Fun With Israeli Couscous

August 15th, 2010 by Melina

You have GOT to try this!

When you think of couscous, you probably think of the tiny, almost sand like, grains of pasta. That stuff is great, but for some variety, I highly recommend the Israeli kind that’s much thicker and tapioca like. (Note: I usually use the Osem brand, but Trader Joe’s sells a version in a purple box. Sometimes it’s called French or Italian couscous.)

See the difference?

I’m posting this in conjunction with the Moroccan meatball recipe because it’s a match made in culinary heaven, but it’s pretty versatile.

So here’s what you do:

1. Don’t read the directions on the back of the package or box. Read my instructions instead. You’ll thank me later.

2. Please, I beg you, don’t use water. Okay? Thanks, I feel better now.

3. Chop up 1 – 2 onions and 1 – 2 heads of garlic. The more garlic, the better. Plus, it makes it anti-vampire. . .

4. In a large frying pan or wok, sweat the onions and garlic in some olive oil.

5. Add a bag of couscous to the pan (or 2, depending on who’s coming over). Don’t add any liquid yet.

6. Toast the couscous for a few minutes, but don’t let it turn brown.

7. Add A LOT of vegetable or chicken stock. Cover. Bring to a boil.

8. When it’s boiling, take off the lid, stir, add more broth. Keep stirring.

At this point, I like to keep adding broth until I’ve used the whole box. It makes it fluffy and adds flavor. Don’t worry, it’s not too much liquid. It evaporates and gets absorbed. Just keep stirring.

A fun trick that makes it more Middle Eastern is raising the flame at the end and browning the bottom. It’s really good.

Serving Suggestions:

1. Add peas and sauteed mushrooms.

2. Add feta cheese, roasted vegetables, cherry tomatoes, peas, and parboiled carrots. Serve at room temperature. Makes a great side dish!

3. As stated above, serve with Moroccan meatballs.

Have any other suggestions? Share them in the comments!


Posted in Recipes | No Comments »

Great Cheese Comes From Happy Cows.

August 11th, 2010 by Melina

Happy Cows Come From California.


We’ve got a problem.

Which is: I went to RWA in Orlando. I came back and got sick. A visitor came for almost a week. I had a whirlwind tour of the San Francisco Bay Area (I’m visiting my mother in CA, remember?). Now, I’m tired.

And, I’m trying to deal with revising a book that must be sent out into query world by the end of August.

Point is, I’m not so capable of being articulate right now.

However, I do have a blog topic. Okay, it’s about commercials, and I hate commercials so much I record everything on my DVR so I can fast forward.

Except for the California Cheese commercials. That’s because of the California Happy Cows.

See, in college I lived across the street from a bunch of Happy Cows, and they used to look at me every time I walked to my car.

We were tight, you know? Plus, by coincidence, they look like Creature. On Sunday I was in Sonoma County (wine country), home of the Happy Cows, so they’ve been on my mind.

Oh, I even snuck a picture of some California Cheese at the Sonoma Cheese Factory:

So, I present to you, the best of the Happy Cows.

1. How can this whole scene fail to improve a dark mood? (Apologies in advance for the ear worm.):

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2. The earthquake scenario freaks me out, having been through the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and all, but it’s still funny:

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3. And this one is just fun. A cow with a midwestern accent:

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You know what? Some animal right activists claim that these commercials are misleading, because the cows aren’t happy. I really and truly hope that they’re wrong. I know nothing about cows, but to me, those cows I used to drive by and live across the street from seemed to enjoy the big grassy fields and the sunshine. . .  All cows should be so lucky.

Anyway. I hope you’re all having a great week! Thanks for stopping by!

P.S. Yeah, I know. First goats, now cows. Maybe I should be a farmer.

Posted in California Dreamin', Fun With YouTube | 3 Comments »

A Travel Nightmare

July 21st, 2010 by Melina

Courtesy of. . . Me

The year was 1983. The destination: a very small, overly picturesque village on Crete’s southern coast. The travelers: me, the 5 year old, and my mother. The reason: My father’s side of the family lives there (and my father flew before we did). And, my father was producing a Joan Baez concert in Heraklion.

