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.

Friday, December 29, 2017

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR TERRY SHAMES

Terry Shames is the author of the award-winning Samuel Craddock series. Her latest, A Reckoning in the Back Country comes out January 9 and is available for pre-order now. Learn more about Terry and her books at her website. 

New Year’s Resolutions…again

I know, I know New Year’s resolutions are a sucker’s pastime. You know you aren’t going to do what you say you’re going to do, so why bother? You may start out well, determined to:

-lose x pounds (you fill in the number)
-be nice to your neighbor, even when his dog….well, you know
-clean out your closets
-write a zillion words a day
-clean off your desk
-start developing that idea for a book that you know will be “the one”

Any of those sound familiar? Sure they do. And so do your excuses for not doing them. (My dog ate my manuscript doesn’t count!)

But I contend that it isn’t the completion of the resolution that’s important; it’s the making of them. Every year thinking of resolutions makes me take stock of where I am versus where I want to be.

Here are the things I managed to do:

-I didn’t write as many words as I wanted, but wrote a book, and it comes out January 9.
-I wrote the first draft of another book
-I decided to let the past fall away and be friendly to our neighbors. It paid off. We are cordial.
-I didn’t lose 15 pounds, but I lost 5.
-I cleaned out my desk—several times.

As for cleaning out my closet, that’s one resolution from last year that turned out well, and that I think has meaning in other areas, but not for obvious reasons. A little background: When I’m flustered or feeling unattractive or in a big hurry, I sometimes start getting dressed and before I know it half the things in my closet are on the floor, while I try in vain for just the right thing to wear (sound familiar?) I realized that every time this happened I was trying on the same things again and again and rejecting them. Thus my idea: If I tried on something and rejected it, I had to get rid of it. There were exceptions: I could have a “trial try on.” For example, if I wasn’t sure a sweater was the right color to wear with a pair of slacks I wanted to wear, I could try on a couple of different things.

I can’t tell you how much this helped. Instead of flinging on things that I hated, it made me really think about what I was going to wear….and then wear it. Otherwise, it was gone. In the end it saved me a lot of time and I got rid of some things I truly disliked and wondered why I had ever purchased. This allowed me a way to acknowledge my purchasing mistakes and move on.

And that seems like a pretty good way of looking at my writing: maybe that book I started wasn’t such a good idea after all. I tried it on, and it doesn’t “look good.” Maybe it needs to be thrown out. Or maybe I just need to modify it. Either way will work to clean out the clutter.

I’ll be making resolutions again this year—some that will make a difference, and others that I’ll “forget.” I’d like to know what resolutions others have made in the past that meant something—and which ones do you make year after year and never seem to keep?

In keeping with one of my resolutions this year, to be better at promoting my books, here’s something to tantalize you about A Reckoning in the Back Country, which comes out January 9: read it to find how Samuel Craddock gets a puppy. And to find out how his love life takes a dramatic turn.

Also, one of my resolutions last year was to update my website. I just squeaked in under the wire. Have a look. www.Terryshames.com

Reckoning in the Back Country, A Samuel Craddock Mystery
Acting Police Chief Samuel Craddock investigates the murder of a visiting physician, whose mangled body is found in the woods. 

When Lewis Wilkins, a physician with a vacation home in Jarrett Creek, is attacked by vicious dogs, and several pet dogs in the area around Jarrett Creek disappear, Police Chief Samuel Craddock suspects that a dog fighting ring is operating in his territory. He has to tread carefully in his investigation, since lawmen who meddle in dog fighting put their lives at risk. The investigation is hampered because Wilkins is not a local.

Craddock’s focus on the investigation is thrown off by the appearance of a new woman in his life, as well as his accidental acquisition of a puppy. 

Digging deeper, Craddock discovers that the public face Wilkins presented was at odds with his private actions. A terrible mistake led to his disgrace as a physician, and far from being a stranger, he has ongoing acquaintances with a number of county residents who play fast and loose with the law.

