Book Review: SHOTGUN GRAVY by Chuck Wendig

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Like a blast of pellet in the face, SHOTGUN GRAVY explodes right from the get go and you want to follow around Atlanta Burns as if she’s the Bonnie to your Clyde. This book is a 4-star thriller on my virtual shelf.

This novella has been out for a long time (since 2011, to be exact), and I’ve read it twice now – my first foray into the ebook world. So, I blame that for making me take so dang long (my slow reading pace aside), as my reading time normally involves a hard-copy book. I’m not a luddite, I just prefer it the old-fashioned way. Regardless, once I did read SHOTGUN GRAVY, I sped through it; turning pages faster than Ms. Burns shotgun of justice.

There’s something darkly satisfying in this story – your inner dorky teen exalts the protagonist for doing the things you sometimes wish you could have done when you were a teen. If you’ve somehow forgotten your teen years, read this so you understand that it’s hard to tell a teenager “It Gets Better” when they are in the midst of a bad bully culture. If you’re the parent of a teen, reading this may well help you understand well why your kid is so frustrated with the hierarchy of high school culture and the ignorant parents that allow it to endure.

Don’t be scared that SHOTGUN GRAVY is all doom and gloom, though. Wendig has a great way with words (if you don’t follow his blog TerribleMinds this might be news to you), so there’s humor and a true-to-reality glimmer of hope. I would say that teachers of teens, parents of teens, as well as every teen and adult around should read this book.

Without giving it away, the ending leaves you not only wanting more, but knowing that blasting back at bullies is just as hard as taking it. You decide if Atlanta and her cohorts pick the right path. Regardless, this is a YA as YA books should be – dealing with real issues and not sugar-coating it or downplaying just how bad it can be to be an outcast in the realm of teenage-hood.

As I said, the ending leaves you wanting more. Not to leave you dissatisfied, Wendig followed up with Bait Dog, a full-length novel for the return of Atlanta Burns. I’m warming up my Nook now. He made reading on the e-reader enjoyable, so I’m betting Wendig’s Burns in Bait Dog will do it again. You would be wise to do the same.

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Reviewer’s Note:  I don’t write a review unless I’ve read the book at least twice. I may give some stars to a once-read book, but an in-depth review means I’ve read it at least twice.

I use the system of 1 to 5 stars. Here’s how that plays out in my scale:

Five Stars: this is a work that will grace my bibliophile shelves, for which I will likely read other books by the author, and for which I’ll read again, and will likely become part of my “comfort reads.” These are books that have wrecked, changed, inspired, or otherwise rewarded me doubly for spending time with them.

Four Stars:  means I’ll likely read it again, as well as recommend it to others.

Three Stars: is a book I’d recommend people read.

Two Stars: means that I found pleasure in reading it to the end, but I likely wouldn’t recommend it to someone else – and I likely list what that reason is.

One Star: are typically books I can’t finish. But, they get one star because every reader is an individual. What I can’t finish, you may love. Also, the author put the story out there and that is brave and incredible and I give them props for that. Typically I will denote why I believe I can’t finish the story.

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Harvest Creations: Roasted Tomato Sauce (that uses more than just tomatoes)

 

Tomato season at Thrasher Studios Micro Farm.

Tomato season at Thrasher Studios Micro Farm.

Funny enough, I had a special request for this recipe yesterday, when I was already planning on making it. So, it’s done now and I actually remembered to take photos, as I’ve made a couple of batches of tomato sauce already this harvest season.

Big giant baking trays are best for this step.

Big giant baking trays are best for this step.

Do know that although there is nothing HARD about this recipe, it does take time – I picked the tomatoes in the morning after breakfast and pulled them out of the canner at 4 p.m. So, yeah, it takes some time. But it’s so yummy, it’s worth it. You also know where your tomato sauce comes from, it’s lower in sodium, and all-around healthier.

Feel free to add mushrooms, celery, eggplant, whatever strikes your fancy. Or nothing but tomatoes, onions, and basil is fine, too.

Feel free to add mushrooms, celery, eggplant, whatever strikes your fancy. Or nothing but tomatoes, onions, and basil is fine, too.

 

Post roating tomatoes. Makes peeling a breeze.

Post roating tomatoes. Makes peeling a breeze.

The great thing about this particular recipe is that the other vegetables add a creamy texture in it that you can’t always find in homemade sauces. Also, if you have someone you have to cook for that finds that vegetables are not in their meat-only diet, this is a great way to pack in the veggies and hide it over sausage-stuffed ravioli.

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The veggies post-roast.

