featuring guest authors; crafting tips and projects; recipes from food editor and sleuthing sidekick Cloris McWerther; and decorating, travel, fashion, health, beauty, and finance tips from the rest of the American Woman editors.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

FAVORITES, FAILURES & FRUSTRATIONS--ANASTASIA SOUNDS OFF



The Weeds That Devoured Westfield

Anastasia here, and I’m frustrated.

We used to have next-door neighbors who took great pride in their backyard garden. From my kitchen window I could gaze out at a cornucopia of beautiful flowerbeds as I scrubbed pots and pans. Unfortunately, a few years ago these neighbors sold their house and moved away. More unfortunately still, the people who bought that house have left the lovely yard go to pot. (No, they’re not growing pot; that would be illegal in New Jersey. I’m talking about the other type of pot, the kind that grows out of neglect.)

My driveway butts up against the edge of their backyard. There’s no fence or wall blocking what has become a jungle of weeds. Some of these weeds are seven and eight feet tall. By the end of the summer they’ll probably grow another five feet or so. After all, weeds grow, well, like weeds, right?


I could understand if these neighbors were elderly and couldn’t keep up with the demands of yard work. If that were the case, I’d do the neighborly thing and pull the weeds myself, even though circumstances don’t allow for me having much in the way of free time (thanks to Dead Louse of a Spouse leaving me up the wazoo in debt and two steps away from living out of cardboard box if I don’t spend every available minute moonlighting to make ends meet.) But these people are not elderly; they’re at least a decade younger than I am.

They could hire someone to do the work for them. Finances are not an issue for them. They have money to spend on fancy cars and expensive furniture. Neither is time an issue. Not only is the husband a stay-at-home dad, the wife’s mother lives with them. Both are able-bodied and quite capable of pulling up weeds. So could their kids with next to no instruction because there’s nothing but weeds in the yard at this point. All the flowers are long dead.


I’ve tried talking to my neighbors. The neighbors who live behind them have also tried because the weeds are spreading into their yard. The weeds are also pushing up through the asphalt, destroying my driveway, a driveway I can’t afford to repave (again thanks to Dead Louse of a Spouse.) The weed seeds also blow throughout the neighborhood, creating more yard work for all the other neighbors.

I have to wonder why people who refuse to take care of their property buy homes in the first place. Why don’t they buy a condo or move to an HOA community where their fees would pay for landscaping upkeep?


Have you ever had to deal with neighbors like this? Anyone have any suggestions?

For those of you unfamiliar with the Dead Louse of a Spouse reference, you can learn all about my circumstances in Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series by Lois Winston. The book is currently featured in SleuthingWomen: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries boxed ebook set, for the phenomenally low price of just .99 cents.

As a working mom I'm clueless about my husband’s gambling addiction until he permanently cashes in his chips, and my comfortable middle-class life craps out. He leaves me with staggering debt, our two kids, his communist mother, and a loan shark demanding $50,000. And that’s all before I'm accused of murder!

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR BRIDGES DELPONTE

Biscoitos
Bridges DelPonte has published three non-fiction books and numerous articles in the legal, travel and business fields as well as two novels and short stories in the science fiction, fantasy and mystery genres. When she is not writing, she teaches law courses, creates educational game apps, and lives happily in sunny Central Florida. Learn more about Bridges and her writing at her website. 

The Sweet Aroma of Memories

Aromas or scents hold undeniable powers to trigger deep emotions and to stir up long-held memories. We can all recall times when a momentary whiff of a scent instantly transported us back to specific places and times in our lives. The sweet fragrance of a fresh gardenia in spring. The earthy smell of a campfire. The salty tang of an ocean breeze. The sense of smell often trumps our other senses in its ability to tap into our long-term memories and emotional responses because it is so closely connected to those pathways in our brains. Hence, in our writing, scents or smells play a vital role in setting a scene or establishing a mood.

For me, the aroma of baking bread often spins me back to childhood visits to my grandparents in East Cambridge, a closely-knit Portuguese neighborhood across the river from Boston. My paternal grandmother Angelina and her sister Maria would sometimes roll out snakes of dough onto a vinyl red-and-white checkered tablecloth in their kitchen. They would twist each doughy coil into smooth round circles, like small ring tosses, and press them together at the ends. As they baked, an egg wash gave a glossy sheen to these crunchy biscoitos or cookies.

At other times, they would show us how to form fat dough balls for airy malasadas. These dough balls were lightly fried in oil for a crunchy outer shell and a soft, fluffy center, then tossed in powdered sugar. To this day, I cannot resist funnel cakes when I catch a hint of their aroma at a fair or carnival because they remind me so much of malasadas.

