Friday, December 23, 2016

Let Me Introduce You to My New Boyfriend, Val - It's Sweet Barbarian's Release Day!

It's finally here - the day my new novel goes out into the world to seek its fortune. I imagine that it's sort of like sending your child off to his first day of kindergarten...will he be okay out there on his own? Will the teacher and the other kids like him? Will he come home excited because he had the time of his life, or crying and heartbroken?

This novel had almost 7 times more preorders than the last novel I released, and while it's been thrilling to watch those sales numbers grow steadily over the past few weeks, it also made me nervous. That's a lot of people who put their trust in me and my novel before it had ANY reviews, and before they could read any sample pages. Hoo boy. I hope my sweet barbarian delivers the goods!

So, speaking of my new hero, Val...I'm really kind of ga-ga over him at the moment. Here are his quick stats:

Age: 27
Height: 6'6
Weight: 282
Hair: Blondish Brown
Eyes: Hazel
Profession: Warrior/clan leader (in 483;) Contractor (in 2015-16)
Hobbies: Building, woodworking, carving, and learning English on Rosetta Stone
Favorite Foods: Homemade pizza, chocolate brownies
Hates: People who are controlling and selfish
Loves: Scents, hot showers, working with his hands, protecting and providing

Last night the novel appeared, ready to download on my Kindle app, and I immediately opened it and started reading it just to get the experience of how it would look and feel for my readers. I read the first three chapters in one sitting, relieved to find that even though I wrote it and have edited the entire thing three times in the past 3 still grabbed my attention and had me turning the pages to see what happened next. This novel is not as action-and-adventure heavy as Caribbean Jewel or Kiss of the Assassin (admittedly, both of those novels are extremely action-and-adventure heavy) so fans who are looking for swordfighting, narrow escapes, and complicated intrigues won't find as much of that here. There is a tiny bit of swordfighting as well as a couple of narrow escapes, but Sweet Barbarian is mostly dialog, most of it just between the two main characters Karly and Valamir, in the confines of her mountain cabin where they are snowed in for several days. I don't know if that sounds too exciting or not, but I'm relying on the fascination you'll hopefully have with Valamir's character, watching him navigate the strange new world that is Colorado in 2015 as well as his attraction to and feelings for his savior-hostess, Karly Draper.

My hope is that you, my readers, will live vicariously through Karly, leave behind the trials and tribulations of this life to escape into her world, enter her skin, and fall in love with Val as he falls in love with you. Isn't that why we read (and I write) romance novels???

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Easy Vegan Cabbage-Tomato Soup With Quinoa

Cabbage, tomatoes, and quinoa...just what I need for a light, nourishing winter lunch. Yum!
Let me introduce you to one of my favorite go-to soups, one I love to make on weekends in the winter when I need something quick and healthy. (It probably burns more calories to prepare it than it adds when you eat it.) We used to call the original version of this soup "T-J Miracle Soup" back in the day in Oklahoma, where I'm originally from. That soup calls for the same veggie combo as I use here, but it's seasoned with a packet of onion soup mix and doesn't call for quinoa. It was part of a 7 day diet plan to lose 10 pounds by eating very specific foods each day, along with as much of the "T-J Miracle Soup" as you wanted. I did the T-J soup diet in my 20's a couple of times and yes, I could definitely lose 8 to 10 pounds in a week, but I'd gain it right back as soon as I went back to the foods I ate then (pizza, chips, etc.)

Nowadays I manage my weight a lot better without extreme dieting, but I still love my version of this soup. I really crave it sometimes, particularly after a feasting holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas when I just want something warm and satisfying that won't add many calories and basically zero fat (255 calories and 0.06 grams of fat in the entire pot of soup, by my calculations using the Calorie King app.) Added bonus? This soup is cheap to make. The most expensive item is probably the cup of quinoa.

