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.

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Many people try to lose weight. Some succeed; many don't. E.S. Abramson, author of the highly acclaimed From Fat to Fabulous: A Diet Guide for Restaurant Lovers, which has been seen on ABC, NBC, and PBS, lost a lot of weight and has kept it off in a way that might surprise you. E.S. also writes the award-winning Thursday’s Child series as Elaine Abramson. To learn more about her and her books, visit her website. -- AP 

Dieting is Fun

“There is no love more sincere than the love of food.” -- George Bernard Shaw.

I have a body by disaster and hair by wash and beware. Now that my physical characteristics are out of the way, let me say that after 40 years of trying just about every known diet that doctors, nutritionists, celebrities, and dietitians dreamt up, none of them have worked for me. I would take off 20, 40, or 50 pounds one year and the following year I would weigh far more than the day I began the diet. There were a number of reasons those diets didn’t work for me. (1) They were time consuming. It seemed to take forever to measure, weigh, and prepare the foods recommended. (2) Their instructions were hard to follow. (3) They required tons of high-impact exercise. (4) They were boring. (5) They were expensive. (6) They required me join a diet group or purchase specific prepared meals. (7) Most important of all, they were not fun, and they did not work.

The news media reports on a daily basis about obesity, weight loss programs, weight loss successes, and politicians who are trying to end obesity not because of the health problems it causes but based on the burden it costs taxpayers.

In less than one week, the Today Show has had boxer Lila Ali, who never eats pork and keeps her refrigerator stocked with chocolate bars; Dr. Oz’s lose-ten-pounds-in-thirty-days diet by limiting your calorie intake; Snookie Polizzi, a reality star who counted calories and lost forty-two pounds; New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who tried to legislate the end to sugary drinks over sixteen ounces; the Mayo Clinic’s money as a motivator to lose weight program; and Today Show weatherman Al Roker, who repeatedly gained and lost weight until he underwent bypass surgery and worked out with a personal trainer.

Mr. Roker says, “Diets never work.” In addition to this, celebrities hawk every diet and exercise plan under the sun. Nielson Company’s TV ratings reported that NBC’s The Biggest Loser did not draw as many viewers as thirty-six other prime-time broadcast programs which rated much higher. I don’t know about other viewers, but I find it boring to watch contestants count calories, exercise until sweat pours off their bodies, constantly weigh in, and be booted off the program when they are unable to lose the weight required. Where is the fun in any of these diets?

I needed to be extremely motivated to begin a traditional diet and stick to it, but motivation always seemed hard to come by. My enthusiasm quickly died when I discovered that each diet came with a “yoyo syndrome” attached to it. If I ate one thing that was not on the diet’s approved list or if my writing or art got in the way and I didn’t have time to do the strenuous exercises required, I found myself right back where I started from. I spent my life fighting the battle of the bulge and watching my scale groan with every pound I gained. On traditional diets, all I ended up with was frustration and anger because I was fighting a battle I could not win.

One of the reasons for not being able to lose weight is eating sugar, and one of the less obvious sources of sugar is your medicine. While doing research for the second edition of From Fat to Fabulous: Another Diet Guide for Restaurant Lovers, I read books on diet  and nutrition, calorie and carbohydrate counters, and books on pills and vitamin supplements. I could not find any mention of sugar being contained in drugs in any of those sources.

Actress Julie Andrews portrayed a fictional character in the movie Mary Poppins. When she sang about a spoonful of sugar helping the medicine go down, she was telling it like it is. What I’ve said is not intended as medical advice nor is it intended to make you give up the medicine you are taking. It is strictly to inform you that sugar is found in some of the most unlikely places. In the 1970’s I worked in the weighing room of Barre National, the firm that manufactured Revco’s generic drugs. I weighed the sugar that went into the pills they manufactured. Because so-called traditional diets do not take the sugar in medicine into account, it seemed like nothing I did took the pounds and inches off and kept them off. Because I no longer have access to the USP-NF, a book that gives the exact measurements of all the ingredients that go into making each drug, I cannot tell you the amount of sugar used. But I noticed that if I ate bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, or dessert after I took my medicine for arthritis, thyroid, allergy, or osteoporosis, I weighed more, so I limit those foods in my diet.