My favorite Portuguese baked good is massa or sweet bread with its delicious skin-like crust and yellow soft bread center. Toasted or untoasted, I love it with a dollop of butter or peanut butter. Most home cooks leave it up to the professionals with their red-hot commercial ovens to bake massa. Any trip to East Cambridge ended with a visit to the bakery to stock up on massa. We used to send massa to my sister when she moved to Chicago and could not find it there. Later massa made its way to me when I moved to Florida. When I opened a package, the aroma of sweet bread brought back a rush of family memories.

When putting together my new Marguerite “Monty” Montez mystery series, I knew that a family-run Portuguese bakery would be an important feature of her story. The family bakery becomes the setting for personal and generational conflicts between Monty and her widowed mother who operates the business. Mrs. Montez is unhappy that Monty chose the law over the bakery in a clash between “old country” and modern values. Despite her secret pride in her daughter’s accomplishments, she wants Monty to give up crime-fighting and settle down with Manny, the bakery’s delivery man from the neighborhood.

The bakery also provides a nice opportunity for readers to learn about some delicious Portuguese goodies from a heroine with a “curvaceous body, shaped by a lifetime of bakery treats.” Monty wisely brings along a box of fresh baked goods to pry open lots of doors around the courthouse and police station, and even persuades some witnesses to tell their story while munching on baked goods. So the aromas of Portuguese baked goods are intertwined throughout Monty’s story in Deadly Sacrifices.  

Be sure to try out the biscoitos recipe below that my sister Christine translated into English from a hand-written family recipe. These buttery cookies are great when dunked into your favorite cup of coffee or tea while curling up to read my new mystery, Deadly Sacrifices.

Biscoitos
(Pronounced - BIZ – KOYTS)
Portuguese Cookies/Biscuits

2-1/2 cups flour
7 or 8 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup corn oil
1 stick butter
4 eggs
1 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar (set aside a tablespoon of sugar), and baking powder and mix well.

Add three eggs and mix until thoroughly combined (set aside a few tablespoons of the egg mixture).

Add the butter slowly and blend until the mixture forms into a smooth dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Lightly grease 2 large cookie sheets.

Working with 2 tablespoon portions of dough at a time, roll the dough with your hands against the counter to form snake-like lengths about 5 inches long and ¾ inch thick.

Bring the edges together and press to seal so that you have a small donut (or ring toss) shape.

Place the dough circles on to the prepared cookie sheets spaced about 1 inch apart.

Mix remaining egg with remaining tablespoon of sugar to form a glaze. Brush the top of each cookie with some of the glaze.

Bake for 20 to 22 minutes or until the cookies are light golden brown on top.

Cool completely then store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Serve with tea or coffee.

Deadly Sacrifices, A Marguerite Montez Mystery
You always remember your first time. Monty's first happened in St. Stephen’s church, directly beneath a statue of the Virgin Mary, right after morning mass. A local soccer mom is bludgeoned to death in her suburban parish chapel outside of Boston. In her first homicide case, prosecutor Marguerite “Monty” Montez endangers her life digging up evidence that shows the police nabbed the wrong man. Monty’s investigation uncovers disturbing memories and fresh leads in an unsolved murder of a childhood friend in her close-knit Portuguese community. Her dauntless search for the true killer is a wild thrill ride into a dangerous world of lethal secrets.

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Monday, July 25, 2016

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--CROSS STITCHED APPLE PIE


What could be more American than a slice of apple pie at a summer picnic? Okay, a slice of watermelon springs to mind. Perhaps that will be a future cross stitch project. For now, enjoy stitching up this quick and easy design.

Stitch count: 19 x 19
Size: approximately 1-3/8" x 1-3/8" when stitched on 14-ct. fabric



Cross stitch with two strands floss. Backstitch with one strand black (DMC 310, Anchor 403).

Thursday, July 21, 2016

HEALTHY LIVING--AMERICA'S GREENEST CITIES

Today we have a special guest, Hannah West, talking about America's greenest cities.

The realization that humans need to be better stewards of the earth is spreading like wildfire—as are the technologies that help us decrease our negative impact. But the massive green movement isn’t in full swing yet. It still needs attention, innovation, and tirelessly bold leaders. Thankfully, it’s not just individuals or groups, but entire cities that are setting an example for the U.S. and the rest of the world.

With strengths ranging from air quality and energy sources to transportation and recycling, here are some of the greenest cities across the nation that are ahead of the pack:

Honolulu
As of 2015, around 12 percent of homes employed a rooftop solar system in Hawaii. Honululu residents tend toward buying local produce, which saves on fossil fuels used to import items. In fact, the city has the largest number of farmers markets per capita. There’s also a large amount of green space and a low amount of greenhouse gases per capita.

