Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Traditions, Turkey and Trees

I must admit that when I realized there was a recipe theme...I freaked. I am NOT a good cook at all. In fact, when I bake cookies the first thing my children do is look at the bottom to see if they're burned. Nice. So instead of giving you a food recipe, I thought I'd give you my recipe for the perfect Thanksgiving weekend.

Step 1-Traditions: For me personally, the holiday season is all about traditions. Growing up, our Thanksgivings were always warm, comfortable, family oriented and full of great food. The best thing about this holiday was that the day always started slowly. There was no rushing around trying to get to church on time like we usually did on Christmas. Nope, there was none of that stuff. We usually went to my grandmother's house but my mom was always cooking something yummy that morning to bring along. Us kids would hang around in our pj's and watch the Macy's parade on television. (Even though I've lived within 45 min. of NYC my entire life I've never actually been to the parade. *note to self*--add that to the bucket list.) Then we'd get all dressed up and head over to Mimi's house to enjoy a ridiculous amount of food, fun, music and family. I am happy to report that my children, most Thanksgivings, have participated in the same relaxing ritual.

Step 2- Turkey: I know that turkey is the usual suspect on Thanksgiving and what I always find amusing are the numerous comments about it. I swear that cooked carcass gets more compliments every year than a virgin bride on her wedding day! Can't you hear it now? It looks gorgeous! Just LOOK at that bird! Oh my goodness, that color is to die for! I won't lie. I find myself saying the same kinds of things every year because it's true. I just think it's hysterical that we all stand around fawning over it.

Step 3- Trees: I love the holiday season, specifically Christmas. The day itself is nice but I truly adore the month leading up to it. So several years ago my husband and I started getting our Christmas tree on the day after Thanksgiving. When I was a kid I remember my parents making comments about the kooks that got their trees that early. I am now one of those kooks.Each year I make my husband and four sons trek out to the tree farm to actually cut down our tree. I have very fond memories of doing this as a child, although it was usual much closer to Christmas day. It's not just tree cutting...there's a hayride, hot cocoa, a fire pit to warm your hands and lots and lots of laughs. My husband grumbles periodically, wondering why he has to pay twice as much for the damn tree and do all of the work. *sigh* Maybe... but you can't put a price on tradition. (BTW-the picture below is from last year because I forgot my camera this year.)

You see, I am hoping that my boys will carry on this tradition someday with their own families. Whether they do it the day after Thanksgiving or the day before Christmas...I just hope they do it. To me, the traditions that we hold dear are the heart and soul of the holidays. So how about you? What holiday tradition makes it special for your family?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Grace's Secret Recipe

This has been the month for food recipes, but I pretty much stopped cooking when Beloved Offspring moved out. I can offer a recipe of a different sort, though, one having to do with my experiences in the past year as a debut author awaiting publication.

Here are some steps and ingredients that have made the road to publication a wonderful journey:

Submit your MS to a terrific contest, like the Georgia Romance Writer’s Maggie, which will see your work critiqued by several published authors who want to get you published almost as badly as you want to be published.

Attend a wonderful writer’s gathering, like the Washington Romance Writer’s Spring retreat, where you can learn the basics of pitching, some excellent craft, and some up to the nanosecond industry scuttlebutt from agents, editors, and your sister authors.

Make some writing friends from several points on the continuum, because though you’re unpublished, you can still beta read, critique, encourage, and otherwise contribute to other people’s success while you’re writing, writing, writing.

Read, and read, and read, just because you love to, but also because you can learn something from every book you pick up.

Pitch all those wonderful people at the conferences who are just panting to get their hands on the next bestseller (aka your MS in disguise—right?).

Have a couple White Russians before your impromptu pitch (this step is optional, but I’m not sure I could have pitched without it).

Write and write and write, because you love to but also because as soon as you submit that bestseller in disguise, you’re going to have to follow it up with a book that’s even better (no pressure).

Start blogging, because it’s fun (writers write—right?), and because you’re going to need that ability when your bestseller in disguise does sell (and it will) and you want to put the word out.

Practicing squealing and dancing around the kitchen, because when you get that Call, these steps are not optional.

Repeat as needed until publication results, and then repeat most of the foregoing some more, because it’s still relevant—also fun.

What about you? What were some of the ingredients and steps that lead to being published, and keep you writing even now?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sugar Rush!

Forgive me for interrupting this wonderful month of food-related blogs with something which may not seem like a big deal to anyone else but for which I am extremely thankful.

The Sourcebooks Spring 2011 Calendar is out and my book, WHAT A GODDESS WANTS, is on page 153. http://www.sourcebooks.com/images/stories/docs/catalogs/Spring2011Trade.pdf

Thank you for your time.

Now, back to the holidays. For me, the main course is not the best part of the meal. Dessert is. The meal is just something you have to forge through to get to dessert.

For Thanksgiving, my mother-in-law made pumpkin and apple pies and my new sister-in-law brought cheesecake. Ah, it's lovely to have choices.

But now that Thanksgiving is a memory, it's time for Christmas cookies. And those are even better than than all the cakes and pies combines.

Cutouts, chocolate chip, peanut butter, Russian tea, snickerdoodles, oatmeal raisin... These are the classics in my mom's repertoire. My fondest Christmas memories are not what gifts I received but helping my mom bake dozens and dozens of cookies. And then spending the next month eating them at every possible moment.

My personal favorites are peanut butter and Russian teas. When done right, they melt in your mouth. And my mom's are always delicious.

When my guys were younger, I made batches of cookies that we ate in about a week and for which I felt guilty for the next month. Last year, I made chocolate chips. Maybe two dozen. And it just didn't seem like Christmas.

This year, watch out. I'm making cutouts, chocolate chips, peanut butter and I'm planning to attempt my mom's Russian teas. I'm even going to make saltine candy, peppermint bark and chocolate macadamia nut bark.

I will not feel guilty about eating any of it. I will run more miles. Yes, I will.

My Mom's Russian Tea Cookie Recipe
1 cup softened butter & 1 tsp vanilla, creamed together. Sift together 1/2 cup 10x sugar, 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour and 1/4 tsp salt add to butter & vanilla and stir in 3/4 cups finely chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts). Roll into 1 inch balls and bake 14 to 17 minutes at 400 degrees. Roll in sifted 10x sugar while still hot.

Happy Seasonal Eating!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

"Back of the Box" Thanksgiving

by Tamara Hogan

I'm not the world's greatest cook. Actually, let me correct that - the food I cook is actually pretty tasty, but let's just say the fewer the ingredients, the better. Most of my go-to recipes have:

- 5 ingredients or less,
- can be assembed using largely pre-packaged ingredients, or
- have the words easy, simple or brainless in the title

My most well-thumbed cookbook is called "The Back of the Box Gourmet."

I don't have a lot of patience for complexity, fuss, or dishes. If the recipe is putzy, it's not for me. And that's okay, because I have a repertoire of utterly brainless, calorie-laden recipes that friends and family BEG me to make, year after year.

Mark and I are hosting my family for Thanksgiving this year, with the event being pretty casual, and heavy on the appetizers:

Kari's Nacho Dip
1 lb. hamburger, browned
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 jar of salsa 
1 small block Mexican Velveeta Cheese

Instructions: In large pan on stovetop, brown hamburger. Add soup, salsa and Velveeta, stir/mix until cheese is melted and all ingredients blend. Voila! Ready to serve with tortilla chips. I keep mine warm in a small crockpot.

I know, the cream of chicken soup seems really out of place ("One of these things is not like the other...") but work with me here.

Artichoke Dip 
1 can artichokes
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1 cup Miracle Whip
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp. garlic
Optional: real bacon bits to taste

Instructions: drain artichokes, squeezing out all that nasty can juice. Break apart artichokes into a medium sized bowl. Add all other ingredients. Stir. Heat in oven, microwave, or crockpot until bubbly.

