Review: Roots: Insights From the Tree Alphabet of Old Ireland

For a few decades, two old apple trees shared a back yard with me. Over the years I got to know them well. My canning shelves filled up with applesauce, pie filling, apple butter, and bags of dehydrated apple chips. There was nothing I didn’t know about my apple trees. Or so I thought.

Olivia Wylie’s book explores the connection between trees, ancient poetry, unusual botanical insights and a very old Irish writing system called Ogham. I was drawn back to the apple trees to learn more of their secrets.

Now I know that the apple tree is the embodiment of perseverance. I learned that Brehon law designates it as a Noble of the Wood. I learned how apple trees are connected to Beltane and Samhain, and why people of northern Europe depended on them for their very lives. I even learned about the apple trees connection to King Arthur and Avalon.

And that’s just one of the Ogham’s stories. Just one character in the language. There are twenty Ogham symbols, and each one carrys a rich treasure trove of meaning.

Olivia Wylie is not only the author of Roots: Insights From the Tree Alphabet of Old Ireland, she’s also the illustrator. Her artwork melds each tree with the Ogham in a delightful mix.

I quite recommend this book. In fact, I’m rooting for it! (I apologize).

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City and Country Croutons

When I was a kid, my gramma would always tell me to “eat the crusts, they’ll make your hair curly”. She might as well have told me to “eat the crusts, they’ll make your face fall off”. The last thing I wanted back then was curly hair. But I was an obedient child and did eat my crusts. Perhaps that’s why I now have very curly hair.

Before Crusts
Before Crusts

So if you like curly hair, try making my country croutons. If you prefer it straight, better stick to the city croutons. Just to be sure.

After Crusts
After Crusts

Hair theories aside, most of us like to be thrifty We don’t like wasting food we spent good money on, right?  Since there’s only two of us in my house, a loaf of bread tends to be too much, and at least a few slices go stale in every loaf.

I love salads, especially with croutons, and usually throw a few croutons on my soup too, so those stale slices never go to waste. Making croutons is fun and easy and you get to play with scissors!

City croutons are delicate and airy, lightly seasoned. I like them on green salads, especially if I have a flavorful dressing. These croutons play nicely with others and will still let your dressing stand out.

City Croutons
City Croutons

Country croutons are bold and strong. They’re better suited to toss into a bowl of tomato soup (along with a bit of cheese, yum.) They’re also great in salads, but keep in mind the flavor mixing and matching as you combine your greens, veggies, nuts, whatevers. And why not try them on chili?

Country Croutons
Country Croutons

These recipes are very basic. There’s tons of wiggle-room for you to use your favorite spices and seasonings.  If at first you don’t succeed, you know there’s always going to be more stale bread in your future. Just try again!

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Print Recipe
City and Country Croutons
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
Preparation
  1. Lay slices of bread out to dry. You don’t want them to be rock-hard, but you don’t want them to be fresh, either. Aim for dry, and not spongy when pressed with a fingertip.
  2. Grab your kitchen shears. If you don't have any, a basic pair of scissors works just fine. Be sure to wash them before using them with food.
  3. Cut the crusts off. Aim for rectangles of center-cut bread. Set the crusts aside; you will be using them too!
City Croutons
  1. Prepare your seasoning mix. City croutons are very light and crisp, and would benefit from lighter seasonings. In a small bowl, blend your choice and quantities of seasonings. Some suggestions: garlic powder, cracked pepper, oregano, parsley, finely chopped chives, lemon pepper. This is your chance to show your creativity and individuality.
  2. Cut the crustless pieces of bread into small squares, and place them in a medium sized mixing bowl.
  3. Heat oven to 250 degrees.
  4. Using 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, lightly oil a cookie or baking sheet.
  5. Drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil over the bread squares and toss them lightly to distribute it.
  6. Sprinkle your seasoning mix over the bread squares and toss lightly once more.
  7. Scatter the bread squares evenly over the pan, making sure they are only one layer deep.
  8. Place the sheet of bread squares in the oven. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, but check often as bread type and moisture content will alter cooking time.
  9. Remove croutons from oven when they are lightly brown and dry to the touch.
Country Croutons
  1. Prepare your seasoning mix. Country croutons, because they are made from bread crusts, are sturdier than city croutons and would benefit from heartier seasonings. In a small bowl, blend your choice and quantities of seasonings. Some suggestions: garlic powder, cracked pepper, paprika, chili powder, dry onion, Cajun mixes and other pre-blended spicy seasonings. If you plan to use the croutons in soup, keep your spices compatible with the soup's flavors.
  2. Take the bread crusts you set aside earlier, and cut them into small squares.
  3. Follow the instructions for city croutons starting at the third step, heating the oven, through the last step. (The only difference in the recipe is the spice blend and use of the bread crusts)
Recipe Notes

