Trick or Treat – Halloween Spider!

Today is Halloween, and this cute idea is perfect for a party or just to serve your own boos and ghouls.

I saw a similar spider on Pinterest, and adapted it to what I had. Isn’t that part of the fun of creating, taking something you’ve seen and making it your own?

Halloween Spider

For each one, you’ll need:

1 Mini doughnut
8 Pretzel pieces for legs (4 legs are shown in the picture – use more or less as you like)
2 Mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
Green icing
White icing

Use the green icing to draw a spiral on a plate. To make the spider’s web, use the fat end of a toothpick to draw lines from the center of the spiral out to the edge of the plate.

Place the doughnut on the web. Push the pretzel pieces into the doughnut to make legs. Using the green icing as glue, put a dab on the flat end of the chocolate chips and place them on the doughnut to make eyes. Let the icing set, and then put a dot of white icing on the tip of the chocolate chip to complete the eyes.

Voila! A Halloween spider you won’t mind seeing.

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What are your favorite Halloween treats?

We’d Rather Be Writing – Release Day October 30!

Today is the big day for We’d Rather Be Writing – 88 Authors Share Timesaving Dinner Recipes and Other Tips! The ebook version was available for presale, but both ebook and print editions are available now. 

Proceeds will be donated to No Kid Hungry, whose goal is to end child hunger in America.

Due to space considerations in the book, photos of the finished recipes could not be included. I’m posting the picture for my contributed recipe of Chicken and Noodles here:

Fast and easy, I can have a delicious dinner on the table within 30 minutes of walking in the door!

Bonus recipe: Roasted Spaghetti Squash

1 Spaghetti squash, cut in half, seeds removed
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Rub cut sides of spaghetti squash with olive oil, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Place cut side down in baking dish, with enough water to rise up sides 1/2″ of dish. Cover with foil and seal tightly. Cook for 45 minutes or until tender. 

Remove from baking dish and use a fork to remove the squash from the flesh in strands. Serve as a side dish as is, or to instead of pasta.



What is your favorite fast and easy recipe?

Fall Favorite – Pumpkin Whip

Pumpkin is everywhere, in every food and beverage. I don’t remember that it was this prevalent even five years ago – pumpkin has the best-ever publicist 🙂

I like pumpkin’s sweet flavor, similar to a couple of my other favorite autumn squashes: butternut and acorn. Their sweetness is brought out by roasting, and the butter and brown sugar I put in the hollow of an acorn squash. 

This recipe is ideal for a party, which is where I first had it. Four ingredients make it easy, and it can be made ahead or at the last minute. 

Pumpkin Whip

1 15 oz can pumpkin puree (do not use pumpkin pie filling)
1 8 oz container Cool Whip (I use the light version), thawed for 20 minutes
1 box of instant vanilla pudding (I use fat- and sugar-free)
1/2 t pumpkin pie spice (use more or less to taste)

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix with a wooden spoon. If the Cool Whip has frozen lumps, work them with the spoon against the side of the bowl. Cover and chill. 

Serve with gingersnaps (as shown below) or chocolate wafer cookies.

This would also make delicious individual parfaits, layering crushed gingersnaps with the pumpkin whip. 

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What is your favorite pumpkin food or beverage?

I’ve Always Wanted to Write a Book!

Is writing a novel sound like something you’ve had on your bucket list? If so, now is the perfect time to get it done and cross it off!

November is National Novel Writing Month, and it is a personal challenge undertaken with a world-wide community. Started in 1999 with 21 writers, it has grown to over 325,000 writers participating around the world.

Chances are good that one of the 615 (give or take) regions is near you. There is support from Municipal Liaisons (MLs), of which I am one (USA::Florida::Treasure Coast). There are forums for every age group, every level of writer, every genre of fiction, and every writing question in general.

The challenge is to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. This breaks down to 1,667 words a day for 30 days. Think you’ve got it in you? Sign up at nanowrimo.org – it’s easy to do, and there’s no entry fee.

Every state in the US has one or more regions to join, and every region has Kick Off Parties, Weekly Write-Ins, and TGIO (Thank Goodness It’s Over) Parties. Every region has an ML to help you with questions, or direct you to the proper forum for answers.

Writing is a solitary endeavor, but in November you can do it knowing you’re in good company. Pep talks from best-selling authors (Charlaine Harris, Diana Gabaldon) will be delivered. It’s comforting to know that writers at all levels struggle with something, and you may hear from someone whose writing you love that they have the same problem you do.

Sara Gruen wrote Water for Elephants during NaNo. In 2006 it was published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, a division of Workman Publishing. It was a major motion picture in 2011, starring Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz, and Hal Holbrook.

Since NaNo began, over 250 NaNo novels have been traditionally published, and many more have been indie published. 

Will yours be one of them?