I realize "bacon bits to taste" is a very dangerous statement. I personally can eat my body weight in bacon in a single sitting. But please--control yourselves.

Parmesan Cheese Crisps (ONE INGREDIENT! ONE!)
8 oz. shredded parmesan or provelone cheese

Instructions: heat a non-stick skillet to medium-high heat. Spoon 1 tbsp. of cheese into skillet. Let it melt, browning slightly, approx. 2 minutes. No need to turn. Using a spatula or similar tool, scoop crisps out of pan onto a cooling rack. Repeat until all cheese is crisped.

<Taking a bow> I know. You can thank me later. ;-)

For the meal, in addition to Mark's Squashy Potatoes (basically mashed potatoes combined with butternut squash), we'll be serving up the following pan o' cholesterol goodness:

Sheila's Cheesy Hash Browns
2 lb. bag of frozen cubed hash browns, thawed
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 stick of melted butter 
1 pint heavy whipping cream

Instructions: Spread thawed hash browns in a 9 X 13 pan. Add mozzarella cheese and mix until evenly distributed with potatoes. Pour melted butter and whipping cream over the hash brown/cheese mixture. Bake in 350' oven for 1 hour or until brown and bubbly. 

Heaven, I tell you. Heaven.

Turkey? Oh, yes, there will be turkey. Mom's on turkey patrol, thank god - and there will be plenty of leftovers. 

What's your favorite thing to do with leftover turkey? 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Holiday Recipes for the Troops

Post-Thanksgiving Greetings! Catherine Mann here, with a slightly different twist on our November recipe exchange. For those of you who've read my backlist, you know that many of my books have military themes, no surprise as I'm married to my own Air Force flyboy hero.

In counting my Thanksgiving blessings this year, I'm especially thankful to have my husband home for the holiday weekend. As a military family, my husband and I have spent more than a few holidays, birthdays and anniversaries apart. In fact, my sister and niece are with us now since my brother-in-law is deployed. And my daughter's military boyfriend is overseas as well. We've spent a good deal of time and thought wedging treats and gifts to send to our loved ones far away. (My grandma, also a military spouse, used to pack all her gifts in bags of marshmallows or bags of real peanuts rather than the styrofoam kind!)

So for our November theme of holiday recipes, I would like to take the opportunity to share with you a website with info on "desert safe" recipes and other tips for mailing baked goods to a deployed soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. http://amelonumc.com/clientimages/49635/desert-saferecipes.pdf

Here's my favorite "desert safe" recipes:
Butterscotch Scotchies
1 1/4 c all-purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 c butter-flavored vegetable shortening
1 1/4 c granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange peel
2 T water
3 c quick or old-fashioned oats, uncooked
1 2/3 c butterscotch flavored morsels

Preheat oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Grease 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pan.
Combine flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in small mixer bowl. Beat shortening, sugar, eggs and orange peel in large mixer bowl until creamy. Gradually beat in flour mixture and water. Stir in oats and morsels. Spread batter into prepared baking pan . Bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars.

My endless thanks to all our men and women in uniform. I appreciate your sacrifice. Wishing you all a blessed holiday season!
I would love to hear your tips for mailing baked goods and other treats to family and friends, whether they be overseas or just a few states away....

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It's All About the Pie

Let’s face it: turkey is fine, mashed potatoes lovely. Cranberry relish, green bean casserole, squash—all very nice. But truly, it’s all just a prologue to the pie. One year, we counted 13 pies at our family gathering…for 20 people. Pecan, apple, raisin, mincemeat, pumpkin, cherry, banana. Whatever happens to be handy, you can guess that someone in my family will make a pie out of it.

I wish I had a recipe to share with you, but for the most part, the folks in our family (Grandpa included!) are big fans of the wing-it method. You peel and slice some apples, throw them into a pie crust, add butter, sugar and cinnamon and pop it into the oven. You just make it so it tastes good.

I think many would look at writing the same way. So many people try to say that romance is formulaic, that it’s all the same. Yes, we know there have to be certain ingredients (a pause here while we silently recount the criteria for a romance novel to ourselves), but it’s hardly a strict recipe. Some prefer the sweeter side, while others go a bit spicy.

The only way you’re ever going to know what “tastes good” is by reading a ton of books in the genre. What are the trends? What makes certain heroes more drool-worthy than others? What traits leave a bad taste in the mouth? What’s already been done? How can you take a theme that is popular and give it your own twist? You want to stay familiar enough to be accessible yet have a bit of a surprise element to give the book your own stamp.

Winging it doesn’t mean you’re throwing elements together without a plan. It means you’ve done enough research to know what works and what doesn’t. It means you’ve carefully studied the books on the bestseller lists, worked to identify the themes that make them so appealing, and then found a way to incorporate similar elements into your own writing, while still maintaining a unique flavor. Not exactly “as easy as pie,” but when done right, the effort will be so worthwhile.

Hope you all have a delicious Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Memories

By Anita Clenney

As a child, I lived near several aunts and uncles, so cousins were plentiful. Most of the men, and a couple of aunts, are hunters, and had been going to the same hunting spot for decades. This has been a tradition in my family going back to before I was born.

Since Thanksgiving coincides with hunting season, and the men had a limited time off from work, they would usually go hunting, sometimes spending the holiday weekend in order to load up the freezer with venison. This meant they missed Thanksgiving dinner, but was it ever a blast for the kids! All the women and kids had a big sleepover. After a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, we stayed up late, the women gossiping and making fudge and cookies while the kids played and tried to eavesdrop on the gossip. The men would come home and enjoy the Thanksgiving leftovers before they started butchering the deer. Sounds like something from another century, right? Kind of matches the picture, and we are part Cherokee, although you can't tell it by looking at me. Now my paternal grandmother, she looked just like Geronimo. But we always had plenty of meat and lots of fun, even though we didn't have much money.

Now that I'm grown and married, we celebrate Thanksgiving at my parents or my husband's grandmother's house. Unfortunately, his grandmother passed away in February so the official dinner will be at his aunt's house instead, but there will be wonderful food and fond memories to be shared. His grandmother was the most incredible lady, full of energy and zest right up until a couple of weeks before she died. Her second husband flew Air Force One so she had lots of stories and lots of friends around Washington. She had her bridge parties, her weekly visits to the hair and nail salon, drove like a Nascar driver, and managed the family like a true matriarch. She lived life fully and lived it well. I hope to have that much energy when I'm her age. Actually, I'd like to have it now.

Then, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, we're going to my parents' for an after Thanksgiving dinner because my father, brother, and nephew will be hunting. But why stop at two dinners? I was craving turkey this past weekend so I cooked a pre-Thanksgiving dinner. I feel kind of like I cheated, but it was yummy. I think I've gained weight already just thinking about all the good food I have and will consume this holiday. Exercise anyone? Truly, does anyone know any really good diets?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Demonic Turkeys

Since this is my first post with the Casablanca Babes, I thought I'd take a minute to introduce myself before I get into the meat (or turkey, considering it’s almost Thanksgiving!) of my post.

For those who don’t know me, I’m new to the Casablanca line. My first release with Sourcebooks, TEMPTED, hits store shelves in October 2011. This is actually the third book in my Eternal Guardians series. The first two books, MARKED and ENTWINED, released in May and August, respectively. In addition to dark paranormals, I also write sexy romantic suspense and my next RS release is an anthology with Kensington in June. If you’d like to learn more about me and my books, I’d love it if you’d stop by my website at http://www.elisabethnaughton.com/ (and be sure to drop me a note if you do!)