It takes me maybe 10 minutes max to prep the soup and get it simmering, another 20-25 minutes to cook it, and 10 seconds to ladle it into a bowl and start enjoying its cabbage-y vegetable goodness. I love it with two or three drops of Tabasco sprinkled over the top, and the soup is made more substantial and filling by spooning some cooked quinoa into your bowl (making kind of a quickie, Eastern-European version of Peruvian Quinoa Soup, which, by the way, is also delicious.)

Easy Vegan Cabbage-Tomato Soup With Quinoa

2 celery stalks, sliced
1 cup yellow onion, diced
1 cup green bell pepper, diced
2-3 cups cabbage, diced or shredded
4-6 cups veggie broth, or water with a teaspoon of Better than Bouillon vegetable base
1 tsp sea salt, or to taste, plus fresh ground black pepper
1 can diced tomatoes
Fresh or dried chopped herbs of choice, such as parsley, basil, or oregano
1/2 cup - 1 cup cooked quinoa, or to taste

Place all veggies except for the canned tomatoes in a pot with the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Simmer 10-15 minutes, or until the cabbage is translucent and tender. Add salt and pepper as well as the canned tomatoes, and continue simmering an additional 10 minutes. Add fresh or dried herbs of choice if desired. If I'm in a hurry (which is usually the case) I just sprinkle in a good helping of dried parsley. Sometimes I like mixed-herb blends like Italian Seasoning in this. Just go with what herbs sound good to you at the time.

When ready to eat, spoon in some quinoa, mix, and enjoy.

Optional add-in: a drop or two of Tabasco sauce.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Easy Vegan Gluten Free Snickerdoodles

Buttery, crunchy on the outside, nutty, cinnamony, salty and sweet. Ahh.
One bowl, seven ingredients, no electric mixer, and a delicious, crunchy-soft cinnamon "sugar" cookie ready to nibble with hot beverage of choice in about 25 minutes. What could be better? That it's vegan, gluten free, and sugar free as well?

I confess, when I invented this recipe a couple of days ago (in desperate search for a real cookie that fit all my dietary desires and didn't involve twenty million ingredients,) I sat down and ate six of them with hot Java-flavored Teeccino and coconut milk. Then, later that afternoon, I ate three more, and that night, I had the other three for dessert after dinner.

You might need to make a double batch.

Easy Vegan Gluten Free Snickerdoodles

Makes 10-12 cookies

1 cup almond flour
3 TBS soft coconut oil (at room temperature)
3 TBS classic (white) *Lakanto for sugar-free cookies (or other sweetener or sugar of choice)
1/8 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 TBS water, or as necessary to form a cohesive dough
Ground cinnamon, to sprinkle on top

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, mix all of the ingredients together minus the water to form a semi-crumbly dough, then add enough water to make it stick together so you can roll it into balls.

Scoop about a tablespoon of dough into your palm and quickly roll into a ball (quickly to avoid melting the coconut oil too much.) Place about 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheet or baking stone. Flatten cookies to about 1/4 -1/2 inch with bottom of a glass, then sprinkle with cinnamon.

Bake for 15 - 20 minutes (I needed 20 at high altitude) until slightly brown around edges, or to desired level of browning. Let cool 5 - 10 minutes before eating, if you can wait that long. :)

*I swear I don't work for the Lakanto people - I just happen to love their product for surviving a sugar-free lifestyle.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Sweet Barbarian Preorder Plus Teaser Excerpt!

My preorder status for Sweet Barbarian is officially ON! As of now, you can pre-order your copy of my brand-new romance novel for 99 cents.

I'm thrilled that preorders have been steadily climbing over the past few days, and Sweet Barbarian just hit the Top-100 Amazon Best Sellers list for Kindle eBooks Time Travel Romance (wow oh wow!) [Update 11-28-16 9:00pm - It's now in the Top 50 for Kindle eBooks Time Travel Romance AND Top 100 for ALL Time Travel Romance!!]

