Author: Ellen Gregory

Writing fantasy fiction with coffee or red wine in hand, chocolate on the side, and a devilcat on my lap.

Mongolia Journal ~ Just another day on the steppes — with video

My next trip (July) will be a week in Broome with the extended family. In the meantime, let’s return to Mongolia…


3 July 2015

Breakfast – Day 9

Breakfast seems earlier today. Not sure why. It’s maybe 9-9:30am?

It’s sunny. Crickets or grasshoppers are chirping. A bumblebee came to visit – it landed for a few seconds on my hand. Soft and furry. A butterfly landed on my foot yesterday afternoon too. There are loads of butterflies. Other types of insects too — flies of different sizes, including large ones that bite; long, thin, iridescent green things with spindly legs; grasshoppers of all different sizes, colours and types; beetles that crawl; giant mosquitoes…

And so many different kinds of vegetation. There’s tussocky grass, single thin green blades, small clumps of flowers (many different kinds), ground-coverings with feathery fern-like foliage, bare earth… and it varies in bands in the same valley.

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Day 9 – water drawn from a well for the horses

Lunch – Day 9

We’re sitting with shoes off on the grassy banks of a little stream. A cute little baby goat came to visit us just now. He was all on his own, looking at us, taking a few tentative steps closer… He looked so cute stumbling onto his front knees to drink at the stream with his tail in the air.

Then David (our driver) picked him up and joked “Mongolian BBQ!” and then Burmaa (our guide) picked him up for a cuddle, and that’s when we saw he had an injured leg. There was an ugly gash, semi-healed. We were anxious, debating what to do. About five minutes later, an oldish man turned up on a motorcycle with his granddaughter and picked up the baby goat (kid). Turns out the kid belonged to him and they’d come to take it for doctoring, so there’s a happy ending to the story.

We’ve seen eagles and cranes (and more kites) wheeling above us in this valley. Aside from the roadside tourist eagles, these are the first eagles we’ve seen, we think. Pretty cool. I’ve lost count of the number of kites we’ve seen, though. They are everywhere.

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Day 9 – Lunch stop with some locals thundering past

We rode for at least two hours before stopping for lunch. It was mainly flat and the horses really wanted to trot the whole way. Really tiring. I had to get off for a bit, just before lunch, to walk for five minutes and stretch my knees out. My knees are really fatigued.

Late afternoon – Day 9

We stopped early again today, this time in another valley. The post-lunch ride was nice — walking and trotting mainly. Only a couple of hours, I think. I’ve just taken a video on my phone for uploading to my blog — exciting! I think it’ll be a nice way to bring the steppes out of a photo. [see below]

My horse had a pretty good day today. I’m getting better at getting him to do what I want him to do. In fact, everyone seems in a better mood today. I don’t think anything has happened to make us stabby. Lunch was a Mongolian rice and milk dish — kind of like porridge. Right now I’m craving wine and cheese as we sit in the shade at the front of our tent, writing in our journals.

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Day 9 – Just another herd of horses on the steppes of Mongolia (This is from our campsite)

DAY 9 VIDEO

Mixadventures in bread, potato cakes and apple crumble

Potato cakes

The next thing I made in my Thermomix were the potato cakes from the Basic Cookbook. I’d had my eye on these for a while as a potato rosti/hash brown kind of thing for breakfast. I figured I would cook a up a batch, eat a couple and freeze the rest.

The recipe essentially involves throwing everything into the Thermomix (potatoes, onion, egg, other stuff…), blitzing then shallow frying in a pan. I found I didn’t need to use too much oil, and I cooked them kind of like mini pancakes. I suppose it took about half an hour to cook them all, but the whole thing was extremely easy.

I made 12 in total and they froze extremely well. I’ve found the best means of re-heating is to grill them from frozen. They go great with eggs and my beetroot relish.

There are only two left in my freezer, so I’ll need to make another batch soon. Might try a variation with different vegetables (maybe some carrot? sweet potato? Broccoli?). Yum!

Bread!

Others in my family have been baking bread for ages, so I thought I’d give it a go. I’ve never been particularly enthused about getting my hands dirty, so the whole Thermomix-doing-the-kneading thing was fairly attractive.

I like grainy bread, so I headed straight for the five-seeds loaf from the Basic Cookbook. (The basic cookbook is rather comprehensive!) I already had linseeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds in the pantry, so I headed out to buy pepitas (pumpkin seeds), poppy seeds and… yeast.

Oh, the excitement! The Thermomix kneaded for a whole two minutes (as per the recipe), then I transferred the dough into the tin, sprinkled seeds on top (as directed) and waited for it to rise… (I should mention I set aside an entire Sunday afternoon for my bread-making venture.)

When I couldn’t wait any longer, I threw it in the oven to bake. It could maybe have risen more, but I was still fairly ecstatic with how it turned out.

I mean… LOOK!

This is pretty much what the picture in the book looked like. Not bad for my first attempt. Right?!

As far as the eating goes, it was maybe a little sweet, most likely due to the inclusion of honey. It was also very dense and crumbly. To the point that pulling it out of the toaster can cause it to break. Not sure how to counteract that.

Because I don’t really eat all that much bread at home, I sliced it the next day and froze it in my reusable bread bag. This works for me, since I always eat it as toast. (It’s way too dense for sandwiches, anyway.) I still have a couple of slices left, and then (maybe even this weekend) I’ll make another loaf of bread — not sure which recipe I’ll use next time.

Baking bread is ticking two of my current boxes: 1) making food from scratch and 2) eliminating single-use soft plastic (although once I get into the act of buying bulk foods, this will be even better). Onwards!

Apple crumble

Last weekend I was doing some vegan catering. I had some apples I needed to cook up, so I decided to make apple crumble.

