Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Using late summer bounty #mngarden #salsa #freshveggies #recipes

pico de gallo

It’s the same struggle every year: what to do with WAAAAY more veggies than I anticipated. One of the best parts about a veggie garden is that very bounty, if you have something to do with all those veggies. I’ve convinced my daughter to bring some of them to her work to share.

There’s something about home-grown tomatoes … I think there are a lot of people that only grow tomatoes because of the taste. Store-bought tomatoes can’t compete with the flavor of a sun-warmed, fresh-picked, red-ripe (or yellow or pink or whatever other color you have) tomato.

garden-fresh tomatoes

This is about the same time the pepper plants are starting to split and fall over because of the sheer weight of the peppers. And we won’t talk about the four (!!) jalapeno plants I have. I don’t know what I was thinking, except those were the plants that came up when I started the seeds this spring. A person doesn’t need more than one jalapeno plant unless they go all out making poppers. Sheesh!

red bell peppers and jalapeno peppers

We plant enough onions to last at least halfway through the winter (we use a LOT of onions), though this year when I planted my onion seeds (I’ve been starting my own onions in the house in, like, March), not as many of them came up as in years past, so I had to get sets from the local greenhouse. Those onions had a tendency to form multiple bulbs, almost like huge garlic. Which might have been okay if I’d pulled them before we got two inches of rain that collected in the pockets of those multibulb onions. So many started to rot! Sigh. We rescued what we could, but next year I’m thinking I’ll order onion plants again. At least I’ll get the variety we like, instead of generic “white” onion sets.

three onions

Have you ever heard someone say you only have to plant dill once? That’s because it reseeds like crazy, and you’ll get volunteers coming up for years. Cilantro is kinda the same way, though it works better if you plant some every couple of weeks so you always have some that isn’t going to seed.

cilantro

Every year when I have an abundance of tomatoes, I make pico de gallo. The first time I had it was when hubs and I were in Mexico with his sister. It was soooo good! And so simple. Tomatoes, peppers, onions, cilantro, and a splash of lime juice.

My daughter will eat pico de gallo with tortilla chips and call that a meal. So, in case you are interested, here’s the “recipe”. It’s like when you ask your grandma for just about any recipe that isn’t a dessert: no exact measures. It’s all to taste:

Fresh tomatoes: enough so that when they are diced, you end up with maybe 3 to 4 cups.

Fresh sweet peppers: enough so that when they are chopped, they are about a third to a half of the volume of the tomatoes (so 4 c of diced tomatoes would need about 1 1/2 cup or so of peppers)

Fresh onions: again, enough so that when chopped they are about a third of the volume of the tomatoes. To taste, though, and depends on how strong your onions are (and some of ours are so strong they can make your eyes water from halfway across the kitchen).

Fresh jalapeno peppers: to taste, and it depends on how spicy the peppers are and how spicy you like it. We’ve had jalapenos that were OMG hot, and some that were meh. I’ve been using about three without the seeds and ribs (which is where most of the heat is).

Fresh cilantro: finely chopped, to taste. Some people think cilantro tastes like soap, I think it tastes great. I add about 1/4 c or so, again depending on volume of tomatoes.

This is my method. No, I haven’t combed through Pintrest or Allrecipes.com to find a recipe. It works, it’s unstructured (read: rebellious), and makes me feel good because everything is from the garden (except the lime juice).

Dice the tomatoes and put them in a strainer to drain (I put the strainer over a bowl to catch the juice, which Hubs uses to make soup or whatever (hey, he loves to cook!)). Trust me, there’s a lot of juice in them tomatoes. Stir in a bunch of salt, start with about 1 teaspoon for sure if you have about 3-4 cups of tomatoes (yes, THAT much, and no, I never measure 🙂 ). Mix it into the tomatoes. let them drain. The salt will pull more liquid from the tomatoes.

Chop the rest of the veggies and stir them into the tomatoes in the strainer. It’ll keep draining. Taste it now to make sure you have enough salt. Don’t be afraid to add more; it’s surprising how much it can take. Make sure the flavors balance and adjust as needed (that is, add more tomatoes or onions or whatever until it tastes good).

