Friday, November 21, 2014

Where Do You Get Your Ideas

II'm often asked, "Where do you get your ideas?" To be honest, some pop into my head, full-blown, much like Athena from Zeus' head, while others are sparks by a news program, or something I hear on a radio program. There have been times that old family stories jog the creative process.
The same thing happens when I run across a recipe but I can never leave things alone. I mess with it, change things around, totally change out ingredients until it's a new recipe. Other times I get a notion of what I want and begin throwing things together. Sooner or later, it works
Tilly mentions her Caramel Pecan Macchiato Trifle recipe in the book. I’m a retired chef and I was curious about how her fictional recipe would translate into the real world. The Women’s Ministry at church had a ladies meet and greet, so I whipped something up and used them as guinea pigs. The results? My large trifle bowl was empty when it was time to go home, leaving my poor husband to scrape the sides for a small taste. Success, rave reviews, and happy faces told me it was a hit.
First let me tell you, I usually do everything from scratch, but this is one of those recipes that really works with off-the-self mixes. Consider it a time saver. We can all use a few extra minutes for a cup of coffee while we sit down with a good book.

Tilly’s Caramel Pecan Macchiato Trifle

This will fill a large Trifle bowl. You can halve this for a smaller recipe. Use three cups of whipping cream instead of a quart. Two cups for the Bavarian Cream and one cup whipped for the top of the trifle.

2 large boxes of instant pudding mix
1 quart of heavy whipping cream
16oz carton of whipped topping (Extra Creamy works best, but the regular will do.)
1 ½ cups of milk
Chocolate Syrup (ice cream topping)
Caramel Syrup (ice cream topping)
2 cups chopped pecans
Powdered espresso mixed with water to taste (some people like a stronger coffee flavor)
½ cup powdered sugar
1 tsp of vanilla
1 angel food cake cut into small cubes

Bavarian Cream:
Empty the two boxes of instant pudding mix into a large bowl. Add the milk and stir until the pudding is very thick, but not lumpy. If it appears lumpy, add more milk until it is smooth and thick. Add water to powdered espresso until it reaches the strength you prefer and mix into the pudding mixture. Add the whipped topping to the pudding and stir until incorporated. Whip 2 cups of whipping cream until very stiff. Fold in the whipped cream and gently stir until everything is smooth and creamy.
Whip the remaining of cream with the sugar and vanilla until stiff,

Assembling the Trifle:
1: Place some of the angel food cubes into the bottom of the bowl
2: Put 1/2 of the espresso flavored Bavarian Cream on top of the angel food cake.
3: Add a layer of whipped cream
4: Sprinkle with pecans
5: Drizzle both chocolate and caramel syrups over the top
6: Repeat the steps until all the Bavarian Cream is gone. Top with whipped cream, pecans, and drizzle syrups on top to finish the Trifle. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
7: Enjoy!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Scoops of Love

Great things are happening in the next few days. All very hush-hush and delicious. Keep watch, but in the meantime, I wanted to share one of my favorite things. Recipes.
In my past life, and no, I don’t mean anything dealing with reincarnation, I was a personal chef. I loved to cook for people and enjoyed the way they told me how much they loved what I had prepared. To be honest, I still get a kick out of watching someone’s eyes go wide with pleasure when they bite into one of my gluten free cream puffs.
 Writing is much the same. There’s nothing more that I like than entertaining someone for a few hours. Every comment on my work is taken into account. It’s wonderful when the reader loves the book, but some of my most interesting and entertaining comments makes me search myself as a writer. What can I do to make this a better story? How did it fail? So, the point is this—there are never any bad reviews. Please note—this doesn’t count for those people who troll the internet to spout hateful comments merely for the sake of hurting the author.
So, having said that, let’s get back to the recipe I wanted to share today.
Many people think they can’t make decent ice cream. It can be time consuming, but not in an onerous way. There are a few steps with time in-between. Like writing, I’ve developed this recipe over time, taking the basics of the original old fashioned recipe and adjusting it for my own. It gets my granddaughter’s seal of approval and believe me, she a vanilla ice creamanista.
Vanilla Ice Cream ala Andromeda
For two quarts:
The day before, or early the day of making the ice cream. You will need the following:
4 cups half/half
2 cups heavy cream
1 ½ cup sugar
4 egg yolks
Pinch of salt
One vanilla bean (split with the seeds scraped out)
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract (1 ½ teaspoon if you can’t find a vanilla bean)
2 tablespoons of corn starch
¼ cup water
Table salt, sea salt, or rock salt.

