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.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--ZUCCHINI BANANA CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS

If it’s summer, it must be zucchini season, and that means zucchini muffins and breads galore. Add banana and chocolate chips, and your kids won't even realize they're eating a veggie!

Zucchini Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Ingredients:
1 large egg
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2  teaspoon baking powder
1/2  teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (from about 2 medium/large bananas)
1 cup coarsely grated zucchini, laid loosely in cup and not packed (don’t wring out)
1 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray 12-cup muffin tin with floured cooking spray, or grease and flour the pan; set aside.

To a large bowl, add the first six ingredients, whisking to combine.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add to bowl, stirring to combine.

Stir together the bananas, zucchini, and chocolate chips. Stir to combine with other ingredients.

Divide batter into muffin tin cups. Back 22-24 minutes or until tops spring back.

Allow muffins to cool in tin about 15 minutes before turning out on a wire rack to cool completely before serving.

Monday, July 22, 2019

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--MYSTERY AUTHOR JANICE PEACOCK TALKS ABOUT GLASS BEADMAKING AND HER BEADMAKING SLEUTH

While working in a glass studio with several colorful and quirky artists, Janice Peacock was inspired to write High Strung, the first novel in her ongoing Glass Bead Mystery Series. When Janice isn’t writing about glass artists-turned-amateur-detectives, she wields a 2,000 degree torch to melt glass and create one-of-kind beads and jewelry. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

Your Guide to Glass Beadmaking
The main character in my cozy Glass Bead Mystery Series, Jax O’Connell, is a glass beadmaker. That’s an unusual profession, and one I am quite familiar with since I am also a glass beadmaker. But, I want to be clear: I am not Jax. Jax and I have some things in common—we are both glass beadmakers and are women of a certain age. But in most other ways we are different—for instance, Jax is fictional and I am not. Jax is a newbie to the world of beads. Me? I’ve been creating glass beads for nearly 27 years, and I love the craft as much now as I did when I started.

I thought I’d write about how I make glass beads. If you want to see a video about the process (videos are worth more than 1,000 words) please visit myYouTube channel.

When I make a glass bead, I melt long slender rods of colored glass in my torch, which runs on oxygen and propane and achieves temperatures in excess of 2000 degrees. While melting the glass, I wrap it around a stainless steel wire called a mandrel that is covered with a clay-like substance called bead release. Bead release, does exactly that—it allows a bead to slide from the mandrel once it is cool. Where the mandrel once was, there is now a hole, which is what makes a bead…a bead.

Since I can’t touch the glass while it’s molten, I use tools to sculpt it in the flame. Many of the tools are things you’d find around your house, especially if you like scrapbooking: an Xacto knife, scissors, and tweezers.

People often ask me if I get burned when I work in my studio making lampworked glass beads. Yes, I do, but usually those burns are mild—about what you’d expect if you touched a hot pan in the oven.

In case you are curious: The word “lampworking” comes from a few hundred years ago when glass beadmakers didn’t have high tech torches and fuels like oxygen and propane. Instead, artisans used oil lamps and bellows to create flames that were hot enough to melt glass. I’m glad I don’t have to try to pump a bellows while making beads—that would certainly be too many things to do simultaneously!

Writing about Jax has given me the opportunity to think about glass beadmaking in a new way—to remember what it was like to be a newbie. It also allows me to figure out ways to talk about glass beadmaking to an audience of readers who have never heard of such a thing. I love making beads, and even though my time is now split between glass beadmaking and writing about a fictional glass beadmaker who solves crime in her spare time, I know that I’ll never give up the fun and excitement of lighting up my torch and melting glass.

The large necklace shown above is one I made a few years back that traveled around the world as part of an exhibition of contemporary glass beads. I made nearly all the necklace out of glass beads—even the pieces that look like shells and beach glass.

