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, December 19, 2018


Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson is a 7th-generation Texan and a 3rd-generation wordsmith who writes in mystery, romance, and horror. Learn more about her and her books at her websites: www.JanisSusanMayAuthor.com and www.JanisPattersonMysteries.com.

Christmas Memories
Christmas! Just the mention of the word evokes images of snow and family togetherness and a decorated tree and presents... Some people don't like Christmas for reasons of their own, but I love Christmas because of all the happy memories involved.

When I was a child the entire family - aunts, uncles, cousins of several generations - would gather for Christmas day at my grandparents' house in a small town in North Texas. The house was built in the 1880s and was very cold, but we didn't care. Each family had had their 'tree' as we called presents and Santa in their own home, either on Christmas Eve or early Christmas morning, then all would trek up to the family home. My grandmother didn't decorate beyond a tree - usually a small one set on a table in the corner of the seldom-used parlor. One year it was made of blue net, which was very strange.

We had presents, but not very many and not very grand. Usually the children under 10 or so got presents from everyone, but the rest drew names. We weren't a wealthy family, at least not in money. What I remember most fondly, though, is not the presents - I cherish the memories of love and fun and togetherness... and the food. Especially the food.

Every family brought a dish and the old round table from the 1840s in the kitchen (which is now my breakfast table) couldn't hold it all, so the dishes spread out over the counters and stove. My mother made superb pies and always took six or eight - and none of them ever came home. Our cuisine was ample, but basically simple. Ambrosia salad. Green bean casserole. Several kinds of stuffing. Corn, either plain or in casserole, sometimes both. Turkey. Ham. Occasionally a roast. Sweet potatoes - yes, with pineapple and marshmallows. Green peas and pearl onions. Irish potatoes cooked in several ways. Sometimes fried okra, freshly cooked just before we started to eat. And of course, iced tea to drink. There was no alcohol of any kind at any gathering at my grandparents' house.

We had the tree first, all of us oohing and aahing over everyone's gifts no matter what they were, and then we migrated to the kitchen. Dinner usually lasted most of the day. After the first heaping plateful we would all sit around, talking primarily - ours was a 'talking' family - while our dinner 'settled,' then we would mosey back to the kitchen for a little snack. Sometimes several times.

So many children today miss the wonderful experience of an extended family. We did not. My grandparents' siblings came to dinner, and sometimes some of their children if they were in town. Some members brought friends who would have no place else to go. Boyfriends and girlfriends were welcome. My grandmother's sister had died in the Spanish influenza epidemic right after World War I, but her widower - and his second wife! - came to our Christmas regularly, and were very welcome. I was nearly grown before I figured out that neither of them was a blood relation!

There were games, too. We children spent hours playing cards or Chinese checkers on an ancient board that had been my grandfather's as a boy. Sometimes the men played gin rummy. The women talked. If the weather was nice, we children would run off our energy playing games outside, either in the yard or in the old barn on the back of the property.

When it finally got into late afternoon, the women would go into the kitchen; some would clean up while others divided the leftovers (usually enough for two meals for a family - I said there was a lot!) so each group would have some to take home. No leftovers since have ever tasted so good.

Lois asked for a photograph germane to my post, but there isn't one. Few of us had cameras, and if there were pictures made, I don't know of any that have survived. It's a pity, but the images in my heart can never fade. So - I must ask you to use your imagination to picture the scene; a Norman Rockwell-type image would do nicely, because it was just that lovely.

My grandparents' generation is gone now, as is my parents'. I am now the oldest on both sides of my family - a fact that never ceases to astonish me. The old house was sold long ago, and the younger generations have scattered across the world. Which is the way of things, and is perhaps good, because there is no way we could ever recapture that feeling of wonder, of family, of hope, of love.

By the way, my Christmas release this year is a tasty little novella of murder and mayhem called Killing Harvey, where on Christmas morning the most unpleasant family member was discovered stabbed. And garrotted. And possibly poisoned. It's sort of a funny story. However - please rest assured that my family was nothing like that one!

Merry Christmas!

Killing Harvey
It was a killer Christmas…

By all accounts it should have been a perfect holiday. A beautiful, elegant house. Rebecca’s future relatives all together, talking happily about her upcoming Christmas afternoon wedding to Peter. A gorgeous tree surrounded by presents. A Christmas-card perfect snowfall.