Add the half and half, one cup of heavy cream, sugar, and salt into a saucepan. Stir and heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add the vanilla bean seeds and pod to the mixture and let stand until lukewarm. (twenty to twenty-five minutes)
Next separate the yolks of four eggs. (I freeze the whites to use later on for angel food or chiffon cakes.) Beat the yolks into a froth and slowly add some of the warm milk mixture into the eggs to temper them. Add the eggs to the milk mixture, along with the cornstarch which has been dissolved in water, and the vanilla extract. (Yes, the vanilla bean pod is still in here.) Cook this until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add more half and half if the mixture is too thick. It needs to be the consistency of a thin pudding.
Put one cup of cream in a large bowl. Place a fine mesh sieve (I’ve even used clean spatter screens) over the top of the bowl and strain the custard mixture into the bowl. You will be surprised how many lumps this catches. Mix well. Take out the vanilla bean pod at this time.
Now comes the fast cool down. Put ice in a bowl that’s larger than the bowl containing the mixture. Sprinkle salt on the ice and set the bowl with the mixture into the ice bath. Stir the custard until it can be put into the refrigerator overnight, or until cool. Note: I have sped up the process by replacing the ice in the ice bath, over and over, until the base mix is cooled somewhat. It takes a bit longer to freeze in the canister. It can sit on a counter until it’s cooled down, but I prefer the ice bath.
I use an electric counter top ice cream maker. They come with a canister that can be keep in the freezer until it’s ready for use. A regular ice cream maker is fine.
Fill the container according to the directions of your ice cream maker, turn it on, and forget about it for a half hour. Now you will have lovely soft serve. It’s always better to put the soft ice cream in a container and into the freezer to ‘ripen’ for several hours.
Scoops away!
Until next time. Nom the world.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Taking Baby Steps--Learning New Technology and Eating Habits

I've sold another book and plan on self-publishing two, possibly three by the end of the year. Yay me! Until I realize that now come the hard part--marketing. Bookmarks are no longer enough. I have to dig into the nitty-gritty of trends, algorithms, keeping track of sales, and the sheer amount of number crunching that goes along with the new publishing paradigm. It's a do-it-yourself world.

I feel overwhelmed.

I'm an old dog--I admit it. My husband takes me into an electronic or computer store and I immediately break out into a rash. It's taken me years, do you hear me, years to learn to cut and paste, copy and save a file, not to mention set up a page. My writer friends gush about new numbers on their dashboards and techniques to keep sales numbers up. I panic.

There is one thing I've realized. I'm on unfamiliar ground with technology. My husband is IT, born and bred. Computers listen when he speaks. They fear him, because he will dig in their guts to find whatever problem plagues their user. He is GOD-guru on duty. He understands all those above mentioned writerly things which scare the bejesus out of me.

So, what does that have to do with new eating habits. Yes, I have you scratching your head.

Let me tell you.

I've decided on going gluten free for health reasons. My joints hurt, and I was told this was a way to alleviate some of the inflammation. This isn't easy. Yes, there are a lot of GF foods on the market, but I can never find what I like. This is a challenge. But I love a good food fight. I'm a retired chef an I love delving into recipes, or even making up my own. Most people are scared and put off by the idea of baking their own bread, cookies, and other pastries. Not me, I love cooking. I'm in my milieu. It's comfortable. Words like braise, meuniere, and sautee have people's eyes glazing over when I talk food. It's second nature to me.

It's then I realized that if I were to ask my husband to cook something with just the recipe, he might not get it right. A lot of cooking and baking comes from years of trying and failing, until you know what the dough is supposed to look like, feel like. It's something that you can't explain. Just as I struggle to understand technology and how it can enhance my writing career.

So, long story short, my first instinct is to pretend I don't have to learn about sales trends, marketing techniques, street teams, and the list goes on. No can do. This is vital marketing information that I can no longer turn away from, just as I can't ignore my aching joints. That means going gluten free. The only way to survive this brave, new world is to gird my loins, take up my mouse, and learn to deal in this new reality.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Stretch it to the Limit

It's been a while since my last post. There's a good reason--I've been exercising. No, unfortunately not my body, but my brain. I think it hurt just as much to stretch the old noggin as it did when I was in physical therapy for back pain. 

