Year of the Golden Grimes Apple

DSCN0958In 1997 I planted two semi-dwarf apples trees:  Golden Grimes and Cox’s Orange Pippin.  Neither tree produced many apples lo all these many years, and what they did produce was twisted and wormy.  The deer enjoyed them.  I figured it was because we live on an old, “reclaimed” strip mine.  I was complaining about this one day last fall and a friend asked if I pruned them.  I said, “Yes.”  He said, “You have to prune them so you can throw a cat through the middle of the tree and the cat can’t catch a single branch.”  I thought, “Well, I do have a lot of cats…”

I pruned them back hard, not that hard because, darn it, the cats kept catching a branch or two (just kidding).

The Golden Grimes apple tree produced so many good apples I don’t know what to do with them.  Two of the baskets below and the bucket were taken off the tree before the picture to the left.  The apples aren’t perfect because I do not use pesticide spray, or any spray of any kind.  I throw chemical fertilizer at their feet a few times a year and the chickens poop under them (as they do lightly over the whole yard).  The only difference was the brutal pruning.  Thank You, Dave!

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So what about the Cox’s Orange Pippin?  I actually have two Cox’s Orange Pippin apples trees.  The one in the other location, shortly after I planted it, was blown over.  Snapped at it’s base.  Disgusted, I left it there.  It didn’t die, but I had no more time to fool with that stupid tree.  Finally I looked at it and saw that about 25% of it’s bark was intact, so I grabbed the small tree, pushed it upright mashing the splintered halves back together and wired it in place with four fiberglass posts between the wire and the tree.  I thought, stupid me, winter will kill it; but it didn’t.

A few years later there was a single small apple on that tree, and I picked it as I was passing one day and took a bite.  Best apple I’ve ever had in my life.

Several years later, one more apple, and I watched it and waited and then:  it was gone!  I complained to my daughter, who admitted eating it.  “You didn’t tell me!”  Which I admitted was true.  “But, it was a really good apple.”

This year both the Cox’s Orange Pippin by the Golden Grimes, and Broken Tree had apples.  The deer favor the Cox’s Orange Pippin, too, and I didn’t get a single one.

Next year I will shoot all the deer…  No.  But I’ll think of something, may be netting.

The Care and Feeding of Kefir

DSCN0954To correct intestinal disturbances, kefir is far more powerful than yogurt and you can make it yourself — which you will have to do if you want to experience the wonders of kefir since the store-bought lacks the impressive bio-activity of homemade kefir.  All the supplies you need to make a steady supply of kefir are shown to the left (the jars are quart-size) except the kefir grains.  Kefir grains, blown-up, are kefir grainsshown to the right.  Luckily kefir grains are re-usable for as long as you care for them properly, and this is the only tricky part.

Kefir, like yogurt, buttermilk and sour cream, is created by fermenting milk, which, handily, occurs at room temperature for kefir.  The problem lies in milk pasteurization, which partially denatures milk proteins.  Plain pasteurization is not a problem; however, ultra-pasteurization, or UHT, will not work well to make kefir.  Unfortunately, most milk is ultra-pasteurized these days.  Whole milk from United Dairy in Ohio, sold in Morgantown at Walmart, does not say it’s ultra-pasteurized, and it’s worked well for me.

I found out about the differences in milk pasteurization when I tried (fairly unsuccessfully) to make cheese.  The pictures on the website linked below show the differences in pasteurization and ultra-pasteurization in terms of cheese curd formation, due to the different levels of damage to milk proteins.  As for human consumption, cooking the milk (which is what pasteurization does) isn’t more or less harmful to us than cooking meat, but for sustaining kefir grain structure it’s a serious problem.  The kefir grains are not made from grain at all (“grain” describes the size of them) but are constructed from milk proteins by micro-organisms.  Perhaps this is why kefir can’t long survive on cooked milk.  It would be like trying to bake a cake with already cooked eggs.

Pasteurization vs ultra-pasteurization milk protein damage

So, to make kefir, gather up the items shown, and buy some kefir grains.  I chose to buy from Mrandmrskefir, through Amazon, and never had reason to change, since I’ve always received quality grains and they provide detailed instructions and troubleshooting information with the grains.  The other sellers may be just as good.