Cinnabliss Granola Bars

In my mind, the word “granola” reminds me of my experiences with rock-hard cereal filled with various nuts, birdseed, tough raisins, sticky honey, and if the local co-op had it, coconut flakes.

My apartment building was filled with college students, so once a month we’d pool our resources and efforts together and make a huge batch of granola, which was divided up between us all.

Usually over-baked and under-whelming, our homemade efforts were hard on our teeth but soft on our college student budgets, so in spite of our grumbling, we ate it every day.

The best way to shake off those old disco-era granola nightmares is to try these soft, chewy, sweet and spicy granola bars. With my sincere apologies to the Rolling Stones and the Ohio Express, you’ll soon stop singing “Too Tough” and will happily start humming “Chewy Chewy”.

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28
Print Recipe
Cinnabliss Granola Bars
These soft, chewy granola bars can be added to a lunchbox, or crumbled over ice cream for a quick dessert. They keep well in a sealed container on the countertop for a few days, then they are off to the fridge - if there's any left, of course. Refrigeration will not alter their taste or texture.
Cuisine Low Sodium
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Passive Time 20 minutes
Servings
snack bars
Ingredients
Cuisine Low Sodium
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Passive Time 20 minutes
Servings
snack bars
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x9 baking pan.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon until well blended. Mixture will be stiff.
  3. Press the mixture into the greased baking pan. Press it down firmly and evenly. The mixture should be between 1/2 and 3/4 inch thick.
  4. Bake 10 minutes.
  5. Remove pan from oven. Press the mixture down with the back of a wooden spoon to eliminate any gaps or cracks.
  6. Return pan to the oven and bake an additional 10 minutes.
  7. Remove pan from oven, and using the back of a wooden spoon again, press the mixture down one last time.
  8. Let pan cool before cutting the granola into 20 squares. (You can cut them any way you like, but the nutrition label is based on 20 squares).
Recipe Notes

Two Day Refried Beans

Homemade refried beans require little effort, but do need a long, lazy simmer on the back of the stove. For perfectly smooth and silky beans, follow the simmer with an overnight nap in the fridge, then a warm-up and short simmer the next day just before serving.

I’m a big fan of the classic enchilada platter with its huge helpings of beans and rice taking up nearly half the plate. Simple, plain beans work perfectly with the more complicated flavors of the enchiladas and their sauce.

But for a snack, it’s fun to dress up the beans in the spirit of a ramen bowl. The bowl pictured above is garnished with radishes, purple chives flowers, white onion, tomato, Chinese garlic chives, and shredded cheddar and swiss cheeses. The sauce bowl is simply plain greek yogurt with a spoonful of homemade sodium-free taco seasoning stirred in. Yum.