Put the salsa into the container you will serve or store it in, then add a splash of lime juice (try a capful if you need a measure). Mix well, taste again, add more juice if you think it needs it. And that’s it.

Note that after you put it in the fridge the flavors get muted; that’s the tomato, I think. Tomatoes always lose some flavor once they’re refrigerated.

Damn, now I’ve got the munchies. I’ll get back to my writing after a little snack 😀

Enjoy your weekend! Keep on Writing!

Nyx, Tibbers, and my son’s girlfriend’s cat, Stella


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A week of cute trouble #kittens

So last week I mentioned I probably wouldn’t get much writing done this week because we were going to be cat-sitting for my son’s 2 kittens. And I was right. I did, however, manage to get some baking done (kittens napping on one’s lap interferes with writing, but not baking 🙂 )

What a pair! The little black one, Nyx, is the troublemaker. I think they have her picture next to the definition in the dictionary. And I swear she’s part monkey as much as she climbs around. We have a rickety old Chinese laundry that’s been glued and rubber-banded together for years. Nyx spent time using it as a jungle gym (she managed to tip it over twice, but didn’t get hurt).

Steady …

Tibbers is the chill one, as long as he’s not being skittish. He’s not one to brush against your legs as cats do, but he’ll walk right past you then plop on the floor and stretch.

Chillin’

Zoey was NOT happy about the interlopers, and hissed at Tibbers on a regular basis. Tibs, on the other hand, followed her around. She would stop and hiss at him, and he just sat and waited until she started moving again, then followed.

Another thing about Nyx is that she loves being high up. I suggested to my son that he get a cat tree (his girlfriend is getting him one for Christmas).

Not only does Nyx like to climb, she is incessantly curious. The rule at our house (and my son’s apartment) is cats do not belong on counters or tables. Ever. My son has been trying to train them with a spray bottle and water, which works fine for Tibbers because he doesn’t like it. Nyx, of course, doesn’t mind the water. We had a spray bottle we had to refill while they were here. Nyx would get up on the counter where she wasn’t supposed to be, we’d scold and spray, and she’d jump down, lick off the water, and jump right back up on the counter.

On the bright side, because we’re home all day and consistent, she knew not to jump on the counter by the end of the week. Not that she didn’t try, but we didn’t have to spray as much. Curiosity is strong with that one!

We got to watch the usual kitten antics: play wrestling (Tibbers is bigger, so he could smack Nyx down, but Nyx is quicker), zoomies (they had a lot more room around here than at the apartment), and a fun cat toy consisting of a miniature fishing rod with a pair of feathers fastened to the end on a line (my son called it a “bird”).

Tibbers, being the less-energetic of the pair, liked to take a break on the stairs and watch his sister’s antics.

You know cats are comfortable in a strange place when they find your lap the ideal place to take a nap. Usually the kittens disappeared in the afternoon, finding nap places somewhere in the house. Nyx is less shy, and more affectionate than Tibbers (to make up for the trouble she causes?). And she’s a purr machine.

Tibbers warmed up by mid-week, and he’s bigger than Nyx, so a lapful of Tibbers was a true lapful. Just look at the size of this handsome boy (he’s about six months old, I think). My chair is oversized, so that gives you a little perspective.

He hasn’t quite grown into his paws. I’m pretty sure he has some Maine Coon in him.

Ready for my close-up

My son and his girlfriend came and picked up the kittens last night, so Zoey has the house to herself again. And I got my dose of kittens. No writing, though. I’ll try to make up for that this weekend.

Two weeks until Christmas! Eek! Hope everyone is doing well and staying safe. We’re not doing any in-person family gatherings this year, though one of my brothers suggested a virtual gathering via Zoom. We’ll see how that goes.

Write on!


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NaNoWriMo Week 1 recap #nanowrimo #amwriting

Hey! *waves* Talk about a crazy week! Fall has returned to the “great white North” with record-setting temps in the 70s this week. Yep, you read that right. The first week of November in MN has temps in the 70s! Makes it almost worth the 6 1/2 inches of snow we got two weeks ago worth it.

Almost.