Kefir grains at Amazon

Newly bought kefir grains may have to be soaked in a cup of fresh whole milk, at room temperature, for a few days to become active.  Put your new kefir grains in a small jar, fill with fresh milk and put the lid on but don’t seal it.  Each day pour the old milk through the strainer to capture the kefir grains, and put the grains in a clean jar with new milk.  Put the lid on cracked, since kefir produces carbon dioxide as it ferments the milk.  When the kefir grains are active, the milk will become semi-solid, somewhere between yogurt and buttermilk:  this is kefir.  Strain out the kefir grains, and put the kefir in a jar and refrigerate.  After straining the kefir will have the consistency of buttermilk.

This is the process I use to always have kefir on hand, even if we go through a slow spell of using it:

  1. Put active kefir grains in a quart jar and fill with milk and put a lid on, cracked.  Leave out at room temperature to thicken.
  2. Leave out until semi-solid.  If the curds and whey have separated, it has been left too long, will taste sharp (still usable if you like) and will start to change the character of your kefir grains.  Be careful the next few times and the grains will recover.  I like it best when it just starts to thicken.
  3. Strain out the kefir into a clean jar, seal and refrigerate.
  4. Put the kefir grains into the second clean jar and fill with milk:  refrigerate.  I have kept this in the refrigerator for over two weeks with no issues.
  5. When the kefir in the refrigerator is getting low, put the kefir grains and milk on the counter, crack the lid, and start over at 2.

Notes:

  • Kefir ferments more quickly at warmer temperatures, and at higher grain-to-milk ratios, and with more robust kefir grains.  Making kefir will typically take from eight to 16 hours.
  • Kefir is not stable at refrigerator temperatures and will continue to ferment, though much more slowly than on the counter — I suspect this is why true kefir can’t be bought in grocery stores.  If it becomes too sharp, toss it, or feed it to your chickens or dogs.  The process above can be reduced to pint jars, depending on your needs.
  • If the grains get larger and more numerous, good for you!  If the fermentation to kefir is going more quickly than you like, discard some of the grains (or you can eat them).  If the grains are getting smaller, something is not right.  Perhaps the milk you are using is ultra-pasteurized, or the fermentation was allowed to go too long too many times.  Simply buy new kefir grains and start over.

So, what are kefir grains?  They’re a yeast-bacteria combination living symbiotically on a substrate made of milk proteins, including over 30 types of beneficial micro-flora.  Kefir was first used by shepherds of the Caucasus Mountains who carried fermented milk stored in leather pouches.

Kefir can taste anywhere from mild to sharp depending on how long it’s left to ferment.  It can be drunk as it is, which is what I do, or as part of a smoothy, or sweetened with sugar/honey, or seasoned with cinnamon or vanilla.

 

 

 

Grandma’s Apple Crisp — Easier than Pie

Not only is apple crisp easier than pie, it tastes better, and there’s no risk of a soggy bottom due to an apple-moisture miscalculation.

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Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Slice enough apples to fill a meatloaf pan.  I leave the skins on.  Not only is the skin good for you, but peeling apples is tedious.  If you’ll be feeding someone fussy about apple skins, perhaps they can peel the apples!  It will take about six very large apples.

Mix up the topping:

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour (I use 1/2 whole grain oat flour)
  • 1/2 cup butter cut in 1 tablespoon-sized pieces
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch salt

Reduce the butter to pea-sized pieces using two butter knives (like grandma used to do), a pastry cutter, or your fingers (like I do).  If you use your fingers the butter bits will be flat, but the crisp will not care.  You can use a food processor, but the time saved will be lost cleaning it.

Mound the topping on top of the apples.

Bake for 45 minutes.

Vegetable Chowder

Chowder cooked later with salmon (sauce has cooked down)
Chowder cooked later with salmon (sauce has cooked down)

Since the idea is to use up garden stuff, I’m only going to provide measurements for the stock and roux.

Start with one quart corn stock (water that ears of corn were cooked in).

Add green beans and new potatoes.  When cooked strain out vegetables and set stock aside.  Put vegetables on a cutting board.

In already used pot, add 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 of flour (the roux) and cook on medium.  Mix up.  Add thinly sliced onion, chunks of jalapeno and garlic cloves.