That summer was totally fantastic. The trip there? Not so much.

Here. I’ll tell you what happened.

My mother is the best planner I know, and she did everything in her power to prepare me for the trip. I remember sitting on her lap, facing her, while she explained that sometimes airplanes tip ever so slightly when they make turns, but it doesn’t mean there’s a problem. I was worried about my ability to ask my relatives for a drink of water, so we worked on my Greek vocabulary. She’s the best.

Apparently, the trip from San Francisco to Rome was uneventful enough. I pretty much minded my own business and drew a lot of pictures. The TWA (talk about ancient history) flight attendants had glitter on their cheeks, which I loved, and one of them really wanted me to eat at least a few bites of chicken, which I didn’t love.

Then we landed in Rome, where what would have simply been a difficult trip under any circumstances turned into a story that’s still told all these years later.

I don’t know what was happening in Rome in 1983. My mother doesn’t remember anything other than “it was a political situation.” So I don’t know why there were soldiers marching in perfect unison up and down the hallways of the airport.

I also don’t know why I was absolutely convinced they were after my mother. It might have had something to do with the machine guns they had over their shoulders. And those guns, especially to a puny 5 year old, were humungous.

Here’s some kid logic for you: They were going to arrest my mother, even though “I promise, my Mommy didn’t do anything wrong!” and leave me all alone. I was going to wander the airport all by myself for the rest of my life (in this scenario, I wasn’t going to age. I was always going to be 5, kind of like how Big Bird will always be 6).

Here begins the tantrum portion of our story.

Ask my mother why she didn’t take me away from the soldiers, and she’ll tell you the soldiers were everywhere.

Fast forward a few excruciating hours, to the Athens airport. Now, in 1983, pre the fabulous Olympic Games makeover, the Athens Airport was pretty icky (and that’s putting it nicely). To make things even harder, travelers had to take a bus or taxi from the international terminal to the domestic terminal. And we had to get to our flight to Crete.

So, my mother dragged me through the baggage claim, through customs, and outside into the heat. She found a taxi.


I wasn’t a New Yorker then. I didn’t know what a taxi was. My mother hadn’t gone over this with me. All I knew was that Mommy, all of my teachers, the police and even Ronald McDonald said to never, ever get into a stranger’s car. (There were a ton of kidnappings in the Bay Area in the early 80’s, and kids were overly trained to stay safe.)

So why on earth my mother was trying to shove me into a stranger’s car was beyond me, especially since the soldiers in Rome were still after her, even though, and I promise, she didn’t do anything wrong.

Now, you’d think she’d be able to shove me into the taxi, right?


Remember Norma Rae, and that scene where Sally field refuses to get into the police car? (If not, click here and go to the :30 mark.) Yeah. I kind of did something like that.

But really, can you blame me? The driver was this scary Greek guy who was probably smoking and getting annoyed with us.

Yes, we missed our flight to Crete. Luckily, there are a lot of flights to Crete and we probably would’ve missed ours anyway.

I think I’ll keep telling myself that.

The rest of the summer was a great success, by the way. You may have seen some of the photos. I asked for drinks of water beautifully. The Joan Baez concert got rained out and had to be postponed to the following night, which I was kind of bummed about, but check out how I spent that evening instead. Pretty cool, huh?

And yes. I feel really guilty for making that trip so rough. I’ve since apologized to my mother. I’ve also reminded her that it could’ve been worse. A few years later, I was back in the Athens Airport with my step mother and two year old half brother. I puked all over baggage carousel. While it was moving.

Really, you can’t take me anywhere.

Why am I telling you this story? A few reasons.

First of all, I’ve been bitten by the travel bug. I used to travel a lot. I’m totally addicted to the travel channel, am obsessed with Globe Trekker, and the heroine of my third book is the host of a travel show.

Secondly, back in June, Jennifer Weiner had a bad experience on a plane while she was traveling with her two year old. Some bitch in front of her made it even more unpleasant. She put out a call for child related travel horror stories. I was going to send her mine, but with the end of the school year and my mother’s hip surgery there was just no way. But you can read the winning stories here. (You have to scroll down. For some reason, I can’t link to specific posts. Sorry.)

