Thursday, November 13, 2014

Writing for a great cause

Cookbook for a Bug is compiled and written by a group of gardeners who coalesced in a social media group called Gardenaholics Anonymous. I became aware of this group through Gardening Jones, a fabulous blog on gardening that I've been following for years now. 

One of the members has a daughter with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) type 1. This little girl's nickname is Bug and all proceeds from the book go towards helping with her medical needs, such as a chair or breathing hoses and monitors.

This is  a wonderful cause and so I was absolutely delighted that  Cookbook for a Book won Amazon's Awards for Best Books of 2014!  Click here to see the award.

Good for you Amazon for recognizing the great work these writers have done. And good for them on producing a fine book to raise funds and awareness for such a great cause. The recipes are inspiring, using up produce from the garden (though you can also easily buy the ingredients at the grocery store) and some are intriguingly unusual (Grape Salad - grapes mixed with cream cheese and sour cream), whilst others are comfortingly familiar (Lasagna - hard to beat!).

I particularly liked the recipe for Zucchini Burgers since I'm usually buried in zucchini during the summer. In fact, its quite gratifying that there are at least 7 recipes for things to do with zucchini - looks like I'm not the only one who loves zucchini but needs different ways to keep eating it all summer long. There are so many recipes I am dying to try out next summer - Tomato Marmalade - I have some frozen tomatoes from last summer. I wonder would that work...

There's a delicious and simple recipe for Beet Greens similar to one I use when I'm harvesting beetroot. It works a treat and even My Husband, who refuses to eat beetroot likes the greens done this way.

And oh my goodness - the baked goods section! I may have to actually cut those pages out and shred them....that is if I can separate them after all the drooling I've done on them. Cherry Chip Ba Da Bing Brownies, Chocolate Zucchini Cake, and (OMG) "The Fudge I Grew Up With" - YUM!

I've never had Baked Meringue Spice Cake, but I am so going to make it next...It sounds so good.

Consider getting some as a stocking fillers for Christmas gifts. 

You can find your copy of this cookbook-with-a-heart Cookbook for a Bug on Amazon. ISBN 9781502456267 

It costs $20 and remember the recipes will tickle your taste-buds, stuff your stomach and fill your heart knowing that you helped a brave and lovely little girl. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Breakfast - the most important meal of the day!

'Tommy followed her to the table where Molly was just bringing out the last of the food platters filled with bacon, sausage, potato bread, fried soda bread, mushrooms and eggs. The potato bread was crispy, golden – fried to perfection. The mighty Ulster Fry – heart attack on a plate – would keep their bellies full until dinner time. Tommy’s mouth watered.
      “There’s beans too, if anyone wants some,” Molly said.'
I was either very hungry or very homesick the day I wrote page 185 of March to November, but I know one thing for sure - when I wrote it, I had not figured out where to buy Irish bacon in the Bay Area, nor had I discovered the The Britannia Arms on Almaden and their Irish breakfast.

Saturday, October 18th marked the one month anniversary of the release of March to November and to mark the occasion Michael from the Britannia Arms  generously offered to recreate the breakfast from the book. He even requested that I send him the description as it was written.

I was very excited when he said he would make potato scones. I really hoped he was talking about what we called potato bread. Potato bread is my favorite item in an Irish fry, or more specifically, an Ulster fry. Our regional variation tends to include more breads than other versions of the Irish fry. It's really just potato, flour and butter, mixed together and fried (in bacon fat for the most delicious effect!) Click here for the recipe I use when making it because it's not something you can buy in the supermarket in California. You can see it in the picture below, the round farl on the right-hand-side of the plate.
My neighbors tucking into their first Irish fry!
Then there's black pudding. (Mid plate.) It's an acquired taste and maybe why my characters didn't bother with it in their breakfast. But I love it, especially when I can't have it.

The funny thing is that I generally don't like beans with my breakfast. When I left mine at the side of the plate everyone commented on how even in the book they were an afterthought!

About thirty people showed up.
It was great craic explaining some of the food in the fry. 
So the thing with the black pudding is....
Did I hear her right? Have I just eaten...

Yeah, I think that's what she said. Have you eaten it already?
They ate it!
Yes, black pudding is made from pig's blood - it's still delicious! And no, probably best not to order a potato "scone" by itself because it's not really like a scone.
At least the coffee is safe!
And yes, noon on a Saturday is a perfectly acceptable time to be eating breakfast in Ireland - especially one that has so much food.
Well, it's breakfast time somewhere in the world!
And yes, yes, yes, it probably does explain why there is such a high incidence of heart disease in Ireland. But it really, really tastes like a slice of heaven to me and once in a while it's a treat...right?