For this recipe, I hit the recipe community and picked one that 1) was vegan (or could be made vegan) and 2) could be made from ingredients residing in my pantry already. The one I ended up making was this ‘healthy apple crumble‘.

Usually, I cook up apple in the microwave, but this time I cooked it in the Thermomix (10 minutes), and I blitzed it briefly once cooked to chop it up a bit. (The ability to do this might have converted me.)

The crumble recipe contains walnuts, almonds, coconut, oats and honey. I wasn’t sure whether honey was OK for vegans, so I substituted brown sugar instead. Once again, it’s a case of blitzing all these together and sprinkling on top of the cooked apple, before shoving in the oven.

Unfortunately, I completely forgot to take any photos, but it tasted yummy, and got the thumbs up from my vegan friend. She, alas, did not get to eat it with cream… but I did and it was good. (And there were leftovers.)

I can see me making this apple crumble for myself, because it is actually really healthy. Especially if I add yogurt rather than cream. Heh.

Then again, we’re coming into custard season…

D&D Chronicles: The Stars

We pick up the tale mid-battle with a treacherous black dragon, who is kicking our collective butts…

Zillah, Alix and Nightshade are cowering inside a building. They have no idea what has become of Blaze and Squirrel. (The story started here.)


BLAZE

We’re fighting the dragon – well, four of us, anyway: Squirrel, that cowardly snake, having slunk off to hide. Things are going well. I can feel it in my muscles, my bones. I’m wreathing myself in glory, all for my god, through whose grace I draw power.

And suddenly I’m not.

The dragon’s teeth snap around me. Burning. A wrench jolts me from middle to shoulders, and I’m dangling, airborne.

My fault. How could I lose concentration like that? Thinking of glory — fool!

The dragon’s wings push through the air, all strength, power. Thump, thump, thump. We rise. The ground jerks with each wing-beat, and nausea spills through me.

The tightness around my chest releases, and I’m plummeting, down, down. There’s water below. Rushing up. My armour – I’ll be dead weight.

But then I’m floating, still aloft. What? How? Of course! Feather fall. Squirrel’s spell.

I cast around. There. Squirrel! I do a double take. Surely not. But it is. This is no coward’s act.

He’s flying, cloak billowing around him, and he has never looked more magnificent, more brave or noble.

A screech pierces me. The dragon. Air gusts as she flies at me, talons outstretched. I still have my sword and swing at her, and we tussle, but Squirrel keeps coming as if to intercept me.

I’d never have guessed at such courage. Then the dragon seizes him, and there’s a spray of blood.

My back hits the water and I’m sinking, fast. I flail but go down. Nearby, something splashes into the water.

No air. Can’t breathe. Have to get this armour off. Can’t. Sunlight glimmers through the water’s surface, the last thing I’ll ever see.

No. Wait. I have an idea. Tree shape. I summon enough calm to perform the spell, and I am bobbing up and floating, a giant log. All I can see is blue sky above. Harsh sunlight.

No sign of Squirrel, but I know he’s dead. That spray of blood. There were limbs too.

It hits me hard. He died for me. He gave his life for me. The world is backwards.

The dragon blots out the sun, and I see a shape, limned against the sky, falling, walking. Squirrel – is he…? No, that’s Alix. Mercy, that dragon-bitch will have us all by the end of the day. The dragon screeches again, but I’m bobbing about with no control. If only I could stay still and see what’s happened to Alix.

Then I hit something. Solid. The bank. Only it’s the wrong one. I release the spell and haul myself ashore. Everything is in ruins. How can I get back? There. A lump of wood. I transform it to a small and not very stable raft, and carefully, quietly, launch myself back onto the water and propel myself to the other side.

In the middle of the square, her back to me, the dragon is focused on something; I sneak ashore…

tree-shape


ZILLAH

After a quick discussion, we down healing potions and get back outside to confront the dragon again. It’s all we can do. I want the Stars.

I take a few deep breaths then step outside, where the dragon waits. I get in some great blows! The dragon roars, spews acid (which I dodge)… then flies away.

All we can do is stare as it soars then descends into the middle of round building a couple hundred yards away. We’ve chased it off! We actually made it flee!

Now we have to finish the job before it recovers.

Blaze arrives as we’re scooping up the contents of the treasure chest left abandoned in the middle of the square. (So many coins and gems!) I’m enormously relieved to see him, but then he tells us what has happened to Squirrel.

My chest tightens with shock and grief — but I can’t let that overcome me now. Not until this is over. Not until that dragon is dead and we have the Stars in hand.

I’m still wrestling with the swirl of emotions when a stranger appears in the square. I stare at this decrepit little old man. Fenfaren he is called. I don’t have time or energy for him now. I don’t know where he’s come from, or why. I don’t care.

All I care about right now is killing that dragon.


ZILLAH

Nightshade and I stand side by side in the stands of an ancient stadium, magic, fire-spelled arrows nocked. Waiting.

Below, the arena is flooded and (we suspect) concealing the entrance to the dragon’s lair. Our plan — suggested and implemented by Fenfaren, who is full of surprises — is to drain the stadium to drive the dragon out.

The water starts moving, swirling, a sign Fen has begun the drain. Then, with a roar, the dragon bursts out of the water.

Nightshade and I take aim, launch the magic arrows.

They work beautifully against the dragon, which hovers nicely in range while it attacks Alix and Blaze, who fight back with gusto. We have no defence against this dragon. We can only hope to wear it down first.

Each arrow explodes into flame as it hits. I’ve never enjoyed my longbow so much.

flaming arrow2

Still, the dragon is fearsome and vicious. It munches on Blaze and tries to carry Alix away again. My heart jolts at the thought of losing another companion, especially Alix. But, just as I start to fear the dragon was not as injured as we’d assumed, it finally falls.

It crashes onto the lower stands, broken. Defeated. Dead.

I suppress the euphoria trying to sweep through me. First we must locate the Stars. Then we can celebrate. Then we can mourn.