This necklace is called Anne Bonny’s Treasure. Anne Bonny was a pirate in the 1800s in the Caribbean. The inspiration for this piece was the notion that she might have collected little trinkets on her many voyages, and that perhaps she’d find a way to proudly wear her treasured collection.

To Bead or Not to Bead
The Glass Bead Mystery Series, Book 4

When a wealthy theater owner is killed by a falling art glass chandelier, glass beadmaker Jax O’Connell’s boyfriend, Detective Zachary Grant, quickly determines it was no accident. Jax and her friend Tessa try to carry on with a charity fashion gala at the theater, but with only a few days before the big event, they have to scramble to keep things from falling apart. The emcee quits, and to make matters worse, Tessa’s daughters are suspects in the murder. As the chaos unfolds, Jax discovers new suspects at every turn, including an edgy glass blower, an agoraphobic socialite, and a hunky former-cop-turned-actor. Can Jax piece together the clues to find the killer and uncover the dark secrets behind the victim’s family or will it be curtains for her?

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Friday, July 19, 2019

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--AUTHOR INSPIRATION FROM GLORY WADE

Glory Wade, writes crime fiction and romance. Her debut novel, Diamonds of Fury, the first book in her Dead Husbands Never Looked So Good series, released July 5. Her other publishing credits include short stories and articles. Learn more about Glory and her books at her website.

Thank you for the opportunity to share what has inspired me. I hope that it will help some of your readers, or at least be of interest.

Newspaper and magazine articles are great sources. The Dead Husbands Never Looked So Good series was conceived from an article in Jewelers Circular Keystone magazine in the 90s. I was fascinated, if not slightly abhorred, by the idea of converting a loved one’s cremains into diamonds. Incredulity begat curiosity, which led to ordering a kit from the company in the article, and the long gestation began from short story to a series of three novels. The working title was Ashes to Diamonds, Dust to Dust, then finalized to what you now see.

My annual visit to Canada always provides fodder for settings, characters, and events. The tattered curtains in my protagonist’s childhood home date back to sighting a solitary trailer off a lonely highway in the Muskoka area. This small mobile home also morphed into an abandoned Airstream for my purposes. Long ago, on a day trip in British Columbia, my friend and I found a boulder in a stream back in the woods. That memory expanded into a scene that never took place, but developed when I put fingers to keyboard.  

Characters are a culmination of unusual people and eccentricities I see going about my daily life—at restaurants, casinos, stores, on the street, on television. The wheels of my creative side creak to life, building momentum until the bones of a character are transferred to the written page for future fleshing out. Being a bit old school, I always carry paper and several pens in my purse to jot down the gems that come to me, for cutting and polishing into diamonds of creativity (ideally brilliant ones).

Conversations, overheard or with a friend, can set off a mental ding. I mull it over, twist and mold its DNA to fit an appropriate scene or a specific character. The zygote resulting from imagination and the actual event can create an interesting scenario.

The nuisances, joys, and catastrophes of life are a constant seedbed for breathing life into my writing. It is difficult to focus on capturing the latter at the time, but the emotions can be relived and recorded after the crisis is past.

Writing prompts stimulate creativity in many people. A Writers Digest contest prompt resulted in a short story I wrote, that was published in an anthology.

In my experience, word choice is rarely addressed in the context of inspiration. Like many authors, I enjoy reading a variety of genres. Some books reveal wonderful verbiage. I note the phrase/clause/concept and “chew on” how I can massage it for my writing.

In parting, I want to add that all of our senses, including touch and smell, can inspire us, and will make our creative endeavors vibrate with life.

Happy writing!

Diamonds of Fury
Dead Husbands Never Looked So Good, Book 1

Lila Phyllips, a back-seat beer baby, has glittering aspirations to rise from her trailer trash beginning to a fairy tale life of true love and wealth—and lots of diamonds.

Kicked out by her embittered mother and abandoned by her boyfriend, 14-year old Lila goes to live with her aunt. She blossoms from a frightened teen into a woman, savvy in business, but conniving when necessary.

