On Pasta Salad and Dogs

I’m going to start with the pasta salad, because the Dog bit of this blog might make you sad. I’ll give you a spoiler alert, so you can stop reading, and just use this week’s entry to go make yourself a tasty side-dish or wowza contribution to your next potluck gathering.

The Facebook algorithm delivered this recipe to me. Now I will say, I often find the algorithm spooky on a good day, obnoxious on a bad one. For instance, the algo decided I must have gone to Camp Lejeune and gotten horrible diseases. I blocked about fifteen variants of that particular ad, and I am still getting it in my spam email.

Other times, it can be amusing. As in, I’m thinking about doing a SwimTrek trip to Indonesia. On this one, along with swimming in gorgeous waters with sea turtles and colorful fish and sharks (I know, I just don’t have a big fear of them, not like I do, say, going to the car mechanic on my own), you visit an island Komodo dragons live on. I did zero research online about the reptiles, other than going to the site and checking out the trip. Next day, Komodo Dragons littered my feed. Everything from where to see them to movies about them to pictures of them. Totally obscure, although I did learn the government has recently hiked the price to step foot on the island from $65 to $250, so all the folks who make their living preventing people from being eaten showing people the Komodo dragons are mad.

Another friend looked at one bra and then had to weed through bra commercials for weeks. I’ll let you know if that happens to me after I publish this.

I do like to try the occasional recipe that the algorithm serves up. This one was very easy. I only watched the video once. A few little notes before I give it to you:

1. Dice instead of chop. It all melds better with smaller pieces. As one of my sons says, that shows the love. He likes chopping though.

2. Amounts of each ingredient are really up to you, except with the dressing. If you love black olives, put more in. Hate green pepper? Don’t add it. I don’t care for spicy things, much to the chagrin of my children (although I remind them, I liked spicy/hot things before I was pregnant with them, so they only have themselves to blame for my pallid palate), so I keep my red onion to a half one, instead of a whole one. You do you.

3. This is best made ahead of time. Just seal it up in Tupperware and let it sit in the fridge.

4. This is just as delicious with regular pasta. I just use brown rice pasta because we are trying to be better about gluten.

5. I know we can’t all get organic food, or care to. I would try to get organic tomatoes for this, though.

PASTA SALAD (This makes enough to serve 10-12 as a side dish.)

1 bag brown rice pasta. Cook and rinse and cool. Tip: Heavily salting your water really makes it taste better.

Green onion, red onion, green pepper, black olives, cherry tomatoes—chop up and add to cooked pasta.

Toss in dressing: 4 cloves of garlic minced, 1 T Dijon mustard, equal parts red wine vinegar and olive oil, 1 T oregano, 2 T parm cheese. Whisk until it melds. You’ll know you have your proportions right if the color turns creamy. Taste it and see if you want it tangier (add more vinegar), or if it needs be more mellow (add more olive oil).

When getting ready to serve, add a bunch of tiny fresh mozzarella balls… or go crazy and add chopped meat too. It’s your pasta salad. Enjoy!

Now, if you’d like to just be happy with a recipe this week, I bid you adieu… the next bit about Dogs makes me awfully emotional, and I wouldn’t want to ruin your coffee time.

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So, a few days ago was National Dog Day, and FB had oodles of cute pictures of pups. Don’t get me wrong, or think I’m ready to sit on the porch and wave my cane at people. I wasn’t resentful at all. I LOVED seeing everyone’s pictures of their doggos. It stabbed me in the heart at the same time, because after over a year, a month, and a handful of days, I still miss our beloved rescue dog. Like, I still cry weekly that we had to let her go.

Yes, it was the right thing to do, yes it was time. Yes, she let us know she was ready.

I wasn’t ready. None of us were.

I’m still not ready.

Most of you know our story of Keisha, who was a rescue who rescued us, or you can read about it in this blog, or in the book I wrote about her and us. My husband has nearly convinced me she was a Beauceron.

So now we are on all these Beauceron websites looking at them, getting to know where to find the breed. We will 100% do a rescue again. We are not puppy people anymore. We are NOT READY for another dog yet, mind you. But we are super wistful for the one that is gone. I also torture myself by having friends who rescue animals (I donate proceeds from the book) so really, I should be used to seeing all the cute noses and perky ears and that soulful way dogs gaze at their person.