Big moment in my world.
Okay, so the pre-order thing is doing well. :-)

I shared a synopsis of Sweet Barbarian in  this post and in  this one, and here's a teaser excerpt from chapter 1:

Share body heat to warm the person up, not electric heat, the Mayo Clinic website said. Without clothes. Geez, Louise. Karly hurried to her extra bedroom closet to get a fleece blanket, dropped it on the floor near the stranger, then bent over him to work on removing his wide leather belt. It was very authentic-looking, with a homemade wrought iron clasp that looked like something straight out of the forges in Skyrim. She worked it loose, then fiddled with the waistband of the leather skirt until she figured out how to unwrap it and pull it away from his body. He was wearing an honest-to-goodness loincloth underneath, slung low over his muscular hips with a leather cord, the fabric draped over his bulging groin. His well-developed ab muscles arrowed down toward his pelvis, and his thighs were thickly covered in muscle as well.
Karly forced herself to stop ogling him and scooted back to tug off her boots, shrug out of her T-shirt, and peel off her leggings.
“Panties and bra are staying on, buddy, and I gotta get some of the dirt off you before I can, uh, share body heat.” She quickly swiped at the grime on his chest and belly with a wet towel before awkwardly straddling his waist with her knees. She draped the edge of the fleece blanket over her shoulders, then lay down on top of him with it, slowly, so as not to jar him and cause cardiac arrest. His torso was cold, clammy, and hard, and she shivered a little at the contact of her bare skin on his. She rested her head over his heart, listening for his heartbeat.
Thump. Thump, thump…thump.
“I’m glad I didn’t kill you with the electric blanket,” she whispered, resting her forearms over his biceps under the blanket and settling in. She’d never actually lain naked on top of a man as built as he was, and it was definitely a thought-provoking experience. His enormous size made her feel tiny and light. She hoped she could produce enough body heat to warm him up.
She closed her eyes and lay still, trying to steady her breathing, listening to his heartbeat. Lulu came over to sniff her fingers where they rested on his shoulder.
“You could help me out, you know. Curl up next to his shoulder here,” Karly whispered.
Lulu sniffed his wet, matted mane of hair, then trotted off to her bed by the hearth.
          “Punk.” Karly closed her eyes, willing her body heat to seep into his cold torso, and waited for him to wake up.

Follow my Sweet Barbarian Pinterest board here, and grab your pre-order copy of Sweet Barbarian at this  link.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

What Do Vegans Eat for Thanksgiving?

My vegan Thanksgiving plate. Before I went back for seconds on everything.
What do vegans eat for Thanksgiving?

This is a question I often get around this time of year from people who know I eat a vegan diet. To tell you the truth, I don't always have a good answer. For me Thanksgiving is kind of a tough holiday since I don't eat meat, dairy, or sugar. I could just make something from my usual vegan fare and call it good, but it seems like I should be making something special, something Thanksgiving-y, something that requires more planning and time in the kitchen than on other days.

A Vegan Thanksgiving Menu

So this was my menu today:

1. An herbed vegan loaf from Ricki Heller's book Living Candida Free (the recipe is called "Sunday Roast" in her book. All the recipes in the book are vegan, gluten-free, and sugar-free, so even if you aren't dealing with Candida, I highly recommend the book for those looking to meet those dietary restrictions.) It turned out more orange than it probably should have because I put in too much sweet potato, but it was still yummy. It's mostly sauteed veggies and herbs with quinoa and chickpea flours to form a soft bread-like loaf reminiscent of a really delicious stuffing/"meat" loaf.

2. Mashed potatoes (Organic Instant from Sprouts) with vegan Brown Gravy, another recipe from Living Candida Free

3. Roasted asparagus with olive oil, lemon juice, and tarragon

4. Butternut squash and fresh sage sauteed in olive oil

5. Vegan Sweet Potato Pie from PopSugar (made with my go-to baking sweetener, plant-based Lakanto instead of real brown sugar so it would be sugar free) with Coconut Cashew Whipped Cream (recipe in Living Candida Free)

The vegan loaf, the gravy and the sweet potato pie were moderately labor-intensive (especially all in one meal,) but with instant mashed potatoes and pre-cut butternut squash from Costco, the meal went together within a few hours (some of that passive baking time for the loaf and the pie) and it turned out absolutely delicious to my palate.