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Thursday, December 28, 2017

STEPPING BACK IN HISTORY TO ANCIENT ROME WITH AUTHOR ZARA ALTAIR


Zara Altair writes traditional mysteries set in the time of Ostrogoth Rule in Italy in The Argolicus Mysteries. Learn more about her and her books at her website

The New Year: A Time for Games In Ancient Rome
The latest Argolicus mystery, The Roman Heir, is set in Ostia just outside Rome in January 512 CE. The young heir thinks his greatest problem is getting his father to let him go to the new year Games hosted by the new Consul. His father is viciously murdered and the young man changes from teenager to adult.

The games were extravagant events that went on for days. They were entirely free to the public but cost politicians so much they often went deeply into debt. Chariot races were the main event held at the Circus Maximus, which could hold 250,000 spectators. Aside from the cost of horses, chariots, charioteers, and all of their attendant grooms, the games also provided entertainment with musicians, wild animal hunts, acrobats, and other acts all paid for by the politician.

Even though the Games were held in January, inclement weather like rain or snow did not stop the Games. Whatever the weather, people flocked to the Games for the annual holiday.

Charioteers were like famous sports personalities today, gaining popular support with the people. They belonged to Factions represented by colors. By the time of the story, there were two main Factions - the Greens and the Blues. Loyalty to Factions was strong, often passed down through generations. Enthusiasm and support for Factions was high-strung resulting in fistfights in pubs and street fights much like soccer team support today. The closest modern day example of the fervor is the Palio horserace in Siena, Italy, where faction loyalty consumes the city.

The charioteers wore Faction colored jackets over their tunics so they were easily identified by the spectators. Around their waist was an arrangement of leather straps that protected them from the reins of the four horses. The reins wrapped around the charioteer’s waist. He guided the horses around the dangerous turns at each end of the Circus Maximus by leaning his body.

The Passion of the Games
The passion of the games were a mammoth spectacle that began with a parade of the game’s sponsor with musicians, acrobats, mounted guards, etc. Faction members held traditional positions to spur the crowd to cheers with chants and loud noisemakers.

Crowds loved the chariot races as there were no lanes and no rules. With 24 races every day, the Games were filled with excitement, drawing people from outside the city to celebrate the holidays. Chariot races were filled with danger. Wheels fell off, and charioteers lost their balance on the lightweight wood and leather chariots and were dragged behind the running horses by the reins wrapped around their body.

A Teenager’s Freedom
Teenagers enjoyed the Games as a time of no-holds-barred excitement much like young people in Europe today flock to the running of the bulls at the Feast of San Fermín in Pamplona, Spain. They went not just for the event but for the freedom from usual social constraints. The Games offered an environment for young men and women to meet without the usual Roman parental guidance.

Philo, the Roman heir, gives up his dream of going to the Games as Argolicus searches for clues. The Games are background to the mystery. I hope you are tempted to add this story to your New Year’s reading.

Happy New Year!

The Roman Heir, An Argolicus Mystery
A naive teenager. A sister with secrets. A corrupt patrician. Argolicus unravels the threads.

Argolicus and Nikolaos deliver a gift but arrive hours after a brutal murder. They look for an answer until they find that a man’s secrets do not go with him to the grave.

With just days to find the killer before his ship leaves port, Argolicus must probe the politics of the dying town. But with every investigation he makes, the circle of possibilities grows. Success seems out of reach and he must disappoint the family until a ruffian accosts him and pieces fall into place.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

HOME IMPROVEMENT IDEAS WITH GUEST CONTRIBUTOR JACKIE WATERS

Jackie Waters is the creator of Hyper-tidy.com where she offers tips on creating a tidy, happy, healthy home through focusing on sustainability and practicing simplicity.

6 Easy, Green and Affordable “Home Mod” Projects for Accessibility

Your home is your castle—or is it? When your home seems to be working against you and you’re craving more accessibility, it can seem a bit more like a prison than a respite. Upgrading your home to become more accessible, whether via the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standard or not, comes with a slew of benefits. If you or someone in your home needs, or would benefit from, accessible features, the house will become a home. If you’re planning to sell the property, baby boomers are moving into the senior living category at a fast clip, and accessibility is more in demand than ever.