Okay, now on to the fun stuff…Turkey Day! I hate to admit it, but I’m not a big fan of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. (And I hope I’m not going to be blackballed admitting that on my first day!) It’s not that I don’t enjoy being with family – I do! – its simply that I can’t stand turkey. This aversion stems from childhood and it’s not a pretty memory. You see, I grew up on a small farm in Eastern Oregon and one year my parents raised turkeys. We had three. Three very mean “demons” as I called them. It was early fall, school had just started, and the turkeys roamed our property at will. I’d ridden the bus home from school, walked up the drive and realized that the front door was locked. Whenever my mom mopped the entry floor, she’d lock the door so my brothers and I wouldn’t tromp mud all over the place, and she often wouldn’t hear us knocking if she was at the back of the house. My older brother, being the loving older brother he was, talked me into going around to the back and entering through the sliding glass door so I could then unlock the front door for him. And being the lowly younger sister that I was, I had no choice but to follow his command…er, direction.

I knew the demons were in the backyard somewhere, but I figured if I was quiet enough, they wouldn’t hear me. I carefully crept around the side of the house, peeked through the bushes. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary and thinking I was safe, I darted onto the back deck, then froze mid-step when I saw the turkeys camped out behind the deck furniture.

I’m sure you can imagine my reaction. I was probably only 8 or 9 at the time. My heart raced. I took a step back. I’d never liked those turkeys in the first place but that day I’m convinced their eyes turned red and they smelled my fear. They jumped up, ran right for me. I screamed, dropped my bag and ran the other way. And being the evil demonic beings that they are, they spread their wings, shrieked (I swear it sounded like a blood-curdling shriek), and attacked.

My mother saw the horror from the kitchen window and came tearing out to save me, frying pan in hand. By this time I was already in the garden, running between rows of corn, trying frantically to get free. She managed to scare them away, and my brother, peeking around the corner of the house, got a good laugh out of the whole thing, but I was never the same again. To this day I have a severe aversion to large fowl (you should see the way I will run an extra mile simply to avoid a darn goose in my running path!), and every time I smell turkey cooking, I think of those evil birds and how mean they were.

I suppose, considering my trauma, it should be logical to enjoy frying the bastards, but my reaction is the opposite. I’d simply rather avoid the whole affair. Mashed potatoes and stuffing I like, but just the smell of turkey cooking turns my stomach. My absolute favorite Thanksgiving meal is lobster. I know that sounds strange, but my mother has cooked lobster several times for Thanksgiving and I’ve never been happier. In fact, whenever she talks about Thanksgiving Day plans, I’m always rooting for seafood rather than fowl.

I know most people don’t think lobster is a dream holiday meal, so these days when I’m invited somewhere for the traditional Thanksgiving feast, I keep in mind what’s important about the holiday to begin with—which is simply spending time with the ones we love and being thankful for the blessings we have. Of course, there is a small part of me—a tiny part, really—that’s also thankful a turkey on the table, even if I won’t eat it, means one less demon roaming the earth waiting to attack me when I least expect it.

In honor of my very first post with the Casablanca Babes, I’m giving away a copy of MARKED, book one in my Eternal Guardians series, to one lucky commenter today! Simply tell me your favorite (or least favorite!) Thanksgiving memory.

And since I’m a non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner kind of girl, here’s my version of a yummy non-traditional Thanksgiving dessert:

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch or 1/2 cup flour
3 cups milk
4 eggs
1 T margarine or butter
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup coconut
2 bananas, sliced (optional)
baked pastry shell
whipped cream for topping

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch or flour. Gradually stir in milk. Cook and stir over medium-high heat till mixture is thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat; cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.

Separate egg yolks from whites. Beat egg yolks lightly with a fork. Gradually stir about 1 cup of the hot filling into yolks. Return all to saucepan; bring to a gentle boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Stir in margarine or butter, vanilla and flaked coconut. Pour the hot filling into a baked pastry shell (can line shell with banana slices if desired). Cover pie with plastic wrap to prevent skin from forming. Refrigerate until set.

Top with whipped cream and serve!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Fantasy Thanksgiving

My December release, BENEATH THE THIRTEEN MOONS, is just around the corner, so I’d like to share a Thanksgiving dinner that might be eaten on this fantasy world of Sea Forest. It’s a landless planet where giant trees grow up from the ocean floor to support all life within their canopy, so since it will be an unusual meal, I will be describing many of the items I mention in the book for the feast.

You could drink some water from the globe of a krizm vine, which is red. Don’t pick the pink globe, cause that’s a dedo—a creature that mimics the krizm, but bursts out of its shell on contact and forms a hellish cage to strangle whatever touched it.

Although you might prefer something stronger, like quas-juice, which is an alcoholic beverage fermented from a purplish plant that grows near the top of the enormous trees, where they store fresh water from the nightly rain.

Grilled pig-fish and chaka eggs would accompany a meal in the swamplands. Chaka eggs are from a chicken that has adapted to Sea Forest by losing its feathers and slithering through shallow waters, laying their eggs within soggy moss. Pig-fish is a pink, snout-nosed fish native to Sea Forest, but named by humans for the earth animal it resembles.

Fly-fish would be a special treat, as they are rather hard to catch without injury. They form swirling columns just above the surface of the water before submerging once again. You have to be fast to catch them in mid-air, and likely to get cut from the sharp fins of the rest of the school.

Farnuts and redshoots are set out in the same way we put out bowls of nuts and candy. Farnuts grow in long strings hanging from the higher branches in the canopy, and it’s easier to cut the vines rather than pluck each nut, but you might kill the crop, so those that live in the swamps take the time to pluck them. The outer shell is nasty looking, hairy and black, but inside the nut is green and round, and sweet as honey. Redshoots are plants that grow in the water, and when harvested and dried, turn a bright red color with crystals formed on the outside from the dried juice on the inside. The crystals are sweet, leaving the inside stalk chewy and pleasantly sour.

If someone is very, very lucky, like my heroine on the day she took down a birdshark, the tough meat can be heavily spiced, wrapped in mongo leaves (which aren’t the largest leaves on Sea Forest, but the least bitter), then cooked in a coal-filled hollow of a tree stuffed with damp moss until tender. A birdshark is enormous, named for the jagged shark-like teeth in its beak, and could feed a small village for a week.

This is only a few of the items that you might eat on Thanksgiving on the world of Sea Forest. I mainly focused on the swamp dweller’s food, for the variety that could be had in the Palace Tree would boggle the mind (as it did poor Jaja, my heroine’s pet monk-fish. When they finally left the palace, the little scamp had to be rolled out the door.)

Although humans do celebrate Thanksgiving on Sea Forest, it falls at a different time than here on earth. It coincides when all thirteen moons are at the full; the day the colonists landed safely on their new planet.

So, is there any particular food I mentioned that you think you might like to try? Or have you tried any new foods lately, for good or ill? I’d love to hear from you!

My Magical Best,

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Blest Be The Tie That Binds

By Mary Margret Daughtridge

When I was a little girl, Thanksgiving dinner preparations started in July.

We might have roast turkey or sweet potato pie anytime there was a large crowd coming to dinner. But pickled peaches were a delicacy, reserved for state occasions and religion-sanctioned holidays. Like Thanksgiving.

"Getting ready for Thanksgiving” officially began on whatever hot day in July Daddy came home with a couple of bushels of glowing, golden peaches.

With Mama issuing orders, we sprang into action. No cooking dinner today. Yellow freestone peaches (not too big, not too small) at the exact, perfect stage of ripe-yet-firm and ready to be pickled, waited for no woman.

My brother David (In my movie-memory of those days he’s always around eleven with serious blue eyes and crew-cut, blond hair) was sent to the pantry to bring out cartons of dusty canning jars.

I was set to washing them at the sink. At nine, I was too young to be trusted, and too short anyway, to put the washed jars into the big vat of boiling water to be sterilized. That job went to Bette, our "help," six fee tall and built like a linebacker.

At the stove, Mama mixed vinegar, sugar and spices into pickling syrup. Her round face already shiny with steam and sweat, she kept everyone moving.

