March 10, 2024  •  No Comments

Once in a while, I get a craving for waffles and then nothing else will do. I don’t need to worry about food allergies, but I know any number of people on gluten-free diets who have had to avoid the toasty decadence of this brunch favorite. 


In an effort to end this tragic situation, I got together with a friend and tried three different gluten-free waffle recipes to see what we could learn. Note:  we greased the waffle irons with olive oil for all the recipes

In the picture, from left to right, are recipes #1, #3, and #2. Note #1 used a small waffle iron.

Test Recipe #1:

My go-to recipe is from a 1907 Lowney’s cookbook. The page is covered with stains and splashes, which indicates it was used a lot. As is more common in these old recipes, it’s sugar-free and so can be used for sweet or savory combos–and if I’m smothering my breakfast in syrup anyway, I don’t need sweetness in the batter. The real secret to this recipe is whipping the eggs whites and folding them in last. This gives the waffle a fluffy, light tenderness that remained in a gluten free state. The only change I made was substituting Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 baking flour.


2 cups of flour (gluten free, see above)

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt.


3 tablespoons melted butterFrontispiece of cookbook

1 cup plus 1/3 cup milk

3 egg yolks

Beat the egg whites to a stiff peak and fold into the batter.  Cook to golden brown perfection!

Test Recipe #2:


1.5 cups amaranth flour

1/4 cup tapioca flour

1/4 cup arrowroot flour

1 tsp baking powder

pinch each of salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg

In another bowl, mix:

1/3 cup apple juice

3 beaten eggs

1 tablespoon melted butter or vegetable oil

1/3 cup water

Add the dry ingredients into the wet and mix thoroughly. Add more liquid if the batter is too thick. Proceed to the waffle iron.

Test Recipe #3:

Follow Recipe #2, but use teff flour instead.

Our Findings:

All three recipes produced waffles that could be frozen and reheated. The first recipe was very close to a “traditional” waffle. The teff waffles had a nice nutty flavor, but were quite dense. These would be best served with a juicy berry mixture or other topping that needs a firmer base. I would like to try this one again and beat the egg whites separately as per recipe #1. The amaranth waffles were also sturdy, but had a lighter flavor I liked a lot.  I think there’s more experimenting to be done, but overall this session produced a tasty product sensitive to gluten-free requirements.

New Year, New Plans

January 21, 2024  •  No Comments

Like everyone, I get distracted by the holiday whirl leading up to the main event, but every year I spend a delicious few days post-feast surviving off leftovers and planning the writing year ahead. Some of the items that make it to the to-do list are practical (do I have all the right vendors listed on my website?) and some are more strategic. Very few are quick wins because, if they were, I’d have done them already.

Still, I was able to plan the coming year with more confidence than I’ve had for a while. Part of this is due to having some books already written—while I’ve not been releasing as much lately due to personal life chaos, I have been working ahead.

That said, it’s not just the book in front of my nose I need to think, but the two following ones as well. What needs to be done in terms of promotion each month? How much prep time is required? What can I outsource, and what do I need to manage on my own? What will it all cost?

To this end, I had approximately 5,678,341 pieces of paper with bright ideas stuffed into an assortment of folders. I spent quite some time sorting and distilling all that into a series of tasks lists. Research, release plans, blog, social media, newsletter, paid advertising, administrative upkeep, upskilling, etc. The awkward aspect of all this is that they are interconnected and can’t be treated in isolation. They are also mostly timebound items with a best-before date when applied to a specific book. However, I came away with a calendarized workplan to test out.

The first and probably the most important realization is that this isn’t just about add-on activities to check off a notepad. These streams of activity (blog, research, social media, and so on) are like the infrastructure of the house where my creative output lives. If I don’t fix the roof or ensure the heat is working, it’s not a good shelter and my creative output can’t thrive. These activities are more than a necessary evil. They are an extension of the works themselves and deserve as much imagination and interest for their own sake. That’s a mind shift!

Some takeaways:

* In order to treat my creative infrastructure well, I need to set aside dedicated time to attend to it. I’m still playing catch-up, but I’m thinking 1 day a week for maintenance-level activities once the catch-up is done.
* The time to start assembling promotional material is the instant I start Chapter 1.
* Content marketing is 1,000 times more interesting to me than advertising. This is the “here’s my research” approach rather than “buy my book”
* I’m building places for our collective imaginations to hang out. This isn’t about individual products but entire story worlds, so the focus has to be broad.