From increasing the desirability and value of your home to making it cozier for you, not all home modification projects for accessibility need to break the bank. Here are a few to consider:

1. Adding grips and handrails in the bathroom. These “handy” tools can be added next to toilets, bathtubs, in showers, and just about anywhere else in the home where getting up and down can be a struggle. They can be permanent solutions, or there are a variety of removable yet very sturdy options that allow you to change and customize placement as you wish. Disabilities, chronic conditions, temporary injuries and sheer age can all make getting up and down a challenge. Increase safety with these very low-cost add-ons.

2. Consider “comfort height” toilets. The ADA calls “comfort height” between 17 – 19 inches, whereas standard toilet heights are about 14 inches. As you can see, there’s a big difference! Toilets are a surprisingly affordable upgrade, and you can add on a low-flush option if you want to green up the home, too. The higher a seat is, the lower a person has to squat, therefore it’s easier to get up and down.

3. Build a ramp for exterior stairs. Ramps aren’t just for wheelchairs. Many people find it difficult to climb up and down stairs for a variety of reasons. You don’t need to replace stairs with a ramp, but adding one in addition to stairs can make accessing the home much easier. The cost of a ramp can vary drastically depending on numerous factors including grade, materials, labor costs and current conditions of the home. Shop around to get the best quote.

4. Swap out your sink for a better height. The average counter is 36 inches high, which can work for some people but not all. It’s, of course, very costly to get new cabinets and counters, but swapping out a sink is a more affordable option. Whether you need a shorter or higher sink for accessibility, you can often achieve that without changing the counter or base. While you’re at it, you can add on water-saving features for a greener kitchen.

5. Get an ADA-compliant dishwasher. A lot of people are surprised to discover there’s such a thing as an ADA dishwasher, but they can make a big difference with both accessibility and eco-friendliness. Plus, dishwashers are on the more affordable side of appliances. An accessible dishwasher always has buttons on the front and sits 14 – 38 inches above the floor. That’s a big range, so the real goal is ensuring it will sit at the right height that’s comfortable for you or the person who needs a compliant dishwasher. As an added bonus, you’re likely to get a greener dishwasher these days than what you currently have installed.

6. Put a nonslip mat in the tub and shower. This one’s extremely basic and cheap, but a common oversight. Slips and falls can be very dangerous, especially for the elderly, and wet skin on a slick surface is asking for trouble.

Making your home more ADA-friendly is a great way to increase safety, comfort and even the value of your home. Get creative, and always see if you can green up the upgrade while you’re at it. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--APPLE CRANBERRY BUNDT CAKE

Having a New Year’s Day open house or going to one? Bring along this Apple Cranberry Bundt Cake.

Apple Cranberry Bundt Cake

Ingredients:
5 cooking apples
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2-1/4 cups sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup pecans
1 cup walnuts
1 cup + 4 T. butter
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup apple cider
4 eggs 
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
zest of one lemon
1 cup dried cranberries

Peel and slice apples. Place in bowl. Add cinnamon and 1/4 cup sugar. Mix to coat apples. Set aside.

Grease bundt pan and dust with flour or use baking spray with flour.

Pulse nuts, brown sugar, and 4 T. butter until crumbly. Distribute evenly in bundt pan.

Cream remaining butter and sugar. Mix all other dry ingredients together. Slowly add dry ingredients to butter/sugar mixture.

Combine eggs, apple cider, vanilla, almond extract, and lemon zest. Slowly add to other ingredients as you continue to mix. Batter will be thick. Fold in cranberries.

Place small amount of batter over streusel topping. Add a layer of apples. Continue layering batter and apples, with batter as last layer.