Hot as it already was in the kitchen, it was going to get hotter. She dispatched my freckled, seven-year-old brother Joey to bring to the kitchen the black oscillating fan and the big, rattling, roaring box fan, and hook them up with extension cords. Mother believed Joey showed budding talent with things electrical.

Meanwhile out on the back porch, David filled the galvanized wash tub with cool water and washed the peaches.

Once all the jars were washed and awaiting bubbling baptism, I was put to work making pimento cheese sandwiches and the universal lubricant, iced tea. And anyone who wasn’t doing something else sat down at the chipped, green-painted kitchen table to peel peaches.

Anyone included all children, Mama, Bette, and my skinny little live-in grandmother, plus any neighbors who dropped by, and any friends of us children who came looking for playmates. If you had two working hands and were old enough to know which end of the knife was which, you peeled. When Daddy came home from work for lunch (we called it dinner) he ate a pimento cheese sandwich and peeled too.

I remember those days two ways. I remember sweat pooling underneath me on the hard chair. It stuck my bare thighs to the seat so that every squirm was accompanied by rude, slurping sounds. I remember us kids whining and complaining and pointing out the unfairness of it all. I remember no sympathy—only the adage, “Many hands make light work.”

But I also remember how repartee was an indoor sport in our house and any occasion that had us all sitting down together was an appropriate arena. We laughed until we had to stop peeling to wipe our eyes on paper napkins. We held contests to see who could separate the longest strip of fuzzy peach skin from the slick, golden flesh.

And all the while with every passing minute, the steamy perfume of fresh peaches, cinnamon, and clove, made tangy with vinegar, drugged with sugary sweetness grew stronger and thicker, enfolding us all in a distillation of bounty and beneficence.

When we began to tire and conversation around the table flagged (or degenerated into squabbling) Mother would sometimes ask me lead a hymn. With me to keep us on pitch, everyone joined in. Mama sang in a wobbly soprano. My little brother in his sweet little boy treble, my grandmother in her cracked, old-lady voice, Bette in a contralto smooth and rich as top cream.

In addition to hymns, we took requests. Joey wanted Home, Home on the Range. David favored Battle Hymn of the Republic—but you didn’t sing that Yankee song around my grandmother—so he settled for From the Halls of Montezuma. He also called for Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. We sang it, although I’m sure it was all Bette could do to keep a straight face at the white folks’ rendition. The singing was over when Mama called for Blest Be The Tie That Binds.

I remember the absolute democracy—or do I mean communism? Mother commanded, but she worked the hardest of us all. Black and white, young and old, everyone contributed according to their strengths, and come Thanksgiving, everyone partook according to their tastes.

Times change.

Back in those days, in every household, someone was putting up peaches, but I don’t know anyone who makes pickled peaches anymore. Certainly, I don’t.

And I don’t cook a big meal either. What “makes” Thanksgiving for me is not the food—not even pickled peaches—but the coming together to prepare.

A couple of weeks ago a close group of friends and I agreed that we didn’t want to just show up somewhere and eat. What we wanted to do was to work together.

So bearing made-ahead dishes we’ll gather early at the home of the one who still owns a dining room table, and all together we’ll make the rest.

Maybe I’ll even get them to sing Blest Be The Tie That Binds.

“Blest be the tie that binds/Our hearts in Christian love,

The fellowship of kindred minds/Is like to That above.”

Though I expect Home, Home on the Range will do as well.

Truth is, nobody does a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving anymore. So what "makes" Thanksgiving for you?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thanksgiving Goodies!

*sigh* I just love Thanksgiving. For me, there's nothing quite like the aroma of roasting turkey, and I'd probably bake one whether anyone was there to share it with me or not.

I remember lots of wonderful Thanksgivings at my grandmother's house, but for the past twenty years, it's just been me, my DH, and my two sons at the table. Having another woman on hand to help with the clean-up would be nice, but since Mike usually volunteers, I'm not complaining!

The following is a recipe I got from my grandmother about thirty years ago, and it's my favorite Thanksgiving/Christmas/pitch-in side dish. It's easy to make, easy to transport, and I haven't met anyone yet who doesn't like it.


1 pkg Ore-Ida hash brown patties (27 oz) thawed and crumbled up
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
½ cup chopped onion
1 can Campbell's cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

Mix all together and spread in greased 9 X 13 pan
Mix one stick melted butter with 1 ½ cups of crushed cornflakes and spread over the top.
Bake @ 350 for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

A tasty treat warmed up alongside your scrambled eggs on Black Friday, it's even good cold, but best of all, it makes a terrific addition to my favorite soup in the whole wide world:

Thanksgiving Leftover Soup

After dinner is over, strip the meat off the bones and throw all of the bones, skin and whatever else is left in the bottom of your roasting pan into the biggest pot you've got and fill it with enough water to cover. Then let it simmer all evening. After that, if it's cold enough, I put the whole thing out on the deck for a while to cool down. Then I strain the broth and throw away the bones.

Refrigerate the broth overnight, and then scrape the fat off the top and discard. Put the broth back in the pot and chop up your leftover turkey, saving some for sandwiches if you like, and throw it in along with any other leftovers that would be good in soup. I put in the gravy, the dressing, the green beans, the broccoli casserole, and the potato casserole and let it simmer until lunchtime and serve.

You can feed your family on this for several days, or freeze it for those cold winter nights when you want something to warm your tummy, but don't feel like cooking. It's absolutely fabulous!

As always, the hunk is optional, but adds to the enjoyment!

Thursday, November 18, 2010


By Deb Werksman
Editorial Manager
Sourcebooks Casablanca

One of the things that’s so wonderful about the romance category is that it crosses over so beautifully with the sci-fi/fantasy category in paranormal romance and with the mystery/thriller category in romantic suspense.

However, each of these categories is distinct, both at the bookstore level with different buyers, and at the level of reader expectations.

In the romance category, the relationship between the hero and heroine—the love story—is the raison d’etre for the book. It must be central to the plot and the tension between them must be sustained throughout the entire story. Where in the sci-fi/fantasy category the world-building is the raison d’etre of the book, in paranormal romance the world-building must take second place to the love story. Where in mystery/thriller the suspense is the raison d’etre, in romantic suspense, the suspense must take second place to the love story.

The reason I bring it up is because I’m seeing so many manuscripts where the love story is being superseded by something else—and these books are intended for the romance category, so it’s a problem. It’s the main revision I’m asking for these days—and not only from debut authors.

So it’s important to ask yourself, what’s the source of the reader’s emotional experience in my book? Is it the world I’ve created? Is it the mystery/suspense that gets unraveled? Or is it the love story?

If your answer isn’t “the love story” then you need to either reconceive, or aim toward a different category. Today’s marketplace is categorical for a reason—with so many books being published (1.2 million last year!) booksellers need a very clear idea of where to put the book to reach its readership.

Here’s some data:

Top 50 Romance mass market bestsellers and Top 50 Thriller/Suspense mass market bestsellers each sold about the same quantity last week, with Thriller/Suspense ahead by about 2,000 units

Top 50 Sci fi fantasy mass market bestsellers sold through altogether about 14% of what Romance or Thriller/Suspense sold

Top 50 Mystery mass market bestsellers sold through about 25% of what Romance or Thriller/Suspense sold

Here’s what I’m looking for:

*Single title romance 90,000 to 110,000 words in all subgenres: paranormal, historical, romantic suspense, contemporary, erotic romance

*a heroine the reader can relate to

*a hero she can fall in love with

*a world gets created

*a hook I can sell with in 2-3 sentences

*the author has a career arc

I can’t wait to see what you all are writing!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A British Thanksgiving

This month we’re remembering holiday meals of years' past. I don’t have a story about a meal that came out wrong. No one trusts me to cook. For example, this year I am charged with bringing fruit salad to Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve been told it’s because I do such a nice fruit salad. Uh-huh.

