"No matter how terrified you may be, own your fear and take that leap anyway because whether you land on your feet or on your butt, the journey is well worth it."
-- Laurie Laliberte
"If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough."
-- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."
-- Anais Nin

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Holy Guacamole

I've been torn about this week's post. On the one hand, there's a post I've wanted to write for weeks that I keep putting off. Lately it seems all I've posted is recipes and recipe reviews, so I really didn't want to do that either. But it only makes sense that since Wednesday was all about avocado, I should just finish off the wave by blogging my guacamole recipe.

This one came about because after testing the two recipes I talked about earlier this week, I still had two avocados left over and I needed to use them before I had to throw them out. So I hit my favorite source for recipes (yes, I mean Pinterest) assuming I'd find a recipe for guacamole that would appeal to me. Nothing really caught my eye so I made up my own. You're welcome.

Simple, Basic Guacamole

2 avocados
1 T lime juice
½ t dry cilantro
1/8 t salt
1/8 t chili powder
dash pepper (to taste)
1 small tomato (optional)

Mash avocados
Stir in remaining ingredients
Return pit to dish (helps retard blackening of avocado)
Serve chilled

I intentionally went with chili powder instead of of cayenne because I wanted a bit of smoky flavor without any heat. If you have a good, smoky paprika, you can always use that instead. This guacamole is more smoky/sweet; it's not intended to be spicy.

Also, I threw in the tomato because I had one left in the fridge that needed to be used, but I decided I really don't love tomato in my guacamole.

Happy (not) Cooking!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Two Avocados and a Chicken

Okay, I completely cheated on these two because I didn't actually follow either recipe to the letter. However, I was in the ballpark in each case.

Here goes . . .

One of my favorite foods in the world is chicken salad, but I'm allergic to soy. Anyone in the know understands that means no mayonnaise. Now, a little mayo, once in a while, won't kill me. Heck, it won't even affect me, but more often will give me a rash, and regular use . . . let's just say it isn't pretty. So, when I saw the recommendation that I could replace the mayonnaise in my beloved chicken salad with avocado, I was all over it.

By the time I reached the produce section at WalMart, I was exhausted and my cart was so full, I couldn't fit anything else into it. (For the record, I bought way more than just groceries that night and the produce section was my last stop.) I just wanted to get out of there and go home. Nearly two weeks later, my fridge, freezer, and pantry are still packed full. I may not need to buy groceries until Valentine's Day.

Anyhow, since I doubted I would use green onions in anything else, and I already had a bag of white onions intended for other recipes, I decided to skip those green onions. By the time I got to making the chicken salad, I had decided to skip the onion completely.  Here's what happened:

I poached the chicken in chicken broth (my favorite way to poach chicken--the flavor is amazing). After I let it cool and ran it through the food processor, I mixed it with the mashed avocado and about a tablespoon of lime juice. Then I gave it a quick taste.

That, my friends, was when I decided to abandon the recipe. You see, I'm not a huge fan of onion in my chicken salad, so I decided to just make it the way I love it: some chopped celery, salt, pepper, and chopped garlic. Normally I'd use garlic powder, but I hadn't yet found the garlic powder I packed. (Yeah, I know it seems strange that I brought garlic powder all the way from Boston, but it was crazy cheap, so I bought a big container of it right before I moved because I use so much of the stuff.)

The verdict: I've read that avocado can be used as a substitute in many recipes. Now I'm willing to try it just about anywhere. Oh, and pretty soon, I'll be posting my own recipe for guacamole.
I totally stole this photo from Becoming Betty's blog

In all honesty, the reason I pinned this one was for the vinaigrette recipe, and I was less than impressed. Too much oil. I'm not a fan of oily dressing. Next time I try it, I'll replace a tablespoon of the oil with an extra tablespoon of mustard. When I threw the salad together, I did just that: I simply threw together whatever raw veggies I had in the fridge, plus some poached chicken breast that I cooked when I made the chicken salad and, of course, some avocado.

Still, the combination in the original recipe looks yummy, so it'll find it's way onto my plate at some point.

Happy Cooking!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Next Big Thing

So we all know I'm not a huge fan of these chain blog things, but my pal Toni Dwiggins rarely asks me for anything, so when she does, there's a 99.999% chance that I'm going to say yes.

That said, this Next Big Thing thing is actually kind of a fun idea. The deal is that I send you back to the blog of the person who tagged me (she's awesome, so read all about her book, the latest in her forensic geology series); then I answer a few questions about my latest book (I can do that); then I send you forward to a group of my friends.

Problem is, I was apparently not persuasive enough to get five of my writer buddies to participate. Oh well.

Here's the link to Toni's blog: http://tonidwiggins.com/page3.php

And here's my series of questions:

What is the title of your next book?
I actually don't yet have a "next book" in the works yet. I've floated ideas back and forth with a co-writer, but nothing strong enough to even talk about has materialized yet. Therefore I'll answer the remaining questions based on the one book I do have out there, Strange Kisses, which is a collection of shorts.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
A friend suggested I should write some erotica. So I did.

What genre does your book fall under?
Some people would call it erotica, some romance, I fondly refer to it as "straight-up porn."

