Greek Polenta Lasagna

Wow – it’s been awhile, hasn’t it? Funny thing about teaching full-time, going to grad school part-time, and being a wife, mother, writer, etc.: Time for blogging seems to drop to the bottom of the list, fast.

But some of you may remember that in a past life, I had a food blog. I have an abiding interest in eating well, being healthy, growing a low-maintenance/environmentally-friendly garden, and eating well. (Yes, it’s so important, I said it twice.)

So when my publisher (SQUEE!!! The thrill never wears off… ;)), The Wild Rose Press, announced they’re accepting entries for their annual holiday cookbook, The Garden Gourmet, it got me thinking. This year, they’re asking for “hacks,” rather than recipes. But it just so happens I have a hack that IS a recipe. (Of course I do. I’m the queen of multitasking/multi-purposing/and multi-genre-ing.  :))

Anyway, I thought I’d go ahead and post the full recipe here. If you like to cook, to try new things, maybe are gluten-free (or know someone who is), and/or just want to make some healthier substitutions in your life, this is a very easy, very awesome, crowd-pleasing recipe. Enjoy!

GREEK POLENTA LASAGNA (adapted from http://ohmyveggies.com)
Serves 8-10

18 ounce Pre-made Polenta   the kind in the tube, or make your own!
16 ounce Part-Skim Ricotta Cheese
1 cup Crumbled Feta Cheese   divided
1 Egg
10 ounce Frozen Chopped Spinach   thawed and squeezed to remove excess water
12 ounce Roasted Red Peppers in Water   drained and diced
34 cup Kalamata Olives   pitted, chopped & divided
1 teaspoon Dried Oregano
12 teaspoon Salt
14 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
25 ounce Marinara Sauce   basically, a jar of your favorite red pasta sauce
8 ounce Mozarella Cheese   shredded (about 2 cups)

DIRECTIONS

Cut the polenta crosswise into discs approximately 1/2″ thick. Or, if you made your own in a loaf pan, cut lengthwise into 8 slices. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, use a fork to combine the ricotta, 3/4 cup feta, egg, spinach, roasted red peppers, 1/2 cup olives, oregano, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Have an 8×12-inch pan ready. For easy assembly, have all components (polenta, ricotta mixture, sauce and mozzarella) arranged side-by-side on the kitchen counter or table.

Spread a little sauce on the bottom of the pan. Lay discs/slices of polenta in a single layer over the sauce. Add half the ricotta in dollops, then spread gently to distribute evenly. Add half of the remaining sauce, then half the mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers — add the remaining polenta, then the ricotta, then the sauce, then the cheese. Top evenly with 1/4 cup crumbled feta and 1/4 cup kalamata olives.

Bake until hot throughout and the cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown in spots, 40-50 minutes. Let cool for about 15 minutes before cutting into squares and serving.

Goals

I had one official goal this summer (finish ALOS) and one unofficial goal (publish DEAD). Obviously, I’m good on the second one, but crazy as it sounds, since I was about 75% of the way done back in June, it looks like I will NOT be able to finish ALOS “this summer.”

Apart from the intrusion of grad school into my life, aided and abetted by a super fun but time-sucking Spanish class, and the two equally fun but time-consuming trips we took, I did a ton of revising on that first 75% before adding any new words. I’d say I’m around 85% done now, but school officially starts tomorrow, and within that context, I’m essentially starting a new position in a new hall, on a new team.

All GOOD things, but (as happens every year at this time….) I’m feeling very unprepared for the reality of students in my room in roughly 46 hours. About 100 new names, personalities, learning styles, needs, etc., to learn and manage. New curriculum, new room, new furniture/configuration, 100+ degree weather, second year in a row with central AC in our building that isn’t actually working, yada-yada, blah-blah-blah.

So what am I doing? Blogging about the crazy-busy-ness of my life, instead of doing something…not “more productive”…that’s the wrong term, since actually, writing about all this helps me feel calmer about it. And feeling calmer means I can do something, instead of being paralyzed with overwhelmed-ness.

That and the fact that the DD, while also being Very Busy, has learned how to make almond milk fruit smoothies. They are AMAZING, and very restorative. This is a terrible pic, because I’m feeling too lazy to get up and find a better background, but here it is nonetheless:

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Okay, now that I’m feeling better, I really will go do something. Probably not finish ALOS, but maybe I’ll get at least a little more done on it after I finish a few more pressing items on my list. Like this smoothie….  😉

How about you? Is September a time for new beginnings and new-old goals? Or is it just another day in the life?