But the snowfall turned into a freak blizzard, trapping Rebecca and Peter in with his family. Then, once the house was completely isolated and no one could enter or leave, the most obnoxious member of the family is found stabbed. And garroted. And perhaps poisoned. Who really killed Harvey… and how?

Can Rebecca solve this murder? More importantly, does she really want to?

Tuesday, December 18, 2018


Carola Dunn was born and grew up in England but has lived in the US for the past 50 years or so. In spite of this, almost all her books are set in England, including twenty-three mysteries in the 1920’s era Daisy Dalrymple series, four Cornish Mysteries set around 1970, thirty-two Regency novels, and four collections of Regency novellas. Learn more about Carola and her books at her website. 

Holiday Trifle
Trifle is an English dessert dating from 1598 (first citation in print according to the OED). At that time the word referred to a mixture of cream boiled with other ingredients, more like what we call a “fool” today. By 1755, it was much like what we know today as trifle. My Aunt Margery (actually a second cousin a few time removed) used to make trifle for the holidays. I don't have her recipe, and in fact, I don't use a recipe at all, but this is how I make it yearly for Christmas Eve dinner with friends.

 I have to say, the first time I brought it on Christmas Eve, it was looked at askance by a few who aren't into desserts--but they are the ones who came back for more!

Ingredients – exact quantities are unimportant—guidelines below

Plain cake—I've used angel food from a mix, and bakery pound cake, but the most popular was homemade sponge cake that was actually a complete failure—the two layers each came out about 3/8” thick. For some things you really have to follow the recipe!

Raspberries—I freeze my own every summer, but this is one time frozen work better, because they have lots of juice.  (Some people use jam/jelly or jelly/jello, unsatisfactory in my opinion, or soak the cake in sherry, which I don't care for.)

Custard—I use Bird's Custard Powder, but vanilla pudding is more or less equivalent.

Whipped cream—Here I'm really fussy. Spray can cream does NOT work. Even grocery store whipping cream, which usually comes full of thickeners such as carrageen, is not that great. I use heavy cream (unadulterated) from a local dairy, or Trader Joe has an excellent heavy cream. If you love whipped cream, you probably have your own source.

Glacé cherries for decoration—or fresh raspberries if available.

Trifle is attractive in a glass bowl, but any bowl—preferably flat-bottomed—works well. The bowl in the photos is 6-1/4” x 3-1/4” deep. I made two roughly the same size using about ¾ of a small pound cake, a 12 oz bag of frozen raspberries, a pint of custard, and a ½ pint of cream. It would be enough for 6 or 8 people. Or it can be made in individual glasses such as sundae glasses.

Place slices of cake about 1” to 1½” deep in bottom of small bowl or 2 to 2½ in large bowl. I fill in gaps with scraps of cake.

Pour juice from bag more or less evenly over cake to soak in. Distribute berries in an even layer on top.

Make custard or pudding. Cool slightly (so it doesn't cook the berries) and pour on top before it completely thickens.


Whip cream till really stiff—beyond stiff peaks (but don't let it turn into butter!) unless you're going to serve the trifle immediately and you know there won't be any left over. Even with the best cream, stiff peaks will weep after a few hours. Good cream doesn't need any flavouring. If you have to use grocery store whipping cream, you might want to flavour it with a spoonful of powdered sugar and/or a drop of vanilla.

Spread on top of cooled custard. Decorate.

Serve with a large spoon (a cake server doesn't work well), preferably in glass bowls.


The Corpse at the Crystal Palace
A Daisy Dalrymple Mystery, Book 23

April 1928: Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher is visited in London by her young cousins. On the list of must-see sites is the Crystal Palace. Discovering that her children's nanny, Nanny Gilpin, has never seen the Palace, Daisy decides to make a day of it―bringing her cousins, her 3-year-old twins, her step-daughter Belinda, the nurserymaid, and Nanny Gilpin. Yet this ordinary outing goes wrong when Mrs. Gilpin goes off to the ladies’ room and fails to return. When Daisy goes to look for her, she doesn't find her nanny but instead the body of another woman dressed in a nanny's uniform.