After not-so-sparkling experiences with the opposite sex, she opens her heart to Dale Anderson, and reveals her secrets—except one. He vows to love her forever, no matter what. When her perfect life is shattered by betrayal and death, she is torn between her fractured love for Dale and her desperate need for retribution, Lila must decide— 

Will Dale be her diamond in the rough?

Thursday, July 18, 2019

AUTHOR ALEC PECHE ON THE ORIGINS OF HER FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST MYSTERY SERIES

Alec Peche is the author of twelve books split between two mystery series, her Jill Quint, MD Forensic Pathologist series and her Damian Greene series. Today she joins us to discuss the origins of the former. Learn more about Alec and her books at her website

The Origins of Jill Quint, MD Forensic Pathologist
When I set out to write my first mystery story, I didn't know enough about law enforcement to feel comfortable with writing a cop as my main character. I was unaware of the cozy category of mystery novels. If I had heard of that sub-genre, I might have gone a different direction with my character.

Jill Quint, MD lives in the Central Valley of California growing the Muscat grape and producing Moscato wine. She resigned from working in a Crime Lab, tired of the endless paperwork and court testimony to pursue her second passion of being a vintner. Along the way, cases began to be referred to her for an autopsy for a second opinion on the cause of death. Now she gets referrals several times a year across the United States and Internationally. She has three friends who join her on cases bringing their own skills. Jo is an accountant and always looks for the money motive. Marie is a social media maven and does the background checks on the victim and suspects. Angela is the photographer and interviewer, able to ease secrets out of anyone. Marie, Jo, and Angela are based loosely on friends in real life.

In a previous life, I worked in a health care setting, and when we sat down to discuss the quality of care a patient received, there would occasionally be a pathologist in the room. I also have a friend with a niece who is a forensic pathologist and has worked in New Orleans and NYC. I was fortunate enough to have her tour me through the Coroner's office. Plus, I'll admit I loved CSI: Miami.

So now my character has a way to get involved in cases. Through the nine books, she's grown her reputation and along the way studied and obtained a PI license. Some homicide cases begin with Dr. Quint receiving a phone call by a family member to request that second opinion. In a few cases, Jill and her team have been on the scene when a murder is committed.

On the vineyard side, Dr. Quint has released 2-3 vintages, while perfecting organic insecticide and herbicides in her lab on her property that doubles to do analytical work for her cases. She explored opening a tasting room but is holding off on that at the moment. Her latest case takes her to Sicily, which has a hot and dry climate similar to California's Central Valley. While in Catania, she evaluated planting the Nero d'Avola grape. Jill likes the sweetness of Moscato wine, yet the Nero d'Avola grape makes a dry red wine. Fortunately, during the Sicilian case, she sampled lots of wine made from that grape and feels she can make her own Nero d'Avola wine.

Jill Quint has a partner – Nathan Conroy. He's a wine label maker, a job that I thought I'd invented. Dummy me saw an article in the WSJ regarding a woman who was a wine label maker. So I guess the profession exists for real. Jill has a dog, Trixie, while Nathan has a cat named Arthur. In my mind, Jill is in her mid-forties, and I don't know if she and Nathan will ever marry – it hasn't popped into a book yet!

Sicilian Murder
Jill Quint, MD Forensic Pathologist, Book 9
Jill's been called to do an autopsy in Sicily, Italy. The man is an American CEO of a herbal product company and was found dead in a Mount Etna crater. The Italian authorities labeled his death as 'unnatural' but did not perform an autopsy as they assumed his death was due to a fall. Dr. Quint proves that it's not, and the search begins for the motive for his murder. Was it personal, or was it due to a product his company makes?

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

WORLD EMOJI DAY

And now for something a little different…

Did you know today is World Emoji Day? Imagine, an entire day devoted to those tiny illustrations that seem so omnipresent in our lives these days! Then again, why not? For the simple reason that they are so omnipresent.

