soft foods until it went away.

That was in March, and the pain level fluctuates, but it has never really gone away. I've researched the problem thoroughly online, tried stretches, exercises, massaging my cheeks and jaw with lavender oils, Biofreeze, moist heat, sleeping with the mouthguard in, sleeping with the mouthguard out, Epsom salt baths, yoga, prayer, you name it. Two weeks ago I was working in Cincinnati on a temporary summer job with College Board, and the TMJ thing was intensifying every day, to the point that I found myself in my hotel room in tears the Friday night before my last day of work.

I felt I had exhausted all my resources, and I knew I didn't want to resort to jaw surgery or narcotics. (My pain level isn't such that those solutions are necessary, it's more of just a dull, nagging chronic pain in the background.) I just kept looking at the ceiling and asking this question: what do I do?

The answer came back to me: You never really take a day off. You don't rest.

When I got home that Sunday evening, I really started pondering that. It was true; as I said above, I always have a list of things I want to accomplish, every single day. There are no days, and haven't been for years and years, where my list of things to do that day says "nothing."

So, I planned a real day off this past Sunday, a day of real rest. (Of COURSE I planned it. Planning is hard-wired into me!) I didn't want it to just be a day where I tried to nap after lunch and take it a little more easy than I normally would. I wanted it to be a real day off from everything I would normally do, a day of To-Do List: Nothing.

I made this list of rules for my day off:

1. No to-do list (obviously.)
2. No phone, laptop, or PC.
2. No Xbox. (I don't watch TV, but that would be on the list if I did.)
3. No cooking (I made extra food the day before that I could just reheat.)
4. No planning things in notebooks (another compulsion of mine.)
6. No plans with other people.
7. No work.

So what would I actually "do" on my day off? What would be allowed, I asked myself?

1. Sleeping.
2. Napping.
3. Lying in bed.
4. Gentle yoga, nothing too strenuous (I have to move my body or my back gets sore.)
5. Drinking lemon water.
6. Sitting in the sunshine.
7. Spiritual reflection.
8. Journaling.
9. Reading.
10. Hot shower or bath.

So Sunday arrived, and I woke up feeling This was a day I had purposed for doing basically nothing. I was not allowed to do anything, and it was an incredibly good feeling, right off the bat.

I went downstairs to warm my overnight oatmeal I'd prepared the night before, lingering over it when it was ready, savoring the comforting, yummy flavors of cinnamon, coconut, and vanilla.

Then I went back to bed, because I felt sleepy. Normally I would get moving, get started doing something, and either not notice or not care that I felt sleepy. In fact, I was surprised that I felt sleepy, and even more surprised when I woke up two and a half hours later, apparently having needed that extra rest.

I read a little, journaled a little, sat in the sunshine sipping lemon water, heated my soup, ate it, and went back to bed. I got up and took a shower, did some yoga, and went back to bed. I worried it would get boring, just napping, eating, and lying in bed, but it was glorious. I probably slept an extra 4 or 5 hours that day. My jaw pain completely subsided for the first time in a month. Monday, the pain stayed away as well, even though I went back to my three to-do lists, and worked at my computer for at least 6 hours.

Tuesday morning when I woke up, the pain was back.

I knew then that I was on to something, and that was my emotional, physical, and spiritual need for rest, real rest, of having at least one day a week of doing absolutely nothing. I might have to do it twice a week (or more?) for the rest of the summer to really see results with this TMJ thing, and I won't lie, a part of me hates the idea of not making progress on my new romance novel I'm writing for two whole days a week.

But I have to look at it this way: if I push myself to the point of physical breakdown (and the incredible toll chronic pain takes on your mind and emotions) in order to feed this desire I have to be creative and create, grow my business, accomplish things, and be productive, isn't that counter-productive in the long run? I won't be able to accomplish as much if I'm struggling physically, emotionally, and mentally. I've already seen that happen, if I'm honest with myself.

So today is Saturday, and I'm already getting ready, making some extra food, tying up some loose ends on my to-do lists so I won't be tempted tomorrow.

Because tomorrow is my (real) day off. And I can't wait.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Mediterranean Summer Squash and Cauliflower with Lemon-Herb Gremolata

I had some leftover cauliflower that I needed to use yesterday as well as a brand-new bag of organic yellow squash, so I put together this dish for lunch. I'm growing Greek oregano, parsley, basil, and thyme in my front yard container garden, so I chopped up a fresh Lemon-Herb Gremolata to sprinkle over the top, and it was scrumptious. I sat down and ate two whole plates of it, and with the fats from the oil, olives, and pine nuts, it was more filling than you'd expect from just eating a plate of steamed/sauteed veggies.

(You don't need all four of the fresh herbs I mentioned above to make it--you can use dried Italian seasoning in the tomatoes, and if you at least have some fresh parsley, you can make a delicious cremolata.)

The dish is veggie-centric, just like I try to do as often as I can, and if you oversteam the veggies, it's also a soft vegan meal for people who can't chew well (like me at the moment...TMJ flaring again.)

