Lady Ashburn Mustard Pickles – A New Brunswick Delight

September Garden

If you are a writer with a garden and you aren’t writing, I’ll sure understand why! For weeks now, I have been harvesting, freezing and canning various jams, jellies, veggies and pickles. Loads of work but oh the rewards knowing we grew everything from seed in our own greenhouse and garden.

Today, I thought I’d share the latest offering for our almost finished canning room.

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Lady Ashburn Mustard Pickles. I recently listened to a podcast on CBC radio about a pickling workshop where the instructor was making these pickles. Sort of a combo pickle-relish. This recipe is a New Brunswick specialty and she was surprised that it hadn’t travelled too far from its home. This post is my contribution to spreading the word. I am hoping to make this a regular staple on our shelves.

Lady Ashburn Mustard Pickles

6 large cucumbers – peeled with seeds removed

4 cups onions thinly chopped

¼ cup salt

Place sliced cucumbers and chopped onion into a glass dish and sprinkle with salt. Place a heavy plate on top and let sit overnight. In the morning, drain and rinse.

Combine in a large pot:

2 cups sugar

3 tbsp. flour

1 tbsp. dry mustard

1 tbsp. turmeric

1 tsp. mustard seeds

1 tsp. celery seeds

2.5 cups of vinegar

Add cucumber and onion mixture to the pot and cook over a low heat for 45 minutes, stirring often.

Bottle in hot jars leaving ½ inch headspace. Process in hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Yield – 6 pints

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Zucchini Soup Magic

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This is going to be a banner year for zucchini around here! You see the latest culprit creeping out from under one of the many plants scattered around our garden. Every possible use for this magical summer squash is going to be required.

I tried a zucchini soup recipe the other day that was superb and too good not to share far and wide. My daughter-in-law, Maggie, shared the recipe with me from Skinnytaste. At only sixty calories a cup, the skinny part is right on. If you find yourself in possession of a few medium zucchini, I suggest you make this soup.

Here goes:

1 small onion

2 cloves garlic

3 medium zucchini cut into chunks

1 carton chicken broth

2 tbsp. of plain yogurt.

Combine onion, garlic, zucchini and broth in a large pot and bring to a boil. Simmer until tender – approx. 20 minutes. Remove from heat and puree with one of those nifty hand-held blender things. I don’t have one of those, so used my food processor. Add yogurt and puree some more. Salt and pepper to taste. Presto – delicious. Serve with a smattering of fresh parmesan cheese.

Naturally, I strayed from the recipe slightly by adding ½ a small jalapeno pepper at the cooking stage and a handful of fresh basil leaves at the puree stage.

Zuchinni soup

The picture – taken on my phone so I could share with jealous friends immediately – does not do the soup justice. It was so tasty and so delightfully green.

Oh man, do you see that zucchini in the far planter on the right? Looks like we’ll be making more soup really soon.

Zucchini Magic

For the Love of Beans

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There’s an old adage about gardening that I fully subscribe to – grow what you like to eat! For us, that means lots of fresh beans.

Here are two of my new-time favourites.

Bush Beans

Dragon Tongue Bush Beans – a beautiful Dutch heirloom variety that is perfect to eat fresh or preserved, or even as dried beans. When the beans turn from lime green to yellow with their bright purple stripes, they are ready to go.

Three Bean Varieties

Purple Peacock Pole Beans – Twining stems, light purple flowers and dark purple pods. A striking plant that provides a wonderful garden screen. This variety handles cool conditions well. The pods keep their flavour and tenderness even when very long. Don’t get too attached to the colour though – they turn green when you cook them.

Purple Peacock Pole Beans

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Scarlett Runners are the old timers in our garden. We’ve been collecting our own seeds and growing a tepee trellis full of these beans for years now. The flowers are pretty and the vines are vigorous but for an optimal taste experience, get those beans before they get too big!

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Scarlett Runner Beans

We also grow Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans – this type of bean has been grown by gardeners since 1864. Popular due to its vigour and fine heirloom flavour. I’ve gathered the brown-seeds and dried them for planting the following year with great success. You can see them growing in the picture below on the tepee trellis at the back of our under-the-clothes-line section of the garden. Just coming into flower now, we won’t be eating these until a bit later in the season.

Kentucky Wonder Bean Trellis

For the gardening enthusiasts, we grow in zone 8 to 9 here on Northern Vancouver Island and the varieties of beans I’ve mentioned will produce from early August through late September.

Back to the garden for me. These days I am hosting grandkids, friends and family and enjoying the beauty of the summer days here at the lake. Not writing yet but all experiences nurture the storylines brewing away in my mind. Stay tuned for more on all of the above and adventures from that Crater Lake gang.