Back at 350 degrees for 1-1/2 hours or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (Baking time will vary, depending on depth of your bundt pan. Check doneness after 1 hr.) Cool on wire rack 15-20 minutes. Remove cake from pan.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Friday, December 22, 2017

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR PAT STOLTEY

Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels. She lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Sassy Dog, and Katie Cat. Learn more about Pat at her website/blog.

Wishing Caswell Dead is Not a Cozy
The characters in my new novel are about as un-cozy a bunch as you’d ever want to meet. Or not want to meet, to be more precise.

I created a little fictitious village called Sangamon that sits on a river in east central Illinois in 1833-1834. Young Jo Mae Proud lives there in a run-down log cabin with a down-on-her-luck mother and much-older half-brother Caswell. I gave Jo Mae a monumental challenge, then surrounded her with flawed, not-so-nice adults. Bad things happen to Jo Mae along the way. The worst character in the book, Caswell, is murdered. But we know there’s always good to be found, even when evil seems to rule the times. Jo Mae finds the good in the old Kickapoo Indian named Fish and escapes Sangamon in search of a better life.

Bringing a story like this to Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers might seem odd, but during my research, I found mention of so many early American crafts. The big loom that appears in one home in the story is something I saw in a museum.

Jo Mae’s home had not so much as a needle or even a bar of soap, and her best dress was fashioned from a printed feed sack. How many of you are even old enough to remember what those old feed sacks printed with tiny flowers looked like?

No fancy cooking went on in the Proud household. Boiling a small piece of meat or fish with vegetables was the best Jo Mae’s mother could do. When Jo Mae goes to live with the old Kickapoo Indian in his camp by the river, she learns a little more about eating good food. She also learns not to throw a handful of dried apples into the stew. The apples were windfalls…and they were wormy. Once tossed into the cookpot, the worms floated to the top, a very unappetizing sight.

Drying foods is a good way to preserve an overabundance of fruits or vegetables in today’s world, too. I’d recommend not using wormy apples. Slice them very thin (as with a mandolin, if you dare), and dry them in your oven. There are directions online for the process as well as recipes for using the dried fruits.

When researching this type of information for Wishing Caswell Dead, I visited the Museum of the Grand Prairie in Mahomet, Illinois. There was a wealth of information, including hand-quilted goods and needlework, tools, machines, and items used in homes and for cooking. I was most interested in quilting, something I’d like to try for myself one of these days.

I have an antique quilt that I’m afraid to display for fear it will be damaged in some way, especially as I have a cat with claws and a dog who loves to cuddle into cozy blankets. At present, I take the quilt out from time to time and refold or roll it to avoid permanent creases. The quilt came from Illinois originally and its age was authenticated by the Illinois State Museum. It’s not quite as old as the quilts that characters in the Village of Sangamon would use, but it’s certainly representative of the style and design of those times.

I’d love to know if any of you are expert quilters, and if you quilt by hand or by sewing machine. Any weavers with a loom at home? What about cooks who dry fruits and veggies for use later?

I won’t pretend Wishing Caswell Dead is full of killer crafts, but that historical period offers excellent ideas for today’s crafty reader looking for new projects…or for the crafty cozy writer looking for new plots and characters.  

Wishing Caswell Dead:
In the early 1800s in a village on the Illinois frontier, young Jo Mae Proud wishes her cruel brother dead. Forced into prostitution by Caswell, Jo Mae discovers she is pregnant and vows to escape. When Caswell is injured by a near lightning hit, he becomes more dangerous, and more hated. The flawed residents of the Village of Sangamon harbor many secrets. Caswell knows them all. Will he tell? Jo Mae runs away and eventually finds shelter with Fish, the old Kickapoo Indian who camps by the river. Wishing Caswell Dead is an historical mystery about the evil that hides within a village, one girl who is determined to save herself and her child, and a violent murder no one wants to solve.

