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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Friday, December 6, 2019

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--HISTORICAL ROMANCE AUTHOR JACQUELINE SEEWALD

Jacqueline Seewald, has taught creative, expository, and technical writing at Rutgers University as well as high school English. She also worked as both an academic librarian and an educational media specialist. Twenty of her books of fiction have been published including books for adults, teens, and children. Her short stories, poems, essays, reviews, and articles have appeared in hundreds of diverse publications. Learn more about Jacqueline and her books at her website

Romance and Research
You’ll notice that a lot of romance writers set their novels in places they either live in or have lived in. This may seem provincial, but in fact, it makes for good writing. If writers know a place well, they can create a realistic setting, an intriguing background for their novels. Setting is one of the important components of any piece of fiction.

But what about writing historical romance, writing about times and people long ago?

The answer here is that writers need to do extensive research. The fact is every novel requires a certain amount of research, some more than others. I believe the best novels combine elements of what we actually know with research into what we need to find out. I’m no fan of info dumping in fiction, but writers need to read and discover a lot more information than they will actually use in their novels before they begin writing. 

In my latest historical romance, Sinful Seduction, I’ve tried to seamlessly incorporate the culture and history of the turbulent, passionate period of American Revolutionary War history into my novel. The characters represent the viewpoints and prejudices of those times. 

A good way to find out about a particular period in time is to find available reference books at the local library on the period. Reference librarians can provide helpful input. We examine time lines first. What important events were happening in the world, in that particular country and in the geographic area, historical as well as political? How did people dress? What did they eat? What were their general beliefs?  How were women treated? The library catalog also allows readers and writers to locate appropriate books that can be borrowed. 

One historical novel author suggests writing the book first and then researching the areas that need filling in. But I prefer immersing myself in an historical period and setting before starting to write. It’s true there will always be some essential information that requires further research. However, that should be part of the revision process.

In Sinful Seduction, I wrote about people in New Jersey because I was born, raised, and have lived my life in this state. I am fascinated by NJ history during the American Revolution, since my state has been described as the cockpit of the Revolution.

Finally, there’s a lot of satisfaction in both reading and writing well-researched historical fiction.

Sinful Seduction
Anne McIntyre, a schoolmistress in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey at the outset of the American Revolution, is serious-minded, intelligent, and patriotic. Anne supports her sister in her marital problems and helps the ironmaster’s widow manage a difficult situation with her daughter.

Peter Kensington should have been an earl, but thanks to the duplicity of his younger brother and his own reckless nature, he has ended up an officer in the colonial war. Spying is alien to his gentlemanly code. Yet he must do exactly that. Anne is suspicious of him from the first but as passionately attracted to him as he is to her.

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Thursday, December 5, 2019

HOLIDAY READING WITH AUTHOR DEBBIE DE LOUISE

Today we welcome back award-winning author Debbie De Louise, who also works as a reference librarian at a public library on Long Island. Debbie is the author of seven novels, including the four books of her Cobble Cove cozy mystery series. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

Holiday Reading: So Many Choices, so Little Time
As most of you know, the holiday season is upon us. It started way before Thanksgiving. Black Friday featured sales and free offers for all types of gifts, including books. For those who like to read holiday stories to get in the mood for Christmas, Chanukah, or whatever special day(s) you celebrate in December, there are an abundance of choices. How does one choose reading material during such a busy time? One solution is to treat yourself to some holiday stories. These quick reads won’t take up too much of the time you need to spend buying and wrapping gifts, cooking, attending parties, etc.

How do you find holiday stories? Many of your favorite authors who write books also write holiday stories. These might be found in collections or as standalone eBooks. If you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, you have your choice of free holiday stories. If not, you can still read them on any of your devices with the free Kindle app. for less than the cost of a vending machine snack. 

One way to locate holiday stories on Amazon.com is to search the Kindle store. You’ll also probably see plenty of recommendations on Facebook, twitter, author and book blogs, and anything you subscribe to. You can also check out this video from my publisher about their holiday stories, including two of mine. 

