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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Figgy pudding: gluten-free & fruit-sweetened

What in the heck is figgy pudding anyhow? It's mentioned in Little Drummer Boy, my contribution to the boxed set Love, Christmas – Holiday Stories That Will Put a Song in Your Heart, but I never tasted it. Since I needed to write a blog about food, I figured I'd put in a little test time in the kitchen.

If you’ve already read LDB, or any of my books, you know about Evie, a time traveler from the 21st century who has chosen to remain in the 1780s. In Little Drummer Boy, she is trying to learn about 18th century Christmas traditions. One of her challenges is preparing figgy pudding.

“My first attempt at figgy pudding was flat, but sweet. It may not have been pretty, but there weren’t any leftovers, either.”
Figs, grapes (raisins), apples, and cranberries grow in North Carolina, and Evie's father-in-law, Julian, is generous and well-traveled, so she probably had a well-stocked spice cabinet, too. I didn't have cloves, so substituted coriander. Maybe she did the same thing. I forgot to ask.

One thing that bothers me (and many others, I’m sure) is an author’s lack of research about period life. Did you know that in the 1780s there was no such thing as baking powder or baking soda? That's why they ate bannocks instead of nice, fluffy biscuits.

Evie has something others in her era do not, though. When her eldest daughter traveled back to the 18th century to be with her (full story in Aye, I am a Fairy), one of the items she brought back to share with Mom was baking soda. Great for brushing teeth and making cookies. Evie decides to try a bit of it in her second attempt at figgy pudding.
I had to do a little experimenting, too. I gave up wheat (gluten) and refined sugars, so minor adjustments to the online recipes I found and combined had to be made.

Note: You can make this version sweeter by adding some brown sugar  (1/2 - 1 cup) if you’d like. You can also use regular wheat (white or unbleached) flour and bread instead of the gluten-free varieties. I didn't have any rum or brandy to add to it, but will 'splash and flame' it before eating my second serving. I'll top it with whipped cream and make it even more special.

*¼ cup raisins
*¼ cup dried cranberries (Craisins®)
*...Re-hydrate these in a cup of very hot water. Drain and let cool.
¼- ½ cup pared and chopped apples (I used Golden Delicious from my yard)
2 cups fig spread (I made my own from fresh figs. You can reconstitute dried ones by cooking about a cup of figs with a cup of water until pulpy, then mash the heck out of them. Sometimes fig spread is available in specialty stores or make your own from cooking down and mashing fresh figs).

1 ¼ cup flour or gluten-free baking mix
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp coriander (or cloves)
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda

Mix these dry ingredients in separate bowl.
½ cup melted unsalted butter
3 large eggs, gently beaten
2 cups bread crumbs, any kind of bread, including gluten-free varieties. I use my Magic Bullet® to make mine, but a blender or food processor should work, too.

2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

Add the dry ingredients and fruit to the bread crumbs, eggs, and melted butter. When all is mixed together, add two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. This is what makes the batter rise! Stir well, then spoon into buttered (or oiled or use that spray stuff) bundt pan, mini muffin tins or glass/ceramic cups.

Traditional figgy pudding is steamed. You could put the batter in a bundt pan, cover with foil, and then put that pan in another pan, stick the works in the oven for an hour or so, hopefully remembering to add water to the bigger pan as it gets cooked away... Sorry, folks, I didn’t try that way. Too much chance of getting burned: either the pudding or me or both. The steaming procedures on other recipes looked too complicated, so I didn’t bother. Besides, my batter was made with baking soda and vinegar for leavening, not baking powder. Once again, I'd experiment and find another way.
figgy-pudding-single1) Stove top. This was easy, but I was only able to put a generous one cup of batter in the ‘chili and chowder’ mug that I used for the actual steaming. You could use a bundt pan or metal bowl and put it in a big canning pot OR cook leftover batter in a different way (see next variation). When you steam my way, fill the pan/bowl/cup of batter to a little more than half full. Put this container into a pan on the stove top. I used my 40-year-old two-part aluminum steamer pot. Fill with water to about half way up the side of the pan/bowl/cup. Cover, bring to a boil, and then let it simmer (make steam) for about an hour. When a sharp knife stuck in the pudding comes out clean, it's done.
figgy-pudding-with-mookies2) Oven ‘Mookies.’ Both quick and easy. I amply filled a well-greased mini muffin tins with batter and cooked it at 350 degrees for 16 minutes. When they had cooled down but were still warm, I used a table knife to urge them out of the pan. Place on cooling rack.

These were so cute and fast! I started calling anything I baked this way a Mookie: not big enough to be a muffin, but bigger and moister than a cookie. It works great with the baking soda and apple cider vinegar combination.
The picture above is the Mookies surrounding the steamed pudding. Flaming the works and then adding the whipped cream would make a better photo, but I'm the only one around to eat this today, so I'll wait until the crowd is back.