I’ve set some steep goals, but I do have specific ideas on how to achieve them, which is something. Let’s see what works and what doesn’t.

Basic Pickled Beets

July 23, 2023  •  No Comments

pickled beets

I often get over-excited at the farmer’s market and bring home more than I can use. Sometimes this applies to beets and, while I can steam the greens alongside chard, kale, or spinach, I can’t always use the roots as casually. So, I like refrigerator pickles that can be chopped into a salad, on a burger, or used as a garnish. Here’s a very easy recipe:

Steam 3-4 large beets, then slice to desired size chunks. Arrange in a large jar with a tight-fitting lid (a canning jar is ideal)

Boil together:

  • 1 cup of cider vinegar
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp salt (large grain type, such as kosher salt)
  • 1/4 tsp each peppercorns and mustard grains
  • pinch dill seed

Pour the liquid over beets in the jar (don’t strain out the spices). Once the jar has cooled, refrigerate. This will keep for several weeks.



Applesauce Loaf

August 7, 2022  •  2 Comments

applesauce loafEvery autumn I turn the scruffier apples from my tree into applesauce. If I’m lucky, I can also scrounge extras from friends who have a bumper crop. Applesauce is great in baking, so I freeze as many pints as possible. It’s a moderate amount of work, but the payoff is worth it.

Here’s an easy applesauce loaf so moist it doesn’t need butter. The recipe makes two loaves, so I have one to freeze or give away.

Preheat oven to 350F.  Lightly grease 2 loaf pans.

Sift together dry ingredients:

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 5 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • ½ teaspoon mace (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon salt.


  • 2 ½ cups of applesauce
  • ¾ cup sugar (could be more or less depending on preference)
  • ¾ cup melted butter or vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup milk or kefir (I use coconut kefir)

Fold dry ingredients into the wet ingredients a little at a time until thoroughly mixed.  Finally, mix in:

  • 1 cup of nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, or pecans are good)

Divide batter between the pans and bake for an hour or until a knife comes out clean. This may depend on the amount of water in your applesauce, so be sure to test it and bake a little longer if necessary.

I recommend this with sharp cheddar as a quick lunch on the run.


Hungary Water: Part 2

March 21, 2022  •  No Comments

This is the continuation of this jars filled with herbsblog describing the recipe and my first try at recreating Hungary Water. I left the test batches to steep for about three months. I waited some months more to let the scents settle down and blend.

My first observation is that volume is important. By the time I strained the vegetable matter from my test batches, I didn’t get much yield—maybe half a cup per jar. The results were also very concentrated. When I do this again, I’m going to use at least a quart-sized container and more liquid.

The rosemary scent dominates the results, but that could be because it was the one element that was home grown and therefore freshest. All three bases initially overpowered the scent of the herbs but calmed down with time. The witch hazel version was fairly raunchy when it first brewed but is now the most pleasant of the three. It is a nice addition to a bath and as a facial astringent. I used the cider vinegar version (diluted) to rinse my hair after shampooing it. This is an excellent way to add scent and shine, but please be careful with color-treated hair as the vinegar can be drying. The vodka version was my least favorite. It killed some stubborn weeds in the driveway and probably any other living entity within five yards. I’m pretty sure the driveway glows after dark and the raccoons are building a bomb shelter.

My honest assessment is that a) a greater liquid volume would create a better balance of scents, b) the combination of herbs could possibly be simplified, and c) I need to do more research into a good liquid base for this purpose. The witch hazel is acceptable, but I’d like to keep exploring.

Bottom line: this experiment opened the door to some interesting possibilities for more research and experimentation.



February 20, 2022  •  1 Comment

As a follow up to our previous post about basil, here is my favorite pesto recipe. Substitutions are easy–if pine nuts are too expensive, walnuts, toasted pumpkin seeds, orpesto any combo of the three can be used. If basil is not in season, I’ve used spinach or a blend of spinach and arugula for a punchier sauce.