I do have a story about a memorable Thanksgiving. In 2000 I was in Leeds, England visiting a friend over the week of Thanksgiving. She’s an American and was without family that Thanksgiving. I wanted to get away because my fiancé had dumped me and called off the wedding a few months before…but that’s a different story.

So there we were in England. It was cold and rainy and damp as only northern England can be. I brought two cans of pumpkin in my suitcase, so my friend and I could have some sort of Thanksgiving meal in between visiting the home of the Brontes and stopping in every local pub in the greater Leeds area. I had an affinity for cider that year.

So Thanksgiving Day we walked to the grocery store. My friend didn’t have a car, and this might be hard to believe, but lots of English don’t have cars. They actually walk and take the bus everywhere. I’ve never walked so much in my life except for the other times I’ve been in England.

At the store, we were looking for pre-made pie crusts in which to dump the cans of pumpkin I had lugged all the way across the Atlantic. But there were no pre-made pie crusts to be found. Apparently, the English not only don’t drive, they make their own pie crusts. I don’t know where they find the time with all that extra walking they do. We had to settle for two tart crusts. I guess the English don’t make their own tart crusts. And remember, the UK doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, so they hadn’t stocked up on Thanksgiving supplies like the stores in the US. We bought some other Thanksgiving essentials—I can’t remember what now—but not many because we had to carry all of it home on that long walk.

Back at the flat (love saying that), we started to make pumpkin pie, which attracted the amused interest of my friend’s roommates. They thought pumpkin pie sounded disgusting. Of course, blood pudding is so much more appetizing. Right away, we knew we had a problem. The directions for cooking the pumpkin pie—which we had to divide in two since we had two small tart crusts instead of one large pie crust—were in Fahrenheit, and the ovens in England were in Celsius. The metric system strikes again!

And now we had to make sure the pie was good or prove my friend’s roommates correct. Luckily, my friend was getting her PhD in geophysics or something smart like that, so she could do the conversions. We hoped.

We put the pie in, went and sat by the radiator where our jeans were drying (no dryers in England as far as I can tell), and watched “East Enders.”

Some time later the pie was done, and we invited everyone to join us. Much as the Pilgrims may have hesitated when the Indians offered them new fare on that first Thanksgiving, our British friends hesitated to taste the pumpkin pie—or were they tarts? But after the first bite everyone wanted seconds.

And you thought I could only make fruit salad.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Turkeys at the Table

by Joanne Kennedy
When we gather around the table on Thanksgiving Day, we should recognize the fine qualities of the all-American turkey - you know, the extraordinarily fat, round one lying flat on his back with his legs sticking up in the air. No, I'm not talking about Grandpa Joe over there on the sofa digesting his dinner; I'm talking about the actual turkey.

His supine pose isn't the only similarity the festive fowl bears to your family and friends. Take a good look at a real live turkey sometime. A tom turkey has a wrinkly face, beetled brows, wattles, and hair in his ears - just like Grandpa Joe. He's constantly red in the face from exertion and fury, and is so profoundly overweight that he has difficulty standing upright even when he's not watching a bowl game on ESPN. Hens, on the other hand, are thinner and seem to be in a perpetual state of frazzled panic - just like the cook in the kitchen.

Glancing around the table, you might note other similarities between turkeys and humans. For example, only the males "gobble," while the hens "chatter." And like Grandpa Joe, boy turkeys are all bluster and no bite. A turkey will chase you, but he won't actually attack (hence the term "jive turkey"). As a matter of fact, turkeys are so timid that the Apaches refused to use their feathers on their arrows. They knew that turkeys are chicken.

So when the "toms" at the table want to argue about politics or the relative merits of the Broncos over the Cowboys, just wait them out. They'll eventually go to roost, wattles wobbling, indignant but harmless.

Behind all the bluster, the turkey is a noble creature. In fact, it's widely rumored that Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to be our national bird.

This is a myth. In reality, he thought the turkey on the national seal was so badly drawn it looked like a turkey. In a letter to his daughter, he declared that this was not a bad thing, because the turkey is, "though a little vain and silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on."

I suspect Grandpa Joe would attack the Grenadier, too.

If you calculate the ages of your children in turkey years, your eleven-year-old has ceased to be a poult and has become a young roaster. (If you call him this, you'll probably get to see a preview of the bluster he'll perfect by the time he reaches Grandpa Joe's age.) At around twenty, your young roaster will be mature - or at least he would be if he was a turkey. Of course, he'd also be displayed belly-up in the freezer case at the local Safeway, so be grateful that your child is not poultry.

As you eat your plate of turkey this year, you can also be grateful that your brain is bigger than the turkey's (which is the size of a walnut and boasts about as much wattage as the brain of a cockroach) and that your position on the food chain is a little higher up than the denizen of your dinner plate.

The preceding fabulous factoids are due to my failure as a Thanksgiving chef. I had to offer research rather than recipes because my rendition of the holiday meal involves Safeway's deli counter and Swanson Frozen Entrees. But this year I'm actually going to cook! So please offer any fool-proof (a.k.a. Joanne-proof) recipes and culinary disaster-aversion techniques in the comments!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Recipes? From me???

Trust me, you don't want my cooking. But my mother-in-law is an excellent cook and hosts Thanksgiving each year. She's from Slovania and has a fascinating life story.

Back when her home was known as Yugoslavia and was under communist rule, she was smuggled out of the country to relatives in France. From there, she was sent on to Canada where there was an arranged marriage waiting for her. She was 16 years old.

She stayed in that marriage hoping love would grow, but it never did. Fortunately, she had a wonderful daughter to love and is now a loving grandmother. She's back in Canada visiting them as we speak.

For her, hard work has never been a burden...it's just part of life. I admire so many things about her, and I'm glad she finally found love. My father-in-law has just been through a bout of Cancer. A brilliant new treatment saved his life and he's now cancer free. I'd never heard of it before, but I haven't kept up with the medical advances that have occurred over the last 9 years since I worked as a nurse. I expect we'll be celebrating a little more this Thanksgiving.

Now, your recipe--one I learned from my mother-in-law...

2 cups of courage
1 cup of hope
Mix with hard work geared to individual taste
A heaping teaspoon of determination
Maybe a pinch of luck (optional)
and sprinkle liberally with a positive attitude.

All that with a side of gratitude will make your Thanksgiving wonderful.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

No (Turkey) Soup for You!

Thanksgiving for my family means birthdays. We have 3 members of my immediate and extended family (families?) who have birthdays, so in addition to the normal Turkey Day fare, I have to work in birthday cakes and ice cream. Trust me, the kids, especially, don't complain. They never were big on pumpkin pie, and while they didn't used to like my homemade apple pie, they've started to. Hubs always put in requests for cherry or blueberry pies, so we already have enough deserts (the extended family isn't that big!). Toss in THREE birthday cakes, and we might as well forego the turkey and all the trimmings.

This year, that's what we're going to do. But we'll forego the birthday cakes, too.
This year, we're doing something different.

My children have been lucky enough to grow up in a good neighborhood, with nice things, tons of friends, lots of support, good schools. All the things you want for your kids, and we're glad to give them.

But it's sort of blinded them to what else is out there in the world. They see MTV's Cribs, or the lavish lifestyles of the Real Housewives or Bam Margera's high-priced antics and rarely get a dose of reality. I do love watching Extreme Home Makeover with them, to show them how blessed they are and what it means to give back.

So that's what we're doing this year. We've found a local charitable organization that can use volunteers for the holidays and we signed up. The kids, as teenagers are wont to do, would rather lounge around and pick at turkey legs and three birthday cakes, but they're good kids and are willing to listen to mom.

I've always said I was going to do this, but never made the time--and with my deadline and working full time, I still don't have the time. But I'm making it. And while we're there, we'll sign up for more dates because it's the right thing to do.

