LarryVlog

So… I did a thing, O readers.

As promised, backstory, for anyone who is coming to this from the Anne-dom instead of somewhere else online. I enjoy watching Let’s Play videos on YouTube, and through this have become a fan of three channels in particular: StephenVlog, StephenPlays, and MalMakes.

StephenVlog, as you would expect, is a vlog kept by a guy named Stephen. He’s been chronicling his life in video form since November of 2009, and began StephenPlays in 2011 to make use of his long-time love for video games. Stephen studied film in college, and it really shows. Both his vlogs and his Let’s Plays are quality work, a lot of fun to watch, and definitely recommended by me.

MalMakes is a video game art channel run by Stephen’s wife Mallory, who painted the originals of the throw pillows currently on my couch (below is a photo of Buddy, my big Lab, posing with some of her work). She also frequently acts as Player 2 on StephenPlays, whether the channel is covering an outright two-player game or just one where it’s fun to see differing play styles from episode to episode.

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Buddy snuggling with his favorite Mario Kart pillow. Skyrim is behind him and Zelda: Twilight Princess (upside down) to his left. Not shown: Pikmin, Tetris, and Zelda: Wind Waker. 

Last year, Stephen and Mal covered a fairly recent entry in a VERY famous game franchise (think red- and green-capped siblings who do a lot of princess rescuing). However, this game, unlike many others in the same series, supports up to four players, so they invited along their long-time friends Alex and Hayley.

The resulting Let’s Play was a cross between hilarious and bizarre, as all four players started renaming and redefining the characters to suit themselves. Stephen even created T-shirts with the new character names on them, and Mal did a painting of her renamed princess in fire-throwing garb, which also became a popular shirt.

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FirePesh

Yesterday, for reasons I do not understand in the least, I was inescapably plotbunnied by this particular twist on a well-known world, and by the people who created it. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you… LarryVlog.

And yes, I do know I’m nuts.


 

Larry gazed into the camera as the red recording light flickered on. “Hello,” he said solemnly, “and welcome to…” He frowned and glanced to his left. “What day is it again?”

“It’s Shroomnoteday,” said the blonde, ponytailed woman sitting on the other end of the couch, toasting a marshmallow over the flame she was holding in her hand.

“Thank you.” Larry returned his attention to the camera. “Welcome to Shroomnoteday. You may be wondering, who is this strange electrician? Why is he so tall, and why is he wearing green?” He panned briefly down his lanky length to exhibit his stylish overalls, then brought the focus back to his face. “Well, I’m here to answer those questions. My name is Larry, and this is LarryVlog.”

He settled more comfortably into the corner of the couch. “You might think I look a little familiar, and I’ll admit, I’ve been in a few games in my time. But I’m not the really famous one in the family. That’s my cousin Barry.” He grimaced a little. “And yes, I do mean that Barry. The guy from Super Barry 46, who has to run around an art gallery and try to fix the lights before he gets stuffed inside the statues. And Super Barry Moonshine, where he drives through the woods for hours without his headlights on.” He frowned. “Barry never did tell me what was actually going on there…”

“Don’t forget Super Barry Milky Way,” chipped in the woman, turning her marshmallow to toast its other side. “Where he spent all his time critiquing his favorite candy bars before setting them up in death-match cage fights.”

“True, true.” Larry nodded sagely. “And if you’re really old school, you might even remember Super Barry RNG. For anyone who doesn’t know, that’s fourteen hours of Barry rolling a D20 and trying to predict what number will come up. It’s a classic for a reason. I do recommend it. But.” He straightened up a bit. “You might be wondering what I have to do with any of this. I didn’t appear in those games, after all. And why might that be? Because…” He rotated the camera in his hand until he was filming an enormous beanbag, on which a black-and-white feline was vigorously washing a long-suffering brown tabby’s left ear. “I was right here, where I am now. Behind the camera.

“Well, as of today, I’ve decided I’m tired of hiding.” Larry returned the camera’s focus to his face.  “I’m going to turn that sucker around and say loud and proud…” He puffed up his chest. “I’m Larry, I’m scary. Get used to it.”

“But you’re not scary,” said the woman with decisiveness.

“What?” Larry frowned at her. “Well, some people think I’m scary.”

The woman snickered. “Some people like who?”

“Um…” Larry hesitated.

“Exactly.” The woman popped her marshmallow into her mouth and grinned.