ZILLAH

Fen is not a decrepit little old man, it turns out. Once his illusion died, he was revealed as a furbolg. Taller than an average human (nearly two feet taller than me). Bright red hair with some grey streaks. Strong. He says he’s been camped out on the hill, watching the dragon and the Rakshasa for a while.

He assists Nightshade and me to wade into the dragon’s underwater lair. Our attempt to drain the depths of the area succeeded in rousing the dragon, but the water has levelled. We’re going to need to swim.

We use the water breathing potion I’ve been carrying for a while. Two doses. Just enough for me and Nightshade, who is the strongest swimmer of all of us. Fen uses his mage senses to confirm the location of the dragon’s treasure.

The chest is made of stone, and heavy. There are six water-logged sacks as well. We grab those first, take them back to Fen and the others. Then we carefully carry the chest out of the water.

The chest has a complicated lock on it. A grid of stone buttons. Somehow we know that if we press them in the wrong order we will die.

Alix arrives at the solution. Alix, who often seems to come up with the right spell at the right time. She casts ‘stone tell’ and talks to the stone, asks the stone for the right combination to press. And it works.

We open the chest. No-one dies. And there they are… the Stars. The Stars of the Flail of Wind and Rain. (And treasure…)

The hour is late, but it is done.


ALIX

Poor Squirrel.

That foolhardy, light-fingered, ‘turn sideways and where-did-he-go’ young man who always seemed to be right next to me. Except for one time. The last time, when maybe it would have made a difference. And now he is gone.

He reminded me so much of Cal that I trusted him without thinking about it. I would even welcome the fights we will now never have. He backed us all up as much as he could and took some stupid risks. Oh, and he liked to throw fireballs and then ask questions. If there was anyone left alive.

Damn it, Squirrel, this whole thing has cost so many lives. Why did it have to cost me another mage who was my friend?

Oh, and don’t be throwing balls at the Gods, Squirrel. They probably won’t like it. And the shiny-shiny? Don’t be picking that up either.

BLAZE

Squirrel’s death sits heavily on me. I misjudged the man: thought him a sly, conniving and cowardly thief, not to be trusted, someone I could never call friend. And yet, in the end, he was the noblest and most selfless man I have ever met, and he not even a paladin.

How can this be? I thought I knew the world and its workings, but I know nothing. Now, I must atone for Squirrel’s death, but how to make amends? A donation to his church? Reparations to his family? Raise a statue in his honour? Offer my services to fight in his name?

Right now, prayer and solitude are what I need: I trust Nievor to give me guidance.

NIGHTSHADE

Damn everything, Squirrel is dead. Not just dead but EATEN by the traitorous Dragon’s water-dwelling pets, if Blaze saw it right.

At least the Dragon is dead as well now, which I’m sure would make Squirrel very happy were he here to know it. Imagine the magical ingredients he could have harvested from the corpse! He would have kept us here for days, stripping and preserving dragon parts.

I need to convince the others to retrieve Squirrel’s body from the water, even if it means catching and cutting open the belly of whichever beast ate him. Surely the Cleric will be able to resurrect him, if he is not too badly chewed? And his gear! The magic books, the maps and notes he was always scribbling down – we will be lost without them, our strength as a party severely diminished. I don’t see we have any choice but to look for him.

One other thing is certain: I will miss Squirrel sorely if he cannot be returned to us, not least because he was the last remaining member of the party I could count on to have my back. The other three – Zillah and Alix, and the oh-so-shiny Blaze – are such squeamish do-gooders they refuse to do what’s needed even when it’s pointed out to them at the tip of a sword. Squirrel, along with dear fallen Blizzard, understood that sometimes you need to get your hands dirty. The do-gooders bleat about the end of the world but think they can prevent such a thing without having to wring too much blood from their clothes afterwards.

Sometimes, I wonder whether I even belong in this party anymore…

ZILLAH

We will miss Squirrel sorely. He was smart. Crafty. Braver than he knew. His skills, forethought and fast thinking helped us navigate many a challenge and got us out of many a scrape. Yes, we will miss him.

I counted him a friend, even though I often felt I never really knew him. Not all his faces. But he was a true companion, as he showed at the end.

Farewell, Squirrel (or whatever your true name was). May your spirit dwell peacefully in the afterlife.

Vale Squirrel


ZILLAH

The master smith, Astra Khara, greets us with wild, bright eyes on our return to Kham Jhara. His fingers twitch as he reaches for the Stars, desperate to join them with the Haft we brought him weeks ago.

He says it will take several weeks to re-forge the Flail of Wind and Rain.

Astra Khara manages to mostly hide his surprise that we prevailed over the Rakshasa and the dragon, but it is there. The round trip has taken over a month. I think we’ll be recounting the tale in taverns for many months to come.

After slaying the dragon and obtaining the Stars, our return trip was uneventful. We managed to retrieve Squirrel’s pack from the depths of the lake the following morning, thanks to Nightshade’s swimming and magic from both Alix and Fen. The maps and documents he carried are vital for the success of our quest.

But Squirrel’s corpse was lost to us. I have no doubt those water monsters tore him to pieces and feasted. A sad end for our companion and friend.

Fen has accompanied us back to Kham Jhara. It will take some time for us to rely on him as we did Squirrel, but he has already proven a worthy companion.

Now we turn our attention to the final piece of the puzzle: the Right Eye of Varrien.


The DM says we’re ‘nearly’ finished… Considering we began in May 2012, it feels a long time coming! Let’s see what happens next.

Thanks to Tracey Rolfe (Blaze), Lita Kalimeris (Alix) and Kirstyn McDermott (Nightshade) for their contributions to this post.

The D&D Chronicles page.