Hummingbirds and Freebies

Hummingbird Magic

In Haida legend hummingbirds bring joy and healing. We commonly encounter the Rufus Hummingbird in our area of Northern Vancouver Island. In early spring these little energy-powerhouses leave their wintering grounds in Mexico and find their way north following the early sea level blooms of red flowering current and salmonberry.

The males, distinguished by their bright red neck markings, arrive first. They stake out their feeding territory and defend it with gusto. I’ve seen this phenomenon first hand. The little guy below maintains an ongoing post perched on the edge of our butterfly chimes right next door to the feeder. He is relentless in driving off the other hummingbirds that come around. Though every now and then, a group of five to six females will work together to take over the feeder for a few hours.

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Quick note – Disappearing in Plain Sight, 1st book in the Crater Lake Series, is FREE through midnight June 8th. It is trending right now at #1 in literary fiction sagas in the Amazon free store. Here’s you chance to get a jump on some highly-rated summer reading.

Crater Lake Series Banner

Freelance editor, Sarah Stewart, describes the novel in the following way:

I read upwards of ten books a month in my work as an editor and it’s quite rare for me to encounter a story that stays with me for months afterward. This book did just that rare thing for me … I crave getting enveloped in a story, one that is entertaining and well-paced, but intelligent too. I love it when novels deal in equal measure with interpersonal relationships/ romances and more systemic issues such as bullying, trauma, and oppression. As such, I devoured this story, felt attached to the characters, and was sorry when it was over. Not to mention that her beautiful prose me yearn for the rugged west coast that I’d moved from not long before I read it. These are all marks of a wonderful book for me. Disappearing in Plain Sight is well worth reading.

Here’s hoping you enjoy this free offer and all the joy and healing magic that hummingbirds bring.

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Ode to the Reader

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No two persons ever read the same book.  Edmund Wilson – critic – May 8th, 1895-1972.

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Any author who has received reviews of their work will tell you the truth of Wilson’s quote. Writers write and readers interpret.

As Anna sings in the hit Disney classic, FrozenLet it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore.

As a writer, I fling my words out into the world and I let the readers do their job. Each person who opens one of my novels will bring to the book a unique set of life experiences, attitudes, values and expectations. Each will read a different book out of the very words available to all. And so it should be!

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Brushing Up and Reinventing–It’s All Good

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Home from my travels in the frigid lands of Southern Alberta. All I can say is that not everyone can live in the paradise that is the West Coast with wind, rain and stunning bursts of sun – all within the space of one rambling walk! Such is the diversity of Canadian weather. My first week of being home usually entails a process of orientation. I am not the best at moving seamlessly from one environment to another. It takes time for me to settle. I’m like an old dog that must circle and circle her bed before she can lay down.

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Back to solitary walks watching for bears. It is that time of year. Back to stationary bike rides while the rain pounds down beyond the covered deck. Back to thinking about where to go with my next book. I made a choice in January not to plunge into the writing of book five in the Crater Lake series. I have scads of starting notes and a gripping story board. I was perched on the edge when planning becomes doing. But I stepped back.

Naturally, I now question that decision. Such is life. There is an alchemy to the process of writing that is slippery to explain. I’ve always known when the moment is right, and it wasn’t. As lame as that sounds even to my own ears, I know it to be true.

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But I’m missing the Crater Lake setting, the characters and their conversations. I need a way back into that world. I read a great post the other day on Writers Helping Writers that suggested authors of books in sequence would be wise to have a series bible to help them avoid making errors. No one wants a reader noticing glaring inconsistencies. Like character A having a peanut butter allergy in book two and then gladly chowing down on a PB and J sandwich in book three. Things that simple and things more complex. Character sketches, important dates, timelines and storylines, setting details – they all need to be consistent across books.

So – here is my plan. I’ll create such a bible for the Crater Lake series. Most of this stuff is already written. I will pull all the stands together into a single document that I can reference and add to as I move forward.

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My second way back to Crater Lake is my intention to move all the softcover books from CreateSpace to the Kindle Direct platform. When I first contemplated this shift, it seemed like a wise move. The process of transfer looked easy and the benefit of having all sale information in one place appealed to me. Real life is seldom as smooth as one hopes.

I ran into a snag with Disappearing in Plain Sight. Kindle Direct rejected the book saying my author name disappears into the black on the front cover. Ironic – right? My name disappearing on the cover of Disappearing in Plain Sight. Oh well. In 2015 when I took the book back from Friesen Press, they provided me with the cover jpeg. When I reissued the book under my own imprint of Huckleberry Haven Publishing, I made use of the original cover with a major tweak – removing the Friesen Press logo and inserting my own. But it seems Kindle Direct has different standards than CreateSpace.

While my husband Bruce works out the glitches with the cover, I have decided – with the cooperation of my wonderful editor – to do a fresh grammatical edit on Disappearing in Plain Sight. The manuscript has gone through a number of revisions since our original editing work and now seems like a good time to shake it out like a crumbled quilt. Soon I must replenish my bulk supply of the softcover and it will be great to have pristine, updated copies to put on display. I’m also hoping for a BookBub feature sometime in the coming months and I want my flagship ebook to shine.