My entry into creating and writing my restaurant lovers’ diet came the day I stood in my kitchen and screamed because the pain in my knees was so bad I could not stand long enough to prepare a meal. I had gained so much weight that my knees caved in under me. My husband, being the wonderful caring soul that he is, put the food back in the refrigerator and took me out to dinner. Before I could scream my head off the next night, he took me out to dinner again. Night after night we left the kitchen for one restaurant after another. After a while, just about every restaurant in town knew us and greeted us on a first name basis.

WOW! You’re probably saying to yourself, this lady has it made. You’re right; I do. At the end of three months I noticed that my clothes were falling off me. I also began to notice less pain in my knees. Best of all, for the first time in my life I was enjoying my meals and losing weight and proportions at the same time. I do not count calories, carbs, trans fats, or any of the other things dieters do to lose weight. As for the sugar in my medicine, on my restaurant lovers’ diet I rarely have to consider it. The only physical exercise I get is walking the dog and riding a stationary bicycle. The strenuous stuff I leave to others.

Most people have the mistaken perception that eating in restaurants is fattening. My answer is that it is not fattening if you eat the right combinations of foods. The other mistaken perception is that it is expensive. In From Fat to Fabulous: A Diet Guide for Restaurant Lovers I give a list of ways to cut costs. My husband and I have discovered that with all the waste in preparing food at home, it costs us practically the same amount to eat out. Best of all, it is fun to choose a new restaurant and to select from multiple choices on the menu.

With the odds stacked against me, I lost 50 pounds in one year on my restaurant lovers’ diet.  During my second year on the diet, I lost an additional 35 pounds and have gone from a size 22 to a size 12. I have a sluggish thyroid, do not have a spleen, and take medication that causes weight gain, had a slipped disk, and have bad knees which makes any form of exercise extremely difficult.

It has been four years since I have set foot in a kitchen to prepare a meal. My only cooking skills are microwaving restaurant leftovers and boiling water for a cup of tea. The day my microwave goes on the fritz or my refrigerator does not keep my leftovers frozen is going to be a bad day at black rock in our house.

On my restaurant lovers’ diet I am having the time of my life. No mess, no fuss, and nothing but fun. For me, it is happy eating and weight loss at the same time. Recently I have taken up a new hobby. I shop for new clothes every time I get one size smaller. I am no longer the woman who only collected jewelry because one size fits all.  The charity shops love my restaurant lovers’ diet, too, because every couple of months I fill their shelves and clothes racks with the clothes that have become too big on me.

For most of our married life, the Jack Spratt nursery rhyme described my husband and me. He was thin, and I was fat. He could eat four times what I ate and never gain an ounce. All I had to do was look at food and I packed on the pounds. Around the time I began my restaurant lovers’ diet, for the first time in his life my husband’s clothes were tight on him. With the exception of breakfast, where he finds it impossible to give up hot cereal, he’s on my restaurant lovers’ diet, too. In addition to losing inches, he says my diet gives him more energy.

With my weight loss, my husband, who is proud of what I have accomplished with my fun, enjoyable, no work, no mess, no fuss, never boring diet, tells everyone, “I’ve lost a whole other wife.”

Monday, April 29, 2013


Rabbi Ilene Schneider, Ed.D., is currently Coordinator of Jewish Hospice for Samaritan Hospice, Marlton, NJ, She is the author of the Rabbi Aviva Cohen mysteries, Chanukah Guilt and Unleavened Dead, and is working on the third, Yom Killer. She is also the author of Talk Dirty Yiddish. Learn more about Ilene at her website/blog.