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Heh, I have a feeling it would be a direct-to-video release. I never intended for my characters to be specific people, so they don't really have physical descriptions. The intention was to allow the reader to imagine whomever they wanted in each role.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
It's a quick, fun read designed to get your blood pumping, but there's a depth the average reader doesn't see.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I self-published it, more as a challenge to myself than anything else.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
The short story that sparked the whole thing hung around for years, but when I decided to pull together an anthology, start to finish, maybe about three months. Because I'm primarily an editor, my own writing tends to get stuck on a back burner while I'm busy working everyone else's writing. (But I'm not complaining. I love editing.)

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Surprisingly, my influences don't necessarily come from my genre. There's Safe With Me by Shaina Richmond, but our styles aren't that similar. My biggest influences come from the writers for whom I edit. William Vitka and Tony Healey both affected the way I string sentences these days and they both write sci-fi/horror/pulp.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Aaron Bloom gave me the nudge I needed. He sort of planted the seed that got me thinking I should just go ahead and do it.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It's absolutely filthy, like, Fifty Shades filthy, but the difference is that I know better than to release a book without having it properly edited first.

Now, visit a few of my buddies:

Joshua Unruh

Tony Healey (Yeah, Toni D. got to him first so this is a total cheat.)

William Vitka

If anyone else gets back to me, I'll update. Until then, pretend I can't count to five. I'm an editor, not a mathematician.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"I Totally Made Yogurt!"

Those were pretty much the first words out of my mouth when I woke up yesterday morning. I was so excited I nearly cried.

Okay, just for clarity, let me take you back to the beginning . . . It was only about two weeks ago that I tried plain yogurt for the first time. I had a couple of recipes that called for sour cream and decided to go with the plain, nonfat, Greek yogurt as a healthier substitute. I absolutely fell in love with the stuff. I knew I had pinned a yogurt recipe or two, so I put the ingredients for them on my shopping list and figured I'd test the recipe the next time I shopped for groceries.

The big secret ingredient? Milk. That's it. Cross my heart. You have to have a slow cooker and a couple of towels or a blanket. But pretty much all you need is milk. Oh, and half a cup of plain yogurt. Make sure it's the kind that has live cultures in it (I think they all do, but just in case). Then go here. Now follow all of Stephanie's instructions. I started around 4:00p.m. on Monday and let it go overnight.

I awoke Tuesday morning to the richest, creamiest, tastiest yogurt I've ever tried. I'm sure that's got to do with the fact that I used whole milk. You see, I was afraid I wouldn't get great results, so rather than take the chance of trying any alternatives, I went with Stephanie O'Dea's basic whole milk version. I'm no chicken in the kitchen, but this was just a completely foreign concept to me, so I played it safe.

However, I did buy almond milk specifically so I could try making a dairy-free version. I was very tempted to pick up rice milk and coconut milk as well, but, long story short, my cart was way too full by the time I hit the dairy section. I promise an update after the dairy-free experiment.

In the meantime, try your homemade yogurt as a substitute for the sour cream in this recipe. I sort of cheated because instead of grilling the chicken, I poached it in canned chicken broth (because I needed to poach some chicken for another recipe anyway) and I just wasn't up to pulling out the fry pan to saute it or sticking it under the broiler. (I don't have a grill.) Besides, it's not so much the chicken that's the star of this show, it's the fruit.

The verdict on this one isn't as exciting. I would definitely make this for a crowd. The dressing is fabulous and it's a nice alternative to the typical berry coulis or vinaigrette, but I really prefer my fruit salad completely naked. Although, I would consider stirring the dressing into a cup of plain yogurt. Maybe that can be Wednesday's breakfast.

Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I Still Don't Own Cookware

I know. No, the irony is not lost on me. One of the things I did before I left Boston was place a WalMart order for many of the items I would need when I arrived. It was timed so that it would hit me within a day or two of my arrival. I figured I'd eat out the first night or two anyway, so I'd be able to settle in a bit before I had to actually cook for myself.

Well, I forgot I was traveling during the holiday season and maybe, just maybe, things might sell out before my order was picked. That's exactly what happened.

I cheaped out on certain items, like cookware and knives, because they're the most important tools to me and when I buy them for real, I intend to purchase top notch (as I always have). Meanwhile, I figured I'd live with the throw-away stuff for a few months. Hence, the order for housewares from WalMart rather than Macy's.

On the other hand, I decided to treat myself to a really good slow cooker because even the cheapest of the cheap last quite some time and it would just be a sin to buy a "disposable." No, I didn't get the Ninja, but I probably will if I decide to upsize from a tiny studio to a full-sized apartment with a bigger kitchen.

Anyhow, the knife and cookware sets I chose were out of stock when I ordered them. No big deal. I could pick up the same sets in-store when I did my grocery shopping, right? Weeeeellll ... I decided to just grab a three-piece knife set with only the basics. It cost me almost nothing and I figured I didn't need more than that for now.

