Celebrating Husband’s Birthday!

Today is Husband’s birthday! 

We’re celebrating at the Vero Beach Hotel & Spa for two nights, enjoying a staycation. We sat on the balcony and watched the sunrise, and then walked down to The Lemon Tree for breakfast today (and plan to tomorrow). Later today we’ll go to an 11:00 movie, have a late lunch, and then relax at the pool bar with $5 Margaritas. We’ll have dinner at Cobalt with friends, and head back into real life tomorrow. 

I’ve been proofreading Happy Homicides 1: Cozy Holiday Mysteries. It is an anthology written by twelve authors, and includes a link to get a bonus file of recipes and crafts. It goes on pre-sale September 15, and on sale October 15 – perfect for holiday gift giving. At only 99 cents, it’s a great price!

Below are birthday sunrise pictures from our balcony.

 

 

Chocolate Ganache

You might think all I do is bake and go to parties. This summer we’ve had a few get togethers with friends, but it isn’t all the time. For Memorial Day I made desserts for two parties we went to. The first one was primarily adults, and I made Strawberry Cream Pie (see recipe posted 9/3/15).

The second one was a mix of adults and children, so I decided to make S’mores Tarts (see recipe posted 9/10/15). One of the components was Chocolate Ganache, which I also used in the Strawberry Cream Pie recipe.

Chocolate Ganache

8 oz chocolate chips (I used 4 oz dark chocolate chips and 4 oz semisweet chips)
1/2 C heavy cream
1 t vanilla
1/2 t instant coffee powder

Combine all ingredients in the top of a double-boiler, making sure the water is simmering but not touching the bottom of the pan. Stir until smooth.

Cool slightly before spooning the ganache into tart shells or pie crust. You can also use this recipe to frost a cake or cupcakes.


S’mores Tarts pictured here – the chocolate ganache is under the broiled marshmallow cream.

A Writer’s Life

I look forward to the day when I have an AutoChef like Eve Dallas has in J.D. Robb’s In Death series. Until then, my husband and I share cooking and dish duty. I’m lucky that he does his own laundry. I do mine and the common laundry (sheets, towels). We both clean the house.

Grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, housecleaning – all take time. Time that in theory is better spent writing.

The reality is that sometimes laundry sings a siren song. Sometimes, the words aren’t flowing as a writer would wish. Sometimes, any thing is a welcome distraction. Those times are when Things Get Done. 

Other times, when I’m in flow, I resist stopping. I want to stay in the story and keep going. I want elves to clean the house and do the laundry, and fairies to bring me food and take the plate away when only crumbs are left. I want to stay in my bunker and write, write, write. I don’t want to interact with anyone except the imaginary people in the made-up world I put them in.

But that’s not my life, and few writers can or want to live like a hermit. Elves and fairies are in short supply, and the AutoChef isn’t available. Getting lost in my writing every day isn’t an option, and I have an office in town that keeps me motivated to shower and dress in real clothes.

The romantic notion of a writer tucked away in a room for days on end is mostly fiction. Some rare writers might achieve seclusion, but those I know have lives in which writing is just a part. The life of a writer looks like the life of anyone who has a job, a relationship, and friends. 

A writer’s life looks like your life, but writers look at daily life with a warped eye and turn it into drama. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this!

Vanilla Sugar

Am I the only one who loves the smell of vanilla? I don’t even measure it when I bake – I just pout it in, eyeballing the amount required. If a little extra gets in, that’s fine by me.

I recently used vanilla beans to make pastry cream. I split the bean lengthwise, and used the back of my knife to spread out the cut halves and scrape the beans from the pod.

I didn’t want to waste any of the vanilla goodness, and decided to make Vanilla Sugar.

Vanilla Sugar

Vanilla bean pod(s), insides scraped out
Container of sugar

Put the vanilla bean pods into the sugar. Spoon sugar over the pods until they are completely covered. Leave overnight, or as long as you like. The sugar will have brown flecks of vanilla in it.

It smells heavenly! I used vanilla sugar when I was making pastry cream and hadn’t realized I’d run out of vanilla – the infused sugar came to my rescue.



A Writer’s Life: Writing Routine

Whatever works for you.

That’s the only way to write. 

Do you like music or silence? If music: words, or instruments only? In a coffee shop, with people chattering around you? Hunkered down in a closet, ear phones blocking outside noise?

There are as many ways to write as there are writers. What worked for one story may not work for another one. 

Writing regularly is key because it keeps you in the story. You’ll dream about it. Your subconscious will work on story problems. Answers to troublesome plot points will become clear. Something will occur to you at inconvenient times, and you’ll be writing on scraps of paper to capture the idea that struck while you were doing anything else.

When you put a piece aside, you lose the immersion in that story world that keeps you writing until you write The End. It can be a struggle to get back into a story if you’ve been away from it for awhile. 

I know that Life intervenes: jobs, spouses/significant others, children, school. Recreation. The death of a parent. Sometimes there is nothing that can be done except to put a story on the back burner and come back to it when life settles down.