For someone who eats out most of the time, lives alone in a townhouse with a small kitchen equipped with a hot-air popcorn popper and a microwave (so she can melt butter to pour over the popcorn, thereby defeating the purpose of a hot-air popper), and doesn’t entertain much, Rabbi Aviva Cohen, the amateur sleuth protagonist of the cozy mysteries Chanukah Guilt and Unleavened Dead, seems to do a lot of cooking and baking.

In Chanukah Guilt, she helps out her niece, who lives with her partner and son in a mini-mansion large enough to have dozens of family and friends for a potluck, buffet-style Thanksgiving feast, by making a cranberry-orange relish and baking desserts: brownies, meringue cookies, a berry crumble, and chocolate chip cookies. (The last is actually in lieu of payment to her next door neighbor, who shoveled out her driveway after a late fall snow storm.)

In Unleavened Dead, Aviva helps out her niece and partner, now with 2 children, as they plan a huge sit down family Seder, by making two different types of kugel (a matzah “pudding”), and, again, the cranberry-orange relish and meringue cookies. Nothing she makes is particularly difficult, but they do taste good. (Oh, and the niece’s partner is the prime suspect in the hit-and-run death of her new boss who had just demoted her shortly before his demise.)

Excerpt from Unleavened Dead:

While I melted margarine (parve, of course, so it could be served with either a dairy or a meat meal) in the microwave, I squeezed out the excess water from the softened boards of matzah, crumbled them up and added them to the bowl with the beaten eggs, chopped onions, and salt. I coated some aluminum lasagna pans (the perfect size for kugel) with the melted margarine and added the rest to the mixture, combining it all well. Then I divided it into the pans and stuck them into a pre-heated oven. As I said, easy. After Steve, Ben, and I ate lunch – and, I hoped, talked – I would make a second double batch and then start on the sweet kugel. Instead of onions, I would add chopped up apples and raisins to the matzah and eggs. Also easy. It’s not as popular as the onion kugel, so I would make only one double batch instead of two. By then, the egg whites would be room temperature, and I could make the meringue cookies. If I timed it right, I would have time to catch a movie after dropping everything off at Trudy and Sherry’s. If, that is, I didn’t feel too guilty about enjoying myself while they were worrying about a murder charge.

Aviva’s recipes are all ones that I make. The absolute favorite – to the extent that I have to hide them or they get eaten before the meal – are the meringue cookies:

6 oz. package chocolate chips         
3 egg whites                           
1/2 tsp vanilla                       
1/8 tsp cream tartar (optional)               
1 cup sugar                                                         

Make sure eggs are room temperature. Combine egg whites and vanilla. Beat stiff but not dry. Gradually add sugar and cream of tartar, and beat until very stiff and shiny.  Fold in chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoonful onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at low oven (200-225) until dry to touch.  (Makes about 3 dozen.)

Hints (all learned through painful experience):
·      Don’t try to make these if it’s humid.
·      Make sure the eggs aren’t too fresh.
·      Separate the eggs and then let the whites get to room temperature.
·      Make sure no yolk or water gets into the whites. (When I separate the eggs, I use 2 bowls; after I separate each white into the 1st bowl, I pour it into the 2nd bowl; in that way, if I do get yolk into one of the whites, the whole bowl isn’t contaminated.)
·      Use parchment paper instead of greasing the cookie sheet, so the bottoms of the cookies stay white and don’t turn brown.
·      Don’t use more than 3 eggs at a time. (If I need more than 3 dozen cookies – which I do for 2 nights of Seders – I let the 2nd, or sometimes, 3rd, batch of eggs whites get to room temperature while the previous batch is in the oven.)     

I am not one of those cooks who refuses to share recipes or deliberately omits an ingredient or a step. If anyone would like any of my other recipes, email me at rabbi.author@yahoo.com. B’tayavon! (Hebrew for bon appetite.)