In mourning for tainted books

I spent about half an hour the other night editing some blog posts to extract references to an author who has recently fallen from grace. And by that I mean splat, ejected from the community, ‘you’re not welcome on my kindle anymore’…

But it hurts. Truly hurts. Because those posts were about my favourite books from last year. And, no matter how despicable this author has turned out to be, the books in question are really really good.

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The whole situation is making me think about things…

such as how it’s possible for wonderful characters and love stories to be created by someone/people the opposite of wonderful.

such as whether the value of art transcends the merit of its creator.

such as whether we as readers now need to do our due diligence on authors to avoid this intense feeling of betrayal.

Once upon a time, before the digital age and social media, novels were simply novels and readers gave little thought to who actually penned them, other than to wait avidly for the next book by the same author.

Now, for better or worse, readers have unprecedented access to authors. We read their blogs, interact via social media. They become real people as opposed to disembodied names on book covers. We feel like we get to know them.

And we also get to find out when they turn out to be dicks.

The author I’ve eradicated from my three December/January posts appears to be considerably more than a mere dick. It turns out the pseudonym (let’s call the author SH) appears to represent a husband/wife team who have been hiding behind a completely fictitious construct.

This is more than simply using a pseudonym (which is common and perfectly acceptable). It’s more than misrepresenting themselves as a bisexual man in a genre (M/M romance) where ‘own stories’ are less common that we’d all like.

It’s a whole host of manipulative and abusive behaviour (and lies) that I’m not going to repeat. (Go here if you want to know the details.) It’s the very opposite of that social media catchphrase, ‘authentic’.

I’m still not sure the whole truth has come to light, and we’ll probably never know because SH has gone dark. But the furor has caused publishers to drop SH like a hot potato. (And this is a prolific author with representation and multiple publishers.)

Sadly, I’m finding this new reality really hard to reconcile with the old reality. (The one where SH was one of the ‘good ones’.)

Because I don’t want to believe the author of some of my favourite books could be capable of all the things he/they have been accused of. Despite overwhelming evidence and testimonies from people all over the interwebs, I keep wondering (hoping) whether it’s all a terrible mistake.

So I’m in mourning… For books that are tainted now, even though I can’t help but still love them. These are books I would normally read multiple times. Some I’ve already read more than once.

But now I feel as though I’m not allowed to love them anymore. This is where novels take on a life of their own for me… because I’m feeling for those characters as though they’re now being shunned for something they didn’t do. (Haven’t they already suffered enough?!)

I certainly don’t want to spend any more money with this author, or encourage others to do so, but if I re-read the books I already own in secret, does that make me a bad person?

This situation is entirely a product of the digital age. But, although a small part of me might wish I could have remained in ignorance, in reality we’re all much better off in a world where authors (everybody, really) can be held accountable to those who are buying their books.

Not that I think authors owe readers details of their personal lives, but they do need to be honest and have integrity.

On the whole, I do think art can be appreciated for itself, irrespective of who created it, and those books written by SH have not changed in essence.

But — and it is a big but — those books have been compromised now, and to openly acknowledge them feels like condoning the actions of their creator. So, as much as it doesn’t seem fair to the characters in those stories, they will probably now die a sad and lonely death.

D&D Chronicles: One enemy down, a dragon to go

ZILLAH

The Rakshasa get what they deserve

I fucking hate Rakshasa.

They are lying, smarmy, evil, murdering bastards who have to die. You are the key, their leader told me. You are the point of the sword. I knew at the time he was full of shit, and I was right.

We are not your true enemy. Well, maybe they are not the enemy, but they sure as hell are one of them.

Despite our best efforts, they had little difficulty finding our campsite the evening after our battle. We’d crept as close to their village as we dared, and I guess we should be thankful they sought us out to negotiate, rather than simply attack us again. They offered us a counter-offer against the deal we’d previously made with the dragon.

Our deal with the dragon: kill or drive out the Rakshasa and return the treasure they stole, in return for the Stars of the Flail of Wind and Rain.

The Rakshasa counter-offer: kill the dragon with the aid of a dozen Rakshasa, in return for half the dragon’s treasure and free passage out of here. (With the return of my stolen longsword as a gesture of good faith.)

Basically, we’ve never trusted either party. So we agreed to the Rakshasa’s deal, since maybe there was a chance they’d actually help us defeat the dragon. We figured they would use us to get rid of the dragon, after which they’d probably turn on us.

It seems they’re not that smart.

We’d barely joined forces, when the Rakshasa were hurling fireballs and other spells at us. Twelve of them. Five of us. It was touch and go for poor Blaze, who isn’t so great at dodging fireballs, but in the end we prevailed.

We’ve taken two of them captive for interrogation. Nightshade is scarily good at this — and I’m glad it’s her and not me. At her command, Squirrel dispatches one to demonstrate our intent, and the final remaining one squeals all their secrets.

It seems the Rakshasa are clearing out of their village. This is excellent news — except we need to retrieve the treasure they stole from the dragon. No way are we going anywhere near that dragon without the treasure. Not to mention the rest of the stuff the Rakshasa stole from Alix and me when they killed us a few days ago. I am cursed well getting that back.

Fucking Rakshasa.


The dragon gets the upper hand

Outside, the dragon rampages.

We could honestly do with some Rakshasa allies right about now. But maybe they knew how utterly futile it is to take on a dragon. Maybe we ought to have known — or at least heeded our own misgivings.

But we need the Stars to remake the Flail to take down the goddess Varrien. We never really had an option. We must get the Stars from the dragon — or die trying.

The drowned city of Jhardhemeth shudders beneath the dragon’s onslaught.

She’s a black dragon. Huge. Spewing acid, slapping us with wings and tail. She’s already carried Blaze off and dropped his fully armoured form in the water. I have no idea what’s become of Squirrel, who fled into the bowels of another building.

Nightshade and Alix are, I believe, seeking shelter in the building across the square. It took me a few tries to get the door of this building open, but for a few moments Fleet and I are safe.