You can either used this fresh, freeze it, or can it. You may add chilies for spiciness, if you like. The batch I made today did not include any chilies as I’m saving them for hot sauce and salsa.

It doesn’t matter what size your zucchini is. Unless you have a monster one – than, I suppose you can use that. I used green bell peppers in my recipe, because that’s what my garden gave me this morning. But you can use any color. You’re welcome to add mushrooms and celery, too. Just be sure to include it with the other vegetables in the roasting process.

I love that I always have fresh herbs on hand in my garden. As you see in the photos, I used them in my sauce. Don’t worry if you have to use dried. It’s still yummy. But the flavors really POP if you have fresh.

Fresh basil, oregano, and parsley can't be beat.

Fresh basil, oregano, and parsley can’t be beat.

 

Ingredients:

At least 25 pounds of tomatoes

2 garden fresh zucchini

1 bunch of garden carrots

3 sweet bell peppers

3 onions

6 cloves garlic

4 ½ teaspoons kosher or pickling salt

1 bunch (about a cup) fresh basil (or 2 tablespoon dried)

1 bunch (about a cup) fresh parsley (or 2 tablespoon dried)

1 bunch (about a cup) fresh oregano (or 2 tablespoon dried)

2 teaspoons ground pepper

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

5 tablespoons bottled lemon juice

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Just pulse the roasted other veggie tray to add to the hot pot of de-skinned and chunked tomatoes.

Just pulse the roasted other veggie tray to add to the hot pot of de-skinned and chunked tomatoes.

First tomato step:

Before you prepare tomatoes, heat your oven up to 450º F. Wash tomatoes and remove cores and blemishes. Place onto a lined or cooking-spray-prepared oven tray/sheet. Bake in oven until skins split and you can smell that roasted tomato goodness (about 20 minutes; just keep an eye on it).

Prepare other veggies: While the tomatoes roast, wash the other vegetables. Cut off stems, root ends, chunk onions, and generally slice the vegetables for roasting (see photo for examples). Your goal is that the roasted vegetables will fit through your food processor after they’ve roasted. Oil another baking sheet and put your vegetables, as well as the garlic cloves on the oven tray and stick in oven with tomatoes. Roast until smoky and soft – about 15 to 20 minutes depending on size of your veggies.

Second tomato step: By the time you put the tray of vegetables in the oven, the tomatoes should be done. Pull out and cool until warm and safe to handle. Remove skins (they come off so easily after roasting — I think easier than blanching/icing) and place into a large sauce pan (if you have extra large tomatoes, you may need to dice roughly). Don’t forget the juices that leaked out onto the baking sheet. Put that in the pot, too. Bring peeled tomatoes and juices to a boil, then reduce heat, stir and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Second vegetable step:  By the time your sauce is simmering, but before done – the vegetables need to be removed from the oven and cooled slightly. Then pulse-chop in your food processor until a chunky paste (see photo). Add to the tomatoes in the pot. Cook another 10 minutes.

The waiting is hard:  Now you need to remove the sauce pot from the stove and cool long enough to be able to puree the tomatoes and vegetables into a sauce consistency. I cool for a few minutes and then put the contents of the pot into a large mixing bowl, so it cools quickly and then I can put the puree batches back into the pot. I use my blender for this step because it purees nice and is bigger than my dinky food processor. Just be careful if you’re using a blender that the sauce is COOL enough for it. Heat and a closed blender lid can cause a bit of a tomato explosion if you’re not careful. Even given that I know mine is cool enough, I still hold my hand on the lid to make sure the warmth doesn’t push the lid off when it’s blending.

3 cups of bunches herbs, processed into one cup of chopped fresh herbs.

3 cups of bunches herbs, processed into one cup of chopped fresh herbs.

Cook that sauce: Now with your tomatoes and veggies all blended smooth, put it back in the pot and place on the stove. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer. Once it simmers, add the rest of the ingredients:  salt, herbs, pepper, sugar, lemon juice, and vinegar. Stir thoroughly. Now you want to cook that sauce until it reduces at least an inch in the pot. Be sure to stir now and then.

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Roasted Tomato Sauce

Preserve: At this point you can either use the sauce or freeze it in serving portions. If you’re canning, while the sauce simmers, prepare your jars and lids. You can either pressure can or use a water-bath canner. For this sauce I prefer a water-bath canner, as I don’t like the color and consistency that I get with pressure canning this recipe. The water bath canner takes longer, but the results are secure and doesn’t mess with the consistency or color of the sauce. Pints take 35 minutes; quarts take 40 minutes of processing in a water bath canner. Take the jars out and let sit for 12 hours before moving. Test the lids to make sure they “popped.” I like to wait a month before using, as the flavors just meld that much more in the Mason jar.