If you like cozy mysteries and/or have read any of my Cobble Cove books, you might enjoy my holiday story, Sneaky’s Christmas Mystery.

Sneaky’s Christmas Mystery
Another death has occurred in Cobble Cove near the holidays. This time, it’s the owner of the new pet store in town who was felled by a case of cat food that crushed his skull. Was it an accident, or murder? While the townspeople including the sheriff are divided in their opinions, Sneaky and Kittykai, the library and inn cats, sniff out the truth.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

ROMANCE AUTHOR COURTNEY J. HALL TALKS COOKIE DAY

Courtney J. Hall writes contemporary romance. Her novel A Holiday Wish is the first in the Silver Bells series of sweet Christmas romances. Today she joins us to talk about one of her favorite holiday traditions. Find out more about Courtney and her books at her website. 

Christmas is the one time of year where no matter how old you are, no matter where or how you live, chances are good that you have traditions. Maybe it’s a Secret Santa at work or a White Elephant Gift exchange with your friends. Maybe it’s dinner at a nice restaurant with out-of-town relatives come to visit, or a small house party with your nearest and dearest. No matter what it is, nine times out of ten, it will involve food. Which brings me to one of my favorite holiday traditions…

Cookie Day
Cookie Day usually falls on the Sunday before Christmas. In the weeks leading up to it, my sister and I pore over recipes from previous years and search Pinterest for new recipes. While we usually stick with the tried-and-true, those traditional cookies, which never fail to please—like chocolate chip and oatmeal—we also like to branch out and go a little more adventurous to keep it interesting. She adds bourbon and toffee to her chocolate chip cookies, while I like trying different variations on the cookie version of gooey butter cake. Almond is always a big hit, but gingerbread has gotten the most rave reviews. 

And for a pop of color on our cookie trays, I love making batches of cherry gems with green and red candied cherries, while my sister’s claim to fame is raspberry almond shortbread thumbprint cookies. If we’re feeling really brave, we’ll even attempt candy—mint, raspberry, or orange truffles for me, and slow-cooked candied pecans for her. 

The day begins with me packing a giant bag with my supplies and heading over to her house, where we inevitably forget to coordinate oven temperatures and wind up trying to bake one recipe that needs 325 and one that needs 375 at the same time. 

With a Christmas playlist going in the background, we sample each other’s recipes, trying not to eat more than one—four at the most—and drink wine out of the Christmas wine glasses we only break out on Cookie Day. 

My sister actually doesn’t like baking all that much, so typically after a few hours she’s bored so we break for a quick dinner. Then, after cleaning up, I pack my cookies into the tins I’ve brought and cart them home, where they’ll sit until I divide them into smaller tins for my neighbors and hide the rest from my husband so I have something to serve as dessert when I host Christmas dinner.

We can all agree that the holiday season has become commercialized to the point where its original meaning is almost unrecognizable, but it’s still a time of year to do fun things with the ones you love.

A Holiday Wish
Silver Bells, Volume 1

Noelle Silver has been a wedding planner for six years, and in all that time, the only bride she’s failed to get down the aisle is herself. Abandoned by her fiancé and disillusioned with love, Noelle is ready to pack it in and leave town when Brooke St. John, orphaned heiress, offers her a staggering amount of money to organize Brooke’s Christmas Eve wedding to a much older man.

Noelle is reluctant at first, but the payment Brooke offers is more than enough for Noelle to start a new life. It’s also an opportunity for Noelle to prove to herself—and her former fiancé—that despite her broken heart, she still has what it takes to pull off a wedding worthy of an heiress in the two months Brooke has given her. 

But the best man, Brooke’s older brother Everett, is dead-set on stopping the nuptials. Will he succeed, driving the final nail into the coffin of Noelle’s career as a wedding planner—and shattering what’s left of her expectations of love?