Well, that’s all I’ve got. Wish me luck on my upcoming trip to Orlando for RWA 2010!

Anybody got any travel nightmares to share? That’s what the comments are for!

See ya!

Posted in Classic Mel | 7 Comments »

Dream a Little Dream. . .

July 20th, 2010 by Melina

Of Brakes and Word Walls?!?

Hello Good People.

So yesterday, we talked about sleep. Today’s topic? Dreams.

Specifically, my dreams. And why they’re annoying.

True Story: I was in the woods at a world music camp. It was the middle of the night, and pitch black. I was sound asleep, in my tent-cabin, having a nightmare. Then, a guy walked by with a flashlight. Next thing I knew, somebody was waking me up because apparently, I screamed. Not just any scream, but one of those Grade B horror movie screams.

Really, you can’t take me anywhere.

Anyway. Point is. My dreams aren’t fun. Which is why the Cheese Man episode of Buffy was absolutely traumatizing for me. I can’t even watch this YouTube clip:

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Here are a few examples. I’ll keep it light though.

Recurring Nightmares

1. I’m driving on a major, multi-lane street in the neighborhood where I grew up. It’s dark. I’m going really fast. The light turns red.

I step on the brake, but the car won’t stop.

I really, really, want to stop the car. I promise, I do. I just can’t.

Then the police are chasing me, and I try to telepathically ask them for help and let them know I’m not doing this on purpose. The car keeps flying through red lights.

Then, I wake up.

Raise your hand if you think I’m a control freak.

Raise your hand if you think this dream is really bizarre since I haven’t owned a car since I moved to New York.

2. I find out I have to go back to school (depending on the night, the type and level of school changes) because I’ve forgotten to take a class and haven’t really graduated. I register for the classes I need, but then it’s the end of the semester and I’ve forgotten to show up for one of the classes. All semester long. I have to cram for the final.

Then, I wake up.

It’s all very Billy Madison / Community. (I’ve never seen Community actually. The premise scares me to pieces. And Billy Madison I’ve only seen clips of. My college roommates had it on constantly.)

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Work Related Dreams

1. It was a week or two ago. During summer “vacation.” (July has not been a vacation so far, hence the quotes.)

I had a dream that I was teaching first grade again. There were ten days of school left. Somebody pointed out that I had neglected to teach my students any of the 100 sight words. Oops. I’d forgotten, all year, to put up a word wall. I’d forgotten to teach them much of anything.

So, I decided to teach the kids ten words a day for the last ten days of school and hope for the best.

And the guilt was overwhelming.

This dream was so real I woke up believing it was true.

Awful confession. I had to go to iPhoto and dig though photos of my classroom to calm myself down.

Oh thank goodness. Sight words. And turkeys. Guess I taught those kids something after all.

Keep in mind that this was July. I don’t even teach first grade anymore. OMGWTFBBQ. Can’t I just be left alone?

2. I’m on a field trip. I lose a kid.

3. I forget to show up at graduation.

4. I work in my sleep. I basically live through a work day. Then I have to get up and go to work. Good times.

Creepy Dreams

1. When I was a kid, I had this dream that the woman picking me up from school wasn’t actually my mother. It was was an evil person with a mask.

2. Something happens to Creature.

You really don’t need to hear the rest.

Hopefully, I’m not as messed up and insecure as these dreams make me sound. Huh.

So, People. How do you feel about dreams?

Here. I’ll leave you with a little something to shake off any dream related creepiness I’ve caused you:

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Here’s to sweet dreams!

Posted in Classic Mel, Fun With YouTube | 3 Comments »

32 Years of Sleep Debt

July 19th, 2010 by Melina

No wonder I’m cranky. . .

All right People. Let’s have a little chat, shall we? The topic? Sleep. Or lack thereof.

I’ll start.

I’m tired. Scratch that. I’m exhausted.

And it’s really pissing me off because this summer, I’m kind of stuck in the house helping my mother, and I have no need to set my alarm, so I’ve got no good reason to be this tired.