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

GUEST AUTHOR JULIE MOFFETT'S HOLIDAY GUIDE TO GEEK GIFTS

Award-winning and bestselling author Julie Moffett writes mystery, young adult, historical romance and paranormal romance books. Continue reading to learn how you can win e-copies of two of Julie’s books. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

Hi, everyone and Happy Holidays! I’m mystery author Julie Moffett and I write humorous, geeky, mysteries. My Lexi Carmichael series has nine books out now with the tenth book, No Regrets, releasing January 8th. But today, I’m celebrating the release of the first book in a brand new geeky, mystery series titled White Knights. The novel features Angel Sinclair, a brilliant geek girl who wants nothing more than to be left in peace, but goes to war with some kids in her high school, and gets mixed up in international intrigue—all on the first day of her last day of high school.

So, how many of you have a geek in your life? Daughter, son, niece, grandson, neighbor? Husband, co-worker or significant other? Well, no worries because I’m here to help you out! Listed below is a Geek Gift Suggestion Guide with my top five picks for the holiday season. Hopefully there is something here for every geek in your life!

Feel free to comment on the post, because I’m giving away an e-book of White Knights and No One Lives Twice (the 1st book in the Lexi Carmichael series) to a random commenter to celebrate my new release! Good luck!!

Fun Geek Gifts

The Sum of All Your Particles
It’s a puzzle! Take the wooden particle apart and then try to rebuild it without sneaking a peek at the solution. But watch out, recognizing spatial relationships and spotting the solution is about as easy as seeing an atom, particle, cell or molecule with the naked eye. And you thought passing chemistry was tough!

Paste Not Waste
Squeeze up to 35% more out of your household supplies with this forearm and time-saving device designed to make tubes good to the last drop. It's simple, sturdy and effective. Ideal for everyday use.

Head of the Glass
Display your mathematical prowess with every pour when you serve drinks in this numerically inclined glass set that features equivalent mathematical constants in addition to standard ounces. Whether they join you with water during class or with something a little stronger as you celebrate cracking your latest conundrum, you'll be glad you got your digits around these endlessly entertaining glasses.


Taking Games to New Heights
Hoverkraft is a game where players take turns stacking pieces on a platform that levitates. Using magnetic repulsion, the game board defies gravity. Stack translucent game pieces higher and higher or remove them as the die dictates. The last player to place a block without causing the platform to tumble wins.

Wear Your Geek Pride
You can’t go wrong with a T-shirt—a geek staple. Great geeky sayings abound (like the one at the top of this blog), so the choice is yours.

Of course, don’t forget to pick up White Knights or a set of the Lexi Carmichael books to go along with your choice! Let me know which geeky presents intrigue you or add any good ones I may have missed.

Happy Holidays and be sure to comment below to be automatically entered to win an ebook of White Knights and No One Lives Twice.

White Knights
Geek Girls Rule! My name is Angel Sinclair. I’m the youngest senior at Excalibur Academy for the Technologically Gifted and Talented in Washington, DC. I was pushed ahead a year because of my high IQ and considerable prowess behind the keyboard, making me an outcast even among my own peers.

I’ve been looking for my dad all my life. A brilliant mathematician and cryptographer, he disappeared under mysterious circumstances when I was eighteen months old. Although my mom tells me I must put him in my past, it only makes me more determined to find out what happened to him. When weird accidents start happening at my school and the vice principal is involved in a deadly incident, I don’t see it as a coincidence.

After launching my own investigation, with the aid of an unexpected set of allies calling themselves the White Knights, I discover a threat far greater than I ever could have imagined. I could take my discoveries to the authorities, but my own investigative methods would be at risk. Can anyone say hacking? No, it’s up to me to set things right. My objectives are straightforward: clear the name of the vice principal, learn the truth about my father, and stay alive. In other words, save the day and try not to look too much like a dork while doing it.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

GUEST AUTHOR PEGGY GAFFNEY SHARES A CHRISTMAS SHORT STORY

Peggy Gaffney is the author of the Kate Killoy Mysteries of Suspense for the Dog Lover, which have been described as Die Hard meets Best in Show. Today she offers us a short story from the series. Learn more about Peggy and her books at her website.

