Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Soup of the Evening, beautiful soup! (A RECIPE POST)

"If any one element of French cooking can be called important, basic and essential, that element is soup."--Louis Diat, chef for the Ritz-Carlton

After a mostly mild summer, with just a few hot days here and there, we're having our first real heat wave in my neck of the woods. Naturally, that presents a challenge when it comes to mealtimes, since one cannot subsist on ice cream--alas!--and an endless array of salads and cold sandwiches can pall faster than you'd think! 

Fortunately, I discovered a solution nearly a year ago, during a similar hot spell: vichyssoise, a cold soup that is simple, delicious, and doesn't require tons of exotic ingredients. There are countless variations on it, but in the end, the basics come down to stock (or broth), potatoes, leeks, and milk or cream.

What I didn't know when I started researching the recipe was that vichyssoise has an interesting history. Despite the name, it originated not in France, but in New York, though its invention is credited to Louis Diat, a French chef at the Ritz-Carlton. Diat remembered adding cold milk to the hot potato-leek soup his family would make and finding it delicious, so he decided to make something similar for diners at the hotel. (He named his concoction "creme vichyssoise glance," after Vichy, a town noted for its spa and its excellent food.)

I read several vichyssoise recipes, some jaw-droppingly heavy on the cream, but finally decided to stick closely to the one I found in my mother's ancient, all-but-falling apart copy of The Joy of Cooking. I did add a few of my own touches, and the results have been fairly successful--to judge by the rate at which the soup disappears! 


4-5 cups of chicken stock (for a purely vegetarian soup, you can substitute vegetable broth or water)
4-5 medium to large potatoes, diced (I use a mix of russets and Yukon Golds)
2-3 leeks, well-rinsed (white and pale green parts only)
1-2 shallots 
1/4 of an onion
1 bay leaf
Pinch of thyme
Pinch of marjoram
1 Tbsp butter or margarine
1-2 cups of half-and-half (you can even use fat-free half-and-half, because what you're mainly after is the creamy taste!)
Chopped chives
Salt, pepper to taste

Chop leeks, shallots, and onion fine and cook them in butter in a large stock pot until soft and limp. Do not brown.

Add stock, diced potatoes, bay leaf, thyme and marjoram. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer for 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Remove bay leaf. Let soup cool slightly, then puree in small batches in blender. For extra smoothness, pour soup through a fine strainer, using a rubber spatula to press it through the mesh.

Cover soup and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate in sealed container until ready to serve. (It tends to taste better the second day). Before serving, stir 1-2 cups of half-and-half into soup until blended. 

Season to taste, then sprinkle with chopped chives. (Or parsley...or even bacon, as the photograph below suggests!)

Bon Appetit!

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Sampler of 3 Time-Tested Romance Foods by Gina Conkle

Happy Summer! Don't you love the sunshine and flowers?

Warm, carefree days put me in a good mood. It's time for picnics and days at the beach or wiling away your time on a river or lake.

If winter is the season to hunker down and work hard, summer is time to relax and for me time to experiment. This summer's grand experiment has been cooking and eating like a Viking. For those of you who don't know me, I'm Gina Conkle, writer of Viking and Georgian romance.

I believe to know the soul of a people, look at their creative efforts in art and music. If you want to know the substance of their story, look at their food.

Food tells us what people valued, how they connected with the land, it reveals social structures, rhythms of daily life, and yes, even romance.

We mix food and romance together: the classic "dinner and a movie" date,  pairing aphrodisiacs champagne and strawberries, and the romantic picnic basket. If I remove the obvious chocolate, what else comes to mind when you think food and romance?

Wine? Cheese? Bread?

In researching Viking foods from seven archaeological sites, I've discovered the romantic side of Vikings. Yes, romance and Vikings in the same sentence.

Consider these 3 snapshots of Viking food history:

1) Wine

Mead is a form of wine made from one of nature's sweetest products: honey. Vikings brewed mead with different flavorings, among them rose hips. You might be surprised to discover rose hips were found in Denmark's Lejre Viking site. It's believed rose hips were used in mead-making for a nice aroma.

Does picturing a Viking drinking his flower-flavored wine make you smile?

I can see it now - a brawny warrior luring a fair Viking maiden with rose hip laced mead.

2) Cheese

What else goes with wine but cheese? In Viking lore, there's a tale of raiders attacking a village in Spain. This time, the locals beat back the northern warriors, forcing the Vikings to take refuge on an island in the middle of a river. Being ever resourceful, the Vikings decided to set aside their weapons and make cheese.

I have no doubt this peace-loving, cheese-making venture won the hearts of Spanish maidens when paired with mead. Interestingly, that region is still known for its particular hard cheese recipe brought in by these astonishing Vikings.