In between stirring roux while it cooks:  chop green beans; smash potatoes; set aside.

When roux-vegetable mix is lightly browned, add the stock.  Use stick blender to blend.  Cook until thickened.

Add in set-aside vegetables, plus corn and a chopped tomato.

Add a handful of cheddar cheese and bacon bits.  Cook until cheese is melted through it.

Done!

 

 

 

 

2016 Christmas Beverage: Limoncello

I’ve been thinking about making limoncello for years, and this will be the year, because I remembered in time.  Limoncello is vodka in which lemon peels have soaked for at least a month which is afterward strained and mixed with simple syrup (sugar boiled in water).  I intend to use the recipe linked below, except I’ll start it this weekend and leave the lemon infusing in the vodka for two months before straining it and adding the simple syrup.  As with any infusing of flavor from one place to another, heat (to a certain extent) will help and as I intend to mix the vodka and lemon and put it in the garage to age, now seems like a good time to start it.  I suspect three cups of sugar and water will be the amount of syrup needed, but like the recipe advises I’ll start with one cup and work my way up.

First paragraph of the linked article and recipe:  “It has taken me far too long to discover how amazing — and how astoundingly easy — it is to make my own limoncello. I had this hazy idea that limoncello must be a closely guarded secret kept by a sect of weathered Italian grandfathers with wooly driving caps and secretive, knowing smiles. Just me? Well, it turns out all you need to make truly incredible limoncello are some good lemons, a bottle of stiff vodka, and just a little patience.”

How To Make Limoncello

2015 Christmas Beverage: Eggnog

Holiday Eggnog

8 eggs

2 cups Southern Comfort

2 oz Dream Catcher Legendary Irish Liqueur (chestnut)

½ cup honey

2 cups milk

2 cups heavy cream

½ cup sugar

1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract

Pinch salt

Blend eggs thoroughly, mix in the rest of the ingredients, but don’t blend hard to avoid separation of the cream.  Put in the refrigerator until ready to serve.  Can be made the day before.

Makes 2 quarts

9% alcohol

2014 Christmas Beverage: Daiquiri

Every Christmas I try my had at making a Christmas Eve beverage that I make and bottle ahead of the event, and for 2014 it was Daiquiris.  For 2013 I made Manhattans, inspired by a trip to Charleston and they were very good, too, but unfortunately I have lost the recipe.  Below is the daiquiri recipe.

Fresh Lime & Honey Daiquiri

4 cups rum

2 cups fresh lime juice

2 cups honey

Zest one tangerine

Pinch sea salt

Mix a week in advanced, and strain before final bottling.

Serve on shaved ice

How to Manage a Broody Hen to Hatch and Rear Young

GENERAL INFORMATION

A young commercial layer (hen) will lay almost one egg a day, but one egg every other day is more typical for a home flock with older hens of mixed pedigree.  One rooster for every ten hens or so will ensure the eggs are fertile.  Some roosters can handle more.  If a rooster isn’t successfully fertilizing eggs with a flock of ten hens, a new rooster is in order.

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BROODY-HENS

For the purpose of this article, a “broody-hen” is a hen that will go broody.  A hen that has gone broody is a hen that has laid all the eggs she thinks she should, and she now intends to sit on those eggs for 21 day to hatch out chicks.

If you look at and gently bother a hen who is sitting on a nest to lay an egg, she will become alarmed and rush out of the coop making a racket.  Do the same to a hen that is broody, and she will sit still and ignore you, or the meaner ones will fix you with a hate filled eye and double dare you to try something.  (These are the very best broody-hens.)  Mostly you will notice that when you are collecting eggs in the evening, there will be a hen refusing to move from the nest.  Leave her for 24 hours and if she’s still there, then she’s serious.

Not all hens will go broody, in fact, breeds that specialize in laying eggs such as Leghorns should never go broody.  Other breeds are hit and miss, like Buff Orpingtons.  I have a friend who has a whole flock of about 12 hens and none of them have ever gone broody, whereas I bought five and two of them do go broody every year.  Other breeds are notorious for being broody, such as Silkies.  As I run a mixed flock, there are usually more broody-hens than I want, but once I did have to actively seek an influx of broody stock.  I didn’t want to use Silkies since they are small like bantams and all of these small birds are just the size for hawks to snatch up.  One minute there they are, then the next minute gone!  Standard old English game chickens are known to go broody, and the ones I bought from Cackle Hatchery, though expensive, certainly were and have passed these broody genes down through the generations.

