Thursday, January 24, 2013

My Secret Diet Weapon

It's no secret that a writer's job requires a lot of sitting--sometimes a full days worth. And let me tell you, that much but in seat action may be good for your writing output, but it's not good for your butt.

With encroaching deadlines keeping me too busy for the gym and too busy too cook, a lot of my 2012 was spent at the keyboard which left my poor hubby bringing home dinner in a bag. The result was exactly what you thought it would be. I was tired all the time, my complexion was a mess, and I gained nearly twenty pounds. So this years vowed to make a change and I'm happy to say I'm down nearly ten pounds since January and my husband is down nearly twenty.

So what's my secret? A couple things really.

First, I downloaded the free app mynetdiary for my smart phone. I'd never given much thought to how much I was eating before, and this app helped me keep track of my calories (a real eye opener) and set up daily goals.

Second, we stopped eating out entirely except for one day a week which is our free day. We also gave up red meat and make sure when we eat dinner the vegetable is the biggest portion on our plate. Every morning I have a protein shake with half a grapefruit, for lunch I have a protein bar (Ohyeah chocolate caramel candies taste exactly like a candy bar I swear--yum!) with a cup of yogurt, and in the afternoon I'll have either some string cheese or 1/4 cup almonds.

For dinner I'll make chicken, a vegetable, wild rice, and I'll have a glass of Skinny Girl peach margarita (because I'm not a sadist.)

I still don't exercise as much as I should because I'm on yet another deadline and my every second with my child in school needs to be spent at my desk. But the diet is working for me. I'm not hungry, my complexion has cleared up, and I have so much more energy and that's a very good thing.

So I'd love o hear from you. Do you have any secrets for staying healthy while writing.

Cole Gibsen's Morning Coffee Protein Shake

1. 1 C. Ice (there's 2 in the picture because I made a double batch)
2. 1/2 scoop of protein powder. All I had on had on hand was cookies and cream, but chocolate powder would make this killer
3. 1/2 frozen banana. Learn from my mistake. Peel this bad boy before you freeze it.
4. 1/2 C. Unsweetened almond milk
5. 1/2 C. Coffee (again, there's more in my pic because I made a double batch.)
5. Optional 1 stevia packet

Throw all ingredients in blender, blend, and enjoy your only 150 calorie coffee protein goodness!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Interview with D.A. Bale; Recipe for Creamy Chicken & Noodles

Welcome to today's guest, D.A. Bale, author of Running Into the Darkness and Piercing the Darkness. Her Creamy Chicken and Noodles crock pot recipe is easy enough for me to do, and perfect for busy wintry days.

But first....

It’s stretching your boundaries time.  Is there a food you’d love to learn how to cook or a different genre or type of book you’d love to try to write? It’s funny you ask this one, because recently I had a friend and fellow writer challenge me to get outside my comfort zone, research what is commercially viable right now, and try my hand at a completely “outside the box” genre.  Mostly I enjoy reading thrillers, suspense, mystery, and fantasy (i.e. Lord of the Rings, etc.), so that’s typically what I gravitate toward when writing.  I love a novel that keeps me guessing like a thriller or mystery, or one rich in characterization and setting as in fantasy. 

In my research, the YA and paranormal were highly popular, but I was surprised to discover erotica as a huge market – probably because of the commercial success of novels like the Fifty Shades of Gray series.  I figured, hmm – why not?  I mean, I have sex scenes in some of my novels so writing more of that wouldn’t be too difficult.

Ha!  Was I in for a shock.  Since I’d never read erotica before, I downloaded a free novella in the genre for my Kindle, read the first chapters and thought my Kindle was going to explode!  I’d never heard of most of this stuff before, so how did I think I could write it?  Needless to say, I deleted it from my Kindle and my library before it gave me a heart attack.  That was my first and last foray into the delusion of thinking I could write erotica.  Think I’ll stick with thrillers.

What are three must-have foods/seasonings in your kitchen? Garlic, salt, and cinnamon. 

It may sound weird, but I use at least a dash of garlic in most everything I cook.  There’s something about it that just draws out the natural flavor of foods and enhances – especially chicken and beef.  Let me be the first to tell you – it’s not just for sauces and pasta.  I even use a bit in my mashed potatoes.

Salt is another commodity that helps enhance natural flavors.  Think of a fresh cooked batch of french fries and imagine biting into one, only to discover that the cook forgot to salt it – talk about one disappointing and bland potato!

