Squash Frittata

20150920_140015One of life’s simple pleasures for me is cooking with my wife Jeanette. I’d like to use this space from time to time to share some of our recipes. This one, a squash frittata, can be used for either a breakfast or a simple dinner. The amount of ingredients described are for a small frittata, cooked in an 8 inch cast iron skillet.

Yellow crookneck squash is very versatile vegetable. Its taste is so bland, it can be added as an extra vegetable ingredient to numerous dishes without changing them, because it tends to blend into the flavor of the dish.  But this dish highlights the squash itself, rather than using it as a background ingredient. The basic ingredients are squash, eggs, and a piece of thinly sliced prosciutto, but the dish can easily be varied. For example, in this instance, we had some padron peppers I’d roasted the night before on hand, so I added them, and if you want a vegetarian dish, the prosciutto can be omitted.

20150920_130557 In our garden we try to pick crooknecks fairly small both because they’re more tender at that size, and because it helps keep the amount of squash you have to deal with from getting totally out of control, given that squash plants tend to be such prolific producers.  Slice the squash into slabs roughly one half inch thick, then cut the slabs into pieces roughly a half inch square. Cook the squash at medium-high heat in olive oil in a non-stick pan, turning regularly with a spatula, until the exterior of the pieces begins to blister and brown–that’s key to the final outcome. You’ll need enough squash to fill the cast iron skillet about three quarters full.

20150920_131117Tear the slice of prosciutto into pieces and saute until they become crisp. Preheat the oven to 375. Brush the bottom and sides of the cast iron skillet liberally with olive oil. Add the browned squash, then crumble the crisped prosciutto over the top. In this version, we chopped the roasted peppers and added them, also. Beat four to five eggs together, pour over the contents of the skillet, add a few pinches of salt, and stir gently to mix. At this point as an option you can also sprinkle some grated Parmesan cheese over the top, but it’s good without it, too. Remember–this is a dish than can be varied easily, depending on ingredients you have on hand.

20150920_132015You’ll begin cooking the frittata on the stove top, at a low to medium temperature. You want the eggs to cook, but not to burn on the bottom.When the edges of the frittata are set at least an inch out into the pan on all sides but the middle is still wet, finish cooking in the oven, for as long as it takes for the middle to set and the top to brown lightly.

20150920_135527I think you’ll be surprised by the delicate texture and flavor of this dish. The browned squash pieces almost melt into the overall final product, giving it a slightly sweet taste and a light, fluffy feel in the mouth almost like a souffle. Eat as is, or topped with salsa. Any questions, please feel free to post and ask them.


If You Like It

During the past week I read several interesting things about the state of publishing today. One was the results of a survey conducted earlier this year of numerous authors (and if I recall correctly, I was among the respondents) by the Authors Guild, which addressed how much authors make today. According to the survey, which compared its results with a similar survey conducted in 2009, author incomes are trending sharply down. The average income of full-time author respondents, which in 2009 was $25,000–hardly a living-high wage to begin with–has dropped by 2015 to $17,500.  Only 39% of author respondents in the 2015 survey reported that they could support themselves solely with their writing, and the amount of time the average author must now spend on marketing, including by social media to try to make contact  with readers, has increased 59%. In other words, authors are having to spend much, much more time trying to market their work instead of actually writing, but despite these increased efforts, most authors are seeing their income decline.

I feel these authors’ pain, because I’m one of them. When The Strongbow Saga was originally published by HarperCollins, I could not even come close to being able to make a living from my writing. Harper’s sales of my books were dismal, and their efforts to market them were nonexistent. But I was able to get the rights to the series back in 2010 and 2011 and republished the first three books myself, then completed and published book 4 in 2013 (and book 5 is coming in 2016!). As a self-published author I was finally able to support myself with my writing–my wife, Jeanette, was even able to quit her day job, and we were able to move to Oregon, and buy the small farm where we live today.

Things change. Over the past year I, like so many authors, have seen my sales, and my income, drastically decline. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why. A large part of selling books today depends on how well your books show up on various internet search engines and programs, like Google, or Amazon’s search and recommendation engines. In previous years, The Strongbow Saga had high visibility in these kinds of channels. Now, apparently that’s not so. Ironically, part of the reason appears to be the success and popularity of the History Channel’s “Vikings” television series. There didn’t used to be very many fiction series set in the Viking period out there, but the popularity of the “Vikings” show has changed that. Nowadays the internet search engines are as cluttered with Viking fiction as my end-of-summer garden is overgrown with weeds, and it is hard to stand out when there’s so much static filling the channels. And it is a vicious circle–the less your books stand out in search engines, the less they sell. The less they sell, the less they show up….