[And because my thighs don't need three cakes' worth of calories. ;) ]


My homemade apple pie recipe. I beat out my cooking teacher who taught me how to bake the pie with this recipe - which is the one she gave me and entered!

Judi's Apple Pie

Preheat oven to 350

Crust: 2 C flour
1 t salt
2/3 C + 2T shortening
4-5 T ice-cold water

Toss salt with flour. Cut shortening in with a pastry blender until it forms small pebble-sized clumps. Add 3T of the ice water, toss with a fork. Work dough with your hands, adding more ice-water as needed. Depending on humidity in the air, you might need more or less water or flour to form a large ball of dough. Separate into 2 balls, cover with a damp paper towel and let sit.

Pie Filling: 6 apples, peeled and sliced thin
3/4 C sugar
2 T flour
1/2 t cinnamon
dash salt

Mix sugar, flour, salt and cinnamon in bowl with a fork. Add apples, gently tossing with fork. Allow to sit while you roll out the crust.

Make Pie:
Roll out one dough ball into thin crust, big enough to cover the pie plate. Fill with apples. Roll out top crust and place on top. Seal edges. Poke holes decoratively in crust, and an "X" in the center. Bake 45 minutes.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Hexy Thanksgiving

“I don’t know if three turkeys will be enough,” Blair said, surveying the kitchen counters covered with roasting pans, mixing bowls, and various pots and pans on the stove. “Trust me, Jake eats a lot. There are all you can eat buffets that won’t let us come back.”

“And you demolishing the desert table doesn’t have something to do with that? The turkeys are twenty-six pounds apiece. We’ll be fine.” Stasi covered the sweet potatoes with marshmallows and popped them into the hot oven so they could brown. She paused long enough to sneak a treat to Bogie who barked his thanks and floated toward his soft and comfy bed.

“You did use cream and real butter in the mashed potatoes, didn’t you?” Irma wandered in with Phinneas, her spectral beau, in tow. “It’s what gives them the proper taste.” She heaved a deep sigh. “I miss eating.” She glared at Jazz. “You could let me change my wardrobe, but not allow me to eat? Get working on that spell, missy.”

“Yeah, like that’ll happen,” Jazz muttered.

“It’s a good thing we all have metabolisms that burn up all the extra calories and cholesterol.” Blair set the rolls on a cookie sheet.

“I brought the pies,” Maggie walked into the kitchen. She laughed her friends’ expressions of horror. “From my favorite bakery,” she assured them. It was a known fact the blonde witch’s culinary skills were on the same level as Jazz’s … none. “Four pumpkin, two mince, and one pecan. And …” She opened a pink bakery box to reveal five extra large custard filled éclairs topped with decadent chocolate frosting. For later, she mouthed.

“Ah, I see a lovely corner for moi.” Maggie’s diamond encrusted black widow spider tattoo skittered off the witch’s shoulder and headed up the wall. She pulled a tiny netbook out of a hidden pocket and began her web surfing.

“Where’re the guys?” Maggie asked, perching on the counter.

“Where else? It’s Thanksgiving Day so that means football,” Stasi said. “If we’re lucky we’ll be able to drag them away from the TV long enough to eat.”

“All you have to do is try it,” Jazz coaxed, leading Nick into the kitchen. “It’s not that bad.”

“How would you know? Have you tasted it?” The tall vampire followed her with a wary look on his face. “Plus, did you have to drag me away now? I’ve got money riding on this game.”

“Jazz, you’re not!” Blair and Stasi protested, aware what their witchy friend had in mind.

“It’s a great way for Nick to feel like he’s a part of the dinner,” Jazz argued.

“A glass of wine is just fine with me.” He started to edge his way out of the estrogen-filled room, but his witch’s firm hold on his wrist wouldn’t allow it, thanks to magick increasing her strength. No way she was letting him escape now. She used her other hand to pull a container out of the refrigerator.

“I’ve read fiction books where they come up with special blends. So why not this?” She dumped the contents in the blender and fired it up. She poured a little bit of the thick mixture into a glass and offered it to Nick who reared back as if she held a ball of fire.

“That smells terrible! What’s in it?”

Jazz looked into the glass but seemed to hold her breath. “Pureed turkey and cow’s blood.”

That was what you put in our refrigerator?” Stasi cried. “Jazz!”

Blair and Maggie gagged at the idea.

“It’s not like I put bits of an entire dinner in there.” She held the glass toward Nick who kept backing away with his hands up. “Although I did think of adding some potatoes and green bean casserole.”

“Wine only,” he stated.

“Nikolai Gregorivich I made this for you and you will drink it!” She glared at him.

That was when Nick disappeared in the wink of an eye.

“I cooked for you!” Jazz shouted into thin air. She picked up the blender and headed for the sink.

"There is no way you're dumping it in there," Blair told her. "Take it outside and bury it."

“Wait a minute.” Horace grabbed it out of Jazz's hands and downed the contents. A loud belch followed. ‘Eh, I’ve had better.”

Which goes to show a gargoyle will eat anything if it’s Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Thanksgiving Dinner Was Great, BUT Afterward...

My daughter sprang a birthday party surprise on me this year, which was much fun and a couple of my coworkers attended, but most of the other party goers don't know me all that well. So when we were playing a guessing game--others were trying to guess the card in my hand that was Thanksgiving, and I said, "Hornets," for the clue.

My coworker, fan and friend jumped up and shouted, "Thanksgiving!"

And of course everyone wanted to know how hornets came to be related to Thanksgiving.

It was a cold, sleeting, stormy Thanksgiving (in Central Texas, we rarely get that kind of weather),

but my daughter, mother and I had a delightful Thanksgiving dinner.

Afterward, we were planning on watching a funny new Jackie Chan movie and my daughter turned it on while I started a fresh log in the fireplace. You know, one of those kinds that burn for 5 or 6 hours.

The movie is starting, the fire is catching hold, we're all getting ready to curl up on the sofas and watch the show when I see a groggy hornet fly out of the fireplace. Actually, they were red wasps. I'm thinking, uh-oh, there are going to be more...and more...and more. A whole nest of them.

My daughter is terrified of hornets, wasps and bees since when I had taken my Girl Scout troop to the zoo in Tulsa when I was a leader, and in the petting zoo, a mad swarm of bees stung several of the girls--my daughter 21 times.

So she's running to get the hornet spray.

I'm shouting, "No, it might hit the fire!" I'm not a chemist, but I'm envisioning an explosion of volcanic proportions.

My mom's swatting groggy wasps in the air with my handy-dandy flyswatter, and I'm vacuuming them up either in flight, or on the carpet, or clinging to the brick fireplace.

It gets worse.

The smoke from the fire is pouring into the house. The vents are open to the outside, but the smoke is beginning to grow into a white fog. So I race to the back door and open it, and holler to my daughter to turn on all the ceiling fans, open all the windows, while the ice storm is raging on.

The wind is so strong from the north, it's blowing straight through the front to the back door, and the air is clearing. But the 5-6 hour log is still burning away! I've got to get it out of there, but where is the fireplace can? I douse the log with water. More smoke. Lift the smoldering, smoking log into a plastic mop bucket, sparks are flying off onto the carpet and burning it, and I hurry the still smoldering, hotter than blazes fire log outside in the sleet.

Then I filled the bucket with water, and returned to the house, cleaned up the once beige carpet, found a floor fan, and tons of blankets, and with the doors and windows wide open and the fans all blowing, we snuggled to watch the movie, erupting in giggles throughout the show more about our wasp adventure than about the movie.

The problem was, it was all in Chinese. We had to read the subtitles. "Are you sure you put it on the right setting?" I had asked my daughter.

"Yes, that was all there was."

So at the end, we had to watch the outtakes as they're always hilarious. And they were all in English. LOL!!! So my daughter had set it for Chinese instead of English. It just seemed appropriate for our Thanksgiving entertainment that night!!!