A Wrinkle of Timing

Well, here’s a new one I hadn’t thought of. From about 2003 to mid-2014, I was a member of Romance Writers of America, the industry group to be in if your writing has anything to do with romance, which mine does. I was also a member of various subchapters, including my local one, Rose City Romance Writers, and some online collectives, like the Celtic Hearts Romance Writers, and Kiss of Death, for those of us with a mystery/suspense bent.

One of the benefits of all these memberships is that most chapters offer some kind of annual writing contest. First round is usually judged by published or almost-published chapter members, and the final round by “industry professionals” (agents, acquiring editors, etc., from well-known agencies and publishing houses). It’s a FANTASTIC way to get feedback on your writing, and hopefully, get it read by somebody who might want to rep it or buy it.

So every few months, I would enter a contest or two. I won several, and placed 2nd or 3rd in others. It never led to anything though (I might win based on my writing, but the editor or agent still didn’t think the manuscript would sell). In fact, a few years ago, DEBRIEFING THE DEAD won the Golden Rose, my local RCRW chapter contest. (I don’t even remember who the “uninterested” final judge(s) were, but to them I now say “phlbbbtthh!”  ;))

Anyway, in 2014 I finally decided that my books weren’t “traditional romance” enough for contests affiliated with an organization whose sole overarching focus is Romance. This is not to diss RWA or its chapters in any form. It’s just an acknowledgment that some of my writing doesn’t fit neatly into the romance category, even when there is a LOT of romance in it.

So, I discontinued my memberships (which can add up, financially), and therefore became ineligible to enter contests (no big loss there, since the benefit exists more for early writers who need feedback from, hopefully, objective readers; not so much for experienced writers who are comfortable in their writing skins, and able to query agents and editors with confidence, if not success, on their own  :)). During my three years away, I obviously kept writing, honed my craft even more, and obviously, garnered my first sale. (Squee!!! It never gets old, saying that….  :))

Skip ahead to this month. After I got my contract offer, I rejoined RWA and a few sub-chapters (my local RCRW, of course, and the Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal chapter, to start). I feel like the industry has shifted somewhat, and is more open to cross-genre, romance-heavy-but-not-necessarily-traditional-romance books like mine. As part of my member benefits, I’m also on the RWA PRO list (for nearly-pubbed authors — soon to be on PAN, for published authors, when I make enough sales to qualify — SQUEE!!!), so I get announcements of, you guessed it, chapter contests.

Now, DEBRIEFING THE DEAD has sold. But I have other completed manuscripts, as well as ALOS, which is almost finished. There was an announcement yesterday for a contest that’s low on entries (read: it’s easier to final, and therefore get your manuscript read by — in this case — an agent, a print editor, AND an e-pub editor). I thought, hmm, maybe I could test the waters with ALOS. So I clicked the link for the contest details. Entry fee reasonable? Check! Categories work for my book? Check!! Entry requirements doable? Check!!! Just when I started to think, WTH, I might as well give it a go…

…I reread the part where it said “Open to all writers unpublished in novel or novella format as of…November 6, 2017.”

Now, it’s unlikely my book will be out that soon. But it gave me a sudden pause, where I realized I’m not really an “unpublished” author any more. I had a similar moment at my Equity Leadership Team retreat on Friday, when we filled out one of those “getting to know you” worksheets, and one of the boxes was “Aspirations.” Ordinarily, I’d put “sell a book” in that box. That’s what I’ve put for YEARS, basically for as long as I can remember. But now it’s not an “aspiration,” it’s a REALITY, and I suddenly thought, OMG, I need a new aspiration! (Maybe, learn five new languages. Or sell five more books!  ;))

And as far as the contest goes, I’m not going to enter. Whether I finalled or not, the benefit to me in my current writer skin would be slim-to-none. I know how to write a query, and I know how to research an agent/editor/what-have-you. And by the time I’m ready to query ALOS, in the author bio paragraph, I’ll be able to say I’m “published with The Wild Rose Press.” (Of course the rest of the DEAD series will go to TWRP first. But ALOS is different, and I’m not sure it would be right for them. Just in case you’re wondering why I’m still talking about querying, when I have a publisher!  :))

Anyway! It was just one of those weird moments, where decades of habit came smack up against the realization of a dream come true, forcing me to shift my thinking:

Wow — I’m no longer an aspiring, unpublished writer. I’m an author.

Keywords and Covers and Blurbs, Oh My!