Mediterranean Summer Squash and Cauliflower with Lemon-Herb Gremolata

(2 servings; vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free)

3 cups cauliflower florets
1 large summer (yellow) squash, halved and cut into thick slices
1/2 TBS olive oil
1 large ripe tomato, halved and sliced
Dried Italian herbs or fresh chopped (I used fresh Greek oregano and fresh thyme)
4-5 black olives, sliced

Steam cauliflower and summer squash to desired level of tenderness (about 10 minutes for firm, up to 30 minutes for super-soft.)

Heat olive oil in skillet and add sliced tomato and dried or fresh herbs. Sauté for a couple of minutes, then lid it to get the tomatoes to break up and soak up the oil and herbs. Cook for about 7-10 minutes, to desired level of sauciness. Toss in the black olives at the end to heat through.

Layer a huge pile of steamed squash and cauliflower, then scrape tomatoes and olives on top. Sprinkle with a little salt and some fresh ground pepper if desired, then top with gremolata, below.

1 cup loosely packed fresh parsley, basil, and/or other herbs you like
1 TBS pine nuts
1 small garlic clove, peeled
Zest of 1 lemon

Put all ingredients together in a pile on your cutting board and chop fine.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Healing Foods: Vegan Gazpacho

If you think you're not a fan of gazpacho, you're not alone. It sounds good, looks good, and can be really healthy for you if you skip the recipes that call for white bread, but most of the time just tastes like you're eating really garlicky salsa off a spoon.

I, however, have perfected my gazpacho recipe to the point that I actually crave it for lunch, especially in the summer. And since I'm always on the lookout for soft vegan foods in case I'm having another TMJ flare-up (like right now,) gazpacho is one quick, easy way to get my raw veggies for the day in a delicious little bowl of soup. My gazpacho tastes more like a fresh tomato-cucumber-celery soup and less like sweet, garlicky salsa.

There are a ton of different variations on gazpacho, so feel free to add garlic, basil, hot peppers, or whatever other seasonings or raw veggies sound good to you and that you have on hand. Experiment! You might even come up with a version of your own that you like better.

Vegan Gazpacho

(Gluten-free, sugar free, vegan and raw except for the veggie bouillon. Can't beat that.)

1 medium-large ripe tomato (the riper the better)
2/3 cup cucumber, cut into large chunks
1 stalk celery
1/2 cup red bell pepper, cut into large chunks
1 green onion, sliced
1/2 TBS olive oil
1/2 TBS fresh lemon juice
Salt to taste (you probably won't need more than 1/16 of a teaspoon, so salt carefully)
1/4 tsp all-purpose seasoning (I use Bragg's Organic 24 Herbs & Spices seasoning)
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup water + 1/4 tsp vegetable bouillon (I use Better Than Bouillon Organic Vegetable Base. You could also just use prepared vegetable broth.)

Place all ingredients in a high-speed blender and blend for about 1 minute or until desired consistency. Chill or eat immediately. Makes about 1 1/2 cups soup.

Optional garnishes: chopped tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, green onion, parsley, basil, dill, and/or black pepper.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Why My New Romance Novel Got a Makeover

Okay, here's the scoop. I wrote a fantasy romance novel that I titled The Omaja Stone (a title I really liked) and had my graphic designer do a specially-designed cover. I had all these great ideas about how I wanted the images to look: put the heroine in the center, I told her, with the Omaja stone (a blue stone) on a cord around her neck. The hero is a twin, so put the twins on either side of her, one in the light and one in shadow, wearing their assassin armor and cloaks. Oh, and make the background kind of medieval and creepy looking. (Sounds cool, right?)

She designed it exactly as I had pictured it, and I was thrilled with the results. (Scroll down to see the original book cover.)

You hear a "but" coming, right?

The book has been out for two months, and its sales just haven't picked up like I was expecting, so I started reading books and watching webinars about launching novels, getting sales, getting reviews, etc. Eventually I ended up on Jim Kukral's Youtube channel, and watched this webinar about selling books on Amazon. Something he said hit me between the eyes: there should be no confusion at all with the title and cover of a book--people must instantly get it. The example he used was a theoretical book called "The Wake." From the title alone, he said, it's hard to tell what kind of book it is. Is it a thriller? Is it a book about people waking up? Is it about water and boats? He said that if people don't immediately understand as soon as they see the book, they move on, so his suggestion with a title like "The Wake" was to add a subtitle such as "A Thriller."

Anyway, as I took notes on his webinar, I realized that The Omaja Stone didn't look or sound like what it really is, a medieval fantasy romance novel, and that it probably wasn't attracting the eye of my target audience--mainstream historical romance fans.

So I started brainstorming more romance-y sounding titles and went back to my cover designer to rework the images, and she produced the awesome new Kiss of the Assassin cover you see above. And as much as I loved my old title and cover, I have to admit, if I were browsing on Amazon, I myself would be way more likely to buy the book above than the book below. And not because it isn't an attractive cover, but because I wouldn't be 100% sure what I was going to be reading.

Original title and cover

So there you have it. I'm excited to see how the title and cover changes will affect sales. This is all a pretty fun experiment for me, learning how to publish and market my own books.

And by the way, Kiss of the Assassin is on a free promo this weekend (June 9-13) so if you like romance, grab a free download of it, and then let me know what you thought by leaving a review on Amazon!

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