The Britannia Arms staff were wonderful, their food only surpassed by their service and hospitality. I'll be a regular there for sure.
After we'd eaten I signed books.
I'm pretty overwhelmed by the response to the book so far. My heart is full to the brim with gratitude and relief!
I still can't quite believe that I've done it - that my book is published and I'm an author, but for now I'll keep pinching myself and leave you with  the video!

All the photos and video on this blog post were taken by Paul Kavanagh. Thanks for everything Paul.

The music on the video is by Caolas.

Byddi Lee

Friday, October 3, 2014

Lost in the shuffel!

I lost my list of favorite blogs when I reshuffled this page to advertise the launch of March to November.

If you'll like to be reinstated... or added to the list leave me a comment.

In the meantime, I'll try to find my lost links...

Byddi Lee

Friday, September 26, 2014

The writing of March to November

My Mum has read it. She keeps saying things to me like, "I can't believe you did ..... in the book." (Note no spoilers!) And I keep stressing to her that it's not me! They are fictitious characters, Mum.

March to November is not biographical. None of the characters are based on anyone person.

March to November is however a kind of mosaic - a mosaic of events and themes and personalities that many of us ordinary people can relate to.

One of my life-long friends often says, "The world of full of the broken-hearted." This book is for those of us who have had our hearts broken. It's for those of us who have had a friend or family member who did something to let us down, but we chose to love them anyways. It's for those of us who feel like square pegs struggling to fit into the world we have to live in. It's for those of us trying to forge ahead despite the echoes of our past. It's for those of us who struggle with having our life plan turned on it's head. It's for those of us who choose forgiveness over grief.

Even though March to November is set in Belfast, I purposefully avoided the writing a book about oppression, bombs and barricades, but read deeper and you'll see the same message I would have written into any book about the Troubles - the power of forgiveness. Because forgiveness like love is a decision we all have to make, all the time, on many different levels of life. Forgiveness is hard, really hard, but really freeing too. We can do it if we try.

And finally, March to November is my way of saying, "Thank-you" to the heart-breakers in my own life, for making me better than I was before, for me giving the opportunity to enrich my soul and teaching me I could learn to love again - better.

I believe we are all a little bit of each character in March to November. 

To find out more about the book, the characters and it's setting, check out my author website -

Available in paper back on Amazon, and as an ebook on Kindle and Nook. For more outlets see the author website.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Dizzying Heights

It's been a crazy couple of months on the writing front. My book March to November, is getting published this month and I think I've turned into the author equivalent of "Bride-zilla"! Would that be "book-zilla" perhaps?

For example, I had an idea for the book cover that involved red bricks. In order to get my idea across to the designer I needed to find a red brick wall similar to the type you find in Belfast, where the story is set. But where to find a red brick wall in this land of stucco and strip malls? My Husband spotted an area in downtown San Jose, so off I went with my camera.

I found a great sample with the perfect color, texure and deterioation just off St James square. A sad sign of the times, this is a regular hang out for what appears to be homeless folk. So there I was minding my own business and taking photos of a brick wall when I heard a voice behind me say, "Miss, would you like us to take a picture of you?"

I turned to see crusty looking old guy wearing a black hoody faded to nearly the same color of grey as his shaggy beard and a pair of really baggy jeans whose hems had seen better days. I'd seen him earlier talking animatedly with himself (no blue tooth or head phones) or maybe he'd just been conversing with the rest of the "us" he'd mentioned.

I thought, "Bless him," but smiled and said as warmly as I could, "Ah thanks but no. I'm good here."

He cocked his head to one side and made a twirling motion with his finger at his temple, then muttered, "Whatever," and ambled off.

Anyways, I got the shot I needed and have been working hard on the finishing touches my book needs before publication such that, as Labor day approached My Husband and I decided to take a break and go somewhere nice.

We'd been interested in going to Lassen Volcanic Park for a while now, but it always looked so far on the map that we knew we needed a long weekend. Even so we decided that if we went as far as Redding the accommodation would be cheaper, the Friday night drive shorter and we could scout out Lassen one day and perhaps Shasta the next - nothing taxing - just nice a Sunday afternoon driving type vacation...