The Christmas Tree
A Kate Killoy Short Story

Kate had been fighting months of grief since the deaths of her father and grandfather. However, she had woken that morning, realized it was Christmas Eve and suddenly found herself resolved to get into the holiday spirit. This would be her first Christmas in her little house next to her kennel. She’d be going to her mother’s for Christmas dinner, but she suddenly wanted to bring the spirit of the holiday into her new home. 

Getting a tree wasn’t a problem. When you own fourteen wooded acres, what you do is grab a hatchet and crosscut saw, ropes, a dog-sled and a dog. Though most of the Samoyeds in her kennel were trained for the show ring, Dillon had also been training on a sled team for more than a year and would be the best answer to getting the tree home. She found the perfect tree after just half an hour of looking. The cutting and loading went quickly. Dillon thought this was great since there was nothing he enjoyed more in winter than racing through the snowy wooded trails pulling a sled.

Back in her cottage, she realized that some of her younger Sammy helpers needed to learn the difference between outdoor and indoor trees. She made a quick save with a fast grab for two male puppies and tucking each under an arm, called the adult dogs to follow, and sent them all out into the yard to kept the tree from being marked.

Back at work, she pulled the lights her grandmother had given her from the bin. As she set about untangling the string, she thought she saw movement. A glance around the room showed nothing. Attaching the beginning of the strand to the top of the tree, she caught a movement and saw the other end moving silently across the floor and disappearing. Going hand over hand, she followed the strand and gazed into the darkness behind the sofa. Tugging on her end she felt a quick tug in the other direction, and two golden eyes stared out at her. Her ‘invisible’ Chartreux cat, Macbeth, was using her charcoal-gray/blue coloring to hide her theft in the semi-dark room. Laughing, she reeled in the strand, grabbed the cat and after a snuggle, put her on the sofa and finished adding the light to the tree.

She turned on the radio and set it to the station playing Christmas music and hummed as she reached for the blue box of ornaments. Its contents moved and the angel which would be placed on tree-top, jumped from the box and started moving unsteadily across the room. Kate reached for the ponytail dangling from the angel’s hair and lifting, saw white fuzzy feet sticking out the bottom. Suddenly her white and marmalade kitten popped out of the bottom. She scooped her up, put her onto the overstuffed chair by the fireplace and prayed both her helpers would stay put. Amazingly, they did but were quite vocal in their meowing critiques as the rest of the decorating came together.

After she finished putting on the last ornament, she went into her bedroom and gathered up armloads of wrapped packages and arranged them around the tree. Then, opening the door to the yard, she invited her ‘helpers’ together as she plugged in the lights. She let the cats explore the boxes as the dogs settled in to watch the sparkling lights highlight each ornament, and for the first time in many months, Kate felt a quiet peace settle over her. In fact, she could swear she felt her father and grandfather’s comforting hands resting on her shoulders just as they always had done when she was going into the ring to show her dogs. She looked at the dogs and cats around her and let their comfort lift the grief from her heart and replace it with the joy of the season.

National Security, a Kate Killoy Mystery

The third book in the Kate Killoy Mystery series of Suspense for the Dog Lover, begins when Kate and her fiancé Harry Foyle, a former geek for the FBI, prepare to leave with Kate’s Samoyed dogs for the National where they and hundreds of others will compete for best. Kate gets a card from a friend saying she’ll meet her at the show to share something secret and vital. On the way to the show, they find out her friend has been murdered.

Kate is determined to find her friend’s killer, but the NSA and the FBI are more interested in the secret they are sure has been given to Kate. They don’t believe her when she says she didn’t get anything from her friend that was important to national security.

The agents tend to doubt her, even more, when someone tries to kill her at every opportunity. While Harry and her friends are trying to keep her alive, Kate’s determined to solve the puzzle of the vital secret. Kate recruits a former Russian spy to help.