Standard Old English Game chicks from Cackle Hatchery

Do not keep a broody-hen that will not complete her job.  Any hen that starts to sit on eggs and changes her mind, or abandons her chicks too early, is a hen that has taken time from you, ruined all of those eggs and is not producing eggs as she should.  Soup would be a good job for her.

Now is as good a time as any to point out that half of the hatched chicks will be male, yet a flock only needs about one rooster per about ten hens.  This means there will be a lot of extra males, so don’t start down this path if you don’t have a plan to get rid of them.  The most sensible plan would be to slaughter and butcher the extra males and put them in the freezer.  Or you can give them to someone else who will butcher them.  Don’t think you can keep them (this will lead to flock chaos including the males fighting, and multiple rapes of the hens daily resulting in torn up backs and low egg production) or give any away to a paradise country estate.  I have succeeded in finding nice homes for three roosters over two decades — this isn’t enough to dent the number of male chickens you will be stuck with.

It should be noted here that a hen used to raise young will not be producing eggs.  So she will produce no eggs for the 21 days she’s sitting on the eggs, or for four to six weeks while she’s looking after her chicks, and she may decide to go broody two to three times a summer.  Two our three broody-hens is all a that are needed to maintain a home flock and produce surplus chickens for the freezer.  By banding the broody-hens you can try to keep the number of broody-hens necessary to meet your needs.

If you have more hens going broody than you want, and you don’t want to convert them into soup, then put them in a bare pen with food and water for four to five days.  Make sure they have necessary protection from the elements, but also have no comfy place for a nest.  Exceptionally broody hens will sit on nothing, and the idea of the pen-treatment is to break up this mindset.

HATCHING CHICKS

When a hen goes broody in the egg-laying nesting box, I don’t use any of the eggs she is currently sitting upon.  There are usually only one or two since I collect eggs daily and hens tend not to lay in a nesting box with a broody hen in it.  “Tend” is in italics because they will, and broody hens will move to another nest if annoyed too much, leaving ruined eggs behind and ruining a new batch as well.  What to I mean by “ruined”?  The chick has started to develop inside the egg, starting with a large round spot on the yolk and the egg white becomes runny.  I scramble these eggs and I’m sure caught early enough they would taste fine, but I feed them to the dogs and back to the chickens.  It’s unlikely that a broody hen will stay on eggs in the egg-laying nesting box for the 21 days necessary to hatch chicks, given the likely interference of other hens.  Even if she does, other hens will lay some eggs in the nest which, over three weeks, will result in too many eggs and a very low number of chicks hatched.  Furthermore, when the first few eggs hatch, the mother hen will leave with the first few chicks so none of  the eggs laid in the nest later will survive.

So, you have a hen that has gone broody.  Leave her where she is, and fix up a place for her separate from all other hens, safe from predators, protected from weather and with the nest in semi-darkness.  A separate pen with a doghouse in it will work, or partition off a part of the barn or a shed.  I have two broody-boxes that are four by four feet each, with screened fronts.  Smaller than this and the broody-hen may be too tense to finish her job.  It’s critical that the nest is insulated on the bottom, contained on the sides so eggs don’t role out and will not hold in moisture.  Soda can crates, or kitty litter boxes with multiple holes drilled in the bottom to allow moisture to escape, work well.  I put down two to three layers of newspaper in the bottom of the crate or box, and then make a nest with hay.  Put up to ten eggs in the nest for a standard-sized chicken, maybe up to 12 for larger hens.

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The eggs that you use can be several days old at room temperature, but they cannot have been refrigerated and should be kept out of sunlight to avoid over heating.  (I would not trust eggs left out during even one very hot day.)  Once the hen is sitting on them, the older and the newer eggs will all start to produce a chick at the same time, triggered by the heat from the hen’s body.  Since my hens lay different sizes and colors of eggs, I take a picture of the nest so I won’t forget what the eggs were like.  Do not use the few eggs the hen is already sitting on in the egg-nesting box, as these will hatch first and she’ll leave the almost ready-to-hatch eggs behind.