Enjoy:  This sauce is great for pasta, lasagna, pizza, really anything you would use tomato sauce in. It takes all day, but you’ll never want store-bought sauce again.

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Harvest Creations: MamaCasz’s 2-Day Spicy BBQ Sauce

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September Garden

Despite our warm temperature this summer, for some reason it seems to me like the tomatoes took their sweet time becoming ripe. But now they are doing so gang-busters. This is a recipe that I’ve modified from the canning cookbook “You Can Can” put out by Better Homes & Garden. I’ve adjusted it to fit what my family loves, mostly more spice and a richer taste. When I posted on Instagram my completed BBQ sauce canned jars, I got several requests for the recipe. Be informed that part of making this is the sauce sitting and cooling and soaking in all the flavors before you complete it and can it. Hence, the two-day. I can’t guarantee it will be as yummy if you try to rush this. This is always a recipe I do over a weekend, therefore. But obviously, if you have a Tuesday and Wednesday free to work on this, by all means.

Ripen tomatoes, ripen!

Ripen tomatoes, ripen!

A couple of other notes on this recipe:

I grow all these things on my land. I suggest you purchase organic at your local market or head off to the farmer’s markets. The farmers are at the end of their season now and are willing to wheel and deal! The important thing is that the tomatoes are fresh. I literally pick the bucket of tomatoes and then get to work on this recipe.

This recipe is great when you have to pick the tomatoes before their sandwich-ripe because cold weather is coming or rains might split them…

In regards to the chilies, don’t worry about coring and seeding. This recipe is about the chile bite at the end. The tang of the tomatoes and onions balances out the fire. So, just chop up the chilies, seeds and all; also, feel free to add more if you like it extra spicy. I have to serve seniors and kids when I cook often, and my hubby and I’s preference for extra spicy doesn’t go over. I normally make a small batch for my husband and I, as well as for gift giving, that is extra spicy.

We put these on ribs the same day I canned it, so you don’t have to wait to use the sauce; but, a month’s time of curing does wonders for it’s complexity.

MamaCasz's Two-Day Spicy BBQ Sauce

MamaCasz’s Two-Day Spicy BBQ Sauce

Ingredients:

12 to 14 pounds of firm tomatoes

3 red onions chopped (should have about 3 cups)

2.5 cups of chopped celery (about one bunch or 7 to 8 stalks)

2.5 cups of chopped green, yellow, and red peppers

6 hot chile peppers

6 garlic cloves, crushed

1 cup of balsamic vinegar

1 cup of apple cider vinegar

1.5 cups of packed dark brown sugar

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

4 teaspoons Hungarian Paprika

4 teaspoons of sea salt

4 teaspoons dry mustard

3 tablespoons of fresh herbs chopped fine from your garden (I put in parsley, chive, and thyme)

1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Dash of cayenne powder

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Instructions:

1. Wash tomatoes. Remove stem ends and cores. Cut tomatoes into quarters.

2. Place tomato quarters in 12-quart stew pot. Cook coverd, over low to medium heat about 30 minutes or until tomatoes are soft. (Note the original recipe said 15 minutes on this part. My tomatoes were never soft by that point, but by 30 minutes they are…so just watch in case your tomatoes cook faster).

3. Add onions, celery, sweet peppers, chile peppers, and garlic. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered for about an hour. (Again, the original recipe calls for 30 minutes on this part. I found that wasn’t enough for the vegetables to cook through and be ready for the food processor/blender. Besides, you want the flavors to blend and meld. Just don’t let it cook at too high a temperature and have your pot burn.)

4. At this point I let the pot cool for a bit (normally while I’m cleaning up the rest of my kitchen from the mess I just made and taking the veggie scraps to my chickens), then stick it in the fridge overnight.

5. The next day let the mixture warm up a bit before working with it. I pull it out of the fridge and set it in the kitchen while I make breakfast and do my morning chores. Then get a really large bowl and dump the tomato/veggie mixture into it. Do not wash your pot. Put the veggie mixture either through a food processor or blender to puree. I have a really small food processor, so I have to do this in batches. Return each batch of the tomato/vegetable puree to your big 12-quart pot. (The original recipe says to discard the seeds and skins. I have found that is not necessary as the processor and blender just rock those babies up and later help to thicken the sauce. So just throw it all in there and puree away.) Now take a kitchen ruler and measure and note the depth of your mixture.

6.  Heat the pot of pureed tomatoes/veggies to boiling, reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered for 1.5 to 2 hours or until the mixture is reduced by half, stirring occasionally. Depth of mixture should be half of the original measure.