So, if you're a vegan looking for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner ideas, or you're just curious what vegans eat, here's my answer, at least this year.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Sweet Barbarian Cover Reveal and Release Date!

It's here! Thanks to my talented graphic artist Viola Estrella, the cover for my newest romance novel has all the elements I wanted - gorgeous Visigoth warrior with long wild hair front-and-center, beautiful half-Asian heroine over his shoulder, and her snowy mountain cabin in the background.

Valamir is a wounded 5th-century Visigoth warrior who's sent 1500 years forward in time by a Druid priestess in order to save his life, but at a price. She wants his love and loyalty forever, and makes him pledge it over a blood pact before transporting him to safety.

He ends up trudging down Pike's Peak in a snowstorm just a few days before Christmas in modern-day Green Mountain Falls, Colorado, and passes out in the back yard of high school teacher Karly's cabin in the woods. Her Chihuahua alerts her to a stranger's presence outside, and she finds him half-naked, bleeding from a wound, and in hypothermic shock in the snow.

Once his wounds have been tended and he's been revived, Karly discovers he doesn't speak English (or any other language she can identify,) so she sets about teaching him enough words that he can communicate to her who he is and where he came from.

When his story slowly comes out over the next couple of days, Karly fears her gorgeous, sweet house guest is either delusional or lying, but can't fight her attraction to him emotionally and physically long enough to take him to the police station or the mental ward.

Besides, with her control freak and cocaine addict of an ex-husband determined to harass and threaten her every chance he gets, it doesn't hurt to have a 6-foot-6 behemoth of a man around to beat some ass.

My hero inspirations were Argis the Bulwark (ancient Nordic warrior from Skyrim) and Brock O'Hurn (who looks like he should play an ancient Nordic warrior in Skyrim.) Mm, honey.

You can see all my Sweet Barbarian inspirations - Argis, Brock, the models for Karly and her brother and friends, her cabin, her wardrobe, and her dog - on my Pinterest board for the novel.

This novel was so much fun to write. I read Rachel Aaron's 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Better, and More of What You Love in May, went on a healing vacation to Huntington Beach in early June, and started writing this novel on the airplane on the way there. I finished 3/4 of the first draft in two weeks based on Rachel's suggestions, waited to write the ending until the second draft, and finished the entire book in July. It's been in the various editing stages since then, now in the final edits with my editor Katriena Knights, and the release date is set at December 23rd, 2016. You can pre-order it now on Amazon.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

How To Build A Comfortable, Stylish Winter Wardrobe For Under $500

You don't need tons of cash to be warm, comfortable and hott (with two t's) this winter. Just a few key pieces will complete your winter wardrobe needs for both workdays and weekends, because you probably already have some basics to fill in the gaps.

The secret to easy dressing without spending a ton of money is to choose a main color scheme and stick to it with everything you buy. You can do either black/grey or brown/tan tones. (This fall I got a raise so I'm branching out into brown/tan, but I normally stick to black and grey as my basic scheme.)

The 7 basic, key pieces

1) a pair of boots 
2) a pair of leggings
3) a pair of colored jeans
4) a sweatshirt hoodie
5) a few sweaters and tees
6) a scarf, and
7) a coat

Get it in your head that you don't need a closet stuffed full of clothes to dress well; in fact, the simpler the better. I promise it's way easier to get dressed when you aren't overwhelmed by too many choices, clothes that don't really fit, aren't in style anymore, are worn out or in disrepair, or that you just don't wear anymore because you don't feel great in them.

First off, treat yourself to a new pair of boots this winter. Depending upon the weather in your location, you can go with either ankle, calf, or knee high boots.
Here in the Rocky Mountains, we are boot-crazy. So yes, I own about 8 pairs total, but that is totally unnecessary.
If you are going with a black/grey color scheme, you want to choose black or grey boots. They will go with everything you wear.

Next, get your leggings and pants. For the black/grey scheme, a pair of black leggings are a must. You can also get a pair of black stretchy jeans or jeggings if your budget allows, and then I would add a pair of colored jeans in another color that pops with black, like the fuchsia jeans I show here.