Once I’ve caught my breath, I peer outside into the square.

It would have been beautiful once, all marble paving stones and columned archways. The treasure chest we reclaimed from the Rakshasa (so much treasure!) stands where we left it in the centre of the square, right before the bitch dragon decided to betray us. Of course, we expected it. Dragons are not known for fair dealing. But the reality is so much worse than we could have imagined.

I can’t see any of my companions, but the dragon is attacking something over by the next building. I hear Alix and Nightshade shouting, so I run in their direction, just in time to see the dragon rise into the air with Alix clasped in her claws.

Nightshade is sprinting towards me as the dragon takes Alix up high, so high over the water, where there are beasts with long necks and sharp teeth waiting.

Oh, blessed Emrys. Is that how Blaze met his fate?

Where the hell is Squirrel?

With a triumphant roar, the dragon releases Alix. She drops, and my heart almost stops, but then her airwalking boots kick in and she’s sprinting through the air towards Nightshade and me.

The three of us flee inside the building.

dragon


Yep. We obviously called it a night in the middle of a somewhat tricky situation… Will we prevail against the dragon and retrieve the Stars of the Flail of Wind and Rain? (And the rest of the treasure hoard?)

That, my friends, remains to be seen.

But it does unfortunately appear that our party will not escape unscathed. 😦

A year of Mixadventures

It’s almost a year now since I got a Thermomix. (I know!) And I can say with confidence that I have made things I would never have previously attempted. (Cue beetroot relish, capsicum and sundried tomato dip, fruit and nut muesli, creme brûlée, chocolate ganache… even vegetable stock!)

mix_beetrelish2_1

Beetroot relish – second batch!

Moreover, on the whole, I am cooking more frequently. There’s a lot more planning ahead to make things, whether it’s a meal for the week or something to take to my next social gathering. (Sometimes there’s a lot more planning than doing, but I’m getting there.) My D&D friends get experimented on frequently.

When I look at my original goal of eliminating shop-bought/processed stock, pesto, dips, relishes, cakes/slices… I’ve made excellent progress. In many cases this also aligns with my additional goal of reducing consumption of single-use plastic, so it’s win-win.

Having said that, I’m not sure that replacing store-bought cakes and biscuits with the home-cooked variety is very good for my waistline. Hmmm. (There’s been a bit of a sweet theme during January-February.)

Anyway, I’ve attempted several new recipes in the past couple of months. Here are the latest mixadventures.

Raspberry and coconut muffins

A few days after Christmas, we had a family working bee in my “garden” to get it under control. It was a short, sharp attack, over and done with in a few hours. Needless to say, when one is gifted with free labour, one needs to provide refreshments. But what to do when the cupboard is bare?!

I scrounged around my supplies and trawled through the Thermomix Recipe Community to find a muffin recipe I could whip up in the morning, before they arrived. And this recipe for raspberry and coconut muffins was the one I found (and adapted).

Frozen raspberries – check! Coconut – check! Egg – check! (I only had one egg.)

Because the raspberries were frozen into a chunk and I was in a rush, I blitzed them in the Thermomix instead of folding them through. (You could only really do this with a Thermomix.) And I used at least double the quantity. The muffins came out pink (of course) but I really liked the raspberry flavour infused through the whole muffin.

These were definitely a hit and very easy to make (my MO). I have since made the recipe again, this time cooking in a loaf tin instead of muffin cases. It certainly works very well as a cake too.

Rice salad from Basic Cookbook

We played D&D on a scorching hot day in January, so I made the Basic Cookbook rice salad for us to have as a light meal. You could make this easily without a Thermomix, but I’ve found I rather like cooking rice in the Thermomix so it works for me. (I previously didn’t tend to cook rice often, not having a rice cooker.)

While the rice cooks, you steam the vegetables and the eggs in their shells. I added a can of corn and more than doubled the eggs. The combined salad keeps really well, and easily did six of us for a light meal with leftovers. I have since made it again using half the amount of rice (minus the corn) and it lasted me for three meals.

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Yogurt Cake from Basic Cookbook

Remember what I said up the way about eliminating shop-bought cakes and biscuits? This is a direct result of that… That is, I talked myself out of buying biscuits in the supermarket in lieu of baking myself a cake. (Naughty.)

This cake is simple and tasty, if a bit too light for my personal tastes. After I ate the whole cake (don’t judge me) I was pretty bored of it. But it would be a good afternoon tea cake, I think.

(I’d take the raspberry coconut cake over this one…)

Tiramisu

My D&D friends copped my average first attempt at tiramisu. I absolutely adore eating tiramisu, and decided I needed to try making it… But, being a tiramisu lover, I also have high expectations. Expectations that I failed to meet. Ugh.

Firstly, who knew there were so many ways to make tiramisu? I started off looking at the Basic Cookbook recipe… then cross-checked it with the recipes on the marscapone cheese and sponge fingers. Then, perplexed, I hit google. The major variations in tiramisu recipes are:

  • Raw eggs whipped through marscapone OR eggs/egg yolks beaten and cooked in the sugar to make a saboyon before folding the marscapone through
  • Eggs used whole OR separated using the yolks in the marscapone mix, with the egg whites sometimes whipped up separately and folded through
  • Whipped cream folded through OR no cream
  • Many different ratios of “custard” to sponge fingers soaked in coffee with/without alcoholic infusions

A little reading suggested that the traditional recipe is the whole raw egg version with no cream. Which corresponds to the Basic Cookbook recipe… so that’s the one I ended up making, after all.

My attempt was… OK. I don’t think I soaked the biscuits enough, and I think I beat the “custard” too much so the eggs began to separate a little. It just wasn’t quite… right.

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You can see there’s disproportionately more custard on the top. And that’s a large quantity of grated chocolate you can see in the layers… Grating chocolate is one thing the Thermomix is extremely good for!