3) Bread

If crackers (or French Bread) are staples of modern day romantic picnics, bread was no different for Vikings. Most people think of Viking bread as flat, hearty fare pan-cooked over an open fire. It's true for many Viking longhouses. But, in Lejre, archaeologists found ovens used for bread baking. Think of lavish tables set with warm, freshly baked breads and newly churned butter. Mouth-watering, isn't it? So is Viking romance.

Check out my summer food adventure How to Eat Like a Viking blog series for the truth about Vikings and their way of life. You might be surprised.

If you're interested in Viking romance, here's an exclusive excerpt of my upcoming book To Find a Viking Treasure.

*     *     *

Icy water drenched her, the cold droplets prickling tender skin. Blood flowed like hot honey through her sluggish limbs. She slipped one hand under Brandr’s muddy tunic, and hard male flesh pebbled against her fingertips.
Brandr broke the kiss, his breath hitching sharply. His mouth hovered over hers as if the enthralling inch between their lips fed a deep need. 
He didn’t move, save his shaky grip on her arm. “Your hand...” 
His firm flesh twitched under her palm.                                                         
Was the hard-souled warrior starved for touch?
Foreheads and noses brushed as she pushed his tunic up determined to have her way. They still stood in the waterfall's mist not caring that they mere steps from the cliff. Dirt smeared Brandr’s furrowed midline. Taking her time, she wiped it off and a weave of muscles and smooth skin clenched against her hand. Enveloped in darkness, her senses came alive, touching a ridged scar on his chest, smelling pine on his skin, the uneven cadence of his voice as he whispered her name against her lips.
She sought the curve of his ribs, sliding her hands to his back—
“Sestra. No.” Brandr jerked away, his voice ragged. He held her at arm’s length.
“Why…why’d you stop?”
It was all she could do to form the question. She still tasted him on her tongue when he let her go. The waterfall crashed behind her its blast matching the uproar inside her.
Brandr tugged down his tunic. “This isn’t safe.”
“Dead men don’t care that we’re kissing.”
He chuckled dryly and picked up his sword from the mud. “No,” he said, wiping the weapon clean before sheathing it across his back.“You're soaked. Those clothes of yours need to come off.”
“Most men say that come nightfall,” she teased. “The clothes coming off part.”
He went still. “I’m not most men.”
Wet black hair fell around his face, the jaggedly cut ends grazing his jaw. Though it was nightfall, she saw Brandr clearly. The rough-hewn Viking stood like a wild beast in a rare tame moment. His tarnished silver eyes pierced her, left her tongue-tied because she put him with other men who used thralls for their pleasure.
What stopped him?

Amazon   ~   B&N   ~   Kobo   ~   iBooks

Got any special summer foods you love? Please tell me in the comments below. 

Happy Summer!

Check out my website ginaconkle.com for FREE reads

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Shana Galen's Winner

Joanna M/Ms. Awesome is the winner of the Book Boyfriend tote and the Rita-nominated books inside! Check your email, Joanna, or email me at shana@shanagalen.com


Friday, July 22, 2016

#FreeImages #FreePhotos of #Flowers White Roses from @kathrynekennedy

Sometimes it’s hard to find images that are actually free on the Internet. Today I’m sharing photos of white roses that you are free to use on your blogs, websites, etc. I own the roses and took the photos myself, so you don’t need to worry about royalties or copyright issues. Feel free to copy and paste. Enjoy!
My Magical Best,

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Fun in San Diego!

The best part of the RWA National Conference isn't just the beautiful cities we get to visit, although San Diego is pretty cool. The view from my hotel room was spectacular, to say the very least.

Getting there wasn't too horrible, despite being one of the longer days of my life. I caught brief glimpses of the Great Salt Lake from the plane during the approach to our first stop in Salt Lake City.

On Wednesday, we took a trolley tour of the city, which was great fun. I was snapping pictures as fast as I could (about 250 in all). This is one of the better ones. Just wish I could remember what it was.

We had lunch in Little Italy, and since I wasn't the one driving the trolley, I felt justified in having wine with lunch.

After that, I went a bit wild in Old Town and bought a Mexican skirt and a purse and a few other accessories.

I wore the stuff I bought to the Literacy Signing on Wednesday evening. Wish you could see the skirt in this picture. The purse was really cute, too.

During the conference, I sat through hours of great workshops and I came away with more information than I could process in such a short time and caught up with a few old friends and made a few new ones. That's me with Dee Brice, whom I met at one of the first Literacy signings I ever attended, oh so many years ago!

As always, Sourcebooks takes us out to dinner on Friday night. We've been to some pretty ritzy places in the past, and the food is always good, but I don't recall ever having a view like this from my table before!