Except for the fact that sleeping is not one of my talents. In fact, I suck at it. And the saddest thing about this is that my mother says the sleep trouble started when I was an infant.

See? Here’s me. Not sleeping:

32.4 years of sleep debt. No wonder I’m cranky. I’m freaked out too, because I remember hearing something on TV about how for every hour of sleep you lose, your IQ drops a bit.

So yeah. Math is another thing I suck at, but let’s add up every hour of sleep I’ve lost over the course of my life, and add that number to my IQ. Wow. Okay, maybe let’s not. Point is, if I were well rested, I could’ve possibly been the next Einstein or something. You think? I’m just saying. . .

Anyway, I’ve tried so many things to help me fall asleep, like turning off the computer, TV, etc. an hour before bed, making the room a bit cool, exercise, yoga, tea, reading, and at some point, counting sheep. Cause y’all know I like sheep and stuff.

I just don’t enjoy sleep. There are so many things I’d rather be doing. Just think of all the things I’m missing by getting into bed! I could be playing Bubble Shooter or something. (Or figuring out why all the images I’ve inserted into this post look totally aligned in draft form but move all over the place in the final version.)

I’d compare the need to sleep to the need to eat spinach and Brussels sprouts, except I happen to like those things (yeah, that’s another topic).

You know what else? I get a burst of energy when it gets dark. How, may I ask, am I supposed to sleep under those conditions? But in the morning, forget it. I’m about as useless and pleasant as a used coffee filter.

Besides, I always wake up groggy and disoriented. Plus, there’s the added bonus of my tossing and turning, which makes my hair escape from the elastic band I tie it back with, so I always wake up with frizzy tangles and nobody in their right mind would disagree that Morning Mel looks like Medusa.

It’s just not worth it.

Unless you happen to value your IQ points.

(Note: If you’re going to RWA, and you happen to see a zombie roaming the halls of the hotel, it’s not some author playing one of her characters, or something Buffy and the Scooby Gang need to deal with. It’s just me.)

Okay, your turn. Sleep. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Sweet Dreams!

P.S. Next blog topic: Dreams. Specifically, my dreams, and why they’re annoying.

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Posted in Classic Mel | 6 Comments »

I Can Haz Apps?

July 15th, 2010 by Melina

Apps for the writerly type. . .

So get this. Here I am at Chez Mom, with time on my hands, quiet (when Creature is behaving, that is), and cool, foggy weather. You’d think the whole writing thing I like to take part in would be going swimmingly, right?

People, people. If you thought that, you’d be so wrong. Nice of you to think that though.

But hey. RWA is right around the corner. So it’s time to pull the writing career together.

And, geek that I am, I’ve got apps for that! You probably do too. And if you do, I beg you to share them in the comments! I’ll really love it and it’ll be great for your karma, too.

Here are mine, by category.


Word Count Apps:

Write Chain (Set goals, and set how many days you can take off from writing without breaking the chain. My chain? Yeah, that’s way broken. Haven’t clicked on the app in a while. . .)

NaNoMoJo (Can we please talk about how much I can’t wait to use this in November? It’s like having the whole NaNo site on your phone, and you can even keep track of your buddies!)

Brainstorming and Diva Pleasing Apps:

Question of the Day (Tons of questions you can apply to your characters, and they’re organized by deepness (is that even a word?). Really helps you figure out what makes your characters tick.)

Love Quotes (Fine. It’s way cheesy. HOWEVER. In those rare moments you want your characters to be somewhat nice to each other, and you’re in a really bad mood and can’t pull off that miracle (not that this would ever happen to me, of course,) this helps.

Practical Apps:

Readdle Docs / Good Reader (It can be really great to turn your WIP into a .pdf and read it on your phone or iPad. Not being able to take notes and having your writing feel like a real live ebook can sometimes, although not always, be fantastic. Plus, you always have your work with you, so you can turn being stuck in line at the grocery store, or stuck on the freaking Q train, into a golden opportunity.)

Baby Name Apps (I’m not giving any links, since it’s easy to go to the app store and find ones you like. I was lucky enough to find an app with Greek baby names and meanings, since most of my characters, in all three of my WIP’s, are Greek.)