7. Stir in vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, salt, mustard, fresh herbs, and pepper. Simmer, uncovered, over low to medium heat about an hour or until desired thickness, stirring frequently.

8. While it cooks and thickens, prep your pint jars and lids.

9. Ladle hot sauce into hot, sterilized pint canning jars, leaving a 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe jar rims; adjust lids. Process filled jars in boiling water canner for 25 minutes (start timing when water returns to boil). Remove jars from canner; cool.

This sauce is great on ribs, chicken, heck, anything you can BBQ. Enjoy! If you use the recipe, be sure to come back and let me know how you enjoyed it.

Harvest Time is Canning Time

Harvest Time is Canning Time

 

 

 

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Harvest Creations: Gardening To Do for September

This is the garden on Sept. 1, 2014. See I did have every intention of getting this post to you sooner.

This is the garden on Sept. 1, 2014. See I did have every intention of getting this post to you sooner.

Oh dear me, I’m a terrible blogger, because I’m trying to be a good urban farmer/micro farmer/future master gardener. Too much time outside, and not enough at the keyboard. But can you blame me?

With the start of school, and the evenings getting shorter and cooler, there’s still much to do, even though school and shorter days makes it a bit harder. I’m still harvesting every day out on my Grow Foods Not Lawns plots. Today, in fact, brought in more zucchini (oh my goodness!), more green beans, green peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, tomatillos, and carrots. Here in Western Washington we’re enjoying a bit of an extended summer, so I’m thrilled that I’ll likely be canning well into October.

My Indian Summer harvest.

My Indian Summer harvest.

The last month I learned that I need way less Russian Red Kale. My family prefers the Lacinto and Large-Leaf Kale. Other than the chickens, I can’t seem to give the Red Kale away either. (I also owe you all a blog post on a recipe for a divine Kale salad.)

I have some ideas about new lay out for the garden for next year, too – but that’s something that will happen later in fall and early winter.

However, August did see me getting just about everything done on my to-do list. I’m sorely behind in my weeding, even given that at one point in the month I was caught up. I have been dealing with an injury to my hip/left leg that has inhibited my mobility; in fact, it kept me out of the garden for three days! For shame!

Even with my best pest-control efforts, the dang moles got to the roots of this giant sunflower. Man down!

Even with my best pest-control efforts, the dang moles got to the roots of this giant sunflower. Man down!

I had some troubles with the rose cuttings I did; but, Hubby and I took a class last weekend on propagating, so I’m hoping that with my new knowledge, we’ll get a successful rose start for spring planting!

I’m a bit behind on my mulching – procuring material has been a blocker to this – having a child starting college eats into my mulching budget. Other than that, I was able to move the flowers from the north-facing south bed to the south-facing north driveway bed. I weeded my fanny off, fought bunnies, cabbage moths, slugs, and aphids, and of course watered when I needed – although, we’ve been blessed this summer with rain just about when we absolutely needed it. I visit my local farm-supply store about once a week and have had to get jars, too. I hope to spam you with multiple Harvest Creation posts on my canning adventures and other recipes, soon. Parsnips, winter lettuce, spinach, successive carrots and cabbage were all planted and the spinach is just about ready for harvest.

So, what needs to be done for the rest of September besides harvesting? Plenty! This month is almost as busy as the prep months of March/April. In fact, you start prepping for spring now, as well as fall/winter harvests. Sorry, again, for the late entry on this; but, you’ll need to get this stuff done in the next two weeks – at least if you’re in my zone (a cross between 6-7-8, but mostly 7b).

Our first pumpkin harvest. It will cure in the sun for a week to make the skin nice and tough, then I'll store in cool, dry place before carving for Halloween!

Our first pumpkin harvest. It will cure in the sun for a week to make the skin nice and tough, then I’ll store in cool, dry place before carving for Halloween!

Here’s September’s To Do:

  • Get gravel and mulch in to complete the new flower bed along the north driveway
  • Continue to harvest
  • Pest Control
  • Weed
  • Water (although, I haven’t turned the soaker hoses on in weeks and hope to not have to)
  • Mulch (really need to get on this)
  • Tend to new growth of winter plants
  • Plant radishes
  • Pull “done” plants and put compost down
  • Propagate plants (strawberries, blueberries, honeysuckle, lavender, and cuttings from neighbor’s fruit trees) – I’m hoping to do a blog post on this as we learn more
  • Finish shade plant bed along south-side, north-facing fence
  • Figure out if we’re going to make a greenhouse or just turn south-window in garage into a make-shift one? (Currently the firewood supply is where I need to build a greenhouse and there are other home-improvement projects that may take my hubby’s time.)
  • Plant spring-time bulbs in between lillies, irises, and peonies bed (new bed along driveway).
  • Plant garlic
  • Go through and find volunteer plants and move to appropriate spot (I have volunteer pansies, snapdragons, lupine, and other stuff I need to move to appropriate places).