What other foods are mentioned in Little Drummer Boy? Find out more about Scout and 18th century Christmas traditions and trials in Love, Christmas - Holiday Stories That Will Put a Song in Your Heart.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Time travel and magnetic portals examined

It was time for more research on time travel. Back to where it all began for me: a trip to the Oregon Vortex (
I really do believe there is some sort of magical science to that place and the others like it on earth: The Bermuda Triangle and the Pyramids of Giza. Yup, those are the three places on earth where magnetic vortices are the strongest. And I didn’t even need a passport or airplane to get to the one near Gold Hills in Oregon.

The first time I visited the Oregon Vortex and the House of Mystery was in July 1988. I remember it distinctly because I was six months pregnant with my fourth daughter, Edye (the cover model for Naked in the Winter Wind). I got an upset stomach when I got near the strongest point of that magnetic anomaly. So did my eldest daughter, but no one else in the family was bothered. This time, no queasy tummy (and I was definitely not pregnant), but I couldn’t stand up straight and I kept weaving in circles. The rotation is a common side effect of the magnetic pull, but falling down wasn’t too common. Remember riding the merry-go-round at the park (before they were condemned for being dangerous)? You’d hop off and try to stand up and walk in a straight line, but your feet wouldn’t cooperate. That’s exactly the same feeling.

My husband took a few photos. They may not be professional grade, but they captured what we saw: the actual shrinking of matter. Five of us stood on a powerful area of the vortex and those in the audience could actually see us become smaller or taller. Yes, I could feel it, too. Look at the two ladies in the middle and, although the photos are from difference angles, you can still see the height difference.

Does all of this equate to time travel? Well, since there is still no scientific evidence about what causes the apparent shrinking and returning-to-normal pulsing of matter (weight is affected, too), then I say, anything is possible.
But just to be sure, I didn’t bring my holey Greek drachma and didn’t concentrate on the past. After all, I’m pretty content here and now. 

Besides, I didn’t have a daypack and my smartphone isn’t solar-powered.

Now, looking for a little diversion for free? Check out Book Bites 7. It contains the first chapters of the twenty books in Love, Christmas, a wonderful book set containing never before released novellas by 20 best-selling authors. Get yours for free. Here's a visual sampler: Love, Christmas video

And don't forget to attend the big giveaway Facebook launch event October 17th and 18th. Facebook Love, Christmas Launch Party

Order/Pre-order Love, Christmas

Thanks everyone!
And don't forget to leave a comment about your own time travel experiences!
Dani Haviland

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Little Drummer Boy

Quick! Think of a Christmas song!

Now, not so quick, find your favorite song that is really about Christmas. If you’re like me, the two aren’t the same. It’s also quite possible that the first one you thought of was not even a Christmas song, but rather a seasonal tune about winter.

The first song I thought of was Jingle Bells. Hmm. Not really Christmas-y, is it? Nowadays, travel over white and drifting snow usually means sitting in a four-wheel drive vehicle as it roars down the highway, not snuggled in a blanket as sleigh bells jingle while a horse with an innate sense of direction brings you home in a fancy sled.

My favorite Christmas carol/tune is Little Drummer Boy. I guess it was popular with other folks, too, but Debbie Haston was the first to choose it in the Authors' Billboard contest. Its soothing tune blends well with its simple message. Thanks, Debbie!

In the song, the little drummer boy was poor, but talented. He had no money but could share his gift. He didn’t do it for attention. His parents didn’t force him to do it. He did it out of love for the new-born king.

I identified with the drummer boy in the song. We were poor when I was a kid, but I didn’t know it. I had siblings to play with, food to eat (even though it was often beans), and a dog. What else could anyone want besides the occasional soda or ice cream treat? We got gifts for Christmas, mostly pajamas and underwear, but Mom made sure we got at least one toy. We had special food (turkey and real butter!), decorated a tree, and sang songs.
What I remember most, though, is being together. And healthy. Everything else was just stuff that was soon forgotten, broken, or thrown away.
The card Mom made for her mother when I was three years old is still one of my most prized possessions. Inside was a picture of Mom's three treasures: her first three children. A store bought card would have been lost or tossed long ago.

Find out how a 1780s family celebrate Christmas and why love and giving of one’s self is more important than fancy wrapping paper and high dollar gifts in Little Drummer Boy, part of the Love, Christmas – Holiday Stories That Will Put a Song in Your Heart.