Meanwhile, Belinda and the cousins spot Mrs. Gilpin chasing after yet another nanny. Intrigued, they trail the two through the vast Crystal Palace and into the park. After briefly losing sight of their quarry, they stumble across Mrs. Gilpin lying unconscious in a small lake inhabited by huge concrete dinosaurs.

When she comes to, Mrs. Gilpin can't remember what happened after leaving the twins in the nurserymaid's care. Daisy's husband, Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard, finds himself embroiled in the investigation of the murdered nanny. Worried about her children's own injured nanny, Daisy is determined to help. First she has to discover the identity of the third nanny, the presumed murderer, and to do so, Daisy must uncover why the amnesic Mrs. Gilpin deserted her charges to follow the missing third nanny.

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(For a Daisy Dalrymple murder mystery, check out Mistletoe and Murder, Book 11.) 

Monday, December 17, 2018


Julia Buckley was born five days after Christmas and was sent home from the hospital in a Christmas stocking; perhaps that's why she has always loved the Christmas season and all its attendant joys. She writes the Undercover Dish Mysteries and the Writer's Apprentice mysteries, and has just completed Book One in a The Hungarian Tea House series. Learn more about Julia and her books at her website 

I love the Christmas season, and I find great joy and comfort in the decorations I put up each year. It was a tradition that both of my sons would get one new ornament each year, so our tree has many wonderful memories hanging on its branches.

You can see our traditional tree behind Panther up there in the corner, and then two ornaments that my boys made when they were in pre-school—treasured more than anything else on the tree. The “hope” ornament came from a Secret Santa and has provided much encouragement over the last few years, as has the straw star that is reminiscent of the beautiful German ornaments my late mother would hang on our family tree.

I think my favorite ornament, though, is the one in the last box—a depiction of Bob Cratchitt with his son Timothy Cratchit, famously known as Tiny Tim. This father/son duo from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has come to symbolize the beauty of familial devotion and, with the involvement of Scrooge, the possibilities for love, redemption and joy that Christmas can bring.

When the curmudgeonly and grasping Scrooge first meets Tiny Tim, he is supported on his father’s shoulder. The child walks with a cane, and his “limbs supported by an iron frame.” Scrooge is told by the Ghost of Christmas future that Tiny Tim will die of his ailments unless something is done to change his fate.

In the meantime, the reader sees Bob Cratchit’s absolute devotion to his youngest son, even though the son is a burden on the family. Bob cannot imagine life without his boy, something Scrooge does not understand until his eyes are opened, and his heart is magnified by a new awareness.

In this passage, we learn of little Timothy’s gift for philosophy:

“And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs. Cratchit, when she had rallied Bob on his credulity and Bob had hugged his daughter to his heart’s content.

 “As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”

Though Tiny Tim is a minor character, it is he more than anyone else who appeals to Scrooge’s miserly heart, and it is his father more than anyone else who makes Scrooge see what it is to love a child, and why it is important to love and care for all children. It is eventually understood that the author uses childhood to represent our purest vision for the world. Dickens sums this up nicely in Stave III, when Scrooge is allowed, through a ghost, to witness a holiday party at his nephew’s house.

“For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.” 

I love books, I have always been inspired by great literature, and I’m a sucker for any literary allusions, so it’s not surprising that a Dickens Christmas ornament is on my list of favorites. This one little cloth ornament depicting a father’s love holds many holiday-appropriate symbols, the best of which is the idea that we can all be redeemed through good works, just as Scrooge, so cold and callous at the beginning of the novella, was transformed into a good man by its end. “To Tiny Tim,” we are told, “Scrooge became a second father.”

Every year my Bob and Tim ornament reminds me of the hope of the season (and in fact it hangs just under my hope ornament). It encourages me to offer support to others when I can, and it verifies the power of a good book.

Don’t get me started on good books! That’s a topic for another blog post.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays to all!

Cheddar Off Dead
The Christmas holidays are one of Lilah’s favorite times of the year, filled with friends, family, and, of course, tons of food orders for her covered dish clients. But Lilah’s Yuletide cheer ends when she sees a most Grinch-like crime: the murder of a Santa in a school parking lot.