So why the smoke in the house? We'd had straight line winds that had torn up the roof a few weeks earlier. The chimney cap had ripped away, but no one told me. So the roofers covered the chimney with a piece of roofing material. The heat from the burning log had eventually burned a hole in it, but not enough to allow the smoke to escape.

And that, folks, is one of our most cherished, wild, and memorable Thanksgivings to date!

What does Thanksgiving mean to me? Hornets!

Or technically, red wasps.

This year, my stove is out (which occurred in the middle of cooking turkey for Christmas last year, and replacing the oven is out--I'll have to replace the counter and everything, so it's been put on hold a while longer and since I'd had flooding and had to replace my carpeting, I just haven't time to do much else!!!)

All I have is a small counter top convection oven, and my AC is out, which means no heat pump for emergency heat, so my daughter is making the turkey dinner for her and her boyfriend and me the weekend before at her apartment, and we'll play games and have a blast. I'll be going to a book signing right before that, so it'll be a special Thanksgiving in a different way.

Have you had a wild and exciting Thanksgiving dinner that you could laugh about later?

Anyone raising their hand to come to MY feasts???

They're sure to be something you can talk about forever. Just think of Mary Tyler Moore parties. :)

Next up, Wolf Fever's release and the blog tour starts right after Thanksgiving.
This is my FIRST review for Wolf Fever and I'm ecstatic!!

Wolf Fever by Terry Spear
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (399 pgs)
Heat Level: spicy
Rating: 5 Books
Reviewed by Xeranthemum


Wolf Fever is another winner of a story that kept me on the edge with its unique master storytelling and plot. There are villains of different flavors and degrees that prevented me from guessing which way Ms. Spear was going to go. I enjoyed the brisk dialogue and the insights it gave me as I read. I liked Carol and Ryan as a couple and Ryan’s sister is a hot ticket. The quality of writing is as strong as ever and a must read for paranormal wolf fans who enjoy a romance laced with humor along with great suspense. It sure made it a hard to put down book. For me, I didn’t want to stop reading, even when it was time to go to bed. Who wants sleep when they’re in the middle of reading a story by Ms. Spear? Her writing is pure entertainment.

And I received an email from a fan last night, WOLF FEVER is being shipped!! Woohoo!

Happy TGIF!!

"Giving new meaning to the term alpha male."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Perfect PR Recipe

I spend a lot of time thinking about what will “break” a book—what does it take to bring a book to not only its fullest potential, but also the next level? I wish there was a direct answer, but something I’ve learned over my almost 3 years with Sourcebooks is that each book and author is different, but by starting out small and (sometimes slowly) building upwards and outwards, world domination is just around the corner.

For example, when I started in late 2007, we had 2 romance novels (Hundreds of Years to Reform a Rake by Laurie Brown and No Regrets by Michele Ann Young) and 1 Georgette Heyer novel (Cotillion) in stores. Now, Sourcebooks Casablanca publishes 5-8 mass market romance novels each month, by February 2012 we’ll be the North American publisher of all of Heyer’s novels (including a rare reprint of her book of short stories!), and we’re home to authors who are trying new things in the romance genre, not to mention a fun and busy group blog where you can find so many of them in one place! And did I mention award-winning? Just last week we found out we have FOUR RT Book Reviews Reviewers' Choice nominees (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!):

Best Regency-Set Historical Romance
Lessons in French by Laura Kinsale

Best Historical Fantasy/Paranormal Romance
The Fire Lord's Lover by Kathryne Kennedy

Best Historical Fiction
The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

Best Historical "Knight in Shining Silver" (or Best Historical Hero)
Armand Harcourt from The Making of a Gentleman by Shana Galen

Just like a lot of recipes that you go back to year after year, when you give that recipe to a friend or family member, it just tastes different. One of the most fulfilling, and yet challenging, things about my job is figuring out what works for each and every one of our authors (and there are 30+ of you!). There are certain basics that will never change—so don’t get any funny ideas that I’m not going to put you on a blog tour during your pub month—but those new and unexpected things that happen every day are always interesting to explore!

And now—a recipe that I stole from my mother (affectionately known around these parts as Mama Jackson), and modified ever so slightly—don’t tell her, but I think my way is better  Honestly, I don’t even like pumpkin pie (or pumpkin anything really, aside from pumpkin seeds), but I’d roll around in a tub of this. It has become my go-to dessert to bring to Fall and Holiday parties, and the general consensus is a long “mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.” Enjoy!

Pumpkin Smush Cake

- 1 15 oz. can of pumpkin pie filling (not just pumpkin puree—pumpkin pie filling, there’s a difference. Most of the time, I can only find the pumpkin pie filling in the 30 oz. size, and will use about 3/4 of the can... no need to adjust the rest of the recipe, because it's a lovely pumpkinny flavor. The brand is Libby's.)
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup of sugar
- 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (You can buy this, but it’s one of those pricey spices that comes in a tiny little jar… I just make a mix of equal parts nutmeg and cinnamon and a bit of ginger, to counter all of the sweetness)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 12 oz. can of evaporated milk (not condensed!)
- 1box yellow cake mix (any will do—I generally buy what's on sale)
- 2 sticks of butter
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans (I put WAY more than this, probably around a cup or a cup and a half; the nuts add a texture to the dessert that I find entirely necessary to have across all of it)

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Grease a 9x13 pan
- In a medium mixing bowl, mix together pumpkin pie filling, eggs, sugar, pumpkin pie spice, salt and evaporated milk
- Pour mixture into greased pan
- Sprinkle cake mix over top of mixture (some will seep into the mixture—this is ok)
- Melt butter; drizzle melted butter over top of mixture
- Sprinkle nuts on top
- Bake for one hour, or until toothpick comes out clean (because I use a bit more pumpkin filling, I usually have to let it back for an hour and ten minutes or so)
- Serve warm or cold with whipped cream (you can be an overachiever like me and make your own! Oooooor you can just buy it [lame])

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Far From Home

by Olivia Cunning

My mom has always cooked Thanksgiving dinner for our family. Well, as far back as I can remember, she has. My dad joined the army when I was three years old and I don't remember the big family gatherings hosted by my grandmother prior to our military family days. My family hails from Northeastern Missouri, but being stationed all over the country and even overseas during my father's 20-year-career, we were always far from home during Thanksgiving. I'm sure it was hard on my mom, being so far from her parents and sister, aunts, uncles, and cousins, but she never showed it. You know, the older you get, the more you realize how great your mom really is. Some Thanksgivings, while dad was "in the field" (training exercises), Mom was a single parent with two girls, thousands of miles from home. She still made the full, giant, oh-so-delicious meal and saved leftovers in the freezer for dad's return. We got two Thanksgivings those years. One without dad and a second one with him.

On years when dad was home, he always invited between four and six single soldiers over to share our meal. Young men (and the occasional woman) who had no family on base. No wife, no kids, no parents to celebrate with. Most of the soldiers were very young--18 or 19 years old and away from home during the holidays for the first time. Thinking back, I'm sure they appreciated joining us for our Thanksgiving feast. The mess-hall cooks make a wonderful meal for the soldiers, but no matter how good the food us, it's just not the same as sitting down with your family. Even if it's a surrogate family.

My sister and I always loved Thanksgiving with the soldiers. They treated us like princesses. We didn't mind serving as substitutes for little sisters or nieces or cousins. They'd play with us for hours. We ate up every minute of it. When you're six years old and the center of five young men's attention, you are on top of the world. Trust me on that. Ever see a six-foot-four muscle bound hunk perched precariously on a miniature chair drinking imaginary tea from a tiny tea service with a stuffed rabbit? I have. And he liked it. His hostess was adorable. I was the girlie girl of the family and my sister was the tomboy. The GIs used to play who can toss the squealing bundle of energy closest to the ceiling without causing a concussion. My sister loved it. I stuck with hosting tea.