Whatever works for you, you’ll come back to it until you type The End.

I’d love to hear from you about what helps you get there!

Three Berry Trifle

Readers of the past few blog posts will have noticed my mention of Three Berry Trifle. I’ve made the components for it, and now we’ll put it all together. This can be made in a traditional trifle bowl, or any container with clear sides. The beauty of a trifle is seeing the separate layers on the sides.

This makes a lot of trifle. There were about 20 or so people at the party I took this to (along with Coconut Macaroons with Chocolate Chips). All of the cookies were eaten, and most of the trifle – just enough left over for the host and hostess to have one more serving each.

Three Berry Trifle

Pound cake croutons (see recipe posted 8/6/15)
Vanilla pastry cream (see recipe posted 7/23/15)

Macerated blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries (see recipe posted 7/30/15)


Use a trifle bowl or other large clear-sided container.

Cover the bottom with a layer of croutons. Spoon pastry cream over cake, spreading it out to cover the cake, and making sure it shows on the side of the dish. Top with macerated fruit. 

Continue layering in this order until you’re done (3 complete layers, possibly 4). I spooned some fruit onto the top, and sprinkled the pound cake crouton crumbs over the fruit.

Chill in the refrigerator for several hours before eating. Enjoy!







Writing Fiction: Voice

Voice. Not to be confused with Dialogue.

Voice is the way writers put words together that makes them unique. You can tell Ernest Hemingway and Dan Brown apart by their voice (among other things). 

Every writer has a style of writing that separates them from other writers. Word choice, and the way they structure sentences. The genre they write in. Voice isn’t one element, it’s all of the varied choices a writer makes every time they touch a keyboard that adds up to their voice.

Two of my favorite mystery authors are J.D. Robb (police procedural) and Dick Francis (suspense). They write in different genres, but their writing styles, their writing voices, are also different. 

Dick Francis was a newspaper journalist after his days as a champion jockey were over. His style is not the same as J.D. Robb’s, whose writing background is in the romance genre.  

Voice is the sum total of a writer’s life experience, how they view the world, their perspective. 

Who are your favorite authors? What type of voice do you like best, or do you like different styles?

I’d love to hear from you!

Pound Cake Croutons

I used to be a basic cook, following recipes as written. My mother was a Home Ec major in college, and she taught my sisters and me how to cook (and sew, and needlepoint, and …). She worked for an ad agency styling food after graduating, and also worked in a test kitchen at one time.

Watching Food Network, the Cooking Channel, and the various chefs have made me comfortable with experimenting. If something goes wrong, there’s always takeout 🙂

I was making a trifle to take to a party. I thought about using Angel Food cake, and then thought about how to give it some texture. The macerated berries don’t have the same mouth-feel as the pastry cream, but they’re both soft. I thought about making croutons with the cake, and how delicious the crispy, toasty cake would be when it was combined with vanilla pastry cream and macerated berries.

The grocery store was out of Angel Food cake – the price of eggs had made it temporarily unavailable. What to do? I now had the hankering for cake croutons. I thought about making a pound cake, but decided convenience was the way to go. I bought a frozen pound cake, took it home, and made the croutons. Try making them sometime – they amp up dessert, and you could do this with slices if you wanted to speed up the process.

Pound Cake Croutons

1 pound cake, any size, any flavor (I used vanilla pound cake)
2 T melted butter
1 T sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the pound cake into bite-sized pieces. If using a frozen pound cake, defrosting it is optional.

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl, and toss gently to coat all pieces of cake with butter and sugar.

On a large baking sheet, spread out the pound cake into one layer. Put into preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes or until golden and toasted, turning it occasionally.

Once the cake is golden brown, remove from the oven and cool completely. I usually transfer it to a different baking sheet so it stops cooking and cools faster.

You can use these immediately, or cool completely and store in an airtight container.

These Pound Cake Croutons added the right amount of texture, and came out just as I had hoped they would!

Writing Fiction: Setting

Setting. 

World Building. 

Place. 

Call it what you want, but they mean the same thing: the world in which the story takes place.

Do you create one out of whole cloth? Or do you set your story in an area you, and readers, are familiar with? Or do you create a hybrid of the different options?

New York City doesn’t need to be reinvented, but it can be renamed to suit a fictional world. Sue Grafton calls the town where Kinsey Millhone lives Santa Teresa, but natives of the area know it as Santa Barbara. 

I created a town called Citrus Beach. It shares many characteristics with Vero Beach and the surrounding area. I have compressed the geography to suit my fictional needs, but I wanted a part of Florida that was not overly developed as Broward County/Fort Lauderdale and Miami/Dade are. 

The good thing about doing this is it’s not exactly Vero Beach, but it’s close enough that when I need to do some research about something, I can take an easy drive to explore the area and get the information I need. 

Do you like stories that take place in real cities, or do you prefer fictional towns?

I’d love to hear from you!