Admittedly, I have not until now put much effort into marketing of The Strongbow Saga, simply because I have not needed to. But as I said, things change. I’m now scrambling to learn, from authors more skilled at such things than I, how to reach a larger base of readers and fans. Apparently, in this day and age authors MUST have a presence on Facebook. So now, I have an author page there, and I am hereby pledging to post on it regularly. My days as a social media recluse are over. If you spend time on Facebook (and apparently almost everyone in the entire world, except me, already does), please visit me, and follow my page, at www.facebook.com/halfdanlives. And I’ll soon be on Twitter, as well, at @StrongbowSaga. Very soon there I will begin telling a tale of horror–and it’s all true–told in tweets.

At the start of this post I mentioned that over the past week I had recently read several interesting things about the state of publishing today. Another, besides the Authors Guild survey, was about Amazon’s 20th anniversary, and all of the numerous ways in which Amazon has been an agent of change during that time to transform  publishing. You can read the full article here, but let me list just a few. In 1995, Amazon launched its online bookstore (Did you remember that they used to sell only books? I didn’t.). In 1999 Amazon began using complex computer algorithms to give readers personalized recommendations (“Other readers who bought this book also bought X”–one of those very important search engines The Strongbow Saga has become increasingly less visible in.) In 2007 Amazon introduced its first Kindle e-book reader–and also introduced its Kindle Direct self publishing platform which allowed authors for the first time to publish their books directly, without having to depend on one of the big publishers. And between 2007 and 2011, Amazon almost single-handedly developed the market for e-books, increasing their sales from being little more than a concept to becoming, in the United States and increasingly so in the rest of the world, a major percentage of all book sales.

In the course of transforming publishing, Amazon has greatly democratized it, giving more power to authors and lessening the stranglehold on book publishing that a few big publishing houses once held. But Amazon has also empowered readers, as well. Book reviews used to be written only by an elite and fairly small cadre of professional reviewers whose reviews, published in periodicals like Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and the New York Times Book Review supplement, could mean success or failure for a new book. Good reviews in these journals would mean libraries would purchase the books, and bookstores would stock and prominently display them (and as an aside, one incredible blunder HarperCollins apparently did when they launched The Strongbow Saga back in 2006 was to fail to send out review copies. As a result, no reviews at all were obtained in the big journals, and the series’ launch, indeed its very existence, went mostly undetected among libraries and bookstore buyers).

Today, that power rests with you–the readers. Another of Amazon’s innovations was to allow, encourage, and prominently display readers’ reviews of books–and once Amazon got into the business of selling everything else under the sun besides just books, reviews of those items, as well. For the first time, readers could shop for a book by finding out what other readers thought of it, rather than just some elite New York reviewer.

You, the readers, have been given a tremendous power. If you like a book, if you like an author, you now can give them your support. If an author has given you pleasure, give them something back. Write a review. Post it as many places as you’d like, but by all means include Amazon–the world’s largest seller of books today. Those reviews are among the factors than can affect search and recommendation engines. I’m speaking here not just for myself, but for all of those many, many struggling authors whose financial woes are reflected in the Authors Guild survey. Please–use your power. If you like what we have given you, please take the time and effort to give back.

Things Change

So do plans. In my post a few days ago, I explained how some unanticipated events had thrown my writing plans for this year behind schedule. I had intended that I would complete and publish The Beast of Dublin by late spring of this year, then in the fall begin the fifth and final book of The Strongbow Saga, but that did not happen.

Fans of The Strongbow Saga have been waiting too long to receive the conclusion of Halfdan’s story. I do want to risk not getting it to you by next year. Therefore, I am once again setting The Beast of Dublin aside for a time, and am turning to the final installment of The Strongbow Saga (tentative title: To the Edge of the World) with an eye to publishing it, if all goes well, in the first half of 2016. Thank you all for your patience and loyalty.

News From the Farm

20150801_121026How time flies! I did not realize it had been so long since I last posted here.

I will be in Portland, Oregon on Friday, August 7th, to teach two classes at the Willamette Writers Conference. At 9:00 AM I’ll be in a panel discussion, “Do It Yourself: Three Case Studies in Successful Self-Publishing,” with authors Annie Bellet and William Hertling and self-publishing trainer Carla King. And at 10:30 AM, I’ll be teaching “Bringing the Past to Life: Research Strategies and Methods for Writing Historical Fiction.” The Willamette Writers Conference this year has a self-publishing track block of courses that should be very helpful to any writers who are either considering getting involved in self-publishing their own work, or who are already doing so, but are looking to improve their success and skills.