Cinnamon is actually very healthy for the body.  Besides cinnamon toast, sprinkle some in your coffee grounds before brewing and get a flavor extravaganza.  Add a touch into your sauces.  When baking chicken, I usually sprinkle a smidge over the surface before adding other ingredients.  It doesn’t really change the flavor of food (unless you dump it on, of course) but adds an extra little health kick for your body’s benefit.

What’s your favorite kitchen accessory or appliance?  How about a favorite writing accessory or reference? My favorite kitchen appliance would have to be my stove.  In fact, I not only use my gas stove/oven but have a second electric wall oven for overflow when I’m in the cooking zone.  In the fall and winter, I love nothing more than standing over a hot stove making meals or baking breads – I can taste the banana bread right now.  Mmmm!  There really is a difference in the quality of baking with gas versus electric though.

Writing reference would have to be my thesaurus.  I have a hard copy I refer to once in awhile, but the ease of using the computer’s thesaurus (limited though it may be) makes it a breeze.  Sometimes I’ll be writing and a word will be on the tip of my brain but for some reason it just won’t come forward.  I’ll type in another word with a similar meaning and then use the thesaurus look-up to find the one I was searching for.  Other times the word just doesn’t convey what I want to say as strong as I’d like.  The thesaurus saves me almost every time.

Half-baked ideas:  Not every idea is a winner.  Written or not, what’s the most ill-conceived story idea you’ve ever had? That’s easy – the erotica series!  Originally it was going to be a series of novella-length stories about a group of women who are friends/acquaintances and how they are each on different roads, some with secret lives and others just trying to find a “Mr. Right” or a “Mr. Right-Now”.  But as stated, that quickly fell apart.

Hot out of the oven:  What inspired your latest book, and what ingredients do you hope make it a tasty treat for readers? My most recent book is Piercing the Darkness, the follow-up to the first in the series, Running into the Darkness.  It’s a continuation of where we find our characters several months after the events of book one.  Overall the series is a pretty dark tale, dealing with some touchy subjects and issues, but there is a redeeming quality that shows us that none have fallen so far as to be unreachable.  Climbing back from the bottom, however, is a slow and painful process that affects everyone around us, and as “Piercing” shows, can rarely be accomplished without the humility of allowing someone to help.  But allowing someone to help involves the risk of trusting others – and some are not worthy of that trust.

Of course, as you know, I have a nasty habit of ending my books on a cliffhanger.  Then my readers have to wait about a year before getting the next piece of the puzzle.  However, my critique group just about killed me with how I ended “Running” and then especially “Piercing”, so I told them the gist of what was going to happen in the final book so they’d at least not strangle me before I could get it written. J

What’s cooking?  Can you share a bit about your next project? Well what I’m working on at the moment is a fan request.  Last summer I published a very long short story, “The Study”, that I’d never intended to publish.  It was something I’d written more for myself – it’s very much my own story in many ways.  But as with much of my writing, fans were so heartbroken with how I ended it and wanted some sort of closure for the characters.  So I came up with an idea for a sequel and have tentatively entitled it “The Search”.  It took a little while for the inspiration to come as to how I’d start it, but now I’m moving forward and have a general idea of where it’s going from here.  I’d like to say it will be out by the end of March, but I hate to promise and not deliver.  But that’s going to be the goal toward which I’m working.  My critique group has a retreat every winter, and I’m planning to at least try and get a lot written that weekend.  Pinky swear and fingers crossed! 

RECIPE: Creamy Chicken and Noodles

In a four quart sauce pan, place two to three large chicken breasts, salt, pepper, minced onion, and a dash or two of garlic powder to taste then fill with water.  Bring to a boil and cook for twenty minutes or until chicken is tender.  Drain remaining stock into a large crock pot and set chicken aside to cool enough to handle.
In large crock pot, add one can cream of celery and one can cream of chicken to chicken stock.  Stir until smooth.  Add four cups of milk, two packages of Reames frozen egg noodles (or one large if you can find in your area) and stir together. 
Dice or tear cooked chicken into pieces and add to mixture.  Let cook on low/medium for two hours, stirring often to avoid sticking or scorching.  Add additional milk if needed, salt and pepper to taste.  Serve when creamy, with yummy yeast rolls.  Dig in and enjoy!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Chocolate Success