Sunday, April 28, 2013


Mother’s Day is coming up. Stuck for a gift? Why not cross stitch this rose motif on one or more sachet bags?

Cross Stitched Rose Sachet Bag

Materials: Charles Craft white Royal Classic Sachet Bag, DMC floss as listed in the Color Key, DMC #24 tapestry needle, scissors, rose potpourri

Thursday, April 25, 2013


Our guest author today is Dianne Venetta who, when not whacking away at her keyboard crafting her next novel, can be found chasing grasshoppers and plucking hornworms in her organic garden and drawing wild analogies between kids and plants and men. Learn more about Dianne and her books at her website. -- AP

Tennessee is an interesting place.  Not only a great vacation spot for hiking enthusiasts, but the rivers and streams are a huge lure for fisherman, the whitewater rapids a strong draw for the kayaker and canoe lover.  It’s also a great setting for a novel!  But did you know it’s said the word Tennessee comes from the word “Tana-see?”  That’s the Native American word for “the meeting place.”  Whether or not this is true, it’s a fact that many Cherokee people inhabited the area before Europeans came through.

One of those famous Cherokee people was Sequoyah.  Although exposed to the concept of writing early in his life, Sequoyah never learned the English alphabet.  Unlike the white soldiers in the war of 1812, he and the other Cherokees were not able to write letters home, read military orders, or record events as they occurred. After the war, he began in earnest to create a writing system for the Cherokees.  In 1821, after 12 years working on the new language, he finally reduced the thousands of Cherokee thoughts to 85 symbols representing sounds. He made a game of this new writing system and within a few months of introducing his alphabet, thousands of Cherokees became literate.

Today, Tennessee is host to the world’s largest freshwater aquarium, located in Chattanooga.  It also boasts the largest underground lake, located in Sweetwater, TN.  Speaking of “large,” Reelfoot Lake in northwestern Tennessee was created by the largest earthquake, the New Madrid Earthquake, which occurred in the winter of 1811-12.

But I like that it’s the birthplace of country music, the Krystal burger, miniature golf, the typewriter and a host of other inventions.  It’s also one of my favorite summer destinations which is how Ladd Springs came to be.  I drew my inspiration from the canopied trails, the cool water rivers and waterfalls, but most of all, from family and friends.  We have some crazy feuds going on out there in this world and I just had to put pen to paper and start stirring the pot!

Ladd Springs is a work of fiction, but it was sparked by some interesting characters I’ve observed in my travels.  Add a little embellishment from me, and you end up with a story full of mystery, drama, and of course, romance.  I hope you enjoy!

Ladd Springs

A deathbed promise and a mysterious find in the Tennessee forest bring Delaney Wilkins and Nick Harris together in a dramatic fight for the rights to Ladd Springs.

Delaney Wilkins finds herself at odds with hotel developer Nick Harris over a deathbed promise and a mysterious find in the Tennessee forest.  Both are after title to Ladd Springs, a mecca of natural springs, streams and trails in the eastern Tennessee mountains, a tract of land worth millions.  But Ernie Ladd, current owner of the property and uncle to Delaney, is adamantly opposed to them both.

Felicity Wilkins, Delaney’s daughter, deserves to inherit her family’s legacy, but neighbor Clem Sweeney is working against her, ingratiating himself with Ernie Ladd.  Clem is also harboring a secret that will make him a very wealthy man—unless the others stop him before he can bring it to fruition.

Complicating matters is Annie Owens.  Ex-girlfriend to Jeremiah Ladd, Ernie’s estranged son living in Atlanta, she declares her daughter Casey is Jeremiah’s, making Casey every bit as entitled to the property as Felicity—only Annie hasn’t proven this claim.  Yet.