Whew, howdy. After about the tenth picture, I had to close the website. I know, I know. I AM grateful we had her. I’m relatively sure my heart is mending from the loss, and very sure that I’d like to have a dog or two again.

I like the walks too, amiable pup by my side, or just ahead, sniffing things. I love the way dogs’ tails wag when they walk. Letting you know they are happy.

That’s the other thing. Where I walk in the mornings is the same route we used to walk with our dog. It got shorter as she got older. And then recently, when I was back visiting where we lived when she had lots of energy, I walked in those spaces as well. It was very emotional.

I have to believe that loving something that much is good for me. It better be, because this broken feeling is hard to take some days.

Please give your pup an extra snuggle from me, and a biscuit. Our dog loved biscuits. She was a such a good girl.

On Shepard’s Pie and Dino Porn

Yes, I didn’t know there was such a thing either. And I ain’t talkin’ about the Shepard’s Pie, which you’ll get a recipe for below.

You might be asking yourself (I certainly would be) how this topic ever came up. Well, a few weeks ago a writer friend and I were discussing how we’ve learned there are quite a few authors who make boatloads, scads, literal buckets of money writing niche smut. Disclaimer here… I have no judgement about these writers or their readers. You do you. It’s nothing I am interested in doing, you understand. I’m just fascinated that Dino erotica exists. I didn’t believe it at first, I thought my friend was pulling my leg.

Go ahead, google it, I’ll wait. You can go incognito if you’re feeling shy.

Looking through the book blurbs, I determined there are a lot of scantily clad women back in the prehistoric era who get a workout. Most of the books are super-short, some 20 pages or less for your $2.99 spend. Maybe there’s only so much you can describe about dinosaurs and their sex drive. (And do their tiny little arms get in the way?) (I just don’t see dinosaurs as being cuddly afterwards either. They’re just so… reptilian.) (And you know, extinct.)

Now, about that page count. I write in a genre (YA/NA Dark Fantasy, might be edging over into Magical Realism) that usually needs a lot more pages than that to be taken seriously by fans of the genre. My books are all at least 275 pages in 10-point font. My current work in progress is 360 pages, looks like we are heading over the top of 400. Don’t worry, my characters are just gabbing away at the moment, as happens as you get to the end of draft one. I’ll fix it in draft two.

So, given all that extra time and effort crafting words and creating memorable characters… I have to ask myself as a writer who wants to make this her third career, the one she can retire comfortably on, maybe travel a bit… would I be smarter to write something, you know… less time-consuming? It takes me at least 2 months to write one, plus another month of rewrites, Beta readers and proofreads to make it better. Because my books are also technically Historical Fantasy set in Medieval Times, I spend hours researching facts so that no one gives me a 1-star rating on Goodreads and snarks that everyone knows they didn’t have lace-up boots with eight grommets in Medieval France in 1450. Anybody who’s serious knows they all only had six grommets until 1452.

Oh, I’m not kidding. I learned about the relentlessness of smart geeks when I worked on Star Trek Voyager years ago. All the writers knew there were plenty of fans who knew the ins and outs of the ship and warp drive far better than they did. Any time we got to a place where tech was needed, we’d just insert “Tech Speak Here,” and let the science advisors take it on.

So my sincere question of the week is: Would you write Dino Porn (or something else niche smut) for the money? Love to hear your take on this.

Now, on to Shepard’s Pie, which was on the menu for my folks this week. We’ve been dropping off extra meals now that Mom is back at home. Dad has only a small repertoire of dishes he can make for them. I really like Shepard’s Pie. I don’t make mine with lamb, as (clearly) was called for in the original recipe, because all the shepherds I know herd sheep, not turkeys or cows. This recipe serves 4, along with a nice salad. I recommend oatmeal-raisin cookies for dessert. You know, the ones off the Quaker Oats lid. Add a bit more oats than is called for if you like a firmer cookie.

Or if your favorite dinosaur bed partner does.

SHEPARDS PIE

½ large onion minced

1 T olive oil

1 pound ground turkey or beef

1 cup Frozen peas

6-8 Yukon small gold potatoes (or a couple of chonky Idaho’s are fine if that’s all you’ve got on hand.)