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Tuesday, December 3, 2019

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--AUTHOR REGAN WALKER ON HOGMANAY, CLOOTIE DUMPLINGS, CRANACHAN & OTHER SCOTTISH HOLIDAY TRADITIONS

Hogmanay in Stonehaven
Regan Walker is an award-winning, bestselling author of Regency, Georgian and Medieval romances. Each of her novels includes real history and real historical figures as characters. And, of course, adventure and love, sometimes on the high seas! Learn more about her and her books at her website.

Scottish Christmas Traditions
It may surprise you to know that Christmas was not celebrated as a festival in Scotland for about four hundred years. This dates back to the Protestant Reformation when the Scottish Kirk proclaimed Christmas a Catholic feast. While the actual prohibition, passed by Scotland’s Parliament in 1640, didn’t last long, the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian, discouraged Yule celebrations beginning as early as 1583. This continued into the 1950s. Many Scots celebrated only the Winter Solstice at the New Year, which came to be known as Hogmanay. Today, it’s celebrated with much fanfare and balls of fire. (See photo above.)

It is believed that many of the traditional Hogmanay celebrations were originally brought to Scotland by the invading Vikings in the early 8th and 9th centuries. These Norsemen, or men from an even more northerly latitude than Scotland, paid particular attention to the arrival of the Winter Solstice, the shortest day, and fully intended to celebrate its passing.

In the late 18th century, Georgian hostesses entertained in grand style. For those who celebrated Christmas, possibly in secret as my characters do, greenery of holly, hawthorn and Scots pine (gathered from the woods) would decorate the house. And there would be a giant Yule log to burn in the fireplace.

Instead of the usual two large courses of food at dinner, wealthy families in Scotland offered guests several smaller courses including soup, fish, game, roast meat, pudding and dessert. Food was richer with more complicated recipes and there was a greater emphasis on cream and sugar in desserts.

In the late 18th century and into the Regency, it became sort of a fad for high-born Englishmen and women, particularly in the literary establishment, to travel to Scotland and write travel books. There are dozens of such examples including Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland by Dorothy Wordsworth (sister of the more famous brother). However, none is better known than the 1773 trip undertaken by friends Samuel Johnson and James Boswell. 

Johnson published his travel book A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland in 1775, and Boswell waited until 1785 with his Tour to the Hebrides of the same trip. From Boswell’s description of breakfast in 1773: 

“They set down dried haddocks, broiled, along with our tea.”

“… as good chocolate as I ever tasted, tea, bread and butter, marmalade and jelly… very good scones, or cakes of flour baked with butter. There was a plate of butter and curds mixed, which they call “gruitheam” (Gaelic)... and cheese… it often smells very strong.”  [Note: gruitheam is a mix of curds and butter]

They also ate “barley bread and cheese” as well as “… milk, cheese, eggs, bread and butter.”

And for other meals, he wrote:

“…all of the people have little boats and catch fish. There is plenty of potatoes here. There are blackcock in extraordinary abundance, moor-fowl, plovers, wild pigeons.

“There is a great deal of fish: rock cod, haddocks, etc., and fresh water trout...a place where one may live in plenty, and even in luxury.”

The Scottish kitchen would turn out an abundance of soups and broths including Cock-a-Leekie (chicken and leek soup), Scotch Broth (barley enriched soup) and Cullen Skink (a stew/soup from Cullen on the shores of the Moray Firth usually made with Finnan Haddock and brose, a simple soup with kale, with a handful of oatmeal).

For the Hogmanay feast, there would be Haggis with tatties, steak pie, Cock-a-Leekie soup and, if you were on the sea, salmon. Haggis, which I have tried, never appealed. It starts with the large stomach bag of a sheep, into which goes the pluck (including heart, lungs and liver) beef suet, pin-head oatmeal, onions, black pepper and salt. I’ll stick with salmon, kale and soup.
Clootie Dumpling
For dessert, you might have a clootie dumpling. The clootie dumpling is a traditional Scottish pudding closely associated with Christmas and Hogmanay. It’s like an English Christmas pudding only not as rich. Although flour, suet, dried fruit and spices always feature, the precise ingredients vary from region to region and family to family. The cloth, however, is constant – a reminder of the days before ovens, when family meals were boiled in a pot.