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So, there you have it – at Crater Lake but not quite onto new material. A few quick questions: Series authors – do you keep a series bible? How did you go about creating this resource? Waste of time (get writing!) or good idea? Is anyone else moving softcover books from CreateSpace to Kindle Direct? Have you run into any glitches with the process?

The Down and Dirty on Getting Book Reviews

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I remember once bemoaning my lack of book reviews with a close friend and she told me –

Real readers don’t write reviews. Think about it? Did you ever write a book review before you needed one yourself?

Good question and my answer was no.

Garnering my first book reviews was painful. The process involved trawling a limited pool of readers and that pool often seemed covered by thick ice. I chipped away at the following groups:

Other self-published authors. I was aware of my need for book reviews and I recognized that same need in others. Since publishing an ebook and starting to read on a Kindle, I discovered a host of great new authors. I wanted to be supportive. By fishing in this pond, I hoped others felt the same.

Future self-published authors. I solicited in this pool to catch authors who were hoping to build up future review capital. Yup – once again – reciprocal obligations.

Members of authors’ review circles. This is a type of group where reviews are either exchanged outright or there is an arrangement in which  A reviews B and B reviews C on down the line. A review in one of these circles can be powerfully echoed across social media on the Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of the various members. But whichever way I chose to drop the line, I was on the hook to provide reviews to get reviews. Do you see a theme emerging?

Book review bloggers. The best sites were absolutely not looking for any reciprocal activity but the competition to have my book work its way to the top of a blogger’s pile was fierce. Hooking a high-quality book blogger doesn’t happen every day.

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Suffice to say, I wasn’t catching many reviews for the effort involved in baiting my line. But I knew the numbers mattered. I wanted to qualify for various promotional opportunities and I needed those reviews.

In my last post, I wrote about the number of ways the self-published author is vulnerable to those who seek to make their money by taking ours. Many sites offer book reviews in exchange for cash. But purchasing reviews is not an advised practice with perhaps the exception of the big bucks required to get a Kirkus review. Amazon seems fine with those. Ignore the unfair reality that publishing houses pay top dollar to get high-quality reviews for their authors. No one said the life of the self-published author would be fair.

I have learned the hard way to avoid trading reviews with other authors. Amazon is onto this practice and they frown upon it. I know of one self-published author who has had most of her reciprocal reviews pulled down. A lot of effort for no gain on either side. But Amazon regulations aside, reciprocal reviewing put me in a tight spot. If the other person gave me a 5-star review, no matter the number of times I jumped up and down and sworn I would only review honestly, I did feel swayed to give a great review in exchange. This is human nature and if I’m anything, I am human.

I have recently heard of a new Amazon review policy, meant to stop the seemingly unstoppable tide of phoney reviews. Readers must have spent a minimum of $50.00 as an Amazon customer to place a review. Many have screamed unfair and shouted for the rights of the reader who has only bought one ebook ever and has developed a burning need to review that book. Too bad, so sad. Amazon wants reviews written by committed readers – not one-time only buyers, not bots or anonymous voices in the wilderness filling in blanks on a review template provided for them by a company who charged the author big bucks to get that book 50 reviews.

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So – what is the self-published author to do? How is he or she to get those all important initial reviews? How do you find genuine fans?

Do beat the bushes the best you can. Solicit book reviewers and bloggers. Make sure your contact email is at the back of your ebook. Invite readers to contact you. Offer them an incentive for making the effort. When a reader emails you, ask them politely to put their thoughts about your book in writing on Amazon if they haven’t already done so. Let them know that reviews can be as simple as – I love this book because ____________. They can fill in the blank and they’ve often done just that in their email to you.

Getting these initial reviews isn’t easy. It won’t happen overnight. But you don’t need hundreds. I snagged my first BookBub promotion with 33 reviews.

So – let’s talk about the genuine fans. They do exist! I didn’t catch them until I started commercial fishing in the great lake of readers who discovered my books through my first BookBub feature. This promotion meant wide spread exposure to a targeted audience of ebook readers who were interested in my writing genre. Since then, through various other promotions, I offer the first book of my series free and I’ve managed to introduce my writing to new readers and create a halo effect of sales over all my books.

It turns out real readers do write book reviews and post them on Amazon. At last count, reviews for Disappearing in Plain Sight (first book in the Crater Lake Series) have zoomed up to 163. And reviews still matter. I’ve discovered that even when I offer one of my books FREE, people still check out the latest reviews before downloading the book.

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There you have it – the down and dirty on book reviews for the self-published author. Please weigh-in on this issue. Let me know what you think, what you’ve tried and how the act of getting book reviews makes you feel.