But cookware ... All those years selling housewares turned me into the biggest cookware snob. When I actually looked at, and handled, the pans I had initially chosen, I was so happy I hadn't been able to buy it. It was way worse than junk. I picked out a different set that cost only a few dollars more, but after spending over four hours at WalMart (long story short, I shopped for a LOT of items that night, including groceries), I was in no mood to lug it home. I figured I'd make do with the crock pot, microwave, and toaster oven for a few days and simply order the cookware online (yay for free shipping). It's due to be delivered some time today.*

Of course, since I haven't been able to boil or saute, I've had to be resourceful. Thankfully, I was wise enough to ensure that I purchased ingredients for several slow cooker and oven recipes I wanted to try. In fact, only one or two of the recipes on my list required any sort of stove-top preparation, so I postponed them temporarily.

Anyhow, I have two recipes and one fabulous tip to share with you this week (links are in the titles):

This technique is supposed to produce excellent, crispy, golden brown fries. Meh. I didn't see any major difference between the way I normally make my own oven fries and following this procedure. I did follow it pretty much to the letter just so I'd be sure to come up with results based on the changes vs. my usual method. I found the cooking time needed to be much longer in order to get the potatoes to crisp. It also uses more oil than I normally would.

The verdict: I'll go back to the method I've used for years. It works for me. I will also post my own method soon, but not just yet, because I'm trying to work a way of seasoning the potatoes without using the processed crap (packaged onion soup mix) that I usually use while still getting that flavor.

I kept the meal itself simple. I just microwaved leftovers that I'd packed in the freezer and threw together a side salad. (BTW, for the dressing on that salad, I mixed a little Italian dressing with the honey mustard sauce from last week's post and, YUM!)

I swear if this chicken were a man, I'd marry it.

No, that's not really what this recipe is called, but it may as well be. It is unbelievable! I did not tweak it at all. The only change I might make is to double the amount of chicken OR serve it over rice to catch all of the amazing sauce it makes. Seriously, this sauce is so good, I could drink it. Actually, I think the recipe says to oil or grease your crock pot before you put the chicken in, but I didn't and I had zero problems with cleanup. I had to freeze the leftovers immediately because I didn't want to end up in a food coma.

I actually paired the chicken with baked sweet potatoes and a side salad. An excellent choice, I might add. There was so much sauce that I didn't want to waste, so I put it in a container in the fridge and had it a few days later with just a left-over sweet potato. When I say amazing, I mean A. May. Zing! This recipe alone is reason enough to buy a slow cooker. Make sure it's a 6-quart. As I already stated, you could easily double the amount of chicken (and bacon, of course) without needing to double the other ingredients and still prepare it in a 6-quart cooker. However, if you decide to upsize any more than that, go with an 8-quart.

So what would I do if I decided to tweak it? I'd throw chunks of onion in there. That sauce would be even more fabulous with a large vidalia or a couple of medium yellow onions.

Also, the cook time is perfect. My chicken was basically still frozen when I put it in and it cooked on low for about 7 hours. It came apart with a fork, just like the best pulled beef or pork does.

One of the reasons lettuce and tomato were on my grocery list this time around was that I haven't had a BLT in ages. I'm not kidding; it's literally been about 20 years. I figured if I was going to wrap chicken in bacon and end up with a few slices left over, I may as well make myself a sandwich. Well, duh! I didn't buy bread. I did cook up the rest of the bacon after basket weaving it per this tip. In fact, I broiled it, then I drained it thoroughly and froze it. I still ended up with a couple of stray slices, so I crumbled them and used them on a huge salad for lunch one afternoon. However, the woven slices look too good not to use in a BLT or club sandwich.

Happy Cooking!

*Remember, I pre-program my posts, so I haven't lived without stove-top cooking as long as it may appear.
**OMGWTFBBQ is the title of chapter 7 of my friend William Vitka's first novel, Infected.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Better Late Than Never?

Farewell, Boston
Those of you who follow me in places other than this blog already know I've been a bit overwhelmed lately. Unfortunately, that has affected my blog posts. For those of you who only see me here, I offer a (not so) quick update.

On November 28, at approximately 9:20 a.m., I boarded a plane in Boston and headed west. Destination: Oklahoma City. This move has been in the planning stages for about nine months. It began as a joke, an offhand remark that suddenly sprang to life as a Good Idea. You see, my dear online friends, (authors) Joshua Unruh and Courtney Cantrell both work for, and publish through, a nonprofit known as The Consortium. I don't want to go into too much detail, but I will be working with them which was the major reason for my packing up and moving half way across the country.

The move itself wasn't as difficult as it may sound. I didn't have a ton of stuff I really wanted or needed to keep. Basically, I packed seven boxes and three bags. Two days before my flight, I ran to the post office and shipped those seven boxes to Josh, then I ran away on my Grand Adventure.

We took off on time (9:40) and landed in Dallas/Fort Worth about thirty minutes early. If you know me and my travel history, you know this is crazy. I'm always the one who gets pulled out of line by the TSA. I'm the one who gets patted down, bags checked. And I'm the one you should blame when your flight is delayed. I have yet to complete a journey without incident. So I was floored, after purposely making sure I had a four-hour stopover in Dallas, to find that I didn't need to build in that extra time.

Of course, my flight from DFW to OKC was delayed by ten minutes. Had it been longer than that, I may have been really annoyed. Why? Total cruising time on that flight is only thirty minutes. It takes longer to take off and land than to actually fly from Dallas to Oklahoma City. So why did I bother? Because I couldn't find a nonstop flight from BOS to OKC and my other option was to fly through Chicago. (Heck no. Not at this time of year.)