Washington D.C.
The U.S. is proud of its capital for many reasons, not the least of these being it’s high ranking on the green cities spectrum. The city has an extremely efficient metro, which cuts down on the number of residents who commute by car. D.C. also recently installed 1.2 million square feet of green roofs, which improve air quality and make homes more energy efficient. Additionally, it contains 230,000 acres of green space.

San Francisco
San Francisco has a little bit of everything—a high number of walking commuters, heavy reliance on solar energy, and many farmers markets per capita. But it has also made a crucial and successful roundabout that’s completely unprecedented: in 2012, it converted 80 percent of its landfill waste to recycled or composted material. The city seeks to do the same to 100 percent of its waste by 2020. While the city’s high waste levels were what initially pushed it to take action, this is still an impressive accomplishment.

Seattle
While it’s unsurprising that Seattle is covered in green spaces, the city boasts a surprisingly impressive amount of parks—they account for 10 percent of the whole city. Many residents commute via walking, biking and public transit. Statistics from 2012 show that nine percent of residents walked to work that year. An emphasis on locally sourced foods and vegan dining contribute to Seattle’s green reputation as well.

Miami
Miami has a bit of an advantage when it comes to the climate; not only is it ideal for solar, but the year-round warm temperatures call for less residential heating, which means a lower rate of fossil fuel usage. Miami boasts healthy air quality and a high number of carpoolers.

These cities and several more offer us a glimpse into the future, of what’s possible when the government, organizations, and citizens work together to achieve needed positive progress. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

FAVORITES, FAILURES & FRUSTRATIONS--GUEST AUTHOR L.G. O'CONNOR AND TRANSFERWARE


L.G. O'Connor is both a corporate strategy and marketing executive for a Fortune 250 company and the author of an urban fantasy/paranormal romance series and a romantic women's fiction trilogy set in suburban New Jersey. Raine MacDonald, the hero from the first book in the series, appears monthly on Joyce Lamb's USA Today Happy Ever After blog where he shares his favorite recipes in the column Recipes from Raine's Roost (aka Jillian's Kitchen). Learn more about L.G. and her books at her website

Parts of my life have been defined by distinct and driving passions. Similar to falling in love, a passion makes your eyes light up and your heart race. It can be like an all-consuming lover and can take the form of a hobby, sport, or your life’s work, to name a few. For a good twenty years, the only thing it took to unleash mine was a simple sign that read “Antiques.”

I found my passion for antiques in my mid-twenties during a trip to Scotland with my boyfriend at the time. There’s no doubt that Scotland is on my list of “favorite” things, but more important is my twenty-year journey that started there on the rocky Kirkcaldy beach outside of Edinburgh. The mid-afternoon rain had just drifted out to sea, leaving one of the most incredible rainbows I’d ever seen.

My companion and I wandered down toward the water’s edge to get a photograph from a better vantage point. As we drew closer, we noticed what appeared to be broken seashells littering the shoreline. Instead, what we had found were colorful shards of transferware pottery. We gathered enough to fill our pockets with the intention of making jewelry. Later, we discovered something intriguing: the last local Scottish pottery had been closed for over fifty years, and these shards were nothing more than their ghostly echo.

That experience triggered our hunt for the history of the potteries and an unbroken example of the wares produced there. Although Staffordshire, England was the most well known pottery producer and exporter of 19th century transferware, Scotland also produced wares but for domestic use. We visited a local museum and a few local antique shops until we found a beautiful pale blue and white transferware platter made by Kirk, one of same local potteries responsible for these little reminders of the past.

Little did I know that trip would spur my love of antiques and turn me into an avid collector for over two decades. When I hit my mid-forties, a few things changed, one of them was my decorating taste. I wanted cleaner lines and less 90s Martha Stewart chintz. Plus, I had literally run out of places to display my finds. Then my husband and I downsized from 4,000 square feet to the perfect 1,700 square foot cottage, making the situation even more dire. As a result, I had to cull my collections down to only my favorite pieces, all of which I still love and can’t live without. Some are on display here in my new dining room.


Above are some of my favorite pieces which are kept inside of my 1830s Pennsylvania corner cupboard. Studies in beauty, they all hold stories and mini history lessons.

Although my heart still picks up tempo when I see the odd sign for antiques, in late 2009 I transferred my energy to a new and unexpected passion during a half day class at NYU called “Jumpstart Your Novel.” Since then, writing has been my new and all-consuming lover, leaving little time or desire to continue to add to my collections on a regular basis.

