On Bread and Pumpkin Pie

The holidays are back! As I get older, they whirl back around again with an uncanny speed. I often forget what month I’m in. I have no idea how we are at the end of November, but here we are. This is the time of year I bake the most.

I have two easy bakes to share with you. I’ve been in the throes of finishing book 5 of 5 in my dark fantasy book. “Blood to Bind.”  (Last 5 days to save 50% on the e-book! $2.99. Click here: https://www.amazon.com.au/Blood-Bind-Tales-Darkwood-Book-ebook/dp/B0BLMB5XJF )

I use walks, swims, and bakes as my antidote to the eye-burning task of finding and removing extra words in that manuscript. I promise both of these are easy.

PUMPKIN PIE

Use the recipe on the back of a condensed milk can, and then add lots of extra cinnamon and nutmeg, so it’s a nice dark orange, not that baby puke color. That’s it.

 I buy refrigerator crust. They were out of Pillsbury ones this year, which are BY FAR the most reliable pre-made crust on the market. I used Trader Joes’ version on this one. Now you know I love TJs, but not this crust. Hard to work with, it came out of the package cracked into about 14 fiddly pieces. If that happens to you, stitch it together in the pie tin to an approximate shape, then put it in the oven at 375 for ten minutes. It softens the darn thing so you can use a spoon to smooth over the cracks.

BREAD BOULES

This recipe makes 3 small, or 2 large loaves. Even if you’ve never baked bread before, you can bake this. That is my firm Thanksgiving promise. You need a big bowl to start with, so the bread has room to grow. That one you use to serve salad in will work just fine.

1 ½ packets active dry yeast
3 cups lukewarm water
1 hefty pinch of salt.

Mix these together in your big bowl, and let it sit for 10 minutes. You’ll start to see a few bubbles as the yeast does it thing.

6 ½ cups BREAD flour. Not regular flour.

Add the flour in slowly – I do 3 cups at first, then 2, then 1, then the pesky .5. Mix it in with a spoon and your hand if you need to. You want the flour absorbed. Be gentle and zen. Think happy thoughts. You might even talk to your dough and tell it how lovely it smells.

Cover it loosely (paper towel is fine) for at least 2 hours, until it grows 2x and is flat on top. If it’s cold out it can take longer.

Prep your cookie sheet (or if you’re lucky you have one of those pizza stones) with a thin layer of cornmeal so the bread doesn’t stick.

Sprinkle the top of the dough with a bit of flour, and a bit more for your hands. Use a serrated knife to cut it in half, or thirds. It will be sticky and remind you of playdoh if you’re old enough. Use your hands to form a ball, tucking the ends under. Don’t overthink this, its bread.

Let rest for 40 minutes. It will rise again on your sheet. 20 minutes into this process, heat the oven to 450. Right before it goes into the oven, use the serrated knife again to make a crisscross slash on top of the bread so it can grow in the oven. These should be pretty deep.

Pop a pan of water on a lower rack (this makes steam and is the magic that makes for a crusty loaf). Put your bread in on the rack above it. Bake for 30 minutes. Take it out and let cool on a wire rack.

Or don’t. Hot bread is one of the great joys on this planet but do wait at least 10 minutes to cut it.

On Rebuilding and Writing a Book

The five-year anniversary of The Fire passed without much comment a few days ago. If FB hadn’t reminded me with its “on this day” feature, I would have missed it. That’s a good sign. Five years removed from the blaze that ate everything we owned, we’re still standing. Still moving forward. Resilient.

I don’t wish the dire crucible that creates resilience on anyone. But if you are experiencing one—and they can take so many different forms—I can stand as your hope that someday, your upending won’t be all-consuming. That you’ll be defined in different terms other than the daily effort of putting one foot in front of the other on the climb out of disaster.

It seems impossible that five years have passed. The first was a blur as we navigated the changes that encompassed internal feelings, our faith, and general replacing of stuff. The kindness and generosity of friends and family got us through that. You know who you are. Utter strangers stepped in to help in that first year too, even if it was simply sitting us down in the employee lounge with a cup of coffee when we were in the midst of overwhelm.