Cranberry Orange Bread

The holidays are coming! I was in Michael’s last night to pick up yarn for a baby blanket I am crocheting for my great-niece, and their stock of Christmas decorations is already bigger than their Halloween and Thanksgiving displays.

Cranberries have been on my mind, and I want to share this delicious recipe with you.

My husband told me about Cranberry Orange Bread, which his mother used to make for Christmas morning. This recipe is close to the one she used to make; she died in 2003, and we didn’t find a recipe. I searched online, and made adjustments to a couple that I found.

It’s a very wet batter, and the resulting bread is very soft and moist. I’ve made it using cranberry-orange relish, and it’s delicious! My husband’s family has nut issues, so I always skip the walnuts, but I think they’d be a delightful addition.

Cranberry Orange Bread

Dry:
2 C all-purpose flour
1 C sugar
1 t baking soda
1 t cream of tartar
1 t salt (if using Kosher salt, increase to 1 1/2 t)

Wet:
1 egg, well beaten
3/4 C fresh orange juice
3 T corn oil

2 C cranberries, chopped
1 T grated orange zest
1 orange, peeled, all membrane removed and sections pulled apart into small pieces
1/2 C chopped walnuts, or walnut pieces (optional)

NOTE: Optional – Substitute 2 1/4 C Cranberry-Orange Relish for chopped cranberries, orange zest, and orange pieces.

Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the liquids. Mix only to moisten. Fold in the remaining ingredients. 

Spoon into a greased and floured 9x5x3 loaf pan; spread out evenly. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes. Remove immediately and cool on a rack.

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Screenwriting Tips for Novelists

It’s all about Story.

Whether you are writing for page, stage, or screen, you want to write a compelling story that keeps the reader/viewer enthralled to the end. Screenwriters and novelists can look outside their box to see how the other guys do it, and take some tips and tricks from each other.

As a novelist, I’ve read several books on screenwriting, particularly Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need! by Blake Snyder. He died at a young age, but not before sharing his thoughts on how to write a script that sells. He also showed how to use his Beat Sheets to write a novel.

He breaks down the  three-act structure into smaller, discrete pieces that move the story from inciting incident to satisfying conclusion. He talks about using log lines, high concept, and pitches. If you can distill your story into a log line, a tag line that would go on a movie poster or novel cover, you are well on your way to breaking your story down into the elements that people subconsciously look for.

Alison McMahan is an award-winning filmmaker and award-winning novelist. A member of Mystery Writers of America – Florida Chapter, she spoke at our meeting Saturday, October 17. She talked about “Screenwriting Tricks for Novelists” and gave Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! as one example.

Another was using Chris Soth’s Mini-Movie Method, which essentially breaks down a movie or novel into eight mini-movies, each with their own tension arc.

The takeaway for a novelist is to look at how screenwriters break down their story, and use whatever methods make sense for you to break down your novel. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by thinking of a 50,000 word Act II, and not knowing exactly what to write. Utilizing screenwriters methods can break that huge task into smaller, easier to digest chunks that when outlined are a road map to completion.


Mini Monkey Bread

I have seen so many recipes for monkey bread over the years, and never made it. This past weekend I decided to make it for Sunday breakfast – a sweet treat to have with savory scrambled eggs with tomato and cream cheese.

I wanted to make individual mini breads, and this was my first attempt. I would cut the biscuits into eighths instead of sixths for mini monkey breads; the muffin cups could barely contain them as they swelled and baked, and in fact a couple of pieces jumped over the side of the pan and onto the floor of the oven. Ouch!

These were so tasty, and they kept jumping into my mouth throughout the day. I love the caramel that bubbled up and oozed over them.

Fast and easy, delicious and satisfying. Can you ask for anything else from simple ingredients? I don’t think so!

Mini Monkey Bread

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1/2 C butter, melted (if using unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt to the melted butter)
1/2 C dark brown sugar
1/4 C granulated sugar
2 t ground cinnamon
2 cans refrigerated biscuits, 10 biscuits/can, biscuits separated and each one cut into 6 or 8 pieces

Spray a 24-cup muffin tin with non-stick spray.

Combine the melted butter and dark brown sugar. Once the sugar fully absorbs the butter, spoon 1 1/2 teaspoons into each cup of the mini muffin tin.

Combine granulated sugar and cinnamon in a gallon size zip top bag; add biscuit pieces. Toss to coat.

If you’ve cut the biscuits into 6 pieces, put 5 pieces into each muffin cup. If you’ve cut them into 8 pieces, put 6 or 7 pieces into each muffin cup.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pan for 1 minute before turning out onto parchment lined sheet pan. Serve warm.

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National Novel Writing Month: 50,000 words in 30 days

Some of you are writers, and some of you writers will be participating in NaNo. November 1 seemed so far away two months ago, it doesn’t seem possible that it’s just over two weeks away.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNo) began in 1999 with 21 friends in the San Francisco Bay area. Over the years it has grown to be an international event with hundreds of thousands of writers who have the same goal: Write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. In 2013, 310,000 adults participated, and 89,500 children took part in the Young Writers Program. 