Those shards and that first 19th century Scottish blue and white transferware platter led to a rich collection of British ceramics and my cherished pieces. Even though I’ve moved on to a new passion, nothing can take away the pleasure my collections still give me.

Caught Up in RAINE

Forty-two and widowed, romance writer Jillian Grant believes hospitals equal death. Plagued by loss and convinced more is imminent when her aunt ends up in critical condition after heart surgery, she has come to equate the absence of pain with happiness. When she spots a hot, young landscaper working on the hospital grounds with an eerie resemblance to the male lead in her next novel, she convinces him to pose as her cover model.

Working multiple jobs to put himself through college, twenty-four-year-old Raine MacDonald is no stranger to loss. Behind his handsome face and rockin' body lies family tragedy and agonizing secrets. When circumstances put him back in the path of his abusive father, fate delivers Jillian as his unwitting savior. Thing is, when he thinks of her, his thoughts are far from platonic.

Despite their age difference, Jillian and Raine discover they're more alike than they could ever imagine. But torn between facing her own fears and grasping a chance at happiness, Jillian makes a soul-shattering decision that threatens to blow their world apart.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR KB INGLEE

KB Inglee lives in Delaware and works at two Living History Museums. She writes short historical mystery fiction. Her episodic novel The Case book of Emily Lawrence is set in the second half of the 19th century. Learn more about KB and her books at her website.

When I began working as an historic interpreter at a living history museum, I had no idea how much fun it would be. I started because a novelist of my acquaintance told me I needed to do the things my character did in order to have the writing ring true.

My favorite programs involve livestock, fiber arts, and milling grain. I am not a cook. I could burn boiling water. In spite of that, now and then, I have been co-opted into cooking on an open hearth or in a wood fired oven.

It's fun for the kids to cook, and they love having their cookies at the end of the session. But we hope they will learn something along the way.

Some of the differences between cooking now and cooking then are:

One would never break an egg directly into the preparation. A farm fresh egg might include a partially formed chick or be rotten. Always break your eggs into a cup before adding them to the more expensive ingredients, like flour and sugar.

A stable baking powder came along in the second half of the 19th century. Before that you had to add baking soda and cream of tartar separately as you are cooking. That way they will do the work you hope they will, leavening your mixture.

All measurements are all approximate. The level measure was popularized in the 1890s by Fannie Farmer. At home I use a cup measure but always measure teaspoons and tablespoons by pouring the dry ingredient into my palm, and the liquid ingredient directly into the batter.

The only way you have to measure the heat of a wood fired oven is by sticking your hand into the oven. An experienced cook knew what cooked at everything from a few inches (quick breads) to a whole arm (a pot of stew).

I can't always put my finger on why having done the activity makes writing about it more authentic, but I have spotted it in books I have read. Clearly the author of A Simple Murder, by Eleanor Kuhns, is a weaver. She doesn't spend a lot of words on the process, but somehow the descriptions have the feelings as well as the facts of the matter. It is a wonderful story about an itinerant weaver, by an author who knows her stuff. On the other hand she doesn’t know much about milling so the mill section is sketchy and feels more distant.

Emily, the protagonist in The Case Book of Emily Lawrence, tries not to cook. She takes after me in that respect. She is an okay baker, but rather messy. She used a wood stove, and later a gas stove. She has never mentioned this to me, but I suspect that after a day at work, she would take her food down to her landlady to cook on the stove that she had been using all day. Trying to light a wood stove late in the afternoon and have it heat properly is nearly impossible.

I have a scene in one of my colonial period short stories in which they have to put a child down the chimney of a house rather like the ones in Plimouth Plantation. My experience with open hearth cooking tells me exactly what he is stepping down into, so while the scene has nothing to do with cooking, and is only a few words long, I saw it exactly in my mind as I wrote it.

Common Jumbles (Snickerdoodles) adapted from The Quaker Woman's Cookbook. The recipes are by Elizabeth Ellicott Lee. They were edited for modern cooks by William Woys Weaver.

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 pound butter
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cream of tartar
Sugar and cinnamon for coating cookie balls before putting in oven.

Elizabeth Lee listed the ingredients but gave no instructions. A proper cook wouldn't need them. Cream sugar and butter. Mix flour, baking soda and cream of tartar. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture. Add eggs and stir until all is mixed.

Take a dollop about the size of a quarter and roll it into a ball. Roll each ball in a sugar cinnamon mixture. Place in the pan. Bake at 350 until golden. You can make this in a Dutch oven in your fireplace or campfire for an even better taste.