It restored my faith in humanity. And I started writing. Perhaps first out of a weird survivor’s guilt, that since being saved from death, I needed to make something of my life. Thus compelled, I challenged myself by writing a book, something that utterly terrified me. That’s how “On Rescue Dogs and Losing Everything” came to be.

It was well-received, and I’ve gotten messages that it’s helped folks through their own crises. That feels good. You can order it here: https://www.amazon.com/Rescue-Dogs-Losing-Everything-Uncovering-ebook/dp/B07P1GHW7L

I got to donate a bunch of money to animal rescues and shelters from the proceeds too. That’s ongoing, by the way. The cool thing about writing a book—and the disturbing part of it, too—is that once it’s written, its out there. No turning back.

This past May, I reached a point where I wanted to try on a new career as an author/publisher. Evidentially terrifying myself by doing new things has become a habit. I took a class in YA (Young Adult) writing. Being an inveterate rule-follower, I always feel better after I’ve taken a class in something. Legitimized.

I wrote a YA dark fantasy book, which is my personal reading jam. Other people whose jam is also dark fantasy liked it. So I wrote another in the same world. Then a prequel novella to use as a free book for folks who either read my book or joined my author newsletter that goes out monthly. I’m finishing up the third in the Darkwood series this week. There are at least two more books to go that I’ll finish this year.

Some days it’s torture, but most of the time I love my new job.

 Being an Indy writer/publisher stretched me and continues to do so. I joined groups to help me wrap my head around the craft of putting little black words on white pieces of paper while also doing the jobs of a publisher and publicity person. Actual creation of new words takes about three hours daily to hit my sweet spot of 2,000 good words—that’s about eight pages of book. I write a book in a couple months, with another month for making it better and, you know, grammatically correct with the commas in all the right places. I spend two hours a day learning to get better at the skills I need to be successful. Such as Ads on Amazon and FB. Oy. My head may explode. Implementing the marketing and publicity takes another two or three hours daily. It’s not a little part-time hobby.

For those of you who think that self-publishing is a “lesser” route than going for traditionally published books by one of the big five publishing houses, I hear you. I was secretly in that camp myself until last May. While there are some absolutely terrible self-published books, there are also millions that are great. There are good reasons to self-publish. The income is better, by a lot. You control the look of the book, from the cover to the interior formatting and front and back matter. Getting your book in the hands of readers is in your control.

Traditionally published books (if they take your book, which is a long shot) take between 2-4 years to be published. And they dole the advances out over that time. Can’t feed your family on a $5,000 advance stretched out over 2-4 years. And at the end of all of that, the author is still doing most of the marketing and publicity work themselves unless they are a “biggie” like a John Grisham or a Steven King. There are new folks that make it work, which is fantastic. I’m a voracious reader, and the more books I have to choose from, the happier I am.

Resuming this weekly blog is part of my renewed determination to make a real go of this writing thing. I want it to be the career that gives back to the world. That sounds grandiose, but this is what I know for sure: Books saved my life as a lonely child, and sinking into a good book remains a refuge for me on tough days, or when the world becomes too loud. I’ve got to believe I’m not alone.

My goal is to write forty to sixty excellent books in this next decade.

That’s a solid bookshelf. I’m seeing it in my head right now. The next book in the Darkwood series comes out Thursday March 10th. It’s the 2nd in the Darkwood series but can be read on its own with no issues. You can read it for free on KU, or order it from Amazon in paperback or eBook here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09NH45625

So, that’s what The Fire sparked, five years ago. Those themes we see in fiction, of the Phoenix rising from the ashes, or in nature when new growth springs out of a terrible forest fire… they can be real in your life too.

Take a look at my author page. Come join me on the journey. I’d love to have you along.

Just click this https://www.subscribepage.com/m2f4a3 or scan the code below for access to my author page and get the free book that comes with it.