Put the nesting box into the semi-dark, protected area of the enclosure.  It’s best to put it on top of a little hay so it’s not in direct contact with the ground or floor boards.  The hotter the weather is, the more important it is to ensure moisture can escape.  Provide cracked corn or poultry food, and water in the enclosure.  She will not eat or drink much.  Make sure the water dish is shallow so chicks can’t drown in it.

Take the broody hen and move her to the enclosure with the nesting box and new eggs.  I put on gloves because I’m a coward.  Slide your hand under her body and firmly grasp a leg.  Then get the other one.  As long as you don’t let go of the legs, she can’t get away.  Carry her, supporting her body to keep her as calm as possible, to the enclosure and set her down, then quickly shut the door.  I like to do this when it’s early twilight.  She needs to be able to see those tempting eggs in the nest, but it’s best if she doesn’t have a lot of time to carry on about being moved, and it may help if she can’t see too well to notice nest differences.  But I have moved hens successfully in the middle of the day.

Mark on your calendar when the chicks are due, and check her food and water every few day.  Don’t clean up droppings; she needs to be bothered as little as possible.

Chicks should hatch out of 80-100 percent of the eggs in the nest.  It is often said that chicks that don’t hatch out themselves cannot be saved.  This is not true, but saving partially hatched chicks or slowly hatched chicks (with curled feet) will be covered in a different article.

RAISING CHICKS

Luckily, the hen will raise the chicks herself with little help from you.  I’ve seen them successfully rear young hatched in the highest heat of summer, and when there was light snow on the ground (more than light snow can lead to chicks with frost-bitten toes).  They can be moved to a larger enclosure immediately, or if the enclosure they are in is big enough you don’t have to move them at all.  The chicks do not need food or water for 2-3 days as they will be living off of the yolk in their stomach, so I think it’s best to leave the new family alone for a few days.  If you pick up a newly hatched chick, you can feel it’s soft belly filled with yolk.  Be aware, the hen will try to kill you if you try to pick up a chick, but luckily her arsenal can only nick your skin.

If you’re not going to let the hen and chicks forage for food, they will have to be provided with commercial chick feed.  In a pinch, ground cat or dog food and cracked corn will work in the short term — they can be ground fine enough for a chick in a blender.  Or dog food can be soaked in water overnight and they can eat that.  I don’t do any of this with chicks hatched by a hen, though.  After 2-3 days, I let them go out and get their own food each afternoon, ensuring they have cracked corn and some table scraps in the morning.  There is nothing like watching a hen show her chicks how to forage for food.

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If you should want to move the hen and chicks from one place to another when they are loose, slowly herd the chicks with your arms spread out.  When very young, they’ll generally stay together, and the hen will follow the chicks while occasionally charging you and perhaps pecking your toes.  (When over ten days old, forget it, as the chicks can fly, have a lot of confidence, and will not herd.)  If there are obstacles and a chick gets separated, leave it and finish moving the others.  Then go back and get it.  But what if you can’t find or hear it?  Chicks can be crafty and when alone will often hide and go quiet, but eventually they will cheep for mom to get them, and then you will have them.  Do not have any loose dogs around when you do this.  Dogs are craftier than chicks, and like to feel them squish in their teeth.

The hen and chicks can be reintroduced to the flock almost immediately if the pen is large enough.  Set up a shelter on the ground, and watch for bullying, which will rarely and briefly happen if the mother hen is low on the flock pecking order.  I’ve never had to interfere or separate a hen and chicks from the main flock, but I have a large pen and let all of them out for several hours daily, so the chickens aren’t stressed.  More stressed flocks may result in less tolerant adult birds and more serious problems.  Watch them at feeding time and this should tell the tale.

DSCN0903The hen will stay with them for up to six weeks, but most leave them earlier.  As long as the young birds have grown out their feathers, have their mates (siblings), and look like they know what they’re about, they will be fine on their own, except for predators.  When young chickens are no longer protected by their mother, but are not yet close to adult size, is when I have had my biggest losses in the past due to predation.  The more time young birds are penned, the fewer will be your losses (this is true for any size chicken, but much more so for smaller birds).  On the other hand, the more the chickens are penned, the less happy and healthy they will be.  The right ratio depends on your loss tolerance, location and predator load, and dogs — which can discourage predators or be predators themselves depending on the dog.