Anyhow, Court and Josh, along with their kids and Josh's wife (aka his "Senior Partner"), met me at the Will Rogers airport and helped make that day my best birthday ever. (Thanks again, gang!)

The Boston good-bye was tearful, but I'm settling in pretty well here and finally beginning to find more of a routine. As grateful as I am to the friends with whom I've lived for the past three years, I needed this change. I really need to live alone again for at least a little while. And I'm already enjoying the change of scenery. Of course, I've been way too busy to really miss anyone or anything yet. It still feels as though I'm on a working vacation or something. That reminds me; I've got work to do.

So that's why you haven't seen my regular post for the past few weeks. As I settle in further, the blog will get back to normal. 

Meanwhile, I've begun a new blog feature: Wednesday morning Pinterest recipes.

Hello, Oklahoma City

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

New Home, New Kitchen, New ... Blog?

Okay, no, not really. Just a new blog feature. I've been toying with this idea for a while and my obsession with all things Pinterest has fueled my desire to cook. Not just cook, but to try new things.

I have about 1500 recipes pinned in my Pinterest boards. They are in desperate need of organization. But why organize when I haven't tried them? They will simply sit in their virtual cages collecting virtual dust until I decide I need to try them out.

So what's my solution? Simple: I'm going to begin testing them, one or more at a time, until I decide not to do it anymore. What do you think of that? So my plan is to try one or two new recipes each week and post the results here for all the world to see. Then, as I try each one, I will categorize the keepers and delete the rest.

"But," you ask, "what of the brilliant posts we rise early to read every Sunday morning? What shall we do without them?" Fear not, faithful readers; I will not abandon you. Although I have taken the past two Sundays off because I've been packing and moving half way across the country (more on that this weekend), I will continue with my usual fun Sunday morning treats including the occasional crochet pattern, original recipe, and shenanigans in the world that is independent publishing.

Enough set-up. Let's talk turkey. Specifically ground turkey. I literally just moved from Boston to Oklahoma City with three carry-on-sized bags. Any of my other possessions, I packed up and shipped via USPS to a pal here in OKC. I'm in a small, temporary, furnished location with a full, but small, kitchen for now. So I've had to purchase all brand new kitchen items. I still don't have dishes or cookware.

What I DO have is a crock pot, a (provided) microwave, and a toaster oven. So I CAN slow cook, nuke, and bake. PERFECT! Therefore, the two recipes I want to share with you this week are quite simple and take a minimum time investment.

Prep and Forget Turkey

First, is one that I talked about on the blog a few weeks back. It is truly my favorite slow cooker recipe (so far). I must give credit to my BFF for turning me on to it. As I've mentioned in the past, She's got a great nose for finding simple, great tasting recipes that take very little time.

I did tweak it just a bit, but the tweaking was completely unnecessary. You'll find the pin here. It's essentially Thanksgiving dinner in the crock pot, and easily one of my favorite comfort foods. Also, compared to most comfort foods, it's quite healthy, and a well-rounded meal.

So, what did I do to tweak it? Here's the list:

  • Instead of using the traditional veggie mix, I used a mix of frozen broccoli and cauliflower
  • I chunked the onion rather than chopping it fine
  • I chopped up and added a huge stalk of celery because I had it in the fridge
  • I used a tablespoon of barbecue sauce in place of the teaspoon of A-1 (I can't stand A-1)
  • Instead of turkey stuffing, I went with corn bread
  • I got off to a very late start, so I cooked it on high for 4 hours instead of low for 6-8
The verdict: I still love it. The next time I make it, I may substitute pearl onions for the chopped onion. I found the cornbread stuffing wasn't quite as good as the basic, everyday Stove Top, but it's better for me as I should be on a gluten-reduced (if not gluten-free) diet, so I will probably continue to use it even though I prefer the traditional. And, I will make sure that from now on I have a full eight hours for the cooking time. Everything was cooked satisfactorily, but the stuffing didn't pick up as much moisture from the steam in the pot as it does when cooked on low. The leftovers were much better than that first night.

What of those leftovers? I doubled the recipe, so there are TONS. So I packed most of them into individual containers and froze them for nights when I'm in no mood to cook.

A tip about the size of your slow cooker: If you're making a single shot of this (which easily serves six), use a four quart or smaller cooker. If you're doubling the recipe, use a six quart or larger.

This photo was totally stolen from the original blog post for this recipe click the pic to go there 

In spite of my love of chicken nuggets, tenders, and strips, I've never had Chick-fil-a and probably never will. I happen to love the Tyson Crispy Strips and will have them occasionally, but this sauce is definitely one that is great for chicken cooked any which way you want to serve it. (I'm thinking grilled strips to cut the bread and therefore, the gluten content.)

The tweaks were unintentional, but here they are:
  • I had no actual garlic powder, so I used onion powder instead
  • I also used chopped raw garlic, about half a clove to make up for the missed garlic flavor
  • I kept the salt to a minimum, just a pinch rather than really salt it up as most restaurants would
The verdict: YUM! This will be my go-to honey mustard dressing-type thing from now on. However, I will use a blender or food processor to mix it rather than just a spoon or fork. It came out too lumpy from the mayonnaise not wanting to mix well with the other ingredients.