Last year my agent asked me to write a cozy, a murder mystery that has a lot of sweetness, and very little sex. First, I don't like sweet stories. I don't mind writing happy endings, playfulness, but I don't do sweet. ICK. For starters, I had no idea what a cozy actually was when she mentioned it. A trip to my computer and a Google search told me that there was no way. Nope, couldn't be done. Not by this girl. Give me a lot of hot sex, an action packed story line, and I'm good to go, but this? All I could envision were tea cakes and knitting needles--Miss Marple and Downton Abbey in one monstrous smash-up. I was told not to worry, there wasn't a hurry. So, instead of working on the book, I put it off. That way I didn't have to figure out how to do this thing that I wasn't even sure I could pull off. Then a call came right before I left for Africa that I should have it done ASAP. Yikes. An editor wanted to look at it. I hadn't written a word. Still, I put it off until the trip was over, a tangle with an African spider taken care of, and the resumption of family life back in the USA. See, a lot of good reasons to keep putting off writing the book. I drug my feet as long as I could, dreading the day I opened the computer to a blank page. I didn't even have a title. I thought and thought, until the perfect image for the murder jumped into my mind. Now I could begin.

Figuring out a murder is harder than it looks on Murder She Wrote. Jessica Fletcher's keen eye doesn't miss a thing. I can't see an elephant in the room. My husband suggested that I mind map the project using a mind mapping program. I looked over a couple and found one that I could use with some ease, X Mind. It was strange to work the story from the inside out. First I had to establish a victim, possible suspects, the killer, motives, and no, it wasn't Colonel Mustard in the dining room with a candlestick. I went through several scenarios until I found one that I liked. This became the foundation that I built the story on. Then I added the 'detectives' and how they fit in and related to the story.

There were a couple of times I had to go back and redo things. It reminded me of my community theater days when I was directing Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians. You have no idea how proud I was to have my blocking diagrams done, all the actors lined up and ready to go. The cold reading went great, I was on a roll. Until we actually got on stage. It was then that I discovered, to my horror, that the killer was never anywhere near a victim. You can't inject a hypodermic syringe into someone from ten feet away. A needle that long would be a dead giveaway. So, it was back to the drawing board. The next day, the actors and I got everything hammered out, but it left me with a lesson learned. That's why, every so often, I'd go back and read from the beginning of the book, checking for any missteps along the way. I found one or two, but caught them early enough that hurt the storyline.

I found, to my surprise, that I could write a book with less sex, a touch of sweet, a lot of humor, and a killer plot. So this is the point where I have to thank my agent for making me put on the mental workout gear. Here's hoping the book sells. If not, it turned out to be worth the effort.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

One thing you have to understand about me is this--I hate not turning in papers on time, not getting work done when I'm supposed to, and most of all, breaking my promises.My self-imposed deadline for my new book came and went. I set a new date. That one flew by me at light speed. The third one loomed closer and I knew it was a no go.

My agent, Jewelann Cone of Cascade Literary Agency has been patient with me.
Now I'm sure Ms. Cone has heard every excuse in the book, but I've given her some doozys. God bless the woman.

I'm currently writing a Cozy, or at least it started out as a Cozy. Who knows what genre it will be by the time I'm finished. I can tell you it won't be Inspirational or Paranormal, although I've been both inspired by some great ideas that came out of nowhere, and weirded out by my dark side. I write in many genres, but a Cozy isn't one of them. Ms. Cone and I discussed the possibility selling one. I said okay, then I'd dinked around with it in December, and put it on the back burner because it wasn't a priority at the time.
She phones me at the end of April with good news. She has someone who would like to look at it after it's finished. This is right before I go to Africa. Okay, I'll do it after the trip. I figure I can whip this bad boy hammered out in eight weeks--no problem. Things never go as planned.