“Oh, that’s right.” Larry refocused the camera on the woman. “Pesh, meet the viewers. Viewers, Princess Pesh.” Pesh waved to the camera with the hand not currently full of fire. “She probably looks pretty familiar too, since she’s been in just about every Super Barry game ever.”

“Not that I get a whole lot of screen time,” Pesh said around her mouthful of marshmallow. “I show up for five seconds at the beginning before somebody kidnaps me, and then I get ten more seconds at the end once I’ve been rescued.”

“Yes, but there’s a reason for that,” said Larry earnestly. “You can’t be onscreen all the time. You’ve got too much to do behind the scenes.” He turned the camera back to himself, gesturing with his other hand. “All those statues Barry’s running from in Super Barry 46? Pesh made those. Same with the giant candy models from Super Barry Milky Way. If it’s an art object, and it’s in a Barry Cousins game, Pesh probably had something to do with it.

“Now I know what you’re thinking, viewers.” Larry waggled a finger at the camera. “You’re thinking, but Larry, isn’t Pesh Barry’s love interest? What’s she doing on your couch? Well…” He drew the word out. “Honestly, that whole Pesh and Barry thing? That’s just marketing.”

“The PR department thought it looked weird if this electrician was always trying to save some princess he wasn’t even in love with,” Pesh added from her end of the couch. “So they’ve been teasing me and Barry as a couple for years. And who do they have you hooked up with again, Larry? Isn’t it Emily the Sports Princess?”

“Yeah, it is.” Larry nodded. “Now let me just be clear here. I like Emily. She’s a good friend. A little loud, but a lot of fun to hang around with. But my best friend, for real and forever?” He grinned down the couch at Pesh. “Sitting right over there. And we made it official about seven years ago. Got married on the beach, moved into another castle, adopted some cats. That’s our boys right there. Charlie and Johnny.” He rotated the camera briefly to document the ongoing wrestling on the beanbag.

“Doesn’t quite fit the whole hero and princess theme, does it?” Pesh twirled a string of fire through the air. “Probably why you’ve never heard about it.”

“So now you may be wondering, viewers.” Larry looked quizzically into the camera. “If Larry and Pesh are a thing IRL, who’s Barry been hanging around with all this time? Did he take Brenda back?”

“He better not have taken Brenda back.” Pesh shuddered. “She’s insane and I am not dealing with her again.”

“You don’t have to deal with her again. Because that’s not who he’s with.” Larry smirked. “Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourselves. My cousin Barry’s longtime romantic partner is actually…” He stopped, holding up a finger, as the doorbell rang. “But there they are now. We’ll hold off on the dramatic reveal until you can see it for yourselves. Thanks for watching LarryVlog, and let’s meet back next time, shall we?”

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Cookies and stories!

Got your attention, didn’t I?

As promised in my last blog post, my 2017 holiday collection of fantasy and science fiction, King of Peace and Glory, is available NOW on Smashwords, completely FREE — click here to get a copy for yourself!

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If you prefer to get your fiction from another online retailer, King of Peace and Glory is currently waiting for review to be included in Smashwords’ Premium Catalog. Once it’s approved, it’ll go out to Barnes and Noble, Apple, Amazon, etc, to become available there.

Also, as you see above, this cover for the collection was made via Amazon CreateSpace’s Cover Creator. This means that King of Peace and Glory will indeed be available in paper copy form! It should be loading to Amazon within a day or two — more info, including link, when it’s ready!

I do apologize that this year’s collection has come out so late. I’ve been having not the greatest year overall, and that can interfere with my writing. My issues include various “fun” things including depression… but as every Harry Potter fan knows, the best way to help depression is to eat chocolate!

Seriously, if you have depression, get real help. Talk to a doctor, to family members, to friends, do what you need to do. (And yes, I’m well aware it’s difficult. Ask my mother about dealing with me sometime. Or maybe don’t. I’d like you to keep respecting me at least a little bit.)

But, in most cases, chocolate is also a good idea. Actually, chocolate is almost always a good idea. Except for dogs (though my Brando tries to get it anyway). I like chocolate in just about any form that isn’t milk or white. Spices are also yummy. And I love to bake…

Think I’m leading up to something? You’re quite right. I come by the baking gene honestly. My dad, this year, made five thousand, four hundred, and seventy-five Christmas cookies (he gives cookie boxes as presents), and several hundred of them were very chocolaty indeed. His Pennsylvania Dutch Chocolate Cookies are one of his specialties, and very much to my taste, as I hope they will be to yours, O readers.