There would be Scottish shortbread, of course, as legendary as oatcakes. But no celebration would be complete in my mind without Cranachan, a dessert that incorporates some of Scotland’s most famous ingredients: raspberries, oats and whisky. You can see the recipe on my website.
Cranachan
What to drink? While distillation of whisky had been going on for a long time by the Regency era, most of the distilleries were illicit. The invention of the column still by Scotsman Robert Stein in 1828 revolutionized whisky making in Scotland. Then in 1831, Aeneas Coffey invented the Coffey or Patent Still, which enabled a continuous process of distillation leading to the production of grain whisky, a less intense spirit than the malt whisky produced in the copper pot stills.

In the early days, Scotch whisky was mostly considered the equivalent of moonshine—a drink enjoyed by unrefined Highlanders, aged in sheep bladders and filtered through tartan. Men like those in A Secret Scottish Christmas would be drinking the finest European wines, along with sherry, port, brandy and cognac.

And, of course, on New Year’s they would sing Auld Lang Syne. A version of the song existed decades before Robert Burns wrote it down. It’s said an old man dictated the words to him. Before Burns wrote it down, the ancient song had been passed on by word of mouth. The melody we know today that accompanies the lyrics didn’t appear until after Burns’ death in 1796.

The phrase “Auld Lang Syne” means “old long ago”, which can be translated as “days gone by” or “back in the day”. Thomas Keith, a Burns scholar, says the song symbolizes reunion, not parting, as some mistakenly believe. The song looks back over happy days from the past, a separation and then coming back together.

Once Upon a Christmas Past
An Historical Romance Holiday Collection

A Secret Scottish Christmas by Regan Walker 
Spies, Scots, and Shipmasters celebrate a very secret Christmas in Scotland as identical twins, Robbie and Nash Powell, spies for the Crown, compete for the love of the daughter of an Aberdeen shipbuilder.

A Highlander for Christmas by Paula Quinn 
As the bard of the MacGregor clan, Finlay Grant is a natural-born charmer. He can easily win the heart of any lass . . . but somehow, the right words to express his love for stunning Leslie Harrison have eluded him. Yet as Christmastide approaches, Finn knows he must find a way to propose to the raven-haired beauty who has stolen his heart.

A Knight’s Redemption by Catherine Kean 
Six Christmases ago, after refusing his kiss, Lady Mary Westbrook was locked in the dungeon by Lord Holden Kendall, a squire at Branton Keep. When an attempted child abduction days before Christmas brings Holden back to the castle, Mary must confront again what happened between them. Now a grown warrior, Holden resolves to not only make matters right with Mary but finally win her kiss. Yet, as peril ensues, Mary must risk far more than a chance at true love.

Christmas in Camelot by Brenda Jernigan 
Sir Nicholas the Dragon’s orders are clear. He is to fend off the enemy besieging Noelle’s castle and bring the lady safely back to Camelot for her wedding to Sir Gavin. But spending time with the proud beauty awakens an irresistible hunger in Nicholas. Now, as desire does battle with duty, Nicholas has only two choices — to surrender the woman he loves to another man or fight to the end to make her his own.

Monday, December 2, 2019

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--MURDER, MAYHEM & CHRISTMAS CRAFTS GALORE!

It’s December. Have you started your Christmas crafting? Need some quick and easy projects to decorate your home and give as gifts? Drop Dead Ornamentsand Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide, books 7 and 8 in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series, offer projects even the most novice and cash-strapped crafter can create with professional looking results. 

In Drop Dead Ornaments you’ll find ideas for creating pricey glass ball ornaments for pennies. The crafts in Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide utilize all those Christmas cards you’ve kept stashed away in a box for years because they’re too pretty to toss in the recycling bucket.