Emojis are great for quick text and email replies. Frankly, I wish more people would use them rather than not replying at all. How much time does it take to tap on a “thumbs up” or a “happy face” and hit Send? Common courtesy goes a long way, but unfortunately, common courtesy is a dying art. (Is there an emoji for a grumpy blogger?)

But then, there are the people who send an email or text with a long stream of emojis requiring a modern day version of the Rosetta Stone to decipher the message. I doubt I’m alone in head scratching, given that more than nine hundred million emojis are sent each day on Facebook Messenger without any text at all.

While doing researching for this post, I came across some interesting emoji facts. For instance, did you know that only 7% of people who use the peach emoji actually do so to indicate a peach? You probably did, but naïve waif that I am, I certainly didn’t! Should I be surprised there are so many dirty minds on social media? Probably not!

There are now a total of 2,823 emojis.157 were approved in 2018. Approved by whom? Who knew there was some sort of official council that rules on whether or not an emoji can become an emoji? Again, not I.

There are even emoji awards. The best new emoji in 2018 was the Exploding Head. 
Emoji of the Year went to Thinking Face.
The most anticipated emoji was the Lacross Stick and Ball. Were there really that many people around the world waiting with baited breath for a Lacross Stick and Ball emoji? Apparently so.

And of course, let’s not forget the Emoji Movie. You know you've really made it when there's an entire movie devoted to you and your iconic pals--not to mention Patrick Stewart portraying the Poop emoji. Now I have to wonder if Emoji Movie 2 will feature the Pile of Poop as Macbeth. 

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--TURKEY LASAGNA

Yes, it’s July, but I really had a craving for lasagna the other night, probably because it was one of those infrequent summer days that feels more like late October than mid-July. This recipe doesn’t take hours to make or bake because it uses lasagna noodles that you don’t first cook. And it’s made with turkey ground meat, turkey sausage, and lots of veggies. So it’s lower in calories and good for you.

Turkey Veggie Lasagna

Ingredients:
2 T. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
10 asparagus spears
1/2 pound turkey sausage
1 pound lean ground turkey
1/2 bag frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 (14.5 ounce) can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
1 (25 ounce) can canned spaghetti sauce
1/4 cup water
1 T. Italian seasoning
12 lasagna noodles
16 ounces ricotta cheese
1 egg
4 cups mozzarella cheese, grated
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 box oven-ready lasagna noodles
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

In a Dutch oven sauté sausage, ground beef, onion, and garlic, and asparagus in oil over medium heat until onion becomes transparent and meat is well browned. Stir in spinach, tomatoes, tomato paste, spaghetti sauce, and water. Season with Italian seasoning. Heat through, stirring occasionally.

In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese, egg, 2 cups mozzarella, and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.

Spray 9” x 13” baking dish with cooking spray.

Pour 1 cup of sauce in bottom of pan, spreading evenly. Top with three sheets of noodles. Sheets will expand to edge of pan during baking.

Layer remaining ingredients as follows: 1 cup of sauce,  1/3 of the cheese mixture, 1/3 of the shredded mozzarella, 3 sheets lasagna. End with remaining sauce, ricotta and mozzarella, sprinkling remaining Parmesan cheese over mozzarella.

Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 5 minutes. Let lasagna rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Monday, July 15, 2019

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--MYSTERY AUTHOR MABRY HALL ON INSPIRATION VIA ANTIQUE JEWELRY AND PINTEREST BOARDS

A needlepoint Santa embellished with the author's favorite Victorian
aquamarine earrings.
Mabry Hall created Annalee Wyatt, 18 Karat Cold Mysteries' bling-bedecked sleuth, out of her love of antique jewelry. She gets a vicarious pleasure when Annalee buys, sells, and sometimes wears the beautiful pieces of jewelry she would love to have for herself. However, she's quite happy to leave the murders to her fictional creation and lives a quiet life in Louisiana, not far from the imaginary town of Berryville and Annalee's Goat Hill Farm. Learn more about her and her books at her website

My 18 Karat Cold Mystery series revolves around a heroine who makes her living with antique jewelry, one of my passions. Annalee Wyatt lives in an historic family home in north Louisiana, has a good-looking neighbor who annoys and intrigues her, and discovers she has an affinity for murder. While she doesn’t commit any herself, somehow each death involves a piece of jewelry that pulls her into the action.  