My roomie, the current IRWA President Mellanie Szereto was a bit of a celebrity, having been nominated for a service award. In her acceptance speech--surely the shortest in the history of RWA--she said, and I quote:  "I'm not a public speaker, so I'll just say thank you."

At the Sourcebooks signing on Saturday afternoon, I gave away a whole case of books and most of my swag. It's always great to sell out, even though you aren't actually selling anything!

Saturday night was the Rita and Golden Heart Awards ceremony. I had practiced putting on my sari beforehand (it had been a while since I last wore one) and got it all tucked and pleated in record time. However, I still had to have fellow IRWA member, Judith Bastin pin the drape over my shoulder. Just can't reach that far and pin the fabric without stabbing myself!

After that, it was up at 4am to catch the plane back to Indiana, this time via San Francisco. Couldn't see the Golden Gate from the airport, and the mountains were a bit foggy. Maybe I'll get back there again someday.

The whole experience was fabulous, but the very best part????

Taking selfies with my readers!

To commemorate the conference, I'm giving away a tote bag, beach towel, notepad, pens, buttons, and books (I'll probably throw in a few more) to one lucky winner! 

All you have to do is post a comment or use the Rafflecopter for your chance to win!

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Hello, San Diego and a Giveaway!

Last week romance authors from all around the world met in San Diego, California to learn more about the business and craft of writing, meet with industry professionals, and just have fun! I love the Romance Writer's of America conference because it's a yearly meet up with old friends,  plus a way to make new friends and fangirl over my favorite authors.

This year Sourcebooks Casablanca was fortunate enough to have 5 finalists for the prestigious Rita award for excellence in romance writing. Grace Burrowes seemed to elude our attempts to get a photo together, but here are 4 of us at a reception.
Theresa Romain, Asa Maria Bradley, Shana Galen, ML Buchman
We attended a reception outside, which was sunny and beautiful. Here's a closer look at my certificate.
Another fun annual event is the Sourcebooks dinner. We went to Coronado this year, and Sourcebooks went all out with the tables and the party favors. We all received wraps to keep us warm during the chilly San Diego nights.

This was the view in the evening. We even got to see fireworks!
Finally, on Saturday night it was time for the Rita awards. None of the Sourcebooks nominees won, but we had a fantastic time anyway. And it was thrilling to see our names on the big screen!
I can't wait to go back to San Diego and enjoy more of the lovely weather and beautiful city. Where do you want to go for your next vacation? One person who comments will win this fabulous tote bag from Sourcebooks. Inside are all 5 Rita nominated books! Don't forget to leave your email address, so I can email you that you've won.

Winner chosen randomly and announced Sunday.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Advice for the newly published

A top ten list

Ashlyn Chase

One: Yes, you have to be your own #1 fan, but don’t annoy people with so much promo (and only promo) that they groan when they see yet another one from you.

Two: Try not to “hang onto” what others think of you. There will be a dozen good things and one bad—but it’s that one bad thing that will stick in your mind. Some people are just mean and don’t deserve your tears. Trust me. 

Three: Keep it in perspective. A lot of people helped you get where you are—and will keep you there. No one can afford to be a snob. There are a couple of writers I won’t even share an elevator with, because they act like they’re better than everybody else. 

Four: Have fun with your fans. Remember to know you is to love you. Let them get to know you—even if you’re shy.

Five: If you hold a contest in order to get email addresses, be sure to tell people they’re agreeing to receive your newsletter. Nothing is so rude as spam.

Six: Help your fellow authors. They’ll remember it and return the favor when you need one. If they help you first, be sure to say, “I owe you one,” and mean it. If they say, “No,” don’t get bent out of shape. They might be a whole lot more stressed than they look. (We hide it well, and we should! Our job is to entertain the masses.)  

Seven: Don’t bad mouth anybody! You never know who’s listening. And don’t take the bait when a blogger or some social media loudmouth expresses an opinion that upsets you. It may be an intentional bid for more comments and popularity. 

Eight: Try to set aside a block of time each day to write, even if it’s only half an hour. You might have a job and family, but it’s important to you, and you have every right to ask for that time to be respected. Remember that your best promo is your next book. Don’t spend so much time promoting that you cut into your writing time.  

Nine: Love what you’re writing. Readers can tell if you’re just going through the motions. Fall in love with your own hero. Put yourself in your heroine’s place. Tell your story through your characters’ eyes. The closer readers feel to the story, the longer it will stay with them.

Ten: Always try to improve your craft. Read. Take workshops. Ask for critiques (but know it’s okay to ignore bad advice.) Listen to what reviewers are saying. And most of all, keep writing! Everyone improves with practice and experience.