And in-between crafting, shopping, and baking Christmas cookies, you can grab a cup of coffee or tea, settle into your favorite reading chair, and see what sorts of trouble author Lois Winston has gotten me into in the two latest books about me. 

Plus, as a holiday gift to our readers, for a limited time the ebook edition of Drop Dead Ornaments is on sale for only .99 cents!

Drop Dead Ornaments
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 7

Anastasia Pollack’s son Alex is dating Sophie Lambert, the new kid in town. For their community service project, the high school seniors have chosen to raise money for the county food bank. Anastasia taps her craft industry contacts to donate materials for the students to make Christmas ornaments they’ll sell at the town’s annual Holiday Crafts Fair.

At the fair Anastasia meets Sophie’s father, Shane Lambert, who strikes her as a man with secrets. She also notices a woman eavesdropping on their conversation. Later that evening when the woman turns up dead, Sophie’s father is arrested for her murder.

Alex and Sophie beg Anastasia to find the real killer, but Anastasia has had her fill of dead bodies. She’s also not convinced of Shane’s innocence. Besides, she’s promised younger son Nick she’ll stop risking her life. But how can she say no to Alex?

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Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 8

Two and a half weeks ago magazine crafts editor Anastasia Pollack arrived home to find Ira Pollack, her half-brother-in-law, had blinged out her home with enough Christmas lights to rival Rockefeller Center. Now he’s crammed her small yard with enormous cavorting inflatable characters. She and photojournalist boyfriend and possible spy Zack Barnes pack up the unwanted lawn decorations to return to Ira. They arrive to find his yard the scene of an over-the-top Christmas extravaganza. His neighbors are not happy with the animatronics, laser light show, and blaring music creating traffic jams on their normally quiet street. One of them expresses his displeasure with his fists before running off.

In the excitement, the deflated lawn ornaments are never returned to Ira. The next morning Anastasia once again heads to his house before work to drop them off. When she arrives, she discovers Ira’s attacker dead in Santa’s sleigh. Ira becomes the prime suspect in the man’s murder and begs Anastasia to help clear his name. But Anastasia has promised her sons she’ll keep her nose out of police business. What’s a reluctant amateur sleuth to do?

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Friday, November 29, 2019

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR KASSANDRA LAMB

Kassandra Lamb is a retired psychotherapist/college professor turned mystery writer. She spends most of her time with her characters in an alternate universe, the magic portal to which (i.e., her computer) is located in Florida, where her husband and dog catch occasional glimpses of her. Learn more about Kassandra and her books at her website. 

An Ice-Skating Rink in Florida for the Holidays... What Could Go Wrong?
I love holiday-themed stories! So around Book 3 of my Marcia Banks and Buddy series, cozies about a service dog trainer and her sidekick mentor dog, I decided to incorporate some holiday novellas into the series.

Most of the books focus on the military veterans for whom Marcia trains her service dogs, but I decided the holiday stories would focus on the tiny fictitious town in which she lives, Mayfair, Florida.

I had so much fun writing this story! It features some of Mayfair’s quirkiest residents, especially the two elderly matriarchs—Edna Mayfair, the sister of the now deceased founder of the town, and Sherie Wells, Marcia’s next door neighbor and head of the only African-American family still living in what is barely more than a ghost town.

The story opens as these women, with Marcia’s later-regretted encouragement, are establishing a local Chamber of Commerce, in order to plan a Christmas extravaganza for the purpose of attracting tourists to the town.

And the first thing the new Chamber decides to do is build an ice-skating rink—in Florida. What could go wrong with that?

The titles of the books in this series are all variations on classic book or movie titles, so I tentatively titled this one A Mayfair Christmas Carol. I’m a pantser, as in, I write by the seat of my pants, so I don’t always know where a story is going until it goes there. But as this story unfolded, that turned out to be the perfect title for it.

The ghost of Christmas past definitely gets stirred up for the Mayfair founding family when a thirty-year-old skeleton is unearthed during the excavations for the skating rink.