Basic black/grey winter wardrobe. I show all three boot options here, but you really only need one pair.
For tops, I recommend three sweaters, with one of them being a long cardigan that you can layer over tees. Stick with greys and blacks. Then add a white tee and a black tee--these can be long or short sleeved. And finally, a fuzzy-warm-on-the-inside sweatshirt hoodie for weekends.

For accessories, I recommend getting a scarf that goes with everything, like the black-and-fuchsia leopard print one I show here. Or, a basic black/grey/white patterned scarf will work as well. You need a black belt and a black/grey bag, and you're all set.

Now Let's Make Some Black/Grey Outfits

Outfit #1 - Long sweater over leggings

Outfit #2 - Colored jeans and sweater

Outfit #3 - Black jeggings, tee, and long cardi

Outfit #4 - Colored jeans, black tee, scarf and coat

Outfit #5 - Leggings and sweatshirt

Now, I could keep going with these basic pieces, making different outfits--these are just a few of the options. You can also build on these basics with items you already have, or things you find on sale here and there and want to add in.

The Cost of the Black/Grey Wardrobe

Black calf-high Aerosoles boots: $75 on sale, bought about 3 years ago
Fuchsia scarf - Claire's boutique: under $10
Long black/grey marl sweater - Eddie Bauer outlet: $30
Grey sweater with white shirt tail - Calvin Klein outlet: $48
Long black cardigan - Target: $20 or less (don't remember)
Black leggings - JC Penney: $15 on sale
Black jeggings - Macy's I think: $20 on sale
Colorado Sweatshirt hoodie - $30
Pink Arizona skinny jeans - JC Penney: $20
White tee - JC Penney: $10
Black long sleeve tee - Target: $10
Nautica stretchy black belt - Steinmart: $10
Black Skechers tennis shoes - $40 at the outlet
Puffer coat with faux fur trim - Eddie Bauer outlet: $90
Backpack purse - Calvin Klein outlet: $66

Grand total: $494 (not bad, but you could reduce it even more by getting a less expensive bag and coat.)

And Because I Can't Stop, Here's the Whole Wardrobe Again in Brown/Tan

If you want to go with a brown/tan color scheme, obviously you want your boots to be in the brown/tan color family. I'm adding in a heather grey legging, an olive skinny jean, and a denim jacket. I couldn't get away with just one scarf with what I currently own, so I'm using a light grey as well as a warm brick red one. For tops, a leopard sleeveless sweater, a basic cream cable knit, a plum sweater dress, and a long oatmeal cardi, plus a greenish-grey tee.

Outfit #1 - Plum sweater dress over leggings

Outfit #2 - Olive skinny jeans, cream sweater, and grey scarf

 Outfit #3 - Long cardi over leggings with red scarf

Outfit #4 - Sweatshirt hoodie and leggings

Outfit #5 - Leggings, tee, scarf, and coat (except I forgot the scarf, but either the red or the grey would look great here)

The Cost of the Brown/Tan Wardrobe

Olive Arizona skinny jeans - JC Penney: $20
Grey infinity scarf - H&M: $20
Cream cable sweater - H&M: $20
Plum sweater dress - Athleta: $138 (yikes - this will put me over)
Grey heather leggings - Athleta: $80 (and this too)
Oatmeal long cardi - American Eagle: $24 at the outlet
Oklahoma sweatshirt hoodie - $45 online
Tan Baretraps calf boots - DSW: $80
Organic cotton greenish-grey tee - Whole Foods: $6 on clearance
Red infinity scarf - "Wrapables" on $12
Puffer coat with faux fur trim - Eddie Bauer outlet: $90

Grand total: $490 (and you can get way less expensive leggings and sweater dresses at places like Target and JC Penney. Also, I'm not adding in the Dooney & Bourke tote, which I got at Dillards on sale for $150 I think, this past summer. You can get similar bags for way less.)