But no doubt you are wondering, after having heard nothing from me for so long, where I currently am with my writing. My plan was to devote this year to completing The Beast of Dublin, a historical thriller novel set in the Strongbow Saga world which I began back in 2009, which is a stand-alone story but also is, in some ways, a prequel to the Strongbow Saga. I’d hoped to complete and publish it by summer, but as often happens, life intervened with my plans and intentions. Much of my time and energy during the first months of this year were taken up with two big issues: helping my stepdaughter Laura make the big move from Texas to Oregon, and battling with my former publisher, HarperCollins, over copyright violation issues–I discovered that they were still selling e-book editions of my books years after no longer having the legal right to do so. Both issues ended well: Laura is now happily an Oregonian, and HarperCollins and I finally resolved our differences satisfactorily, but I am behind schedule on my writing as a result. I still hope, however, to complete and publish The Beast of Dublin by the end of this year, and to write and publish the final volume of the Strongbow Saga in 2016.

But I have learned to accept, in this fourth year in my new home and life in Oregon, that writing will not take place during the summer. Our farm consumes every moment of our time during that season.

My wife, Jeanette, and I produce a significant amount of the food we consume, and each year the percentage we produce increases. We grow a large variety–over 50 different crops over the course of the year–of vegetables in our large garden, the orchard we laboriously planted in 2012 is finally beginning to (literally) bear fruit, and wild blackberries grow abundantly on our land. Summer is a time of tending to the garden, harvesting and processing vegetables and berries, and filling our two freezers with vacuum-sealed packages that will provide us with fresh organic food for the coming year.

20150801_114327This year that has all been complicated by the weather. Western Oregon is in the midst of a terrible drought. Our pastures are so dry that the grass crunches underfoot when we walk across them. The mountains had very little snowfall this past winter, and as a result rivers and streams are at record low levels. Tragically, the low water levels and much higher than normal water temperatures are wreaking havoc with the salmon and steelhead populations: hundreds of thousands have already died while trying to return to their home rivers to spawn. And the effects of the drought have been compounded by wave after wave of extremely high temperatures–we’ve had five 100 degree or higher heat waves already this summer, and virtually no rain. Last week, for example the high temperatures recorded on our farm on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were 108.5, 105.6, and 103.4. On such days, we can only work outside for relatively brief portions of the morning and late evenings, and much of that time of necessity is devoted to watering the garden and orchard and caring for the animals’ needs. And the wildfire danger is very high. Earlier this summer we scythed a wide fire break in the pasture around our home, and are now relying on the sheep to keep it eaten short.

Speaking of the sheep, this year our small herd was increased by the birth of three new lambs, and decreased by the death of one sheep. This spring for the first time we culled the herd, and killed and butchered a sheep for meat. We took Ramses, a three year old ram, who was formerly the leader of the herd. He had grown somewhat aggressive over the past year, regularly attacking the younger rams to assert his dominance over them, and even charging me several times. The herd is a much more peaceful community now, and his meat is quite tender and tasty.

Our two mature ewes each had a lamb in early spring. The first we feared would not survive its first 24 hours, because its mother, Sweetie (an absolute misnomer of a name–she has a very cranky disposition), gave birth on the far side of our property, away from the safety of the barn and the small pastures around it where the ewes have always given birth before. Only three days earlier, a cougar had been spotted prowling less that 100 yards away from the area where she gave birth. Our sheep are Soay, a semi-wild ancient heritage breed that originated on an island off the coast of Scotland, and we feared that if we tried to move the baby to safety, Sweetie might abandon it–something that sheep sometimes do if the bonding process between the mother and new-born lamb is interrupted. So we reluctantly left her to fend for herself and the lamb overnight, and our fears for its safety were increased when a cold rain fell for much of the night. But somehow it survived, and the next morning, with the help of Sigrid, our Border Collie, we  encouraged Sweetie and her lamb to slowly make their way across the pasture to the safety of the barn. We named the lamb, a male, Lucky, because we felt he was very lucky to have survived.

Our other mature ewe, Pretty Girl, who is pictured below (she has been unusually slow to lose her winter wool this year–Soay sheep normally shed their coats in the early summer), is a much better mother than Sweetie. Her lamb was born several weeks later, and quickly was awarded the name Allie, because only a few days after she was born we saw her pee–how we usually determine the sex of new lambs–and said Hallelujah, this one’s a girl!