It turns out the deceased Kris Kringle was a complicated tangle of naughty and nice, with a long list of people who might have wanted him dead. And whoever did the deed wants to make sure that Lilah keeps quiet. Now, Lilah will have to team up with her former fling, Detective Jay Parker, to unwrap the mysteries of a deadly Christmas killer and stay alive long enough to ring in the New Year... 

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Friday, December 14, 2018


Today we sit down for a chat with author Kath Boyd Marsh, who writes Middle Grade fantasy, always with a mystery to solve and always with a dragon. Learn more about Kath and her books at her website and blog, which has been taken over by Fox Hound Rufus, his brother Hank, Nikki Cat, and assorted other felines.

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
Wanted? There’s a choice? Hmmm. I wrote all through childhood beginning at seven years old with a picture book about my little sister called The PB. “Published” by my grandfather when he stapled together the lined notebook paper. I guess the road to getting traditionally published started with paid essays that I wrote as therapy when my only child was getting ready to go to college. It was a good thing I wrote them while she was still making me crazier as a high schooler, because I laid on her bed at home and cried for the first two weeks she was at Vanderbilt. That was not comedy time.

And I do love comedy. Those essays were funny, as were the short stories for a children’s magazine after that. But it took a very unfunny long time to find a publisher who wanted any of my novels. And she did turn down the first one I submitted. The long trail from notebook paper picture book to books actually for sale on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and even on the shelves in my county library, was nearly 27 years.

I am stubborn. It is my strongest virtue. So I kept hounding traditional editors and publishers until I found a traditional publisher! A dream come true.

Where do you write?
Right now I’ve moved out to the side deck where all I hear are birds and the wind in the trees. Which brings me to the silence is golden thing. It is. I need all my brain cells firing to write, so other people’s noise is no good for me. And with one important exception, I cannot write to music with lyrics. Toby Keith. Sigh. I can bounce in my seat and type happily to Toby.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
Well since my books are about dragons and wizards and Barfaromi, you’d think my books are not drawn from real life. But they sort of are. I’m very big into injustice.  When I was in school, social organizations came to sign up kids. Two organizations came one day to my fifth grade class, and one was the one I had been in the state we had just moved from. I got in that line to join the new higher level. But the girl in front of me was told she couldn’t join because she was the wrong religion. I got out of line.

Describe your process for naming your character?
While I am very much into being honorable, I do cheat on naming. My parents did an extensive genealogy on our family. So I go back and appropriate ancestors’ names.

Real settings or fictional towns?
Fictional with a taste of real places I’ve been. Did I mention I’ve lived in seven states and one foreign country?

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Would it be a quirk that good-hearted Great and Mighty Wizard Moire Ain can’t seem to get the words right to her spells? She’s honestly earned the Bumblespells Wizard title.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
What makes you think I’m quirky? Who told?

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why? 
Clowns of God. It’s touched me like no other book.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
Just one? Yipes! Maybe we should move on.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Lying. I cannot bear a liar.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
 Ice and two other authors so we could talk and create forever.

Ocean or mountains?
Both. But I love trees so much, I think mountains edge it out.

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
In between.

What’s on the horizon for you?
We are moving from the gorgeous Kentucky Blue Grass to Pennsylvania to stalk our only child, the Lehigh University professor. No. Not downsizing like normal folk. We’re buying 22 acres so First Husband, aka Prince Consort, and the dogs can run and play all day while I write. Did I mention I’m optimistic?

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
In addition to this sequel to The Lazy Dragon and the Bumblespells Wizard, the third of my short ebooks releases Dec. 1Bubbles and Smush: Dragon Rescue. The ebook series is based on a minor comic character from The Lazy Dragon, and his eccentric cousin. These are so much fun to write. Very expensive, though. $.99 each. Yipes!

Dragon Bonded
In this quirky adventure through various fantasy realms, dragon Hazel and her (former) best friend Gaelyn struggle to foil a villainous unicorn. Ever since her brother Cl'rnce and his wizard partner were crowned the Dr'gon Primus, Hazel has had her paws full dealing with all the work. Cl'rnce might wear the crown, but Hazel is the one cleaning up the messes her prankster brother leaves behind. To manage everything, Hazel relies on her own Wizard Partner, the unflappable Galeyn. When Cl’rnce is poisoned, it’s Gaelyn that Hazel turns to for help. However, Gaelyn has been keeping secrets of her own—secrets she never intended to share, not even with a friend like Hazel. Gaelyn struggles to hide her true self, but is unable to lie when her secret is revealed. Now caught between their former friendship and their new distrust for one another, the two must work together if they are going to save Cl’rnce’s life from a foe neither of them had expected.