Whew!

That’s a lot of stuff I have to do in the next couple a weeks, along with putting food by and finishing my novel.

Best get to it.

Tell me what you’ve learned this growing season? How are you preparing for the next one?

 

It's been a banner year for cucumbers this year. We've done six batches of pickles -- all varieties. Look for a blog post on this soon.

It’s been a banner year for cucumbers this year. We’ve done six batches of pickles — all varieties. Look for a blog post on this soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Homesteading Experiment: Hanging Laundry to Dry, Dryer recommendations

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I never set out purposefully to be doing all these “homesteading” things. It just happened organically. I love fresh tomatoes and herbs and slowly started growing those things over the years myself so I always had them on hand. We love homemade salsa, so that was next on the grow-it-ourselves agenda, along with learning to preserve food by putting it by in mason jars. It’s been a great education and we’re reaping benefits like healthier and yummier food, easy gifts and bartering on hand, as well as learning lost arts.

I’m not a prepper – although I have nothing against those that do so in a manner that does not harm anyone. In my community the term prepper has a bad connotation, normally preceded by the term “doomsday.” Given the local headlines, and everything our community went through during the follow-on manhunt, it’s understandable. However, being prepared for emergencies and having skills to survive temporary power outages and the like, is a good thing, I believe. This summer has been a bit of an experiment for me and it has taught me lots.

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In the first week of June our electric dryer – plagued as it has been by poor design – died again. My husband and I had already replaced the heating element at least four times, at a cost of about $50 a pop. Plus, we also had to replace thermostats at one point because the burnt-out heating element ruined those. Those cost about $35. This does not include my husband’s time and labor. A repairman would have cost about $200 a pop, if we weren’t lucky enough to have the skill ourselves to repair the dryer.  Obviously our repairs added up to close to the cost of a lower-end new dryer. It’s been hugely frustrating, to say the least. It’s a Maytag dryer. Bought new in the fall of 2009. My father-in-law is just incredulous that this dryer is at the end of its life. But, I refuse to repair it again.

Enter the experiment. Weekly I always did one load of clothes – my delicates – without using my dryer. They would hang to dry. It was an easy jump that to decide we would hang our all our laundry to dry just as they did in days of yore when things like electric dryers didn’t exist. That’s what I’ve done all summer. We had a week of rainy weather where I took the towels to a Laundromat (cost me $5 to dry the loads that week); but other than that, our laundry has been hung outside on the line or on a drying rack next to our wood stove – sometimes, in fact most days, I have both going to keep up with our family of five’s laundry needs.

Besides the fresh-smelling benefit to the clothes, there’s has been other benefits as well.

The amazing thing is that our electric bill went down more than $100 for the months I’ve not been using a dryer. Can you believe that? $100 each month — that’s $300 so far. Other than towels, no one has noticed much difference in how their clothes feel. The sheets and blankets smell amazing, too. There’s something about air-and-sunshine-dried clothes that are so appealing.

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The money we’ve saved on electric bills has been going in a kitty to buy a new dryer. I won’t buy a Maytag or Whirlpool, given that they are basically the same company and working with the same design and manufacturing process that likely got us where we are today with the homesteading experiment.

Another benefit is that by all accounts in just a short summer season we’ve reduced our carbon footprint by 10 percent. According to many sources, the dryer is the third-most energy-hungry appliance, after the refrigerator and washer. Air-drying your clothes can reduce the average household’s carbon footprint by a whopping 2,400 pounds a year.

Wow.

The Western Washington rainy season is quickly approaching, which means I’ll have fewer days to actually hang the clothes outside; however, I’ll likely do every load I can with air-drying regardless. Regardless, it won’t be an appliance I use daily. We’ll be reconfiguring our laundry room, too, to host the drying rack permanently, to make the ease of drying the clothes that much more convenient and not in the middle of our home by the wood stove.

The benefits of not using my dryer are too strong and profitable not to do so; however, having an athlete in the house whose workout clothes and team uniforms require rapid washing and drying, as well as children who are prone to accidents, a dryer is still a highly valuable appliance for this family. We’ll be buying a new one come October. So, I’m looking for recommendations. Let me know what you have and its pros and cons. We’d love to convert to natural gas, but where our laundry room is located won’t work, so we’ll have to stick with electric.

Thanks for reading and commenting! I’ll respond soon. I need to go get the clothes off the line!

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