But it was edible, and after most of my friends politely ate a piece I took the rest home and gorged on it until it was gone. I’m not entirely sure I’ll make it again, or if I do I might try a few adaptations. We’ll see.

So that’s my last two months in the kitchen. I’m currently eating my way through yet another batch of soup, based on sweet potato and carrot, into which I tossed some red lentils as well as some other vegetables. The soups are always pretty yummy.

D&D Chronicles: In which Rakshasa prove masters of the common ambush

ZILLAH

By the time I come around, I know I’ve fucked up. Badly.

Voices first… some familiar, others not. Someone sharpening a blade. The rustle of cloth. They’re all everyday sounds, as though we’re in some form of settlement. Beside me, Fleet is purring and nuzzling my face with her nose.

I blink up at Alix as she sits back, withdraws her hand from my brow. She looks weary but relieved. The expression is familiar and she doesn’t need to tell me what’s just happened. What she’s just done for me.

Blessed Emrys, how many more times must I die for the sake of this cursed quest? I think this makes three. Or is it four?

I have no idea where we are, although we appear to be in some form of hut. I hear the others asking how I feel, but I can’t bear to look at them. I’m too mortified. It was all my fault. Alix and me, two of us alone, facing six Rakshasa. Hopelessly outmatched and outnumbered. What the fuck was I thinking?


18 hours earlier

It’s early afternoon when I see a lone Rakshasa creeping through the forest. She’s only 100 feet away from our camp, and my blood freezes. Behind me, Blaze is hovering over his potion, while the others are recovering after an eventful morning dealing with six crawlers. We’re camped in the forest above the drowned city, preparing and planning how to defeat the Rakshasa. Surprise is going to be key. I have to do something about that spy I just saw.

I activate my airwalking and follow silently.

tiger

image from pixabay

The Rakshasa is moving stealthily, but I can’t figure out whether she’s detected our camp or not. To be on the safe side, I decide to take her out.

My entangle spell has no effect and she lets out a yell. But I’m committed now, and my swords are out. She gets off a fireball then flees. I give chase until she meets up with five more of her kind. More fireballs and other spells. Fuck.

I turn on my heel and flee, cursing myself. That did not go to plan at all.

There doesn’t seem to be any immediate pursuit, which both relieves and troubles me. What are they doing? I really don’t want them to get away with news of our presence in the forest. (Although maybe the fireballs have put paid to that already.)

Meanwhile, my companions have of course been roused by all the fireball action and three of them show up in one of the smouldering glades. I quickly update them and tell them I want to track the Rakshasa to see where they go. Alix comes with me, while Squirrel and Nightshade return to watch over Blaze who is still brewing his potion.

I have no trouble following their trail through the undergrowth, but when six sets of tracks become four, we stop. Oh no no no… I can’t see the missing two in any of the trees, but they can definitely see us… hence the fireball that explodes right in our faces.

Once more I’m fleeing Rakshasa through the forest, but this time they are pursuing with intent, flinging fireballs with abandon. All six of them are right on our heels, playing with Alix and me like cats with two pathetic mice. They’re faster than us. Stronger than us. Basically Alix and me against six Rakshasa have no hope at all…


It turns out we’re in a furbolg village, of all things. Apparently some furbolgs turned up in the forest yesterday afternoon to see what all the fireballs were about, and invited us here to regroup.

Both Alix and I were dead when the others found us, but Blaze was able to resurrect Alix with a potion… The Rakshasa took our best weapons and our belt pouches and I can’t help but wonder why my companions would bother resurrecting me, given my series of supreme fuckups. Especially as I no longer even have any decent weapons with which to make myself useful.

I spend the rest of the day feeling guilty and sorry for myself.


After a full day and two nights (during one of which I was dead) in the furbolg village, we set off to take on the Rakshasa. A few of the furbolgs are coming with us to help.

We still haven’t finalised a good plan, but we do know the only way we’ll have any chance is to a) dose up on protection spells and b) ambush them in small groups somehow. They seem most vulnerable in melee, impervious to most of our magic and heavily reliant on magic themselves. Added to that, they can move much faster than we can and they have the home ground advantage.

We’re camped for the night on an old overgrown road, when a fireball lights up the night. There are just two Rakshasa attacking us, but they create enough havoc, especially once they succeed in their slow spell. We chase them off and relocate camps to pass the rest of the night uneventfully.

In the morning, we proceed along the road, intending to diverge off it around midday. But those cursed Rakshasa get the drop on us again. And this time it’s a major ambush.

Blaze sets it off by falling into a pit trap. Nightshade and I are off the path, skulking through the forest either side of the party. We’re all too far away from Alix, our source of protection spells, and already our plans are completely unravelled.

There seem to be Rakshasa everywhere in the forest. Fireballs bombard our party on the path. Nightshade is surrounded. The slow spell is crippling us. Soon one of the furbolgs is seeking shelter in the pit after helping Blaze escape it.

Knowing it’s the only chance we have, I run back to Alix to get the protection spell. Then, wielding my borrowed short sword, I enter the fray. These fucking Rakshasa have to die and I will get all my stuff back if it kills me.

Dosed up on magic and rage, I feel invincible. Even if all I have is a short sword belonging to Nightshade.

But I’m only just getting started when the Rakshasa start to retreat, slinking away into the forest like cowards. Hollering in fury I would chase after them and kill all the fuckers, but they are too fast for us. Down on all fours, they scamper away like the cats they are, leaving us frustrated and fuming.

Now we must regroup fast and go after them while they’ve exhausted their magic for the day. No doubt there are more of them in their stronghold, but we cursed well have to try.

Read all posts on the D&D Chronicles page.

Mongolia Journal ~ Drama and a “terrible” campsite

It seems the only international travel I’m getting to do of late is virtual… so I’ll have to content myself with some more reminiscing about Mongolia. It’s almost three years ago — geez. Here is the next installment of the horse trek – Day 8!