20150727_110458The third lamb was a surprise, and did not arrive until late spring. She was born to Deidre, a young ewe who was one of the twins born to Pretty Girl last year. Because of her young age and the fact that she showed no signs at all of being pregnant, we were not anticipating a lamb from Deidre this year. Deidre is still smaller than full size, so the lamb was tiny, but has seemed very healthy from birth. It has kept us in suspense about its sex, though, because months after its birth we still have not witnessed it peeing–a fact which eventually won it the name of Nopey. In the photo below, the child-mother Deidre is on the left, Allie is in back on the right, and Nopey is in front, chewing on a mouthful of beet greens. From the shape of Nopey’s developing horns, which look similar to Allie’s (plus the absence so far of a visible scrotum), we’re beginning to hope “it” will prove to be a she.

20150727_110518And that’s the news from the farm. In my next post–which will not be so long in coming as this one was–I’ll share some photos from last year’s research trip to Ireland, including scenes that will figure in The Beast of Dublin and in the final portions of Halfdan’s story in the Strongbow Saga.


I have a pervert, sex offender duck. I thought humans were the only species capable of such behavior.

We keep chickens on our small farm, and also have two ducks. The chickens and ducks each have separate coop areas in the barn where they’re closed up at night, but during the day they all free range in a small fenced pasture that the coop area opens into. Our oldest hen, who is named Bard (she’s a Plymouth Barred Rock), doesn’t come out of the chicken coop much anymore, though. Most of her generation of chickens, our first ones, are gone now, and she’s pretty slow moving and often just looks tired.

This afternoon I was in our garden—a fenced area next to the bird’s pasture—washing a head of lettuce I’d just harvested, when I heard a horrible, prolonged distressed squawking coming from the coop area of the barn. I rushed in and saw that the sound was coming from our rooster, Goldie, who was outside of the chicken coop looking in, acting very distressed and absolutely screaming about something inside. I stepped in and saw it. We keep a foot-high board across the open doorway of the chicken coop during the day to keep the ducks out, but the male duck had gotten over it somehow, and was on Bard’s back, pinning her to the ground and raping her, holding the feathers on the back of her head tightly in his beak so she couldn’t move.

It was disturbing and upsetting, almost like coming upon someone’s grandmother being raped.

I grabbed him around the neck—none too gently—dragged him off, carried him outside flapping and gasping for air, and flung him out into the pasture.

Sigrid, our Border Collie, loves the chickens. She likes to follow them around and watch them, and sometimes will just lay down among them while they scratch and forage around her. She knows she’s forbidden to do anything that might hurt them, and shows no inclination to (she does have a game she invented that we call Rooster Tag, where she pokes the rooster in the butt or chest with her nose, then quickly jumps or spins out of reach when he tries to attack her. It’s all in fun—on her part, at least). But when she saw me throw the duck, she realized something unusual must be going on, and promptly ran over and tackled him, which sent him running squawking away down the pasture.

Poor old Bard came out of the coop and all of the other hens and the rooster gathered around her, almost as if they were trying to comfort her. She stayed outside with them for a long time—very unusual for her—and they all stayed close around her.

Eventually the male duck made his way back to the barn, where his mate, looking worried, joined him. What did the damn thing do? He charged into the chickens, scattering them, and jumped on Bard again. Apparently for him she is some kind of very enticing object of sexual desire which he can no longer resist. Both Sigrid and I rushed in and he ran away. For the rest of the afternoon, Sigrid kept the ducks under close guard, safely away from the barn and the hens, until we shut them up in their pen for the night.

20150425_170638The female duck stopped laying eggs over a year ago, and the two of them eat a lot of food, are noisy and messy, and in general give nothing back for the amount of trouble and work they require. My wife, Jeanette, and I have been planning, at some as yet undetermined point in the future, to relocate them from the barn to the freezer. It was very tempting today, while I had his neck in my hand, to go ahead and do the deed. But plucking and cleaning a duck is a time-consuming and tedious process, and it’s best prepared for in advance. However, I can see a duck-pluck party coming very soon. Sentence has been adjudged, and is awaiting execution—as is the duck.

Ancient Archery Skills

Halfdan, the protagonist of The Strongbow Saga, is an archer. In many late Medieval societies, which tended to have more rigid social class structures than did Scandinavian society during the Viking era, the bow–while still an essential element in warfare for providing missile fire against an enemy–was not considered a “noble” weapon, and archers were typically commoners, and considered of lower status than the knights who formed the elite fighting element of most medieval armies.