 

Aurora Teagarden Book Series Review

4+ out of 5 stars

real murdersAurora Teagarden is the star of a series of eight murder-mystery books, beginning in 1990 and ending in 2003, written by Charlaine Harris.  A ninth book is scheduled to be released in October of this year.  Other books written by Charlaine Harris include telepaths, vampires, werewolves and elves, and since Aurora is very small, the first book was ruined for me waiting to find out she had supernatural powers and was half elf, or something.  There is nothing supernatural at all in these books.  Most of this series was written early in Charlaine Harris’ career, and (for me) are not as good as the Southern Vampire (Sookie Stackhouse) or Midnight, Texas Trilogy books (both fantasies), which means I didn’t drop everything to read them and give people dark looks for interrupting me.  That being said, they were good enough that I binged the series and didn’t read any other book until I finished it, was up late several nights with one book or the other, and have pre-ordered the book scheduled to be released in October.

Aurora Teagarden is a diminutive (4’11”) southern bell librarian around whom murders happen with exceptional frequency.  She has a keen sense of appropriate polite behavior, is extremely insightful, and shows exceptional courage and physical bravery when absolutely required.  Her life and perspectives change throughout the books — Ms. Harris is not afraid to torture her character with shocks and losses.  The books are just as much about Aurora’s life-adventures and challenges as they are about the murder mysteries.  For me, these books were like peering into an alien land: the land of small-town Southern hospitality and sensibilities.  Social offenses that absolutely incensed Aurora would for the most part only have irritated me, or amused me, or I wouldn’t have noticed them at all.  And the people around her didn’t act like she was a loony, but like her anger was justified.

As an example (that gives away no murder plot details) Aurora was once asked out to dinner by an actress and other movie people.  At the restaurant, Aurora caught her hostess mimicking her mannerisms — not in a mocking way but to use them in the shaping of a character she was playing.  Honestly, this would have amused me.  I would have eaten the meal.  Aurora left in a huff, her friend chewed out the actress and the actress was embarrassed.

I feel there are clues here as to why I sometimes offend people and don’t know why, but it’s all so murky.

Lest you think you won’t like Aurora, you will.  We wouldn’t get along in real life as she’d keep flying mad for inexplicable reasons and that would tick me off, but being privy to the inside of her head changed all that.  It’s the psychology of Aurora, written in the first person and nailed beautifully by Charlaine Harris, as she’s faced with a variety of horrifying deaths, mysteries and personal upheavals that make this series so juicy and satisfying. The murder mystery part is handled very well, with enough subtle and well paced clues so that sometimes I was a little ahead of Aurora, sometimes behind but never too far off one way or the other, and only rarely figured out who done it in advance of Aurora — a critical but difficult thing for mystery writers to pull off.

The books in the series are:

  1.     Real Murders (1990)
  2.     A Bone to Pick (1992)
  3.     Three Bedrooms, One Corpse (1994)
  4.     The Julius House (1995)
  5.     Dead Over Heels (1996)
  6.     A Fool And His Honey (1999)
  7.     Last Scene Alive (2002)
  8.     Poppy Done to Death (2003)
  9.     All the Little Liars (2016) — scheduled to be released in October

Trivia:

  • Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire books were the basis for the HBO series True Blood.  The books will still be great fun even if you’ve seen the shows as the books are more complex, and the book plots diverge more and more from the shows’ as the stories progress.  The Southern Vampire book series is a solid 5 out of 5.
  • Hallmark has adapted several of the Aurora Teagarden books into two hour movies:  A Bone To Pick premiered on April 7, 2015; Real Murders premiered on July 26, 2015; and Three Bedrooms, One Corpse premiered on June 12, 2016.  Julius House is scheduled to show October 16th.  I just watched A Bone to Pick and it was absolutely horrible:  1 out of 5 stars.  I wish I could un-see it.  I hope the memories of these wretched cookie cutter, 2-demensional Hallmarked characters fade from my mind before the next book comes out.

— Jenny Tennant