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Thursday, December 13, 2018


It’s the time of the year when stores bring out all the stops to outdo each other coming up with eye-popping window displays. No place does this better than the department stores and shops that dot Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue in Manhattan. But many of those same stores also have branches at the Mall at Short Hills, the same mall where I reluctantly took part in a sting to catch a killer in AssaultWith a Deadly Glue Gun.
On a recent trip to the mall I came across some window displays that left me rolling my eyes and scratching my head at these decidedly un-Christmasy decorations.

For example, the windows at Dior featured life-size jungle animals covered in red Toile fabric.
Both Prada and Hugo Boss had colorful modern sculptures in their windows. The Prada ones reminded me of the Minions from Despicable Me. The one in the Hugo Boss window looked like a bunny head perched on a bucket perched on a pig head perched on a square face with feet.
Cacti used as shirt racks filled the window at Pink, the men's shirt store. Cacti in New Jersey. In December. Maybe in New Mexico but New Jersey?
The Christian Louboutin window did have Christmas trees, but Christmas trees with human-looking arms and legs!

Maybe the theme for this year was Merry Weird Christmas?

Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Anne Louise Bannon is the author of the Freddie and Kathy mystery series set in the 1920s, the Old Los Angeles series, set in 1870, and the Operation Quickline series, starring Lisa Wycherly and Sid Hackbirn. Today she joins us to discuss the significance of one of her favorite holiday traditions in the first book in that series. Learn more about Anne and her books at her blog. 

A Fave Tradition Comes to Life in My Novel
Way back in the 1980s, when Sid Hackbirn and Lisa Wycherly first started coming to life, I was fascinated by the dichotomy of a young, devout woman sharing a house with a man whose hobby was sleeping around. I had to give Lisa a good reason for sharing Sid’s place – he recruited her as a spy.

But I also had to give Sid a good reason for his sexual appetite, one that would make sense and keep him from coming across as slimy. So Sid was raised by a Communist hippie who taught piano lessons and was also an atheist. In Sid’s universe, sex was just something you did, and he grew up utterly bemused by people’s attitudes and hang-ups. He also grew up not celebrating holidays, particularly Christmas.

Being the good, devout little Catholic girl that Lisa is, she, of course, is horrified. She brings Christmas into Sid’s house for the very first time. It was important to show Lisa having an effect on Sid’s life, given the effect he’d been having on hers. What better way to do that than have Lisa engaging in what has always been my favorite tradition – getting and decorating the Christmas tree.

It’s the memories that spring to life every time I get a whiff of that tree smell. My dad charming the tree lot guy into knocking a few bucks off the price. Hanging the ornaments that I’ve been hanging on Christmas trees since I was a small child. Just seeing them in the box gives me a feeling of rootedness and peace. My first tree as an adult, which I decorated with my ex in his apartment. My now-husband and I choosing a new ornament every year to document our then-new life together with my daughter.

In my family, we waited until at least the second weekend before Christmas to get our tree. I was always grateful that my parents didn’t hold to the old tradition (based on celebrating Advent) of waiting until Christmas Eve to get and decorate a tree. My mom often tried to do the whole color-coordinated thing. But I always protested and it was one of the few times I won. There were years she got a more “tastefully” decorated tree but I’m pretty sure she appreciates the more eclectic mix of ornaments because she kept those old ones until I was old enough to commandeer some for my own household. Please note, Mom does not keep things easily, so if she really didn’t like eclectic, she would have gotten rid of the old ornaments.

This year, sadly, I will most likely not be decorating a tree. We have kittens. Two adorable fluffy seven-month-old terrorists who would only see a nice, bright jungle gym with all sorts of fun, shiny things to bat at. With previous cats, we had put the unbreakable ornaments on the bottom and even tied the breakable ornaments to the branches. The problem, in this case, is the climbing. These two love climbing and are surprisingly good at jumping to get what they want. There’s only so much you can do to stabilize a Christmas tree, and with the one kitten turning into a decidedly larger cat, it’s just not worth taking the chance.