Until we got to Lassen and learned that Lassen Peak trail was open and it was only open for a few days of the year. We knew we had to do it and were glad that we had packed the hiking boots...

And really, the trail was only 2.5 miles, a total of 5 miles. At our usual hiking speed, sure we'd knock that sucker out in less than two hours, easy. Except we were starting at an elevation of 8000 feet going to over 10, 500...but sure who needs oxygen when they're hiking? And gradient smadient, right? So maybe tack on another half hour for that....

Oh you guessed it... four hours and many aching muscles later we arrived back at the car, exhausted.

It made me realize that climbing a mountain is like writing a book.

You start out eager, excited and full of optimism.
The trail doesn't look that steep from the parking lot.

So you set a pace and continue up-hill, just like in writing where you throw out those first few chapters, thinking to yourself, "This isn't so bad."  Until you present your work to your fellow writers for critiquing and then the trail starts to steepen.
In fact every rewrite feels like these darn switch-backs - repetitive, far too many of them and going no-where fast.

But whats the alternative? Give up and slide back down the hill?
Don't forget those moments when you get a great feedback or your plot idea works and then you feel like you could fly to the top of the mountain.
At a certain point you look back and you realize just how far you've come and decide that it would be an awful shame to give up now considering all the effort you've invested. Just put one foot in front of the other and see where it takes you.
Not to mention the interesting characters you meet along the way. My writing buddies are simply wonderful, supportive yet honest, gentle yet guiding and best of all - great oul'craic!
But the closer you get to the top the harder it is to keep going. The altitude was getting to me, my head felt sore and my muscles quivered. The 0.5 mile marker gave me hope. I pressed on wondering how the heck people climbed Everest!
And then, at last the peak is in sight. That last bit looks heart stoppingly steep. But you're here now and the decision is made for you - one last push!
Then you get to the top. It's a feeling you want to hold on to for a very long time.
Until you realize that this is just the beginning of another stage in your journey. And so you sit on the edge and look over the precipice wondering if you're ready for it.
You always think on the trudge up the hill that going down will be easier, but on the way down you realize that you have bits which hurt now that didn't on the way up.

In writing, here's the scary part. When I publish everyone will be able to read it, to judge it, to hold an opinion on it and I have to tell myself, "That's okay... I can do this. I'll accept that everyone has different tastes in reading. I'll ignore negativity. I'll keep my chin up."

I pray that won't trip on the way down the mountain...
Looking at my finished novel, I sometimes find it hard to believe that I wrote that. In the same way that I look at Lassen Peak in the distance and think - I stood up there!

I'll end the book-writing analogy there lest anyone think that the next few photos refer to dealing with critics!

This is in fact Bumpass Hell Trail where the mud bubbles at scalding temperatures. It's a short hike from the trail head - 3 miles. Feels like 20 when you've just come down from Lassen Peak. It's a great reminder of the fact that we are in a volcanic park and that something lurks below!
People are warned to stay on the trail as injury can occur - again I'm resisting the temptation to extend my analogy!
This pond was a beautiful color - I wonder what temperature it was.
The next day we could barely walk. So we resumed our car touring plan and headed for Shasta Dam where it was hot hot hot!

 The dam truly is impressive.
But the lack of water is scary. I came away feeling anxious. Lake Shasta has only 19% capacity at the moment. I really am wondering if I should put in a cool season garden as I don't want to spend a dry winter watering veggies. As it is, we are not allowed to water between the hours of 8am and 8pm. Another dry winter will be disastrous!

Redding proved to be a good central place to stay and only 4hrs from home. We stopped by the sundial bridge before we left. It was nice to actually see some water in the beautiful Sacramento River.

Time to get back to getting March to November published - not that I'm doing much more than waiting right now...

But don't worry - I'll let you know when it comes out and how to get your hands on a copy!

Byddi Lee

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Life's Peachy

My wonderful neighbor, Al, let me strip his tree of the ripe peaches that were threatening to drop. They were simply perfect.
I went online to see how I could freeze peaches. Lots of articles gave advice using sugar, and some even used some chemical to preserve the color, but I really didn't like to add any of these. Then I saw a post in a chat room about simply freezing the peaches whole with their skins on. So I experimented and am happy to report that, yes, it works quite well. When thawing, simply pop the peach into warm water and the skin slides off. The rest of the peach defrosts in about 10 minutes. The texture is affected - its not quite the same as eating it fresh but it is great for use in smoothies - mine was a tomato, spearmint and peach smoothie - total yum! The frozen peaches can also be used in baking and making sauces and jams. Speaking of which...