I kept it simple, opting to serve the chicken with a huge salad rather than the oven fries I originally intended to make.

So there you have it. Are there any Pinterest recipes I MUST TRY? Give me a shout in the comments below.

Happy Pinning!

Added 2/23/13: I had dinner this evening at Chick-fil-A for the very first time and that copycat sauce is spot on!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

I've Finally Gotten It Right (Free Crochet Pattern)

I'll spare you the details of the saga. Suffice it to say, my poor, beloved, decrepit, hot pink, Dell laptop went belly-up a couple of weekends ago. The battery has been useless for about two years, but the power cord is now fried. (Thank you, Hurricane Sandy!) Ironically, she finally breathed her last breath maybe twelve hours after the new one shipped. The good news for me is that because it's just a power issue, if I choose, I can replace the battery and cord and have a backup.

The good news for you, my beautiful, highly intelligent readers, is that because I spent a few days without a computer I finally found the time to finish the beanie pattern I've been promising for about a year.

Before I post that, however, I need to tell you how awesome Newegg.com and UPS are. Between fast service and fast shipping, I had the new machine in five days. That, mind you, was over a weekend. And the price was fabulous. The new baby was on sale, so for what would have been the full price, I was able to get Office installed on it as well. You can bet I'll be checking Newegg whenever I need electronics in the future.

Okay, enough about my new toys, let's talk crochet! This has definitely been the most difficult pattern I've ever developed. I could not get it to work right no matter what I did. Then I finally figured it out. It wasn't so much the pattern but how I was going about it. Getting the right curve in a round pattern comprised mainly of single crochet is tough. It wants to flatten. So I flipped it over and treated it like piece of amigurumi. That's when it all came together. It's still not quite as domed as I would have liked, but once the wearer has the hat on, the curve is more pronounced.

Some of you will find it odd stitching a hat from the bottom up rather than the top down, but trust me on this. It gives you a better curve at the top. Still, all that work wasn't for naught. The "failed" attempts at making the  hat showed me exactly what I need to do to make the handbag pattern I wanted to put together. THAT you'll just have to wait for. Heh. What can I say? I love to tease you.

Sample was crocheted using 100% cotton
worsted weight Peaches and Cream (discontinued)
and yielded a small/medium adult sized hat
The Blog Collection Beanie
by Laurie Laliberte

Supplies needed:

about 4 oz. (180-190 yds.) worsted weight yarn
size I-9 (5.5 mm) crochet hook for main body
size G-6 (4.0 mm) crochet hook for band
stitch marker or scrap of yarn for marking end of rounds
yarn needle or smaller size hook for weaving in ends

All instructions use American terminology and standard abbreviations.

Special Stitches:

front post double crochet (fpdc)—yo, insert hook behind post of stitch (from front to back to front), yo, pull up loop, yo, pull through 2 loops (2 loops on hook), yo, pull through remaining 2 loops

back post double crochet (bpdc)—yo, insert hook around post of stitch (from back to front to back), yo, pull up loop, yo, pull through 2 loops (2 loops on hook), yo, pull through remaining 2 loops

single crochet decrease (sc dec)—insert hook in next st, yo, pull up loop (2 loops on hook), insert hook in next st, yo, pull up loop (3 loops on hook), yo, pull through all 3 loops (counts as 1 stitch)

Construction note:

The term join, as used in this pattern means join with slip stitch in first stitch of round.

You will notice that I do not instruct you to join at the end of every round.  I found it easier to work the body of the pattern in continuous rounds.  This prevents having a visible seam up the back of your hat.  If you choose to join at each round, begin the next round with a ch1, even when that round begins with a dc.

If you join and ch1 at each round, your ch1 does not count as your first stitch.

with smaller hook, ch 72, join w/sl st in 1st ch being careful not to twist chain

Round 1:  ch3 (counts as first stitch), dc in 2nd ch from hook and in each each ch around, join (72 sts)

Round 2:  ch2 (counts as first st), [bpdc in next dc, fpdc in next dc], 35 times, bpdc in last dc, join (72 sts)

Round 3:  ch 2 (counts as first st), [bpdc in next bpdc, fpdc in next fpdc], 35 times, bpdc in last bpdc, join (72 sts)

Round 4:  repeat Round 3, switch to larger hook

Round 5:  ch1 (does not count as first st), sc in each st around (72 sts)

Round 6:  sc in back loops only (blo) around (72 sts)

Round 7:  repeat Round 6

Round 8:  [sc in blo of next st, dc in blo of next st] around (72 sts)

Round 9:  [dc in blo of next st, sc in blo of next st] around (72 sts)

Round 10:  repeat Round 8

Round 11:  repeat Round 9

Round 12:  repeat Round 8

Round 13:  sc in blo of each stitch around (72 sts)

Round 14:  repeat Round 13

Round 15:  repeat Round 13

Round 16:  [sc dec in next 2 sts, sc in each of next 4 sts] 12 times (60 sts)

Round 17:  sc in each st around (60 sts)

Round 18:  [sc dec in next 2 sts, sc in each of next 3 sts] 12 times (48 sts)

Round 19:  sc in each st around (48 sts)

Round 20:  [sc dec in next 2 sts, sc in each of next 2 sts] 12 times (36 sts)

Round 21:  sc in each st around (36 sts)

Round 22:  [sc dec in next 2 sts, sc in next st] 12 times (24 sts)

Round 23:  sc in each st around (24 sts)

Round 24:  [sc dec in next 2 sts, sc in each of next 2 sts] 6 times (18 sts)

Round 25:  [sc dec in next 2 sts, sc in next st] 6 times (12 sts)

Round 26:  [sc dec in next 2 sts] 6 times (6 sts)

Round 27:  [sc dec in next 2 sts] 3 times (3 sts)

At this point, you should be able to draw a loop through the remaining stitches and close any gap you may have.  Finish off, weave in ends.