Worcestershire Sauce and salt and pepper to taste.

2 Tablespoons of butter, chopped into bits

Dash of milk

Peel your potatoes and boil. Mince onion and brown in the olive oil on medium. Set aside, and brown your meat in the same pan, pouring off grease as it cooks. Add back the onion when meat is done, and turn off heat. Add the peas straight from frozen, the residual heat will cook them perfectly. Season with a good dollop of Worcestershire and salt and pepper.

Drain potatoes and mash with the milk (I actually use a bit of the potato water too.)

Put the meat mixture into an 8×8 baking dish, and “ice” with the mashed potatoes. Dot the top with bits of butter. Put in the oven on broil until the tops of the potatoes brown and that butter sizzles. Serve hot.

Hot like your Dino friends.

On Air Fryers and Terrible Toys

My husband and I have birthdays just 5 days apart. Now that our children are grown, this means that we often get combination gifts for the household rather than individual things.

This birthday week brought us an air fryer. I have to admit, I was leery of the thing. Just like I was with the Instapot I got for Christmas a couple of years ago. As I am totally without mechanical skills, the arrival of any new gadget fills me with suspicion that something could go very wrong, that it will explode somehow, leaving bits of both myself and the kitchen cabinets scattered on the linoleum.

Its name also reminded me of the Air Poppers that we all owned in the early 1980s. Nothing better than some cardboard-textured, tasteless air popped popcorn to go with your strongest-aftertaste-ever-on-the-planet Tab. Mmmmm.

The exploding thing was really what stopped me. The dread of what could happen. It’s like that feeling you get when you have to open those heinous round cannisters of poppin’ fresh dough. Please tell me this happens to you, too. I hold them at arm’s length and avert my eyes as much as I can. Trepidation builds as I get closer and closer to the POP when it opens. It’s almost not worth making orange sweet rolls on Thanksgiving morning. Almost.

I think those “peel and open” containers were invented by the scions of the super crazy loon who invented the Jack in the Box as a “fun” toy for children. That horrific building suspense, and then the awful “surprise” of a THING popping out at you. A thing dressed like a clown that then bobs around on a spring. I’ll give you a shiny quarter if that thing made you laugh, but you have to be honest about it. I am sure it made most of us cry. My Jack in the Box played “Pop goes the Weasel,” and I loathe that tune to this day. This is what mine looked like. Terrifying, am I right?

I’m sure a close cousin of the Jack in the Box was the inventor of the game Operation, where you pull the diseased and broken parts of a human being out of a man on an operating table. If you hit the metal edge of the game with your metal operating instrument, a buzzer goes off and the nose of the guy you are operating on blinks red. You might not actually get shocked for real, but the jarring sensation feels like it. Honestly, they should all be locked up for scarring us for a lifetime.

I’ll give you one more. My kids were raised on Legos, and we stepped on our fair share, to be sure. Not fun at all. However, I believe Jacks, with their multiple pointy bits were much more lethal on the night-time walks from bedroom to bathroom. How did we ever survive our childhoods?

Back to the present. I now love my Instapot and can cook whole meals in it if I get ambitious. The air fryer sat on the counter untouched by me in spite of this proof that newfangled gadgets can make my life easier. But my braver husband started making things with it while I remained in another room, far away. Then I tasted what he made. I’m now a solid convert. It was the air fries that sold me. Being that it was a potato product, it had a natural edge, but man those were good. Fluffy on the inside, crispy on the outside. I’ve made really good salmon in it so far. My son tells me I can bake with it too, but we will have to see about that. Preheating the thing seems to be the secret. It’s all very self-contained, nothing exploding that I’ve unearthed yet. And pretty easy to clean, too.

The Instapot was definitely more scary. I think it’s the hissing sound the steam makes. It’s just not a friendly sound.

It’s great to have the Air Fryer during the 100+ degree temperatures of summer. Anything that helps me avoid turning on my oven is a plus. Here are a couple of recipes to get you started. They tell me I can make bread in the thing too, I’ll let you know when I try it.

AIR FRYER SWEET POTATO FRIES

Preheat your frier at 380 degrees. Cook for about 10 minutes. Give the potatoes a little shake about halfway through.