Enjoy the true meaning of Christmas and love,
Dani Haviland
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Pre-order the boxed set now on:
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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Gelatin: The Weight Loss Secret Revealed

The ad in the paper said ‘Lose 30 pounds in 6 weeks!’
That got my attention. I’d been trying to lose the ‘baby fat’ I gained with my last daughter for the past 20 years. It was time to admit defeat and seek professional help.
I paid for the program, a month’s supply of vitamins, minerals, herbs, and protein supplements the company insisted were essential for weight loss, and got the right mind set. 
I tried. Really, I did. I filled out my food journal; took twenty-six pills a day; made sure all my meals were high protein, low carb (protein: the key to weight loss) made in my own kitchen and from their list of 'approved foods;' drank 3 to 4 of their protein supplements every day; exercised moderately and came in twice a week (80 miles round trip) for my weigh-in and evaluation/pep talk. 
Ugh. Their clear protein drinks were okay, but the creamy ones were nasty. Plus that was a lot of pills to choke down.
Those products weren’t cheap, either. Add the cost of pills and supplements to the hundreds of dollars I paid upfront for their consult fee and I’m telling you, an all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii would have been cheaper!
To make it worse I was tired and hungry all the time. Yes, I lost eight pounds those first two weeks, but then the weight loss stopped. I was tired, hungry and depressed. The counselors changed my diet twice. I actually gained half a pound! Now I was ANGRY, tired, hungry and depressed. When I told the counselor how dire the depression was, she laughed at me!
Screw it!
I stopped taking their pills, ignored the food diary, concocted my own protein supplements, ate chocolate cake at my granddaughter’s birthday and lost 2 ½ pounds that week.
I checked in at the clinic to rub my weight loss in their faces and was told, ‘Oh, it may take a few days for those extra calories to show up as weight gain.’
Nope. Those pounds are still gone.

I did learn something for all that money, though. I checked out the ingredients: all of the weight loss clinic’s sweet supplements were made with hydrolyzed gelatin and Splenda™. The soups  were gelatin-based, too, but skipped the sweetener.
Lesson learned: gelatin is a great (and very inexpensive) source of protein. Their source has 15 grams per serving. Their cost is approximately $1.85 per serving, three to four servings a day suggested intake.
Gelatin has 12.9 grams per tablespoon of dried powder. A one pound jar of gelatin has about 453 servings. At $17.09 a jar (price I pay online), that's less than 5 cents a serving!! And if you think egg whites are better, realize that gelatin is higher in protein, cheaper, and easier to incorporate into your diet.  

If you want to up your protein for (easy, cheap) weight loss, try this. It may work for you, too.

First basic rule you need to know is: powdered gelatin needs to be dissolved in cold water first. It only takes a couple of minutes for the cream-colored granules to ‘bloom.’ This blob then needs to be stirred into very hot liquid. From there you can add it to any variety of drinks, soups, or desserts.

First thing in the morning protein pick me up
1 Tbsp gelatin (equivalent to 1 packet of Knox brand)
¼ cup cold water
Sprinkle gelatin over cold water and let sit for a couple of minutes. I use a custard dish so there’s more surface area for the powder to contact
Slip this mixture into your hot coffee or tea and stir.
That’s it! I make a cappuccino with cream and cinnamon. No sugar required for me. The gelatin makes it creamer and helps fill me up before breakfast. Less chance of overeating this way, too.
Chocolate pudding
1 Tbsp gelatin
¼ cup cold water
Sprinkle gelatin over cold water and let sit for a couple of minutes.
2 tsp cocoa powder
2 tsp sugar
Pinch of salt (makes the sugar sweeter and rounds out the flavor)
(optional: a few drops of vanilla and/or dash of cinnamon)
1/3 cup warm water
Stir the cocoa, sugar, salt, water (and other optional ingredients) together in a Magic Bullet™ cup. Nuke for 30 seconds in the microwave.
Add gelatin blob. Stir until blended. Add 1 tablespoon of cream or half and half. Stir again.
Add 5-7 ice cubes. Put Magic Bullet lid on, shake to pre-mix, and then blend until the ice cubes are gone.

Depending on how much ice was used and the temperature of the mix, you’ll either have instant pudding-in-the-cup or have to wait 5 to 10 minutes for full ‘set.’ I tried stirring everything together (no processor) and it worked just as well. A few bits of ice cube were left but they soon disappeared.
By using cream or half and half instead of milk, you’re reducing the amount of carbs. If you use Splenda instead of sugar, you’re even lower on the carb scale, but you may get rebound and want more sweets. Sugar satisfies; artificial sweeteners make me want more.

You can use this same basic principle of using dissolved gelatin in hot liquid for many ‘snacks.’ Add to canned soup, bouillon, teas, or even your own version of puddings using flavored coffee or soda syrups. 
The calories are negligible and the satisfaction is great…especially when you step on the scales and see you’ve lost 2 ½ pounds by eating pudding!

Note: gelatin is also supposed to help reduce joint pain and make your fingernails and hair thicker. Let me know if gelatin helps you in any way and I’ll share with others. Slurp on!

 Evie had a faster way to lose weight (and years), but I don't know of any fountain of youth water for sale in this century.
If you're looking for a rather lengthy time travel romance, check out Naked in the Winter Wind.