To increase size slightly:

Add to foundation chain by twos until desired size is reached. Adjust decreases at end to compensate.

To increase size significantly:

Begin with 84 chains instead of 72 (stitch count for Rounds 1-15 will be 84) and add the following after Round 15

Round 15a:  [sc dec in next 2 sts, sc in each of next 5 sts] 12 times (72 sts)

Round 15b:  sc in each st around (72 sts)

Now proceed to Round 16 and continue pattern from there.

For links to all of my free patterns, click the link to the left.

To find out how to get a free pdf of this, or any of my other hat patterns, go here.

The Blog Collection Beanie as modeled by my adorable four-year-old niece

Da Roolz:

Any pattern I design and post here is my property. Please do not duplicate my patterns for any reason especially to sell. Instead, please link to my blog or to the pattern page when referencing one of my patterns.

You are more than welcome to offer finished items made from my patterns for sale. I see no reason why you should not profit from your hard work. However, I'd really appreciate it if you gave me credit for the design; please reference my blog or the pattern page.

If you do make any of my patterns, I'd love to see your finished items; please feel free to email pictures to me. Also, if you make my patterns to sell and want a bit of free advertising, send me pics and a link. I'd love to send customers your way.

BigGirlJewelry at yahoo dot com

Happy Crocheting!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veteran's Day

I was all set to post a crochet pattern this week, then I remembered that today is November 11, my parents' wedding anniversary. It also just happens to be Veterans' Day.

I thought about, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when thousands of homes in New York and New Jersey are still without power, working in a tribute to the National Guard. So I started poking around the Internet, looking for more information. That's when I happened upon this article and video from CBS News. I felt compelled to share it.

So I suppose you'll all just have to exercise some patience and wait a week for that pattern. Trust me. You won't regret it. Meanwhile, remember those who have served and those who are still serving so that we can sit in the comfort of our homes and crochet.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

What I've Learned

I wrote this post way far back when I began this blog and never published it. I came across it a few minutes ago and now I wonder why I never shared it with my readers. These are a few tips I picked up while working my very first amigurumi project, way back when, and yet they're wise words for any beginning crocheter.

So, better late than never, I thought I would share them with you now:
  • Read your pattern before you begin stitching -- I will usually skim through a pattern before I even make a trip to buy yarn for it. Some designers give instruction differently than others, so it's important to make sure you understand the project before you begin.
  • Count your stitches often -- Few things are more frustrating than getting half way through a project and discovering that your stitch count is off. Although many mistakes can be easily corrected, many others can not.
  • Use stitch markers -- I usually use just a piece of scrap yarn to mark stitches. This is most important when working in continuous rounds as you would when making mittens or amigurumi.
  • Take a breath -- If I become frustrated or overwhelmed with a project, I'm more likely to finish it if I fold it up and set it aside for an hour, a day, or even a week than if I force myself to continue working through the problem. Many times I return to find that I just misread an instruction or messed up one stitch.
  • Know when to walk away -- If you've started a project that turns out to be more than you can handle, allow yourself to let it go. Remember that crocheting should be a stress relief, not a cause for stress. You can always try again when you feel better prepared to handle it.
  • Ask for help -- There are so many designers/bloggers out here on the www who are very willing to lend an ear and help teach the next generation of crocheters. Drop an email to someone who can help you solve your dilemma. Mine is BigGirlJewelry (at) yahoo (dot) com.
Happy Crocheting!

My first amigirumi project, the (free) Toad and Toadette patterns by Wolfdreamer, can be found here.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Not Quite Top Chef

My BFF will be the first to tell you she's not the best cook in the world, but it's not because she's incapable. She's just not one of those people who can open the door to the pantry, grab a few items, and throw together a whole new creation.

What she IS good at, however, is finding quick and easy recipes that taste amazing. So I thought I'd share with you the latest. My personal goal (one of these days) is to remake this one from scratch so I have complete control over ingredients. Meanwhile, I'll make it once in a while with the gluten-free pre-breaded goodies from Perdue.

I could gladly eat chicken tenders for every meal.
Give me a side of onion rings and I'm a happy camper.
*Mom's Breaded Barbecue Chicken

1 package pre-breaded chicken of your choice
bottled barbecue sauce of your choice

Lay chicken pieces out on ungreased baking sheet.
Sparingly drop barbecue sauce on chicken. (The goal here is not to douse the chicken in the sauce but to add some flavor by getting the breading to absorb the sauce.)
Repeat on other side.
Bake according to package directions.