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Print Recipe
Low Sodium Refried Beans
Making refried beans from scratch puts you in control of how much sodium goes in, if any. This recipe doesn't include salt as an added ingredient, and I don't think it's needed.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Passive Time 1 day
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Passive Time 1 day
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Fill a medium-sized saucepan with water and add the dry pinto beans. Simmer on medium heat for 1 hour.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients to the simmering beans.
  3. Continue simmering on medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour, or as long as needed for the beans to start to soften. Add more water as needed to keep the beans covered.
  4. When the beans soften, mash them in the pot with a potato masher, or use the back of a large spoon to press them against the sides of the saucepan to break them up.
  5. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let it cool.
  6. Remove the bay leaf, and move the beans into a storage container to refrigerate overnight.
  7. The next day, put the beans back in a saucepan and re-heat. If the beans haven't yet fallen apart to a mushy texture, simmer as long as needed for them to become soft and smooth.
Recipe Notes

After you've cooked your first pot of beans, consider how you'd like to alter the spices.  Garlic lovers may wish to use a few crushed fresh cloves rather than a pinch of garlic powder. Add more heat, or leave out the pepper flakes completely. It's all up to you! Make this basic side dish into your own signature beans.

Review: Blood Calls

At first glance, you might think Blood Calls is a vampire novel, but you’d be wrong. At second glance, you might think it’s the story of a boy and his dragon, but you’d be only half-right. Just stop glancing, sit down, and read! This delightfully smart and witty adventure story cracks the tropes and sets a high standard for fantasy adventure.

I especially enjoy what I call ‘new eyes’ in storytelling, where we learn about the world through the eyes of characters exploring new lands and societies.  First we meet Corbin, who’s been sobered up just long enough to be sent away to the country of Sunal as a ‘junior diplomat’,  where it seems he’ll be wallowing in endless meetings, with occasional breaks to indulge in drink and debauchery.  But there’s so much more in store for him and his bonded dragon pal, Blood. As Corbin slowly comes into his own, we explore the world, his dragon bond, and even flashbacks to his childhood right along with him.

He soon befriends a street urchin named Dante, who’s fashioned himself a small newspaper empire. Dante becomes another set of new eyes for us to see through.

And then there’s the magic. Lots of magic, complicated magic that’s intriguing without being confusing.  And there’s battles, and swordplay, and a pretty love interest, of course – but author Charles D. Shell brings it all to life with a fresh approach.  The heart of the story comes from the people who are tossed together by circumstances,  and must learn to trust, respect, and even love each other.  It’s not as sappy as it sounds! There’s lots of snark, sarcasm, and ‘oh crap what did I get into now’ action.  That action slowly ramps up, ever higher, and never slides backwards. It’s a gasp-aloud, read one more chapter even though it’s already 2am, kind of book.

I have to mention that I rather enjoyed the use of modern language in place of the typical flowery fantasy talk, and the various crazy situations that border on the absurd, without becoming unbelievable.  I highly recommend Blood Calls, and will be avidly watching for the next book in the series. Five stars!

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A California Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there were six little cousins. The eldest, most wisest of them all was Sherrie the Trailblazer.  Successor to her throne was Sharon the Serious. Following down the line of succession came Lori the Befuddled, Lonnie the Stoic, Dave the Adventurous, and Donie Who-Must-Be-Doted-Upon (the baby always gets that role).

The cousins were ruled by those in true power: the Almighty Parents, and the Ever-Indulgent Grandparents. All would gather together for the High Feasts; Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  These holidays were celebrated at one of the three Mighty Fortresses each year in rotation, and so each location was featured every three years. These Fortresses were the Tower of Torrance, the Palace of Pasadena, and the Domicile of Duarte.

For a time, the three princesses were inseparable. The older two princesses took it upon themselves to teach the youngest one the ways of the world. With a little help from Gramma, of course.

Gramma taught the princesses many important things, like how to knit, how play Chinese Checkers, how to appreciate a well-laid-out pickle platter, and how to play the national sport of the land, shuffleboard. There was nothing that Gramma couldn’t do.

Gramma and Granapa’s home, The Palace of Pasadena, was filled with mystery and adventure.  The Hollow Walkway of the Front Porch seemed to echo with exotic voices from the other side of the world, while the Geranium Ramparts behind the palace, encircled by a short brick wall, simply begged to be scampered around, and around, and around upon. Behind the Ramparts was the door to the Heavenly Kitchen, from whence emanated the Smells of Wonderment and Delight. To the left, one can see the window into Granapa’s Office, a realm of fun with rubber stamps and other office supplies.