So between trips into the ring to compete in agility, obedience, and breed classes with her dogs, and dodging bullets, Kate and Harry must figure out who is behind a plot to destroy America and stop them.  Though terrified and exhausted, Kate is determined to do her best in the ring–to win.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR AND COOKIE BAKER KELLE Z. RILEY

Cozy mystery and romance author Kelle Z. Riley is also a global traveler, Ph.D. chemist and safety/martial arts expert. Today she adds baker to her list of accomplishments, sharing a holiday cookie recipe with us. Learn more about Kelle and her books at her website.

The Sweetest Season of All

Ah the end of the year! Even in the south where I now live, we’ve seen snow—and December snow always feels as festive as frosting on a cake.

What is your idea of a “perfect” holiday? What are your traditions? Do your traditions ever change? Mine sure do! I celebrate Christmas, and as a teen, the traditions included a small gathering of friends after Christmas Eve church services and later that night, opening a single gift from our overflowing stockings.

When I left home for my first job, traditions changed. Mostly they involved figuring out how to schedule vacation and travel so I could be home for the holidays.

When I married, traditions changed again. My husband “Baker” Tom had a Christmas Eve tradition of a clam chowder supper, which we incorporated into our celebrations.

Over the years Baker Tom and I developed another tradition: Holiday Cookie Baking!

Usually we make festive variations of standard recipes (my favorite is traditional shortbread). We’ve also made chocolates, lollipops (which turned into “stained glass” candy—trust me it is much easier), and even mini pies and cupcakes.

This year we created:

Peppermint Shortbread Cookies

Ingredients:
1-1/4 C all-purpose flour
3 T granulated sugar
1/2 C softened butter
1/2 - 1 tsp peppermint extract
1-2 tsp. crushed peppermint candies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Blend all ingredients together until a soft, crumbly dough forms. (Tip: use clean hands rather than a spoon.) Shape the mixture into a ball and turn onto a sugar dusted surface. Knead until smooth.

Roll the dough out to 1/2” thickness.

Using a cookie cutter, cut into shapes. (Tip: dip the cutter into sugar to keep it from sticking. For added sweetness and shine, dust the bottoms and tops of the cookies in a bit more sugar.) Place the cookies on a parchment covered cookie sheet. The cookies don’t spread, so you can place them close together.

Bake at 325° F for 10 minutes. The cookies will be pale—not brown. (Tip: thinner cookies bake faster; not all ovens are the same so pull them out the minute the edges start to turn golden.)

Remove from oven and cool.

Decorating tips: Add decorative sugar before baking. Peppermint candy dust will melt and “glaze” the cookie. For intricate designs, make a template from heavy, transparent paper. Draw the outline of the cookie cutter on the sheet. Cut out areas using a sharp knife. Place the template over the cookie and sprinkle sugar over the paper. It will fall through the cut-outs in the desired designs. Or just try it freehand and have fun.

Now for the best part. Share the cookies with family, friends and even strangers who you’d like to get to know better. People may celebrate different holidays at the end of the year, but most of them will be delighted to share cookies!

If you’d like more recipes, you can check out my “Undercover Cat” mystery series where my cupcake-baking scientist mixes up edible fun while unraveling a mystery. (“Baker” Tom helps with all of the recipes and taste testing!) 

Happy Reading!
Happy Baking!
And Happy Holidays!

Shaken, Not Purred
Be careful what you wish for . . .

Bree Watson traded her lab coat for a trench coat, expecting the life of a spy to be fun. But when a body turns up on her undercover mission, she’s forced to handle:

~A murdered woman with more enemies than meets the eye
~A hunky handler posing as her fake boyfriend
~A sexy detective bent on wooing her—and wooing her away from espionage
~A drop-out drug dog with a nose for trouble
~Her cranky cat, curious coworkers, a cupcake challenge she can’t resist, and too many secrets, lies and cover identities to keep straight…

In the whirlwind of investigations and undercover operations, Bree develops a serious identity crisis. Who is she, really?

A spy pretending to be a chemist? Or a chemist playing at being a spy?

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