I wish I could share my process of designing and creating jewelry, but I’d be lying. I have no such skills, but I do appreciate the talent that produced the antique jewelry I love so much. On my first guest blog here in 2016, I discussed how that love for antique jewelry led to the creation of my 18 Karat Cold Mystery series. Today I’ll share how my Pinterest boards influence my plots.

I was slow to come to the world of Pinterest, and among the first boards I created was one for needlepoint stitches. I’ve been stitching since college, and used to design my own canvases. I now rely on painted ones, but I put my own stamp on them with the stitches and threads I choose. Pinterest search results can lead you in directions you never planned, and in my case, searches for medieval stitchery began to turn up medieval jewelry, which led to Georgian and Victorian jewelry, then Art Nouveau, then on and on until I would look at the clock and realize life was happening without me. 

I created a general board for antique jewelry, which inspired me to create separate boards for each of my books. For example, the second book, A Regrettable Reunion, revolves around a brooch made of demantoid garnets, which most people have never heard of. Its Pinterest board shows multiple examples of intricate Victorian and Edwardian jewelry made with the unique green stones, including the salamander pin that’s a key clue in the mystery.

Each 18 Karat board gives a view of both the specific pieces that are mentioned in the books plus a broad array of similar items. While searching for demantoids, I began to see many pictures of Art Deco and Art Nouveau jewelry. I was inspired to add a subplot about the estate of an early Texas oil baron, and so the board is full of incredibly beautiful, intricate pieces from the early 1900s. You’ll see things by Tiffany, for example, that are far more complex and colorful than the items you find in the store today. In general, jewelry from that era is highly focused on naturalism, with many pieces depicting plants or animals— and lots of insects! There are bumblebees, butterflies, dragonflies, spiders, and even wasps made from precious jewels and colorful enamel.

The patterns and colors in these styles inspire me and feed my creativity. I’d love to take some serious jewelry making classes, but there are only a few places in the country that teach the techniques I’d like to learn. Another consideration is that the raw materials are quite a bit more expensive than needlepoint thread or even the laptop I use for writing. I think I’m better off with my Pinterest boards and the occasional purchase of jewelry, unfortunately not of Tiffany’s quality.

You can check out my Pinterest boards here

A Rumor of Riches
An 18 Karat Cold Mystery, Book 3

Annalee Wyatt is looking forward to a quiet, solitary week in the woods. Just her, a couple of friendly dogs, and a well-stocked wine cellar. What could possibly go wrong?

The offer to stay in a cozy 1850s cabin sounds perfect, even if winter in Louisiana means there won’t be a blanket of snow. All Annalee needs to do in return is make an appraisal of a deceased artist’s jewelry and antiques. 

As an added bonus, she’ll have some strategic time away from the easy-going boyfriend who’s gotten too complacent about their relationship.

From the minute of her arrival, though, the historic house has more in store for her than antique jewelry and Cabernet. As it reveals its secrets, beginning with a never-ending supply of gold coins, the remote property becomes a magnet for a cast of characters ranging from pretty darn charming to obnoxiously oddball. She views all with her usual suspicion, which kicks into overdrive when she realizes each wants something he believes is hidden at the old homestead.

 Who can she trust when one of her visitors turns up dead? Thank goodness for the two stalwart hounds and her old friend Tennie. A benevolent spirit from the past is just welcome lagniappe.

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