All are fighting to get the property, but only one will walk away with the gold.  Which will it be?  Find out in the first installment of Ladd Springs...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


During his 29th year, spending just $19,420.68, less than it would have cost him to stay at home, Adam Shepard visited seventeen countries on four continents and lived some amazing adventures. He writes about this year in his new book, One Year Lived. The following is a shortened excerpt from one of Adam's adventures. Learn more about Adam at his website

Imagine what it might be like to reach through the computer screen to confront a person on the other side.

Years ago, I read some articles and a couple of books on outsourcing, and it changed the structure of my life. The Internet has brought virtual assistance to the commoner on a digital silver platter. The little guy—you with the lawn care business or you trying to sell homemade reversible purses—can now research affordably, manufacture affordably, and market affordably.

If you can somewhat coherently list instructions in an e-mail, assignments will be completed for you overnight, finished by the time you sit down at the table for your bagel in the morning. Globalization allows for a collaborative effort to be affordable and efficient for everyone.

So, a couple of years before my world adventure began, I had plopped down on my sofa and flipped my laptop open. A few clicks and I began my search.

A Rafael Apolinario III’s credentials spanned my screen. I settled on him due to his glowing enthusiasm.

Not only is my boy Raf logging hours for half the cost of America’s burger-flipping minimum wage, he’s doing some pretty advanced computer work for me. I can send him a list of one thousand colleges and universities and say, “Raf, I need the names and e-mail addresses of the vice provosts at these universities. You think you can do that in forty hours?”

He says, “Yes, of course, Sir Adam, but I will try hard to do it in thirty!”

I asked him once whether he knew how to put together a video from a file of pictures, and he wrote, “Not today, Sir Adam. But I can learn by tomorrow!”

I send him money; he sends me quality work. It’s a very simple relationship.

From the outback, Ivana wanted to go to a beach. One with powdery sand and few people. One where we could lounge by the shore and eat filet mignon and drink a bottle of chardonnay. One where she could swim without concern for sanitation.

I e-mailed Raf and he replied almost instantly. “Adam…you are welcome anytime! I am excited to finally meet you personally. I live just an hour and a half ride from Boracay, the most beautiful beach in the world.”

He was exaggerating, kind of. Just this year, TripAdvisor touted Boracay as the second-best beach in the world, just after Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos.

“Adam, sir!” Raf hollered. “You made it!” Around five feet tall, he weighed in at 115 pounds. I was almost literally two of him. He sported a Fisher Price My First Mustache and had curled the top of his hair into a mini-mohawk, the style of the decade among Filipino men.

I learned that he was two years from thirty, though he looked to be between fifteen and seventeen years old. I’d never known his age.

The tide shifted when I met Raf. I was no longer in charge. Raf, the Raf who always apologized for simple, meaningless errors and always asked me twice whether I found his work sufficient, morphed into a man in control. He showed Ivana and me to the cool spots on the beach, he took us to buy fresh spices and produce, he gave us a tour of the creaky but clean office he worked out of, he introduced us to his family, and he helped us to avoid getting swindled. “No, man, don’t buy that one,” he advised when we passed by souvenir shops.

He cooked. Sauteed prawns and pork adobo. He combined shrimp, spinach, string beans, tomatoes, onions, peppers, fish sauce, and a tamarind base to make a tangy traditional Filipino soup. I bought ingredients, he cooked them.

And then we went wakeboarding. Raf spit out Tagalog, the native language, all over that island until we arrived at the only place with the equipment to offer wakeboarding.

I forget where we settled. It wasn’t in my favor but far better than a white man would have been able to negotiate on his own in Boracay. I really didn’t have a choice anyway. This man owned the only wakeboarding equipment on the island. I spent pocket change to fight bulls in Nicaragua, and I was ready to go to the ATM in order to wakeboard, with Boracay’s lounging green hills and rough cliffs as a backdrop. Boats were zipping this way and that under the sun’s full gleam. A few white tufts littered a mostly cloudless sky. It’s irresponsible to spare expense for these once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

A half hour later, I was sitting next to this dude, this guy I’d known for two years, but really only a few hours.