Please enjoy!

Pennsylvania Dutch Chocolate Cookies
Recipe adapted from
Maida Heatter’s Best Dessert Book Ever

1 cup sifted whole wheat flour
1 ½ cups sifted unbleached flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
Scant ½ tsp. salt
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 Tbsp. water
Additional granulated sugar (to sprinkle on just before baking)

Sift together both flours, the baking soda, cinnamon, salt and cocoa.  Set aside.

In an electric mixer, beat the butter until soft.  Beat in the vanilla and 2 cups of sugar.  Beat in the egg and water.  On low speed gradually add the dry ingredients until incorporated.

Turn the mixture out onto a large board and knead until perfectly smooth.  Refrigerate for at least one hour (overnight is better).  Then work with half of the dough at a time.

On a lightly floured marble surface, with a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough just a bit.  Then, to flour both sides, turn the dough upside down and roll until it is ¼ inch thick (no thinner).

Cut into any shape and size (we use 2 ½ to 3 inch circles).  Use a wide metal spatula to transfer them to freezing pans (we use jelly roll pans), placing them about 1 inch apart.  Place a sheet of wax paper between each layer.

Reflour the cloth only slightly before rolling the second half of the dough.  Reserve the scraps from both halves of the dough, knead them together, and reroll.  Do not add any more flour than necessary.

Freeze the cookies until hard, then store in bags until ready to bake.

Adjust two racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line cookie sheets with parchment or aluminum foil, shiny side up.  Place cookies on them, spacing about ½ inch apart.

Sprinkle the tops of the cookies generously with additional sugar.

Bake 9-10 minutes, reversing the sheets, top to bottom and front to back, once during the baking to ensure even baking.  Do not overbake; these are so dark that they can burn and you wouldn’t know by looking.  They will not feel firm to the touch when they are done, but they will become firm when they cool.  Store airtight but not frozen.

Releasing Tomorrow: King of Peace and Glory!

The title pretty much says it all, but for those who like elaboration: my 2017 holiday short story collection, King of Peace and Glory, will be releasing through indie e-publisher Smashwords TOMORROW, Tuesday, December 12, at approximately 6 PM Eastern time!

Most of you are probably wondering, “Why not on Amazon?” And there’s a simple answer. Amazon does not have an easy method to release content for free, and this year’s collection will be just that. Yes, you heard me right. King of Peace and Glory will be 100%, no strings attached, FREE to readers.

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So what do you get for your $0.00? Glad you asked. Four stories, each set in a universe in which I either have already published a work or plan to publish one next year:

“Somebody’s Children”, a holiday-themed mashup of “Hansel and Gretel” from the fairy-tale kingdom of Pasaka, features the Marrain family, Mother Joy and her daughters, who will also star in my upcoming collection After Ever: fairy tales with a twist. My current plans are to release this collection via Kindle Unlimited in the spring of 2018, but nothing’s set in stone yet.

“Straight Shooting”, like 2016’s “Ding Dong! Merrily on High”, is set in the world of Dareva, where Humans have lived in the underground Hidden Cities for a thousand years and the surface is only a distant myth. The first Dareva novel, And One Shall Cry, is currently undergoing revision, but I hope to have it in better shape by mid-2018. Whether I try submitting it to publishers or release it via my current channels depends a lot on you, O readers!

“Star of the Sea” was originally intended to be this year’s offering from the greater galaxy of my sci-fi novel Killdeer, but as I worked on it I realized it was actually spoken in a voice I knew… the voice of Adam Darragh from the village of Glenscar, from my historical fantasy A Widow in Waiting! Not the first time I’ve had a story change on me, but definitely one of the funnier realizations I’ve had.

And finally, “For Goodness Sake” replaces “Star of the Sea” as the Killdeer sequel for this year. I could have left it out and just released the collection with the original three stories, but I really wanted to write this one, both because I identified very strongly with the main character and her struggles, and because it brings home the whole arc I’ve been writing in the Killdeer sequels for the last six years. I think you’ll like it, O readers.

So, that’s about all from me right now. Keep an eye on the Facebook page for the link when King of Peace and Glory goes live tomorrow. This year, it’s a present from me to you, O readers. Enjoy! 

Masquerade!

Just a brief post, O readers, more pictures than anything else, but I wanted to share some of the fun I had with you. My parents are both active in their dance club and held a masquerade ball on Saturday, and I got to attend! I danced a little and amazingly did not kick anybody (too hard), and the rest of the time I sat and enjoyed.