Of course, the princesses would sometimes fight over the Throne of Power, but it always ended in a tie.

And of course, every princess knew that swimming in the moat was *strictly* forbidden. Except, apparently, Princesses Lori and Sherrie.

For a time, the Enclave of El Monte was also the scene of many medieval burger banquets and raucous revelry.

On special occasions, Princesses Lori and Sherrie (shown here in matching royal ballgowns), were escorted to a Magic Kingdom in Anaheim by Gramma, the Grand Matriarch.

While exploring the Magic Kingdom, the two princesses took a trip to Wonderland, where they had many fine adventures with Alice. A haughty but helpful caterpillar acted as their conveyance.

Then accompanied by Snow White, they boarded a fine watercraft and bravely journeyed through the gaping mouth of a whale, emerging into an Enchanted Storybook Land.

Time Passed, as it does, and the princesses found themselves more often exploring the world on Grand Adventures of their own. However, their bond was strong, and having grown up together, they would always have a shared understanding of the world.

And of course, they sometimes found time to dance the hula.

The Palace of Pasadena, the scene of so many mad romps and adventures, continued to be a refuge, with Granapa and Gramma offering their unconditional love and support.

Princess Sherrie was a gift to us all. From her, Princess Lori learned that a woman could be strong and outspoken. She learned that a woman could lead. For as long as she was able, Princess Lori followed her role model.

This week, Princess Sherrie needed to leave us to travel to a far-off palace, one that she could never return from. But she left those who loved her with remembrance of good times, laughter, smiles. And Princess Lori was given the best gift of all, a delightful childhood filled with happy memories.  Thank you, Princess Sherrie, you will always be remembered and loved!

~ ~ ~

Bonus Feature! An early photo shoot with Princesses Sherrie, Lori and Sharon, in which Princess Sherrie really shows off her charms, as well as a talent for funny faces. Take that, Lucille Ball, here’s the real crazy redhead.

And then Granapa showed up to bring some class and decorum to the scene.

Of course, Gramma had to get in on the fun, too!

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Literary Festival at Fantasy Faire

This weekend, I will be making various appearances at the Fantasy Faire’s Literary Festival, a benefit event to support the American Cancer Society.  My avatar, Ceejay Writer, will be representing me at the Faire in the virtual world of Second Life. If you are a resident of this virtual world, I’d love for you to join me!
Literary Festival 2018

 

Selected Adventures
Friday, April 20, 6:30pm – 7:00pm
Caledonia Skytower presents selected adventures from the works of Ceejay Writer to set the stage for the author’s presentation at 7pm slt. Hear her words, and then stay to hear about her process and what she’s learned about writing from it. Live in voice.

Pantsing vs. Planning in Fiction Writing
Friday, April 20, 7:00pm – 8:00pm
Author Ceejay Writer is a life-long pantser who prefers to write ‘by the seat of her pants’, just letting the characters pull her along through their story. However! She’s pantsed herself right into a corner far too many times, and is in the process of trying to turn herself into a planner. There’s a lot to be said for well thought out planning. She’d like to tell you about some of the pros and cons of each style.

Tall Tales and Outright Lies
Saturday, April 21, 6:30pm – 8:00pm
Tall Tales has been an every other Saturday evening event since back in the days when Armada Breakaway’s floating city struck dread into the hearts of all who drew near… until it burned down. Then, we took our stories to a tropical island in the Blake Sea… until the hotel developers invaded. Nowadays, we’re in Ceejay Writer’s bohemian coffee house in the city of New Babbage. But on April 21st, we invade the Fantasy Faire! Come along and share your own story-scribblings, or relax and listen to others spin a yarn, or both. (storytelling is in text)

(All times are SLT: Second Life Time, which is the same as Pacific Time)

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