Marcia’s hunky, almost-live-in boyfriend is the detective assigned to the case, and as usual, Marcia (pronounced Mar-see-a, not Marsha) drives him crazy by butting into the investigation. It wasn’t my initial intention (remember, I’m a pantser), but the story ends up exploring the darker side of the history of Mayfair.

But don’t worry, it has a happy ending, as one of the town’s matriarchs receives a Christmas present beyond her wildest dreams.

A Mayfair Christmas Carol
A Marcia Banks and Buddy Christmas Novella

Mayfair’s newly minted Chamber of Commerce has gone off the rails. They’ve decided to build an ice skating rink—in Florida—for a Christmas Extravaganza. Excavation for the rink is barely started when a decades-old skeleton is uncovered, and its secrets threaten more than the town’s Christmas plans. 

Feeling responsible since the let’s-attract-more-tourists idea was hers initially, service dog trainer Marcia Banks is determined to help her police detective boyfriend solve the mystery, whether he wants her help or not. Maybe she can wheedle more out of the townspeople than he can.

Will she and her Black Lab, Buddy, keep the ghost of Christmas past from destroying what is left of Mayfair’s founding family, or will her meddling make things worse?

Buy Link  (currently on sale for .99 cents)

Thursday, November 28, 2019

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Anastasia and the gang are taking today off 
to spend time with family and friends. 
We wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

AUTHOR PAULINE BAIRD JONES SHARES CHRISTMAS MEMORIES THAT INSPIRED TWO SCI-FI ROMANCE NOVELLAS

USA Today bestselling author Pauline Baird Jones never liked reality, so she writes books. She likes to wander among the genres, rampaging like Godzilla, because she does love peril mixed in her romance. Learn more about Pauline and her books at her website. 

One of the traditions that I share with the characters of Open With Care is going home, of the need to be home with loved ones for the holidays. I can still remember singing, “Over the river…to grandmother’s house we go” as a child. I was so excited it was painful, and as we’d sing, I’d peer out the car window and wonder if Santa was flying by overhead. Oh yes, I believed.

Now, I grew up close to both my grandmothers, so our “over the river” didn’t take that long. But our Christmas Eve was for my “over the river” grandma. As a child, I remember clambering out of the car, crunching across the snow toward a light square of welcoming warm and being met with loving hugs and a holiday treat—not a big one because my “over the river” Grandma had a lot of grandkids. That’s the other part of the memory. Lots of cousins and chaos. 

And then back in the car and home for the long night’s wait for Santa’s visit. Then my closer Grandma would join us for the unwrapping. She’d settle in a chair and exclaim over our presents and return our thank you hugs for her small gifts so carefully wrapped and so ruthlessly unwrapped.

But wrapped in all the memories, in the heart of them all is the love, so much love and joy at being together.

Going home for Christmas was both harder—and more special—after I married and we moved a long way from home. I remember one Christmas in particular. We lived in New Orleans at the time and had had the trip planned for several months when the weather turned on us.

It was feared that it MIGHT snow in New Orleans—yes you read that right; it didn’t actually snow—but they basically shut the city down and cancelled all the flights. Yeah, on a might. 

Luckily we were able to get out the next day, but it caused problems all along the line. I can still remember the face of the car rental agent when we explained why we were a day late. This was in Salt Lake City where it had snowed. And snowed. And snowed. It had snowed so much, they were hauling the snow out in trucks.

And we were a day late because of a “might” that didn’t happen.

That trip was defined by record-breaking snow (and our no snow beginning) and record breaking cold. The below zero kind that makes your jeans stiff.

And family hugs. Family love. Family time and the chance for our kids to experience an honest-to-goodness white Christmas.

In Open With Care I tried to capture that feeling of anticipation, but anticipation tempered with an adult perspective and with adult problems waiting for my heroine when she gets home. 

Of course, because this is fiction, there are more problems waiting for her than an aging parent to be dealt with. 