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Wow, what a grumpy DJ. Doesn’t look like he’s enjoying the dance at all! 
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Oh, well, I guess it helps his mood when he actually gets a chance to dance.

The DJ and his partner, if anybody’s wondering? Yeah, that’s my dad and mom. Heheheh.

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A shot of the dance floor during a fast song. Show us your moves! 
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Everybody had fun at the dance, whether they were out on the floor or chatting at the tables! 

A photo of me in my outfit will be coming later, as will writing updates (because gee, I wonder if somebody who likes to write twisted fairy tales could get inspiration at a genuine BALL). For now… hope you enjoyed these little bits of the masquerade!

Writing, writing, writing…

Keep those words a-writing, always keep on writing, NaNo…

Okay, now that I’ve given everybody a horrible earworm, greetings, O readers! My apologies for not realizing sooner that my NaNoWriMo page was only visible to other people who have NaNo logins! I swear it wasn’t always like that.

But whether or not I’m correct on that count, I can make up for it to some extent by showing you the information right here on the blog that you would otherwise be able to see on my NaNo page. Specifically: front and back covers for The Past in Black and White!

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Credit for these goes to a young man named Dominic, a longtime friend of mine. It so happens that he needed a project for his design class right around the same time that I was getting ready to start NaNo… must be fate!

PastBlackWhite_Back

Before anybody asks, I am indeed on track with my NaNo word count. Today’s goal is 11,667 words, and my current word count stands at 11,688. Not all of those are perfectly polished words, of course, but that’s the whole point of NaNo. Words go on page first, and get prettied up afterwards.

In other writing news, I have now completed two full stories for the collection After Ever, and am working through a third one, though it’s slightly slower going as this story is an out-and-out mystery. I haven’t written one of those in a while, and remembering where and how to drop the clues is harder than it sounds!

And finally, just because I can, have a picture of my most recent baking. This is a loaf of sweet soda bread, with a jar of elderberry jelly beside it (seemed fitting, considering the setting of my NaNovel).

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If you’d like to make it for yourself, nothing easier! Here’s the recipe:

Sweet (or Savory) Soda Bread 
Adapted from the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary cookbook

1/2 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup white flour
1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar (omit if savory soda bread is desired)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup buttermilk or clabbered milk (mix 1 cup milk with 1 Tbsp lemon juice, allow to sit five minutes)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Mix together the dry ingredients. Melt the butter on stovetop or in microwave, then pour into milk and stir until butter resolidifies in small pieces. Add butter-milk mixture to dry ingredients and stir to combine. Dough should be thick and not too sticky.

Transfer to lined baking sheet and shape into a round loaf. Cut a cross in the top to allow for spreading (and, traditionally, to let the faeries escape!). Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown and crusty.

Until we meet again, enjoy your own adventures in writing and baking, and stay tuned for more news from Elderville, as well as from other lands of the writing of Anne B. Walsh!

Games writers play

So, as I announced not too long ago here on the blog, I will indeed be participating in National Novel Writing Month this year. NaNo begins tomorrow, and as usual I’m equal parts scared and excited for it. What if I get so far behind I can’t win? But on the other hand, what if this story eats my life?

You may notice, if you visit my NaNo page, that I am listed as winning NaNo every year I have participated. Some of these wins are… well… not entirely by the book. Yes, I’m admitting it. I’ve cheated a little on NaNo through the years.

NaNo

How so? Well, I’ve sometimes continued projects that I already had going for NaNo, where the official rules state you should start an entirely new work for the month. At other times, I’ve counted words towards my NaNo totals that I wrote for a different project. Though I should point out, it was still writing, done by me, within the month of November.

Is that cheating? Technically, yes. Did it harm anything, or anyone? I dunno. Some of my NaNo projects were pretty silly stuff, and I doubt the world’s been harmed by not having their final forms made available. Also, I have written 50,000 words in the month of November every year that I’ve claimed a NaNo win, even if it wasn’t always on a single project. Decide for yourselves, O readers!

November

For this year, though, I intend to do NaNo by the rules. The Past in Black and White is an entirely new work, and although I have done quite a bit of thinking about it, I haven’t put any words on the page yet. That starts tomorrow.

On the note of Black/White, my graphic designer sent me what he called a “logotype” last night, demonstrating a font and layout he’s considering for the title on the front cover. Don’t know about the rest of you, but I think this looks awesome!