Excuse No. 1: It's the little things that trip me up.
I spent two weeks in Liberia, Africa at the end of April. My previous blog explains the reason for my trip. The people were terrific, the food wonderful, but the insects not so much. Actually, a spider isn't technically an insect, however, they are my sworn enemies. I have an aversion to the darn things. So, I began my voyage home at Roberts International Airport in Monrovia, going through the torture of the security check, and endless waiting. While I sat in the boarding area, I felt a prick on my backside. I thought it might be some dry grass that had worked its way through the fabric of my khakis. On the interminable flight, I'm talking twenty hours over the ocean, an uncomfortable burning sensation pops up on my butt. I thought it had to be from sitting so long. I finally arrived home to the loving arms of my husband only to find that a welt had appeared. The pain got worse. I couldn't sit for long periods of time, so writing was out. What to do? I asked my sister the R.N. for an act of love that went above and beyond. I said "Can you take a look at my ass?" I lowered trow and the first words out of her mouth were, "Go to the doctor--now!"
A visit to the doctor was humorous and humiliating at the same time. I won't go into the gory details, suffice it to say, many medical personal pondered my posterior. Their diagnosis--a spider bite of unknown origin. An antibiotic was prescribed, as well as an teeny tube of ointment that had to be paid for with gold bullion. All was well in Spiderbiteville until--

Excuse No. Two: Alls not well that doesn't end well.
I had a reaction to the medication. My throat became sore, I couldn't speak without sounding like I spent most of my time in a smoky dive, and I felt like warmed over doggie-do. My tongue looked like it was wearing a fur coat. Another doctor inspected the location of the bite. It looks good, except the antibiotic gave me a bad case of Thrush. Another round of medication only complicated things. Needless to say, they are still working on getting rid of the side effects that keep cropping up. The doctor decided it's time to do a DNA sequence to figure out what little bug the antibiotic let run amok in my system. During the examination, I had visions of CSI doing a sweep over my body with a Maglight. It's hard to think by this time. Writing was the last thing on my mind.

Excuse No. Three: Life imitates art.
Time's a wastin'. I've missed two deadlines. This isn't me. I'm stressed out. My voice isn't coming through my writing like I want. A myriad of things seem to bog down my book. I finally get my act together, and whamo. Life does imitate art.
My story revolves around two chefs who are polar opposites when it comes to cuisine and life Sparks fly. There's a grisly murder, missing body parts, and chefs dropping like flies. Our heroine has a whole butchered pig delivered to her. She proceeds to stab Porky with various knives to determine the murder weapon. In the process, she slices open her hand and the hero rushes her to emergency room.
The scene is set for my next misadventure. Action!
Every Thursday my critique group meets for a good three to four hours. I'm a retired chef, I love to cook, so I usually make a luncheon. I decide on a fruited chicken salad. The chicken's done to perfection, the spring greens are readied, the strawberries, blueberries, fresh pineapple, and melon are cut just right. My kiwi is a bit soft, but still good. After I peel the darn thing, it was being particularly uncooperative. I began to slice it into small pieces with my santoku knife. This thing is razor sharp and it wasn't until I noticed the blood that I realized I'd sliced the top of my finger. It hung by a thin thread. It's one of those times where you notice things around you, but you're not really there.
The blood came out in little spurts to match my heartbeat. The whole time I'm watching it, thinking, "How can I incorporate this into a book?" Oh wait, it's already in there in chapter eight.
One of my critique partners shows up at the door to find me holding a paper towel and bleeding all over the place. She says, "I'm a teacher." That's shorthand for "I've seen and done it all." We wait, wondering if I've finished playing Sweeny Todd, or is it time for a trip to the ER. A half an hour later, it slows down to a slow drip. Goldie bandages me up. Great job by the way.
A couple of days later and the darn thing refuses to heal. My husband suggested super glue. I think he's nuts, but by now, I'll try anything. I douse it with antiseptic and get out my nail glue. Much to my surprise, it worked. Now a week later I'm on the mend and back to writing.

No more excuses. I should be working on my book instead of posting a blog. Now the trick is to see if I can catch up on my writing between this thing I call a life.

Remember, keep your knives sharp. Every chef knows a dull knife does a more damage. Hmmm, I smell another chapter with that line.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

 Out of Africa or What I Did On My Summer Vacation
  First let me say, it wasn't a vacation, it was a mission trip to Liberia. If you want to know more about the group I went with, go to the following website:

 Have you ever heard of fistula? I'll give everyone the short version. A young woman of eleven or twelve might be 'sold' off by her family to a farmer or a man of the village. Imagine getting pregnant at such a young age, having a difficult delivery of several days with only the village midwives in attendance. They sit on the mother's chest trying to push the baby out. When that doesn't work they take to beating her with sticks, and other assorted ways are used to encourage her to have her baby. If the mother isn't taken to the hospital in time, the constant pressure of the baby's head will rub an opening between the uterus, bladder, and/or the bladder. The child is usually stillborn. The mother is left excreting bodily waste from her vagina. Her husband and family are likely to throw her out of their homes and the village will turn their backs on them.

