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Posted in Food & Beverages, Recipes

Summer Recipe: Berry Bread

The other week, I made banana bread. My husband and I gobbled it down and kind of wanted more. So, I went to the freezer but discovered all the bananas were gone. I did have some frozen strawberries though, so I thought, why not?

Here’s the result of my little experiment – and it is absolutely delicious (and incredibly easy).

Berry Bread Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups frozen berries, thawed (I used strawberries, but mixed berries or raspberries would work)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup cane sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups 1-to-1 ratio gluten free [GF] or all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum, if using GF flour not containing
  • 1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, optional

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit.
  2. Grease a 4 x 8 loaf pan with olive oil cooking spray.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, mash the thawed berries together until smooth. You will have some juice/liquid in the bowl.
  4. Mix in the baking soda.
  5. Next, stir in the melted butter.
  6. Now, add the sugar, salt, eggs, and vanilla. Mix thoroughly until well combined.
  7. Now, add in the flour (and xanthan gum, if your GF flour doesn’t include it).
  8. Then stir in the pecans or walnuts until incorporated.
  9. Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake on the center rack for 60 minutes.
  10. Check with a toothpick. If it comes out clean, the bread is ready. If not, add another 10 minutes to the timer and check again.
  11. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes before removing from the pan.
  12. Remove from pan and let cool completely before cutting.
  13. Store in an air tight container after completely cooled.
Posted in Food & Beverages, Healthy Living, Recipes

A Tasty, High Fiber Breakfast Smoothie: Berry Oat

My smoothie this morning

Someone just gave us a gently used Nutribullet, thanks to the amazing Freecycle site. (If you don’t look here for stuff you need, you seriously should! It’s a great way to save stuff from landfills, de-clutter, get things you need but don’t need brand new, and even find some amazing treasures for home projects).

So, this morning, I decided to make us a delicious, high-fiber smoothie before church.

Berry Oat Smoothie Recipe

  • 1/2 cup dry, quick oats
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 cup frozen strawberries
  • 2 spoonfuls of unflavored powdered fiber supplement (optional)
  1. First, dump the oats in the blender, cover, and chop to a fine powder – basically making oat flour.
  2. Then, pour in the milk.
  3. Next, add the fruit.
  4. Finally, add the fiber powder.
  5. Blend all together and serve immediately.
Posted in Food & Beverages, Healthy Living, Recipes, Seasonal

A Summery Non-Alcoholic Cocktail: Lime Berry Refresher

This past winter, while I was developing a fun cookbook for Ulysses Press, called Hogwarts for the Holidays, I had the pleasure of creating some fun drinks based on concepts from the popular book series. And that kind of lit something in me.

Now, I have fun creating all kinds of beverage concoctions – all non-alcoholic (since I don’t drink) but still fun and delicious. I avoid using added sugar for the most part as well, so that makes these great for anyone trying to drink something more exciting but low-calorie.

One of the ones I’m enjoying this summer (not in the book) includes this delightful fruity, low calorie medley.

Prep time: 7 minutes

Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup frozen berries, almost thawed
  • 2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest
  • 4 16-ounce glasses, chilled
  • 1 cup crushed ice
  • 2 can sparkling water, lime or plain
  • Garnish options: sprig of mint, slice of lime, or a whole raw strawberry

To Make

  1. Throw the berries into a food processor and process until pulped.
  2. Transfer the berries to a blender.
  3. Add the lime juice and lime zest to the berries. Blend well.
  4. Add 1/4 of the ice to each glass, then a quarter of the berry mix.
  5. Next, pour half a can of sparkling water into each glass.
  6. With a long-handled spoon, stir the ingredients together.
  7. Garnish with a slice of lime, a whole berry, or a sprig of mint, if desired.
  8. Serve immediately.
Posted in Home & Family, Lifestyle, Personal Growth

If You’re Struggling With Boredom, Try These Things

Like most folks, I have a lot of acquaintances and friends that I interact with on a semi-regular basis via Facebook. And lately, a number of them have mentioned being bored, needing friends, needing social interactions, and similar issues.

During social isolation times, it makes sense that more and more folks are having issues in this realm – at least if they’re still respecting social distancing guidelines and realize that the virus has not gone away and the numbers are still climbing around the world.

I’ve been passing along tips and trying to engage myself, so I thought I’d pass those ideas along to my readers.