“Did you get that one?” I asked, surfacing from a spill after one of my jumps. I shook my head to fling water from my shaggy hair.

“Hm. Yes, man. But I tell you it might be a better picture if you can get off the water a little bit.”

Meeting Raf in such a beautiful atmosphere was an interesting blend of business and pleasure. We have nothing in common, and there wasn’t a whole lot to talk about. He was nice; I was nice. We spoke very little about current political happenings and a lot about Manny’s fight.

Raf lives a world away from me, literally and metaphorically. The people of his country are almost as poor as the people of Honduras. Raf lives in a cramped one-bedroom apartment and cooks his meals—mostly rice and bits of fish. He deposits most of his earnings into his nineteen-year-old brother’s college education fund or into a savings account for the business he wants to open one day. He walks around town, whether his destination lies one block or a couple dozen away.

And in between home-cooked meals and time on the boat, it felt good to be able to step out of the virtual world, establish a real connection, look him in the eye, shake his hand, and thank him personally.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Have you ever felt the need for change? L.B. Joramo did, and she’s here to tell us about it today. Learn more about her at her website

I worked in the health and fitness business for sixteen years before I packed it all in and went back to school for my Master’s in US Military History; my area of concentration is the American Revolution. I had been planning to quit for several years, since my ultimate goal was to actually make a living at my writing, and my early “retirement” couldn’t have come at a better time. Before I quit my business, I partly tore my rotator cuff again and strained my groin. I could barely walk, let alone lift anything with my left arm. Obviously, I was doing something wrong, but what it was, I could have cared less, since I didn’t have to work out for my job anymore. I was elated!

For the next three years I became more and more sedentary. Hey, I was a part-time Master’s student, hence a lot of sitting while I read, and was actively pursuing getting published with my writing—even more sitting. And with my injuries, I didn’t mind sitting more. I really didn’t mind, but my body did. I started to gain weight, but what disturbed me the most was my mood. I was sad more often than I ever had been and agitated. I just thought it was because I was having such a struggle with getting published, but it was more, much more, than that.

You see, I know the science behind why our bodies do what they do. I knew better than to sit around with two injuries. The quickest way to heal is movement--gentle, consistent movement. The best way to lose a few pounds is movement. I’m sorry diet industry, but it’s been proven over and over again that diets don’t work. Activity does. Besides, what the diet industry really doesn’t want mainstream Americans to know is:

1.) being overweight does not mean you are unhealthy—the stats show that a person who eats more healthy meals and consistently moves, yet is overweight, will live longer and have less diseases than a thin person who does not eat the same kind of healthy meals or move regularly. And,

2.) most people are overweight by their standards, which might not be accurate or even scientific. All my male clients were 20, 30, sometimes even 40 pounds overweight, but none of those pounds were fat. All of my guy clients were fine with that. With my female clients it was more difficult to talk about the scale, because many women valued their sense of self with the number on that scale. And that broke my heart.

However, many of my women would open up to the idea that muscle did weigh more than fat. We would do a science experiment, where I would cube an inch of butter and an inch of steak, and the steak would sometimes weigh three times more than the butter, especially lean steak—in other words, pure muscle. The only way to get that muscle was to move.

I’m a realist, as well as a very sedentary person now. I do not, nor have I ever, thought you had to work yourself until you’re purple in the face to gain muscle. And don’t get me wrong, I do love a challenging exercise class, where I end up dripping sweat. But that’s me. Everyone has different emotional needs, so why not have different physical needs too? Some people move all the time, yet never work up a sweat, and they have great muscles and cardio health to prove it. Some people, like me, will want to burst with energy and lift weights and or do power yoga until sweat streams off us. Both these kinds of examples are proof of movement and people being active, and they are both right for those particular people.