I'm not kidding. It's really that simple. And how does it taste? Would I share a recipe with you I didn't love? This is definitely one of those dishes to throw together when there's literally zero time to cook.

Happy Cooking!

*I call my BFF "Mom" online to protect her anonymity.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Feed Me, Pinterest

Okay, I realize I just recently posted about my budding affection for Pinterest. Since then, my recipe board (titled Feed Me) has gotten a bit out of hand. It currently weighs in at well over 1000 recipes, many of them for the slow cooker/crock pot. So I've decided to sort through them in a somewhat unique way.

I've begun another board for recipes I really want to try and a third that contains recipes for which I've purchased the ingredients and will be testing soon. I figure once I've tested the recipe, I'll decide whether to categorize it, so I can find it again, or delete it.

One recipe that is on the "purchased" list is one I've had several times and I already know I love it. It came to me courtesy of my BFF and it's like Thanksgiving dinner in the Crock Pot. I swear it's my favorite slow cooker recipe ever. Who doesn't love the combination of turkey, cranberries, and stuffing? If only it had mashed potatoes, it would be perfect. By the way, if you intend to try this recipe on my recommendation, remember one rule: once you've turned on the slow cooker, do not lift the lid. It needs to cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4. Resist the temptation to check it until the lower time has elapsed otherwise your stuffing will come out hard and uncooked.

I think I'm going to take the same approach with all those great craft ideas I've pinned as well. If I don't stay organized I'll have a terrible mess on my hands. And that, my friends, would defeat the entire purpose for me joining Pinterest in the first place. So keep an eye on the blog and I'll provide as many recipe reviews as I can without getting too repetitive. Or follow me on Pinterest and get the scoop there.

Meanwhile, if there's a recipe you see on my pinboard that you'd like to nominate, drop the link in the comments below and I'll put it on the list. I mean I wouldn't have pinned it if I had no intention of trying it anyway, right?

Happy Pinning!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

How I Got Infected (Book Review)

I was working on the Kindle All-Stars Project (I had been for about a month at that point) when one night I received a cc on an email welcoming this kid, William Vitka, to the team. I thought our fearless leader, Bernard Schaffer, was going to pee himself. He seemed so excited because B's a tough editor and this short story was the first submission that Bernard had deemed publication-ready with no editing. I was all, "dude must be really good." Little did I know... 
Anyhow, I sent Vitka the whole welcome packet that we sent to every new author accepted to the project and the standard "welcome to the team" email (which, by the way, is a personalized email, not just a form letter). Next thing I knew, I was emailing back and forth with this guy for like an hour. None of my other authors had done that. It actually kind of became a thing. You see, I'm a night owl and V's day job is actually a night job, so we were both online at the same time. We quickly became close friends.
By the way . . . I usually address my dear friend William Vitka as "Vitka" or "V" rather than "William" or "Will" because his twitter handle is @vitka. I've simply gotten use to thinking of him by his last name rather than his first.
I was thrilled when he sent me Infected to read. I knew it wasn't perfect. He was still in the process of editing the manuscript and would welcome my feedback. I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into it. 
As is my curse, I found a few typos in pages I knew he'd already edited. (I can't help it; I can't turn off my proofreading machine.) I told him I'd send him a list of what to look for and where to find it when I was done reading the manuscript. I ended up making a couple of minor editorial suggestions, which V loved. I also ended up doing the final proofread.
You'd have thought I had saved his life! At the time I didn't realize that Infected was Vitka's first novel because it was so well written. He already had a well developed style which is pretty rare in a first-time novelist. In fact, when another author was struggling with "voice," I sent that writer (with permission) a copy of the Infected manuscript as an outstanding example of an author using a voice that suits the character rather than himself. To contrast that and show how the same author can use vastly different voices in vastly different narratives, I also told him to read "In a Mind" which was Vitka's contribution to the Kindle All-Stars first anthology, Resistance Front
Anyhow, those minor suggestions led to V's asking me to edit his second novel, Emergence (a title I suggested, by the way). I was all over that because by that point, I was quite confident in my ability as a fiction editor and I couldn't wait to read Vitka's next novel. 
So there you have it, the story behind the story. 

And here's my official review:

cover art by sean vitka
reproduced by permission
My rating:  (R) for language, violence, gore
Almost perfect *****

While reading this book, I've been in the midst of the most challenging proofread of my life! It's a 526-page anthology involving 39 pieces by 32 authors from 6 different countries. Infected was the brain candy that helped keep me sane through the first half of it.

I needed to read about zombies taking over New York.

Actually, calling this piece "brain candy" cheapens it. It's not that at all. It's an easy enough read to keep you entertained if that's all you want, but William Vitka gives you enough to think about if you're looking for more.

Funny, Vitka's treatment of the Church as state reminds me of Voltaire (Candide) and his disdain for Church and State.

Vitka's main character is a young, cynical, pissed off atheist living in a porn-obsessed, media-saturated, over-churched New York City. It's the worst of all possible worlds.

I think what I like best about the cast of characters he's assembled is they're not perfect. They're not heroes. They're just trying to survive against all odds.

From page one I was hooked. I really love the way Vitka writes. His smartass, sarcastic, ironic sense of humor takes you on an adrenaline- and alcohol-fueled roller coaster ride that could almost happen. 