Open With Care
A collection of two sci-fi romances inspired by the spirit of giving

Unexpected guests come bearing gifts. This interstellar Christmas will be one for the ages…

Gini won't let her bickering family or the incoming blizzard dampen her holiday spirits. But nothing could prepare her for the uninvited houseguests. She's not sure if she's ready to exchange gifts with the man who broke her heart or the little green aliens on the roof. 

But the intergalactic visitors have a gift for Gini… a taste of the youth and love she left behind…

Jane MacKenzie has never opened a Christmas gift that transformed her world. At least, not until she accidentally opens a box to find a man who was lost in a blizzard over 100 years ago. Jane isn't sure how to handle the strange visitor and his otherworldly agreement…

But the Christmastime encounter may just open her heart to a love that can stand the test of time. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--PORK CHILI VERDE WITH MYSTERY AUTHOR LESLEY A. DIEHL

Believing humor to be good therapy, former psychologist Lesley A. Diehl has published several not-your-usual cozy mystery series and short stories featuring sassy, zany protags. Protagonist Emily Rhodes is only one of the characters to emerge from Lesley’s somewhat sane yet peculiar mind. Learn more about Lesley and her books at her website and blog 

To Cook or Not To Cook
I love to eat, and I love to cook. The combination of these has gotten me into trouble throughout my life. But mostly it’s my passion for eating that has been an issue. Several years ago, I gained enough weight that I decided I needed to reduce, especially because I have back issues and don’t need to carry around more pounds than necessary. I returned to my tried and true diet approach. I used WW. For me it’s a sane way to reduce because it’s easy and provides a balanced approach to food. In my younger years, it took only several months for me to diet and reach goal weight, but because I cannot exercise the way I used to (even walking is difficult now), and my metabolism is wonky, it took 9 months for me to lose 15 pounds. My husband can attest to the fact that I do not cheat when I diet, so the slow rate of loss was frustrating, but worth it.

I have kept off the weight for over a year, and I’m terribly proud of myself. Recently, I visited a spine specialist who said he’d be happier if I was 10 pounds lighter! I told him it was not going to happen, so he finally backed off when he learned how long it took me to get to the weight I now am. Of course, he’s in his forties and very buff. His philosophy is that we should eat only to have the fuel to do what we really like doing. For those of us who are older, what we like doing is eating, having a glass of wine and talking about our medical issues. Why are all our medical people mere children who think they will never end up where we are? Didn’t I, a few years ago, scoff at those who talked about their illnesses all the time? Funny how a few years changes one’s perspective. 

I now practice moderation because it is necessary, but not fun.

As for the cooking passion, I still do it and make healthy, but tasty meals. Now here’s the odd part: none of my protagonists are cooks. Most of them don’t cook, and some of them can’t cook. For those who try cooking, they usually fail at it. It may be that I want to be better at something than the characters I’ve created who are younger than I, blonder than I, taller or thinner than I, and with the exception of the psychologist modeled after me, none of them have ever had weight problems. Do you suppose there’s a connection between their lack of weight issues and not cooking?

In the Big Lake Murder mystery series, the protagonist, Emily Rhodes is shorter than I, but much tinier. She was a preschool teacher who came to Florida and retired early, found she needed money because her life partner upon whom she was financially dependent died and left her not a cent. She took up a new career as a bartender and does a smashing great job of mixing drinks, which is kind of like cooking, especially if you load the drinks down with several olives or a lot of fruit. But here’s the interesting side of Emily’s life—she lives next door to a woman who loves to cook and bake and who makes Emily and her friends goodies daily. The most recent book in the series is Scream Muddy Murder, and it contains some of the neighbor’s recipes. None of them are healthy, but all of them are yummy. If you’re yearning for the best Key Lime pie, the recipe is included in the book.

Years ago, crockpots were all the fad. I have the one I bought in 1970 something. It still works, and I have discovered it is great for chili and for pulled pork. The wonderful thing about it is that it makes cooking easy. You throw the ingredients in with minimal preparation and let the pot, unwatched, do the rest. I understand there are updated versions of the slow cooker that do everything for you except eat the food. Although I’m tempted to buy one of these new cookers, I don’t feel like dedicating the space to it because both of my homes, New York and Florida, are small. 