Logotype

Now, back to NaNo, and what else I have going that might interfere. Which is, quite a lot. There’s After Ever, the twisted fairy tale collection I announced the other day, and King of Peace and Glory, this year’s holiday collection—and while I’m thinking about it, I do need to make a correction there!

When I originally announced King of Peace and Glory, I stated that I’d had trouble finding information about this carol online. My sister has since informed me that it is only this particular English translation of the words that is obscure. The tune is a Latin carol called “Personent hodie”, reasonably common among choral groups. My bad.

And now, as if I didn’t have enough else going on, there is a fourth project tapping at the back door of my brain, asking politely to be written. What is it? Well, I’ll keep that mainly a secret for right now, since I can’t give it to you for a while yet, O readers. But the one thing I will reveal is the title.

It is called What You Wish For.

Be Careful, by Anne B. Walsh

Longtime readers, scream now.

After Ever

Tell a fairy tale backwards. The end is now the beginning. 

Thus was the prompt that the roommate read to me off Tumblr one rainy afternoon, causing me to hurl pillows and invective at her. She does this on purpose, you see, though usually it’s Harry Potter memes, since the cast of a certain AU HP story of mine likes to hang around inside my head and provide commentary on my life. Still, she will also pull out such items as this one from time to time, usually hoping it will spark something.

In this case… did it ever! I am pleased to announce that so long as nothing derails (which I’m hoping nothing will), I should have a finished collection of interconnected short stories based on this prompt finished by about halfway through November. And yes, that is on top of both my NaNo project and this year’s holiday collection. Who me, crazy? Well, yeah. We knew that.

Rose

This collection will be titled After Ever, and will feature twists and turns on such classic tales as Cinderella (“Nobody’s Daughter”), Rapunzel (“Mother, May I?”), Little Red Riding Hood (“Why, Grandmother”), and Sleeping Beauty (“Sisters Under the Skin”). You may notice a theme with these titles, and if you’re a very alert reader, you might also see a connection to another work I’ve already announced…

That’s right, “Somebody’s Children”, a story title I’d already made public as being part of King of Peace and Glory, is also from this universe. Its source tale is Hansel and Gretel, and it lent itself so well to a setting around Christmastime that I just couldn’t resist including it in the holiday collection. Besides, what better way to bring my old and new readerships together?

More information about this in the coming weeks, but given that my total word count on the collection just passed 25K, I finally felt confident enough to let everybody know about it. So, rejoice, O readers! More original Anne fiction is coming your way, and trust me, I’m as happy about it as you are!

NaNo 2018!

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s here! The day has arrived on which I said I would reveal the title of this year’s NaNovel, and reveal it I shall!

For anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about (which can happen), National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, is a self-imposed challenge by writers of all kinds and all skill levels to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November.

NaNo

Why? Well, three reasons.

  1. To prove to anyone and everyone that yes, with very few exceptions, you really do have time to write that novel you’ve always dreamed about! 50,000 words in 30 days is 1667 words a day. Rough, but doable!
  2. To remind ourselves that it doesn’t always have to be perfect. The novel in your head is always going to be better than the novel on your page–but the novel in your head can’t be read by anybody else!
  3. And finally, and most simply of all, because you can’t revise or edit a blank page!

The homepage for my NaNo project for this year can be found here, but if you can’t or don’t care to click through, the title is:

The Past in Black and White: A Colonial Elderville Mystery

Unlike my past NaNo projects, this will be a cozy mystery, set in the contemporary US, although I may well add a few fantasy elements and some flashback/imagination scenes set in colonial times. I first had this idea a few months ago after I’d visited Colonial Williamsburg and am delighted to be able to bring it to you courtesy of NaNoWriMo!

Elderville, PA, the setting of this story, is a fictional town located in the eastern part of the state, about halfway between Philadelphia and Valley Forge. It’s named after the elder tree, which has poisonous wood (Elder Wand, anybody?) but bears beautiful white flowers and delicious berries of a purple so dark they’re nearly black.

My heroine, Teresa Arcara, moved to Elderville to try to get away from the stress and annoyance of her big-city life in Philadelphia. She’s now living in one of the town’s historic homes, the Cyndall House, along with her furry companions, whom I would like to introduce to you here!