2 July 2015

Lunch – Day 8

Lunchtime. Hot. Hot. Hot. Sunny. Bit of a breeze. Waiting for lunch to be cooked. Hope it’s not soup.

The full moon last night was beautiful. It rose up over the hill, big and round and perfect, casting glorious moon shadows. After a late dinner, we went for a moonlit walk, dodging the enormous marmot holes.

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Day 7 – sunset before the full moon

Side Note: I’ve decided to call one of the insects we see fluttering about ‘flutterhops’. They’re one of the many different types of grasshopper we’ve seen. They kind of flutter and hover in the air, unlike butterflies, clicking and whirring. Very distinctive sound.

This morning was fairly typical — K & I up first, waiting waiting waiting for our boiled water for coffee, which came with breakfast. We lazed about, packed up… finally rode out late morning.

The horses seemed a little slow this morning, but after about an hour we found them water and then they perked up and actually seemed to want to run. We cantered a bit on our way to this lunch stop, which actually isn’t that far from where we watered them.

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Day 8 – lunch stop (humans) and water stop (horses)

In fact, it’s on the same water course and the horses are having a delightful time. My rein (rope) is now very soggy and muddy – ugh.

Evening – Day 8

Drama! We were headed to a campsite with trees on a hill — sounds lovely, right? But we didn’t quite get there…

We’ve been riding the horses pretty hard these last few days. Yesterday they were supposed to have a rest day, but we still moved to a different campsite. Today, Ganaa led us up a steep hill and then around another steep and rocky hill — I couldn’t quite believe we were riding horses there, but it was pretty cool. We went up and down some more and (being a hot afternoon) met the car a couple of times for water. My knees were singing so loud, I even got off and walked for five minutes at one point. It made all the difference.

The last part of today’s ride was across a broad flat area of steppe, heading up to the aforementioned hill with trees. We were tired, trying to minimise the amount of trotting… Then, without warning, Ganaa’s horse simply lowered itself to the ground with her still mounted.

She got him up again and we kept going, but a short time later she pulled up to meet the car, which had gone a little way ahead up a slope towards our intended campsite. She dismounted, hobbled her horse and chucked a tantrum. (Whacked her horse with the rein a few times.) After much discussion in Mongolian, us sitting quietly on our horses, perplexed, horrified, waiting… Burmaa came over: “We camp here.”

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day 8 – overlooking our “terrible” campsite

It’s a terrible campsite. Completely random. No shelter or cover for private business. We went for a walk to survey the campsite that was not to be, sniffled disconsolately. We don’t know what the problem was, but assume it was related to her horse lying down earlier. Tension in the camp is pretty high at the moment.

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day 8 – horses grazing at camp

David has just taken the horses for water, although it’s hours after we arrived. We think Ganaa’s horse is really tired — he’s always the one that gets ridden when the other horses get a bit of a break and is the one David is riding now. He must have been feeling pretty bad to have lain down while being ridden. Poor poor buckskin boy.

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day 8 – the great unwashed!

Reading Highlights from 2017 – Part 3 (Final roundup)

It’s time for the third and final post in my 2017 reading highlights. At this point I will explain that for the past couple of years I’ve been keeping a list of all the books I read, assigning them a rank out of 10. So far my top ranking is 9.

Favourites for the year!

A ranking of 9/10 means I adored the book all round — story, writing, characters etc. It means the book resonated with me and I keep thinking about it and will almost certainly re-read, maybe more than once. A 9/10 generally means it is pretty well written, or at least there’s something I love about the writing, although it may not necessarily be perfect from a craft perspective.

In 2017, I rated the following 12 books and series as 9/10:

  • Spindrift — Amy Rae Durreson
  • Stygian — XX (name removed)
  • Spirit — John Inman
  • Spectred Isle (The Green Men book 1) — KJ Charles
  • Sins of the Cities (series of three) — KJ Charles
  • The Community (series of three) — XX (name removed)
  • Wolfsong — TJ Klune
  • Bear, Otter, and the Kid (series of four) — TJ Klune
  • House of Cards — Garrett Leigh
  • Preacher, Prophet, Beast (Tyack & Frayne book 7) — Harper Fox
  • Locked in Silence (Pelican Bay book 1) — Sloane Kennedy
  • Murder in Pastel — Josh Lanyon

The above list will likely explain why I focused on TJ Klune, XX and KJ Charles in my first highlights post, and then spotlighted three “spooky house” stories in my second highlights post.

Here are a few thoughts on the remaining novels in the above list.

house-of-cardsHouse of Cards by Garrett Leigh is one of the multi-author Porthkennack series, which spans both contemporary and historical m/m romances set in the fictitious village of Porthkennack in Cornwall. For starters, I’m instantly attracted to anything set in a Cornish village, and I love all the Garrett Leigh books I’ve read; she writes about broken characters wonderfully well.

Here, a tattoo artist flees a toxic relationship and finds himself staying with a friend (another tattoo artist) in Porthkennack. In addition to the gorgeous setting, it’s all the small details I love: the beloved old-style tattoo machine, the chicken rescue activities, the smuggling(!), the fascinating secondary characters. I’ll be reading this one again soon, so I can dive into the next one by Ms Leigh (Junkyard Heart).

preacher-prophet-beastPreacher, Prophet, Beast by Harper Fox is the seventh in her Tyack and Frayne series. It’s also the only novel-length installment and takes our heroes and their daughter to some interesting and horrifying places, centred as usual around paranormal happenings in Cornwall, and specifically their new family home on Bodmin Moor.