But as I walk by the tree lots, I’ll still be snorting that evergreen scent, and I will find some time to put some carols on softly, and sit back and reflect on the holidays and how blessed I truly am.

It’s why Lisa looks at the tree and reflects on the message of the evergreen – that love doesn’t change from one season to the next. Which may be why decorating the tree is my favorite tradition.

That Old Cloak and Dagger Routine 
In 1982, Lisa Wycherly was broke, out of work and desperate. So when Sid Hackbirn offered her a job as his live-in secretary, she jumped at it, little knowing just how dangerous it would be. Living at Sid's house was scary enough, given Sid's tendency to fool around and Lisa's unexpected attraction to him in spite of their directly opposed values regarding sex. Sid was a spy for an ultra-top-secret agency and had recruited Lisa to work as his associate. Sid knew he was turning Lisa's life upside-down. He had no clue what she'd do to him.

As Lisa learned the spy biz, things got rocky almost immediately. Lisa wasn't used to being in danger and didn't always react well. Sid tried to maintain his usual emotional distance but soon found that Lisa was not going to let him. It took the kidnapping of a college professor to force the two to really talk, and Lisa to face her own fears.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2018


Heather Haven is a multi-award winning mystery author. Her work includes the Silicon Valley based Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, the NYC trail-blazing WWII lady shamus of The Persephone Cole Vintage Mysteries, a stand-alone mystery noir, and an anthology of stories. Learn more about Heather and her books at her website. Today Heather joins us to share a cake recipe baked for her PI's wedding, but there's no reason you can't make one for the holidays. Just dust the top of the cake with some red or green colored sugar or Christmas sprinkles. 

Lee Alvarez on Her Wedding Cake
When Gurn and I were getting married at the end of The CEO Came COA, Book Five of the Alvarez Family Murder Mystery series, Tío, my uncle and a retired executive chef at San Jose’s famed Las Mañanitas Restaurant, offered to make the wedding cake, decorated in a Mexican motif. As you can see, not only did it look beautiful, but the cake tasted fantastic. I asked him to cut the amounts to a normal-sized cake, so I could share it with you. Tío always lets me lick the remnants of the frosting bowl. If I’m not around, you can do that yourself. Always a bonus in baking.


For The Cake
1-2/3 cups raisins, chopped
8 dried figs, finely chopped
1/2 cup brandy (you can also use warm water with 1/2 teaspoon of brandy extract. I prefer the booze, myself)
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1-1/3 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large egg whites

For The Frosting
2 cups butter, softened
6 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 to 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted

Tío Says To Follow These Directions And You Can’t Go Wrong:
In a small bowl, combine raisins and figs. Add brandy (or warm water and extract); toss to combine. Let stand, covered, at room temperature about 2 hours or until liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally.

Preheat oven to 350°. Line bottoms of three greased 8-in. round cake pans with parchment paper; grease paper.

In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, orange zest, baking powder, baking soda and salt until blended. Add buttermilk, butter and vanilla; beat on low speed 30 seconds or just until dry ingredients are moistened. Beat on medium for 2 minutes. Add egg whites; beat 2 minutes longer.

Transfer batter to prepared pans. Bake 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

In a large bowl, cream butter until fluffy. Gradually beat in confectioners' sugar. Beat in vanilla and enough cream to reach desired consistency. For filling, remove 1 cup frosting to a small bowl; stir in pecans and raisin mixture.

Place one cake layer on a serving plate; spread with half of the filling. Add another cake layer; top with remaining filling. Add remaining cake layer; spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Chill until ready to serve. Delicious!

The CEO Came COA
The Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, Book 5

Someone is trying to sabotage the Initial Public Offering of 'Read-Out', a small Silicon Valley start-up, and Lee Alvarez has been hired to find the culprit. Meanwhile, the first Alvarez grandchild is about to be born while Lee is planning her very own Christmas wedding; or rather letting her mother plan it. When Lee finds the CEO hanging by the neck in his boardroom wearing nothing but baby blue boxer shorts, she has to ask herself, was it suicide? Or was it murder? If so, was the saboteur responsible, one of his business partners, or even his famous rock star ex-wife? There are too many suspects and the bodies start piling up just in time for Christmas. Ho, ho, ho.

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