First up we have Michael the Samoyed. Samoyeds were bred to serve as sled dogs and family protectors by the Sami people of Scandinavia. I know them through the roommate’s family, who most recently had a goofy critter named Bouncer. He holds the interesting distinction of being the only dog our two morons get along with!

Samoyed

Next we have Lucy the Newfoundland. Newfs were bred, where else, in Newfoundland in Canada, and served as water rescue dogs for a long time, swimming through waves to carry lines out to foundering ships or helping to keep survivors afloat in cold Atlantic waters until boats could get to them. They are huge, gentle, amazing animals.

Newf

And finally, two cats (though I’m only showing a picture of one here), brother and sister Blotch and Splat. Like a certain other pair of cats I know, Blotch and Splat had been stuck in an animal shelter for over a year, because they were already adults and didn’t care to be picked up or held. Teresa took a chance on them and adores her crazy pair of felines who love to play.

Cat

Are you intrigued by The Past in Black and White yet? Watch this space for more updates, before, during, and after NaNoWriMo!

One last awesome announcement: I will, for the first time, be having professional-level graphic design on this book cover, and probably on other elements as well! Further news about that as it happens. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re as excited about this one as I am!

What will you spend?

I have some wonderful memories of my Italian grandmother, known to us either as Grandmom or Nonna. Her story, like that of my other grandmother (told here), is an amazing one and I’ll tell it more fully another day, but for now I want to concentrate on what she once taught me about cooking, and by extension about life.

Teenage me, passionate about my fresh-and-organic craze as only a teenager can be, was horrified one day to discover my grandmother opening cans of chicken broth and jars of tomato sauce. How could she? I demanded, shocked and indignant. Didn’t she know what was IN those? Why didn’t she make her own?

cans

Grandmom turned to me and said, very calmly, “In this world, you have two things you can spend. You can spend money, or you can spend time. You have to use your brain and know when is the right time to spend what.”

She went on to explain that today, she was in a hurry and couldn’t make everything from scratch. She’d done her homework at the grocery store, so she knew the jarred and canned things she’d bought were of good quality. They didn’t have a lot of additives or tons of extra salt or fat, and they would taste reasonably good, if never as amazing as homemade.

“Today,” she said, “I spent some money to save some time. Tomorrow maybe I’ll spend some time to save some money. You have to think about these things.”

A big lesson to learn across a kitchen counter. Though to be honest, that’s where I’ve learned most of my biggest ones. Such as, if you don’t behave, you will behold the wooden spoon of DOOM…

WoodenSPoon

But for today, let’s stick with the original application in food. You can spend time, or you can spend money. In other words: If you are a busy person, as everybody sometimes is (especially in today’s world), it is not a crime to cook with jarred, canned, frozen, or otherwise prepared items!

Obviously, as my nonna did, and as I do today, you need to do your homework. Read your labels. Check and compare. Organic mushrooms or low-salt beans might cost a little more, but you could easily be saving 20% or more of your daily sodium intake by buying these instead of the standard-issue stuff. Is that worth an extra nickel or dime per can? I certainly think so.

Also, what Alton Brown told me, I will tell you. The less the item is processed, the better it’s likely to be. If you’re buying canned tomato products, whole tomatoes are usually better than diced, while diced are usually better than tomato sauce. Still, if sauce is what you need, go ahead and get it. Just be sure to check your labels and get the best one, nutrition-wise, that you can.

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I do want to give special attention to frozen fruits and vegetables. Produce that’s frozen immediately after picking maintains something like 95% of its nutritional value, and once you take shipping into account, how fresh is the stuff in your grocery store bins anyway? Especially in the wintertime, frozen produce items are often as good as, or even better than, fresh. (More on this in a follow-up post. Watch this space!)

To show what I mean, here’s a basic slow cooker recipe I made over the weekend, with both “save money” and “save time” options indicated. Use whichever you like, or a combination of the two!

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Slow Cooker Mushroom Beef

1 hunk of beef (all measurements below are designed to suit a 2-lb roast—adjust as needed if you are working with smaller or larger quantities)
6-8 oz flavorful liquid (I used a combination of dark beer and Worcestershire sauce; you could also try beef broth or red wine, and flavor it with soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, or maybe a nice mustard. Experiment!)
Salt and pepper

Mushrooms:
Save time: 2 6.5 oz cans of organic/low sodium mushrooms
Save money: 12 oz fresh mushrooms, washed and sliced

Onions:
Save time: ½ bag of frozen chopped onions
Save money: 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

Herbs:
Save time: your favorite no-salt herb mix (I like Bavarian Seasoning from Penzey’s Spices, but grocery stores carry plenty of good options these days)
Save money: your own mixture of herbs, fresh or dried (this one is VERY individual—it’s your food, so make it taste the way you want to!)