Feel free to invent your own color scheme and to shop at the stores you love, but if you get my 7 basic, key pieces (Recap:
1) a pair of boots 
2) a pair of leggings
3) a pair of colored jeans
4) a sweatshirt hoodie
5) a few sweaters and tees
6) a scarf, and
7) a coat should have an amazing core winter wardrobe for the cold months ahead. And if you're like me, nothing helps me say "Bring on winter!" like warm, comfortable, stylish new clothes. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Lentil and Harvest Vegetable Stew with Fresh Thyme

Nothing like a steaming bowl of fall veggies and lentils to warm your soul.
Do you love lentils? If so, you and I have a lot in common. This nourishing, comfort-food vegetable and lentil stew is one of my favorite meals when the leaves start changing colors and temperatures drop. The chunky vegetables and vibrant herbs will fill your house with the most wonderful aromas as you simmer it on the stove, and you'll feel you are taking extra-special good care of yourself by indulging in as many bowls of it as you like. I promise.

Lentil and Harvest Vegetable Stew with Fresh Thyme

(Vegan, Gluten Free)

1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBS olive oil
2-3 stalks of celery with tops, thickly sliced
1 tsp dried marjoram
3 small carrots or 2 medium, thickly sliced
4 small to medium Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed (peeled or unpeeled, your choice)
1 small to medium sweet potato or yam, peeled and cubed
5-6 cups vegetable broth or water + veggie bouillon (I use Better than Bouillon, love this stuff)
1/3 cup dry lentils, sorted and rinsed
Handful fresh thyme (you can de-stem it and chop it if you like, but I'm too lazy. I just dump it in and pick out the stems later, when I eat the stew.)
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 1/2 tsp coarse grey sea salt, or salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper

Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat for a couple of minutes, then add the celery and cook until onion is translucent. Toss in the marjoram and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds to one minute. Add the carrots, potatoes, sweet potato or yam, and sauté a few more minutes to blend the flavors. Pour in the broth or water plus bouillon and add the lentils. Bring to a boil, toss in the thyme, and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils and vegetables are done. Add the tomatoes, salt, and pepper and simmer another 5 - 8 minutes. (Don't put the tomatoes in until the potatoes are soft, because the acidity can keep the potatoes from cooking thoroughly.) I like to simmer this down until everything is creamy, buttery-soft, about 35-40 minutes total.

Enjoy by itself or with a hunk of grainy wheat bread or gluten-free bread. Yum.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Vegan, Sugar-Free, Decaf Pumpkin Spice Latte

Okay, so you drive through Starbucks' drive-thru this time of year and get bombarded with pictures and words suggesting you order a Pumpkin Spice Latte. And you remember back when you didn't care how much caffeine, sugar, or dairy you consumed, and you ordered that steaming, delicious, aromatic latte to your heart's content. And how the pumpkin spice latte filled your senses with the wonderful feeling of fall.

And then, if you're like me, you start scheming about how you could re-create that drink in a cleaned-up form and enjoy it without selling your soul to the devil.

I no longer drink coffee due to the caffeine content, and I haven't bothered with searching out good decaf coffee because I wasn't trying to make a sanctified Pumpkin Spice Latte. Until now. Enter Sprouts' bulk decaf espresso beans, which I highly recommend.

I went full-on vegan last summer, which means no dairy, so no milk in my latte either. Can't order dairy-free at Starbucks, because I also no longer consume sugar, and to my knowledge all their alternative milks are sweetened with cane sugar.

And forget about the pumpkin spice part of it at Starbucks--that's a syrup, and its glycemic index is probably around 1.5 million. Especially since if you let them put as many pumps as they want, you're getting at least two or three pumps per drink. (Even back when I consumed sugar and ordered this latte at Starbucks, I used to ask for half a pump of syrup in a tall because it was just too much sugar for my taste.)

No worries. I figured all this out this past weekend and am here to share my so-delicious vegan, sugar-free, decaf Pumpkin Spice Latte with you.

Vegan, Sugar-free, Decaf Pumpkin Spice Latte

Ingredients (these are a little specialized, but hey, you want a sanctified latte or not???)