Put into blender or food processor:

  • 4 cups of basil or other greens (such as spinach, parsley, arugula and/or other fresh herbs)
  • Crushed fresh garlic (3 cloves) or good-quality powdered garlic to taste
  • Half cup pine nuts or other nut/seed combo
  • Scant cup of grated parmesan cheese
  • Dash of lemon juice

Blend the above until smooth, adding olive oil to thin to the desired consistency (about 1/3 to 1/2 cup).

Pesto literally means “paste” and can be treated like any other condiment. It’s brilliant on pasta, but can also be combined with yogurt to make a great salad dressing. I also use it as a flavoring in wraps and sandwiches or as a veggie dip.



Love, Hate, and Severed Heads – the Secret Life of Basil

  •  1 Comment

BasilMany herbs have stories, and basil has more than most. The name derives from the Greek basileus, which means kingly or royal. Associated with love potions, angry monsters, and tales of romantic tragedy (and decapitation), basil’s legend goes far beyond pesto.

Basil is associated with the masculine, Mars, fire, and Scorpio. It is a culinary herb and also a strewing herb, valued for its scent. As an inhalant, it stimulates the intellect.  As an incense, it invokes the presence of astral and mythological creatures and gives strength to pursue positive expansion, releasing fear associated with spiritual growth. Traditional health uses vary. It is used in folk medicine to treat fevers, and there is some investigation being done on treatment for herpes-related conditions like shingles.

Basil is used cosmetically for brightening the complexion. Sweet basil oil (Ocimum basilicum) is used in perfumes and also in a scalp massage to stimulate healthy hair growth.

According to the Ancient World—or at least the Greco-Roman segment thereof—basil was associated with anger and insanity. Perhaps this comes from its association with scorpions, salamanders, and also the basilisk, a dragon-esque creature that could kill with a glare. Given all the cranky crawlies, it’s a good thing basil was reputed to draw the poison from venomous bites.

It’s hard to say when the humble herb moved from angry lizards to love potions, but by the Middle Ages a sprig of basil became a love token and a means of attracting wealth. It was also said to have grown at the site of Christ’s crucifixion—further evidence of its ability to repel evil—and in some regions was planted on graves. In India, holy basil (Tulsi) is used for purification and protection.

Basil’s twin spirits of love and hate twine together in Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron, a 14th Century collection of Italian tales. Many know the story from John Keats’s Pot of Basil1818 poem retelling the story. In a nutshell (or herb pot), lovely young Isabella is destined for an advantageous marriage but falls in love with a handsome servant named Lorenzo. Furious, her brothers murder the young man. Guided by the ghost of her dead lover, Isabella digs up his body, chops off his head, and buries it in a pot of basil. There, she can water it with her tears and waste away in fine tragic fashion.

For such a grim tale, it inspired a wealth of lovely pre-Raphaelite art, like this painting by William Holman Hunt.

Common garden basil is native to India and flowers in high summer. I’ve never found basil easy to grow indoors. It loves heat, but not too much; rich soil, but not too much richness; and exactly the right amount of water. A bright windowsill is good, but be careful not to introduce other plants nearby. I had a thriving pot of globe basil until I left a planter of cat grass beside it just long enough to deposit a swarm of pesto-loving aphids. The best home-grown basil I ever saw lived in a compost box beneath a tent of plastic that kept the cold dew off the leaves. There, the plants grew to a Jurassic size I’ve never been able to replicate.

Check this blog for my pesto recipe.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: herbal medicines should be prepared and taken under the supervision of a trained professional (and that does not include me or this blog).


I consulted quite a few sources for this blog, but here are the main ones:

Easley, Thomas, and Steven Horne. The Modern Herbal Dispensatory. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 2016.

Beyerl, Paul.  The Master Book of Herbalism.  Blaine, Washington: Phoenix Publishing Inc., 1984.

Grieve, Mrs. M.  A Modern Herbal. London: Tiger Books International, 1992.

Cunningham, Scott. Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, 2nd edition. Woodbury, Minnesota Llewellyn Publications, 2020.