Who are these writers? Sara Gruen, Hugh Howey, and Chris Baty (the founder of NaNo), among many others. Neil Gaiman, Dave Eggers, and YA authors Rainbow Rowell and John Green are some of the authors who will or have delivered pep talks during NaNo. You can read Hugh Howey’s thoughts about what it takes to be a writer on the NaNo blog.

For mystery and romance fans, Charlaine Harris and Diana Gabaldon will be giving pep talks this year. 

If November 1 is looming large on your horizon, you can alleviate some stress by visiting the NaNo Prep page. You can sign up there for a NaNo Prep webinar that takes place Wednesday, October 14, at 4pm PST

For general information, visit the FAQ here: National Novel Writing Month Frequently Asked Questions, or ask an ML.

What’s an ML? It is a Municipal Liaison, a local NaNo participant who schedules the Kick Off Party, weekly Write Ins, and TGIO (Thank Goodness It’s Over) Party. They’re your first resource for questions posted in the Regional Forum. 

I’ve been an ML for the Vero Beach/Treasure Coast Region since 2005. Come see me in Vero Beach, Fort Pierce at IRSC or the downtown Library, in PSL at the Morningside Library, and in Palm City at the Cummings Library. If you sign up and select Florida::Treasure Coast as your region, you’ll see the calendar with all of the dates, times, and locations.

If writing a novel is on your bucket list, why not do it in November?

Let me know if you do!

Writing Fiction: Naming Characters

One of the hardest parts about writing is naming your characters. You want their names to seem realistic, but not be so real that someone with that name would sue you.

I use the internet to get realistic, age-appropriate first names. My sources are for American names. If you need foreign names, do a search for “most popular [country] names” to get a list of resources. 

For example, most popular Irish names will give you a list that includes Baby Names of Ireland. In addition to the names, you’ll also get information, meaning, and pronunciation of the names.

One terrific resource I use is the Social Security Administration. You can visit their site and get the top 5 names for girls and boys for the past 100 years. You can see the top names for any decade since the 1880s. You can get top names by state. 

There is a ton of information you can use to make your names realistic. If you’re writing a book set in the area where you grew up, look at yearbooks. Visit the library where you live and go through the phone books. Look at the history of the area where your story is set, and use names that would fit in or sound similar. 

When you decide on a name, Google it to see if actual people have that name. You may see Facebook pages, LinkedIn pages, obituaries, and other links to the name. Change any names of people you’re basing a character on, and change enough details that someone reading about Harry Potter, for example, doesn’t think you’re writing about them. 

Part of what makes a story seem plausible is having characters with names that don’t take the reader out of the story, unless that’s your objective. Mr. Lemoncello is a character in a particular type of story, Eve Dallas is a character in a different type of story, and most likely they wouldn’t be characters in the same story.

Naming characters can be fun, but it’s also a big part of what takes your readers into the story world you create.

Cream Cheese and Olives

Cream Cheese and Olives is a long-time family favorite. My mother would make this to take on road trips, because she could make sandwiches while we were driving without making a mess.

My favorite way to eat it is on Triscuit crackers. I have put it on toasted English Muffins, eaten it on whatever cracker was handy, and made little rolled sandwiches with white bread. In the fast and easy department, it doesn’t get much easier than two ingredients.

It makes an appearance at our annual sausage party (where friends and family gather to make lots of Italian sausage). It shows up in “Dying for Holiday Tea” with the green olive and red pimento giving Christmas color to snowy cream cheese.

Cream Cheese and Olives

Prep time: 10 minutes
Chill time: 30 minutes

1 8 oz package of cream cheese (I use Philadelphia Neufchatel cheese)
1/3 C green olives with pimento
1 T liquid from olive jar

In a bowl, place the brick of cream cheese. If using full fat cream cheese, let it come to room temp before making this. If using 1/3 reduced fat cream cheese, it is soft enough to use right from the frig, but I usually let it soften for a bit anyway.

Chop the olives as finely or as coarsely as you prefer. I prefer using a knife, but to get a finer chop, I’ll use my chopper. Use a fork to mash the cream cheese, add the liquid from the olives, and add the chopped olives. Mix to combine. Put in a container and refrigerate.

The flavors develop best when chilled for at least 30 minutes or overnight. Sometimes I don’t want to wait that long, and adding the olive liquid helps give the cream cheese olive flavor before chilling. If I’m taking it to a party, I’ll make it the night before.

My husband was skeptical about this combination, but now he enjoys it. The picture below is from last year’s Sausage Party (Cream Cheese and Olives in the foreground, Caramelized Onion Dip is behind it). I’ll post recipes from this year’s Sausage Party closer to the date (usually the Saturday before Christmas; this year’s date to be determined.)

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