I've read little pulp and I haven't read horror, real horror, in about 20 years, but I am so happy I grabbed this book. I can't wait to attack his next one. 

Infected is well worth your time and so worth every one of those five stars.

Happy Reading!

[Added in the wee hours of 10/15/12] My apologies, gang. This post was pre-programmed because the book was supposed to be live this week. It will be available through Amazon in both ebook and print format as well as other outlets. While I have not been given an exact date, I've been told it will be before the end of October and I will post links when it is live. In the meantime, you'll find a bit of William Vitka's work on Amazon and his serialized novel, Kulture Vultures, at Curiosity Quills.

[Added 10/28/12] We have a sighting! Infected is now available, in print, directly through Graveside Books. I will let you know when other sources become available.

[Added 11/12/12] The electronic version of Infected is now available through Amazon!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Far From Home

For more details about the Far From Home
series, including a timetable for upcoming
releases, visit Tony's website.
You're all used to this by now. I post a quick little story about a book I've worked on, then tell you to go buy it. In this case, I'm going to tell you to go download it for free.

Tony Healey's latest project is a ship-based sci-fi adventure that he and I (okay, more me than him) are having way too much fun with. It's camp. It's pulp. It's a bit old school. It's a lot of homage to the numerous TV series that influenced both of us as kids. It's the many Star Treks, Star Wars, Buck Rogers, and Battlestar Galacticas. It's a fun romp through 1970s and 1980s television (and movies) with just a touch of the 1990s thrown in for good measure.

The first volume, Legend, is free on Amazon and Smashwords. The second, Commander, is available in both locations for a mere $1.99. The third, Hero, is currently in the works and should be hitting my desk any day now in time to be edited for its October release. The remaining nine installments will be spread across the next thirteen months, then the entire saga will be released in December 2013 as one large volume.

That's the plan anyway.

Follow us as we travel, won't you? But be prepared. We'll be straying Far From Home.

Happy Reading!

(By the way, as a personal favor, once you've read this terrific adventure, please consider leaving a review on Amazon and/or Smashwords. Reviews are like gold to indie authors. Good reviews are like platinum.)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Submissions Open...Are You Ready?

Hey all! Just in case you've been living under a rock since January, I thought I'd give a shout out to the KAS and any other writers who read the blog. Submissions for the latest anthology open October 1 and will be accepted throughout the month of October. The details are below. (I stole them right off the website.) Bernard and I look forward to reading your stories!

By the way, please remember we have a contest for the cover design as well. Submissions for the cover art should go to the same address. Details for the contest can be found here.

Submissions for the second Kindle All-Stars project will be open from October 1st to October 31st, 2012.  
ALL of the following guidelines MUST be adhered to, or your story will be returned to you un-read. 
The theme for the second Kindle All-Stars Project is Cryptozoology.  
Your story must pertain in some way to the list of cryptids found on this page.  
Note: We are open to more than one story about the main cryptids (Bigfoot, Nessie, etc.) so do not be discouraged in submitting your work. That being said, there will be a limit to how many we take about one creature. Choose your cryptid wisely. 
Just as with Resistance Front, all profits from this book will be donated to a designated charity. The charity will be announced closer to the book's release date.  
1.    All submissions must be emailed to KindleAllStars@gmail.com with "KAS2" in the subject heading. 
2.    All submissions must be orginal, never-before-published works.  
3.     Word count: Maximum 6k words.  
4.     Format as follows: 
        - 12 point, Times New Roman font.  
        - Double spaced. 
        - Two spaces after every period. (Not negotiable. Don't try to convince El Presidente otherwise.)     
        - Microsoft Word .doc or .docx only
        - Improperly formatted stories will not be accepted.  
5.    Only finished work will be accepted.  Do not send rough drafts, first drafts, or story ideas. We are only accepting edited, proofread, finished pieces for KAS2.  
        *If you require editorial assistance, contact Laurie after you've read the KAS editorial services webpage.
GOOD LUCK TO EVERYONE, and we look forward to seeing your work.
*Fair warning: It's too late to contact me for editorial assistance, but I may be able to hook you up with one of the associate editors if they have time to work with you between now and October 31. No, it's not a complementary service and no, editing by the service does not guarantee your submission will be accepted.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

You Made It...Are You Selling It?

Every so often, I'll see a comment on one of my patterns, either free or for sale, thanking me for allowing/encouraging the sale of finished objects made from them. Truth is that I love when you all tell me you're selling your finished objects on Etsy or at craft fairs. I simply don't have the time these days to make finished objects for my shop. And I miss doing craft fairs. So I live vicariously through those of you who do have the time. Or make the time.

Therefore, I'd like to offer you some free promotional space. I want to set up a page here on the blog where I can link your blogs or your Etsy shops. Leave a comment below with your link. Tell me what you sell* and where. I'll add your link and a short description to the page. It's really that simple. I can add a picture as well, but choose wisely. It will be a small one, and only one. (The photo of the Oval Tiny Bubbles Scrubby above is a good size reference.) Please email your pics to me at biggirljewelry[at]yahoo[dot]com along with your link and other information (so I get them correctly matched).

*Please make sure your link is to an item made from my designs, not someone else's.

Now get to work! Um, I mean, Happy Crocheting!