Viking society was far more egalitarian and pragmatic. While there was certainly a small class of nobility in Scandinavian society, membership in the noble class was not strictly determined by birth–any free man could, by virtue of achieving wealth and success through his own skill and efforts, become a chieftain, a leader of men with his own retinue of followers. And the Vikings greatly admired and valued exceptional skill with all weapons, including the bow.

I have personal familiarity with the use of a bow. Growing up, I spent many hours shooting a recurve bow, both at targets and roaming through woods near my home hunting the same kind of small game that Halfdan did. I now own a yew-wood longbow, handcrafted in the same design as Medieval English and Viking bows, which I acquired to better understand how such a bow shoots differently from modern bows, and to better describe how Halfdan shoots. And I search the old  sagas for stories of Viking archers and the shots they made, to try to ensure that Halfdan’s skill, and the shots he makes, are realistic.

Although I have never found any accounts of such feats by Viking archers, I have read accounts of skill with a bow by Medieval Mongol and Saracen archers involving such incredible accuracy and speed of fire that they seemed almost impossible to believe. But recently Jeff Hays, the very talented voice actor who narrated the audio editions of the Strongbow saga books, sent me a link to the video below. A modern archer named Lars Andersen–ironically enough, a Dane, like Halfdan–has taught himself some of the forgotten techniques and skills of those ancient archers. What he is capable of with a bow will astonish you. Watch, and be amazed.

Book 4 Now in Audio

LongHuntCover AudioThe Long Hunt, book 4 of The Strongbow Saga, is now available in an audio book edition. As with the first three books, there are a limited number of free download codes for it available. If you’d like one, send me an email at strongbowsaga @ gmail.com.

It will, of course, be a longer wait until book 5, the final book of The Strongbow Saga, will be available in an audio edition, because I have not written it yet. 😉

May you all have a holiday season filled with happiness and peace.

Best wishes,

Judson and Jeanette

Special Barnes & Noble Offer

Northman Books Inc., is the small publishing company that my wife and I set up to sell the Strongbow Saga books. Among the channels we sell the books through is Barnes & Noble. That company has provided us, as affiliated booksellers, a special discount to offer to our readers this Christmas season: 25% off any single item. The offer is good only through this Sunday, December 14th. Here’s the special coupon code and link to use:

Barnes & Noble

These additional special offers on shipping for orders from B&N.com are also available:

Free Standard Shipping on orders of $25 or More. Valid now – 12/16/14.

Free Express Shipping on orders of $25 or More. Valid 12/17 – 12/19/14.

One Day Only! Free Expedited Shipping on Orders of $50 or More. Offer valid 12/20/14 only!

And our best wishes to all for a happy, safe holiday season.



Strongbow has invaded Germany! The German language edition of Viking Warrior, book 1 of the Strongbow Saga, is now on sale as a Kindle e-book on Amazon-DE, and in the coming weeks it will be rolled out on other e-book outlets and in a print edition.

Ruth Nestvold

Ruth Nestvold

Making Viking Warrior available in a German translation is the result of a partnership with Ruth Nestvold, an American-born award-winning author who now lives and works in Germany. Ruth is the author of a number of fantasy and science fiction works, and the historical fiction series “The Pendragon Chronicles,” which is set in Britain and Ireland during the period after the Roman legions abandoned Britain, when the historical warrior Arthur–known to legend as King Arthur–led the fight against invading Saxon hordes.

Book 1 of the series, Yseult, is a retelling of the classic tragic love story of Tristan and Isolde, setting it accurately within its correct historical period and context.

Book 2 of the series, Shadow of Stone, continues Yseult’s tale against a backdrop of chaos and war as Arthur continues his doomed struggle to save Britain.

You can learn more about Ruth at her English language website and blog, and see her announcement of the release of the German edition of Viking Warrior on her German language blog.

In other news, book 3 of the Strongbow Saga, The Road to Vengeance, is now available in an audio book edition. A limited number of free download codes are available while they last–to get one, write me at strongbowsaga @ gmail.com.

Book 2 Now in Audio

Dragons Audio 4

Dragons from the Sea, book 2 of The Strongbow Saga, is now available in an audio edition, and the audio version of book 3 is in its final stages of production. Jeff Hays, the very talented voice actor who performed the audio version of Viking Warrior is continuing as the voice of Halfdan (and everyone else in the books).

We’ve created a new cover for the audio edition of book 2, using a photograph from the Danish Viking Ship Museum of three of their full-size Viking ship replicas. In coming weeks, the new cover will be added to other versions of the book as well.

As with Viking Warrior, there are a limited number of free downloads of the new audio book available. If you would like one, please send me an email at strongbowsaga @ gmail.com.