And since it’s been so nice, it would be a sin to not take advantage of it, right? Finished cleaning up the garden and went for a run outside. It felt glorious (except for all the dust from the gravel road). We have a couple more days before seasonal temps return (to the tune of around 40-50 degrees F).

Oh, and look who we found hanging out in our grove this week: (NOT a picture of our actual visitor because I take lousy pictures and I do not have a telephoto lens (because I take lousy pictures 🙂 )):

I saw a great horned owl in our grove years ago when we first bought the place, but haven’t seen one since, though I think I might have heard it a few times. This week, hubs got out the binoculars, pointed to some place in the grove, and said “Look.” Yeah. Unless you know ex-act-ly where to look with binoculars, good luck seeing whatever the hell it is the other person is pointing at.

He took me down the driveway (through the grove) so I had a different angle. Sure enough, it was a great horned owl. So cool! That’s one of the best things about our little 8-acre island in the middle of vast farm fields: we get to see all kinds of wildlife. There’s a resident red-tailed hawk and another hawk I’m not sure of, maybe broad-winged or Cooper’s. A pair of wood ducks hangs out every spring on their way to wherever they nest. Saw a possum cross the yard last week, and I’m pretty sure a woodchuck lives in the ruins of the old timber-frame farm house. I’m not going to mention the rabbits. So many rabbits. Ugh.

And back to NaNo, Week 1. I’ve managed to keep up this week. Not my usual 2k words a day, but I’m making the 1667 word quota, with about a hundred words to spare. It was touch and go the first couple days, though.

With the “oh my gawd I cannot deal with election Tuesday” this week, I had a video chat with my Writing Sisters, two of whom are joining me in this crazy NaNo adventure.

And one of them, who is attempting NaNo for the first time, expressed her frustration. “Why did I ever think this was a good idea? I blame you, Julie.”

In some secret, dark part of me, I rubbed my hands together and laughed maniacally. Mwahahahahaha!

In the kinder, brighter part of me, I empathized. NaNo can be pretty intimidating.

She asked how I do it.

This is what I told her:

  • The internet is a time-sucking distraction, even when it comes to research. I can pop to the internet to look something up, such as popular boys names in the 1950s, and pretty soon I’ve lost a half-hour of writing time. This year I’m getting serious with my lack of discipline. I turn the internet off (well, not off, hubs would not appreciate that). I started using a program called Freedom.to that will block me from accessing the internet for a period of time. I even splurged for a lifetime membership (which is half-price this month and actually reasonable).
  • What about when I have to look something up if I can’t go to the internet? I make an inline note within brackets to remind me, then when I revise, I’ll look it up.
  • Don’t go back to revise something you wrote earlier. Chuck that inner editor into a cage, close the door, and put the key into the back of the desk drawer. If I need to revise something or come back to it, I make inline notes again, sometimes like: gawd, this sounds stupid fix it later. 😀
  • What about keeping track of details? I have a character “bible” in OneNote, which also includes setting details (I use Karen Wiesner’s worksheets from her First Draft in 30 days book). I also use Scrivener, which lets you keep notes for scenes and stuff. I can keep track of what day it is or whose POV it is that way.
  • Music or no music? I actually like to listen to instrumental music along the lines of The Piano Guys, George Winston, David Garrett, the Narada artists, etc. Sometimes I’ll go full nature with thunderstorm or ocean wave soundtracks. It seems to help me corral creative energies.

I did run into a problem in the beginning, though. I like to write out a timeline or series of events for a story (some might call it an outline, but that word seems too rigid to me), then I’ll write the story following the timeline. It’s how I’ve written every other book, and it works, or has worked for me.

Until now.

I wrote out the timeline for this book over a year ago. I know what happens in the book, but I’m not sure about the transitions. I found myself plodding along from point A to point B at such a slow pace that my usual 2-hr writing session only netted me maybe 500 words.

I’ll never hit 50k in 30 days at that pace.

So I decided to try the method one of my other writing sisters uses. She writes in scenes, and then weaves them together later. It works for her.

Guess what? It’s working for me with this book (hey, after 4 unfinished first drafts, something’s gotta work, right?). I’m getting through the scenes and hitting my word counts. Yay!