Peel and cut sweet potatoes into fries, about ¼ -1/2 inch or so.

Toss with a little olive oil (about a teaspoon). Or just spray the inside of the cooker with spray olive oil.

Sprinkle potatoes with garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper.

Put in the air fryer in a single layer. One or two potatoes is plenty.

NOTE: It’s the same principle and temp for regular fries, just soak your cut potatoes in water for about fifteen minutes, then dry them first.

AIR FRYER SALMON

Preheat fryer to 400.

Make sure your filets are the same size. Season with a little lemon, garlic, and salt and drizzle a little olive oil on top. If you are getting fancy, some sprigs of rosemary are nice.

Place salmon skin-side down in fryer. Cook for 6-11 minutes, depending on thickness and how done you like your salmon. It’s not a temperamental thing, you can pull the basket out and check on it, and then put it back in.

On Italian Salad and Birthday Resolutions

May is our month for multiple birthdays. My father, me, my husband, and one of my best friends all have birthdays within a week. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day get kind of rolled up in the bunch too. My mother’s is the last day of April, so we often add it in. I like baking the pies and cakes we eat to celebrate.

I don’t mind birthdays some years, others I do. I really hated the year last year’s celebrated. And yes, I am fully aware there are many people who wish they could be so old. A ridiculous number of friends died this past year that will never hit 61. I try very hard to be grateful.

I just fall short sometimes.

The theme around many of my birthdays is the desire to make big changes for the year to come—or at least a small one—on my birthday. Last year’s pit of despair led to me taking a writing class and now it looks like writing books is my 3rd act in what I hope is a lengthy lifespan. I’m giving it ten years, and my goal is to have 40-60 books on the book/library shelves by the time I’m done. And be in at least 20 anthologies. So, as bitter-tasting as that birthday was, it yielded some good stuff.

So far I’m at 1 publishing company established, and 3 complete novel-length books, 1 long novella, and 1 anthology completed this past year. On target! The hard part hasn’t been writing the words, it’s been learning the publication side of things. Next mountain is getting a handle on advertising and growing my newsletter and IG account.

This year finds me focused on health. Like many of us, Covid helped me add pounds I didn’t need, and as an *ahem* older adult, it’s proving to be harder and harder to get the pounds off. Losing our dog last July didn’t help either. All those walks not taken. I really miss her. No, we’re not ready to get another dog.

I know advertising on both IG and FB works because I occasionally cave to one. There’s a walking app called “The Conqueror Challenges” that has been dangling their medals and postcards and intriguing copy in front of me for years.

Resistance was futile when they offered not a walk along Hadrian’s wall, or a Swim across the English Channel, but Frodo and Sam’s journey to Mordor.

My inner geek squealed. My finger punched more info. I caved and signed up. I am just now through South Farthing in the Shire, 28.5 miles of walking* in my first 6 days. The moment when Sam realizes if he takes one more step, he’ll be further from home than he’s ever been before.

So, I guess joining the “group” the app provides is working for me. Are you like me? Do you make “birthday resolutions?” If so, let me know some of yours.

Next up is regulating my food choices. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes. Meanwhile, here’s the recipe I promised you last week for a most excellent Italian salad. Find someone who likes chopping or get some music going as you prep this.

The smaller the chop, the tastier the salad. I use Trader Joe’s Romano Italian dressing, just enough to coat. Any Italian dressing will do. If you’re a vegetarian, you can eat around the meat bits. Or just don’t add them. It’s an easygoing recipe.

You can make this big or little. The amount listed below fed 6 people for a main course with leftovers. We had a side of sourdough bread and rhubarb pie** for dessert.

ITALIAN SALAD

Chop:

5 Persian Cucumbers or 1 large English cucumber

1 red pepper

1 box cherry tomatoes

½ of a red onion

Half a can of black olives

Add: 10 oz cubed low-fat mozzarella cheese, half of a cubed summer sausage (I used turkey summer sausage), cubed cooked chicken breast and a can of garbanzo beans drained and rinsed. Toss lightly with dressing. You can also add baby spinach if you wish.

*the app also counts my swimming and converts it into steps.

** see my rhubarb pie post for recipe. It’s probably the best pie you’ll ever eat, and I CANNOT BELIEVE how many people don’t know what rhubarb is.