Yesterday I made a jam, a salsa and a crumble...

Peach  and Lavender Jam

Click on the title to take you to the recipe on the Love and Olive Oil Blog.

I loved how they extracted the lavender taste from the leaves giving a delicate hint of floral flavor -soak two tablespoons of lavender flowers in boiling water for twenty minutes, strain off the flowers and add the water to the fruit.
You can do this to add lavender to a lot of recipes. I even made up a recipe of my own. More about that later...
The jam was amazing and My Husband practically took a spoon to it. He's exasperatingly picky with food, so I was very pleased!

The Peach Salsa 

This recipe is from the blog "She Wears Many Hats." (Don't we all, darlin"?)

I'm not very up on Mexican food, and I don't know if cilantro is a must in salsa, but the aim of this salsa was to prepare it from ingredients that came from either Al's garden or mine. Therefore, I had to substitute some basil instead of cilantro, since cilantro is currently blooming in my garden only and therefore not so nice to eat. Also, I used a bunching onion instead of a red onion and lemon instead of lime since Al's lime tree is still in recovery after the cold snap that nearly killed it last November.
Don't the ingredients make a pretty picture? The tomatoes, peaches and lemon were from Al's garden.
The salsa tasted even better than it looked.

Peach Crumble

I followed the recipe in the link above but doubled the ingredients for the crust as I typically find there isn't a thick enough crust.
The crust was great, but the layer of peaches was too thin and seemed to get absorbed totally into the crust.
My Husband prefers a dryer crust dessert anyways, so he was happy, but I'd have liked more peaches. Next time I'd use a smaller dish 8X8, with the quantities from the original recipe.

So this is where I invented my own sauce to go with the crumble. When I researched the recipes, every single one of them  added cinnamon. It's not that I don't like cinnamon, but why does it have to be added to every single dessert in America? Apple pie, pumpkin pie and now this?

So here's what I came up with...

Byddi's Peach and Lavender Sauce to keep every crumble eater happy!


2 tbs of lavender flowers
1/3 cup water
8 Peaches (I actually used about 12, but they were small - aim for 4-5 cups of chopped peaches.)
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla essence


  1. Soak lavender flowers in the boiling water for 20 minutes.
  2. Peel and pit peaches (say that 20 times, fast!)
  3. Coarsely chop peaches into 3/4 inch cubes. (That is, don't be too precise about the size, not act like a ruffian and swear while you cut them...but you can if you want.)
  4. Strain lavender flowers out and keep the water.
  5. Mix lavender water, peaches, brown sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla essence together in a sauce pan.
  6. Bring the mixture to a boil stirring constantly.
  7. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring to prevent the mixture from sticking (Not sure if it will. I was just scared it would!)
  8. Allow to cool and dish up with Peach Crumble, or ice cream or both!

Now you can have it any way you like - so long as it's peachy!

Byddi Lee

Monday, June 23, 2014

I love it when a plan comes together.

This time last year I was laying out plastic to solarize my lawn. Well the jury is in...

I wouldn't recommend it.

I've been disappointed a the amount of  bur clover that came back not to mention a recurrence of grass. A meticulous weeding regime means I'm on top of things, but I wonder if sheet mulching would have given me the same results in less time. If the front and side yards are anything to go by, the answer to that question is yes. Saying that, it provided a handy work area last year when I repainted my garden furniture.

After solarizing the lawn, my friends helped me build Wee Lee Canyon, a dry creek around the what used to be the lawn. Another friend, and very talented carpenter, constructed a pergola beneath which My Husband and I laid hard-scaping and mulch in time for the winter rains to come. Except that they barely came...

By March I decided it was now or never and I planted some woolly thyme to fill in between the pavers, I also planted some blue fescue grasses and a couple of lavenders that were actually volunteers from a huge one we already had. I planted two grape vines on the pergola and made a shade out of old curtain material that should keep us cool until the grapes grow in.

You can just make out the little seedlings in the picture below.
In two short months the woolly thyme is filling in nicely. There are some bonus lobelia too.
 The grapes are really bounding up the posts!
Despite the lovely seating area, I rarely get time to enjoy it - the hard work in the garden continues! Here's a shot of this years garlic harvest.
 Byddi Lee