Cranberry Cornbread
Cranberry Cornbread is based on a recipe from Boston Cooking School Cookbook by Fanny Merritt Farmer. I use cornmeal from Newlin Grist Mill, stone ground using water power, as it had been in the 1700s. I added cranberries from a private bog on Cape Cod, because I though cranberries and cornbread would be a good combination.

Mix together:
3/4 C cornmeal
1 C wheat flour
1/3 C sugar
3 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt

Add: 
1 C milk
1 egg well beaten
2 T butter, melted
Cranberry mixture:
1 C fresh cranberries
Molasses to taste (that means I never measure it, I just pour it in) half a cup or so

Clean berries and put into a small pan, add molasses and water to equal one cup. Cook over medium heat covered until all the berries have popped open. You may need to reduce it a bit more. Pour berry mixture into cornbread and cut it in until you have a marbled surface and every bite will have some cranberry and some plain cornbread in it. I bake mine in a nine inch round pan, at 350 degrees for 20 minutes and cut it in pie shaped wedges.

The Case Book of Emily Lawrence
Emily Lawrence knows it isn't easy being the first-- and so far--only woman detective in late 19th century Washington DC. With the support of Charles, her husband and business partner, and her own talent for observation and scientific research, Emily tackles the most baffling cases, helping the police solve robberies, kidnappings, and even murder.

Although the work is exciting it is also dangerous: Emily and Charles must balance their pursuit for the truth, with the desire to protect each other. As she gains skills and experience, Emily discovers that the investigations closet to home are often the most challenging.


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Monday, July 18, 2016

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--GUEST CRAFTER AND AUTHOR CHERYL HOLLON ON BEER BOTTLE CRAFTING

Cheryl Hollon now writes full time after leaving an engineering career designing and building military flight simulators in various countries around the world. Fulfilling the dream of a lifetime, she combines her love of writing with a passion for creating glass art. In the small glass studio behind the house, Cheryl and her husband George design, create, and produce fused glass, stained glass, and painted glass artworks. Learn more about Cheryl and her books at her website.

Making a Spoon Rest from a Beer Bottle

The cover art for Cracked to Death (Webb’s Glass Shop Mystery #3) is filled with wonderful items made from recycled bottles that have been fired in a kiln. After that they can be used to make cheese trays, clocks, wind chimes, or wall hangings. My favorite reuse trick with a beer bottle is to make a spoon rest (pictured above). I have several in the kitchen and they definitely help keep drips off the stove and countertops. The beer bottles are easily cleaned in the dishwasher, so I have several.

My husband, George and I have a glass studio in a freestanding cottage behind our house, and we enjoy making promotional gifts for my book tours. For this book, I will be giving away all sorts of bottles.

First, I have to say my favorite part of the process is selecting the beer bottles. I like to retain the design on the bottles so I only select the ones that have a screen-printed image. If they have paper labels, those have to be removed along with the glue. On my last forage to the specialty beer shop, I came home with these lovely bottles.

I think THE MUSE by Angry Orchard is my favorite so far. It’s a sparkling cider with an amazingly fresh and crisp flavor with a hint of apple that will make a perfect cheese tray. I’m also happy with the ROGUE Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout – absolutely delicious and a perfectly literary gift.

The preparation is fairly simple. We just rinse them off and place them in the kiln so that they don’t touch or roll over on each other. Here’s a kiln load ready to be fired overnight.

The most fun is opening the kiln the next morning and taking them out and washing them to reveal a bottle that has flattened out perfectly. For example, it didn’t break, roll, or burn away the lovely design.


I’m using these in auction baskets for the upcoming Bouchercon conference in New Orleans this September, along with SleuthFest in Florida, and definitely for Malice Domestic in the Spring. I’m thinking that I’ll need more beer.

Cracked to Death
When a treasure hunt leads to deadly plunder, it’s up to glass shop owner Savannah Webb and her trusty investigative posse to map out the true motives of a killer . . .

It's the dog days of summer in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Webb's Glass Shop proprietor Savannah Webb has an eco-friendly plan to help locals escape the heat—a recyclable bottle-crafting workshop taught by reticent store manager Amanda Blake. Turns out, the class is a bigger smash than expected, thanks in part to a pair of staggeringly old bottles brought in by snorkeler Martin Lane.

Linked to a storied pirate shipwreck, the relics definitely pique Savannah's interest. But intrigue turns to shock when Martin's lifeless body washes ashore the next morning, another glass artifact tucked in his dive bag. With cell phone records connecting Amanda to the drowning, Savannah must voyage through uncharted territory to exonerate her colleague and capture the twisted criminal behind Martin's death.

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