2 TBS (for a double shot) decaffeinated espresso beans (or ground decaf espresso if you don't have a grinder at home--Sprouts sells a good decaf espresso)
3/4 cup Califia brand Toasted Coconut Almond Milk, the one that is sweetened with Monk fruit (check the label. It has 0 grams of sugar.)
3 tsp Lakanto natural Monk Fruit Sweetener (adjust the amount up or down according to your taste, but 3 tsp is a good place to start)
1/4 tsp powdered Pumpkin Pie Spice (I'm loving Spice Hunter brand at the moment)
Cinnamon, to sprinkle on top


Grind your beans (on fine) if not already ground. Fill your portafilter with the ground beans and tamp it down evenly. Pull your shot and set the espresso cup on top of the machine to keep warm while you steam your milk. Add the 3 tsp Lakanto sweetener plus the 1/4 tsp pumpkin spice to the bottom of a stainless milk steaming carafe, then pour the coconut-almond milk on top. Steam until hot and frothy. Pour espresso into a warm mug (I warm it in the microwave for 20 seconds) and then pour steamed, sweetened, spiced milk over the top. Sprinkle on some cinnamon, sit back, and enjoy the autumn bliss.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Vegan Apple-Banana-Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

Banana, Cinnamon, Apple-y Oatmeal Goodness.

I was craving oatmeal cookies that met my dietary rules over the summer, so I spent some time looking for a good vegan, gluten-free, sugar free oatmeal cookie recipe. I couldn't find exactly what I was looking for, but printed out five recipes that I thought I could work with and adapt. After some experimentation, I came up with the perfect (for me) fruity, nutty oatmeal cookie. It's soft, freezes and thaws well, has an addictive banana-apple sweetness plus just enough nutty crunch to satisfy my nut cravings (I've had to stop eating plain, raw nuts by the handful due to TMJ pain...sad day.)

My recipe is vegan, sugar free, and gluten free, and soft enough that I can normally enjoy them without irritating my TMJ muscle/tooth pain. The process is relatively easy and can be made all in own bowl if you want to just make your flax eggs in the large bowl before you get started.

Apple-Banana-Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

2 flax eggs (2 TBS ground flax seed + 6 TBS water)
1 ripe banana, mashed
1 apple (I like Fuji and Gala, but just about any type will do,) peeled and grated in food processor with S-blade
1/2 cup nut butter, such as almond and/or cashew butter (lately been using Nuttzo in this recipe. It's pretty addictive.)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 TBS melted coconut oil
3 TBS golden Lakanto (or if you aren't avoiding added sugar, coconut sugar or brown sugar would be yummy)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
Heaping 1/4 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cups gluten-free oats
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup gluten-free oat flour
3 TBS chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Make your flax eggs in a small bowl and set aside for 5 minutes.

Mash banana in the bottom of large mixing bowl, then add apple and flax eggs and mix. Add nut butter, vanilla, coconut oil, Lakanto, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix thoroughly.

Add oats and other flours. Mix well, then add pecans. Set cookie dough in the fridge for 5 minutes to firm up a bit. Use a big spoon to dip the dough out onto a cookie sheet or baking stone, flattening each ball of dough a bit to make about a 3" diameter cookie.

Bake 18-20 minutes (at high altitude - you may need a little less time if you are at sea level) or until cookies show a little browning on the edges and bottoms.

Cool on a rack and enjoy! Makes 20-24 cookies.

Side note: These cookies freeze well. I freeze them the day I bake them, after scarfing down several of them with Teeccino. I put two cookies in individual sandwich baggies, then bag them all up in a gallon size baggie before placing in freezer. You can thaw one baggie on the counter or in your lunch bag in the morning if you want to have them for lunch. Or, my favorite way to have them is to wrap the two frozen cookies side-by-side loosely in tin foil and heat in my toaster oven for 18 minutes at 350 degrees. They'll come out soft yet crispy-ish on the edges like they were when you baked them. Soooo good with hot tea or Teeccino herbal coffee (or the real stuff if you're doing caffeine!)