Is there really a wrong way. Well, I suppose in cooking it's when you burn the dish you were about to serve. That's what happened to me Sunday morning. I attempted to make Maple Pecan Bacon. I had had this tasty morsel the morning after my wedding and it was divine.
So I decided Sunday morning would be my attempt. Well, it ended in failure. Sugar, maple or otherwise, burns black at a high temperature. And at 400 degrees it happens a lot faster than you'd think.
Thus we have:
 I was able to somewhat salvage a piece or two, but really it was burnt. Next time, lower temperature, for sure. Yes, I'll try it again, even though my husband reminded me I'm the only one in the house that will eat bacon with nuts on it. ;)

I did however, manage to succeed in two other recipes this weekend where originally I thought I'd flopped.
The first was the Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Chip Muffins. Do not let the name fool you. These are decadent cupcakes. :)  I think the sour cream is what clinches the deal. The batter was almost too thick, and I totally thought I had failed, but they turned out great.

My next win was my daughter's birthday cake. She wanted super rich flourless chocolate cake. So I searched until I found Tyler Florence's version called Cracked Chocolate Earth. Which, after my first taste, at room temperature, I thought it was a flop. However, after a day in the fridge, it was fudgy and brilliant. The powdered sugar makes it perfect, you could say it's the icing on the cake! (sorry I'm bad at puns)

What is my take-away from this weekend's cooking/baking?  That failures can just be another avenue for success. 

Have you failed at something only to find that avenue of success? Did a door close and you opened a window? Cooking or life-wise, let us know. :)

Ansha Kotyk is the upper middle grade author of GANGSTERLAND, about a boy, bully and magical comic book. She is a volunteer for NESCBWI conferences and is one of the hosts of #mglitchat.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The lowly wheat berry, a lesson in versatility

Hey, gang! It's been quite a while since I posted on Pots 'n Pens, but I'm hoping to get back into the swing of things. Last year was pretty brutal. Sick baby, sick Sarah, sick dogs...yeah, it wasn't pretty, and I had to learn a lot about modifying my expectations and even changing up my plans, especially my plans regarding my writing career. Essentially, I had to learn how to be versatile. So I had plans for my writing and, crud, the sky falls, so let's start over with the core and figure out something else to do.

And in the end, just before Christmas, I got to make a little announcement.

That brings me to introducing you all to this little guy, the lowly wheat berry.

He's underutilized but extremely good for you and very versatile. Breakfast, salad, bread, dessert, the wheat berry can do it all, but a lot of American have no idea what it even is. (It's a whole wheat kernal). Even if you grind it up into powder, it's still usable (hello, whole wheat flour).

But to use it in a salad or dessert, first you have to cook the wheat berry. And it's easy peasy.

1 heavy cooking pot
1 tsp kosher salt
1 C raw wheat berries, sorted through for pebbles, rinsed, and drained
3 1/2 C water
(Yes, yes, I know there are other ingredients in my picture, I'll get to those).

Put your rinsed and drained wheat berries into the pot. Sprinkle in the salt. Pour in the water. Bring to a rolling boil for 5 minutes and then remove from heat, cover, and let sit for an hour. A lot of recipes will tell you to soak wheat berries overnight, but it's just not necessary.

So what do you do with your cooked wheat berries? Drain 'em and save 'em in a container in the fridge. There's a lot of ways to use them. My favorite is to put a scoop in a bowl with some turbinado sugar, agave nectar, and a sprinkle of cinnamon, and warm it up in the microwave to make a hearty breakfast cereal on cold winter mornings. For a sweeter dessert, do the same but then add a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of cream or butter.

There are a ton of salads you can make with wheat berries as well. Cold salad where you toss it with bean sprouts, green onions, ginger, and soy sauce for an Asian flair. Warm salad where you toss it with some mushrooms and onions sauteed in butter and topped with feta cheese crumbles. Pretty much wherever your imagination takes you. Wheat berries play well with others. They absorb flavors and pair well with just about anything you throw at them. Any place where you'd use white or brown rice, try wheat berries.

Sarah Bromley is the author of TINDERBOX (Fall 2014, Month9Books, LLC) and is represented by Miriam Kriss of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. She lives near St. Louis with her husband, three children, two lap dogs, and two guinea pigs. She hates walking past mirrors at night.