When my dad retired from the military, he and my mom relocated back to Northeastern Missouri. I live in Nebraska and my sister lives in Texas. This year, Mom's making the full, giant, and oh-so-delicious meal and I'm driving 500 miles to consume it. And while there will be no adopted-for-a-day soldiers at the table, my extended family will be there. I have never missed a Thanksgiving with my parents and I'm grateful for that. This Thanksgiving when you're surrounded by all the people you love, take a moment to remember the soldiers far from home who miss their families so much they'll drink imaginary tea with a stuffed rabbit and a star-struck little girl. I know I will.

What's the crowd around your Thanksgiving dinner table like? Do you attend a huge gathering or something more intimate?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pass the Turnips

by Amanda Forester

When I was growing up my mom did most of the cooking. Correction… except for my feeble attempts at “yogurt parfait surprise” for mother’s day, my mom did ALL the cooking. There was a reason for this. She was a good cook. She added butter, garlic, and sherry in some combination to just about every dish – good stuff!

Thanksgiving in our house was significant amount of work for my mom. My dad did help with the turkey (he made the cute little white decorations that went around the drumsticks) and he would proudly display the bird roasted to golden perfection (by my mother).

Now I’m not saying my dad hasn't learned to cook over the years. He now makes a mean roast beef and a mouth watering salmon. But early in his cooking career he made some less than appetizing food choices, such as “can salad” which consisted of opening whatever cans he found in the cabinet and mixing them together (yech!). But his greatest food disaster can be summed in two words:

Turnips Molé.

Yes, that would be turnips with chocolate sauce. Wish I was kidding you folks, but my dad somehow took on the challenge of making “turnips molé” as a special Thanksgiving dish. The first year he bought very expensive dark chocolate and would not let anyone touch it. He cooked the turnips, poured the melted chocolate on top, and served proudly. Needless to say, it was with no small amount of reservation that everyone took a small potion to be polite, a portion that was still on their plates when we did the dishes. I can only describe it with one word: disgusting. The worst part was throwing away all that expensive chocolate, ruined by the pervasive taste of turnip. So sad!

Now most people would learn the lesson that chocolate and turnips should never meet in a casserole dish, nor even be spoken together in the same sentence, but not my pops. No, he took his failure as a minor setback toward his dream of creating the world’s first turnips molé recipe. The next Thanksgiving he devised a different concoction of turnips and chocolate. To no one’s surprise it was a dismal failure. This time folks rejected politeness in favor of avoiding turnip contamination. The turnips molé remained largely untouched.

The next year and the next and the next after that my father, who takes persistence to a whole new level, tried new creations. Every year it was different, with alternating amounts of turnips and chocolate. He tried adding other ingredients to disguise his creation, but we were on to him, and learned to identify and reject the dish containing the toxic turnips.

After over thirty years and all those recipes I can say with utmost confidence that turnips molé is just never going to work. And yet… my Thanksgiving dinner would not be complete without a little chocolate turnips.

So what Thanksgiving dish do you pass along, quietly hoping no one will notice your rejection? Which dish do you like the most?

My favorite dish at the Thanksgiving table is the mashed potatoes. Just to show I have no ill will toward most root vegetables, here is my recipe for mashed potatoes, thanks to an episode of Curious George (but that’s another story…).

Amanda’s Root Potato Mash

5 Medium New Potatoes, washed and cut into chunks
1 Sweet Potato, peeled and cut into chunks
1 Parsnip, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 cup Sour Cream
1/3 cup Milk
4 T Butter
Salt to taste

1. Boil the potatoes, sweet potato, and parsnip until tender
2. Mash together the potatoes and parsnip by hand or I usually put it in an electric mixer (don’t over mix or you'll get glue).
3. Mix in sour cream, butter, milk, and salt, adding more as needed until you like the taste.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sharon shares some memories

One day in July 2008 I walked into the lobby of the Marriott in San Francisco and encountered something terrifying. Hitting me like a shockwave was the cacophony of hundreds of voices coming from the hundreds of women gathered in one place to celebrate the romance novel. It was the Romance Writers of America National Conference and this non-RWA member was in town to meet her publicist and editor for the first time. My debut novel was scheduled for release some eight months in the future and up to that moment I had never spoken with another author let alone actually met one. I was absolutely terrified.

By the end of the next day I not only had met my editor and publicist, the amazing Deb Werksman and Danielle Jackson respectively, but also my publisher Dominique Raccah - that being a breathtaking surprise I never anticipated. Adding to the surprises in store for me was the wonder of community among romance novelists (I joined the RWA immediately upon returning home), the feeling of belonging among like-minded individuals, and the acceptance into the Casablanca sisterhood. My terror had turned to excited happiness!

By September I was blogging right alongside Marie Force, Loucinda McGary, Robin Kaye, Linda Wisdom, Terry Spear, Cheryl Brooks, Mary Margret Daughtridge, Malena Lott, Kendra Leigh Castle, Christina Harlin, Amelia Grey, and Michele Ann Young (Ann Lethbridge), with Judi Fennell joining up at the same time as me. These remarkable, warm ladies welcomed this total newbie in with open arms. So fabulous and understanding were they that even when I erred by randomly posting my first blog out of turn, they simply LOL'd and kindly explained the group blogging rules that this novice was ignorant of!

I had found a family. A sisterhood of women who loved romance, supported other authors by freely sharing their knowledge, knew how to have fun, and above all understood what its like to be a writer. Collectively and individually they took me by the virtual hand and taught me almost everything I needed to know about the publishing business.

For two years I have been blessed as a part of this ever-evolving group. I celebrated the release of my debut novel, Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy,  here on Casablanca, and then the next four. I have learned how to blog and how to design a blog. I have made friends for life. I have partied, online and in person, with these incredibly talented women, all of them kind and fun and genuine – and, thank goodness, a little bit crazy!

There are many highlights but topping the list is meeting most of them face-to-face at two RWA Nationals. Amazingly great times! The Casababes are fabulous and Dominique knows how to throw a party! On the blog I can’t pinpoint which has thrilled me more: Cheryl’s hunky men or Terry’s stunning wolves. It’s a toss up. Puff and Fluff assured I will never wear bunny slippers, thanks Linda. Marie’s Love at First Flight will forever hold the distinction of being the first romance to make me cry. I now hear sea-puns and euphemisms in casual conversation, thanks Judi! Robin has made me look at my own Domestic God in a new, sexier light, and now when I meet a SEAL I instantly envision a backyard swing – thanks MM! I loved writing our round robin story, Cruising For Love, giving me a hand at something other than Regency. I have been reintroduced to the romance genre thanks to all of you, reading some really good books with really hot sex scenes! I know I learned some stuff there. (My husband thanks you too, *wink)

I am richer and wiser because of my welcome that day in San Francisco. I am also braver and more assured. Or perhaps some of that craziness has rubbed off! I think it is a combination of both that gave me the guts to team up with Abigail Reynolds and create a group blog for Austen literary fiction writers. I know I never would have conceived of the idea if not for Casablanca.

If this essay is suspiciously sounding like a farewell, you are correct. I never anticipated that beginning a separate group blog of my own would lead to the need to say good-bye. I did, however, know how rewarding it would be to be in a partnership with like-minded authors who know the value of supporting each other while striving to publicize our novels. At Austen Authors the 27 of us have found our niche and it is vital that I devote all my energy into the success of our fledgling endeavor.

So this is my final blog here on Casablanca. *sob* I truly am sad to leave, but then I know my Casa Sisters are a click away and I will still be on the loop to keep up on the news. Plus I’ll be seeing you in New York, right? And of course everyone is invited to my place! Austen Authors is open 24/7 so pop in any time! Or visit with me on my website and blog: Sharon Lathan ~ The Darcy Saga

Not good-bye, just “until we meet again”
Sharon Lathan