We have a couple more days of unseasonably-warm weather, so I’ll be trying to enjoy it while still getting my daily word quota.

Keep on writing!


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Time for cuteness

I was going to write a post about writing this week, but I’m not feeling it, so I’ll give y’all a break from gardens and writing to bring you some smiles.

I know some of you like cats. You know who you are. And anyone who likes cats loves kittens, right?

My son, who graduated from college this spring, now has a full-time job and just moved into a one-bedroom apartment, because after having roommates for the past four years, he decided no more roommates.

Of my two kids, he’s the cat person. My daughter is the dog person. From the time he left for college, he has always said he wanted a cat of his own. The kids grew up with cats (and dogs), so he knows everything that goes into taking care of a cat.

Mr. “I have a really good first job out of college despite the pandemic” adopted two kittens from the animal shelter this month. He graciously brought them home for us to adore 😀

(And yes, B, I was thinking about you when I decided what to put in this post 😀 )

Ready?

My son got one female kitten, Nixie, who is a-dor-a-ble and still tiny even though she is 8 or 9 weeks old. All black, and loves to climb on your shoulders.

Nixie

His other kitten is male, about two weeks older than Nixie, and looks like he has some Maine Coon in him judging by the size of his paws and the fuzzy tail. His name is Tibbers.

Tibbers. Check out that tail!

Tibbers is a little bigger, but still seems small for his age. He’s cuddly. The two of them seem to get along well.

Zoey, however, was NOT impressed. She hissed at them and made herself scarce while they were here. Hence the reason we never got another cat after Socks disappeared.

Socks. We miss you!

Anyway, thought I’d give you a dose of cuteness for the day.

Happy Writing!


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Harvest winding down #gardening #minnesota

L to R: zucchini, Mariachi peppers, brussels sprouts, kale. In back, cucumbers and tomatoes

I can’t believe it’s September already. Didn’t we just have the Fourth of July? The autumnal equinox is due in a couple weeks. Ugh. That means there will be even fewer hours of daylight. And it’s the official start of fall. Not that anyone told the mosquitoes they should shut down operations. I think we have a new batch; bloodthirsty little buggers!

We’ve been enjoying some great stuff from the garden. The green beans are done, the zucchini is testing my tolerance, and the tomatoes … Oh, the poor tomatoes! They have almost completely succumbed to the blight. The cucumber is hanging on, but production is waning. And as you can see in the pictures, I haven’t weeded for a long time.

Another angle. The kale looks great!

I picked the onions, since they were ready and for some reason a number of them had started to rot (gee, could it be due to all the rain we’ve been having?). I started digging out the potatoes last night, and have half a wheelbarrow full with about a quarter of them left to dig. Many are misshapen, with bumps and nodules and weirdly alien protuberances. That tells me there is some mineral lacking in the soil, and I suspect calcium is the culprit.

Potatoes front L, weeds front R, bare aisle where onions were

And here is a closer-up view of my poor tomato plants, along with my cilantro happily blooming with tiny white flowers.

Cilantro and tomatoes, with kale in the background. Oh, and weeds!

The other night as I was heading to the garden my husband showed me a surprise: the first eggs from this batch of chickens!

One of the chickens was camera-shy; we have seven chickens total. We have no idea which chickens started laying. Once all seven start laying, we won’t have to worry about egg shortages. In the winter, though, our chickens have always slowed down the egg production, so we’ll see how many keep laying through the cold months.

Another sign of fall:

Monarch butterflies!

Can you see them? It was hard to get a good picture from the house, but I didn’t want to go outside and scare them away. Monarch butterflies gathered on one of our trees. I don’t know when they left, but it was so cool to see! In case you aren’t aware, monarch butterflies migrate south. It’s one reason people are encouraged to have areas set aside for wildflowers, so the butterflies have something to keep them going on their trip.

I have an empty nest this weekend–yippee! I am going to focus on writing, damn it. Revisions, then moving on. Oh, and more homework, but maybe not until later next week. Our Sisters in Crime chapter has also put out a call for short story submissions for our next anthology, so part of my brain is working on that as well. Something twisty for that one.

Enjoy your weekend, and may the trees not start changing colors quite yet!

And your point is what, exactly?