We’ve been studying exercise for a long time, and the one thing that has been proven over and over again to work for people is doing what they like consistently. That means, when I was a trainer, I would have to think outside the box for training my clients. One of my clients actually liked cleaning, and I helped her set up her own organization of cleaners to help people who are diagnosed with a fatal disease. She cleans all day long, happy as a Jay bird, gets fit, and does it all for a great cause.

Another client of mine was a preacher’s wife, and for the longest time I couldn’t find anything that she loved so much that she would want to do it every day. Until I found strip aerobics for her. Yep, my client, the preacher’s wife, knows how to have a good time, and her husband has no complaints either.

The point is that exercise should be some activity that is fun and something you look forward to doing almost every day. My problem, before I quit, was that I had forgotten that, and was just working out because it was my job. As a consequence, I started to listen less and less to my body as I was moving, and that’s how you get a couple killer injuries.

Listen to your bodies, move as often as you can—during commercial breaks, get up and dance for me, lend a hand to your neighbor when they’re sick, show your kids how terrible you are at the hula-hoop, but the most important rule of exercise is to have FUN! Find something you find completely exhilarating and do it as often as you can! 

Our bodies will adjust and want something else to do soon enough, so then it’s your job to find that something else that is incredibly fun for you to do. It’s a journey, like so many other things, and I guarantee you will not only discover so much about your body, but yourself too. I’ve been privileged to watch my clients change, adjust, and grow, and now it’s my turn to do the same. I hope you’ll join me! Let me know what you like to do for exercise, activity, or movement, whatever word resonates with you?

As black clouds gather for America in 1775 Violet Buccleuch transforms from simple colonial farmer to become the Immortal American.

While Boston roars with protests, Violet Buccleuch fights to survive. The lone provider for her mother and sister, Violet knows that soon enough she must surrender to the only option a woman of 1775 has: marriage.

For two years she's delayed a wedding to Mathew Adams, her fiancé. He’s loved her since they were children, and Violet knows he will be a good husband. But he’s gone and committed the most dangerous mistake a man can make: He’s introduced her to his friend, Jacque Beaumont, a Frenchman and a spy, a dark, dangerous man Violet can’t stop herself from wanting.

Then Violet’s life is shattered--brutality, death, and the threat of debtor’s prison surround her. Both Jacque and Mathew come to her aid--one man rescues her farm, the other rescues her heart. As the Battle of Concord rages at her door, Violet is entangled between her loyalty to Mathew, even as she's drawn further into Jacque's shadowy, mysterious world – perhaps a world from which there's no return.

Monday, April 22, 2013


Judy Alter is the author of Kelly O’Connell Mysteries—Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, and Trouble in a Big Box. With Murder at the Blue Plate Café, she launches her second series: Blue Plate Café Mysteries. Learn more about Judy and her books at her website. -- AP

I’m going to begin with a confession: I don’t have a craft, unless you count the craft of writing. Heaven knows, I’ve tried. There was my macramé phase—how long ago was that? Thankfully no souvenirs survive from that period. And then there was pottery—I still serve from some bowls that I threw. They’re thick and crude but I’m not ashamed to admit their origin. And then there was knitting. My grandmother taught me to knit as a young child, and there was a period—high school?—when I knit sweaters for myself. But I gave it up until the grandchildren came along and I decided I should knit something for each, so the youngest five have blankets or sweaters from Juju, although the loving hands that made them are evident in their flaws.

But always there was cooking. My mom taught me to cook when I was quite young. She patiently tolerated a messy kitchen and frequent mistakes, like the time I put nine teaspoons of baking soda in a cake. That’s what the recipe called for—I just didn’t know any better. Cooking has been my avocation all my life.

To me, there are two kinds of cooking: daily food and gourmet. For years, I fed four children and often had fifteen or twenty around my Sunday evening dinner table. I called those years of single parenthood “the casserole years.” You don’t cook gourmet in those circumstances, though once I went too far with experimentation, causing my brother to ask, “Sis? Is the budget the problem?” But to this day I enjoy cooking “gourmet” meals for small groups of friends. Usually I try a recipe I haven’t tried before—that’s part of the fun.