WriteRoom (A distraction free writing environment for your phone. Although I find I prefer my phone’s built in notepad, since, I must confess, I prefer the cheery yellow to the scary black. Yeah, I like cheerful. Who knew? All I’m saying is, check it out.)

WikiTap / Wikipedia / Dictionary (Kind of obvious, right? Just wanted to mention it though. I really adore the built in videos for research purposes, since it prevents getting lost in the glory that is the YouTube app.)

Evernote (Great for keeping track of notes, info, etc. I have it, but confess I don’t use it much because I have a Scrivener organization process that is almost humiliatingly obsessive and honed.)

Apps to help with Productive Procrastination:

Othello (You’ll thank me later. Or, actually, probably not. But still, I urge you to download and enjoy.)

Cheezburger Clock App (OMG it’s so worth every penny. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, start the madness here).

magic8ball (How else are your characters going to make decisions? You’ll thank me later. For real this time.)

People Magazine (No, I refuse to be embarrassed for mentioning that.)

The Onion (So much fun!)

If you’re tired and need to “refill the well:”

YogaStretch and YogaRelax (A great thing to do before and/or after placing your butt on your chair and your hands on your keyboard! Bonus if you don’t have a dog who howls when he sees you get on the floor.)

Stitcher and Pandora (When I get sick of listening to my story soundtrack, these apps are a great way to find music that’s geared towards my taste but that I haven’t necessarily heard. Warning though – Pandora links right to your iTunes store, which makes it almost as addicting that the Amazon Kindle app.)

And, because writers are readers too:

Audible (OMG Audible has an app now! Which makes audiobooks WAY too easy to listen to and buy.)

snaptell (Have you heard about this? You take a photo of a barcode on a book, and you are instantly directed to reviews and other information. Works on CD’s and DVD’s too!)

TBR (Released by Smart Bitches and Dear Author – it’s a great place for book reviews and they have free stuff too!)


Last but not least, I just came across this video. This looks like a cool app too!

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And there you have it! I showed you my apps, now you show me yours.

In the comments that is. :-)


Posted in Writing Life | 12 Comments »

Creature Comforts

July 15th, 2010 by Melina

Just in case y’all needed a visual definition. . .

Posted in California Dreamin', Creature Feature | 5 Comments »

Cool Vibes + Update

July 7th, 2010 by Melina

Sending foggy thoughts!

Hi People.

First of all, don’t hate me because I’m in a place that’s about 33 degrees cooler than it is in NYC (and a lot of the North East). I feel truly awful for anybody dealing with the absolutely unacceptable heatwave from hell. In my neighborhood (language alert on that link, btw), electricity has been turned off and people are flocking to the library to cool down.

My thoughts are with you. I feel your pain. If I could bottle some fog and send it your way, I would. I promise.

I’m serious about that. Y’all know how I feel about unacceptable weather, right?

Wish I could have you over for a slumber party in the S.F. East Bay! Hang in there.

As for what’s doin’ by me:

Well, I went to work on June 24th and brought Creature with me, ended a brutal school year and dashed to JFK where it was 97 freaking degrees. I watched as TSA put Creature’s beloved toy ferret through a very intrusive inspection, and handed Creature off. I dealt with a plane delay, was reassured that Creature was being kept cool and taken care of (apparently, the diva got pissed off and knocked over the water container he was offered). The flight attendant told me everybody was quite amused by the stories the “ramp guys” were telling about him over the radio.

Really, I don’t need to know what they said.

And then, I arrived at gorgeous Chez Mom sometime after midnight, and a few days later, had to get up at 4:15 a.m. for her hip surgery.

Poor Creature worships my mother, and wants you all to know that he staged a hunger strike and kept vigil by the front door almost the whole time she was in the hospital:

Thank G-d she is home and doing just fine. She’s rocking her physical therapy exercises and keeping her spirits up, but I’ve got to say, surgery really and truly sucks, even when you’re healthy and in a great hospital, getting wonderful care. At least she had a view of the U.C. Berkeley campus.