Join Meetup

Seriously, there are so many virtual groups on Meetup anymore that you’re just about guaranteed to find something you want to connect with folks on. Ideally, join some in your area, though, so that when in-person gatherings are safe again, you’ve got some friends waiting to greet you!

It may take a little while to find the right group – but stick with it, and they will show up in your feed.

Check Your Local Library Calendar

Libraries have had events going on for years and now they’re starting to really spread the love via virtual events. In the past month, I’ve joined two different library groups to gather with fellow writers and book lovers via virtual events. Can’t wait to join some more!

Check Facebook Groups

You’ve already joined a million different groups. Check to see which ones are hosting live virtual events. You’ll make some friends from around the world and enjoy the pleasures of planning to someday visit in person!

EventBrite, Groupon, and Goldstar Are a Thing

These ticket-selling platforms are another great place to find some amazing virtual events. Granted, they’re more performances, shows, talks, and what not than interactive events, but they’re still a great way to fill your evenings and weekends with some meaningful events that don’t require you to expose yourself to a deadly virus. So, definitely a winner!

And, yes, many of the events are FREE.

Look Into Your Favorite Fandoms And Theatre Companies

Podcasts that tour, theater companies that tour, television shows that are on hold, and other fandoms are still creating events and options for viewing and participating in things during these times.

My husband and I have recently attended some of these virtual performances and we have LOVED them. He was highly skeptical at first, but once we watched both a Welcome to Night Vale virtual event and a Max McLean & FPA recorded virtual event, he’s been hooked. We’re eagerly looking for more great date night options that we can discuss afterward for a few hours.

Posted in Writing, Writing Prompts

4 Writing Prompts for Action/Adventure Tales

In continuing my series of short collections of writing prompts, I thought I’d venture into a genre I absolutely love reading – perhaps more than any other genre. Let’s see if my prompts live up to my own expectations!

  1. A travel photographer on assignment in the jungles of India gets a far more personal look at the big cats she photographs than she ever intended – and discovers something truly incredible in the depths of the jungle
  2. A treasure hunter, a Catholic priest, and a civil rights activist find themselves working together on this rather unexpected mission: to save an ancient farm in the hills of Tuscany
  3. The setting: deep in the Amazon jungle; the lead character: a female missionary pilot; the problem: a missing American passenger
  4. A British art thief, a Kenyan international beauty queen, and an Italian housewife must save the world from a merciless dictator bent on ruling the world
Posted in Camp NaNoWriMo 2020, Lifestyle, NaNoWriMo, Personal Growth, Writing

Doing Your Own NaNoWriMo In Lock-Down

July is over – and therefore Camp NaNoWriMo is over for the year, at least the official ones. If you’re unfamiliar with this “Camp” aspect of National Novel Writing Month, it is the time when writers can create their own writing, editing, or revising goals instead of the “set” 50,000+ words that the official NaNoWriMo has for November.

If you missed Camp, you can still do your own novel-writing goals.

The first time I ever did a NaNoWriMo unofficially was when I was 18 (yikes – 20 years ago!). I had a novel I’d written one chapter per year on for three years but in January 1999, I decided I wanted to finish that book already! So, I sat down on January 2 or 3, and basically didn’t get up again until the whole 105,000+ words was written, less than a month later.

I have done this again for 10 consecutive years for the official NaNoWriMo, completing drafts on 9 of the 10. I’ve also occasionally done others, drafting my first self-published novel under a pseudonym, Nobody’s Girl, the second in the series, Drop Dead Daisy, and some others I have yet to revise and publish.

If you have a novel you NEED to write, but just don’t make the time for, I’d highly encourage you to participate in your own NaNoWriMo during the lock-downs or at least the official NaNoWriMo come this November.

Select the Book You Want to Write

If you have one idea, you’re all set. If you have multiple ideas for plots, sort through them and see which one stands out to you the most at this particular point in time. Does one topic resonate more than another? Does one character feed your soul? Does one setting feel more comfortable and familiar?

Choose wisely! You’ll be living with this book for a month every day!

Outline and Research As Much As Possible First

If you’re writing a historical novel, be sure to look up books on the era, websites that focus on that era, etc. Writing a sci-fi? Figure out those parameters to make the science work first. Writing a fantasy? Choose your character types ahead of time.

Do as much “advanced work” as possible before you sit down to write to help free up time to focus primarily on the writing itself.

If you’re an outliner, outline the plot points ahead of time so you have something easier to work from along the way.

