Macerated Strawberries

I love summertime when fruit is sweet and delicious. We’re lucky in Florida to have two strawberry growing seasons, and having Plant City strawberries in late winter is a treat!

An easy topping for ice cream or custard is Macerated Strawberries. I use this in trifles and Strawberry Cream Pie. The method can be used for any fruits you like, in any season. Using fresh fruit is best, but I’ve used frozen when I can’t get it in season. If I use frozen fruit, I let it thaw while it’s macerating. 

Macerated Strawberries

Container of strawberries
2 oz Grand Marnier, or to taste
1 T sugar, or more if using out of season fruit
pinch of Kosher salt
Lemon zest (optional)

Wash and hull the strawberries just before macerating them. Cut into bite-sized pieces.

Combine all ingredients in a plastic container. Refrigerate, stirring occasionally. If you don’t like Grand Marnier, substitute anything or nothing. The sugar will help break down the fruit. I’ve used Prosecco, white wine, and other spirits – whatever I have on hand. 

This keeps for days, although we usually eat it up within a couple of days. I’ve used the liquid to spoon into parfaits after the fruit is gone. I don’t waste any part of this!

You can macerate any fruit. I’ve used blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries to make a Three-Berry Trifle (pictured here). 

Enjoy fruit at the peak of its freshness, or macerate frozen fruit to give it great flavor.

Writing Fiction: Plot

Ah, Plot. 

For me, writing is like driving: I like to know my destination before I begin the journey. I like to outline. I like to have my title, even if it’s just a working title, and I like knowing the ending. Any or all of these things may change along the way, but at the beginning I have an idea about where I am heading.

Maybe I start with a premise. Someone does something, and there are consequences. Maybe I start with a character in a situation, and the character drives the story. 

Plot at its most basic is the orderly progression of action and reaction. The characters drive the action, and to be believable the characters and events should be grounded in recognizable reality. 

What about fantasy and science fiction? They may share social structures with ones we are familiar with. They may have characters who are like us, but with special powers and characteristics. They may have situations in fantastic worlds, but be inhabited by beings we recognize. The language may be created by the author, but the meanings are ones we are familiar with.

I enjoy the creative process of having my characters in a world I control. Do they change along the way? Absolutely. Don’t we all?

Let me know who your favorite characters are, and your favorite stories.

Vanilla Pastry Cream

I love pastry cream. I could eat it by the spoonful, and one of the best things about making it is licking the spoon, beaters, bowl, etc. – if it has pastry cream on it, it is fair game.

A Mixed-Berry Trifle (pictured below) or Strawberry Cream Pie are two desserts I use vanilla pastry cream in. Summer lends itself to strawberry everything, and they are two of my favorites.

Vanilla Pastry Cream

Ingredients (leftover pastry cream keeps in the refrigerator for up to a week):

1 quart half and half
1/2 C sugar
3 T sugar
1/2 t Kosher salt, or 1/4 t table salt
10 egg yolks (I save the egg whites and make a Fritatta with them)
6 T cornstarch
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 t vanilla extract, or 2 vanilla beans
1 T cognac (optional)

Put the half and half, 1/2 C sugar, and salt into a saucepan with a heavy bottom. If you’re using vanilla beans, scrape the insides out and put into the pan now. If you’re using vanilla extract, wait and put it in warm finished pastry cream. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium low heat, just until tiny bubbles appear around the edges of the pan. The sugar should be dissolved at this point.

While the half and half is heating up, whisk the egg yolks with the 3 T sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add the cornstarch and keep whisking until everything is mixed together. 

Temper the eggs: When the half and half is at a simmer, stream one ladle-full at a time to the egg mixture, whisking the eggs constantly. Gradually add more half and half until the eggs are fully warmed through, then add the egg mixture to the remaining half and half. 

Cook on low heat, whisking constantly, until the custard thickens. If you can make a line on the back of a wooden spoon with your finger, the custard is thick enough. If the line closes up, keep cooking. 