 There was no hope for them until Liberia came up with the Liberia Fistula Project. Dignity Liberia partners with them to bring in doctors, nurses, teachers, and people like me who just want to help.

Okay, so that wasn't short, but you can see why I felt it was imperative to make this trip. Actually, I didn't want to go at first. I'd hoarded my money for a trip to Italy, Venice in particular. I'm an avid video game player. What has that got to do with any of this? One of my favorite games is Assassin's Creed II. It's set in Italy and much of the game play is in Venice. It whetted my appetite to go to The Floating City. The graphics are spectacular. I can almost smell the water of the canals, see the paint fading from the buildings. I wanted to go to Venice, no two ways about it. However, I'm sitting in church one Sunday and I hear this quiet voice say 'You're going to Africa'. I had a conversation with the voice over the next several months, but I wasn't going to win this argument. So, several thousand dollars, a yellow fever inoculation, and a bunch of assorted shots later, I was on a jet to Liberia.

There are two things that hit me when I stepped off the plane. It's freaking hot and the humidity is like being slapped in the face with a wet towel. My group of thirteen piled into an old van that luckily had air-conditioning. It's when we got out into traffic that I notice the entire country has a problem with trash lying everywhere. Piles of it, some of it knee-deep. Still, it's a beautiful country that's been raped by two civil wars, and it shows. The people are trying to rebuild from the ground up. The electricity is iffy, there's no running water, except from gravity feed from storage tanks on roofs of buildings, no flush toilets. Even the hospitals are without running water. Those people who can afford regular houses stay within walled compounds with laced with concertina wire. The rest of the population live in whatever type of housing they can find. Businesses are often nothing more than shipping containers with names like God's Faith Business Center. Jesus Loves Business Center might be right next to it. Choices, choices.

Speaking of the traffic, sweet Lord. It was Nightmare on Elm Street crazy. Two way traffic for cars, if they decided to go the correct two ways, no stoplights to speak of, except in downtown Monrovia. Motorcycles and yellow taxis vied for the same place, whizzing in and out of traffic in maniacal abandon. It wasn't unusual to see up to four people on one motorcycle and usually a woman sat behind the group with a baby strapped on her back. The women have the best posture in the world, they balance washtubs of clothes or produce on their heads as easily as Queen Elizabeth wears a hat.

I'll tell you more about Africa in later posts. I wanted to say that the longer I'm away from Liberia, it makes me homesick for this poor, ravaged country. There are a hundred stories to be told of people who survived the civil wars, the horrors and heroism they've seen. Maybe one day I'll be able to write a book that touches on just a small part of their lives.

There's  new team of volunteers in Liberia as I write this. I envy them the new experiences they'll have, the exotic foods, and learning to love each and one of them.  

Friday, May 6, 2011

Waiting, Waiting, Waiting

I've done my part. The book is written, revised, sent off to my agent, and now begins the hard part --waiting for and editor to nibble.

This is worse than the times my father and mother used to take the family fishing at a friend's pond. My Dad would help us bait the hook, and throw the line and bobber out into the water. Then I had to sit on the bank, with bugs flying in the air and buzzing around my head. Mom gave me the look every time I wriggled around on the bank, or slap at the darn bugs. No talking allowed. I waited for the excitement of the first tug on my line, or the way the concentric waves around the bobber said there was a fish on the end of the line.

That's where I'm at for the time being. Patience is not my forte. I like things to happen now, to be in control of everything. This is one time where I have to put my faith in my agent and my work. Questions always come to me each time I hear of a rejection. Maybe my stories are lacking, is my voice strong enough, or do I have the right bait on my hook? Those late at night doubts make me want to jerk the controls away, but I can't. Not this time. Patience and faith are my watch words.
One of these days I'll get the call from my agent with good news that we caught a big one. That's the day I break out the champagne and do a happy dance. I think I'll go to my local pole dance studio and buy a pair of five inch heels just for the occasion. First, I'll have to learn to walk in them, but it'll give me something to do while I wait