This is a wonderful series that takes Gideon (a policeman) and Lee (a psychic) from their first meeting (in the brilliant Once Upon a Haunted Moor) through dating, marriage, fatherhood… and in this installment they’ve been married for three years. It’s a series (mostly longish novellas) I will re-read over and over again.

locked-in-silenceLocked in Silence is the first in a new series from the extremely prolific Sloane Kennedy. It’s very different in style from her popular Protectors and Barretti Security series — and a level above, I think. This one is more grounded in reality. More poignant, as both men have been wrongfully accused and vilified for different transgressions.

The premise is not earth shattering: a concert violinist returns to his home town broken and in disgrace, only to discover his childhood nemesis suffered a tragedy that broke him and ensured he’s never left… But the journey is layered and complex, with all the feels. I hope Ms Kennedy returns to Pelican Bay soon.

murder-in-pastelFinally, Murder in Pastel is a republication of one of Josh Lanyon’s early works (originally under another pseudonym, apparently). I’m a big fan of Ms Lanyon, whose novels usually revolve around some form of crime to be solved. This one is a whodunnit set in a seaside art colony in California, and involves the usual cast of eccentric characters.

The viewpoint character is a young mystery writer and son of a renowned painter who disappeared a decade ago, along with his masterpiece painting — so, in addition to the person who inevitably gets murdered, there’s a cold case to solve too. It’s kind of timeless, the way it’s written, and it’s probably now one of my favourite Josh Lanyon novels. (The Adrien English series would come first.)

Also worth mentioning

In my personal ranking system, a rating of 8/10 means it’s above average in terms of my enjoyment, and I logged 45 of these. I’m not gonna list them all, but here are some particularly worth mentioning:

  • Hailey Turner’s Metahuman Files is kind of x-men meets military adventure series (3 books)
  • Undaunted by Devin Harnois is a secondary world quest fantasy with vampires and werewolves(!)
  • Anna Butler’s Taking Shield series is excellent award-winning military science fiction set in the far-distant future (4 books so far, more to come)
  • NR Walker’s two-part Imago series is set in Australia with butterflies, her Thomas Elkin series is a three-part May-December romance featuring architects, and Switched is a fabulous standalone novel about a man who discovers he was switched at birth
  • Leta Blake’s Slow Heat is a sophisticated take on the MPreg non-shifter genre (if you can get past the whole MPreg thing)
  • Aqua Follies by Liv Rancourt brings 1950s rock n roll to life in a gritty romance with jazz and synchronised swimming
  • Amelia Faulkner’s incredible Inheritance series features ancient gods and psychic powers in San Diego
  • Silver Scars by Posey Roberts is about two scarred men who meet through a work secondment
  • Renae Kaye’s The Blinding Light set in Western Australia is about a guy who takes on a housekeeping job for a blind man

And that, my friends, is the end of my annual reading highlights. If you’ve made it this far, you’ve been very patient.

If you read in the m/m genre, I hope you’ve found a few interesting ones to try. There are certainly heaps of speculative fiction titles listed — both urban paranormal series, classic science fiction and some fantasy.

Thanks for reading this post! I wish you all another fabulous year of wonderful books.


This post has been edited to remove references to a particular author, who was revealed to be seven shades of unsavoury.

Reading Highlights from 2017 – Part 2 (Spooky House stories)

Three of my favourite individual books from last year were “spooky house” stories. Two were straight up ghost stories — Spirit by John Inman and Spindrift by Amy Rae Durreson. The third was a different kind of paranormal story, although had a similar spooky feel — Stygian by XX (name removed).

Each of these three novels has lingered with me long past finishing, and I will definitely be re-reading them, probably in the very near future.

Interestingly and coincidentally (I think?), all three are published by Dreamspinner Press, where they’re available in all formats of e-book, paperback and audio — I’ve included buy links.

Spindrift – Amy Rae Durreson

spindriftOfficial Blurb:

When lonely artist Siôn Ruston retreats to the seaside village of Rosewick Bay, Yorkshire, to recover from a suicide attempt, he doesn’t expect to encounter any ghosts, let alone the one who appears in his bedroom every morning at dawn. He also doesn’t expect to meet his ghost’s gorgeous, flirty descendant working at the local museum… and the village pub, and as a lifeboat volunteer. But Mattie’s great-great-grandfather isn’t the only specter in Rosewick Bay, and as Siôn and Mattie investigate an ill-fated love affair from a bygone era, they begin a romance of their own, one that will hopefully escape the tragedy Mattie’s ancestor suffered.

But the ghosts aren’t the only ones with secrets, and the things Siôn and Mattie are keeping from each other threaten to tear them apart. And all the while, the dead are biding their time, because the curse of Rosewick Bay has never been broken. If the ghosts are seen on the streets, local tradition foretells a man will drown before the summer’s end.

Seriously, that blurb alone gives me chills of the very best kind. I adore stories set in English villages. I adore everyday people trying to solve mysteries from the past. The characters are distinctive and complex and endearing. The setting is gorgeous. The atmosphere is dark and brooding.

In short, I adore everything about this book. Get it here from Dreamspinner Press.

Spirit – John Inman

spiritThe cover caught my attention with this book — I am a complete sucker for two guys and a kid. And a spooky basement.

Right, so this one is about a guy, Jason, who agrees to babysit his four-year-old nephew, Timmy, for four weeks while his single mum has a holiday with her boyfriend. Turns out that there’s a ghost in his house and Timmy’s presence seems to activate it. Then Timmy’s uncle on his estranged father’s side comes to visit…

There’s a lot more light and humour in this book (compared to the dark and brooding Spindrift), but the mystery is no less intense and the romance between Timmy’s uncles is sweet.

It all blends into another fabulous ghost story / murder mystery that I can’t wait to experience again! Get it here from Dreamspinner Press

Stygian – XX

Content removed.

This post has been edited to remove references to a particular author, who was revealed to be seven shades of unsavoury.


The first post in the Annual Reading Highlights 2017 series looked at three authors I read (and loved) a lot last year:

And there will be more posts to come. Stay tuned!