For a smooth pastry cream, sieve the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Add the butter to the hot cream, and stir to combine. If you’re using vanilla extract, add it once the butter is incorporated. Add the cognac at this point if you’re using it. Stir to combine. 

Pour the pastry cream into a container, and top with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming.

Keep it refrigerated and tightly covered. This can be made several days in advance, and it’s best to make it the day before so it is completely cooled.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I do!

Writing Fiction: Social Issues

Writing mystery fiction is an opportunity to explore a world in which justice prevails. It can be topical, and it can address areas of social justice. 

Some readers like stories which have elements about pressing social issues. A story can be both entertaining and informative, and I like to write stories that include both.

I’ve been a member of NOW (National Organization for Women) for many years. As a feminist, I believe in equality for women and men.

I’ve been interested in the inequity of domestic violence since I first had a employee who’d been hit by her husband, and heard about Charlotte Fedders. In 1987, a book was published called Shattered Dreams that she wrote describing the abuse she and her children suffered at the hands of her husband/their father. What struck me most at the time were the men discussing it, whose primary feeling seemed to be that it couldn’t have been that bad if she stayed for so long. They were clearly clueless about domestic violence and why women stay. I didn’t know much about it then, but I knew enough to know that they were ignorant about the situation. 

As years passed, I became educated about domestic violence as I met more women who had experienced it. For the past few years, I’ve been involved with SafeSpace, the domestic violence organization on the Treasure Coast of Florida. 

At its core, domestic violence is about one intimate partner exerting power and control over the other partner in their relationship. It occurs in all economic levels, every political belief, every religion, both genders, every race, and any age. 

I like writing stories with the bad guys being recognized, even if they’re not brought to justice. 

What is your reading preference? I’d love to hear from you.

Coconut Macaroons with Chocolate Chips

These are my husband’s second favorite form of crack (the first are my chocolate chip cookies). They are fast and easy to make, perfect for a last-minute get together. I’ve baked these in the morning for a party that afternoon. 

I prefer them baked the same day, for maximum crispiness. That being said, I’ve had no problem scarfing down some from a bag the next day 🙂

Coconut Macaroons with Chocolate Chips

1 bag (14 oz) sweetened shredded coconut flakes
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
2 t vanilla extract
1 t salt (or 1 1/2 t Kosher salt)
1 C semisweet chocolate chips (I use the mini chips)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract, and salt. Add coconut and mix together. Add chocolate chips; combine so chips are evenly spread throughout.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Use a small ice cream scoop, or two teaspoons, to form small balls. Space evenly on the baking sheets (on half-sheet pans, I get 5 rows along the short side and 6 rows along the long side – 30 total on one sheet).

Bake 12-18 minutes, until the tops are browned. I prefer a crisp outside and chewy inside, and in my oven baking for 16 1/2 minutes for this size macaroon is perfect. I have also used the regular sized ice cream scoop, and because those are bigger I bake them for  20 minutes (I also flatten the large ones slightly, so they’re evenly thick for baking).

Take out of the oven and cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack to finish cooling completely.

Makes 6 dozen small macaroons.

These are a mix of small and large macaroons.

Writing Fiction: Creating Characters

Writing can be a delight. I enjoy creating a plot, and casting the characters to make the story flow. 

You look around, taking traits from people you know. You see an actor or actress you like, and base a character on them or the character they’re portraying. That only takes you so far, and then what?

Writing is work. Once you exhaust the pool of people, actors, characters you know, you need to make them up.

I read a variety of writing books and posts on Pinterest. Something I read in a book by John Sandford, The Fool’s Run (Henry Holt, copyright 1989), talked about the character Kidd who uses the Tarot to open up possibilities and alternatives. It’s a way to think sideways.

While shopping for some items in a New Age store, I saw a Tarot deck and bought it. At this point, I wasn’t sure how to use the Tarot cards to create characters.

I came across a post on Pinterest about using the Tarot to create characters (The Character Insight Spread). I used the seven card spread, and was pleased and surprised with the results. 

The result is a new tool in my writing arsenal.