Rose, Jeanne The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations Berkeley, California, 1992


December 27, 2021  •  1 Comment

coffee cup on booksAnyone with an email address knows that spam happens, and email providers weed out the worst offenders by sending those emails to the junk folder. Unfortunately, automated systems don’t always know the difference between stuff you do and don’t want. Whitelisting ensures that emails from a certain address reach your inbox every time.

An example is my newsletter. If my newsletter goes to your spam folder, that’s sad for both of us! After all, you need to whitelist an address just once. Here are two methods:

1. Adding our address (admin@rowanartistry.com) to your contacts is one way to ensure my newsletter arrives safe and sound; or,

2. Here is a link to instructions (with pictures) for a comprehensive list of email clients (Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, Apple, AOL and many others) if you need something specific.

Whitelisting can, of course, be done with any newsletters (besides mine) you want to receive.  I hope this helps!

By the way, if you aren’t on my email list and want to be, sign up here for Sharon’s paranormal romance and here for Emma Jane Holloway’s steampunk books. We’ll send you a free read! And yes, you may sign up for both lists.

Ten Days in a Mad-House

July 26, 2021  •  No Comments

There aren’t many historical figures I want to fangirl over, but Nellie Bly (born Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman 1864 – 1922) makes the list. An American reporter, she pursued investigative stories at a time when women were doomed to penning fluff pieces. Bly soon tired of the society pages and insisted on challenging subjects. Danger was no deterrent – among other assignments, she covered the European Eastern Front during WWI.

Around 2019, I read Ten Days in a Mad-House, Bly’s expose of the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island. She got herself committed and posed as one of the female inmates to discover what went on inside. Needless to say, it wasn’t pretty. Her revelations of abusive living conditions and the casual cruelty of asylum officials shocked the New York public of 1887. Eventually, it led to reforms at the asylum. Her steady, detailed narrative stands up today as readable reporting.

I returned to Bly’s story in my research of Victorian-era asylums. When I learned there was a film adaptation, I quickly found it on Hoopla. Timothy Hines wrote and directed this 2015 production (10 Days in a Madhouse). Caroline Barry is charming as Nellie, but I question her chirpiness in places. And unfortunately, where the true story is dark enough, the movie gilds the lily in places. As a result, the tone comes out as spunky and sordid at the same time, making me wonder what audience they were aiming for.

That said, the movie worked well enough as a recap. The unsanitary conditions, bad food, inadequate heating, and casual cruelty are all part of the original. So is the maddening truth that institutions silenced the inconvenient far more often than they cured them.

Unruly women were deemed most inconvenient indeed.

Character Interview: Kifi the Temple Cat

Sharon Ashwood
July 10, 2021  •  No Comments

Today, we’re here to interview Kifi, the temple cat who joins the cast in Smolder, the third novel in the Crown of Fae series. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

Kifi:  Delighted to pull up a cushion and entertain.

Q: To begin with, what is the role of a temple cat?

Kifi: That is like asking the purpose of water in the sea. We keep the memory of the fire fae, for the tribes of the Flame do not rely on written language. The history and wisdom of all things is ours to preserve, and what one cat knows, we all know.

Q: So cats know everything?

Kifi: Is that a question?

Q: I see. Moving on, how did you come to be involved in the story of Leena and Morran?

Kifi: Leena’s journey took her near the Great Temple. I seized the opportunity to join her, for the Temple is sacred to my kind. It was lucky that I was available to assist my two-legged companions. Such foolish creatures, always in need of rescue. One should never leave home without a cat.

Arwen looking cuteQ: What hardships did you experience along the way?

Kifi: Monsters, bad food, and far too many smelly werewolves.

Q: Audiences have responded to you as a character. How have you dealt with sudden fame?

Kifi: Such adoration is the fate and burden of felines. I bear it with humility. I’ve even forgiven the artist for leaving me off the book cover.

Q: Yes, that is quite a glaring oversight.

Kifi: Indeed. One might think the story is all about the love story between my friend, Leena, and the Phoenix Prince. Who would want to read that?

Q: One last question. Despite your experience, you’re still young for your kind. Is there any advice you could give to other junior temple cats wanting to follow in your pawprints?

Kifi: Accept the challenge of the journey and treasure those who walk at your side. Most of all, realize that not everyone is lucky enough to be one of us. Be kind to the poor two-legged creatures.