Place mushrooms and onions in slow cooker, then place beef on top. Pour flavorful liquid over beef, then add salt, pepper, and spices to taste. Put lid on slow cooker and cook for 3-5 hours on high or 6-9 hours on low. Consider adding a dash of lemon juice or flavorful vinegar (malt, sherry, apple cider, etc) as a finishing touch, since sharp flavors are often dulled by long cooking.

slowcooker

Is fresh best when it comes to food and cooking? Most of the time, yes, it is. But can we, as busy home cooks in this crazy world, find options that are almost as good, and use them without feeling guilty? I would certainly say yes to that as well! How about you, O readers?

(Don’t) Call Bob

Good day to you, O readers, and my deepest apologies for being away so long! Things got somewhat hectic in my personal life (more about this at another time), but I am back now and fully intending to keep this blog FAR more regularly updated. I just hope I haven’t scared everybody away by disappearing like I did!

Quick overview of what you can expect on the blog now that I’m back: I will be announcing my project for this year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or just NaNo for short), as well as other projects on which I am currently working. I may also be switching the hosting company for my website. More on this when I have made a final decision and have the actual logistics in the works.

There will definitely be more food posts, because I like food. I’ll probably also devote an entry or two to some of the enjoyable happenings my church choir has planned for this fall and winter, since I think you would all get a kick out of our singing silliness. But that still leaves today…

Tell me, O readers, are you in the mood for a little story?

bank

Once upon a time, there was a bank. It can trace its origins far back into the mists of time (as Americans reckon such things), but its modern iteration, with its modern name, came into existence in the 1980’s.

What is that modern name, I hear you ask? Ah, that I’m not at liberty to say. Let us call it Glass Bathroom Bank, in deference to a playground joke popular when I was young.

So GBB came to be, and flourished, and grew as banks will, by buying out other banks or merging with them or taking over their customers when they went under. But as this happened, GBB changed, and not always for the better.

You see, it had once been the case that employees at GBB had a good chance of personally knowing pretty much everybody they worked with. If your toilet backed up, or your heater stopped working, you picked up the phone and called the maintenance guy. “Hey, Bob!” you’d say. “Can you fix this for me?” And Bob would come along and fix it, and everything would be fine.

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The “just call Bob” method of handling problems works fine for a cozy little bank that operates in one or two or three states. Once you get to be a “super-regional” bank, one of only a handful that size in the USA, it’s maybe not so hot. But nobody ever seemed to realize that at GBB. The bank grew, and grew, and grew, and things kept on operating with the same old model of “just call Bob”.

What nobody took into account is that Bob, in all his various iterations, might once have had no trouble keeping up with three to five calls a day, but might now be overwhelmed by twenty or fifty or a hundred. And the Bobs aren’t just in charge of physical repairs, of course. They do systems access, and hardware/software requests, and account maintenance, and tech support, and, and, and. Pretty much everything a modern company needs to function is handled by calling some sort of Bob.

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Eventually the bosses at GBB did notice the problems that Bob and all his Bob colleagues were having, and they got formalized request systems for these various work processes put into place. “Here!” said the bosses. “Use these! It’ll get all the problems into one centralized list, so you won’t always have to call Bob!” But did it work like that? Well…no.

The request systems, you see, weren’t very well designed. They were a bit clunky, and kind of difficult to use, and requests done through them could take quite a while to be fulfilled. So it was faster, easier, and more reliable to do what you’d always done—pick up the phone and call Bob.

Bob couldn’t very well say “no, I won’t help you” to all the people who called him, so nothing improved for him. In fact, things got worse, because now he had all the requests from the systems to handle, in addition to calls and emails and instant messages. And the wait times in those systems crept up, and up, and up, because Bob had to tackle his immediate issues first.

As for the people who followed the rules and used the request systems, instead of calling Bob? Things were downright awful for them. They might wait days or weeks to get even basic information about the simplest of requests, the same requests that their colleagues who broke the rules and called Bob could get handled start to finish in a matter of minutes or hours. To nobody’s surprise, calling Bob remains the norm at Glass Bathroom Bank to this day.

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Is Glass Bathroom Bank a good place to work? Well, that depends, O readers. Is your name Bob?