Assuming Emily can find her slow cooker, I think this recipe for Pork Chili Verde might be something even Emily Rhodes could accomplish, or she could suggest it to her cooking fanatic next-door-neighbor.

Pork Chili Verde

Ingredients:
2-3 pounds boneless pork country ribs
Half an onion
8-10 tomatillos*
16 oz jar of salsa verde (I prefer mild, but go hotter if you like)
1 small can tomato sauce
16 oz can diced tomatoes
1 can cannellini beans, drained and added the last hour of cooking
salt and pepper 

Optional seasonings: I use Cajun seasoning, but you can add what you like: oregano, paprika, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, cilantro

Cut the pork into 1-inch chunks, season and brown in a large skillet. Place in crockpot. 

Sauté onion. 

Peel the little papery jackets off the tomatillos, cut into half inch pieces and add along with canned tomatoes and tomato sauce to the large skillet. 

Add the jar of salsa verde, cook down the concoction (about 10-15 minutes), then add to the crockpot. I then cook all on high for 6 hours. Your slow cooker may need less time or more. The pork comes out very tender, and the other ingredients blend together well. You know your croc pot, so test for tenderness.

Serve like chili in a bowl with shredded cheese on top if you like and warm corn tortillas on the side. If you have some left over but not enough for another full meal, add the heated leftovers to cooked macaroni or brown rice.

*Tomatillos look like green tomatoes with papery, beige jackets on them. Be certain you peel off the jackets. If you can’t find them, increase the amount of salsa verde. The dish will not taste as bright and fresh without the tomatillos, but it will be good.

While your chili verde is cooking away, I have another special treat for you. The first book in the series is only .99 cents until the end of November. Read it while you smell your evening meal cook.

Dumpster Dying
Emily Rhodes came to rural Florida for the cowboys, the cattle, and to do a little country two-step, not to fall headfirst onto a dead body in a dumpster. Ah, the golden years of retirement in the sunshine state. They’re more like pot metal to Emily, who discovers the body of the county’s wealthiest rancher in the Big Lake Country Club dumpster. With her close friend accused of the murder, Emily sets aside her grief at her life partner’s death to find the real killer. She underestimates the obstacles rural Florida can set up for a winter visitor and runs afoul of a local judge with his own version of justice, hires a lawyer who works out of a retirement home, and flees wild fires hand-in-hand with the man she believes to be the killer.

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Monday, November 25, 2019

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--THANKSGIVING PLACE CARDS

We live in politically charged times. Chances are you’ll find your Thanksgiving dinner table will include guests with opposing views on many topical subjects. As hard as you try, it may be difficult to keep the conversation on neutral topics, but the least you can do is make sure relatives with polar opposite views are not seated near one another.

The best way to do this is with personal place cards. But who has time to make place cards when you’ve got a house to clean and pies to bake, not to mention the turkey, dressing, cranberry relish, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, and everything else involved in preparing for hosting Thanksgiving dinner?

Here’s a quick way to designate who sits where with no crafting skills and next to no time involved. You can even put the kids to work on these.

While you’re running your errands, pop into the local craft or dollar store and pick up a bag faux silk autumn leaves. You can probably also find these at any big box store. Write each person’s name on a leaf. Want to get fancy? Add a dot at the ends of each letter. It takes no calligraphy skill whatsoever.

Go out into your yard and grab some broken twigs off the ground. We all have them this time of year.

Tie up each napkin with twine, jute, raffia, braid, string, narrow strips of fabric, or ribbon—whatever you have around the house. 

Break the twigs into approximately 4” lengths. Glue a leaf to each twig. Slip the twigs under the tied napkins. Voila! Individual place settings for each guest.
Here’s hoping your relatives are too busy enjoying the meal you’ve prepared to rant about politics or anything else on Thursday. We could all use a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving this year.