The key is, though, to do these things before you sit down to write. For my projects, I give myself a month to research and outline, then a month to draft.

Create a Clean Creatively Stimulating Work Space

Ideally, set up a spot in your home where you can write your novel that is separate from your at-home work station or bedroom. You want to separate your creative spot from the realities or work and sleep as much as possible.

If you can’t separate because of space, family, or other reasons, be sure to at least change up the environmental elements when you’re ready to write. When I lived in a studio apartment, I had one desk and no table. To change things up, I cleared away all work related documents, folders, etc., and set myself up with some lovely little bits to make the space feel more comfortable and less work-oriented, like scented candles, tea lights in pretty holders, used a special tea cup instead of every day mugs, and changed up the lighting with Christmas lights instead of bright white lights.

When You Write, Use Place Holders

Don’t get hung up on small details you can’t remember or don’t know. If you can’t remember the difference between the first revolver and a pepper pot, just put a place holder instead for now and come back later during revisions.

For myself, I insert “(look up)” or “(research)” – which is an easy-to-search-for term later on when I go back to revise/edit.

Take a Run or Shower When Your Well Runs Dry

If you’re getting stuck on something while you’re writing, give yourself a break and go get outside and take a run or walk. If it’s too cold walk around the house, use the treadmill or exercise bike (don’t have one? Look on Freecycle, Craigslist, OfferUp, or similar sites to find one cheap or even free).

Or, if activity isn’t doing it for you, get a hot bath or shower and let your mind wander.

I find that I solve almost all of my creative blocks on the running trail or in the shower. Hands down the most effective way to break writer’s block for me.

Unplug While You Write

Finally, unplug from the internet while you write. You’ll easily fall down the rabbit hole of “research” otherwise and look up at the clock two hours later to realize you’ve written 1000 words today instead of the planned 4000.

Posted in Food & Beverages, Health & Fitness, Healthy Living, Lifestyle

The Joy of Sun Tea

When I lived in Australia for a few months back in 2008, I had the joy of introducing my friends and church family there to sun tea. I hosted a church-wide “American” dinner that I whipped up for everyone (BBQ pulled pork, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, angel food cake, coriander cookies), and served sun tea as the American beverage.

I grew up in the South, so technically I should have used sugary tea, but knowing that my Aussie friends didn’t have much of a sweet tooth, I opted to do traditional sun tea.

How to Make Sun Tea

If you’re not familiar with making sun tea, it’s really rather simple. And absolutely delicious and delightful. It’s a beverage from my childhood, from my mother’s farmer-family side of the tree.

  1. Find a glass jar with a lid or use cling wrap and a rubber band
  2. Add 2-6 tea bags of choice to the jar (I like strong tea, so a 2-quart jar is usually a full 6 bags)
  3. Fill the glass jar with clean, fresh, cool water
  4. Cover the jar and place in direct sunlight.
  5. Let the tea “brew” for a few hours until it reaches the strength you prefer.

Great Options for Sun Tea

Our family’s personal favorites include any of these teas.

  1. Straight up black tea
  2. A blend of half black tea, half green tea bags
  3. Raspberry Royale Tea from Bigelow
  4. Mango Magic from Ahmad Tea
  5. London Fog from Harney & Sons
  6. Breakfast in Paris from Stash Teas
  7. Blueberry & Honey from Tevive
Posted in Writing, Writing Prompts

4 Writing Prompts for Writing Wholesome Romance Fiction

If you’re a romantic at heart but don’t really want to write suggestive romance fiction, I’ve got a few writing prompts for you. Y’know…just in case you’ve hit a wall made of writer’s blocks.

  1. A love triangle between a travel writer, her editor, and the doctor who’s responsible to clear her for travel.
  2. Two animal control agents who work in different counties. They meet over a call about an alligator in a community pond in an Illinois neighborhood.
  3. The love story of an immigrant tea farmer and a local magistrate who opposes immigrants’ rights.
  4. A young married couple face giant challenges they never expected when they wed two years earlier. How do they make it through the challenges and remain committed to each other?
Posted in Health & Fitness, Healthy Living, Lifestyle

3 Healthy Substitutes for Junk We Crave

The other night, a friend mentioned her “COVID-15” as she sighed over not giving up sugar this summer as she had planned. With everything changed, less activity available, and almost zero safe socializing, it’s been easy for a lot of folks to put on these extra pounds. Especially since, apparently, everyone’s becoming a baking expert these days.