Monday, August 29, 2016

How I Started Liking My Job Again

A funny thing happened this month. I started back to work at my day job (high school teacher) and found myself actually ready for it. Enthused about it. Feeling organized, and tackling my lesson planning, room set-up, and teacher meetings with energy and calm.

Hmm, I thought. What made this year different? Because whatever it was, I definitely want to keep it going as well as replicate it next year. So I sat down and figured out what I had done to make this job-happiness come about, and made a list. This is how I started liking my job:

1. I got my energy back.

I quit caffeine two years ago, and boy was that a lifestyle change. It took months and months before I felt like "myself" again, only "myself" was, at that time, defined as My Caffeinated Self. My real self is who I am now, without caffeine. A person who gets energy from things like rest, healthy food, and exercise. You can't feel your natural energy unless you get off caffeine.

"But if I quit caffeine, how will I get energy in the morning?" I know; I went through that thought process too. Believe it or not, you'll get energy in the morning (eventually) from a good night's sleep, a big glass of water, a good healthy breakfast, a couple of B-12 capsules, and some yoga. That's how I do it, anyway. I feel better than I have in years energy-wise, and I know that is having a huge impact on my capacity to enjoy my job.

2. I made connections with my colleagues.

In the past, I was cordial to my colleagues, helpful, and encouraging when I could be. But I didn't really connect with them much beyond work-related tasks and conversations. This year I'm practicing being more in the moment when we meet for lunch bunch between classes, and before and after school. I'm gossiping more, joking more, listening to them better, investing more emotionally. Not just focusing on "gotta get my work done and get out of here ASAP."

Whatever your job is, guaranteed you have a few annoying people, a few strange people, and a few "cool" people with whom you share at least some things in common. Connect with those cool people. They need you at work (and outside of work) as much as you need them--to commiserate, share stories, triumphs, and defeats. Get each other's back. It really does make the job more tolerable, no matter what your job is.

3. I made the choice to go all-in.

I'm a high school Spanish teacher. I'm nurturing my inner Spanish-o-phile this year, getting all geeky about the language, the culture, the people, the music, the TV shows and movies.

I'm also getting more into my school and its culture. I'm wearing the school t-shirts, showing more "spirit," feeling more proud to be a part of the club that is an American high school.

And lastly, I'm showing up more. My job requires several mandatory evening commitments throughout the year, as well as umpteen jillion optional ones (sporting events, plays, concerts, ceremonies, etc.) This year I'm going to attend more of the optional things (with colleagues--see #2 above) and I've decided I'm going to have a blast doing it.

4. I got smart about how to accomplish annoying/tedious tasks more easily.

Simplify, simplify, simplify. After so much time doing a particular job, you learn the shortcuts, what's really important, which things you can't cut corners on if you don't want to suffer later. I made the decision this year to let some things go that don't really matter as much, and to pay more attention to the things that do matter and make a difference in how well I teach and how smoothly my day goes.

Take some time to notice what the time-wasters are at your job. What things you spend way too much time obsessing about, and what things you tend to gloss over that really need to be attended to more carefully so that your overall job performance and satisfaction will improve.

5. I started taking a real day off.

I made a rule in July that one day a week (Sunday for me) there is no work of any kind. (See my blog post on How I Really Took A Day Off.) That is unbelievably difficult for me to stick to, because I have all kinds of side projects (blogging, novel writing, social media, etc.) that I normally spend almost every waking hour on weekends working on.

It also means that I have to get really organized on Saturday, get my chores and laundry done, errands run, and extra food prepared, but the payoff is a real day of rest, with nothing to do but relax, journal, pamper myself, and nap. Monday feels so different this school year now that I have a true day of rest on Sunday. It feels a lot less like a Monday. I highly recommend it.

So that's it. End result = actual job happiness. I won't say all-out bliss, but happiness, contentment, easing of stress and harsh feelings concerning the 40+ hours I dedicate to my day job every week.

It's rather nice.

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.

UPDATE 11/21/16: Sweet Barbarian is available for preorders on Amazon now, release date is December 23rd!

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's Red Mill)
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.

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