The idea of writing a culinary mystery danced in my head for several years, and I read a lot of those on the market, back to the early The Cooking School Murders by Virginia Rich. Diane Mott Davidson and Cleo Coyle were my heroes, though their recipes, I thought, put mine to shame.

Then I invented the Blue Plate Café, named after the Blue Willow china my mom served on and I use today. Actually the café is a modification of my memories of a small café in East Texas where my children and I used to eat frequently when visiting friends at a nearby ranch. And when I created Kate Chambers, I found I had re-invented myself.

Kate, a paralegal in Dallas, inherits her grandmother’s café in the small town of Wheeler. She abandons her career and returns to Wheeler, where she grew up, to run the café. Every day she cooks daily food—pot roast, chicken-fried steak, chopped steak, fried catfish, and, don’t forget the sticky buns, but she adds her own touch with homemade tuna, chicken and potato salads. In her off time, she delights in cooking gourmet meals, everything from chicken piccata to beef Wellington and inventing a few dishes as she goes along. Here’s her recipe for sticky buns, for which the Blue Plate Café is famous:

Sticky Buns

2 pkg. granular yeast
½ c. warm water
Pinch of sugar
12-oz. can evaporated milk, plus enough water to make 4 cups
1 scant c. vegetable oil
1 c. sugar
1 c. flour
1 tsp. salt (or less)
1 heaping tsp. baking powder
1 level tsp. baking soda
brown sugar
Karo white syrup

Dissolve yeast in water (add just a pinch of sugar to help the yeast work) and let it rise about five minutes. Mix milk and water, oil, and sugar. Add dissolved yeast. Stir in enough flour to make a thin batter, the consistency of cake batter. Let this rise in a warm place until bubbles appear on the surface (probably 1 hour—check it at 30 minutes).

Mix together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Sift flour mixture into first mixture. Keep adding flour until it is too stiff to stir with a spoon.

Roll the dough out to a flat rectangle. Sprinkle with cinnamon and brown sugar and dab with butter. Roll up into a tube and slice into pieces of about 2 inches.

Thoroughly grease the bottom of an 8”x8” pan, then cover it with Karo white syrup and pecan pieces. Place rounds of dough, cut side down, on the Karo/pecan mixture. Bake these at 350o until brown and center rolls appear cooked. Be sure to turn out of the pan immediately, while still warm. Cold cooked syrup turns to concrete. Rinse the pan immediately with very hot water.
Murder at the Blue Plate Café
When twin sisters Kate and Donna inherit their grandmother’s restaurant, the Blue Plate Cafe, in Wheeler, Texas, there’s immediate conflict. Donna wants to sell and use her money to establish a B&B; Kate wants to keep the café. Thirty-two-year-old Kate leaves a Dallas career as a paralegal and a married lover to move back to Wheeler and run the café, while Donna plans her B&B and complicates her life by having an affair with her sole investor.

Kate soon learns that Wheeler is not the idyllic small town she thought it was fourteen years ago. The mayor, a woman, is power-mad and listens to no one, and the chief of police, newly come from Dallas, doesn’t understand small-town ways. Kate is  suspicious of Gram’s sudden death, “keeling over in the mashed potatoes,” as Donna described it, and she learns that’s not at all what happened. When the mayor of Wheeler becomes seriously ill after eating food from the café, delivered by Donna’s husband, Kate is even more suspicious. 

Then Donna’s investor is shot, and Donna is arrested. Kate must defend her sister and solve the murders to keep her business open, but even Kate begins to wonder about the sister she has a love-hate relationship with. Gram guides Kate through it all, though Kate’s never quite sure she’s hearing Gram—and sometimes Gram’s guidance is really off the wall.