I’m still exhausted. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

See you next time! Meanwhile, I leave you with this video clip of Creature and his bee and this video clip of Point Isabel, the best dog park in the entire universe (sans fog you’d be able to see the S.F. skyline and the Golden Gate). Notice that Mother has had the backyard redone (and how bonkers she went in the squeaky toy section of PetCo).


One exhausted, but thankfully cool, Mel

Posted in California Dreamin', Creature Feature | 7 Comments »

Goat Notes

May 24th, 2010 by Melina

Kidding Season

As promised, I’m going to shine a big bright light on my most humiliating episodes of writer-related insanity.

Without further ado, here’s writer crazy incident #1:

Y’all know I have a thing for goats (and sheep, etc.) right? I write about Crete, my father’s family is all from Crete, so it fits.

And it goes back a long way:


Last year, I found out the teacher next door spent his spring break on a goat farm to help with kidding season. Once I realized what “kidding” meant (I’m slow, especially after a long school day), I got really excited because there’s a scene in my first book wherein the hero and heroine help a goat deliver her baby.

So I bombarded him with all sorts of questions, and when he mentioned a breech birth, I spat out, “Oh yeah, I saw something like that when I was watching goat births on YouTube!!!!!”

At which point, he took a giant step backwards.

I never did get a chance to explain the reason for my research. . . :oops:

However, as soon I got home I wrote it all down, and labeled the page “Goat Notes:”

(In case you’re wondering, this is in fact the same unfortunate creepazoid who gave me that playlist. . . Yeah. Him. But “Joel” is the name of the hero in this story, not the creepazoid. Must protect the guilty.)

Here’s one of the videos I watched. I promise, it’s not gory. It’s one of the sweeter (and cheesier) videos.


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Posted in Writer Crazy, Writing Life | 3 Comments »

Have You Met My Good Friend Melina?

May 23rd, 2010 by Melina

The Craziest Girl on the Block!

So here’s a shocker. I’m a very shy, quiet, private person. (Go ahead. Take a minute to wrap your brains around that one. I’ll wait.)

Seriously, it’s true!

Okay, here’s the thing. On this blog, I get to be absolutely obnoxious. I love and adore you all, which does wonders for my inhibitions, and I have this illusion that since I write most of my posts from the privacy of my bedroom, nobody really sees them. Which is actually sort of true, but that’s not my point.

It also helps that there are two versions of me:

There’s Melina, the obnoxious me who kind of over shares.

“Have you met my good friend Melina? The craziest girl on the block. You’ll know her the minute you see her. She’s the one who is in an advanced state of shock.”

Then there’s Melissa, the “real” me.

“Modest and pure, polite and refined. Well-bred and mature.”

I’m lying. Kind of.

We’re both, as the song says, out of our minds.

Which, I’m going to blame on “writer crazy,” a rather unfortunate phenomenon I first learned about on this episode of Will Write For Wine. It was one of the first shows, which means that when I listened to it, I wasn’t a writer yet.

But now that I am, I’m a lost cause.

It started innocently enough. My first documented episode of the crazies was getting onto a bus, MetroCard in hand, and forgetting to swipe it. See, my characters were in the middle of an intense discussion, and seeing as they were hanging out in my head, instead of a bar or something, I was eavesdropping. I mean really, I had every right.

Let’s review what’s happened since then, shall we?

So far, I’ve admitted that I actually believe there are divas in my basement, and later went on to admit that when something goes wrong in my love life I get sort of excited because it makes them so happy.

Of course, there’s also the split personality (Melissa / Melina) thing.

(If you’re a regular here, I’m sure you have more to add.)

Kristan Higgins‘ post on The Sisterhood of the Jaunty Quills, in which she admitted to making out with her hand, got me thinking about all the other insane stuff that’s happened.

So, dear readers, over the next week or so, I’m going swallow my pride and admit to more acts of writer crazy. In return, I’m hoping you’ll share some of your stories too!

Stay tuned!

(Thank you to Inky Girl for use of her fabulous cartoon!)

Posted in Writer Crazy, Writing Life | 3 Comments »

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