I work from home all the time and live about 45-minutes from most of the folks I know. We only recently moved to this area, so we never got the chance to make local friends. So, in many ways, the quarantine hasn’t changed our day-to-day life much.

It has, however, helped me become even more conscious of the things I’m eating and doing. I had wanted to focus on my health this year anyway, but after having COVID, I’ve especially felt this need.

One of those ways we’re making changes for health’s sake is substituting healthy items for less healthy.

1. Sparkling Water Instead of Soda

I’ve never been big into soda pop myself, but my husband has always had soda somewhere in his peripheral. I was getting bored with plain old water and felt like my own fruit-infused water was a waste of the fruit, so I decided to give naturally essenced, no sweetener added, sparkling water a try.

I quickly found a few flavors I love and tried introducing them to Matt. It took a while, but he began drinking the water as well and now we no longer keep Sprite for his upset stomach. Lemon or lime flavored carbonated water has all the qualities he was looking for without all the sugar.

2. Fruit Instead of Sweets

We generally only buy candy once a month – when I’m craving chocolate during my period – but otherwise, sweets haven’t been a huge issue for us. Except last year when I was developing a dessert-heavy cookbook for Ulysses Press. All those rich, buttery, British baked goods sucked us in.

Now, when I’m craving baked goods, candy, ice cream (my weakness!), or other sweets, I’m eating a piece of fruit first. Plums, peaches, nectarines, tangerines, apples, berries, etc. all provide that sweetness that I’m looking for without unnatural sugars and empty calories.

There’s some debate in the diet-world on whether or not fruit is good for you. If you have specific medical conditions, like diabetes, these concerns are valid. However, most of us should be eating a variety of fruits for the nutrients they provide. Restrictive diets (elimination of whole food groups) aren’t particularly healthy in the long run.

You can be selective about which fruits you consume, of course, and you should be. Some are much higher in carbohydrates than others, some are higher in fiber than others, and some are much higher in certain nutrients than others. Do a little study to learn which fruits fit best with your lifestyle and focus on those, but even then, don’t exclude the others you love altogether.

3. Hummus and Veggies Instead of Chips and Fries

We are a savories household. We love fries and chips (plantain chips for me!). But we know how unhealthy these can be. So instead of noshing on starchy potatoes, we whip up some hummus and baked or raw veggies wedges. We cut up sweet potatoes, green plantains, and other veggies that will crisp when baked and enjoy these with hummus dip made from dried chickpeas and Tahini. Or we cut up raw carrots and celery and green peppers and dip those in.

This substitute provides us with not only less fat and grease in our diets, but packs a punch of protein and veggies in when we’re craving junk. The trick is limiting the amount we eat.

Posted in Health & Fitness, Healthy Living, Lifestyle

The Good And The Bad Of Internet Fitness Challenges

I’m a fitness buff. I love running, strength training, doing yoga, taking long walks, trying new sports. But even with my great love of the active life, it can be hard to stay motivated. In fact, this is something I’ve been struggling with for several months now. Not because of the pandemic, but because, well, I’m tired. Or the weather is too hot or too cold or I’m too busy…and…

Fitness challenges are one of the ways I stay accountable to myself in times like these. But there are some dangers to them, too, which is why I’m very selective about the ones I do.

  1. Virtual fitness challenges can be great motivators for social people.
  2. Virtual fitness and dietary challenges, however, are a one-size-fits-all thing, generally, which means they won’t be effective for everyone.
  3. These challenges can be a great way to connect with other like-minded people.
  4. But if you become at all obsessed with them, you may cause physical harm to yourself.
  5. The right challenge will be tailored to your specific needs – whether that’s dietary restrictions, physical limitations, time constraints, or current conditioning. You’ll likely have to create your own or use a flux challenge instead.
  6. It’s vital to find the right challenge and online group that will keep you accountable but won’t demoralize you for missing a day, not being “fit enough” to complete the challenge, body shame you in any way, or anything along those lines.
  7. Many of the challenges are run by people trying to sell specific nutritional supplements. Avoid these at all costs. The programs are not really fitness challenges for the most part but instead are propaganda for the products and often involve stressful selling tactics.
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

If you want to join a challenge, you can look on Facebook for a solid group like this one.

Or look for challenges on trusted health and fitness sites like Shape , SELF, and PopSugar. The reason I recommend this criteria is that they have experts in fitness and health running the sites and generally are not just “throw together” ideas put up to draw in members or run by folks who don’t really know what they’re doing.