Hey, remember a few weeks back (two weeks ago, today, in fact!), before I got my first publishing contract? Remember how I could sit all day on my deck, and write? Yeah, that’s not happening anymore. It’s one of the unspoken ironies of publication: The minute you get that first contract, is the minute when your actual writing time suddenly diminishes.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not complaining! But between choosing keywords to describe the book (is 35 too many…?), poring over cover art/artists in order to make the LIFE-ALTERING decision about how I want my book to look and feel (what if both turn out to be “terrible,” and no one buys it?), and begging my already-overworked writing partners for cover blurbs — between all those things, I haven’t had time to finish my current WIP (work-in-progress), ALOS. Which was my original goal for the summer.

A summer which is now officially over, as I went back to work full-time yesterday. (For anyone new to the saga of my life, I’m a math teacher by day.  :)) I’m actually excited for the school year to begin. But along with work comes a host of other busy-making things, like my son, who starts college in a few weeks, or my daughter, who is only playing 500 sports this year (down from 5000 last year), and in 29 AP-level classes. I might be exaggerating here, but still.

Anyway! I’d better get back to it. Maybe I’ll create a Facebook poll and let you all weigh in on what style you find most eye-catching. Of course, it’s hard when you haven’t read the book yet. But it’s better than me having to make all the decisions!!  🙂

Sold!

It is with great pleasure that I officially announce the sale of my novel, DEBRIEFING THE DEAD, to The Wild Rose Press. This has been such a long and incredible journey, and I’m beyond thrilled to begin this next leg of it. I don’t have many details yet (like, um, publication date, and silly things like that…!), but as soon as I do, I’ll post them here. Meanwhile, thanks to you all for your support over the years! I couldn’t have done it without you!

Eclipse Madness, part 2

So the eclipse itself was AMAZING. Mi madre and I got in the car at 7:15 and drove as far into Totality as we could reasonably get, which turned out to be Dallas (Oregon, not the Big D  ;)). We only hit one bit of bad traffic on the way down:

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But after that, it was smooth sailing. We found a friendly Starbucks, for a bathroom + caffeine refill break, and then we scored an AWESOME viewing location, purely by chance — a dead-end street at the top of a hill, with nearly 360 degree views:

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We got there after the partial had already begun:

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And then it started getting darker, until, bam! We were in Totality:

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It was so incredible — peaceful, no crowds, just us and three other cars, plus one or two people who lived in the neighborhood. I sat on the hood of the car and drank my iced tea (see “Starbucks” above  ;)) and literally soaked it all in. Truly a once in a lifetime experience!

As was the drive home. This is the line on Wheaton Ferry Road, which we inched-along in for over an hour:

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[Side note: Did you know that SOMETIMES a “(insert name) Ferry Road” actually DOES end in a ferry? I didn’t! We have so many “Ferry Roads” around here that now lead to bridges, or long-dried/filled-in creeks, that it was a surprise to find this one leading to a real-live active ferry boat.]

Unfortunately, Wheaton Ferry is a “9-car ferry”, not a “post-eclipse madness 10,000-car ferry”, hence the wait. But it was so cool to ride across, even if it was a super short trip:

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Still, after the 2.25 hour drive down, it took us double that — over 4.5 hours — to get home. It was a LOT of riding in the car for one day! I managed to take the dogs for a walk after I got back, and that was about it.

But it was an amazing day, one I’ll never forget. What about you? Did you make it to Totality, Partiality, or…?

Eclipse Madness

If you live anywhere in the Path of Totality, or within a thousand mile radius of it, you know what I’m talking about. I’m in Oregon, and it’s big here. Huge. Like, Apocalypse NOW. Or, Apocalypse in about 48 hours, anyway.

The traffic was worst, so far, on Thursday. Yesterday, it was actually pretty good. I’m not planning on going far, but it would be nice to be in the path, so mi madre and I are heading out early Monday. I’m thinking by then, there will be NO ONE on the roads, because everyone panicked and left on Thursday.

Getting home may be another matter. DD is going to be in Madras, OR with a friend. (If you don’t live in Oregon, this is The Place To Be, eclipse-wise.) “They” are predicting traffic leaving after the eclipse will be, essentially, a parking lot for about twelve hours or more. She has soccer practice on Tuesday, so hopefully she’ll be home in time for that, at least.

DH is missing it entirely, because he made plans to visit family in CA *this weekend,* not remembering the Eclipse Madness won’t extend that far south. And DS is going to “hang with friends,” and then go to work at 1:00. If they don’t get stuck in Post-Eclipse Madness Parking Lot (hereafter known as “PEMPL”).

So anyway, all this means…. not much. I just didn’t have anything else to blog about.  😉